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Thursday, July 18, 2019



Phil Hands – Color – 20190718edphc-a.tif

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 07:31 AM PDT


Robbie Robertson Documentary ‘Once Were Brothers’ to Open Toronto Film Festival

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 07:02 AM PDT

“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” will rock the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival.

The documentary recounts the story of one of Canada’s musical legends — a man who served as both lead guitarist and primary songwriter on a group that introduced the likes of “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” into the pop culture lexicon. “Once Were Brothers” will have its world premiere at the festival. The gala presentation will be on Thursday, Sept. 5, at Roy Thomson Hall.

It’s the first time a Canadian-made documentary will open the festival. The track record of opening night films at Toronto is a spotty one. Last year, the festival got things started with Netflix’s “Outlaw King,” a period drama about Robert the Bruce that drew a muted response. Other openers, like the critically derided “The Fifth Estate” and the box office duds “Borg vs McEnroe” and “Demolition,” failed to generate much heat after kicking off the festival. To be fair, Toronto has also gotten things started with winners, such as “Looper” and “The Sweet Hereafter” over the course of its four decades.

“Once Were Brothers” is directed by Daniel Roher (“Ghosts of Our Forest”) and was inspired by Robertson’s 2016 memoir. The movie features interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, the legendary director who shot The Band‘s 1976 performance at the Winterland Ballroom for “The Last Waltz,” along with musical giants such as Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Taj Mahal, and Ronnie Hawkins.

“This is one of Toronto’s great stories of a hometown hero,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head. “From his early years in this city, to the inspiration he took from life on the Six Nations reserve, to the impact he’s had on generations of music lovers, Robertson emerges in Roher’s film as a truly Canadian-made superstar.”

The Toronto Film Festival is a key launching pad for awards season releases. Past Oscar winners such as “The Green Book” and “The Shape of Water” have screened at the Canadian festival, emerging as Oscar frontrunners. Next week, the festival will unveil the movies that will show as part of its 44th edition.

iHeartMedia, Pride Media to Co-Produce Slate of LGBTQ+ Podcasts

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 07:00 AM PDT

iHeartMedia is teaming with Pride Media, the media company whose brands include Out, The Advocate and Pride, to co-produce a slate of LGBTQ+ podcasts in 2019-20.

The partnership will kick off with “The Outcast,” an iHeartRadio original podcast co-produced with Out Magazine. Hosted by Out Magazine deputy editor Fran Tirado, the weekly podcast will explore queer and queer-adjacent topics pertaining to politics, pop culture, fashion, relationships, money and more, with each episode taking a deep dive into one theme or story. The first episode of the series will launch on July 18.

In addition, the iHeartPodcast Network later this month will launch Pride Media’s “Food 4 Thot,” a podcast hosted by four queer men (pictured above) — Fran Tirado, Tommy “Teebs” Pico, Dennis Norris II and Joe Osmundson — who discuss sex, relationships, race and identity.

Pride Media and iHeartMedia companies plan to co-produce more podcasts, to be announced later. The shows will be available on the iHeartRadio app and over 250 different podcast platforms.

“A podcast by the world’s premiere queer media brand is long overdue, and I am more than honored to help it along the way,” Tirado said in a statement. “Podcasting and audio storytelling, particularly in the LGBTQ+ space, needs more voices in it. I can’t wait to help elevate and uplift those voices.”

Pride Media is pacting with iHeartMedia to tap into its “massive scale,” according to interim CEO Orlando Reece. “We’ve seen the power of podcasting firsthand, and we’re looking forward to collaborating with the leading podcast platform to create shows that we know our audience will love,” Reece said.

iHeartRadio features more than 25,000 podcasts, including more than 750 original shows. It’s the second biggest podcast publisher, with a unique U.S. audience of 19.1 million for June 2019, behind NPR at 20.4 million, per measurement firm Podtrac. The company’s No. 1 podcast currently is “Stuff You Should Know,” hosted by HowStuffWorks’ Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant; iHeartMedia acquired HowStuffWorks last year for $55 million.

“At iHeartMedia, our goal is to connect exceptional content with diverse audiences,” said Conal Byrne, president of iHeartMedia Podcast Network. “Pride Media has been an authentic voice for the LGBTQ+ community for years, and this partnership would not be possible without their unique expertise.”

How ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Changed TV Forever (Column)

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 07:00 AM PDT

When Netflix debuted “House of Cards” in 2013, it seemed like streaming was going to mimic premium as we already knew it. The premiere of “Orange Is the New Black” five months later ended that notion for good. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, the show ostensibly followed Piper (played by Taylor Schilling), a bright but naive white woman from Connecticut reeling from the shock of a past mistake that has sent her to prison years later. Soon enough, however, Kohan steered the series in a different direction, pulling the rug out from under its initial premise by widening its scope far beyond Piper to the surrounding inmates, whose experiences looked nothing like her own. “Orange Is the New Black” dove headfirst into the challenge of depicting the interlocking stories of poor, queer, addicted inmates of many races; the women of Litchfield Penitentiary quickly became one of the most inclusive casts TV had ever seen. With pointed flashbacks guiding each episode, the series deepened its characterization of women who rarely appear on-screen at all.

The show’s commitment to portraying such a wide swath of experiences still makes it remarkable to watch in 2019; when it launched in 2013, it was downright astonishing. Piper — an upper-middle-class blonde with a side gig selling organic soap — is the kind of character with which Hollywood is familiar and comfortable. Putting her through the violent shock of prison made it seem like “Orange Is the New Black” would be telling a classic “fish out of water” story, until it revealed just how much of an ensemble show it really was. Piper was, as Kohan often called her in interviews, the show’s “Trojan horse” who could lure in potentially wary executives and viewers before turning around and telling the kinds of stories they may never have otherwise been given a chance.

So while Piper stuck around until the show’s final frames, she will not be one of its most enduring characters. That honor will — and should — belong to characters like Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and Poussey (Samira Wiley), Maritza (Diane Guerrero) and Gloria (Selenis Leyva), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) and Suzanne (Uzo Aduba). These women, who faced crippling systemic obstacles and whom any other show might have granted a C storyline in a single episode, got multiple seasons to grow and change. (Also, and not insignificantly: This far-from-complete list of the show’s heaviest acting hitters proves just how much of a talent pipeline it is.)

And as one of Netflix‘s first big swings — and therefore one of streaming’s — “Orange Is the New Black” changed the game for what television could look like and accomplish with its storytelling. Without the content restrictions or pressure to score bigger ratings that it might have had on a traditional cable network, this series pushed itself to include people and subjects that TV doesn’t often try to address, let alone spotlight. If it can inspire others to do the same, it will cement its legacy of shaking things up and expanding its narrative worldview in an industry that can use more of both.

Demi Lovato inspired Luann de Lesseps’ sobriety

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 07:00 AM PDT

Demi Lovato has inspired Luann de Lesseps’ sobriety.

The ‘Real Housewives Of New York’ star first received treatment for alcohol issues in 2017 after she was charged with and pleaded not guilty to disorderly intoxication, battery on an officer/firefighter/EMT, resisting arrest with violence and threatening a public servant.

She then checked into rehab again in 2018 and says seeing how Demi Lovato has handled her own addictions has inspired her to seek help.

Luann, 54, – who is approaching 90 days of sobriety – told Access Hollywood: “You know who’s really been inspirational also is Demi Lovato, because she’s been very public about her struggle and I think it’s important.

“It’s kind of a private thing. But there’s a lot of celebrities at meetings, and so I don’t feel so alone.”

Demi, 26, completed a stint in rehab following her near-fatal overdose last year, and told her fans she is now “sober and grateful to be alive”.

She tweeted: “I am sober and grateful to be alive and taking care of ME…

“I’m so blessed I get to take this time to be with family, relax, work on my mind, body and soul and come back when I’m ready. I have my fans to thank for that. I’m so grateful, truly. I love you guys so f**king much thank you (sic).”

Following her overdose in July 2018, Demi has been “committed” to her sobriety, which includes focusing her energy on more positive activities such as exercise.

A source insisted the ‘Solo’ hitmaker has been working hard behind the scenes to remain sober and has cut off her “enabling” friends, with her biggest motivation being the chance to get back on stage.

Kian Lawley, Katherine C. Hughes Starring in Finnish Comedy ‘Perfect Commando’

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:45 AM PDT

Kian Lawley, who was dropped from movie “The Hate U Give” last year after a video resurfaced of him that included racist comments, has landed a starring role alongside Katherine C. Hughes (“Blue Bloods”) in the Finnish comedy “Perfect Commando.” The series is the latest original for Elisa Viihde’s Aitio streaming service, and will be distributed internationally by Red Arrow Studios.

Lawley is a YouTube star with 3.4 million followers of his SuperKian13 YouTube channel. He also stars in AwesomenessTV series “Zac & Mia.” In the 10-part “Perfect Commando,” he will play Van, who has been living in California and makes a trip to his mother’s home country of Finland. With dual American-Finnish citizenship, he finds himself thrown into military service, setting up a fish-out-of-water comedy about a privileged kid from L.A. surviving life in the army barracks with a bunch of oddballs.

The English- and Finnish-language will be produced by Fire Monkey. As well as the U.S. names, it will also feature an established cast of Finnish actors, including Johannes Holopainen (“All the Sins”), Fanni Noroila (“HasBeen”), and Tommi Korpela (“Bullets”). Filming starts at the end of the month.

International drama is increasingly popular, and Finland has an emerging profile as a home of scripted series. “‘Perfect Commando’ is the first Finnish comedy series to be co-financed by an international distributor right from its inception,” said Ani Korpela, head of content at Elisa Viihde. “Our slate of original series are our most popular content, so it’s fantastic to be involved in developing such high-quality drama and comedy shows that meet international standards.”

Netflix Shares Dive After Q2 Stumble: Just a Hiccup or Sign of Bigger Trouble?

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:41 AM PDT

Netflix badly undershot its subscriber forecasts for the second quarter of 2019 — posting its first net U.S. customer decline since 2011 while growth slowed considerably overseas. The company added 2.7 million subs worldwide, almost half as many as the 5 million it had projected.

With the big miss, Netflix shares took a predictable hit, opening down 10% on Thursday. The question Wall Street analysts are debating: Are the Q2 results a sign the wheels are coming off the streaming giant, or merely a blip on the long-term road to continued growth?

Most analysts said there’s no reason to panic, pointing to Netflix’s reiteration that for the full-year 2019 it expects to add more subscribers than last year (when it gained 28.6 million worldwide).

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, in the company’s earnings video interview Wednesday, tried to project confidence in the long-term model. “We’re building amazing capacity for content,” he said. “Our products have never been in better shape. Our rate of investment is extremely high. So if investors believe in internet television, which I think is an easy one to get there, then our position in that market is very strong.”

Netflix attributed the Q2 miss to price increases — including in the U.S. — as well as a light content lineup. Some analysts agreed with this view: “The lack of marquee hits likely contributed to lower-than-expected net adds, leaving room for improvement in Q3 given more impactful content slate,” Cowen & Co. analyst John Blackledge wrote in a note.

Blackledge remains positive on Netflix’s growth potential given strong initial Q3 subs trends and the company’s content slate for the second half of 2019, which includes in the third quarter “Stranger Things” season 3, “Orange Is the New Black” season 7, “La Casa de Papel” season 3 and “Mindhunter” season 2.

But other analysts seem storm clouds brewing.

The lower-than-expected Q2 results show Netflix will have increasingly tough sledding in the U.S., according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who’s notoriously bearish on the company (with a longstanding “underperform” rating). In a note, the analyst said he remains skeptical that Netflix can turn free cash flow positive in the next five years.

“Netflix has already penetrated the majority of its above median-income household addressable market at 60 million subscribers,” Pachter wrote, “and with competition from Disney Plus, [WarnerMedia’s] HBO Max and Comcast [NBCUniversal], we expect the company to have difficulty meaningfully growing its domestic subscriber base.”

Moreover, Netflix’s acknowledgement that the price increases hurt subscriber growth in the quarter also raises the question of its pricing power, MoffettNathanson’s Michael Nathanson observed. “As more studios pull content from Netflix, the platform moves from being a digital video store in the cloud with unlimited versions of all your favorite shows to a premium cable network on steroids,” he wrote in a note.

Investors shouldn’t “overreact” to Netflix’s Q2 miss, opined Morgan Stanley’s Ben Swinburne. He noted the second quarter is seasonally “a light TV viewing quarter” in general and noted that the magnitude of the subscriber miss was in line with Netflix’s previous misses. And while the price hikes may have boosted churn levels, the price increases drove strong revenue and earnings growth — revenue was up 26% in the period, and Q3 guidance points to over 31% growth.

“In aggregate, the combination of a seasonally light viewing quarter, seasonally light content slate (content tends to be packed around awards season), material price increases, and ease of cancelling/rejoining may have created a bit of a perfect storm,” Swinburne wrote in a research note.

In the video interview for investors, Netflix CFO Spencer Neumann said “there’ll be some quarter-by-quarter choppiness along the way based on things like seasonality and content slate and so forth.”

Bolstering the “choppiness” argument, Netflix guided global net adds of 7.0 million for the third quarter (6.2 million overseas and 800,000 U.S.) — higher than Wall Street had expected. Netflix’s Q3 guidance “should provide another crucial litmus test for the underlying growth trajectory,” CFRA Research analyst Tuna Amobi wrote. He maintains a “buy” rating on the stock but cut 12-month price target by $25, to $400 per share.

Other analysts were unperturbed by the Q2 sub miss. “We see the long-term trend as largely on track (especially the broader revenue trend),” wrote BMO Capital Markets’ Dan Salmon, whose stock picks in the “global streaming race” are Netflix, Amazon and Disney.

Indeed, the stock drop represents a buying opportunity for investors, according to Jeff Wlodarczak, principal analyst at Pivotal Research Group. Anticipating a rebound in subscriber growth in the second half of 2019, the analyst boosted the price target on the stock by $15, to $515 per share. “The NFLX positive investment thesis remains very much intact in our view and we would use share price weakness as a purchase opportunity.”

(Pictured: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings)

Iggy Pop to Drop ‘Somber and Contemplative’ New Album, ‘Free,’ in September

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:37 AM PDT

Iggy Pop today confirmed the title and release date of his first new album in three years, “Free,” which comes out Sept. 6 on Loma Vista Records.

While it follows 2016’s “Post Pop Depression,” a hard-rocking collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme that was the highest-charting album of Pop’s 50-year-plus career, according the the announcement, ” ‘Free’ has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor — or with any other Iggy Pop album.”

Key collaborators include trumpeter Leron Thomas and guitarist Sarah Lipstate, who works under the name Noveller.

“On the process that led Iggy and principal players Leron Thomas and Noveller to create this uniquely somber and contemplative entry in the Iggy Pop canon,” the announcement continues, “Iggy says:

“‘This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice…

“‘By the end of the tours following ‘Post Pop Depression,’ I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long.

“‘But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that’s an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need – not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen.'”

Indeed, the first song is a minute-and-48-seconds-long atmospheric track, check it out below.


Full tracklisting for Free:

  1. Free
  2. Loves Missing
  3. Sonali
  4. James Bond
  5. Dirty Sanchez
  6. Glow In The Dark
  7. Page
  8. We Are The People
  9. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
  10. The Dawn


Aziz Ansari, Chris Hardwick’s Reemergence Complicate the #MeToo Conversation

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:30 AM PDT

Aziz Ansari‘s new Netflix stand-up special “Right Now” marks the comedian’s return to the spotlight more than a year after being publicly accused of sexual impropriety, an allegation that has proved to be divisive, fueling discussions about what is considered consent and what constitutes sexual assault. His isn’t the only redemptive arc forming at the moment; Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick is returning to San Diego Comic-Con this week as a panel moderator for AMC’s “The Walking Dead” franchise after stepping down last year in the wake of an ex-girlfriend’s abuse allegations.

Amid a heated, ongoing public dialogue about sexual misconduct — one that involves a news cycle flooded with headlines about powerful men like R. Kelly, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein being brought to task for alleged egregious sex- abuse offenses — some entertainers accused in the #MeToo era have reestablished their careers, having maintained bonds with the networks and studios with which they had long-standing relationships.

Regardless of guilt, timing a comeback is a deliberate process.

“It depends what they did; it depends what they were accused of doing … and what their threshold of pain is in terms of coverage,” says Michael Sitrick, founder and CEO of crisis PR firm Sitrick and Co., which at one point represented Weinstein after the producer began facing accusations of sexual abuse. “There needs to be a plan; there needs to be a statement. You need to assume the worst and then have a plan for the worst and say, ‘This is what might happen.'”

Neither AMC nor Netflix has received much blowback for its decision. Hardwick’s forced hiatus was brief; AMC ran an internal investigation before reinstating him as host of “Talking Dead.” Ansari lay low after now-shuttered ran a story in January 2018 in which an unnamed woman alleged that he engaged in sexually aggressive behavior with her while on a date. He reemerged with the Netflix special.

That neither Ansari nor Hardwick’s alleged offenses appeared to rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing and that no other accusers stepped forward may have played a role in their comebacks. Netflix originals chief Cindy Holland said a year ago at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour that the company “certainly would be happy to make another season of ‘Master of None’ with Aziz.”

There’s no news yet on whether a third season is happening; it’s unclear whether the stand-up special is meant to be a test of viewers’ appetite for the comedian.

Social media reaction has been mixed, as viewers mull Ansari’s onstage comments that he “felt terrible that this person felt this way” and hoped he’d become a better person. There is perhaps the worry that even if his alleged actions were not on the scale of others’, allowing him to make a return is tantamount to condoning all bad behavior or undermining allegations that deserve serious attention.

“I don’t think we publicly, or even much through the #MeToo movement, have really come to terms with how we want to deal with this as a spectrum rather than a black-or-white issue,” says Lorraine Bayard de Volo, chair of women and gender studies at the University of Colorado Boulder.

There’s precedent for media brands staying in business with accused talent without taking too much flak. CBS renewed “Bull” for a fourth season despite Michael Weatherly facing sexual harassment claims from co-star Eliza Dushku; ABC and iHeartMedia kept Ryan Seacrest on the air after his former stylist accused him of misconduct while at E!; National Geographic Channel moved forward with shows hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson after two women alleged he behaved inappropriately.

As in the cases of Ansari and Hardwick, most of these accusations were standalone instances that weren’t pursued in criminal court. CBS, E! and NatGeo all conducted inquiries, concluding that cutting ties wasn’t necessary.

What are companies supposed to do with such talent? Think about whether a private citizen accused of misconduct, who was not tried criminally, should be discouraged from reentering the workforce, says one legal scholar.

“It just so happens that these men’s jobs are in the entertainment industry,” says Aya Gruber, law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. “I think we can all agree that even a criminal conviction means that you shouldn’t be unemployed for life.”

Still, being a celebrity is different from most jobs; it’s a coveted one that offers wealth, popularity and a platform. Studios and networks don’t appear to be mandating that their talent have spotless records, but for the price of pop culture influence, many viewers are.

Netflix: 105 Million Users Have Watched at Least One Episode of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:15 AM PDT

About 105 million Netflix users have watched at least one episode of “Orange Is the New Black,” the streaming service’s originals chief Cindy Holland exclusively told Variety in the July 18 cover story on the series, now entering its seventh and final season. That makes the series Netflix‘s most-watched original ever.

The show was part of Netflix’s first wave of original programming, then a curious but bold strategic move that has since morphed into a library of more than 700 originals on the service as the company bets on such programming to drive subscriber growth.

The Netflix-provided figure is a rarity, though chief content officer Ted Sarandos told analysts and investors on the earnings call Wednesday that the company will be “increasingly transparent with producers” with its data over time.

In its second-quarter report, Netflix noted a loss in U.S. subscribers for the first time in eight years, which it attributes to a weak content slate during the quarter and a subscription price hike. The unusual sub loss sent its stock down double-digits in after-hours trade.

This shakiness arguably underscores the need for original content on the service. Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne said he may have underestimated Netflix’s need for hits to drive subscriber acquisition.

“This does not make us incrementally more anxious about losing ‘Friends’ or ‘The Office,’ but rather more focused on Netflix’s ability to find the next ‘Strangers Things’ or ‘Orange Is The New Black’ to bring new members into the service,” he wrote. “The good news is Netflix has more content ‘at-bats’ (over $9 billion in streaming content amortization in 2019E) than anyone else in TV and simply being average should lead to a steady stream of new hits.”

The recent pullback of licensed content like “Friends” and “The Office” from Hollywood players is something Netflix says it has been anticipating. Though the loss of both shows is a blow to the streamer, it also says that even its most-viewed shows make up only low-single-digit percentages of viewing. (And notably, “Friends” will still be available on Netflix outside of the U.S., where growth is most robust.)

“We think it’s been very important to the business to continue pushing down that road, so the more international, more global, more original film,” said Sarandos.

Read the July 18 Variety cover story for more on how “Orange Is the New Black” marks the end of the first era of Netflix originals, as a new era of competitive streaming wars emerges.

Stephan Komandarev and Catalin Mitulescu Films Among Sarajevo’s 23 World Premieres

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:08 AM PDT

The latest films from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev and Romania’s Catalin Mitulescu are among 23 world premieres competing for the Heart of Sarajevo awards at the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival.

Komandarev’s 2017 film “Directions” played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and his 2008 opus, “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” was shortlisted for the Oscars. Whereas “Directions” centered on taxi drivers, the new film, “Rounds,” focuses on police officers.

Also world premiering in Sarajevo is “Heidi,” directed by Mitulescu, whose 2006 pic “The Way I Spent the End of the World” and 2011’s “Loverboy” both played in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard. “Heidi” centers on an elderly policeman who has to persuade a teenage girl to testify in an organized-crime case involving human trafficking.

Joining “Rounds” and “Heidi” in the main competition lineup are two other world premieres. “Open Door,” the debut feature from Albanian director Florenc Papas, is a road movie following two sisters, one of whom is unmarried but pregnant, as they travel across the mountains of Albania to meet their strict, traditional father in their home village.

“Son,” the second feature from Bosnian director Ines Tanovic, centers on a troubled teenage boy and his admiring younger brother, growing up in Sarajevo. Tanovic’s debut, “Our Everyday Life,” world premiered at Sarajevo in 2015, and represented her country in the foreign-language film Oscar race.

Also in the main competition are Emin Alper’s “A Tale of Three Sisters” (Turkey), Levan Akin’s “And Then We Danced” (Georgia-Sweden), Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova’s “Cat in the Wall” (Bulgaria), Radu Dragomir’s “Mo” (Romania), and Ena Sendijarevic’s “Take Me Somewhere Nice” (Bosnia and Herzegovina-Netherlands).

The festival, a leading showcase for films from Southeast Europe and Turkey, runs Aug. 16-23.

‘Pod Save America’ Producer Crooked Media Hires Netflix Exec Sarah Geismer to Head Development, Production

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:00 AM PDT

Crooked Media, the company that produces progressive political podcast “Pod Save America,” tapped Sarah Geismer, a former Netflix and Fox TV exec, as head of creative development and production.

In the newly created role, Geismer will lead development for all of active and upcoming podcast, TV and film projects for Crooked Media. The L.A.-based company was founded in 2017 by former Obama aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor.

Crooked Media’s hiring of Geismer flagship signals that the company wants to continue to expand beyond podcasts. Last year, the twice-weekly “Pod Save America” show was adapted by HBO into a four specials covering the 2018 midterm elections.

“Throughout her career, Sarah has demonstrated an incredible ability to champion and shepherd a diverse slate of shows, and has consistently identified stories and talent that resonate with audiences and compel them to keep tuning in,” Crooked COO Sarah Wick said in announcing the hire. “We’re thrilled Sarah is bringing that wealth of experience to Crooked, as the company continues to expand and grow in new directions.”

Geismer joined Netflix less than a year ago as a drama series development exec on the company’s originals team, responsible for shows including those from Shonda Rhimes and Jenji Kohan.

Prior to Netflix, she served as VP of comedy development at 20th Century Fox TV, working on projects including “Single Parents” on ABC and “Cool Kids” on Fox. That came after a seven-year stint at Fox’s cable production divisions, where she oversaw drama and comedy projects including “The Chi,” “Maron,” “Sirens,” “The Comedians,” “Complications” and “Burn Notice.” Geismer started her career as an associate producer on the MTV docuseries “True Life.”

According to Crooked Media, its mission is to deliver “a no-bullshit conversation about politics and culture where you can laugh, cry, scream, ridicule us daily, share your ideas, and hopefully decide that you want to help fix this mess too.” The company’s founders say they have not raised funding from outside investors.

Tommy James Biopic ‘Me, the Mob and the Music’ in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:00 AM PDT

Pop music star Tommy James and film producer Barbara DeFina are developing the biopic “Me, the Mob and the Music,” based on James’ autobiography.

DeFina, whose credits include Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” and “GoodFellas,” and James have tapped three-time Tony Award winner Kathleen Marshall to helm the film adaptation from a screenplay by Matthew Stone (“Intolerable Cruelty”).

James was the leader of Tommy James and the Shondells with No. 1 singles for “Hanky Panky” and “Crimson and Clover” along with a dozen other Top 40 hits, including “I Think We’re Alone Now”, “Mirage”, “Mony Mony”, “Sweet Cherry Wine”, and “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” He has sold an estimated 100 million records.

The book, co-written with Martin Fitzpatrick and published in 2011, centers on James’ years at Roulette Records and his complex and sometimes terrifying relationship with mobster Morris Levy, also known as the “Godfather of the Music Business.” Levy operated through payola and strong-arm tactics. Levy was convicted of extortion in 1990 and died after losing an appeal shortly before he was due to report to prison.

Bruce Springsteen, Santana, Joan Jett, Prince, Tom Jones, Billy Idol, Kelly Clarkson and Cher have recorded covers of James songs, which have been in 60 movies and 53 TV show soundtracks. Currently, he can be heard nationally each week with his “Getting Together” radio show broadcast on Sirius XM.

DeFina’s first producing project was “The Color of Money,” followed by “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Age of Innocence,” “Cape Fear,” “Casino” and “You Can Count on Me.” She also executive produced “Goodfellas,” “The Grifters” and “Hugo.” She also produced Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video.

Marshall won Tonys for choreography in “Anything Goes,” “The Pajama Game” and “Wonderful Town” and was nominated for directing each of those musicals. She also received directing and choreography nominations for “Nice Work if You Can Get It.”

“I am thrilled to now have the very talented Kathleen Marshall signed on to direct the film of my life story,” James said. “Living for so long with underlying feelings of fear and intimidation, and yet being grateful to the very same people for the great success that we had, makes for a wild tale and was often difficult to explain. My deep appreciation to everyone on the team who believed in this project — my manager Carol Ross, our producer Barbara DeFina. our screenwriter Matthew Stone and my co-writer Martin Fitzpatrick. What a team!”

Marshall is repped by CAA and Untitled Entertainment. James and DeFina are repped by Mark Schwartz and George Sheanshang.

Inside ‘Orange Is the New Black’s’ Unlikely Journey to Become Netflix’s Most-Watched Original

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 06:00 AM PDT

Before “Netflix and chill” entered the cultural lexicon, before the streaming platform won its first Emmy, before it started inking deals with major showrunners, Netflix in the early 2010s was testing out a hypothesis about the public’s appetite for premium-quality television shows on the internet.

It had recently recovered from the Qwikster debacle — an aborted plan to spin off its DVD-by-mail business — and gritted its teeth through a tomato-pelting over a subscription price hike. Now Netflix was challenging network incumbents with its inaugural slate of first-run originals, including “House of Cards,” horror series “Hemlock Grove” and the revival of cult favorite “Arrested Development.” Also in the works was a less high-profile show from “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan, based on a memoir about a motley collective of women incarcerated in a minimum-security prison. With no point of reference for what a highly produced online-only TV show would look like, the cast of that series, a diverse group of mostly unknowns, didn’t know whether “Orange Is the New Black” would become a hit or something that dissolved into the cyber-ether. Few guessed the show would become Netflix’s most-watched original series of all time.

“When we were making ‘Orange’ [in 2012], it wasn’t like ‘House of Cards’ was actually on television for us to be like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be that,'” says Uzo Aduba, aka Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on the show. “It’s like, ‘Is it a web series? Is it going to be on YouTube? I don’t really get what this is.’ Additionally, the makeup of our show wasn’t something that was all over the television landscape.”

Years later, Kohan’s beloved series is now entering its seventh and final season, and can boast 20 Emmy nominations, four wins and the rare Netflix-provided statistic that around 105 million users have watched at least one episode. The show was, in retrospect, not just a signal that a group of diverse women could harness Hollywood clout and acclaim, but a major factor in cementing Netflix’s aggressive originals growth strategy.

The end of “Orange” punctuates the end of an era for the streamer: A question mark has become an exclamation point. With almost every major player in town invested in online originals, all eyes are on what comes next from Netflix as the streaming entertainment market goes into overdrive.

Never mind that Netflix wasn’t a traditional TV network: In seeking a home for “Orange,” Kohan remembers loving the streamer’s “all-in” straight-to-series model that bypassed the fatigue of pilot development.

“Here was a network that was willing to buy an entire season at once and fund it and support it,” says Kohan. “There was nothing better in my mind. I had gone through years and years of pilots, and [for them] to say, ‘We’re going to support your vision through a whole season’ was an amazing opportunity. It had a real budget and a team that was really into it, so I wasn’t thinking in terms of ‘No one will see it’ or ‘It’ll only be on the web’ or whatever. It’s like, ‘I get to make this.'”

Kohan’s bona fides as a writer and showrunner were clear, and the stories themselves were a meaty mix of comedy and tragedy that passed the Bechdel test a thousandfold, giving voice to female characters hardly found on TV. For those uncertain about the show back then, it was Netflix that raised eyebrows.

Nevertheless, 45-year acting vet Kate Mulgrew, who plays Litchfield inmate Red, prophesied the series’ starry destiny.

“I can sniff a winning pony,” she says. “Even though they gave me a very slender audition piece, I understood immediately that Netflix was going to do something very bold, and that working in concert with Jenji Kohan, it was going to [create] an absolute horse race in terms of the true advent of the golden age of television.”

Referring reverently to Netflix’s vice president for original content, Mulgrew adds: “But you must have a visionary like Cindy Holland. She saw; she understood.”

Holland, who joined Netflix 17 years ago, is a Stanford grad and former competitive water-skier who arrived in Los Angeles from New York in a GMC pickup truck on the same day in 1994 that O.J. Simpson was fleeing police across town in his Ford Bronco. After spending some time reading scripts and working for a production company, she left entertainment for a stint at ill-fated e-commerce company before becoming Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos’ first hire in L.A. in 2002.

The two of them worked out of a little office in Raleigh Studios, back to back, desks facing opposing walls, often chatting with downstairs neighbors Bob Odenkirk and his wife, Naomi. Netflix, then a Silicon Valley entity that went public that year, was but a whisper in Hollywood.

People “mostly thought I was nuts,” recalls Holland from the company’s Southern California outpost, a slick 14-story building at Sunset Bronson Studios. “If they had heard of Netflix at all, [they said], ‘It’s a small DVD-by-mail company; what are you doing?’ But I really felt that the promise of Netflix, even as it existed then, was unlocking distribution of movies that I loved and that are under-distributed. My relatives in Nebraska could get access to all the foreign films and all these indie movies and documentaries that they otherwise would never see.”

She and Sarandos spent that first decade in L.A. navigating the evolving entertainment landscape, building out the company’s streaming and licensing businesses and creating the foundation for a launch into originals. In 2011, MRC Studios came knocking with prestige drama “House of Cards.”

“We were intentional about wanting to change the perception of what internet content was,” says Holland. “At the time, it was mostly YouTube or Funny or Die, but there wasn’t really long-form premium content.”

Kohan’s series traces back to “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” the 2010 memoir from Piper Kerman. Kerman remembers Kohan being different from other industry folks who had pitched their visions to her.

Kohan is an “insatiably curious person,” says Kerman. Over a long lunch, the showrunner asked the ex-con “millions of questions” that ranged from the existential to the mundane: how inmates grapple with their sense of self, what maxi pads they use, what they eat.

“She’s interested in the truth of the experience, but also, like, whether there’s cheese,” says Kerman. (To that point: In prison there is “rubbery, orange government cheese.”) “That was before we knew what Netflix was going to be, so really, I entrusted that story to the creative person.”

Kohan brought the book to Lionsgate, where she had a deal at the time; the studio optioned it for her. As it happened, at around the time that Netflix announced “House of Cards,” Lionsgate TV Group president Sandra Stern and chairman Kevin Beggs had a general meeting scheduled with Holland. Stern told Holland to read Kerman’s memoir over the weekend, confident that the Netflix exec would come calling Monday to request a pitch meeting with Kohan. She did.

For her part, Holland affectionately calls “Orange” the “little engine that could.”

“There was a lot of press and hype around ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Arrested Development,’ and less so about ‘Orange,'” she says. “Really, as we were
making it, it was ‘Oh, we feel like we know something the rest of the world doesn’t. This is our little secret weapon.'”

Kohan has said before that the character of Piper Chapman, the white yuppie turned jailbird played by Taylor Schilling, served as a Trojan horse to introduce stories about Latinas, black women, older women and women of different socioeconomic classes.

“I’m super, super proud of what we did with ‘Orange,'” says Kohan. “I’m super proud to say that we presented all sorts of women, all sorts of minorities, and not just one, but different people within the minority. If there’s something emotionally that’s going on with a character, no matter what your background or color is, you can identify.”

For Aduba, who would become the first actress to take home Primetime Emmys in both the comedy and drama categories for the same role, “Orange” was the first TV job she ever booked.

“It was something that, up until then, I didn’t actively pursue, because I had never seen a space for myself there existent in it,” she says of television. She auditioned after “Orange” casting director Jennifer Euston saw her in a play in New York.

There weren’t enough dressing rooms while they were filming Season 1, so the cast would overflow into the green room, playing cards and bonding between takes. At some point, they organized a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, from Manhattan to Grimaldi’s pizzeria, recalls Aduba, 40 women taking up the whole restaurant.

They would soon take up space in a much more significant way.

“I don’t even know if people at the time knew what they were thirsty for, but when we gave them that to drink, it was consumed so quickly, because it was like, ‘Yes, that is what I’ve been looking for,” she says. “That had a huge impact. It was successful, and so many different types of people related to it. I think it made it, sadly, less scary to tell those kinds of stories, and made other outlets open to actually putting those scripts — that they’ve probably been receiving for years, frankly — on television.”

In the writers’ room, Kohan strove to cultivate a hardworking but “homey” vibe, an office “filled with dogs and babies and snacks and toys,” even a “BYO nanny”-style nursery for staffers who were new moms — hardly the norm in a male-dominated industry.

“I just know what I wanted to build,” says Kohan, describing her room as a “family environment where work still gets done but you’re comfortable and you’re safe and you’re fed and your needs are taken care of.”

Under Kohan’s wing, a cohort of actors, writers and producers have been magnified, amplified — and are making more originals for Netflix. Writer Lauren Morelli is showrunning the “Tales of the City” revival; Natasha Lyonne co-created critical darling “Russian Doll.” Kohan has started a pilot incubator with four “Orange” writers, the brainchild of exec producer Carolina Paiz, which will create four projects over four months.

Netflix’s Holland was aware of the show’s on-camera and behind-the-scenes uniqueness. She recalls being on set one day during the first season: “It occurred to us at some point it was all women, sitting at video village, which is kind of rare.”

In the six years since Sarandos memorably told GQ magazine that Netflix’s goal was “to become HBO faster than HBO can become us,” the company has walked the walk. In 2018, HBO and Netflix tied for No. 1 in Emmy wins, with 23 trophies apiece. Helping to secure those accolades were “The Crown,” the Kohan-produced “GLOW” and “Stranger Things,” the latter of which is Netflix’s first in-house original.

The streamer has won 66 Emmys total. To come that far just five years after winning its first, for “House of Cards,” is no fluke. “Orange” is the first series to be nominated in both the comedy and drama categories; Laverne Cox made history as the first openly transgender actress to earn a nomination.

Not long after it premiered, “Orange” became Netflix’s most-watched series — according to the streamer — finding an audience in international markets like Brazil and the Nordic countries. More than half the show’s viewers are outside the U.S., says Holland, with male and female fans alike. Its success has tracked through the years; an RBC Capital Markets survey recently found “Orange” to be a top-three favorite in France and Germany, indicating that the series still has legs abroad going into its seventh season.

In a Peak TV universe, shows get axed before they’ve had a chance to register in the pop culture consciousness. That 105 million TV viewers have watched one episode of anything, even over the course of six years, is a major accomplishment for “Orange,” and for Netflix.

“It has certainly encouraged us to take more risks and to really think big about the types of content that we could program for an audience willing to try new things and discover different things,” says Holland. “And also to push into making sure that we’re programming for underrepresented audiences and really try to serve all audiences.”

How does that massive figure stack up against other Netflix originals?

“It’s the biggest,” says Holland.

By what margin?

“I’m not going to tell you,” she says, smiling, then breaking into laughter.

The tacit joke, of course, is that Netflix is notoriously stingy about providing viewership data, releasing snippets as and when it pleases, and only about its best-performing programs.

Gauging Netflix’s success in originals is more art than science, given this reluctance. Series renewals are a good sign. Social media buzz is a good sign. Emmys are a good sign. Real-life fans chasing you down the street is a good sign.

“I remember going to Brazil for Pride and feeling like the Jackson 5, the way people were just hollering at us on that float,” says Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee. “It was a whirlwind. And when we got off the float, we had to run, because people were chasing us to get a photo. It blew my mind.”

Netflix also has Wall Street groupies, sending its stock price from around $50 in 2013 to nearly $400 now, largely because of its growth to 149 million subscribers. Originals are seen as a major anti-churn factor.

“The key for Netflix is that when they first came out with some of these original programs, there was chatter in the industry that they ‘got lucky’ by having multiple hits in a row,” says Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson. “But now it’s become apparent that this is a repeatable process for them to generate quality original content.”

Before “Orange,” Netflix had been a place where studios would sell off-network rights to existing shows. But the second wind that Lionsgate-produced “Mad Men” had gotten on Netflix, introducing people to the acclaimed AMC series, served as a proving ground.

“‘Mad Men,’ for me, was a bit of an inflection point,” says Lionsgate’s Stern. “It brought home to me how influential Netflix could be and how important a role it could play in gaining traction, finding an audience for a series. And if it could do that for a series that had begun life on another network, why not an original?”

The trouble is the sustainability of this quest, as the number of originals on the service surpasses 700. The company expects $3.5 billion this year in negative free cash flow. That, combined with a hefty debt load, preoccupies Netflix bears. Content spending has exploded from around $2 billion in 2013 to a projected $14.2 billion in 2019, per Olson. Still, he expects positive free cash flow coming in four or five years, as subscription growth outpaces content spend.

The investment is expensive but crucial. Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and others are building their own streamers, yanking lucrative properties like Marvel movies, “The Office” and “Friends” off Netflix.

Holland anticipated that.

“We started original programming to get ahead of that,” she says, “and to chart our own destiny and not be reliant on others to supply content to us.”

Netflix also began signing creators to overall deals in response to the landscape.

“When we started original series, we sort of looked at ourselves as the alternative to the traditional studio overall deal model,” says Holland. “But we could see and believe that as the industry started to consolidate more, as studios were going to start producing and keeping that content more in-house for their own services, that there was going to be a natural evolution of the business. So as we started thinking about who were the folks we would want to have these overall deals with, it’s also natural to say, ‘Well, we sure ought to reward the folks who brought us here,’ and Jenji’s certainly one of them. I believe we’ll be doing a lot of stuff with Jenji.”

Netflix is entering a new era, one marked by the creative firepower of Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Kenya Barris — and yes, Kohan, with whom it inked an overall deal in late 2017. Rhimes’ and Kohan’s pacts were negotiated concurrently, meaning they were the first two to sign overall deals with the streamer.

Alongside “GLOW,” Kohan is executive producing “Slutty Teenage Bounty Hunters” for Netflix, is developing docu-series “Worn Stories” and has optioned the David Eagleman book “Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives.”

As for her next personal project as a showrunner? She’s not sure yet.

“It’s been a big year of endings,” says Kohan. “I got divorced, ‘Orange’ ended, two out of three of my kids are going or are away in college. It’s a lot to figure out. I’m hoping all this transition and turmoil leads to some really interesting writing. But right now I’m still roiling a little bit, so it’s hard to get the pen to write straight.”

Moving on from Litchfield, she knows what she doesn’t want — which Netflix might be wise to take as an indicator of what to expect next from the creator.

“Let me say what I’m not interested in right now: dystopia and darkness,” says Kohan. “I think there’ve been too many shows of late that are either instruction manuals for evil or just depressing. I’d like to reflect more hopefulness and more light and what life could be in a better way while still having conflict and darkness. But I’m really weary of this feedback loop of awfulness, and I kind of have a mandate right now to show better worlds.”

Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of ‘The Great Society’

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:44 AM PDT

Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.”

The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in “All the Way.” It won the actor a Tony. Cranston reprised the role in an HBO television production of the play.

Cox is an acting heavyweight who has appeared in indie fare such as “L.I.E.” and “The 25th Hour,” as well as big-budget movies such as “Troy” and “The Bourne Supremacy.” He was previously on Broadway in the 2011 revival of “That Championship Season” and the 2007 production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Cox is currently playing a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron in HBO’s “Succession.”

The cast will also include Marc Kudisch as Richard J. Daley, Grantham Coleman as Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Thomas as Hubert Humphrey. Casting for other key roles, such as those of Richard Nixon, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Coretta Scott King, Lady Bird Johnson, and J. Edgar Hoover are ongoing.

“The Great Society” will focus on the latter half of Johnson’s presidency. A period that saw his domestic ambitions derailed as the war in Vietnam escalated.

Bill Rauch, who previously oversaw “All The Way,” will direct this production. Performances of the 12-week limited engagement will begin Sept. 6 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater.

Hiring a Financial Adviser? Start the Conversation Simply with These Top 3 Questions

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:41 AM PDT

No matter where you are in your career, the prospect of working with a financial adviser may bring on a flurry of finance-related questions.

SEE ALSO: How Many Investment Advisers Should You Hire?

For baby boomers, questions may be centered on “How much do I need to retire?” and “When can I retire?”

For Gen Xers to Millennials (and Centennials), questions may be focused on “Is it better to pay off my home loan quickly or save for our children’s college?” to “How can I pay off college debt while saving for a down payment on a house?”

About 44% of 5,000 Americans polled this spring by GOBankingRates, a personal finance website, said they wished they’d learned more about budgeting and investing while they were in school.

As a Certified Financial Planner™ with 16 years of experience, I know that financial education and building wealth are part of a process. As such, I always encourage clients to ask questions: Any and all questions are good, because part of our goal is to educate and guide them about their financial journeys.

Of all the questions new clients ask, here are the three most important three questions they should ask — especially clients who may have never worked with a financial planner before.

No. 1: What is a fiduciary, and are you a fiduciary?

In general terms, being a fiduciary entails actively working in a client’s best interest, even if it’s detrimental to the adviser’s firm. This is where hiring an independent financial advisory firm that is not tied to any brand insurance or investment products can be beneficial.

One way I explain a fiduciary role to clients is this, if you go to a car dealer, you expect that dealer to sell you one of her dealership’s cars. This would be similar to the ‘suitability standard,’ which means a product or service may be suitable for you. Contrast that with the fiduciary standard. What if the salesperson knew that another car dealer had the perfect car for you? The exact features you needed, a better price, plus higher gas mileage. If she was a fiduciary, she would send you to the other dealership, because that would be the best car and deal for you, even if it meant she wouldn’t get the commission.

Here’s a simple question to determine whether an adviser applies a suitability, versus a fiduciary, standard in their investment or product purchase recommendations: Ask your financial adviser if he or she will sell investments, insurance or other financial products from any company, or if there is a list you are required to buy from.

An independent financial advisory firm doesn’t have a mandatory list of products that must be sold. Independent financial advisers can shop the market or search the neighborhood for the best product that fits your specific objectives. Also, don’t buy into investments based on a friend or family member’s recommendation only; your investment goals are likely different from theirs.

See Also: The Elephant in the Room: Your Adviser Is Getting Paid

No. 2: What should my objectives be in working with you as my financial adviser?

Investors have different goals at different stages in their work lives. Usually the top two or three client objectives depend on what stage in life a client is moving toward.

  • Early on in a career, clients may be focused on debt elimination, cash flow, saving for a down payment on a house, saving for retirement, and/or planning for the next three to five years.
  • In the mid-stages of a career, clients are usually concerned with family obligations, home improvement and possibly college planning. It can be a lot of work to balance all of your obligations while trying to maintain a career trajectory and friendships.
  • In the later stages of a career, the bigger questions are centered on retirement itself. When can you retire and do you have enough saved?

Your adviser should go through the mechanics of how retirement works emotionally as well as talk about the earliest you can stop working and still be financially secure.

No. 3: How is your firm compensated by its clients, and how often should we meet?

Asking how a firm is paid is a simple, yet effective question. Don’t be shy, just go ahead and ask: “How much do I pay you?” or “How are you compensated?”

Financial advisory firms can be compensated in a couple of ways: Fees can be charged as a comprehensive asset-under-management fee ranging from 1% to 2% per year to actively manage an investment portfolio. Usually that model includes financial planning. Clients can also pay on a commission-only basis for the sale of investment or insurance products, and some financial advisers charge an hourly fee.

Tied into the fees will be an expectation of how often you will meet with your adviser. Typically, the complexity and urgency of a client’s needs and objectives will likely determine the frequency. If the financial adviser doesn’t recommend a certain number of times to meet per year, the client should ask what would be most appropriate for them. People at all stages of building wealth can benefit from having a conversation with a professional financial planner to make sure you get on the right financial path.

No matter how much money you have, clients should talk to a certified financial planner at an independent firm just to begin setting a household budget and establishing investment and tax planning; debt management; education planning; retirement planning; estate planning; and insurance planning.

At the end of the day, remember that if you feel your financial adviser is not listening to you or is creating generic solutions to your specific problems, think about changing advisers. If an adviser is constantly trying to sell you one product or guarantees you a big return on an investment, those can be red flags.

Hiring a financial adviser is the beginning of an ongoing and personal conversation that is the foundation of a trusted relationship that grows over time.

See Also: 7 Secrets Financial Advisers Won’t Tell You

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

All contents copyright 2019 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Comic-Con: ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Cast Will Hit Reddit Live-Streamed AMA (EXCLUSIVE)

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:30 AM PDT

Arnold is back — and he and other cast members of “Terminator: Dark Fate” are joining a first-of-its-kind live-streaming Reddit AMA on Thursday from Comic-Con International in San Diego.

For the new installment in the “Terminator” franchise, Paramount Pictures is hosting a traditional Comic-Con panel Thursday 11 a.m.-12 noon in Hall H. Then, a few hours later (the exact time is still TBD) they’ll appear on Reddit‘s Ask Me Anything live-streaming video broadcast.

The “Terminator: Dark Fate” crew — director Tim Miller and cast members Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Diego Bonetta, Gabriel Luna and Natalie Reyes — will participate in the AMA on Reddit, in a session hosted by Scott Rogowsky, formerly the face of game-show app HQ Trivia. The AMA also will include new footage from “Dark Fate,” which will go up on Reddit first before Paramount distributes the video through other social channels.

The Reddit AMA for “Terminator: Dark Fate” will go live on the homepage Thursday in a takeover ad unit. Fans will be able to begin posting questions on the thread about two hours before the event; the body of the post will be an embedded video, which will be blank until the live-stream starts. Reddit and Paramount are calling the special AMA “Hall R” of Comic-Con, although it’s going to held off-site from the San Diego Convention Center (at an undisclosed location).

It’s Reddit’s first activation at Comic-Con and the first time the site has partnered with an entertainment franchise for a live-streamed AMA with a host. There won’t be an audience for the Reddit AMA at Comic-Con: Rather, the aim is to bring the excitement of the convention to Redditors worldwide.

“So much time and energy goes into creating these panels for Comic-Con, and we felt ‘Hall R’ with Reddit was the perfect digital extension for the Comic-Con experience,” said Tamar Teifeld, VP of digital marketing at Paramount.

Having the AMA live-streamed is important, “because you couldn’t do this with the whole cast in text format – it’s hard enough to follow AMA when it’s just one person,” Teifeld added. “We want fans to feel like they’ve gotten a personal glimpse into how this movie was made.”

Sure, Paramount could have live-streamed a session itself. But the studio wants to tap into the site’s passionate fanbase, as part of building hype and awareness for “Termination: Dark Fate” ahead of its Nov. 1 release date. According to Reddit, more than 200 million of users on the site are TV and film fans.

And Arnold has a big following on Reddit. On May 23, Schwarzenegger posted the “Terminator: Dark Fate” on Reddit from his own handle (GovSchwarzenegger) — and it essentially evolved into an impromptu AMA. So far, the post has generated more than 66,000 upvotes, more than 7,000 comments, and received 21 community awards.

As the AMA host, Rogowsky will select questions posted on Reddit to throw to the “Terminator: Dark Fate” crew, who also will be able to pick Qs they’d like to address. Of course, said Teifeld, “there’s always going to be haters – it’s the internet.”

Reddit is hoping to do more “Hall R” activations in the future, said Neal Hubman, Reddit’s senior director of West Coast brand partnerships. “We have started to invest more in our entertainment team to build true partnerships with studios like Paramount,” he said.

Paramount has previously worked with Reddit to promote releases including Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!,” “Pet Sematary” and movies in the “Cloverfield” franchise.

Johnny Kitagawa: Power, Abuse, and the Japanese Media Omerta

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:23 AM PDT

Will the death of Johnny Kitagawa lead to a change of attitude by the Japanese media to the powerful Johnny & Associates talent agency that he formed?

Public broadcaster NHK and others this week reported a warning to the company from the Fair Trade Commission over alleged pressure on TV stations to keep members of the boy band SMAP off air following its breakup. Johnny’s denied the allegations and that it had not received an administrative punishment, but added that it would be “careful not to cause future misunderstandings.”

When Kitagawa died on July 9, age 87, the Japanese media treated it as major news. President of Johnny’s, Kitagawa was a power on the Japanese entertainment scene for more than 40 years, launching a succession of boy bands. His acts, including Tanokin Trio, SMAP, Arashi, Kinki Kids and KAT-TUN, not only generated hit records, but became ubiquitous on TV as everything from sports show commentators and variety show emcees to the faces of ad campaigns. They also starred in countless TV dramas and films, drawing legions of loyal fans. Collectively, they made Kitagawa one of the richest men in Japanese show business.

The media covered all this and more about Kitagawa, who was born in Los Angeles in 1931 as John Hiromu Kitagawa. Starting in the 1960s, he brought American influences into Japanese show business, including the concept of singing-and-dancing male pop groups.

What the mass media elided, however, were allegations that Kitagawa sexually abused the young male talents in his employ. The first to make such charges, in graphically explicit diaries published in 1988, was a former member of the Four Leaves, a group that Kitagawa launched in 1968 and was his first to achieve chart-topping success. Another former Johnny’s talent made similar claims in a 1996 tell-all book, saying he had witnessed Kitagawa forcing a boy to engage in sex in an agency dormitory.

The culmination, however, was a 1999 series of articles in the weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun that described sexual abuse of ten teenaged male talents. A Parliamentary hearing examined the claims, but Kitagawa denied everything and sued the magazine. In 2002 a court handed down a judgment in Kitagawa’s favor, levying $81,500 in damages. Shukan Bunshun appealed and in 2003 the Tokyo High Court ruled that the sexual abuse charges had validity, based on court testimony by two former Johnny’s talents, but not claims that the agency had supplied alcohol and tobacco to minors. Damages were slashed to $11,000.

David McNeill, who profiled Kitagawa for Newsweek Japan at the time, noted in a recent Facebook post: “In the U.S. or Europe, a ruling that the founder of an organization in charge over the years of thousands of young boys was a serial abuser might have been headline news. In Japan, the ruling barely caused a blip on the media radar.”

That media omerta has mostly continued even after Kitagawa’s death. Instead of reviewing the allegations, media stories have focused on messages of regrets and thanks from present-day Johnny’s stars or the “Johnny’s family funeral” on July 12 attended by 150 agency talents, as well as Kitagawa’s niece Mary, who long served as agency VP. (Kitagawa never married and had no children.) Others bewailed him with the sort of panegyrics reserved for departed members of the Imperial family.

Exceptions do exist, however. Litera, a website covering the media, published an article on July 11 detailing the court case, including testimony that Kitagawa had sexually abused two former talents as minors. One testified that his seniors had told him: “If you let Johnny do things to you, he will give you good jobs. If you don’t, you’ll never make your (show business) debut.”

But what is the mass media’s excuse? One is the still-formidable power of the Johnny’s agency, which tightly controls access to its talents, even forbidding the use of their headshots on websites. (Kitagawa himself stayed firmly in the background, avoiding photographers and rarely accepting interview requests.)

A media outlet, such as Shukan Bunshun, that incurs the agency’s wrath can be shut out indefinitely, an unthinkable fate for many, especially the TV networks that have long relied on Johnny’s talents to boost ratings.

“Now that Kitagawa has died the mass media, which has long been held captive by the ‘Johnny taboo,’ should again investigate the truth of (Kitagawa’s) sexual and power harassment,” the Litera piece concludes. A silence of decades is not easily broken, but the FTC might help.

Time Immersive App Launches With Moon Landing AR Experience

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:00 AM PDT

Time launched a new mobile app for immersive journalism Thursday, complete with an augmented reality experience that visualizes the moon landing in a user’s living room. “Landing on the Moon” has been produced with help from Industrial Light & Magic chief creative officer John Knoll, who has been researching the Apollo 11 mission for close to 2 decades.

The new Time Immersive app, which is available for free for iOS and Android, is meant to be the new home for augmented and virtual reality experiences from Time’s visual storytellers. “We are putting a stake in the ground with AR and establishing the level of immersive journalism that Time will continue to bring to our readers,” said Time’s editorial director of enterprise and immersive experiences Mia Tramz.

“Landing on the Moon” allows mobile phone users to watch a tabletop recreation of the moon landing in AR mode. This includes both the landing procedure itself, complete with original audio from the 50 years ago, as well as a way to accompany Neil Armstrong as he took his first steps on the lunar surface.

The experience has been co-produced by Time, mixed reality agency Trigger, John Knoll, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, Ryot and Yahoo News.

Knoll’s involvement in the project was key to achieving scientific accuracy; ILM’s chief creative is a known moon buff who began researching the Apollo 11 mission soon after its 30th anniversary, when he found a website with raw telemetry data from the moon landing. “I found it really gripping,” Knoll recalled in a recent interview with Variety.

This research was also part of an ambitious HoloLens demo of the moon landing, which Knoll produced together with Epic Games and Microsoft.

Time’s “Landing on the Moon” experience isn’t the only mobile AR recreation of the moon landing. USA Today and Florida Today kicked off an AR live stream of a real-time recreation of the mission earlier this week as part of their 321 Launch app, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s Moonshot AR app has been doing a similar AR broadcast that will last 120 hours, and culminate with the moon landing on 7/20.

Khloe Kardashian doesn’t hate Tristan Thompson

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:00 AM PDT

Khloe Kardashian could never “hate” Tristan Thompson.

The 35-year-old reality star split from the NBA player when he kissed Jordyn Woods at a party in February, but has insisted that despite his infidelity, she could never hate him because he helped her “create an angel” in their 15-month-old daughter True.

Khloe made the comments when she responded to an Instagram post which read: “I know Khloe hates Tristan but Baby True starting to look just like him.”

To which the ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ star said she isn’t “holding on to hate”, because she’s too busy raising her “beautiful baby”.

She replied: “Why would I ever hate anyone who helped create such an angel? People make mistakes but I won’t hurt my own healing by holding on to hate. I’m too busy raising my beautiful baby and securing that [money bag emoji] to hate any individual. Sweet True has always looked like her daddy. She’s beautiful!! (sic)”

Meanwhile, Khloe recently described her tot as the “star” of her life.

She said: “She is the star of my life. At dinner one night, when I was looking for baby names, MJ, my grandmother, said, ‘You should name the baby True.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that name.’ I love that there’s family history, a story behind it.”

And sources recently claimed the ‘Revenge Body’ star has an “unbreakable bond” with True.

One insider said: “Khloe spends every day and night with True because she feels it’s very important for True to always have a parent around and since Tristan is not around much, she wants to make sure she sees True daily. She takes True everywhere with her. She has a nanny and assistant helping her, however, she’s extremely hands on and does a lot of things herself.

“Khloe and True have a very tight, unbreakable bond. Being a mother just comes natural to Khloe.”

John Cleese is ‘too naughty’ for knighthood

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 05:00 AM PDT

John Cleese is “too naughty” for a knighthood.

The comedy legend has a close friend in his ‘Monty Python’ co-star Sir Michael Palin, but has admitted he doesn’t think he’ll be joining the actor in getting a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, because he’s too “mischievous”.

He said: “I’m much too naughty and mischievous. Michael’s quite respectable. He doesn’t do naughty things, he’s not rude about the press like I am. People like me don’t get knighted. But that’s right, I don’t think comedians should have knighthoods, by and large … we’re supposed to say controversial things, that makes us interesting.”

The ‘Hold the Sunset’ actor had a species of lemur named after him after the Bemaraha woolly lemur was affectionately renamed Cleese’s woolly lemur, and John has said the namesake is “much better” than getting a knighthood.

Speaking about the lemurs – which he is known to have a fondness for – he said: “Yes! Gorgeous. That’s much better than a peerage or Michael Palin’s stinky old knighthood – I’ve got a lemur, a species, named after me: The Bemaraha woolly lemur or Cleese’s woolly lemur! Tiny little brown things, they’re not very interesting. When I die, which will be any day now, there’ll still be a lemur out there representing my interests.”

John turns 80 in October this year, and although he still feels like he’s in his 40s, he does have more life experience now.

The ‘Fawlty Towers’ star said: “80! I can’t believe that. No [I don’t feel grown up] not at all. I feel about 43. I wish I was 43. I know so much more about how the world works now. I realise the key thing is to realise that very little matters. Just a small number of people – the happiness of people around you.”

And despite his close friendship with Michael Palin, he joked he won’t be inviting any of the Monty Python stars – which also include Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones – to his party.

When asked if he’ll have a big party during an appearance on UK show ‘Lorraine’, he added: “Oh yes, oh yes. Going to make sure none of the Pythons are there – don’t want any of the grubby knights hanging around.”

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka on Durban Opening-Night Film ‘Knuckle City’

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 04:26 AM PDT

DURBAN-Dudu Nyakama is an aging boxer whose best fighting days are behind him. But for a man whose only glory has come in the ring, a big prize fight offers the one shot at saving his family, dragging him into the criminal underbelly of the gritty township he’s spent his whole life trying to escape.

In “Knuckle City,” by South African director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, there are only three ways out of a place known as South Africa’s boxing Mecca: through the ring, in a pine box, or in the back of a squad car. For his fourth feature, Qubeka returns to his childhood home of Mdantsane to explore how poverty and toxic masculinity perpetuate the cycle of violence that ensnares so many of its inhabitants. Inspired by classics like “Raging Bull” and “Mean Streets,” “Knuckle City” opens the 40th edition of the Durban Intl. Film Festival on Thursday night.

Qubeka is no stranger to DIFF audiences: Six years ago, his film “Of Good Report” was pulled by government censors on the day of its Durban premiere. His last film, “Sew the Winter to My Skin,” world premiered at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival and was South Africa’s entry in the foreign-language Oscar race. Qubeka spoke to Variety ahead of the premiere of “Knuckle City” to discuss toxic masculinity in South Africa, the tough battles boxers face outside the ring, and the “dream deferred” of South African democracy since the end of apartheid.

Your fourth feature is also the first that takes audiences inside Mdantsane, the township where you grew up. Why did you decide that now was the right time to explore the place that raised you?

I’ve always been slightly reticent to make this film. It felt like the go-to, easy thing to engage for me. Genre-wise, funny enough, it’s a mix of genres I’ve been avoiding for a while. When I started out as a filmmaker, everybody was trying to remake “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction.” There was always these clear references. Also, coming from that town, Mdantsane, as far as popular culture growing up, I was always like, “Well, I’ve got my own gangsters. I’ve got my own ‘Mean Streets.’ I’ve got references for all these archetypal things, just based on the environment of where I’m from.”

I felt we were walking a bit of a narrative tightrope with it. I wanted it to be accessible. I wanted to make a film that is fundamentally considerate to its audience. [Laughs.] And on another level, of course, the other thing that I felt is a bit of a tightrope with it is the subject matter of masculinity, or frustrated or toxic masculinity. In the current era, where we are at the moment, I don’t know if it’s even in the space of the discourse that people are willing to engage. Unfortunately, if you’re going to go into that subject matter, you’ve got to show it for what it is.

How did the boxing world of Mdantsane become a way into that discourse?

When I looked at boxers, doing a lot of research about the fighters, it always seemed like the fight at home was always bigger than the actual real fight–the opponent that they were fighting. The day to day seems to always defeat these guys. Obviously, it was taking a very entertaining perspective on the situation, but from a documentarian perspective, there’s a lot to be said about a place like that. Mdantsane post-1994 has produced about 17 world champions in one division or another. Which is insane. Absolutely insane. And it’s literally this reality of going broke–literally giving your all to try and get out of the streets. But a lot of these guys don’t have the skills to deal with life.

Whilst we were shooting the film, a few neighborhoods away from where we were, a few nights prior, an ex-boxer by the name of “Leli” Mbilase was killed by the community. And the reason why they killed him is he’d been going around, stealing and raping for the past 10 years. This is an ex-world champion. And he had gone from that status of being an ex-world champion to being a petty thief and rapist. The majority of the people that beat him up were women who were just fed up with this guy, and his reign of terror. And you ask yourself, “What the hell happened? What takes you from such heights to such lows?”

All of [the local boxers] have this story of extreme poverty, coming from very difficult situations, getting a very small gap, but that gap only giving you so much. Even during apartheid, we were celebrating champions like Welcome Ncita. Welcome Ncita was from the same neighborhood that I grew up in. These people became heroes at a time when they broke those apartheid boundaries. The guy was a millionaire in ’88. But by 1994, he was a pauper. It’s very dramatic, these people’s lives. And I asked myself, “What is the source? What is the cause?” And we found the topic around masculinity, and its being frustrated and not having a fundamental outlet, as a key source of this toxicity.


South Africa has been very engaged with the Me Too movement, and has launched its own campaigns around sexual harassment and violence, as well as gender inequality. Without taking away from the push for more female-led stories, do you think the country needs to do more to understand how and why this model of masculinity keeps being perpetuated?

For me, it’s always felt [like it had] to be part of the conversation, in regards to the position women have been put in by men. You’ve also got to look at the perpetrator. I’m not saying, “Oh, let’s feel sorry for the perpetrator.” But I think unpacking it is part of engaging the situation. Specifically using boxing as a metaphor, it’s a hell of a grueling regime to be a fighter–the training, the discipline that is required is insane. But what you’ll find is that it’s easier to engage that level of discipline than it is to be a father or a husband. That’s the tough s**t. That’s the s**t we can’t deal with. Give me a hundred burpies and punch a bag for however long, but don’t ask me to read and put my kids to sleep. [Laughs.] Now that’s hard. To me, it’s just really about saying that to get a more holistic view of the problem, you’ve got to look at the perpetrator. And it’s not me saying, “Let’s feel sorry for the perpetrator.” It’s me saying, “Let’s unpack it. Understand the wolf.”

There’s a scene in the gym where Dudu gives a speech about how the fighters are being exploited by the likes of Links and Bra Pat, who control the boxing circuit. It’s clear from the boxers’ reactions that they understand the situation; they might be uneducated, but they’re not stupid. They know they’re being exploited, but since boxing seems to offer the only way out of the township, they think they don’t have a choice. It feels like this is a commentary that you can extend beyond the boxing ring in South Africa–the paradox that black men are not only an embodiment of a system that exploits them, but they are somehow tools in their own exploitation, because they’re forced to be a part of that system.

Exactly. I’m glad you said that. Like you said, it extends beyond boxing. Boxing is the playground, it’s the metaphor. But beyond that, you look at the frustration on a social level–this idea of a sense of pride, a sense of self, but how does it play out economically? Do you have a car? Do you have a house? Do you pay the rent? Are you looking after your children? You’ve got those questions, versus also this image of projected pride. The other thing about these people is that these are very proud people. My people. That’s why I can make that indictment about them. They’re very proud people. Just going back in terms of that region’s history. It used to be its own country. Sure, it was a banana republic back in the apartheid period, but it was still its own country. So there’s a sense of self there. Now how do you juxtapose that versus you fulfilling your role as what is determined to be a man in this modern age? Are you even appropriate for the times–your thinking, your way of looking at the world? It’s that struggle.

And it becomes a struggle because you’re aware of it. Like that scene with Dudu: he can diagnose that problem right down to its smallest part, but he still can’t extricate himself from the situation. And that’s what you find. You find it in the conversations, whether it’s in bars, whether it’s in clubs, whether it’s on the streets, whether it’s in homes. The conversations are very analytical about the problem, but how much movement is actually done to get out of that situation?

Dudu’s father told him when he was growing up that the only way out of the township was as a champion, a criminal, or a corpse. You shot “Knuckle City” on location, using boxers and non-professional actors from the area. In terms of how they look at themselves, how they examined themselves through the process of making the film, do you think there’s been any evolution in that narrative? Or do they still feel that they’re trapped?

I haven’t had the opportunity to engage them since the shoot, so I’m looking forward to the screening, because a lot of the guys are coming through. It will be quite interesting to see them in a removed space in regards to what we were actually doing. But in the making of the film, there was definitely a documentary element to it, even though it’s a plot-driven film, in regards to their lives, in terms of how they saw themselves. I definitely drew a lot from them. There were two levels of it. There were the older guys, the guys who aren’t boxers anymore–naturally those guys have an analysis of where they’re at, and what the problems were. They were the ones who could diagnose things better, but [are] still not able to extricate themselves from the situation. The younger ones were quite in it, so there wasn’t this space for [reflection].

It’s telling that the film begins in 1994–the year that apartheid ended, and South Africans elected Nelson Mandela as their first black president. But we never really get a sense of the optimism of that era; in fact, the first thing we see of Mdantsane is kids fighting in the street. Were you trying to suggest that democracy in South Africa–maybe it didn’t offer false promise, but unfulfilled promise?

It’s a dream deferred. That works on a microcosmic level, with the self, as a human being; and also on the macro level, with the entire country. That even extends further to the global village. Between ’90 and ’94, it was the end of the Cold War, there was a lot of optimism–the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela being released. There was a sense that there could be a new dispensation, a new way of looking at the world. And here we are.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ‘The Truth’ With Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche to Open Venice Film Festival

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 03:44 AM PDT

Palme d’Or-winning director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s hotly anticipated new film, “The Truth,” starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke, will open the 76th edition of the Venice Film Festival.

The Truth,” which marks the director’s first work set outside his native Japan, will screen on the Lido on Aug. 28 in competition. Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018 with “Shoplifters.”

It’s the first time since 2012 that Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera has not chosen a Hollywood film as the festival’s opening film. The past three openers have been “First Man,” “Downsizing” and “La La Land.”

In “The Truth” (French title “La vérité”), Deneuve plays movie star Fabienne, who “reigns amongst men who love and admire her.” When she publishes her memoirs, her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) returns from New York to Paris with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and their young child. “The reunion between mother and daughter will quickly turn to confrontation: truths will be told, accounts settled, loves and resentments confessed,” according to a synopsis in the festival’s statement.

In thanking Venice for being selected to open the competition, Kore-eda said he shot the movie over 10 weeks last fall in Paris. “The cast is prestigious, but the film itself recounts a small family story that takes place primarily inside a house,” he said. “I have tried to make my characters live within this small universe, with their lies, pride, regrets, sadness, joy, and reconciliation.”

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera underlined that, for the first film he has directed abroad, Kore-eda “had the privilege of working with two major French film stars.”

“The encounter between the universe of Japan’s most important filmmaker today and two beloved actresses like Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche brought to life a poetic reflection on the relationship between a mother and her daughter, and the complex profession of acting,” he said.

“The Truth” is produced by France’s Muriel Merlin with co-producers Miyuki Fukuma and Matilde Incerti. The film is a co-production between 3B productions Bunbuku & M.i Movies, France 3 cinema, with the participation of France Televisions, Canal Plus, Cine Plus, Le Pacte, Wild Bunch and Japan’s Gaga Corp.

Although Barbera passed over Hollywood fare for this year’s opening film, the Brad Pitt space odyssey “Ad Astra” (Fox) and “Joker” with Joaquin Phoenix (Warner Bros.) are both expected to launch from the Lido, as are Noah Baumbach’s untitled new project (Netflix) and Tom Harper’s “The Aeronauts” (Amazon Studios), among other star-studded awards-season hopefuls.

Venice’s 76th edition runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7.

Liberty Global and Vodafone’s $21.5 Billion Cable Deal Cleared by European Authorities

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 03:08 AM PDT

The European Commission has approved Vodafone’s $21.5 billion deal for a raft of Liberty Global assets in Europe, with conditions attached.

The commission had investigated the deal on the grounds that it could reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers. It concluded, however, that the deal could go ahead with conditions. These include allowing broadcasters with services on the cable platforms to distribute content via their own OTT services and refraining from hiking fees paid by broadcasters in Germany for transmission of their channels on the cable network.

“We have today approved Vodafone’s purchase of Liberty Global’s business in [the Czech Republic], Germany, Hungary and Romania subject to remedies designed to ensure that customers will continue enjoying fair prices, high-quality services and innovative products,” Margrethe Vestager, the European antitrust commissioner, said in a statement issued Thursday.

In an agreement originally announced in May 2018, Liberty Global and Vodafone agreed to a long-expected deal for Liberty’s cable operations in Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic. Liberty Global said that with all regulatory conditions now satisfied, the deal will close by the end of this month.

“We’re pleased that the European Commission has recognized the considerable benefits that this important transaction brings to millions of consumers across Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic,” said Mike Fries, Liberty Global CEO. “And it is good news for our employees in each market who will become part of a fixed-mobile national challenger with the strength and scale to take on national telco incumbents.”

Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read said the deal was “a significant step toward enabling truly digital societies for our customers.”

After the deal closes, Liberty Global’s European assets will comprise Virgin Media in the U.K.; cable assets in Belgium, Switzerland, Poland and Slovakia; and 50% of the VodafoneZiggo joint venture in the Netherlands.

Kristen Bell’s daughters think she’s at least 63

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

Kristen Bell’s daughters think she’s twice her age.

The ‘Good Place’ actress turned 39 on Thursday (18.07.19), and just before she celebrated her birthday, she asked her two daughters – Lincoln, six, and Delta, four, whom she has with husband Dax Shepard – how old they think she is, and received some surprising answers.

In an Instagram video, Kristen asks her girls – who are kept off camera – how old they think she’s turning, and youngest daughter Delta answers first, as she says: “Six … 50 … 63.”

And after trying to hide her shocked expression, she then asks Lincoln the same question, who comes up with an even more outrageous figure.

Kristen asks: “How old do you think I’m turning, Link?”

To which the eldest child replies: “89.”

The ‘Frozen’ actress then hopes her husband can give her a more accurate answer.

She asks him: “Okay, Dad, how old do you think I’m turning?”

But Dax says: “I think a safe bet, somewhere in the middle of those two guesses, so … 71?”

At the end of the video, Kristen then reveals she’s actually at least 24 years younger than any of their guesses.

She captioned the sweet video: “My kids are kind. I dont care if they cant do math (For my #armcherries : #fastmath is overrated.) (sic)”

Meanwhile, Kristen previously praised her daughter Delta for being “social”, as she’ll strike up a conversation with just about anyone.

She said: “It boggles my mind how social [Delta] is. When we’re on an airplane, she spends the majority of her time up in the front cabin either talking to the pilot or the stewardesses, not with me. She’s four years old.

“I took her to the dentist the other day and I was trying to leave the dentist’s office and I was like, ‘Where is she?’ She had walked into the dentist’s office and was just talking to him. Just talking to him about things she had done that morning. Mind you, she just turned four, so she’s a kid, you know?”

Kris Jenner helps Scott Disick ‘navigate nerves’ ahead of show launch

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

Kris Jenner is helping Scott Disick “navigate his nerves” ahead of the launch of his new show.

Scott’s new show ‘Flip It Like Disick’ – which follows the 36-year-old reality star as he explores his love for real estate by flipping houses – is set to air on E! on August 9, and according to sources, he’s beginning to “feel the pressure” that comes with starring in his own show.

And Kris – who is the mother of Scott’s former girlfriend Kourtney Kardashian, and is executive producing ‘Flip It Like Disick’ – is reportedly on hand to help guide Scott through the “nerve-wracking” period before the show airs.

An insider said: “Scott’s new show, ‘Flip It Like Disick’, premieres in a few weeks and Kris is the very hands-on executive producer. She and Scott both want this to be a huge success, with multiple seasons, but, first and foremost, they need this season to be a hit.

“So, Scott is really feeling the pressure. Kris is helping to navigate his nerves and helping him with ideas on how to increase the promotion over the next few weeks. They’re in the final stretch, so it’s very exciting and very nerve-wracking all at the same time.”

Scott – who has Mason, nine, Penelope, seven, and Reign, four, with Kourtney – is no stranger to reality TV having featured heavily on ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’, but is still “nervous” about the prospect of fronting his own show, as he knows “no-one can predict” how people will react.

The source added to HollywoodLife: “Scott’s very proud of the show. The response from people has been great, but he’s still nervous. No one can really predict how the fans will react.”

Meanwhile, the star – who is now in a relationship with Sofia Richie – recently said he hopes the show will “entertain and inspire” people.

He said: “I’m excited to bring fans a new series that shows what I’m really passionate about professionally, which is flipping real estate and doing crazy and impressive renovations on celebrity homes. E! has never had a show like this before. It’s a bit different than viewers are used to seeing, but I think they will be both entertained and inspired by my team.”

ITV Takes Majority Stake in ‘Harlots’ Producer Monumental Television

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 02:27 AM PDT

ITV Studios now has a controlling stake in Monumental Television, the production company that makes Hulu series “Harlots” and which was founded by Oscar nominated film producers Alison Owen and Debra Hayward. ITV first bought into the company in 2015 and has upped its stake from 26% to 51%.

Julian Bellamy, managing director, ITV Studios, said: “Alison and Debra have proven to be a fantastic fit within the ITV family over the last four years. They’re outstanding creatives with fantastic talent relationships and I can’t wait to work even more closely with them as they start the next phase of Monumental’s growth.”

Owen and Hayward work across film and TV. Owen’s movie credits include “Saving Mr Banks.” Hayward, formerly head of film at Working Title, is a producer on the upcoming adaptation of “Cats.”

Speaking about their Monumental deal with ITV, the pair said, in a joint statement: “ITV Studios is at the forefront of all the exciting new developments in the television landscape and we are thrilled to continue our relationship with the incredible team there.”

ITV Studios Global Entertainment will continue to distribute Monumental shows internationally. Bellamy and Maxine Gardner, ITV Studios U.K. finance director, join Owen and Hayward, and Ruth Berry, managing director, ITVS GE, on the Monumental board.

Fremantle Owner RTL Group Forms New Unscripted Formats Unit

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 02:00 AM PDT

RTL has created a new unit that will work up unscripted formats exclusively for broadcasters and streaming services in the group. Fremantle, which is a major force in unscripted, is part of the RTL Group, and makes shows for RTL and third parties. The new Format Creation Group will develop ideas exclusively for in-house outlets. It will focus on factual entertainment and reality shows.

Broadcasters in the RTL Group include RTL in Germany and M6 in France. The French broadcaster’s boss, Nicolas de Tavernost, was a driving force in the creation of the new division.

“We have noted that successful programs in France also often work well in Germany, the Netherlands or Spain,” the M6 chief said. “And that a format that is a flop in one country is generally also a flop in the other European countries. With this new development unit, we now have the opportunity to share our experiences and our energy at a European level in order to become ever more innovative.”

Based in Hilversum in the Netherlands, FC Group will be led by former TV host and RTL Nederland exec Matthias Scholten. He will put together a team of about six, likely pulled from within and outside the group, to staff the unit.

About 10% of Fremantle‘s business comes from the RTL broadcasters and several of its biggest properties – such as “Got Talent” with Simon Cowell’s Syco – are co-owned. The FC Group will fully own the IP it creates. Fremantle is expected to bring the ideas to market beyond the RTL territories through its distribution unit. Fremantle production companies are also likely to make shows that get greenlit.

As big free-to-air players, the RTL channels have historically been at the front of the queue for new unscripted fare, but as Netflix and other streamers also fight for exclusive shows, there is fierce competition, which is another reason to double-down on in-house production. Across the RTL Group, the annual content spend is about $3.9 billion.

“Strengthening our core business by further increasing our program investments and by exploring all possible ways to develop and own new hit formats is one of our strategic priorities,” said Thomas Rabe, CEO of RTL Group. “This is what FC Group is all about: a place of autonomy where creativity and bold ideas can thrive.”

Stacey Solomon’s ‘gut wrenching’ mum guilt

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 01:00 AM PDT

Stacey Solomon has been feeling “gut wrenching mum guilt”.

The 29-year-old singer and television personality gave birth to her third child – and first with Joe Swash – Rex in May this year, and has been candid about her experiences with her newborn tot on Instagram.

And in a new post uploaded on Wednesday (17.07.19), Stacey – who also has sons Zachary, 11, and Leighton, seven, from previous relationships – admitted to having intense feelings of “mum guilt”, although she said she had “absolutely no idea why” she was feeling so down.

Posting a picture of herself with Rex, she wrote: “I feel like I shouldn’t really have these feelings because I’m nearly 8 weeks in and I am so incredibly lucky to have amazing children, a wonderful partner, loves loving, caring, & supportive family and I’m almost a bit embarrassed to say… That truth be told, I’m Having a bit of a gut wrenching day. One of those days that physically hurts your tummy. I have absolutely no idea why.

“Mum guilt has kicked in full swing. Nothing in particular triggers the feeling. It’s just there. Tried to keep busy and organise the hell out of the house which has helped for short moments (but also felt guilty about it). So making a conscious effort to try to accept it and let the feelings come and go.

“I found this picture from a few days ago when I caught a rare snap of us both smiling at the same time (and when I’d miraculously found the energy to have fun with my make up drawer). I’ve been looking at it all day to remind myself that these feelings WILL pass and every day will be different. Thinking of anyone else having a struggle today or any day for that matter. (sic)”

Stacey’s post comes after she previously said she felt as though she’d “neglected” her older sons after giving birth.

She wrote on Twitter last month: “Trying to get a bit of one on one time with my big baby today in between feeds. Feel like I’ve neglected the boys over the last few weeks trying to get into a feeding pattern.

“I haven’t managed to get into one yet (IS THAT NORMAL??). I’ve now got to the point where I can’t expect them to entertain themselves any longer.

“The fact that they’ve been so amazing and understanding has made it a lot easier for me but also meant the guilt has set in a little stronger because they’re just so bloomin good. (sic)”

Reese Witherspoon’s daughter Ava finds her inspiring

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 01:00 AM PDT

Reese Witherspoon’s daughter has praised her as her “inspiration”.

Ava Phillippe, 19, took to Instagram on Wednesday (17.07.19) to praise her mother Reese – who has Ava and 15-year-old son Deacon with her ex-husband Ryan Phillippe, as well as six-year-old son Tennessee with spouse Jim Toth – for teaching her “the power of graciousness” and “hard work”.

Posting a picture of the ‘Big Little Lies’ actress, Ava wrote: “This is the gorgeous woman who taught me about the power of graciousness, love, ambition, and hard work. She inspires me everyday to live with gratitude for the life I’ve been given and compassion for others. I’m thinking about her a little extra today, that’s all.”

The teenager’s post comes after Reese, 43, admitted she often worries that she’s “ruining” her children’s lives, and turns to her own mother for advice.

She said: “I call [my mom] a lot and go, ‘What am I doing? I’m ruining their lives!’

“I talk to my children a lot. I go to their sports games and help them with their homework.

“I try to nurse their individuality. I don’t put a lot of rules and restrictions on what colour their hair is or what they wear.”

And the ‘Legally Blonde’ actress is also concerned about the “overwhelming” pressure on children to succeed.

She added: “It’s overwhelming. It’s an anxiety and panic that trickles down into the children’s lives.

“We need to start thinking about the quality of our children’s souls. It’s just as important that children have time to play, be outside, and nurture friendships.”

Reese feels “really lucky” to have both sons and a daughter.

She said: “When they’re little, it’s all very physical. It’s about picking them up and not sleeping.

“As they get older, it’s more emotional as you guide them through their first experiences.

“I’m really lucky that I get to be the parent of a girl and boys – they’re both wrought with complications but I get to see both sides.”

Scott Disick happy about Sofia Richie and Kylie Jenner’s friendship

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 01:00 AM PDT

Scott Disick is “really happy” that Sofia Richie and Kylie Jenner’s friendship is back on track.

The 20-year-old model and the 21-year-old beauty mogul used to be close friends before Sofia started dating Scott, 36, the former partner of Kylie’s sister Kourtney Kardashian, 40, in 2017, and they have recently started to hang out again, with the pair currently on a girls’ trip to Turks & Caicos.

A source told Us Weekly: “Scott is really happy that Sofia and Kylie have become so close again because it means that Sofia has been further accepted in the family.”

Scott reportedly believes that it has made his relationship with Sofia “stronger”.

Scott and Kourtney, who have children Mason, nine, Penelope, seven, and Reign, four, together, have remained close and Sofia previously told pals she is “not threatened” by fans who want to see Scott reunite with Kourtney.

A source previously said: “[Sofia] does not feel threatened or jealous whatsoever when it comes to fans asking for Scott and Kourtney to get back together. In fact, she completely understands where they’re coming from and is not surprised at all by their reaction.”

Whilst a second insider added: “Sofia is one of the most confidant 20-year-olds you will ever meet, so she is not worried about all the talk about Kourtney and Scott getting back together. She is friends with Kourtney and respects her both as a person and a mother and she is in love with Scott and trusts that their relationship is solid and he will not go astray with anyone – let alone his baby mama. Sofia is cool with it all, cool with all the chatter because she knows that Scott is hers and it will remain that way forever. She is as far from being worried or concerned as one could possibly be. She has better things to worry about than things that are never going to happen.”


Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

Money funds with assets of $500 million or more that are available to individual investors. For period ended July 16, 2019.

                                                             7-Day   7-Day                                              Assets Average  Average  Compound              Fund                            ($Mil) Maturity Yield(%) Yield(%)     Alight MMF/Admin Shares                   637.5    19    1.75     1.77     Amer Century Capital Presv Fund/In      2,070.5    42    1.81     1.83     Amer Century Prime MMF/Inv Class        1,354.0    24    1.92     1.94     Amer Century US Govt MMF/Inv              955.4    24    1.94     1.96     American Funds US Govt MMF/Cl A        10,886.0    26    1.94     1.96     BMO Govt MMF/Class Y                      668.8    18    1.98     2.00     BlackRock MMP/Inv A                       772.3    38    2.02     2.04     BlackRock Treas Strategies Instit  h      147.8    29    1.76     1.78     Cavanal Hill Govt Secs MMF/Adm            545.3    11    1.84     1.86     Cavanal Hill US Treas Fund/Adm            802.9    16    1.65     1.66     Edward Jones MMF/Inv Class             21,729.1    31    1.74     1.75     Edward Jones MMF/RS Class               6,855.8    31    1.72     1.73     FFI Government Fund  h                     50.2    13    1.79     1.81     FFI Treasury Fund  h                      144.4    37    1.85     1.87     Federated Capital Reserves Fund         4,021.5    35    1.56     1.57     Federated Govt Reserves Fund/Cl P       8,015.1    33    1.41     1.42     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Auto         1,640.0    30    2.01     2.03     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Capital  h     680.8    30    2.25     2.28     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Cash II      1,062.8    30    1.66     1.67     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Service  h   2,689.9    30    2.10     2.12     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Trust  h     3,400.0    30    1.85     1.87     Federated Prime Cash Oblig/Wealth  h   16,142.4    30    2.35     2.38     Federated Tr for UST Oblig/Cash II        594.7    26    1.51     1.52     Federated Tr for UST Oblig/Cash Se        501.1    26    1.37     1.38     Fidelity Government MMF               111,337.8    25    1.99     2.01     Fidelity Govt Cash Reserves           145,128.4    25    2.05     2.07     Fidelity Govt MMF/Cap Reserves          6,290.5    25    1.47     1.48     Fidelity Govt MMF/Daily Money           6,418.3    25    1.71     1.72     Fidelity Govt MMF/Premium  h            4,376.9    25    2.09     2.11     Fidelity Inv Money Market/Cl I  h      23,710.1    29    2.35     2.38     Fidelity Inv Money Market/Instit  h    38,129.9    29    2.39     2.42     Fidelity MMF/Premium  h                40,090.8    28    2.23     2.25     Fidelity Money Market Fund              5,386.1    28    2.11     2.13     Fidelity Treas MMF/Cap Reserves         1,249.0    20    1.50     1.51     Fidelity Treas MMF/Daily Money          1,752.6    20    1.75     1.77     Fidelity Treasury MMF                  13,752.3    20    2.02     2.04     Fidelity Treasury Only MMF              2,847.0    43    1.90     1.92     First Amer Retail Prime Obligs/Cl       1,425.2    24    2.08     2.10     First Amer Retail Prime Obligs/Cl   h     577.2    24    2.33     2.36     Franklin US Govt Money Fund/Cl A        2,762.1    40    1.74     1.75     Gabelli US Treasury MMF/Cl AAA          2,424.6    45    2.24     2.26     General Treas Secs MMF/Dreyfus            680.8    39    1.66     1.67     Invesco Govt MMF/Cash Reserve           1,862.9    10    1.89     1.91     Invesco Oppenheimer Govt MMF/Cl Y       1,687.7    13    1.78     1.80     Invesco Premier Portfolio/Inst          1,709.8    43    2.33     2.36     Ivy Cash Management Fund/Cl A           1,253.5    24    1.86     1.88     JPMorgan 100% US Treas Secs MMF/Mr      2,025.8    30    1.73     1.74     JPMorgan Liquid Assets MMF/Agency  h      640.2    49    2.32     2.35     JPMorgan Liquid Assets MMF/Capital  h   1,257.6    49    2.41     2.44     JPMorgan Liquid Assets MMF/Instit  h    2,793.1    49    2.38     2.41     JPMorgan Liquid Assets MMF/Premier  h   1,912.2    49    2.13     2.15     JPMorgan US Govt MMF/Morgan             1,770.5    21    1.84     1.86     JPMorgan US Treas Plus MMF/Morgan         755.0    18    1.83     1.85     John Hancock MMF/Cl A                     637.1    36    1.85     1.87     Morgan Stanley US Govt MMT/Cl R           673.5    16    2.09     2.11     Northern MMF                              596.6    42    2.20     2.22     Northern US Govt MMF                   15,273.9    50    2.09     2.11     Northern US Govt Select MMF             2,680.9    52    2.09     2.11     PIMCO Govt MMF/Cl A                       716.4     2    2.16     2.18     PNC Government MMF/Cl A                 2,323.9    22    2.01     2.03     PNC Treasury MMF/Cl A                     578.5    35    1.89     1.91     Putnam MMF/Cl A                           705.2    26    2.06     2.08     RBC US Govt MMF/Investor                  967.0    10    1.43     1.44     Ready Assets Govt Liquidity Fund          914.7    32    1.50     1.51     Schwab Govt Money Fund/Investor        11,246.5    33    2.06     2.08     Schwab Govt Money Fund/Sweep           11,332.6    33    1.84     1.86     Schwab Treas Obligs MF/Investor         9,597.1    30    2.05     2.07     Schwab US Treas MF/Investor             4,998.1    49    1.87     1.89     Schwab Value Adv MF/Investor           62,871.2    40    2.16     2.18     Schwab Value Adv MF/Ultra  h           38,156.7    40    2.31     2.34     T Rowe Price Cash Reserves Fund         2,880.4    52    2.05     2.07     T Rowe Price Govt MF/Inv                7,741.4    47    2.05     2.07     T Rowe Price US Treas MF/Inv            4,541.0    46    2.03     2.05     Transamerica Govt MMF/Cl R2               822.4    36    1.61     1.62     UBS Prime Investor Fund                 1,786.7    33    2.03     2.05     UBS Prime Reserves Fund  h              3,085.6    33    2.30     2.33     USAA Money Market Fund                  4,929.2    33    1.96     1.98     USAA Treasury MM Trust                  5,077.8    30    1.96     1.98     Vanguard Federal MMF                  127,785.1    35    2.28     2.31     Vanguard Prime MMF/Investor           104,301.3    35    2.29     2.32     Vanguard Treasury MMF  h               27,536.5    42    2.17     2.19     Wells Fargo 100% Treas MMF/Svc  h       3,268.4    34    1.79     1.81     Wells Fargo Govt MMF/Svc  h             1,779.4    22    1.92     1.94     Wells Fargo Treas Plus MMF/Cl A         1,525.2    21    1.80     1.82     Wells Fargo Treas Plus MMF/Svc  h       1,357.7    21    1.95     1.97     Western Asset Govt Reserves/Cl A          773.6    12    1.84     1.86     Wilmington US Govt MMF/Admin            1,318.4    27    1.79     1.81     Wilmington US Govt MMF/Service          1,103.8    27    1.64     1.65  

iMoneyNet MONEY FUND AVERAGE(TM)All Taxable !

  (Averages for all  804 taxable funds)!               30     1.97     1.99    30-day average yield   2.00  

MONEY FUND TABLE COMMENTARY: Assets of the 804 taxable money funds reported by MONEY FUND REPORT® of WESTBOROUGH, MA 01581 decreased $22.6 billion to $3,072.3 billion during the week ended July 16, 2019. The taxable funds’ 7-day average yield decreased to 1.97 percent from 2.02 percent. The taxable funds’ 30-day average yield remained unchanged at 2.00 percent. The taxable funds’ average maturity lengthened by 1 day to 30 days.

Yield columns represent: annualized yield to shareholders for the past seven days and 7-day compounded (effective) rates of return. Past returns are not necessarily indicative of future yields. Investment quality and maturity may vary among funds.

h–fund requires minimum initial investment of 50,000 or more.

Reprinted in condensed form with permission from MONEY FUND REPORT®, a service of iMoneyNet, Westborough, Mass. 01581, 508-616-6600. On the Web at

At Work, Expertise Is Falling Out of Favor

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

In the faint predawn light, the ship doesn’t look unusual. It is one more silhouette looming pier-side at Naval Base San Diego, a home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. And the scene playing out in its forward compartment, as the crew members ready themselves for departure, is as old as the Navy itself. Three sailors in blue coveralls heave on a massive rope. “Avast!” a fourth shouts. A percussive thwack announces the pull of a tugboat-and 3,000 tons of warship are under way.

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But now the sun is up, and the differences start to show.

Most obvious is the ship’s lower contour. Built in 2014 from 30 million cans’ worth of Alcoa aluminum, Littoral Combat Ship 10, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, rides high in the water on three separate hulls and is powered like a jet ski-that is, by water-breathing jets instead of propellers. This lets it move swiftly in the coastal shallows (or “littorals,” in seagoing parlance), where it’s meant to dominate. Unlike the older ships now gliding past-guided-missile cruisers, destroyers, amphibious transports-the littoral combat ship was built on the concept of “modularity.” There’s a voluminous hollow in the ship’s belly, and its insides can be swapped out in port, allowing it to set sail as a submarine hunter, minesweeper, or surface combatant, depending on the mission.

The ship’s most futuristic aspect, though, is its crew. The LCS was the first class of Navy ship that, because of technological change and the high cost of personnel, turned away from specialists in favor of “hybrid sailors” who have the ability to acquire skills rapidly. It was designed to operate with a mere 40 souls on board-one-fifth the number aboard comparably sized “legacy” ships and a far cry from the 350 aboard a World War II destroyer. The small size of the crew means that each sailor must be like the ship itself: a jack of many trades and not, as 240 years of tradition have prescribed, a master of just one.

On most Navy ships, only a boatswain’s mate-the oldest of the Navy’s 60-odd occupations-would handle the ropes, which can quickly remove a finger or foot. But none of the three sailors heaving on the Giffords’s ropes is a line-handling professional. One is an information-systems technician. The second is a gunner’s mate. And the third is a chef. “We wear a lot of hats here,” Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Damontrae Butler says. After the ropes are put away, he reports to the ship’s galley, picks up a basting brush, and starts readying a tray of garlic bread for the oven.

Two boatswain’s mates are on hand, but only to instruct and oversee-and they too wear lots of hats, between them: fire-team leader, search-and-rescue swimmer, crane operator, deck patroller, helicopter-salvage coordinator. The operative concept is “minimal manning.” On the bridge, five crew members do the jobs usually done by 12, thanks to high-tech display screens and the ship’s several thousand remote sensors. And belowdecks, once-distinct engineering roles-electrician’s mate, engine man, machinist, gas-turbine technician-fall to the same handful of sailors.

Minimal manning-and with it, the replacement of specialized workers with problem-solving generalists-isn’t a particularly nautical concept. Indeed, it will sound familiar to anyone in an organization who’s been asked to “do more with less”-which, these days, seems to be just about everyone. Ten years from now, the Deloitte consultant Erica Volini projects, 70 to 90 percent of workers will be in so-called hybrid jobs or superjobs-that is, positions combining tasks once performed by people in two or more traditional roles. Visit SkyWest Airlines’ careers site, and you’ll see that the company is looking for “cross utilized agents” capable of ticketing, marshaling and servicing aircraft, and handling luggage. At the online shoe company Zappos, which famously did away with job titles a few years back, employees are encouraged to take on multiple roles by joining “circles” that tackle different responsibilities. If you ask Laszlo Bock, Google’s former culture chief and now the head of the HR start-up Humu, what he looks for in a new hire, he’ll tell you “mental agility.” “What companies are looking for,” says Mary Jo King, the president of the National Résumé Writers’ Association, “is someone who can be all, do all, and pivot on a dime to solve any problem.”

The phenomenon is sped by automation, which usurps routine tasks, leaving employees to handle the nonroutine and unanticipated-and the continued advance of which throws the skills employers value into flux. It would be supremely ironic if the advance of the knowledge economy had the effect of devaluing knowledge. But that’s what I heard, recurrently, while reporting this story. “The half-life of skills is getting shorter,” I was told by IBM’s Joanna Daly, who oversaw an apprenticeship program that trained tech employees for new jobs within the company in as few as six months. By 2020, a 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted, “more than one-third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations” will not have been seen as crucial to the job when the report was published. If that’s the case, I asked John Sullivan, a prominent Silicon Valley talent adviser, why should anyone take the time to master anything at all? “You shouldn’t!” he replied.

As a rule of thumb, statements out of Silicon Valley should be deflated by half to control for hyperbole. Still, the ramifications of Sullivan’s comment unfurl quickly. Minimal manning-and the evolution of the economy more generally-requires a different kind of worker, with not only different acquired skills but different inherent abilities. It has implications for the nature and utility of a college education, for the path of careers, for inequality and employability-even for the generational divide. And that’s to say nothing of its potential impact on product quality and worker safety, or on the nature of the satisfactions one might derive from work. Or, for that matter, on the relevance of the question What do you want to be when you grow up?

How deep these implications go depends, ultimately, on how closely employers embrace the concepts behind minimal manning. The Navy, curiously, has pushed the idea forward with an abandon unseen anywhere on land. Within a few years, 35 littoral combat ships will be afloat, along with three minimally manned destroyers of the new Zumwalt class. The effort seemed to me a good test case for the broader questions bedeviling the economy: Can a few brilliant, quick-thinking generalists really replace a fleet of specialists? Is the value of true expertise in serious decline?

[Read: The case against specialists]

I wanted to try to answer these questions-which is why, that morning in San Diego, I joined the crew of the Giffords as it prepared to set sail.

A warship is, in the words of one Navy analysis, a highly complicated “socio-technical system.” It operates in an environment that is often hostile, even outside of war; its crew-isolated by vast waters-must be ready for every eventuality. Traditionally, navies handled this by staffing their ships amply. Spain’s wood-and-sail Santísima Trinidad carried upwards of 1,000 men at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, providing redundancy in the face of any contingency. If one system failed, there was a backup. This may not have been efficient, but it was effective. The U.S. Navy adopted that model long ago-and has not lost a ship in combat since the Korean War.

But the end of the draft, in 1973, brought rising labor costs and, with them, a shift in thinking. “For my entire 39-year career,” the late Admiral Jeremy Boorda said in the early ’90s, “we always talked about buying ships and manning them with people … I think we need to think about things differently now. We need to figure out how to have the fewest number of people possible, and then build [ships] to make them as effective as they need to be.”

In 1995, Boorda converted an aging cruiser, the USS Yorktown, into an experimental “smart ship” on which watches were combined, engine rooms were unmanned, and sailors communicated by handheld radio instead of stationary telephones. The result was promising but modest: a 4 percent reduction in crew size. A series of naval reports concluded that “big dollar savings” could be achieved only with more significant changes, including greater automation and the selection and training of “generalists rather than specialists.”

Then, in 2001, Donald Rumsfeld arrived at the Pentagon. The new secretary of defense carried with him a briefcase full of ideas from the corporate world: downsizing, reengineering, “transformational” technologies. Almost immediately, what had been an experimental concept became an article of faith. In what Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service has called “an analytical virgin birth,” the Navy committed itself to developing the littoral combat ship and the Zumwalt-class destroyer, using the principles of minimal manning. The LCS came first, partly because it borrowed an Australian design for a passenger ferry and could therefore boost the fleet size quickly.

“I think when the Navy started off, they had a really good plan,” Paul Francis, of the Government Accountability Office, told the Senate in 2016. “They were going to build two ships, experimental ships.” But in 2005, having assured itself that “optimal manning works,” the Navy decided to skip the experimentation and move straight to construction. From this point on, whenever the Navy tried to study the feasibility of minimal manning, its analysis was colored by the fact that-on these ships, at least-it had to work. Dozens of littoral combat ships were on their way. The Giffords was the 10th to deploy.

As the skyline of downtown San Diego receded in the distance, we found ourselves approaching a pier that lay along the final extremity of land before the open Pacific. Shimmering far off to the left was Coronado Beach, the legendary training site for Navy SEALs. To the right was the tower of a nuclear submarine. Our mission for the day was to unload ammunition from the ship to an onshore supply base.

On deck I spotted a man holding a pair of high-tech binoculars and calling out distances: “Three hundred yards. Two hundred yards.” Turns out it was Butler, who, in addition to his other jobs, was working to become a certified lookout. “You have to be adaptable, very adaptable to the circumstances, or things can really take a turn in a different direction,” he told me, while estimating the distance and bearing of an approaching yacht under the tutelage of another sailor. “For me, that means thinking about the task you’re doing, not the task you’ll have to do.” That is: not dwelling on the garlic bread in the oven. “And asking the right questions. Uh, 500 yards?” He checked his eyeball estimate with the range finder. “Five hundred yards.”

What other jobs did he have? Should a fire break out, Butler said, he would become a “boundaryman” and work to stop the spread of smoke to other compartments-a job that, on another ship, would be supervised by a full-time damage-control specialist. The LCS has only two of these-which is one reason it has a “survivability” rating of 1, the lowest score possible. If the ship is critically struck, crew members are expected to simply abandon ship and escape. Traditionalists hate the idea.

Butler wasn’t the only character to reappear in different form. During an all-hands meeting-the smallness of the group exaggerated by the large size of the flight deck they stood on-someone pointed to the figure strolling in from stage right. It was one of the two boatswain’s mates who had been overseeing the line-handlers that morning. He had swapped his blue coveralls for head-to-toe green camo, and was walking back and forth, appearing to survey the upper deck of the ship. Such costume changes gave the whole ship the feel of a small theater troupe in which the actor playing the prince’s cousin also plays the apothecary, the friar, and Messenger No. 2.

The Navy knew early on that not just anyone could handle this kind of multitasking. By the early 2000s, the Office of Naval Research was commissioning studies on how to select and prepare a crew for the new ships. One of the academics brought in was Zachary Hambrick, a psychology professor at Michigan State University. Instead of trying to understand how well naval candidates might master fixed skills, Hambrick began to examine how they performed in what are known as fluid-task environments. “We wanted to identify characteristics of people who could flexibly shift,” he told me. To that end, in 2010 he administered a test to sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes-and when I traveled to Michigan State to find out more about his work, he invited me to give it a try.

In Hambrick’s Expertise Lab, I sat before a screen divided into quadrants: One showed me a fuel gauge that I had to monitor; another displayed a set of letters I had to memorize; another gave me a set of numbers to add together; and the final one presented me with a red button to push whenever a high-pitched tone sounded. All four tasks contributed equally to my total score, which appeared at the center of the screen. Because there really is no such thing as multitasking-just a rapid switching of attention-I began to feel overstrained, put upon, and finally irked by the impossible set of concurrent demands. Shouldn’t someone be giving me a hand here? This, Hambrick explained, meant I was hitting the limits of working memory-basically, raw processing power-which is an important aspect of “fluid intelligence” and peaks in your early 20s. This is distinct from “crystallized intelligence”-the accumulated facts and know-how on your hard drive-which peaks in your 50s. In a setting where the possession of know-how is trumped by the ability to acquire it quickly, as in Hambrick’s game, fluid intelligence is paramount. (For more on fluid and crystallized intelligence, see “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,” by Arthur C. Brooks, on page 66.)

When the sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes took the test, they were thrown a curveball that I was not: In the middle of the test, the scoring system suddenly changed, so that one quadrant now accounted for 75 percent of the score. Some sailors, Hambrick told me, were quick to spot the change and refocus their attention accordingly. They tended to test high in fluid intelligence. Others noticed the change but continued to devote equal attention to all four tasks. Their scores fell. This group, Hambrick found, was high in “conscientiousness”-a trait that’s normally an overwhelming predictor of positive job performance. We like conscientious people because they can be trusted to show up early, double-check the math, fill the gap in the presentation, and return your car gassed up even though the tank was nowhere near empty to begin with. What struck Hambrick as counterintuitive and interesting was that conscientiousness here seemed to correlate with poor performance.

Hambrick wasn’t the only one to observe this correlation. While Jeffery LePine, an Arizona State management professor and former Air Force officer, was doing Navy-funded research on decision making in the late 1990s, he used a computer game a lot like the one Hambrick administered. The tasks were explicitly military (for instance, assessing the “threat level” of 75 aircraft based on speed, altitude, range, etc.) but the curveball was similar: Unbeknownst to the participants, the scoring rules changed partway through the game. When this happened, he noticed that players who scored high on conscientiousness did worse. Instead of adapting to the new rules, they kept doing what they were doing, only more intently, and this impeded their performance. They were the victims of their own dogged persistence. “I think of it as the person literally going down with a sinking ship,” LePine told me.

And he discovered another correlation in his test: The people who did best tended to score high on “openness to new experience”-a personality trait that is normally not a major job-performance predictor and that, in certain contexts, roughly translates to “distractibility.” To borrow the management expert Peter Drucker’s formulation, people with this trait are less focused on doing things right, and more likely to wonder whether they’re doing the right things.

High in fluid intelligence, low in experience, not terribly conscientious, open to potential distraction-this is not the classic profile of a winning job candidate. But what if it is the profile of the winning job candidate of the future? If that’s the case, some important implications would arise.

One concerns “grit”-a mind-set, much vaunted these days in educational and professional circles, that allows people to commit tenaciously to doing one thing well. Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, has written powerfully about the value of grit-putting your head down, blocking out distractions, committing over a course of many years to a chosen path. Her writing traces an intellectual lineage that can also be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which explains extraordinary success as a function of endless, dedicated practice-10,000 hours or more. These ideas are inherently appealing; they suggest that dedication can be more important than raw talent, that the dogged and conscientious will be rewarded in the end.

In the stable environments Duckworth and Gladwell draw from (chess, tennis, piano, higher education), a rigid adherence to routine can no doubt serve you well. But in situations with rapidly changing rules and roles, a small but growing body of evidence now suggests that it can leave you ill-equipped.

Paul Bartone, a retired Army colonel, seemed to find as much when he studied West Point students and graduates. Traditional measures such as SAT scores and high-school class rank “predicted leader performance in the stable, highly regulated environment of West Point” itself. But once cadets got into actual command environments, which tend to be fluid and full of surprises, a different picture emerged. “Psychological hardiness”-a construct that includes, among other things, a willingness to explore “multiple possible response alternatives,” a tendency to “see all experience as interesting and meaningful,” and a strong sense of self-confidence-was a better predictor of leadership ability in officers after three years in the field. Thus, Bartone and his co-authors wrote, “traditional predictors [of performance] appear not to hold in the fast-paced and unpredictable operational environment in which military officers are working today.”

The world of work is full of such surprises. And as the rules change, so do ideas about what makes a good worker. “Fluid, learning-intensive environments are going to require different traits than classical business environments,” I was told by Frida Polli, a co-founder of an AI-powered hiring platform called Pymetrics. “And they’re going to be things like ability to learn quickly from mistakes, use of trial and error, and comfort with ambiguity.”

“We’re starting to see a big shift,” says Guy Halfteck, a people-analytics expert. “Employers are looking less at what you know and more and more at your hidden potential” to learn new things. His advice to employers? Stop hiring people based on their work experience. Because in these environments, expertise can become an obstacle. That was the finding of a 2015 study carried out by the Yale researchers Matthew Fisher and Frank Keil, titled “The Curse of Expertise.” The more we invest in building and embellishing a system of knowledge, they found, the more averse we become to unbuilding it.

Jeffery LePine has observed this phenomenon in another part of his life. For years, he devoted himself to understanding cars, and amassed a collection of Pontiacs that he maintained himself. But new developments-fuel injection and the like-convinced him that at times he needed expert help. When one of his cars developed a leaky engine, he called in a mechanic whose first attempt to fix the problem was to replace the rear oil seal. The leak persisted, so the mechanic replaced the engine and gave it a new oil seal. Still no luck, so he replaced the whole thing again. Finally, the mechanic read the instructions that came with the oil seal-something a novice would have done at the outset-and learned that newer engines required an extra step. By not doing it, he’d been puncturing the seals and causing new leaks himself.

The Yale study nicely summed up the dynamic at play here: All too often experts, like the mechanic in LePine’s garage, fail to inspect their knowledge structure for signs of decay. “It just didn’t occur to him,” LePine said, “that he was repeating the same mistake over and over.”

Yet the limitations of curious, fluidly intelligent groups of generalists quickly become apparent in the real world. The devaluation of expertise opens up ample room for different sorts of mistakes-and sometimes creates a kind of helplessness.

Aboard littoral combat ships, the crew lacks the expertise to carry out some important tasks, and instead has to rely on civilian help. A malfunctioning crane on board one LCS, for example, meant that the crew had to summon an expert to solve the problem, and then had to wait four days for him to arrive.

There have been other incidents. Because of a design flaw, the LCS engines started to corrode not long after the fleet’s launch, but for a long time nobody on board noticed, which led to costly delays and repairs. When a congressional oversight committee found out about the problem in 2011, it called the ships’ crews to task. Who was in charge of checking the engines? The answer was … nobody. The engine rooms were unmanned by design. Meanwhile, the modular “plug and fight” configuration was not panning out as hoped. Converting a ship from sub-hunter to minesweeper or minesweeper to surface combatant, it turned out, was a logistical nightmare. Variants of all three “mission packages” had to be stocked at far-flung ports; an extra detachment of 20-plus sailors had to stand ready to embark with each. More to the point, in order to enable quick mastery by generalists, the technologies on each had to be user-friendly-which they were not. So in 2016 the concept of interchangeability was scuttled for a “one ship, one mission” approach, in which the extra 20-plus sailors became permanent crew members.

On it went. The crew of one LCS failed to oil the main engine gear (forcing the ship to limp home from Singapore for a $23 million repair). The crew of another put a seal in the wrong hole, flooding its engine with seawater. “Who was responsible for the training?” the late Senator John McCain asked angrily at a hearing. “Wasn’t someone?”

A chastened naval command quietly ordered all LCSs to stand down for several months in 2016, sent their engineering crews back to school for requalification, and bulked up its high-tech courseware, which lets LCS trainees practice tasks on a highly detailed virtual ship. (“I’m going to show you the stern tube-shaft seal assembly,” a virtual officer announces in one training video, by way of greeting.) Onboard routines were updated to include more oversight and double-checking. The ship passed its sea trials, but not with flying colors. “As equipment breaks, [sailors] are required to fix it without any training,” a Defense Department Test and Evaluation employee told Congress. “Those are not my words. Those are the words of the sailors who were doing the best they could to try to accomplish the missions we gave them in testing.” The intentionally small crew size made the ship ill-suited to forward combat, because not enough people were on board to stand watch.

These results were, perhaps, predictable given the Navy’s initial, full-throttle approach to minimal manning-and are an object lesson on the dangers of embracing any radical concept without thinking hard enough about the downsides. Even if minimal manning works for a given business or institution, the ramifications for society may not be entirely salubrious. Grit and 10,000 hours of training are appealing in part because they reinforce American self-conceptions that have been present since the country’s founding, ideas about equality of opportunity, about the value of knowledge, about the importance of hard work. And while no one would suggest that effort itself is being devalued today-hard work is just as important in the workplace that’s emerging as in the one that’s receding-a world in which mental agility and raw cognitive speed eclipse hard-won expertise is a world of greater exclusion: of older workers, slower learners, and the less socially adept. “This sounds absurd,” retired Vice Admiral Pete Daly (now head of the U.S. Naval Institute) told me, “but if you keep going down this road, you end up with one really expensive ship with just a few people on it who are geniuses … That’s not a future we want to see, because you need a large enough crew to conduct multiple tasks in combat.”

But it’s a future we may need to see. As the cost of computing continues to fall and artificial intelligence usurps more and more human competencies, the collapse of old jobs into new ones seems preferable to their total disappearance. (Look at the unmanned helicopter the Giffords can accommodate, and it’s distressingly easy to picture a sailorless ship. Already, the DOD worries about the vulnerability of an LCS to “swarm boats”-basically, dozens of explosive-laden speedboats, unmanned and computer-coordinated.)

And while it seems fair to say that the Navy pushed the LCS forward too hard and too heedlessly, calling its minimal-manning project a failure would be premature. The viability of the aircraft carrier was not obvious to military planners in the 1920s, but then, through an extended process of on-site trial and error, engineers added catapults and arresting wires, and reconfigured flight decks, all of which turned an interesting idea into reality. The LCS is likewise the scene of everyday trial, error, and adjustment.

When large vessels stop to dock, for example, they have to be tied up with ropes that are too heavy to throw. So sailors on board throw out smaller ropes that are attached to the big ones, which their colleagues on land can then pull over. On traditional Navy ships, this is done from a ship’s top deck-a sailor tosses the small rope over the side, and the rest is easy. This is how it’s taught at the Navy’s equivalent of boot camp, on a mock wooden ship near Lake Michigan. But on the LCS the ropes reside in the forward compartment, where getting a good side-arm throw out the porthole is next to impossible. One early solution-sending a boatswain’s mate up top to make the toss-proved both awkward and complicated. But this is where having a crew attracted to novel problems is useful. At some point, a sailor had the idea of not throwing but launching the line through the porthole. This unknown soul started fiddling with materials at hand, and lo, the “slingshot” came into being: a rubber bungee cord knotted into an X around four carabiners that clip to the inside of a porthole and, when pulled back and then released, have enough strength to send a bundle of rope to a sailor waiting for it on land. A triumph of found materials, it’s an indication, however small, of what a group of open-minded generalists can achieve: namely, inventing new patterns of working that turn a lack of expertise into an asset.

What does all this mean for those of us in the workforce, and those of us planning to enter it? It would be wrong to say that the 10,000-hours-of-deliberate-practice idea doesn’t hold up at all. In some situations, it clearly does. Sports, musicianship, teaching-these are fields where the rules don’t change much over time. In tennis, it pays to put in the hours mastering your serve, because you know you’ll always be serving to a box 21 feet long and 13.5 feet wide, over a net strung 3.5 feet high. In medicine and law, the rules might change-but specialization will probably remain key. A spinal surgery will not be performed by a brilliant dermatologist. A criminal-defense team will not be headed by a tax attorney. And in tech, the demand for specialized skills will continue to reward expertise handsomely.

But in many fields, the path to success isn’t so clear. The rules keep changing, which means that highly focused practice has a much lower return. Zachary Hambrick and his co-authors showed as much in a 2014 meta-analysis. In uncertain environments, Hambrick told me, “specialization is no longer the coin of the realm.”

So where does this leave us?

It leaves us with lifelong learning, an unavoidably familiar phrase that, before I began this story, sounded tame to me-a motivational reminder that it’s never too late to learn Spanish or enroll in nighttime pottery classes. But when Guillermo Miranda, IBM’s former chief learning officer, used the term in describing to me how employees take advantage of the company’s automated career counselor, Myca, it started to sound like something new. “You can talk to the chatbot,” Miranda said, “and say, ‘Hey, Myca, how do I get a promotion?’?”

Myca isn’t programmed to push any fixed career track. It isn’t dumb enough to try to predict the future-much less plan for it. “There is no master plan,” Miranda said. Myca just crunches data, notices correlations, and offers suggestions: Take a course on blockchain. Learn quantum computing. “Look, Jennifer!” it might say. “Three people like you just got promoted because they got these badges.”

Even as I reported this story, I found myself the target of career suggestions. “You need to be a video guy, an audio guy!” the Silicon Valley talent adviser John Sullivan told me, alluding to the demise of print media. I found it fascinating and slightly odd that Sullivan would so readily imagine that I would abandon writing-my life’s pursuit since high school-for a new line of work. More than that, though, I found the prospect of starting over just plain exhausting. Building a professional identity takes a lot of resources-money, time, energy. After it’s built, we expect to reap gains from our investment, and-let’s be honest-even do a bit of coasting. Are we equipped to continually return to apprentice mode? Will this burn us out? And will the collective work that results be as good as what came before?

Those are questions for the long haul. In 20 years, we’ll know a lot more about the costs and benefits of minimal manning and lifelong learning. But nobody on the Giffords was pondering that after the crew finished its unloading job. They had to get back to base. So 26 crew members crammed into a briefing room, where they talked tides, collision avoidance, and sea lanes, which would be crawling with pleasure craft this time of day. “If action becomes necessary,” said the captain, Shawn Cowan, “take action early.”

The ship’s bridge was quiet on the way home. As we sailed, I thought back to an encounter I’d had earlier in the day with two engineer’s mates. I’d found them in a quiet corner of the cargo bay, testing water samples pulled from the ship’s engines for signs of corrosion. We struck up a conversation, and they explained to me that their responsibilities also included maintaining the ship’s gas turbines, diesel engines, water jets, and various pumps-for oil, fuel, drinking water. I told them that sounded like a lot. They agreed, but then one of them added that doing so many things was just the way things go in “this LCS business.” Not only that, he added, but he was learning so much that he might soon earn a promotion that would put him up on the bridge, in charge of the whole propulsion system.

Everybody I met on the Giffords seemed to share that mentality. They regarded every minute on board-even during a routine transit back to port in San Diego Harbor-as a chance to learn something new. Which is why, near the end of our trip, as we approached the Coronado Bridge, Captain Cowan gave the helm to a junior officer and asked her to steer us under the bridge and into port. The officer looked intently at the nozzles of the ship’s four water jets, took in the sight of the approaching bridge, and said, “Very well, Captain.”

Then she adjusted her course.

<hr>This article appears in the July 2019 print edition with the headline “The End of Expertise.”

What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

Updated at 10:25 a.m. ET on June 17, 2019.

1. The DisappearanceAt 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The designator for Malaysia Airlines is MH. The flight number was 370. Fariq Hamid, the first officer, was flying the airplane. He was 27 years old. This was a training flight for him, the last one; he would soon be fully certified. His trainer was the pilot in command, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, who at 53 was one of the most senior captains at Malaysia Airlines. In Malaysian style, he was known by his first name, Zaharie. He was married and had three adult children. He lived in a gated development. He owned two houses. In his first house he had installed an elaborate Microsoft flight simulator. He flew it frequently, and often posted to online forums about his hobby. In the cockpit, Fariq would have been deferential to him, but Zaharie was not known for being overbearing.

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In the cabin were 10 flight attendants, all of them Malaysian. They had 227 passengers to care for, including five children. Most of the passengers were Chinese; of the rest, 38 were Malaysian, and in descending order the others came from Indonesia, Australia, India, France, the United States, Iran, Ukraine, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Russia, and Taiwan. Up in the cockpit that night, while First Officer Fariq flew the airplane, Captain Zaharie handled the radios. The arrangement was standard. Zaharie’s transmissions were a bit unusual. At 1:01 a.m. he radioed that they had leveled off at 35,000 feet-a superfluous report in radar-surveilled airspace where the norm is to report leaving an altitude, not arriving at one. At 1:08 the flight crossed the Malaysian coastline and set out across the South China Sea in the direction of Vietnam. Zaharie again reported the plane’s level at 35,000 feet.

Eleven minutes later, as the airplane closed in on a waypoint near the start of Vietnamese air-traffic jurisdiction, the controller at Kuala Lumpur Center radioed, “Malaysian three-seven-zero, contact Ho Chi Minh one-two-zero-decimal-nine. Good night.” Zaharie answered, “Good night. Malaysian three-seven-zero.” He did not read back the frequency, as he should have, but otherwise the transmission sounded normal. It was the last the world heard from MH370. The pilots never checked in with Ho Chi Minh or answered any of the subsequent attempts to raise them.

Primary radar relies on simple, raw pings off objects in the sky. Air-traffic-control systems use what is known as secondary radar. It depends on a transponder signal that is transmitted by each airplane and contains richer information-for instance, the airplane’s identity and altitude-than primary radar does. Five seconds after MH370 crossed into Vietnamese airspace, the symbol representing its transponder dropped from the screens of Malaysian air traffic control, and 37 seconds later the entire airplane disappeared from secondary radar. The time was 1:21 a.m., 39 minutes after takeoff. The controller in Kuala Lumpur was dealing with other traffic elsewhere on his screen and simply didn’t notice. When he finally did, he assumed that the airplane was in the hands of Ho Chi Minh, somewhere out beyond his range.

The Vietnamese controllers, meanwhile, saw MH370 cross into their airspace and then disappear from radar. They apparently misunderstood a formal agreement by which Ho Chi Minh was supposed to inform Kuala Lumpur immediately if an airplane that had been handed off was more than five minutes late checking in. They tried repeatedly to contact the aircraft, to no avail. By the time they picked up the phone to inform Kuala Lumpur, 18 minutes had passed since MH370’s disappearance from their radar screens. What ensued was an exercise in confusion and incompetence. Kuala Lumpur’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre should have been notified within an hour of the disappearance. By 2:30 a.m., it still had not been. Four more hours elapsed before an emergency response was finally begun, at 6:32 a.m.

At that moment, the airplane should have been landing in Beijing. The search for it was initially concentrated in the South China Sea, between Malaysia and Vietnam. It was an international effort by 34 ships and 28 aircraft from seven different countries. But MH370 was nowhere near there. Within a matter of days, primary-radar records salvaged from air-traffic-control computers, and partially corroborated by secret Malaysian air-force data, revealed that as soon as MH370 disappeared from secondary radar, it turned sharply to the southwest, flew back across the Malay Peninsula, and banked around the island of Penang. From there it flew northwest up the Strait of Malacca and out across the Andaman Sea, where it faded beyond radar range into obscurity. That part of the flight took more than an hour to accomplish and suggested that this was not a standard case of a hijacking. Nor was it like an accident or pilot-suicide scenario that anyone had encountered before. From the start, MH370 was leading investigators in unexplored directions.

The mystery surrounding MH370 has been a focus of continued investigation and a source of sometimes feverish public speculation. The loss devastated families on four continents. The idea that a sophisticated machine, with its modern instruments and redundant communications, could simply vanish seems beyond the realm of possibility. It is hard to permanently delete an email, and living off the grid is nearly unachievable even when the attempt is deliberate. A Boeing 777 is meant to be electronically accessible at all times. The disappearance of the airplane has provoked a host of theories. Many are preposterous. All are given life by the fact that, in this age, commercial airplanes don’t just vanish.

This one did, and more than five years later its precise whereabouts remain unknown. Even so, a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.

2. The BeachcomberOn the evening of the airplane’s disappearance, a middle-aged American man named Blaine Gibson was sitting in his late mother’s house in Carmel, California, sorting through her affairs in preparation for selling the property. He heard the news about MH370 on CNN.

Gibson, whom I met recently in Kuala Lumpur, is a lawyer by training. He has lived in Seattle for more than 35 years but spends little time there. His father, who died decades ago, was a World War I veteran who endured a mustard-gas attack in the trenches, received a Silver Star for gallantry, and went on to serve as the chief justice of California for more than 24 years. His mother was a graduate of Stanford Law School and an ardent environmentalist.

Gibson was an only child. His mother liked to travel internationally, and she took him with her. At the age of 7 he decided that his life’s goal would be to visit every country in the world at least once. Ultimately this challenged the definitions of visit and country, but he stuck with the mission, forgoing any chance of a sustained career and subsisting on a modest inheritance. By his own account, along the way he dabbled in some famous mysteries-the end of the Mayan civilization in the jungles of Guatemala and Belize, the Tunguska meteor explosion in eastern Siberia, and the location of the Ark of the Covenant in the mountains of Ethiopia. He printed up cards identifying himself: adventurer. explorer. truth seeker. He wore a fedora, like Indiana Jones. When news arrived of MH370’s disappearance, he was predisposed to pay attention.

Despite reflexive denials by Malaysian officials, and outright obfuscation by the Malaysian air force, the truth about the airplane’s strange flight path quickly began to emerge. It turned out that MH370 had continued to link up intermittently with a geostationary Indian Ocean satellite operated by Inmarsat, a commercial vendor in London, for six hours after the airplane disappeared from secondary radar. This meant that the airplane had not suddenly suffered some catastrophic event. During those six hours it is presumed to have remained in high-speed, high-altitude cruising flight. The Inmarsat linkups, some of them known as “handshakes,” were electronic blips: routine connections that amounted to the merest whisper of communication, because the intended contents of the system-passenger entertainment, cockpit texts, automated maintenance reports-had been isolated or switched off. All told, there were seven linkups: two initiated automatically by the airplane, and five others initiated automatically by the Inmarsat ground station. There were also two satellite-phone calls; they went unanswered but provided additional data. Associated with most of these connections were two values that Inmarsat had only recently begun to log.

The first and more accurate of the values is known as the burst-timing offset, or what I will call the “distance value.” It is a measure of the transmission time to and from the airplane, and therefore of the plane’s distance from the satellite. It does not pinpoint a single location but rather all equidistant locations-a roughly circular set of possibilities. Given the range limits of MH370, the near-circles can be reduced to arcs. The most important arc is the seventh and last one-defined by a final handshake tied in complex ways to fuel exhaustion and the failure of the main engines. The seventh arc stretches from Central Asia in the north to the vicinity of Antarctica in the south. It was crossed by MH370 at 8:19 a.m., Kuala Lumpur time. Calculations of likely flight paths place the airplane’s intersection with the seventh arc-and therefore its end point-in Kazakhstan if the airplane turned north, or in the southern Indian Ocean if it turned south.

Technical analysis indicates with near certainty that the airplane turned south. We know this from Inmarsat’s second logged value-the burst-frequency offset. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to this value as the “Doppler value,” because it includes, most crucially, a measure of radio-frequency Doppler shifts associated with high-speed movement in relation to satellite position, and is a natural part of satellite communications for airplanes in flight. Doppler shifts have to be predicted and compensated for by airborne systems in order for satellite communications to function. But the compensation is not quite perfect, because satellites-particularly as they age-do not transmit signals in precisely the way airplanes have been programmed to expect. Their orbits may tilt slightly. They are also affected by temperature. These imperfections leave telltale traces. Although Doppler-shift logs had never been used before to determine the location of an airplane, Inmarsat technicians in London were able to discern a significant distortion suggesting a turn to the south at 2:40 a.m. The turn point was a bit north and west of Sumatra, the northernmost island of Indonesia. It has been assumed, at some analytical risk, that the airplane then flew straight and level for a very long while in the general direction of Antarctica, which lay beyond its range.

After six hours, the Doppler data indicated a steep descent-as much as five times greater than a normal descent rate. Within a minute or two of crossing the seventh arc, the plane dived into the ocean, possibly shedding components before impact. Judging from the electronic evidence, this was not a controlled attempt at a water landing. The airplane must have fractured instantly into a million pieces. But no one knew where the impact had occurred, much less why. And no one had the slightest bit of physical evidence to confirm that the satellite interpretations were correct.

Less than a week after the disappearance, The Wall Street Journal published the first report about the satellite transmissions, indicating that the airplane had most likely stayed aloft for hours after going silent. Malaysian officials eventually admitted that the account was true. The Malaysian regime was said to be one of the most corrupt in the region. It was also proving itself to be furtive, fearful, and unreliable in its investigation of the flight. Accident investigators dispatched from Europe, Australia, and the United States were shocked by the disarray they encountered. Because the Malaysians withheld what they knew, the initial sea searches were concentrated in the wrong place-the South China Sea-and found no floating debris. Had the Malaysians told the truth right away, such debris might have been found and used to identify the airplane’s approximate location; the black boxes might have been recovered. The underwater search for them ultimately centered on a narrow swath of ocean thousands of miles away. But even a narrow swath of the ocean is a big place. It took two years to find the black boxes from Air France 447, which crashed into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009-and the searchers had known exactly where to look.

[Read: Malaysian officials update last words spoken from MH370]

The initial search of surface waters ended in April 2014, after nearly two months of futile efforts, and the focus shifted to the ocean depths, where it remains today. Blaine Gibson followed the frustration at first from a distance. He sold his mother’s house and moved to the Golden Triangle of northern Laos, where he and a business partner set about building a restaurant on the Mekong River. He joined a Facebook discussion group dedicated to the loss of MH370. It was filled with speculation, but also with news that reflected useful thinking about what could have happened to the airplane and where the main wreckage might be found.

Although the Malaysians were nominally in charge of the entire investigation, they lacked the means and expertise to mount a subsea search-and-recovery effort; the Australians, as good international citizens, took the lead. The areas of the Indian Ocean that the satellite data pointed to-about 1,200 miles southwest of Perth-were so deep and unexplored that the first challenge was to map the undersea topography sufficiently to allow side-scanning sonar vehicles to be safely towed miles beneath the surface. The ocean floor was lined with ridges in a blackness where light had never penetrated.

Gibson began to wonder whether, for all the strenuous underwater searching, debris from the airplane might someday simply wash up on a beach somewhere. While visiting friends on the coast of Cambodia, he asked whether they had stumbled on anything. They had not. Debris couldn’t possibly have drifted to Cambodia from the southern Indian Ocean, but until the airplane’s wreckage was found-proving that the southern Indian Ocean was indeed its grave-Gibson was determined to keep an open mind.

In March 2015, a one-year commemoration of MH370’s disappearance was held in Kuala Lumpur by the passengers’ next of kin. Uninvited, and largely unknown to them, Gibson decided to attend. Because he had no special knowledge to offer, his arrival raised eyebrows. People don’t know what to make of a dilettante. The commemoration took place in an outdoor space at a shopping mall, a typical event venue for Kuala Lumpur. The purpose was to grieve collectively, but also to maintain pressure on the government of Malaysia to provide explanations. Hundreds of people attended, many from China. There was a bit of music on a stage. In the background a large poster showed the silhouette of a Boeing 777, along with the words where, who, why, when, whom, how, and also impossible, unprecedented, vanished, and clueless. The principal speaker was a young Malaysian woman named Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother had been on the flight. Nathan is a criminal-defense lawyer specializing in death-penalty cases, of which Malaysia has many because of draconian laws. She had emerged as the most effective representative of the next of kin. She took to the stage wearing an oversize T-shirt printed with a cartoon graphic of MH370 and the exhortation search on, and then proceeded to describe her mother, the deep love she felt for her, and the difficulty of enduring her disappearance. On occasion she quietly wept, as did some in the audience, including Gibson. Afterward, he approached Nathan and asked whether she would accept a hug from a stranger. She did, and they became friends.

Gibson left the commemoration determined to help by addressing a gap he had perceived-the lack of coastal searches for floating debris. This would be his niche. He would become MH370’s private beachcomber. The official investigators, primarily Australian and Malaysian, were heavily invested in their underwater search. They would have scoffed at Gibson’s ambition, just as they would have scoffed at the prospect that on beaches hundreds of miles apart, Gibson would find pieces of the airplane.

3. The Mother LodeThe Indian Ocean washes against tens of thousands of miles of coastline, depending on how many islands you include in your count. When Blaine Gibson started looking for debris, he did not have a plan. He flew to Myanmar because he had been intending to go there anyway, then went to the coast and asked some villagers where flotsam tended to drift ashore. They directed him to several beaches, and a fisherman took him there by boat. He found some debris, but nothing that came from an airplane. He advised the villagers to be on the lookout, left his contact number, and moved on. Similarly, he visited the Maldives and the islands of Rodrigues and Mauritius without finding debris of interest. Then came July 29, 2015. About 16 months after the airplane went missing, a municipal beach-cleanup crew on the French island of Réunion came upon a torn piece of airfoil about six feet long that seemed to have just washed ashore. The foreman of the crew, a man named Johnny Bègue, realized that it might have come from an airplane, but he had no idea which one. He briefly considered making it into a memorial-setting it on an adjacent lawn and planting some flowers around it-but instead he called a local radio station with the news. A team of gendarmes showed up and took the piece away. It was quickly determined to be a part of a Boeing 777, a control surface called a flaperon that is attached to the trailing edge of the wings. Subsequent examination of serial numbers showed that it had come from MH370.

Here was the necessary physical evidence of what had already been electronically surmised-that the flight had ended violently in the Indian Ocean, albeit somewhere still unknown and thousands of miles to the east of Réunion. The families of those aboard the airplane had to surrender any fantasies that their loved ones might still be alive. It came as a shock, no matter how rational and realistic they had been. Grace Nathan was devastated. She told me that she could barely function for weeks after the flaperon was found.

Gibson flew to Réunion and found Johnny Bègue on his beach. Bègue was friendly. He showed Gibson where he had found the flaperon. Gibson poked around for other debris but without expectation, because the French government had already mounted a follow-up search to no avail. Flotsam takes a while to drift across the Indian Ocean, moving from east to west at the low southern latitudes, and a flaperon might arrive sooner than other debris because parts of it could rise above the water and act as a sail.

A newspaper reporter in Réunion interviewed Gibson for a story about the visit of this independent American investigator. Gibson wore a search on T-shirt for the occasion. He then flew to Australia, where he spoke with two oceanographers-Charitha Pattiaratchi, of the University of Western Australia at Perth, and David Griffin, who worked for a government research center in Hobart and had been assigned to advise the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the lead agency in the search for MH370. Both men were experts on Indian Ocean currents and winds. Griffin in particular had spent years tracking drift buoys, and had launched an effort to model the complex drift characteristics of the flaperon during its voyage to Réunion-the hope being to backtrack and narrow the geographic scope of the undersea search. Gibson’s needs were easier to handle: He wanted to know the most likely locations for floating debris to come ashore. The answer was the northeast coast of Madagascar and, to a lesser degree, the coast of Mozambique.

Gibson opted for Mozambique because he had not been there before and could bag it as his 177th country. He chose a town called Vilanculos, because it seemed safe and had nice beaches. He got there in February 2016. As he recalls, he asked for advice from local fishermen, and was told of a sandbank called Paluma that lay beyond a reef, where fishermen would go to collect nets and buoys that washed in from the Indian Ocean. Gibson paid a boatman named Suleman to take him there. They found all sorts of junk, mostly plastic. Suleman called Gibson over. Holding up a gray triangular scrap about two feet across, he asked, “Is this 370?” The scrap had a honeycomb structure and the stenciled words no step on one surface. Gibson’s first impression was that it could not have come from a large airplane. To me he said, “So my mind was telling me it’s not from the plane, but my heart was telling me it’s from the plane. Then we had to take the boat back. And here we get into the personal thing. Two dolphins appeared and helped lead us off that sandbank-my mother’s spirit animal. When I saw those dolphins, I thought, This is from the plane.”

Make of that what you will, but Gibson turned out to be right. The scrap-from a horizontal-stabilizer panel-was determined to almost certainly be from MH370. Gibson flew to the capital, Maputo, and handed the debris to the Australian consul. Then he flew to Kuala Lumpur, just in time for the second-anniversary commemoration. This time he was welcomed as a friend.

In June 2016, Gibson turned his attention to the remote northeastern shores of Madagascar. This turned out to be the mother lode. Gibson says he found three pieces on the first day, and another two a few days later. The following week, on a beach eight miles away, three more pieces were delivered to him. And so it has gone ever since. Word has gotten around that he will pay for MH370 debris. He says he once paid so much for a piece-$40-that an entire village went on a day-long bender. Apparently the local rum is cheap.

A lot of debris washed up that had nothing to do with the airplane. But of the several dozen pieces that have been identified to date as certain or likely or suspected to have come from MH370, Gibson has been responsible for the discovery of roughly a third. Some pieces are still being investigated. Gibson’s influence has been so large that David Griffin, though grateful to him, has worried that the perceived debris pattern may now be statistically skewed toward Madagascar, perhaps at the expense of points farther north. He has given this worry a name: “The Gibson Effect.”

The fact remains that, after five years, no one has yet been able to work backwards from where the debris has washed ashore and trace it to some point of origin in the southern Indian Ocean. In his insistence on maintaining an open mind, Gibson still holds out the hope of finding new debris that will explain the disappearance-charred wiring indicating a fire, for instance, or shrapnel-peppered evidence of a missile strike-although what is known about the flight’s final hours largely precludes such possibilities. What Gibson’s discovery of so many bits of debris has confirmed is that the signals analysis was correct. The airplane flew for six hours until the flight came suddenly to an end. There was no effort by someone at the controls to bring the airplane down gently. It shattered. There is still a chance, Gibson thinks, of finding the equivalent of a message in a bottle-a note of desperation scribbled by someone in his or her last moments on the doomed airplane. On the beaches, Gibson has found a few backpacks and a large number of purses, all of which have been empty. The closest he has come to finding such a note, he says, was a message written in Malay on the underside of a baseball cap. Translated, it read, “To whom it may concern. My dear friend, meet me at the guesthouse later.”

<hr>A-1:21 a.m., March 8, 2014: Over the South China Sea, near a navigational waypoint between Malaysia and Vietnam, MH370 drops from air-traffic-control radar and turns southwest, back across the Malay Peninsula.B-Roughly an hour later:

After flying northwest above the Strait of Malacca, the airplane makes what investigators call the “final  major turn” and heads south. The turn and the new course are later reconstructed from satellite data.C-April 2014:

The surface search is abandoned and a deep-ocean search gets under way. Analysis of satellite data had located MH370’s final electronic “handshake” along an arc.D-July 2015:

The first piece of debris from MH370-a flaperon-is discovered on the island of Réunion. Other confirmed or likely pieces have been found on widely dispersed beaches in the western Indian Ocean (locations in red).

<hr>4. The ConspiraciesThree official investigations were launched in the wake of MH370’s disappearance. The first was the largest, most rigorous, and most expensive: the technically advanced Australian underwater-search effort, which was focused on locating the main debris in order to retrieve the airplane’s flight-data and cockpit voice recorders. It involved calculations of aircraft performance, the parsing of radar and satellite records, studies of oceanic drift, doses of statistical analysis, and the physical examination of the East African flotsam-much of which came from Blaine Gibson. It required heavy maritime operations in some of the world’s roughest seas. Assisting the effort was a collection of volunteer engineers and scientists who found one another on the internet, called themselves the Independent Group, and collaborated so effectively that the Australians took their work into account and ended up formally thanking them for their insights. In the annals of accident investigation, this had never happened before. Nonetheless, after more than three years and about $160 million, the Australian investigation closed without success. It was picked up in 2018 by an American company called Ocean Infinity, under contract with the Malaysian government on a “no-find, no-fee” basis. This search used advanced underwater-surveillance vehicles and covered a new section of the seventh arc, a section deemed most likely by the Independent Group to bring results. After a few months, it too ended in failure.

The second official investigation belonged to the Malaysian police, and amounted to background checks of everyone on the airplane as well as some of their friends. It is hard to know the true extent of the police discoveries, because the report that resulted from the investigation stopped short of full disclosure. The report was stamped secret and withheld even from other Malaysian investigators, but after it was leaked by someone on the inside, its inadequacies became clear. In particular, it held back on divulging all that was known about the captain, Zaharie. No one was surprised. The prime minister at the time was a nasty man named Najib Razak, who was alleged to be monumentally corrupt. The press in Malaysia was censored. Troublemakers were being picked up and made to disappear. Officials had reason for caution. They had careers to protect, and maybe their lives. It is obvious that decisions were made to not pursue certain avenues that might have reflected poorly on Malaysia Airlines or the government.

The third official investigation was the accident inquiry, intended not to adjudicate liability but to find probable cause, and to be conducted according to the highest global standards by an international team. It was led by an ad hoc working group assembled by the Malaysian government, and was a mess from its inception. The police and military disdained it. Government ministers saw it as a risk. Foreign specialists who were sent to assist began retreating almost as soon as they arrived. An American expert, referring to the international aviation protocol that is supposed to govern accident inquiries, told me, “Annex 13 is tailored for accident investigations in confident democracies, but in countries like Malaysia, with insecure and autocratic bureaucracies, and with airlines that are either government-owned or seen as a matter of national prestige, it always makes for a pretty poor fit.”

A close observer of the MH370 process said, “It became clear that the primary objective of the Malaysians was to make the subject just go away. From the start there was this instinctive bias against being open and transparent, not because they were hiding some deep, dark secret, but because they did not know where the truth really lay, and they were afraid that something might come out that would be embarrassing. Were they covering up? Yes. They were covering up for the unknown.”

In the end the investigation produced a 495-page report in weak imitation of Annex 13 requirements. It was stuffed with boilerplate descriptions of 777 systems that had clearly been lifted from Boeing manuals and were of no technical value. Indeed, nothing in the report was of technical value, since Australian publications had already fully covered the relevant satellite information and ocean-drift analysis. The Malaysian report was seen as hardly more than a whitewash whose only real contribution was a frank description of the air-traffic-control failures-presumably because half of them could be blamed on the Vietnamese, and because the Malaysian controllers constituted the weakest local target, politically. The report was released in July 2018, more than four years after the event. It stated that the investigative team was unable to determine the cause of the airplane’s disappearance.

Such a conclusion invites continued speculation, even if it is unwarranted. The satellite data provide the best evidence of the airplane’s flight path, and are hard to argue with, but people have to have trust in numbers to accept the story they tell. All sorts of theorists have made claims, amplified by social media, that ignore the satellite data, and in some cases also the radar tracks, the aircraft systems, the air-traffic-control record, the physics of flight, and the basic contours of planetary geography. For example, a British woman who blogs under the name of Saucy Sailoress and does Tarot readings for hire was vagabonding around southern Asia with her husband and dogs in an oceangoing sailboat. She says that on the night MH370 disappeared they were in the Andaman Sea, and she spotted what looked like a cruise missile coming at her. The missile morphed into a low-flying airplane with a well-lit cockpit, bathed in a strange orange glow and trailing smoke. As it flew by she concluded that it was on a suicide mission against a Chinese naval fleet farther out to sea. She did not yet know about the disappearance of MH370, but when, a few days later, she learned of it she drew what was to her the obvious connection. Implausible, perhaps, but she gained an audience.

An Australian has been claiming for several years to have found MH370 by means of Google Earth, in shallow waters and intact; he has refused to disclose the location while he works on crowdfunding an expedition. On the internet you will find claims that the airplane has been found intact in the Cambodian jungle, that it was seen landing in an Indonesian river, that it flew into a time warp, that it was sucked into a black hole. One scenario has the airplane flying off to attack the American military base on Diego Garcia before getting shot down. A recent online report that Captain Zaharie had been discovered alive and was lying in a Taiwanese hospital with amnesia won sufficient acceptance that Malaysia angrily denied it. The news had come from a crudely satirical website that also reported a sexual assault on an American trekker and two Sherpas by a yeti-like creature in Nepal.

A New York-based writer named Jeff Wise has hypothesized that one of the electronic systems on board the airplane may have been reprogrammed to provide false data-indicating a turn south into the Indian Ocean when in fact the airplane turned north toward Kazakhstan-in order to lead investigators astray. He calls this the “spoof” scenario, and has elaborated extensively on it, most recently in a 2019 ebook. He proposes that the Russians might have stolen the airplane to create a distraction from the annexation of Crimea, then under way. An obvious weak spot in the argument is the need to explain how, if the airplane was flown to Kazakhstan, all that wreckage ended up in the Indian Ocean. Wise’s answer is that it was planted.

Blaine Gibson was new to social media when he started his search, and he was in for a surprise. As he recalls, the trolls emerged as soon as he found his first piece-the one labeled no step-and they multiplied afterward, particularly as the beaches of Madagascar began to bear fruit. The internet provokes emotion even in response to unremarkable events. A catastrophe taps into something toxic. Gibson was accused of exploiting the families and of being a fraud, a publicity hound, a drug addict, a Russian agent, an American agent, and at the very least a dupe. He began receiving death threats-messages on social media and phone calls to friends predicting his demise. One message said that either he would stop looking for debris or he would leave Madagascar in a coffin. Another warned that he would die of polonium poisoning. There were more. He was not prepared for this, and was incapable of shrugging it off. During the days I spent with him in Kuala Lumpur, he kept abreast of the latest attacks with the assistance of a friend in London. He said, “I once made the mistake of going on Twitter. Basically, these people are cyberterrorists. And it works. It’s effective.” He has been traumatized.

In 2017, Gibson arranged a formal mechanism for the transfer of debris: He would turn over any new find to authorities in Madagascar, who would hand it to Malaysia’s honorary consul, who would pack it up and ship it to Kuala Lumpur for examination and storage. On August 24 of that year, the honorary consul was gunned down in his car by an assassin who escaped on a motorcycle and has never been found. A French-language news account alleged that the consul had a shady past; his killing may have had no connection to MH370 at all. Gibson, however, has assumed that there is a connection. A police investigation is ongoing.

By now he largely avoids disclosing his location or travel plans, and for similar reasons avoids using email and rarely speaks over the telephone. He likes Skype and WhatsApp for their encryption. He frequently swaps out his SIM cards. He believes he is sometimes followed and photographed. There is no arguing that Gibson is the only person who has gone out looking for pieces of MH370 on his own and found debris. But the idea that the debris is worth killing for is hard to take seriously. It would be easier to believe if the debris held clues to dark secrets and international intrigue. But the evidence-much of it now out in the open-points in a different direction.

5. The PossibilitiesIn truth, a lot can now be known with certainty about the fate of MH370. First, the disappearance was an intentional act. It is inconceivable that the known flight path, accompanied by radio and electronic silence, was caused by any combination of system failure and human error. Computer glitch, control-system collapse, squall lines, ice, lightning strike, bird strike, meteorite, volcanic ash, mechanical failure, sensor failure, instrument failure, radio failure, electrical failure, fire, smoke, explosive decompression, cargo explosion, pilot confusion, medical emergency, bomb, war, or act of God-none of these can explain the flight path.

Second, despite theories to the contrary, control of the plane was not seized remotely from within the electrical-equipment bay, a space under the forward galley. Pages could be spent explaining why. Control was seized from within the cockpit. This happened in the 20-minute period from 1:01 a.m., when the airplane leveled at 35,000 feet, to 1:21 a.m., when it disappeared from secondary radar. During that same period, the airplane’s automatic condition-reporting system transmitted its regular 30-minute update via satellite to the airline’s maintenance department. It reported fuel level, altitude, speed, and geographic position, and indicated no anomalies. Its transmission meant that the airplane’s satellite-communication system was functioning at that moment.

By the time the airplane dropped from the view of secondary-transponder-enhanced-radar, it is likely, given the implausibility of two pilots acting in concert, that one of them was incapacitated or dead, or had been locked out of the cockpit. Primary-radar records-both military and civilian-later indicated that whoever was flying MH370 must have switched off the autopilot, because the turn the airplane then made to the southwest was so tight that it had to have been flown by hand. Circumstances suggest that whoever was at the controls deliberately depressurized the airplane. At about the same time, much if not all of the electrical system was deliberately shut down. The reasons for that shutdown are not known. But one of its effects was to temporarily sever the satellite link.

An electrical engineer in Boulder, Colorado, named Mike Exner, who is a prominent member of the Independent Group, has studied the radar data extensively. He believes that during the turn, the airplane climbed up to 40,000 feet, which was close to its limit. During the maneuver the passengers would have experienced some g-forces-that feeling of being suddenly pressed back into the seat. Exner believes the reason for the climb was to accelerate the effects of depressurizing the airplane, causing the rapid incapacitation and death of everyone in the cabin.

An intentional depressurization would have been an obvious way-and probably the only way-to subdue a potentially unruly cabin in an airplane that was going to remain in flight for hours to come. In the cabin, the effect would have gone unnoticed but for the sudden appearance of the drop-down oxygen masks and perhaps the cabin crew’s use of the few portable units of similar design. None of those cabin masks was intended for more than about 15 minutes of use during emergency descents to altitudes below 13,000 feet; they would have been of no value at all cruising at 40,000 feet. The cabin occupants would have become incapacitated within a couple of minutes, lost consciousness, and gently died without any choking or gasping for air. The scene would have been dimly lit by the emergency lights, with the dead belted into their seats, their faces nestled in the worthless oxygen masks dangling on tubes from the ceiling.

The cockpit, by contrast, was equipped with four pressurized-oxygen masks linked to hours of supply. Whoever depressurized the airplane would have simply had to slap one on. The airplane was moving fast. On primary radar it appeared as an unidentified blip approaching the island of Penang at nearly 600 miles an hour. The mainland nearby is home to Butterworth Air Base, where a squadron of Malaysian F-18 interceptors is stationed, along with an air-defense radar-not that anyone was paying attention. According to a former official, before the accident report was released last summer, Malaysian air-force officers demanded to review and edit it. In a section called “Malaysian Military Radar,” the report provides a timeline suggesting that the air-defense radar had been actively monitored, that the military was well aware of the identity of the aircraft, and that it purposefully “did not pursue to intercept the aircraft since it was ‘friendly’ and did not pose any threat to national airspace security, integrity and sovereignty.” The question of course is why, if the military knew the airplane had turned around and was flying west, it then allowed the search to continue for days in the wrong body of water, to the east.

For all its expensive equipment, the air force had failed at its job and could not bring itself to admit the fact. In an Australian television interview, the former Malaysian defense minister said, “If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point in sending [an interceptor] up?” Well, for one thing, you could positively identify the airplane, which at this point was just a blip on primary radar. You could also look through the windows into the cockpit and see who was at the controls.

At 1:37 a.m., MH370’s regularly scheduled 30-minute automatic condition-reporting system failed to transmit. We now know that the system had been isolated from any satellite transmission-something easily done from within the cockpit-and therefore could not send out any of its scheduled reports.

At 1:52 a.m., half an hour into the diversion, MH370 passed just south of Penang Island, made a wide right turn, and headed northwest up the Strait of Malacca. As the airplane turned, the first officer’s cellphone registered with a tower below. It was a single brief connection, during which no content was transmitted. Eleven minutes later, on the assumption that MH370 was still over the South China Sea, a Malaysia Airlines dispatcher sent a text message instructing the pilots to contact Ho Chi Minh’s air-traffic-control center. The message went unanswered. All through the Strait of Malacca, the airplane continued to be hand-flown. It is presumed that everyone in the cabin was dead by this point. At 2:22 a.m., the Malaysian air-force radar picked up the last blip. The airplane was 230 miles northwest of Penang, heading northwest into the Andaman Sea and flying fast.

Three minutes later, at 2:25, the airplane’s satellite box suddenly returned to life. It is likely that this occurred when the full electrical system was brought back up, and that the airplane was repressurized at the same time. When the satellite box came back on, it sent a log-on request to Inmarsat; the ground station responded, and the first linkup was accomplished. Unbeknownst to anyone in the cockpit, the relevant distance and Doppler values were recorded at the ground station, later allowing the first arc to be established. A few minutes later a dispatcher put in a phone call to the airplane. The satellite box accepted the link, but the call went unanswered. An associated Doppler value showed that the airplane had just made a wide turn to the south. To investigators, the place where this happened became known as the “final major turn.” Its location is crucial to all the efforts that have followed, but it has never quite been pinned down. Indonesian air-defense radar should have shown it, but the radar seems to have been turned off for the night.

MH370 was now most likely flying on autopilot, cruising south into the night. Whoever was occupying the cockpit was active and alive. Was this a hijacking? A hijacking is the “third party” solution favored in the official report. It is the least painful explanation for anyone in authority that night. It has immense problems, however. The main one is that the cockpit door was fortified, electrically bolted, and surveilled by a video feed that the pilots could see. Also, less than two minutes passed between Zaharie’s casual “good night” to the Kuala Lumpur controller and the start of the diversion, with the attendant loss of the transponder signal. How would hijackers have known to make their move precisely during the handoff to Vietnamese air traffic control, and then gained access so quickly and smoothly that neither of the pilots had a chance to transmit a distress call? It is possible of course that the hijackers were known to the pilots-that they were invited into the cockpit-but even that does not explain the lack of a radio transmission, particularly during the hand-flown turn away from Beijing. Both of the control yokes had transmitter switches, within the merest finger reach, and some signal could have been sent in the moments before an attempted takeover. Furthermore, every one of the passengers and cabin-crew members has been investigated and cleared of suspicion by teams of Malaysian and Chinese investigators aided by the FBI. The quality of that police work is open to question, but it was thorough enough to have uncovered the identities of two Iranians who were traveling under false names with stolen passports-seeking, however, nothing more nefarious than political asylum in Germany. It is possible that stowaways-by definition unrecorded on the airplane’s manifest-had hidden in the equipment bay. If so, they would have had access to two circuit breakers that, if pulled, would have unbolted the cockpit door. But that scenario has problems, too. The bolts click loudly when they open-an unambiguous sound that would have been familiar to the pilots. The hijackers would then have had to open a galley-floor hatch from below, climb a short ladder, evade notice by the cabin crew, evade the surveillance video, and enter the cockpit before either of the pilots transmitted a distress call. It is unlikely that this could have happened, just as it is unlikely that a flight attendant held hostage could have used the door keypad to allow sudden entry without firing off a warning. Furthermore, what would the purpose be of a hijacking? Money? Politics? Publicity? An act of war? A terrorist attack? The intricate seven-hour profile of MH370’s deviation into oblivion fits none of these scenarios. And no one has claimed responsibility for the act. Anonymity is not consistent with any of these motives.

6. The CaptainThis leaves us with a different sort of event, a hijacking from within where no forced entry is required-by a pilot who runs amok. Reasonable people may resist the idea that a pilot would murder hundreds of innocent passengers as the collateral price of killing himself. The definitive response is that this has happened before. In 1997, a captain working for a Singaporean airline called SilkAir is believed to have disabled the black boxes of a Boeing 737 and to have plunged the airplane at supersonic speeds into a river.* In 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990 was deliberately crashed into the sea by its co-pilot off the coast of Long Island, resulting in the loss of everyone on board. In 2013, just months before MH370 disappeared, the captain of LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 flew his Embraer E190 twin jet from cruising altitude into the ground, killing all 27 passengers and all six crew members. The most recent case is the Germanwings Airbus that was deliberately crashed into the French Alps on March 24, 2015, also causing the loss of everyone on board. Its co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had waited for the pilot to use the bathroom and then locked him out. Lubitz had a record of depression and-as investigations later discovered-had made a study of MH370’s disappearance, one year earlier.

[From the November 2001 issue: William Langewiesche on EgyptAir 990]

In the case of MH370, it is difficult to see the co-pilot as the perpetrator. He was young and optimistic, and reportedly planning to get married. He had no history of any sort of trouble, dissent, or doubts. He was not a German signing on to a life in a declining industry of budget airlines, low salaries, and even lower prestige. He was flying a glorious Boeing 777 in a country where the national airline and its pilots are still considered a pretty big deal.

It is the captain, Zaharie, who raises concerns. The first warning is his portrayal in the official reports as someone beyond reproach-a good pilot and placid family man who liked to play with a flight simulator. This is the image promoted by Zaharie’s family, but it is contradicted by multiple indications of trouble that too obviously have been brushed over.

The police discovered aspects of Zaharie’s life that should have caused them to dig more deeply. The formal conclusions they drew were inadequate. The official account, referring to Zaharie as the PIC, or pilot in command, had this to say:

The PIC’s ability to handle stress at work was reported to be good. There was no known history of apathy, anxiety, or irritability. There were no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict, or family stresses … There were no behavioral signs of social isolation, change of habits or interest … On studying the PIC’s behavioral pattern on the CCTV [at the airport] on the day of the flight and prior 3 flights, there were no significant behavioral changes observed. On all the CCTV recordings the appearance was similar, i.e. well-groomed and attired. The gait, posture, facial expressions and mannerisms were his normal characteristics.This was either irrelevant or at odds with what was knowable about Zaharie. The truth, as I discovered after speaking in Kuala Lumpur with people who knew him or knew about him, is that Zaharie was often lonely and sad. His wife had moved out, and was living in the family’s second house. By his own admission to friends, he spent a lot of time pacing empty rooms waiting for the days between flights to go by. He was also a romantic. He is known to have established a wistful relationship with a married woman and her three children, one of whom was disabled, and to have obsessed over two young internet models, whom he encountered on social media, and for whom he left Facebook comments that apparently did not elicit responses. Some were shyly sexual. He mentioned in one comment, for example, that one of the girls, who was wearing a robe in a posted photo, looked like she had just emerged from a shower. Zaharie seems to have become somewhat disconnected from his earlier, well-established life. He was in touch with his children, but they were grown and gone. The detachment and solitude that can accompany the use of social media-and Zaharie used social media a lot-probably did not help. There is a strong suspicion among investigators in the aviation and intelligence communities that he was clinically depressed.

If Malaysia were a country where, in official circles, the truth was welcome, then the police portrait of Zaharie as a healthy and happy man would carry some weight. But Malaysia is not such a country, and the official omission of evidence to the contrary only adds to all the other evidence that Zaharie was a troubled man.

Forensic examinations of Zaharie’s simulator by the FBI revealed that he experimented with a flight profile roughly matching that of MH370-a flight north around Indonesia followed by a long run to the south, ending in fuel exhaustion over the Indian Ocean. Malaysian investigators dismissed this flight profile as merely one of several hundred that the simulator had recorded. That is true, as far as it goes, which is not far enough. Victor Iannello, an engineer and entrepreneur in Roanoke, Virginia, who has become another prominent member of the Independent Group and has done extensive analysis of the simulated flight, underscores what the Malaysian investigators ignored. Of all the profiles extracted from the simulator, the one that matched MH370’s path was the only one that Zaharie did not run as a continuous flight-in other words, taking off on the simulator and letting the flight play out, hour after hour, until it reached the destination airport. Instead he advanced the flight manually in multiple stages, repeatedly jumping the flight forward and subtracting the fuel as necessary until it was gone. Iannello believes that Zaharie was responsible for the diversion. Given that there was nothing technical that Zaharie could have learned by rehearsing the act on a gamelike Microsoft consumer product, Iannello suspects that the purpose of the simulator flight may have been to leave a bread-crumb trail to say goodbye. Referring to the flight profile that MH370 would follow, Iannello said of Zaharie, “It’s as if he was simulating a simulation.” Without a note of explanation, Zaharie’s reasoning is impossible to know. But the simulator flight cannot easily be dismissed as a random coincidence.

In Kuala Lumpur, I met with one of Zaharie’s lifelong friends, a fellow 777 captain whose name I have omitted because of possible repercussions for him. He too believed that Zaharie was guilty, a conclusion he had come to reluctantly. He described the mystery as a pyramid that is broad at the base and one man wide at the top, meaning that the inquiry might have begun with many possible explanations but ended up with a single one. He said, “It doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to reconcile with the man I knew. But it’s the necessary conclusion.” I asked about the need Zaharie would have had to somehow deal with his cockpit companion, First Officer Fariq Hamid. He replied, “That’s easy. Zaharie was an examiner. All he had to say was ‘Go check something in the cabin,’ and the guy would have been gone.” I asked about a motive. He had no idea. He said, “Zaharie’s marriage was bad. In the past he slept with some of the flight attendants. And so what? We all do. You’re flying all over the world with these beautiful girls in the back. But his wife knew.” He agreed that this was hardly a reason to go berserk, but thought Zaharie’s emotional state might have been a factor.

Does the absence of all of this from the official report- Zaharie’s travails; the peculiar nature of the flight profile on the simulator-not to mention the technical inadequacies of the report itself, constitute a cover-up? At this point, we cannot say. We know some of what the investigators knew but chose not to reveal. There is likely more that they discovered and that we do not yet know.

Which brings us back to the demise of MH370. It is easy to imagine Zaharie toward the end, strapped into an ultra-comfortable seat in the cockpit, inhabiting his cocoon in the glow of familiar instruments, knowing that there could be no return from what he had done, and feeling no need to hurry. He would long since have repressurized the airplane and warmed it to the right degree. There was the hum of the living machine, the beautiful abstractions on the flatscreen displays, the carefully considered backlighting of all the switches and circuit breakers. There was the gentle whoosh of the air rushing by. The cockpit is the deepest, most protective, most private sort of home. Around 7 a.m., the sun rose over the eastern horizon, to the airplane’s left. A few minutes later it lit the ocean far below. Had Zaharie already died in flight? He could at some point have depressurized the airplane again and brought his life to an end. This is disputed and far from certain. Indeed, there is some suspicion, from fuel-exhaustion simulations that investigators have run, that the airplane, if simply left alone, would not have dived quite as radically as the satellite data suggest that it did-a suspicion, in other words, that someone was at the controls at the end, actively helping to crash the airplane. Either way, somewhere along the seventh arc, after the engines failed from lack of fuel, the airplane entered a vicious spiral dive with descent rates that ultimately may have exceeded 15,000 feet a minute. We know from that descent rate, as well as from Blaine Gibson’s shattered debris, that the airplane disintegrated into confetti when it hit the water.

7. The TruthFor now the official investigations have petered out. The Australians have done what they could. The Chinese want to move on and are censoring any news that might inflame the passions of the families. The French are off in France, rehashing the satellite data. The Malaysians just wish the whole subject would go away. I attended an event in the administrative city of Putrajaya last fall, where Grace Nathan and Gibson stood in front of the cameras with the transport minister, Anthony Loke. The minister formally accepted five new pieces of debris collected over the summer. He was miserable to the point of being angry. He barely spoke, and took no questions from the press. Nathan was seething at the minister’s attitude. That night, over dinner, she insisted that the government should not be allowed to walk away so easily. She said, “They didn’t follow protocol. They didn’t follow procedure. I think it’s appalling. More could have been done. As a result of the inaction of the air force-of all of the parties involved in the first hour who didn’t follow protocol-we are stuck like this now. Every one of them breached protocol one time, multiple times. Every single person who had some form of responsibility at the time did not do what he was supposed to do. To varying degrees of severity. Maybe in isolation some might not seem so bad, but when you look at it as a whole, every one of them contributed 100 percent to the fact that the airplane has not been found.”

And every one of them was a government employee. Nathan had hopes that Ocean Infinity, which had recently found a missing Argentine submarine, would return to the search, again on a no-find, no-fee basis. The company had suggested the possibility of doing so earlier that week. But the government of Malaysia would have to sign the contract. Because of the political culture, Nathan worried that it might not-as so far has proved true.

If the wreckage is ever found, it will lay to rest all the theories that depend on ignoring the satellite data or the fact that the airplane flew an intricate path after its initial turn away from Beijing and then remained aloft for six more hours. No, it did not catch on fire yet stay in the air for all that time. No, it did not become a “ghost flight” able to navigate and switch its systems off and then back on. No, it was not shot down after long consideration by nefarious national powers who lingered on its tail before pulling the trigger. And no, it is not somewhere in the South China Sea, nor is it sitting intact in some camouflaged hangar in Central Asia. The one thing all of these explanations have in common is that they contradict the authentic information investigators do possess.

That aside, finding the wreckage and the two black boxes may accomplish little. The cockpit voice recorder is a self-erasing two-hour loop, and is likely to contain only the sounds of the final alarms going off, unless whoever was at the controls was still alive and in a mood to provide explanations for posterity. The other black box, the flight-data recorder, will provide information about the functioning of the airplane throughout the entire flight, but it will not reveal any relevant system failure, because no such failure can explain what occurred. At best it will answer some relatively unimportant questions, such as when exactly the airplane was depressurized and how long it remained so, or how exactly the satellite box was powered down and then powered back up. The denizens of the internet would be obsessed, but that is hardly an event to look forward to.

The important answers probably don’t lie in the ocean but on land, in Malaysia. That should be the focus moving forward. Unless they are as incompetent as the air force and air traffic control, the Malaysian police know more than they have dared to say. The riddle may not be deep. That is the frustration here. The answers may well lie close at hand, but they are more difficult to retrieve than any black box. If Blaine Gibson wants a real adventure, he might spend a year poking around Kuala Lumpur.

<hr>This article appears in the July 2019 print edition with the headline “‘Good Night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero.'”

<hr>* This article originally stated that SilkAir is an Indonesian airline.

Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

“It’s not true that no one needs you anymore.”

These words came from an elderly woman sitting behind me on a late-night flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The plane was dark and quiet. A man I assumed to be her husband murmured almost inaudibly in response, something to the effect of “I wish I was dead.”

Again, the woman: “Oh, stop saying that.”

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I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help it. I listened with morbid fascination, forming an image of the man in my head as they talked. I imagined someone who had worked hard all his life in relative obscurity, someone with unfulfilled dreams-perhaps of the degree he never attained, the career he never pursued, the company he never started.

At the end of the flight, as the lights switched on, I finally got a look at the desolate man. I was shocked. I recognized him-he was, and still is, world-famous. Then in his mid-80s, he was beloved as a hero for his courage, patriotism, and accomplishments many decades ago.

As he walked up the aisle of the plane behind me, other passengers greeted him with veneration. Standing at the door of the cockpit, the pilot stopped him and said, “Sir, I have admired you since I was a little boy.” The older man-apparently wishing for death just a few minutes earlier-beamed with pride at the recognition of his past glories.

For selfish reasons, I couldn’t get the cognitive dissonance of that scene out of my mind. It was the summer of 2015, shortly after my 51st birthday. I was not world-famous like the man on the plane, but my professional life was going very well. I was the president of a flourishing Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. I had written some best-selling books. People came to my speeches. My columns were published in The New York Times.

But I had started to wonder: Can I really keep this going? I work like a maniac. But even if I stayed at it 12 hours a day, seven days a week, at some point my career would slow and stop. And when it did, what then? Would I one day be looking back wistfully and wishing I were dead? Was there anything I could do, starting now, to give myself a shot at avoiding misery-and maybe even achieve happiness-when the music inevitably stops?

Though these questions were personal, I decided to approach them as the social scientist I am, treating them as a research project. It felt unnatural-like a surgeon taking out his own appendix. But I plunged ahead, and for the past four years, I have been on a quest to figure out how to turn my eventual professional decline from a matter of dread into an opportunity for progress.

Here’s what I’ve found.

The field of “happiness studies” has boomed over the past two decades, and a consensus has developed about well-being as we advance through life. In The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institution scholar and an Atlantic contributing editor, reviews the strong evidence suggesting that the happiness of most adults declines through their 30s and 40s, then bottoms out in their early 50s. Nothing about this pattern is set in stone, of course. But the data seem eerily consistent with my experience: My 40s and early 50s were not an especially happy period of my life, notwithstanding my professional fortunes.

So what can people expect after that, based on the data? The news is mixed. Almost all studies of happiness over the life span show that, in wealthier countries, most people’s contentment starts to increase again in their 50s, until age 70 or so. That is where things get less predictable, however. After 70, some people stay steady in happiness; others get happier until death. Others-men in particular-see their happiness plummet. Indeed, depression and suicide rates for men increase after age 75.

This last group would seem to include the hero on the plane. A few researchers have looked at this cohort to understand what drives their unhappiness. It is, in a word, irrelevance. In 2007, a team of academic researchers at UCLA and Princeton analyzed data on more than 1,000 older adults. Their findings, published in the Journal of Gerontology, showed that senior citizens who rarely or never “felt useful” were nearly three times as likely as those who frequently felt useful to develop a mild disability, and were more than three times as likely to have died during the course of the study.

One might think that gifted and accomplished people, such as the man on the plane, would be less susceptible than others to this sense of irrelevance; after all, accomplishment is a well-documented source of happiness. If current accomplishment brings happiness, then shouldn’t the memory of that accomplishment provide some happiness as well?

Maybe not. Though the literature on this question is sparse, giftedness and achievements early in life do not appear to provide an insurance policy against suffering later on. In 1999, Carole Holahan and Charles Holahan, psychologists at the University of Texas, published an influential paper in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development that looked at hundreds of older adults who early in life had been identified as highly gifted. The Holahans’ conclusion: “Learning at a younger age of membership in a study of intellectual giftedness was related to … less favorable psychological well-being at age eighty.”

This study may simply be showing that it’s hard to live up to high expectations, and that telling your kid she is a genius is not necessarily good parenting. (The Holahans surmise that the children identified as gifted might have made intellectual ability more central to their self-appraisal, creating “unrealistic expectations for success” and causing them to fail to “take into account the many other life influences on success and recognition.”) However, abundant evidence suggests that the waning of ability in people of high accomplishment is especially brutal psychologically. Consider professional athletes, many of whom struggle profoundly after their sports career ends. Tragic examples abound, involving depression, addiction, or suicide; unhappiness in retired athletes may even be the norm, at least temporarily. A study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology in 2003, which charted the life satisfaction of former Olympic athletes, found that they generally struggled with a low sense of personal control when they first stopped competing.

Recently, I asked Dominique Dawes, a former Olympic gold-medal gymnast, how normal life felt after competing and winning at the highest levels. She told me that she is happy, but that the adjustment wasn’t easy-and still isn’t, even though she won her last Olympic medal in 2000. “My Olympic self would ruin my marriage and leave my kids feeling inadequate,” she told me, because it is so demanding and hard-driving. “Living life as if every day is an Olympics only makes those around me miserable.”

Why might former elite performers have such a hard time? No academic research has yet proved this, but I strongly suspect that the memory of remarkable ability, if that is the source of one’s self-worth, might, for some, provide an invidious contrast to a later, less remarkable life. “Unhappy is he who depends on success to be happy,” Alex Dias Ribeiro, a former Formula 1 race-car driver, once wrote. “For such a person, the end of a successful career is the end of the line. His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success.”

Call it the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation: the idea that the agony of professional oblivion is directly related to the height of professional prestige previously achieved, and to one’s emotional attachment to that prestige. Problems related to achieving professional success might appear to be a pretty good species of problem to have; even raising this issue risks seeming precious. But if you reach professional heights and are deeply invested in being high up, you can suffer mightily when you inevitably fall. That’s the man on the plane. Maybe that will be you, too. And, without significant intervention, I suspect it will be me.

The Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation can help explain the many cases of people who have done work of world-historical significance yet wind up feeling like failures. Take Charles Darwin, who was just 22 when he set out on his five-year voyage aboard the Beagle in 1831. Returning at 27, he was celebrated throughout Europe for his discoveries in botany and zoology, and for his early theories of evolution. Over the next 30 years, Darwin took enormous pride in sitting atop the celebrity-scientist pecking order, developing his theories and publishing them as books and essays-the most famous being On the Origin of Species, in 1859.

But as Darwin progressed into his 50s, he stagnated; he hit a wall in his research. At the same time an Austrian monk by the name of Gregor Mendel discovered what Darwin needed to continue his work: the theory of genetic inheritance. Unfortunately, Mendel’s work was published in an obscure academic journal and Darwin never saw it-and in any case, Darwin did not have the mathematical ability to understand it. From then on he made little progress. Depressed in his later years, he wrote to a close friend, “I have not the heart or strength at my age to begin any investigation lasting years, which is the only thing which I enjoy.”

Presumably, Darwin would be pleasantly surprised to learn how his fame grew after his death, in 1882. From what he could see when he was old, however, the world had passed him by, and he had become irrelevant. That could have been Darwin on the plane behind me that night.

It also could have been a younger version of me, because I have had precocious experience with professional decline.

As a child, I had just one goal: to be the world’s greatest French-horn player. I worked at it slavishly, practicing hours a day, seeking out the best teachers, and playing in any ensemble I could find. I had pictures of famous horn players on my bedroom wall for inspiration. And for a while, I thought my dream might come true. At 19, I left college to take a job playing professionally in a touring chamber-music ensemble. My plan was to keep rising through the classical-music ranks, joining a top symphony orchestra in a few years or maybe even becoming a soloist-the most exalted job a classical musician can hold.

But then, in my early 20s, a strange thing happened: I started getting worse. To this day, I have no idea why. My technique began to suffer, and I had no explanation for it. Nothing helped. I visited great teachers and practiced more, but I couldn’t get back to where I had been. Pieces that had been easy to play became hard; pieces that had been hard became impossible.

Perhaps the worst moment in my young but flailing career came at age 22, when I was performing at Carnegie Hall. While delivering a short speech about the music I was about to play, I stepped forward, lost my footing, and fell off the stage into the audience. On the way home from the concert, I mused darkly that the experience was surely a message from God.

But I sputtered along for nine more years. I took a position in the City Orchestra of Barcelona, where I increased my practicing but my playing gradually deteriorated. Eventually I found a job teaching at a small music conservatory in Florida, hoping for a magical turnaround that never materialized. Realizing that maybe I ought to hedge my bets, I went back to college via distance learning, and earned my bachelor’s degree shortly before my 30th birthday. I secretly continued my studies at night, earning a master’s degree in economics a year later. Finally I had to admit defeat: I was never going to turn around my faltering musical career. So at 31 I gave up, abandoning my musical aspirations entirely, to pursue a doctorate in public policy.

Life goes on, right? Sort of. After finishing my studies, I became a university professor, a job I enjoyed. But I still thought every day about my beloved first vocation. Even now, I regularly dream that I am onstage, and wake to remember that my childhood aspirations are now only phantasms.

I am lucky to have accepted my decline at a young enough age that I could redirect my life into a new line of work. Still, to this day, the sting of that early decline makes these words difficult to write. I vowed to myself that it wouldn’t ever happen again.

Will it happen again? In some professions, early decline is inescapable. No one expects an Olympic athlete to remain competitive until age 60. But in many physically nondemanding occupations, we implicitly reject the inevitability of decline before very old age. Sure, our quads and hamstrings may weaken a little as we age. But as long as we retain our marbles, our quality of work as a writer, lawyer, executive, or entrepreneur should remain high up to the very end, right? Many people think so. I recently met a man a bit older than I am who told me he planned to “push it until the wheels came off.” In effect, he planned to stay at the very top of his game by any means necessary, and then keel over.

But the odds are he won’t be able to. The data are shockingly clear that for most people, in most fields, decline starts earlier than almost anyone thinks.

According to research by Dean Keith Simonton, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and one of the world’s leading experts on the trajectories of creative careers, success and productivity increase for the first 20 years after the inception of a career, on average. So if you start a career in earnest at 30, expect to do your best work around 50 and go into decline soon after that.

The specific timing of peak and decline vary somewhat depending on the field. Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has spent years studying when people are most likely to make prizewinning scientific discoveries and develop key inventions. His findings can be summarized by this little ditty:

Age is, of course, a fever chill

that every physicist must fear.

He’s better dead than living still

when once he’s past his thirtieth year.The author of those gloomy lines? Paul Dirac, a winner of the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dirac overstates the point, but only a little. Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, Jones has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. He has shown that the likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20-almost nonexistent.

Much of literary achievement follows a similar pattern. Simonton has shown that poets peak in their early 40s. Novelists generally take a little longer. When Martin Hill Ortiz, a poet and novelist, collected data on New York Times fiction best sellers from 1960 to 2015, he found that authors were likeliest to reach the No. 1 spot in their 40s and 50s. Despite the famous productivity of a few novelists well into old age, Ortiz shows a steep drop-off in the chance of writing a best seller after the age of 70. (Some nonfiction writers-especially historians-peak later, as we shall see in a minute.)

Entrepreneurs peak and decline earlier, on average. After earning fame and fortune in their 20s, many tech entrepreneurs are in creative decline by age 30. In 2014, the Harvard Business Review reported that founders of enterprises valued at $1 billion or more by venture capitalists tend to cluster in the 20-to-34 age range. Subsequent research has found that the clustering might be slightly later, but all studies in this area have found that the majority of successful start-ups have founders under age 50.

This research concerns people at the very top of professions that are atypical. But the basic finding appears to apply more broadly. Scholars at Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research studied a wide variety of jobs and found considerable susceptibility to age-related decline in fields ranging from policing to nursing. Other research has found that the best-performing home-plate umpires in Major League Baseball have 18 years less experience and are 23 years younger than the worst-performing umpires (who are 56.1 years old, on average). Among air traffic controllers, the age-related decline is so sharp-and the potential consequences of decline-related errors so dire-that the mandatory retirement age is 56.

In sum, if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities-the kind of profession most college graduates occupy-noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.


If decline not only is inevitable but also happens earlier than most of us expect, what should we do when it comes for us?

Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to becoming successful. The shelves are packed with titles like The Science of Getting Rich and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There is no section marked “Managing Your Professional Decline.”

But some people have managed their declines well. Consider the case of Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685 to a long line of prominent musicians in central Germany, Bach quickly distinguished himself as a musical genius. In his 65 years, he published more than 1,000 compositions for all the available instrumentations of his day.

Early in his career, Bach was considered an astoundingly gifted organist and improviser. Commissions rolled in; royalty sought him out; young composers emulated his style. He enjoyed real prestige.

But it didn’t last-in no small part because his career was overtaken by musical trends ushered in by, among others, his own son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, known as C.P.E. to the generations that followed. The fifth of Bach’s 20 children, C.P.E. exhibited the musical gifts his father had. He mastered the baroque idiom, but he was more fascinated with a new “classical” style of music, which was taking Europe by storm. As classical music displaced baroque, C.P.E.’s prestige boomed while his father’s music became passé.

Bach easily could have become embittered, like Darwin. Instead, he chose to redesign his life, moving from innovator to instructor. He spent a good deal of his last 10 years writing The Art of Fugue, not a famous or popular work in his time, but one intended to teach the techniques of the baroque to his children and students-and, as unlikely as it seemed at the time, to any future generations that might be interested. In his later years, he lived a quieter life as a teacher and a family man.

What’s the difference between Bach and Darwin? Both were preternaturally gifted and widely known early in life. Both attained permanent fame posthumously. Where they differed was in their approach to the midlife fade. When Darwin fell behind as an innovator, he became despondent and depressed; his life ended in sad inactivity. When Bach fell behind, he reinvented himself as a master instructor. He died beloved, fulfilled, and-though less famous than he once had been-respected.

The lesson for you and me, especially after 50: Be Johann Sebastian Bach, not Charles Darwin.

How does one do that?

A potential answer lies in the work of the British psychologist Raymond Cattell, who in the early 1940s introduced the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Cattell defined fluid intelligence as the ability to reason, analyze, and solve novel problems-what we commonly think of as raw intellectual horsepower. Innovators typically have an abundance of fluid intelligence. It is highest relatively early in adulthood and diminishes starting in one’s 30s and 40s. This is why tech entrepreneurs, for instance, do so well so early, and why older people have a much harder time innovating.

Crystallized intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past. Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom. Because crystallized intelligence relies on an accumulating stock of knowledge, it tends to increase through one’s 40s, and does not diminish until very late in life.

Careers that rely primarily on fluid intelligence tend to peak early, while those that use more crystallized intelligence peak later. For example, Dean Keith Simonton has found that poets-highly fluid in their creativity-tend to have produced half their lifetime creative output by age 40 or so. Historians-who rely on a crystallized stock of knowledge-don’t reach this milestone until about 60.

Here’s a practical lesson we can extract from all this: No matter what mix of intelligence your field requires, you can always endeavor to weight your career away from innovation and toward the strengths that persist, or even increase, later in life.

Like what? As Bach demonstrated, teaching is an ability that decays very late in life, a principal exception to the general pattern of professional decline over time. A study in The Journal of Higher Education showed that the oldest college professors in disciplines requiring a large store of fixed knowledge, specifically the humanities, tended to get evaluated most positively by students. This probably explains the professional longevity of college professors, three-quarters of whom plan to retire after age 65-more than half of them after 70, and some 15 percent of them after 80. (The average American retires at 61.) One day, during my first year as a professor, I asked a colleague in his late 60s whether he’d ever considered retiring. He laughed, and told me he was more likely to leave his office horizontally than vertically.

Our dean might have chuckled ruefully at this-college administrators complain that research productivity among tenured faculty drops off significantly in the last decades of their career. Older professors take up budget slots that could otherwise be used to hire young scholars hungry to do cutting-edge research. But perhaps therein lies an opportunity: If older faculty members can shift the balance of their work from research to teaching without loss of professional prestige, younger faculty members can take on more research.

Patterns like this match what I’ve seen as the head of a think tank full of scholars of all ages. There are many exceptions, but the most profound insights tend to come from those in their 30s and early 40s. The best synthesizers and explainers of complicated ideas-that is, the best teachers-tend to be in their mid-60s or older, some of them well into their 80s.

That older people, with their stores of wisdom, should be the most successful teachers seems almost cosmically right. No matter what our profession, as we age we can dedicate ourselves to sharing knowledge in some meaningful way.

A few years ago, I saw a cartoon of a man on his deathbed saying, “I wish I’d bought more crap.” It has always amazed me that many wealthy people keep working to increase their wealth, amassing far more money than they could possibly spend or even usefully bequeath. One day I asked a wealthy friend why this is so. Many people who have gotten rich know how to measure their self-worth only in pecuniary terms, he explained, so they stay on the hamster wheel, year after year. They believe that at some point, they will finally accumulate enough to feel truly successful, happy, and therefore ready to die.

This is a mistake, and not a benign one. Most Eastern philosophy warns that focusing on acquisition leads to attachment and vanity, which derail the search for happiness by obscuring one’s essential nature. As we grow older, we shouldn’t acquire more, but rather strip things away to find our true selves-and thus, peace.

At some point, writing one more book will not add to my life satisfaction; it will merely stave off the end of my book-writing career. The canvas of my life will have another brushstroke that, if I am being forthright, others will barely notice, and will certainly not appreciate very much. The same will be true for most other markers of my success.

What I need to do, in effect, is stop seeing my life as a canvas to fill, and start seeing it more as a block of marble to chip away at and shape something out of. I need a reverse bucket list. My goal for each year of the rest of my life should be to throw out things, obligations, and relationships until I can clearly see my refined self in its best form.

And that self is … who, exactly?

Last year, the search for an answer to this question took me deep into the South Indian countryside, to a town called Palakkad, near the border between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I was there to meet the guru Sri Nochur Venkataraman, known as Acharya (“Teacher”) to his disciples. Acharya is a quiet, humble man dedicated to helping people attain enlightenment; he has no interest in Western techies looking for fresh start-up ideas or burnouts trying to escape the religious traditions they were raised in. Satisfied that I was neither of those things, he agreed to talk with me.

I told him my conundrum: Many people of achievement suffer as they age, because they lose their abilities, gained over many years of hard work. Is this suffering inescapable, like a cosmic joke on the proud? Or is there a loophole somewhere-a way around the suffering?

Acharya answered elliptically, explaining an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, or ashramas. The first is Brahmacharya, the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is Grihastha, when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family. In this second stage, the philosophers find one of life’s most common traps: People become attached to earthly rewards-money, power, sex, prestige-and thus try to make this stage last a lifetime.

The antidote to these worldly temptations is Vanaprastha, the third ashrama, whose name comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” This is the stage, usually starting around age 50, in which we purposefully focus less on professional ambition, and become more and more devoted to spirituality, service, and wisdom. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop working when you turn 50-something few people can afford to do-only that your life goals should adjust.

Vanaprastha is a time for study and training for the last stage of life, Sannyasa, which should be totally dedicated to the fruits of enlightenment. In times past, some Hindu men would leave their family in old age, take holy vows, and spend the rest of their life at the feet of masters, praying and studying. Even if sitting in a cave at age 75 isn’t your ambition, the point should still be clear: As we age, we should resist the conventional lures of success in order to focus on more transcendentally important things.

I told Acharya the story about the man on the plane. He listened carefully, and thought for a minute. “He failed to leave Grihastha,” he told me. “He was addicted to the rewards of the world.” He explained that the man’s self-worth was probably still anchored in the memories of professional successes many years earlier, his ongoing recognition purely derivative of long-lost skills. Any glory today was a mere shadow of past glories. Meanwhile, he’d completely skipped the spiritual development of Vanaprastha, and was now missing out on the bliss of Sannyasa.

There is a message in this for those of us suffering from the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation. Say you are a hard-charging, type-A lawyer, executive, entrepreneur, or-hypothetically, of course-president of a think tank. From early adulthood to middle age, your foot is on the gas, professionally. Living by your wits-by your fluid intelligence-you seek the material rewards of success, you attain a lot of them, and you are deeply attached to them. But the wisdom of Hindu philosophy-and indeed the wisdom of many philosophical traditions-suggests that you should be prepared to walk away from these rewards before you feel ready. Even if you’re at the height of your professional prestige, you probably need to scale back your career ambitions in order to scale up your metaphysical ones.

When the New York Times columnist David Brooks talks about the difference between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues,” he’s effectively putting the ashramas in a practical context. Résumé virtues are professional and oriented toward earthly success. They require comparison with others. Eulogy virtues are ethical and spiritual, and require no comparison. Your eulogy virtues are what you would want people to talk about at your funeral. As in He was kind and deeply spiritual, not He made senior vice president at an astonishingly young age and had a lot of frequent-flier miles.

You won’t be around to hear the eulogy, but the point Brooks makes is that we live the most fulfilling life-especially once we reach midlife-by pursuing the virtues that are most meaningful to us.

I suspect that my own terror of professional decline is rooted in a fear of death-a fear that, even if it is not conscious, motivates me to act as if death will never come by denying any degradation in my résumé virtues. This denial is destructive, because it leads me to ignore the eulogy virtues that bring me the greatest joy.

How can I overcome this tendency? The Buddha recommends, of all things, corpse meditation: Many Theravada Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Sri Lanka display photos of corpses in various states of decomposition for the monks to contemplate. “This body, too,” students are taught to say about their own body, “such is its nature, such is its future, such is its unavoidable fate.” At first this seems morbid. But its logic is grounded in psychological principles-and it’s not an exclusively Eastern idea. “To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us,” Michel de Montaigne wrote in the 16th century, “let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death.”

Psychologists call this desensitization, in which repeated exposure to something repellent or frightening makes it seem ordinary, prosaic, not scary. And for death, it works. In 2017, a team of researchers at several American universities recruited volunteers to imagine they were terminally ill or on death row, and then to write blog posts about either their imagined feelings or their would-be final words. The researchers then compared these expressions with the writings and last words of people who were actually dying or facing capital punishment. The results, published in Psychological Science, were stark: The words of the people merely imagining their imminent death were three times as negative as those of the people actually facing death-suggesting that, counterintuitively, death is scarier when it is theoretical and remote than when it is a concrete reality closing in.

For most people, actively contemplating our demise so that it is present and real (rather than avoiding the thought of it via the mindless pursuit of worldly success) can make death less frightening; embracing death reminds us that everything is temporary, and can make each day of life more meaningful. “Death destroys a man,” E. M. Forster wrote, but “the idea of Death saves him.”

Decline is inevitable, and it occurs earlier than almost any of us wants to believe. But misery is not inevitable. Accepting the natural cadence of our abilities sets up the possibility of transcendence, because it allows the shifting of attention to higher spiritual and life priorities.

But such a shift demands more than mere platitudes. I embarked on my research with the goal of producing a tangible road map to guide me during the remaining years of my life. This has yielded four specific commitments.


The biggest mistake professionally successful people make is attempting to sustain peak accomplishment indefinitely, trying to make use of the kind of fluid intelligence that begins fading relatively early in life. This is impossible. The key is to enjoy accomplishments for what they are in the moment, and to walk away perhaps before I am completely ready-but on my own terms.

So: I’ve resigned my job as president of the American Enterprise Institute, effective right about the time this essay is published. While I have not detected deterioration in my performance, it was only a matter of time. Like many executive positions, the job is heavily reliant on fluid intelligence. Also, I wanted freedom from the consuming responsibilities of that job, to have time for more spiritual pursuits. In truth, this decision wasn’t entirely about me. I love my institution and have seen many others like it suffer when a chief executive lingered too long.

Leaving something you love can feel a bit like a part of you is dying. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a concept called bardo, which is a state of existence between death and rebirth-“like a moment when you step toward the edge of a precipice,” as a famous Buddhist teacher puts it. I am letting go of a professional life that answers the question Who am I?

I am extremely fortunate to have the means and opportunity to be able to walk away from a job. Many people cannot afford to do that. But you don’t necessarily have to quit your job; what’s important is striving to detach progressively from the most obvious earthly rewards-power, fame and status, money-even if you continue to work or advance a career. The real trick is walking into the next stage of life, Vanaprastha, to conduct the study and training that prepare us for fulfillment in life’s final stage.


Time is limited, and professional ambition crowds out things that ultimately matter more. To move from résumé virtues to eulogy virtues is to move from activities focused on the self to activities focused on others. This is not easy for me; I am a naturally egotistical person. But I have to face the fact that the costs of catering to selfishness are ruinous-and I now work every day to fight this tendency.

Fortunately, an effort to serve others can play to our strengths as we age. Remember, people whose work focuses on teaching or mentorship, broadly defined, peak later in life. I am thus moving to a phase in my career in which I can dedicate myself fully to sharing ideas in service of others, primarily by teaching at a university. My hope is that my most fruitful years lie ahead.


Because I’ve talked a lot about various religious and spiritual traditions-and emphasized the pitfalls of overinvestment in career success-readers might naturally conclude that I am making a Manichaean separation between the worlds of worship and work, and suggesting that the emphasis be on worship. That is not my intention. I do strongly recommend that each person explore his or her spiritual self-I plan to dedicate a good part of the rest of my life to the practice of my own faith, Roman Catholicism. But this is not incompatible with work; on the contrary, if we can detach ourselves from worldly attachments and redirect our efforts toward the enrichment and teaching of others, work itself can become a transcendental pursuit.

“The aim and final end of all music,” Bach once said, “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Whatever your metaphysical convictions, refreshment of the soul can be the aim of your work, like Bach’s.

Bach finished each of his manuscripts with the words Soli Deo gloria-“Glory to God alone.” He failed, however, to write these words on his last manuscript, “Contrapunctus 14,” from The Art of Fugue, which abruptly stops mid-measure. His son C.P.E. added these words to the score: “Über dieser Fuge … ist der Verfasser gestorben” (“At this point in the fugue … the composer died”). Bach’s life and work merged with his prayers as he breathed his last breath. This is my aspiration.


Throughout this essay, I have focused on the effect that the waning of my work prowess will have on my happiness. But an abundance of research strongly suggests that happiness-not just in later years but across the life span-is tied directly to the health and plentifulness of one’s relationships. Pushing work out of its position of preeminence-sooner rather than later-to make space for deeper relationships can provide a bulwark against the angst of professional decline.

Dedicating more time to relationships, and less to work, is not inconsistent with continued achievement. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water,” the Book of Psalms says of the righteous person, “yielding its fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither, and who prospers in all he does.” Think of an aspen tree. To live a life of extraordinary accomplishment is-like the tree-to grow alone, reach majestic heights alone, and die alone. Right?

Wrong. The aspen tree is an excellent metaphor for a successful person-but not, it turns out, for its solitary majesty. Above the ground, it may appear solitary. Yet each individual tree is part of an enormous root system, which is together one plant. In fact, an aspen is one of the largest living organisms in the world; a single grove in Utah, called Pando, spans 106 acres and weighs an estimated 13 million pounds.

The secret to bearing my decline-to enjoying it-is to become more conscious of the roots linking me to others. If I have properly developed the bonds of love among my family and friends, my own withering will be more than offset by blooming in others.

When I talk about this personal research project I’ve been pursuing, people usually ask: Whatever happened to the hero on the plane?

I think about him a lot. He’s still famous, popping up in the news from time to time. Early on, when I saw a story about him, I would feel a flash of something like pity-which I now realize was really only a refracted sense of terror about my own future. Poor guy really meant I’m screwed.

But as my grasp of the principles laid out in this essay has deepened, my fear has declined proportionately. My feeling toward the man on the plane is now one of gratitude for what he taught me. I hope that he can find the peace and joy he is inadvertently helping me attain.

Guardian of the Endling

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

Sometime on New Year’s Day, as the people of Hawaii recovered from a night of revelry, in a trailer on the outskirts of Kailua, Oahu, a 14-year-old snail named George died. David Sischo, who works in the trailer but was taking a rare day off, found out at 7 o’clock the next morning, when a colleague discovered George’s limp body and texted him. “I usually don’t hear from her that early, so before I even read the text, I felt that something bad had happened,” Sischo told me.

Few people would mourn a snail, but Sischo and his team had spent years caring for George. He was a daily constant, a familiar friend. He was also the last known snail of his kind, the final Achatinella apexfulva. It is said that everyone dies alone, but that was doubly true for George-alone at the end both in his cage and in the world.

When the last of a species disappears, it usually does so unnoticed, somewhere in the wild. Only later, when repeated searches come up empty, will researchers reluctantly acknowledge that the species must be extinct. But in rare cases like George’s, when people are caring for an animal’s last known representative, extinction-an often abstract concept-becomes painfully concrete. It happens on their watch, in real time. It leaves behind a body. When Sischo rang in the new year, Achatinella apexfulva existed. A day later, it did not. “It is happening right in front of our eyes,” he said.

Hawaii was once known for its snails, or kahuli. Most are smaller than the average garden snail, and far more beautiful. Their shells swirl with the palette of a chocolate box-dark brown, chestnut, white, the occasional splash of mint. Sischo compares them not only to candy but also, because many live in trees, to Christmas ornaments. All of them descended from ancestral mollusks that arrived in Hawaii millions of years ago, perhaps on the bodies of birds. Those stowaways gave rise to more than 750 species-an incredible radiation that turned the snails into exemplars of evolution’s generative prowess.

But in recent decades, kahuli have come to exemplify the opposite force: extinction. Confined to specific valleys, slow to breed, and inexperienced with predators, they are uniquely vulnerable to the carnivores that have been introduced to Hawaii. Rats and chameleons are serious threats, but their archnemesis is another snail-Euglandina rosea, the aptly named rosy wolf snail. Voracious and fast (for a snail), it tracks its indigenous cousins by following their slime trails, then yanks them from their shells with a serrated tongue or swallows them, shell and all.

Sischo and his five colleagues have been trying to save native snails since 2012, when they expanded a program begun by the University of Hawaii in the 1980s and now run by the state government. In March, when I visited the 44-foot green trailer where they work, Sischo walked me to the back, where dozens of plastic cages are stacked in glass-fronted cabinets the size of refrigerators. He pointed to six cages with purple lids: “These are holding the world population of Achatinella fuscobasis.” Then he gestured to all the cabinets: “This area has 35 species in it.” Each one is already extinct in the wild, or about to be.

Snails may seem low-maintenance, but caring for them is surprisingly hard. Sprinklers regularly mist them to mimic their former forest homes, and the cabinets carefully regulate temperature and humidity. If either variable dips too low, or if the cabinets lose power, Sischo gets barraged by automatic emails and texts. He never silences his phone, even when he sleeps. When he gets alerts at odd hours, his stomach aches.

Sischo is 35, lean, and, despite his work, relentlessly chipper. When he talks about the snails, he is usually stifling laughter that is four parts gallows humor and one part panic. But the panicked portion has been growing. For some reason, already declining snail populations have recently gone into a terminal nosedive. In 2014, for example, Sischo’s team observed a species that hadn’t been seen since the 1980s-seven individuals, in a single tree. It was a hopeful event, but with the trailer still under construction, the team had nowhere to put these survivors. When the conservationists finally returned to rescue the group two years later, they were all gone. “We clipped every freaking leaf on that tree, and nothing,” Sischo said. “That will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.”

The experience, and others like it, have recalibrated his sense of urgency. Team members have repeatedly gone to check on species that they thought were stable, and ended up evacuating the remaining handful of survivors-or finding none at all. As Hawaii empties, their cabinets fill. They are running out of space, and the snails are running out of time. Without intervention, Sischo expects that 100 species will disappear in the next decade. “I think everyone, when they hear about something going extinct, thinks that there’s time,” he says. “But we’re the last people who can do anything about this.”

When animals die out, the last survivor is called an endling. It is a word of soft beauty, heartbreaking solitude, and chilling finality. The title was borne by Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise, after which George the snail was named. It unites Martha the passenger pigeon, Benjamin the thylacine, and Booming Ben the heath hen. It will eventually describe either Najin or Fatu, the two last northern white rhinos-both female, neither pregnant.

Endlings are avatars of loss. In the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, these singular creatures embody the crisis facing our dwindling fauna-and our failure to avert it. By the time a species is down to its endling, it is functionally extinct. Caring for an endling can nonetheless serve as a final act of defiance, or perhaps contrition. Small wonder that the custodians of endlings often get very attached to them.

Take Mark Mandica, the executive director of the Amphibian Foundation, who cared for the last known Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog-a new species that was eradicated from the wild before it even had a scientific name. In 2005, conservationists rescued dozens of Panamanian frogs from the path of a rapidly spreading killer fungus, as if pulling valuables from a burning building. Those evacuees included several Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frogs, some of whom made their way to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, where Mandica would later care for them. They were housed in a repurposed shipping container affectionately called the frog pod, though no one knew how to care for the species, let alone breed it.

By 2012, only one remained: a reddish-brown male whose disproportionately large eyes and feet gave him a childlike quality. Mandica’s 2-year-old son christened him Toughie, and the frog pod became a hospice. The species would go extinct, and all Mandica could do was keep its last member comfortable, clean, and fed. “It was only a matter of time before I came in and found him dead,” he told me. “That was nauseating. This species loves to hide, and when I couldn’t find him immediately, I would feel a pit in my stomach.”

Toughie was the silent type, but in 2014-after he’d spent years in captivity-Mandica finally heard him calling. He sneaked up and made a recording. “There was something about hearing him sing out that really affected me,” he says. “He was calling for a mate, and there wasn’t a mate for him on the entire planet.” Toughie died two years later, and with that, his species was extinct.

I asked Mandica whether he ever plays Toughie’s song. “I do. It’s hard not to miss him. I have lots of pictures. But there’s something about hearing him,” he told me, through tears.

Global trade networks spread the fungus that wiped out Toughie’s species and many other amphibians. Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture deliberately introduced Euglandina rosea to the islands in an ill-advised bid to control another, previously introduced snail. By shuffling nature, the forces of colonization and globalization have repeatedly wreaked havoc on indigenous ecosystems.

When Sischo finished showing me around the trailer, he took me on an hour-long drive to the northwest corner of Oahu, to check on one of the few remaining wild strongholds for kahuli. As we traveled, I came to realize that almost everything around us had been introduced to Hawaii from elsewhere: the cardinals and mourning doves flitting through the trees, the mongoose scurrying in front of the car. As we stopped to open a gate, Sischo pointed out Cook pines from the Cook Islands, Christmas berry from South America, and eucalyptus from Australia-a “shit show of weeds,” he said.

To find native animals, we had to hike a serpentine trail to a high clearing, where a small patch of thickly grown forest is surrounded by two concentric walls. After using ladders to hop over them, Sischo walked to the closest tree, lifted a few leaves, and found a snail. Mocha brown with a thick white spiral, it looked like an elaborately carved coconut-but thumbnail-size. In 10 yards, Sischo found five more without trying. Even my untrained eyes spotted a couple. We found two adults snuggled up; the snails are, Sischo told me, surprisingly sociable. We found babies, and he lit up.

This particular species-Achatinella mustelina-was originally widespread, but now, at least in the forest reserve we were visiting, lives only in this spot. The inner wall, erected in the 1990s, successfully protected a small population from marauding predators, and today there are 300 or so. But the wall is corroded and fragile, so a better one is being built around it. Chameleons can’t scale the new wall’s smooth green sides. Rats can’t burrow under its foundation. And if E. rosea somehow manages to negotiate its lip, traverse a spiky copper mesh, and reach the top, it gets electrocuted.

That doesn’t stop it from trying. Along just one face of the wall, Sischo’s colleague Charlton Kupa’a Hee found seven E. rosea, all trapped while trying to storm the castle. They were faintly monstrous, with long eyestalks and grappling-hook-like projections on their heads. The team would normally crush them with extreme prejudice, but these seven were placed in a plastic tub for anti-E. rosea research. Immediately, a pair started mating. The species’ frantic reproduction and voracious appetite allows it to rapidly convert snail havens into ghost towns of empty shells. “It’s not their fault,” Sischo said. Then, through gritted teeth: “But I hate them.”

E. rosea is now so widespread that “exclosures” like the one we visited are among the few wild places where native snails can thrive. The team has already reintroduced into exclosures three species that were previously extinct in the wild. Every time, Sischo plays “Born Free” on his phone. “It’s a happy time, but it feels like a drop in a bucket,” he says.

At other moments, the exclosures can recall a postapocalyptic horror movie-a band of survivors holed up in a fortress, with monsters pounding on the walls. In scale, they’re not so different from the trailer: I could jog around this one’s outer wall in a minute. Instagrammers have been known to sneak inside to take selfies with the snails, occasionally breaking the barriers in the process. “What kind of existence is this?” Sischo asked.

He didn’t plan on this life. He started out as a geneticist, studying at the University of Hawaii with Michael Hadfield, whose research helped establish the snail program. But then he became the program’s coordinator-a mantle he seems likely to bear for quite some time. Hawaii’s snails are long-lived, and slow to mature and breed. “It’s like working with a rhino,” he said. “It’s a decades-long commitment to get them established.” I asked whether that means he’s in his role for good. He didn’t answer.

Back in the trailer after our visit to the exclosure, Lindsay Renshaw, the lab manager, was refreshing the snails’ accommodations-an ongoing ritual that takes days of careful work. She removed rotting vegetation and scoured every leaf for snails, which she put in a petri dish. When I arrived, she had found a dozen of them-a third of the world’s population of Achatinella bulimoides. One made a break for it, crawling over the edge of the dish with a baby stuck to its shell. Renshaw lifted it up with a leaf and put it back. Once every individual was accounted for, she cleaned the cage, packed in new foliage, and returned the snails. The work was meditative, but the responsibility, she said, was like “a heavy weight sitting on you.”

The trailer feels acutely vulnerable. It’s designed to deter would-be thieves, and to resist hurricanes. But a fire could easily destroy it, or a disease could sweep through it. Last September, a mystery pathogen appears to have entered the trailer on leaves fed to the snails, but it killed individuals from only the most numerous species. As harrowing as the episode was, there’s no good way to insure against future catastrophe. The snails can’t simply be spread among zoos or other facilities; they need dedicated equipment, experienced handlers, and a diet of native Hawaiian plants.

Consequently, it can be hard for the snails’ minders to relax, even when they are outside the trailer. How do you switch off, when your decisions mean existence or extinction? “It’s funny to think about species going extinct and then to hear news about the most ridiculous things like celebrity gossip,” Kupa’a Hee said. For him, action lightens the burden: “At least we’re aware of it and can do something.” And yet, with animals whose natural history is largely unknown, that something can be treacherous. “If you do it wrong, the snails die,” Sischo said. Deceased snails go in a cupboard morbidly labeled death cabinet. George’s remains now sit there, in their own vial.

There have been successes, too. In 2013, the team realized that Achatinella fulgens existed only in a small stand of trees. This was before the trailer was ready, so to protect the snails from E. rosea, the researchers smeared the trunks with salt and what Sischo described as an awkward amount of Vaseline. It worked-until a landslide swept most of the trees away. They scoured the wreckage and found six survivors. Today, more than 40 live in the trailer. “I think we’re on a very good trajectory,” Sischo said. “In five years, they could go back out into the wild.”

Snails are neither intelligent nor charismatic nor beloved. Sischo’s friends sometimes tease him about being “the weird snail guy”; strangers ask why he cares. He tells them that the snails recycle nutrients in the forest, and feature heavily in Hawaii’s traditional stories and songs. These points rarely convince people, but he insists that if he can just get them in the trailer, they will understand why the kahuli are worth saving. “People melt,” he said. “When you show them that the entire population is in this chamber, it hits them.”

The cabinets are indeed inescapably poignant, though there was little to see in them when I visited. Snails are nocturnal, so by day, only a few are visible on the sides of the cages. After sunset, I have been told, it’s a different story. The cabinets bustle with activity as kahuli swarm around their cramped ark, oozing and grazing, while several miles away, David Sischo sleeps restlessly.

<hr>This article appears in the July 2019 print edition with the headline “The Last of Its Kind.”

Cruising in the Age of Consent

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series about the gay-rights movement and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

Hunting for answers to one of life’s great questions, the lesbian writer Rita Mae Brown pasted on a mustache in 1975 and walked into a bathhouse for gay men. “The adventure attracted me, but besides that I’ve been raised with the constantly repeated notion that women’s sexuality and men’s sexuality are absolutely different,” she wrote in her essay “Queen for a Day: A Stranger in Paradise.” The all-male zone of Manhattan’s The Club would, she hoped, teach her how male and female sexuality diverged.

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A robe hiding her female form, she marveled at the sex being had around every corner, from a dimly lit “maze” of semi-blind groping to an “unbelievable orgy room” of group activities to a corridor of cubicles in which men lay waiting for partners. Quickly, she began to form theories. “Men look at each other differently than men look at women,” she observed. “The leer is gone, the thinly disguised hostility of the street vanishes … The transaction boils down to: curiosity, no connection, disconnection.”

The way people touched felt foreign, too. As a stranger reached for her groin, Brown’s “first response was to turn around and smash the offender’s face in.” Later, to one man who hugged her from behind, she whispered, “Thank you but I’ve been here for an hour and I’m tired.” The man left her alone. “The easiness of refusal is incredible,” she wrote. “If you say ‘no’ it means ‘no,’ that’s all, and that simple ‘no’ also protects fragile egos. Sex isn’t a weapon here, it’s a release.”

Read during today’s #MeToo wave, Brown’s vision of a “paradise” packed with men groping unabashedly yet respectfully may sound like a hallucination. But many gay men might not find the scene so strange. Yes, assimilation and smartphones-and, before them, legal crackdowns amid the AIDS crisis-have thinned the ranks of spots like The Club. Even so, 50 years after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn catalyzed the mainstream LGBTQ movement, gay people still maintain spheres of separation from the wider world: nightclubs, vacation spots, and dating apps where like can meet like. In those places, folks who otherwise might edit themselves for the straight world find the miraculous-seeming freedom to directly pursue their desires. This pursuit can take forms as mild as dinner and a movie. It can also involve a crossing of physical boundaries that bears an undeniable resemblance to the surprise kisses and below-belt grabs called out in the recent reckoning with sexual harassment.

In Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I’ve spent portions of the past few summers, I’ve found it impossible to avoid comparisons. Long a queer haven, the Cape Cod artist colony grew into an internationally renowned LGBTQ party spot during the same era when Brown made her New York-bathhouse visit. Now day-trippers of all sorts (heterosexuals, too) pop in, and the particular flavor of queer varies from week to week: lesbians for Memorial Day and the “Girl Splash” event, ab-flaunting men around Independence Day, scruffier types for July’s “Bear Week.” What’s constant is that an otherwise ironclad rule of life gets flipped to glorious effect. Instead of figuring that everyone is straight, you can figure that everyone isn’t.

I’ll never forget my first run to the Provincetown Stop & Shop, during Bear Week. The store was as overlit and Clorox-scented as any suburban supermarket, but the near-total absence of women pushing carts lent an almost science-fictional vibe. Shoppers scanned not only the wares on the shelves, but one another, in a way that recalled Larry Kramer’s description of “cruising” in his 1978 satirical novel, Faggots: “You give it a little look, pretending not to look, but being able to see, out of the corner of your eye only, if anyone else is pretending not to look back at you. If you see someone else pretending not to look, you look the other way. Only after a few moments do you look back, to see if he’s still looking.”

On offer in Provincetown are all the summer adventures typical of a quaint seaside destination: dining, sailing, pool lounging, beach-going. There is also easy sex for those who want it. Bars nestle close enough to houses and hotels that it’s common to meet someone, take him home, and then go out again. Certain establishments feature certain corners where men huddle and unzip. Other spots, though smaller than the bathhouse of Brown’s essay, function a lot like The Club, right down to her description of the orgy room: “The silence amazed me. Seventy-five to one hundred men packed [in] … and not one word was spoken.”

Sex spaces such as these call back to when queer life had to be furtive, for fear of danger, but also when, almost paradoxically, gay men found safety and eroticism by surrendering privacy together. Cruising in gay America now mostly happens online, but some patterns of behavior haven’t died. Whether in a hushed hookup spot or against the blare of a nightclub, encounters can begin with a nod or an eye-flick. Some begin with a touch. To dance on a summer night at Provincetown’s Atlantic House, one of the country’s oldest gay bars, is to feel the loss of bodily autonomy that comes in any crowd supercharged by the wide presumption of flirting. No one’s lower back, at the very minimum, goes ungrazed by strangers.

I haven’t experienced anything traumatic amid the casual manhandling. Still, uneasy situations do arise. You might hear someone at Tea Dance-a jam-packed seaside cocktail hour-dissect the previous night with a joke about how what happened was dicier than anything Aziz Ansari was accused of. You might see a couple fend off an uninvited set of limbs inserting themselves into a leather-party make-out session. Last summer, a man wearing a kilt and nothing under it paid a social visit to the house I was staying in and, without warning, lifted his hem and straddled a housemate who’d been reading on the front lawn. The guy’s behavior was gross, we agreed. It was also laughed off as “gays being gays,” as my somewhat rattled friend put it after he pushed his way out from under the kilt.

Gays being gays sounds a lot like the boys will be boys excuse-making that the #MeToo movement has discredited. But it also recalls Brown’s conclusions about the bathhouse. There, she wrote, “you get groped, but it’s gentle compared to the kind of grabbing a woman gets on a subway.” She understood gay male spaces as different-not just because of the force of the grabs, but also because of their context. In the straight world, despite the “sexual revolution” (she put it in quotation marks), men were “geared to pursue you,” and refusals were fraught. For women, sex remained “a bargaining tool”-something too socially significant to be casual, and something that could be taken, possibly by violence. At The Club, by contrast, everybody really was after the same thing: sex for the sake of sex. Brute coercion didn’t appear to be an issue. She walked away wishing that she had her own bathhouse to go to-that such free pleasure might be possible for women, too. And yet something still nagged at her. “Is this fuck palace the ultimate conclusion of sexist logic,” she wondered, “or is it erotic freedom?”

Today, a related question looms for gay men. The handsiness that can arise between guys has been condemned as a sign of male entitlement and predatory sexuality. It has also been celebrated as the liberated practice of a minority that fought hard for the right to its desires and for places to express them. In truth, gay male spaces-physical, digital, cultural-reflect a long and imperfect process of managing what happens when masculinity, homosexuality, and an often hostile wider society intersect. They deserve scrutiny both on their own terms and for what they reveal about the problems that gave rise to #MeToo.

Even as the queer movement has popularized an ever more fluid understanding of gender, #MeToo has highlighted a stubborn reality: Men violate boundaries in ways that women rarely do. A 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that even among lesbians who had experienced sexual violence other than rape, 85 percent of them reported that their attackers had exclusively been male. That’s not to say women don’t ever abuse. Nor is it to suggest that patterns of sexual misconduct neatly fit a binary conception of gender (bisexual and trans people face some of the highest rates of sexual assault). And lots of men, of course, don’t harass. But the male gender is the one that is most urgently being called to account lately-and a room full of gay men is a room full of men.

Sure enough, gay men joined the reckoning almost as soon as #MeToo went supernova, in late 2017. Just weeks after the fall of Harvey Weinstein, the actor Anthony Rapp alleged publicly that Kevin Spacey had tried to “get with me sexually” when Rapp was 14 and Spacey was in his 20s. More than a dozen men, some professionally subordinate to Spacey, came forward with their own accounts of sexual harassment and assault; many of them said Spacey grabbed their crotch without warning. (Spacey tweeted that he did not remember the encounter with Rapp but apologized for “what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Spacey’s representatives have since denied at least two of the men’s allegations, and Spacey is currently fighting two lawsuits arising from other accusations.) As the list of alleged same-sex predators began to grow, the film director Bryan Singer and the Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine appeared among the names. (Both men deny any wrongdoing.)

[Read: Bryan Singer’s accusers speak out]

These stories fit a familiar pattern of powerful guys taking monstrous advantage of their status. What, if anything, such accusations reveal about queer men hasn’t prompted much discussion beyond suggestions that the closet (whether the victim or the aggressor or both are in it) makes reporting crimes harder. Yet as alarm has intensified about drunken, horny subcultures of straight folks-nightclubs, frat parties, music festivals where women report rampant abuses-some gay men have begun to wonder whether their own confabs are consent catastrophes. Broaching that idea in public risks reviving old images of gay promiscuity and predation at just the moment when such stereotypes are losing their bite, thanks to the growing visibility of the queer experience in all its variety. But now that harassment of every sort is on trial, the issue seems unavoidable.

“How does Harvey Weinstein happen? Visit a gay bar with me,” the journalist Marc Ambinder wrote in a 2017 USA Today column about the way queer guys grind and grope on the dance floor. In a 2018 piece in the LGBTQ magazine Wussy, the writer Alex Franco recounted his memory of an app-facilitated hookup that turned menacing when the other man tried to prevent Franco from leaving. Gay men, he wrote, “can either start the work now, making clear-communicated consent a foundation of our interactions, or we can wait for a scandal to ignite.”

That unwanted advances frequently harm gay men is already clear. According to a CDC survey based on self-reports, the share of gay men who have experienced sexual violence other than rape is almost as great as the share of straight and lesbian women who have. Though gender difference is out of the picture, the worst cases of same-sex abuse still tend to involve power inequalities: disparities of wealth, age, clout, physical size, and intoxication levels. Race can figure in too, as when a black man at a predominantly white bar risks being taken for the threat rather than the victim if he resists harassers. Gay men often don’t report attacks to authorities out of fear of being outed, mistreated by homophobic cops, and subjected to stigmas that cast male victims as weak.

Among competing explanations for the particular maleness of predation, one theory rests heavily on biology, and the gay cruising mentality can serve as a prop for that case. “Remove women, and you see male sexuality unleashed more fully, as men would naturally express it, if they could get away with it,” the columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote in an online piece for New York magazine titled “#MeToo and the Taboo Topic of Nature.” “It’s full of handsiness and groping and objectification and lust and aggression and passion and the ruthless pursuit of yet another conquest.” This testosterone-focused view-which paints the #MeToo movement as hopelessly naive about gender-comes close to excusing male lechery as inevitable. It also implies a depressing perspective on homosexuality. Those guys who were called sissies throughout their youth? They grow up to embody the very aspects of masculinity now widely seen as destructive.

An alternative analysis of predatory male sexuality comes to the same sad conclusion by pointing to nurture-the way men are raised in a sexist society-rather than nature. Here, too, gay men can be deployed as an object lesson. In a 2017 essay for the queer web publication them, the activist and writer Darnell L. Moore fretted that even his quietest ogling of attractive men was, fundamentally, rooted in rape culture. “I was taught that people are bodies, are things, are objects, are ours to own and consume,” he wrote. “The ardent faith in the superiority of maleness, manhood, and masculinity (even among men who rightly deviate from those ideas) is the reason so many men believe the exterior and interior parts of another person’s being are ours to access and dominate.” Plenty of gay scenes are indeed steeped in machismo: Just check out self-proclaimed “Masc4Masc” Grindr users who sneer at lisps and loose wrists. But the queer art of cruising the street-born of lonely, thwarted yearning for touch-has always relied on a silent, probing gaze. In Moore’s telling, that gaze is inseparable from the piggish entitlement of catcallers and casting-couch creeps. By this logic, it’s not behavior that most urgently needs reforming, but desire itself.

Any portrayal of gay men as a lab-pure reduction of maleness-whether inborn or socially constructed-is too simple. Maybe many queer men do believe that male valor is proved by conquest. Or maybe they’ve transcended traditionally blinkered social messaging about sex and moral virtue. Maybe they’re living out some evolutionary drive. Maybe they’re propelled by all of the above, to different degrees, depending on who they are. In any case, sexism does not bear down on them in the same way that it does on women. Gay men’s classic sources of trauma and violence stem less from being hit on than from being literally hit by homophobes. Safety hasn’t typically meant freedom from carnal pursuit; safety has meant the possibility of it.

Which is to say that gay men have long needed to balance the free, equal, and even crass seeking of sex against the possibility of its abuse. If the #MeToo movement has asked men to rethink their desires with an eye toward the danger those desires can entail, that’s not a new challenge in queer history. Nor, however, is the worry that the wider world’s moralizing could destroy the refuges that have been built. “It’s inevitable that during this cultural shift, gay men should question their leniency regarding the grope,” the writer and dancer Rennie McDougall observed in Slate. “But the sanitization of gay spaces-a total cleaning up of our sometimes messy brushes with desire-would be a profound loss.” Many fear that treating gay people’s #MeToo issues as identical to straight people’s will end up equating safety with, to use McDougall’s term, the “sex-phobic propriety” that gays have battled against.

That battle over the past half century has led to a radical cultural achievement. Walk around Provincetown at the height of summer and you’ll see gaggles of drunk young bros, throuples in padlocked chain collars, and also actual daddies doting on their actual children. You’ll see singlets and jackboots and tutus and wigs. You’ll hear casually misogynistic comments alongside exceptionally woke ones, sometimes sparking loud arguments about sexism. (Do straight guys do this?) On display is the wide range of gay male life-the variety of ways in which a group of people move past being told that they’re not men, that they must hide, that their desires are perverse. In the process, gay men have helped make room in the broader culture for different kinds of manliness. Situationally sensitive rules of the road have developed-evidence, perhaps heartening for #MeToo, that men can be made to moderate themselves.

In 1975, Martin S. Weinberg and Colin J. Williams of Alfred Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research visited gay bathhouses across the U.S. and made observations very similar to Brown’s about the nonverbal cues that men used to negotiate liaisons. “Sexual invitations follow an etiquette involving simple and nonabrasive rituals … that are characterized by their gentleness,” they wrote. “Usually they are not forceful or persistent.” Such codes of conduct were often “an import from the wider homosexual culture,” which is to say that how people cruised appeared to be learned behavior. The generally nonjudgmental Kinsey researchers compared getting a lay at the baths to browsing at a shopping center, but more than two decades later, in a 1999 essay about bathhouse design and etiquette, the artist Ira Tattelman wrote that Weinberg and Williams had overstated the “impersonal” aspect of cruising. “By the late 1970s, men were lining up to get into the baths and arriving at the baths in couples,” attesting to a new “intersection of private lives and public personas” for gay men, he wrote. Sex could be social.

Even the most secretive kind of hookups have relied on community. “One man I interviewed was only half joking when he argued that the Rambles in Central Park was the safest place in New York City at night,” the sociologist John Hollister reported in a 1999 article on men who have sex with men in public. “Some met regularly with the same people and sat at picnic tables watching who was following whom, and occasionally intervening if someone was threatened by a predator.” In his 1998 essay collection, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, the novelist Samuel R. Delany described his decades-long habit of having sex with men in the seats of New York City’s now-shuttered pornographic cinemas as not just titillating but downright edifying. Strangers across social strata made connections as they got off together and kept watch for troublemakers-predators, narcs, thieves. Delany once brought along a female friend curious to gawk (a reprise of Brown). “I thought it would be more frenetic-people just grabbing each other and throwing them down in the shadows and having their way,” she told him afterward. “But it was so easygoing. And you didn’t tell me … that so many people say ‘no.’ And that everybody pretty much goes along with it.”

The Eros 1 theater feels a long way away from 21st-century gentrified gay bars, where a vodka-soda can cost $10 and a too-sloppy make-out session can result in expulsion. For queer folks to find one another may once have involved groping in the dark, but now all the courtship rituals that straights partake in-from meet-the-parents holiday dinners to elaborate wedding preparations-are available. At the same time, explicit adventuring clearly retains its appeal. As before, what may look like free-for-alls can actually be governed by a sort of forbearance. A friend of mine noticed last summer that during the sweatier shirtless gatherings of Provincetown’s Bear Week, the grope had been replaced by a chummier form of contact. “Someone would lightly rub your tummy and look at you as a way of gauging if you were interested in anything,” he observed. “You could just touch their hand lightly and respond ‘No thank you’ without any ill will.” He’d been annoyed by unwanted touching at parties in the past, but found this variant-rooted in a specific place and set of people-charming.

Meanwhile, the anonymous cruise has gotten an update with apps such as Grindr and Scruff, where the hunt for sex is assumed and where conversations sometimes kick off with the sending of an explicit picture (a male tendency notoriously irritating to women on Tinder). Faces can be obscured, and the exchange of names an afterthought. Though abuses do occur, conduct on these platforms is ritualized for safety and mutual understanding. Many profiles include HIV status, and asking when someone was last tested for STDs is pro forma. Banter also inevitably involves the question “What are you into?,” which invites discussion of who tops and who bottoms, whether both parties just want to cuddle, and so on.

What are you into? could be thought of as the unfussy, even hot, prelude to something often derided as a feminist pipe dream: affirmative consent. The popular sex columnist Dan Savage, who’s gay, frequently advises straight people to import this norm. It starts a conversation about expectations, can be a form of dirty-talk foreplay, and recognizes that a hookup doesn’t necessarily mean penetration. “If a man is getting with a woman, the conversation about consent usually ends with ‘Let’s go to bed,’?” Savage told me. “Because what’s next is assumed. It’s vaginal intercourse.” But with gay men, “half the time, when somebody says ‘What are you into?,’ they just want to do oral, or mutually masturbate, or some fantasy thing.” Widen the conversation to a range of possibilities, he suggests, and a less fraught sexual paradigm-less all-or-nothing, conquest-or-defeat-emerges.

It was just this kind of openness about naming and pursuing one’s most visceral desires that Brown coveted as she left The Club in 1975. “Despite changing attitudes toward sex, we can’t create our version of the baths because, for most of us, sex for the sake of sex is still wrong-whether you are a heterosexual woman or a lesbian,” she wrote. “We scramble to invest sex with love and we call men dogs because they’ve been taught to separate the two.” Much has changed for women since then, of course, including anti-“slut shaming” campaigns to cheer on the female pursuit of casual sex. Bathhouses catering to women of all sexualities, though rare, have cropped up to offer experiences that, by reputation, seem aligned with Brown’s dream: “Our Xanadu would be less competitive than the gay men’s baths, more laughter would ring in the sauna, and you’d touch not only to fuck but just to touch.”

Yet being allowed to “distinguish between sex and love and her needs for both,” as Brown put it back when that freedom felt out of reach for a woman, has not stopped the kind of abuses that have inflamed #MeToo. Take the case of Brooklyn’s much-publicized House of Yes, a female-founded “temple of expression,” where sexually charged events like the “Pants Off Dance Off” take place. Since its 2015 opening, the venue has heard complaints about the same male groping of women that has long plagued nightlife. Now the dance floor is patrolled by “consenticorns”-trained volunteers wearing light-up horns, part of a consent program that includes cautionary signage and waivers-who watch to make sure that everyone parties respectfully, and are ready to intervene if necessary. “People think of this as an ‘anything-goes’ kind of club,” one of its co-founders, Anya Sapozhnikova, told Vice. “But by ‘anything goes,’ we mean extreme self-expression, rather than extreme sexual harassment. There is a difference.”

Consenticorns might seem like a parody of safe-space coddling. But to judge by the continued sold-out crowds at House of Yes, and by the hot-and-heavy atmosphere of the disco extravaganza I dropped into recently, the initiative hasn’t tamped down the fun. Indeed, in spirit if not in specifics, the consenticorn agenda resembles the sort of policing to protect pleasure that queer subcultures have long experimented with. Bringing casual sex into the open-for the gay world, yes, but also the straight one-was a first step. If participants, and especially men, turn out to need some taming, the goal is not to chasten them but to enable more fun.

For gay guys, the choreography of cruising-the nod of encouragement, the welcomed touch, the ascertaining of who wants what-will keep evolving as people become freer to talk about the ways in which it can go wrong. Recently, the friend who told me about the Bear Week belly rubs showed me an emailed invitation to a private all-male sex party in a major city. It warned that “NO MEANS NO,” but also got specific with a rule “not to pile onto another couple or group” without the participants clearly expressing interest-the opposite of the impromptu grab-and-parry paradigm Brown described in the orgy room of 1975. Yet laden with pictures of muscled bodies and information about the sex supplies on offer, the invitation could hardly be called prudish, unliberated, or panicky. Why would it be? The excitement of any queer enclave relies not on risk but on shared security, the core of a Xanadu that many might welcome-and that is still under construction.

What Lost Treasure Would You Most Like to Find?

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

Christopher Benfey, author, If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years

Vermeer’s The Concert, taken from its frame in the Gardner Museum in 1990 and never recovered. A painting about life’s fugitive joys-music, friendship, the changing light-it turned out to be a fleeting joy itself.

<hr>James Grant, author, Bagehot: The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian

We have Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s, and John’s. A fifth Gospel is the treasure I’d like to find. What did Jesus do during the early years of his life? The fifth evangelist would break the news.

<hr>Ann Bancroft, explorer and author

The photographic plates of Frank Hurley. During Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica, the ship was frozen in the sea ice and crushed. All men and equipment were jettisoned onto the ice. When they had to travel to survive, Hurley left behind many of his heavy negative plates. Shackleton-not fully trusting that Hurley wouldn’t backtrack and fetch them-made him destroy them on the ice.

<hr>Monica L. Smith, anthropologist and author, Cities: The First 6,000 Years

A bilingual inscription from Mesopotamia that would let us decipher the 4,000-year-old Harappan script of the Indian subcontinent. Finding it would enable 1 billion-plus people to unlock their earliest history.

<hr>Peter Hessler, author, The Buried: An Archaeology of the Egyptian Revolution

The tomb of Nefertiti. She must be out there, because her burial goods haven’t appeared in other tombs or artifact collections. And evidence indicates that she ruled as pharaoh after the death of her husband, Akhenaten. Her tomb would reveal much about the period when the ruling couple tried to revolutionize ancient Egyptian faith and art.

<hr>Reader ResponsesIzabella Cresswell-Jones, Kingston, Ontario

Genghis Khan’s treasure. He was buried with his conquered world’s most beautiful rare objects. Legend has it that a river was diverted to cover his grave.

<hr>Jim Davis, Orlando, Fla.

The Ark of the Covenant. This ornate, gold-plated chest topped with cherubs housed Moses’s stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It disappeared from history, and is said to have been taken during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem in the sixth century b.c.

<hr>Barry Cutler, Palm Desert, Calif.

Cardenio, the lost play written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, supposedly based on Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. If it even neared the spirit of Quixote, it probably contained at least a few good laughs, dearly needed in today’s world.

<hr>Pat Cilley Southward, Lake Mary, Fla.

The Library of Alexandria. Imagine access to the great minds of antiquity, and to the mathematics, philosophy, and literature that formed the foundation of modern Western culture, of which we have only fragments.

<hr>Nick Sayer, Santa Clara, Calif.

The original high-resolution recordings of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface is effectively a kinescope recording-made via a camera pointed at a video screen. NASA’s tapes of the original transmissions were likely erased and reused in the 1980s. Only a few people in July 1969 have ever seen the historic moonwalk in its full resolution.

<hr>Want to see your name on this page? Email with your response to the question for our September issue: What is the greatest movie quote of all time?

What Lies Beneath

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

On the shores of Kamilo Point, in Hawaii, geologists have identified a new kind of stone. A sediment of recent history, the agglutinated rock displays milky-blue flecks, iotas of dull green, and fibrous orange twists. It is known, because of its unique properties, as “plastiglomerate.” That the name grinds together two familiar-sounding words is a clue to the stone’s qualities as an amalgam. What we are talking about is a rock veined not with metal or quartz, but with plastic. Plastiglomerate forms where polymer flotsam (trash, washed up on the tide line in this instance) is subject to high heat and melts, wrapping together particulate such as shell grit or sand. It then solidifies as it cools. Or, if liquefied plastic drips into hairline fissures in basalt or other porous minerals, what is left behind-a rock crazed with ersatz colors-can also be deemed plastiglomerate. Campfires are one source of that high heat. Plastiglomerate may also emerge along the scorched trail of a wildfire, or it might be cauterized into the ground by lava. It almost certainly appears in places where people burn their rubbish. Call it the birthstone of the age of unintended consequences.

Novel metals and mineraloids are everywhere today, not made by nature but engineered in the course of human industry. The bronze, brass, and pewter alloys of ancient times have been succeeded in the modern era by aluminum products (refined from bauxite), steel, industrial abrasives, synthetic gemstones, and laboratory-built crystals deployed widely in lasers. Plastiglomerate-neither natural nor fabricated, exactly-may represent the most direct conduit between our current consumer society and the far-flung future. This is how shopping enters the fossil record. Junk plastic tends to shatter or fray into filaments and specks, fine like a powder. (One of plastic’s most pernicious qualities is that it doesn’t so much decay as divide into smaller and smaller pieces.) Bonded to rock, plastic gains inertia and long-lasting cohesion; it gets gravity.

Researchers say that in all probability, plastiglomerate will be deposited into top-level strata, plasticizing the landscape itself. But the churning of the planet’s mantle could carry plastiglomerate steadily down, over centuries or longer, to form a seam of crushed consumables underground-as lurid as opal and as imperishable as ore. In cementing together two different types of matter-synthetic plastic and geochemical rubble-plastiglomerate also offers an object lesson in the melding of different timescales. The slumberous plane of rocks is characterized by its slow-motion weathering and its gradual, granular accretions. Geology does transform and flow, of course-the summit of Mount Everest is famously marine limestone-but short of major tectonic events like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, changes in the mineral world are believed to happen over such protracted intervals that they prove almost imperceptible. By contrast, the preponderance of plastic refuse consists of lightweight packaging products, designed to be swiftly jettisoned and replaced. The irony is that, although the junk may not have been built to last, it could extend into a future well beyond individual human lifetimes, perhaps even beyond the recording of history. Folded into rock, plastic enters the time span of forces capable of elevating a seafloor into a mountain peak.

In Underland: A Deep Time Journey, the British writer Robert Macfarlane pursues the subsurface evidence of today’s major environmental changes, following what trickles down into the Earth and what migrates upward from beneath. This plunge beneath the planet’s topsoil into caves, catacombs, sinkholes, mines, meltwater moulins, and whirlpools opens new terrain to a naturalist whose adventures before now have soared skyward and reached outward. In Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003), Macfarlane gauged the compelling power of alpine ranges in history and culture. The Wild Places (2007) went on to survey invigorating myths of wilderness. Throughout The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2012), the author’s cerebral excursions into many different subjects (botany, architecture, literature, art) kept pace with his travels over public lands, along ancient pilgrimage trails and trading routes.

A mirror-world comes into focus in Underland, which quite literally fulfills Henry David Thoreau’s dictum that any topic worth exploring should be dug and cored headfirst. (“My head is hands and feet,” Thoreau wrote in Walden. “I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore-paws.”) Underland tunnels into biology, history, physics, glaciology, and eco-poetry, among other specialties, as Macfarlane visits with scientists, archaeologists, explorers, and activists at different sites across the Northern Hemisphere. Yet the organizing force in this book turns out to be not freedom but claustrophobia.

Take the ruckle. Cute word; utterly terrifying reality. An underground subsidence of boulders, a ruckle resembles an oversize stash of marbles, prone to shifting and toppling. Its ingress is a route through chinks and cracks held open by the chancy fortune of geology’s distributed weight. In an early scene, Macfarlane, along with a fellow caver, enters a ruckle in the Mendips, a quarried limestone range in southwest England pocketed with burial chambers dating back 10 millennia. Any movement within the ruckle threatens to destabilize it, slamming the whole structure shut like a trap set by a long-forgotten god. At the entrance, Macfarlane identifies a nylon cord known to spelunkers as an “Ariadne’s thread” (after the ball of string Theseus deployed to navigate the Minotaur’s maze)-a line tacked in by earlier pathfinders that leads through the labyrinthine compressions. Macfarlane has to contort his body in the dark and lever himself, ever so delicately, against frigid rock faces to proceed. No, Robert, you think, let’s not.

I was still holding my breath, when, a page later, he submits to the metaphysical horror of arriving at the impassable narrowing of the ruckle-a bottleneck, a mentally asphyxiating socket in the rock. No one speaks. “Language is crushed,” Macfarlane writes. “We are anyway too busily engaged building structures within ourselves that might house our spirits.” To go underground is to be exposed both to physical risk and to mortal fears surfacing in one’s inner space-this trembling comes from within and without. Can it get worse? The men must summon the will to retrace their path through the boulders, never mislaying the thread that meanders toward the elusive, and ever more hallucinatory, sunlight above.

Of all the Earth’s terrestrial vertebrates, humans make the deepest incursions into the underground. The farthest that any animal, other than us, is known to burrow from the surface of the planet is 13 yards-the feat of, unbelievably, the Nile crocodile. Below this level live permanent troglodytes, organisms that never see the sunlight. Microbes and minuscule stygofauna-glassy snails, shrimplike creatures-bob in groundwater systems, and pale amphibians furl in the murkiest reaches of caves. A species of roundworm has been detected more than two miles belowground. Yet humans go even farther. Aided by excavating machines, people have delved to a record depth of 7.7 miles, straight into the rock off the Russian island of Sakhalin, and deeper (as far as we know) than the most cavernous marine trench.

Elsewhere, workers labor daily to extract gold that lies more than two miles underground. Macfarlane tours a potash mine with winding passages that reach from beneath the Yorkshire moors to far below the North Sea. If you think such depths are startling, consider the sheer number of holes humans dig. One estimate suggests that for every person alive, there may exist 21 feet of borehole hollowed out in pursuit of geothermal energy, and natural gas, oil, and other hydrocarbons. Even as human toil compiles new kinds of useful metals and crystals aboveground, it creates airy space where raw resources were once bestrewn below.

In conceiving of the long-term legacies of environmental change, we are perhaps more accustomed to thinking of the sky, the ocean, and the planet’s vegetated regions as locations where the damage is, and will be, conspicuously manifest. Atmospheric chemistry-modified by industrial, agricultural, and transportation emissions-begets climate breakdown. Deforestation, desertification, and sea-level rise are topographic, horizontal crises of land-clearing, creeping dunes, and saltwater surges. The realm of rocks, by contrast, seems too motionless and too recondite to be shaped by unnatural shifts above. Ashes to ashes, as they say; dust to dust. Everything reliably cycles back to the Earth.

Macfarlane’s significant contribution to an emerging canon of popular ecological writing is to articulate how the ground beneath our feet is not an immutable foundation, indifferent to human dominion. Far from it. Whether through the gouging work of multinational corporations, or as an insidious consequence of pollution (and the two are connected), the reach of human activity now extends, more pervasively than ever, into the mineral plane. The melting permafrost transforms a static, frozen tundra into something elastic and mushy, releasing puffs of noxious methane-a potent greenhouse gas. Widening cavities riddle the Arctic cryosphere. Cryolite, a mineral used to (among other things) add yellow to fireworks, has been mined into near-extinction. Falling water levels in a river in the Czech Republic reveal engraved “hunger stones” placed there to commemorate the worst droughts and starvations of the distant past. One stone reads: if you see me, weep.

What keeps coming up, everywhere, is evidence of our influence. The themes of captivity and claustrophobia point the reader toward Macfarlane’s overarching subject: how to live in a world of collapsing horizons. For much of Underland, we are made aware of existing inside a capricious nature that is, now more than ever, of human making. Standing on new and spiritless edge-lands exposed by retreating ice in Greenland, Macfarlane observes the uncanny symbolism of unwanted human omnipotence. Ice cores, a means by which scientists index climatic cycles, contain beads of air once captured between ancient snowflakes and then compressed into ice and layered ever deeper underground. Macfarlane sees each bubble as “a museum, a silver reliquary in which is kept a record of the atmosphere at the time the snow first fell.”

But the rate at which glacial ice is disappearing also puts us in touch with the realities of a heated future: What the ice communicates in Underland is as much about the decades and centuries to come as it is about the weather of the past. When a pyramid of ancient black ice, unpinned from the depths of a slushy fjord, explodes into Macfarlane’s view as he overlooks the terminus of the Knud Rasmussen Glacier, in Greenland, he calls it “this repulsive, exquisite thing,” an “obscenity”-alien, atavistic, and pivotal-that “should never have surfaced.” The question Did we do that? haunts the moment.

Subterranean environments are changing, Macfarlane shows, and the most enduring changes will carry on into distant time frames that are difficult, but necessary, to comprehend. Encounters with these exhuming and liquidating geological forces offer an opportunity to conceive of the “deep time” of the book’s subtitle-those durations that extend far beyond individual lifetimes and intergenerational lineages. “When you arrive at the very bottom, you will hear knocking from below,” wrote the Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec. That aphorism echoes just beneath the surface throughout this book. Explorations in the underlands may inspire claustrophobia, and bring us into contact with the indelibility of human powers, but unexpectedly these spaces also refocus our attention on those who will inhabit the future-and how they will come to imagine us as they probe the traces we have left.

<hr>This article appears in the July 2019 print edition with the headline “The Earth’s Deepest Secrets.”

The Worst Patients in the World

Posted: 18 Jul 2019 12:01 AM PDT

I was standing two feet away when my 74-year-old father slugged an emergency-room doctor who was trying to get a blood-pressure cuff around his arm. I wasn’t totally surprised: An accomplished scientist who was sharp as a tack right to the end, my father had nothing but disdain for the entire U.S. health-care system, which he believed piled on tests and treatments intended to benefit its bottom line rather than his health. He typically limited himself to berating or rolling his eyes at the unlucky clinicians tasked with ministering to him, but more than once I could tell he was itching to escalate.

My father was what the medical literature traditionally labeled a “hateful patient,” a term since softened to “difficult patient.” Such patients are a small minority, but they consume a grossly disproportionate share of clinician attention. Nevertheless, most doctors and nurses learn to put up with them. The doctor my dad struck later apologized to me for not having shown more sensitivity in his cuff placement.

When he wasn’t in the hospital, my dad blew off checkups and ignored signs of sickness, only to reenter the health-care system via the emergency department. Once home again, he enthusiastically undermined whatever his doctors had tried to do for him, practically using the list of prohibited foods as a menu. He chain-smoked cigars (for good measure, he inhaled rather than puffed). He took his pills if and when he felt like it. By his late 60s, he’d been rewarded with an impressive rack of life-threatening ailments, including failing kidneys, emphysema, severe arrhythmia, and a series of chronic infections. Various high-tech feats by some of Boston’s best hospitals nevertheless kept him alive to the age of 76.

It was in his self-neglect, rather than his hostility, that my father found common cause with the tens of millions of American patients who collectively hobble our health-care system.

For years, the United States’ high health-care costs and poor outcomes have provoked hand-wringing, and rightly so: Every other high-income country in the world spends less than America does as a share of GDP, and surpasses us in most key health outcomes.

Recriminations tend to focus on how Americans pay for health care, and on our hospitals and physicians. Surely if we could just import Singapore’s or Switzerland’s health-care system to our nation, the logic goes, we’d get those countries’ lower costs and better results. Surely, some might add, a program like Medicare for All would help by discouraging high-cost, ineffective treatments.

But lost in these discussions is, well, us. We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to those other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?

One hint that patient behavior matters a lot is the tremendous variation in health outcomes among American states and even counties, despite the fact that they are all part of the same health-care system. A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that 74 percent of the variation in life expectancy across counties is explained by health-related lifestyle factors such as inactivity and smoking, and by conditions associated with them, such as obesity and diabetes-which is to say, by patients themselves. If this is true across counties, it should be true across countries too. And indeed, many experts estimate that what providers do accounts for only 10 to 25 percent of life-expectancy improvements in a given country. What patients do seems to matter much more.

Somava Saha, a Boston-area physician who for more than 15 years practiced primary-care medicine and is now a vice president at the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told me that several unhealthy behaviors common among Americans (for example, a sedentary lifestyle) are partly rooted in cultural norms. Having worked on health-care projects around the world, she has concluded that a key motivator for healthy behavior is feeling integrated in a community where that behavior is commonplace. And sure enough, healthy community norms are particularly evident in certain places with strong outcome-to-cost ratios, like Sweden. Americans, with our relatively weak sense of community, are harder to influence. “We tend to see health as something that policy making or health-care systems ought to do for us,” she explained. To address the problem, Saha fostered health-boosting relationships within patient communities. She notes that patients in groups like these have been shown to have significantly better outcomes for an array of conditions, including diabetes and depression, than similar patients not in groups.

The absence of healthy community norms goes a long way toward explaining poor health outcomes, but it doesn’t fully account for the extent of American spending. To understand that, we must consider Americans’ fairly unusual belief that, when it comes to medical care, money is no object. A recent survey of 10,000 patients found that only 31 percent consider cost very important when making a health-care decision-versus 85 percent who feel this way about a doctor’s “compassion.” That’s one big reason the push for “value-based care,” which rewards providers who keep costs down while achieving good outcomes, is not going well: Attempts to cut back on expensive treatments are met with patient indignation.

For example, one cost-reduction measure used around the world is to exclude an expensive treatment from health coverage if it hasn’t been solidly proved effective, or is only slightly more effective than cheaper alternatives. But when American insurance companies try this approach, they invariably run into a buzz saw of public outrage. “Any patient here would object to not getting the best possible treatment, even if the benefit is measured not in extra years of life but in months,” says Gilberto Lopes, the associate director for global oncology at the University of Miami’s cancer center. Lopes has also practiced in Singapore, where his very first patient shocked him by refusing the moderately expensive but effective treatment he prescribed for her cancer-a choice that turns out to be common among patients in Singapore, who like to pass the money in their government-mandated health-care savings accounts on to their children.

Most experts agree that American patients are frequently overtreated, especially with regard to expensive tests that aren’t strictly needed. The standard explanation for this is that doctors and hospitals promote these tests to keep their income high. This notion likely contains some truth. But another big factor is patient preference. A study out of Johns Hopkins’s medical school found doctors’ two most common explanations for overtreatment to be patient demand and fear of malpractice suits-another particularly American concern.

In countless situations, such as blood tests that are mildly out of the normal range, the standard of care is “watchful waiting.” But compared with patients elsewhere, American patients are more likely to push their doctors to treat rather than watch and wait. A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine suggested that American men with low-risk prostate cancer-the sort that usually doesn’t cause much trouble if left alone-tend to push for treatments that may have serious side effects while failing to improve outcomes. In most other countries, leaving such cancers alone is not the exception but the rule.

American patients similarly don’t like to be told that unexplained symptoms aren’t ominous enough to merit tests. Robert Joseph, a longtime ob-gyn at three Boston-area hospital systems who last year became a medical director at a firm that runs clinical trials, says some of his patients used to come in demanding laparoscopic surgery to investigate abdominal pain that would almost certainly have gone away on its own. “I told them about the risks of the surgery, but I couldn’t talk them out of it, and if I refused, my liability was huge,” he says. Hospitals might question non-indicated and expensive surgeries, he adds, but saying the patient insisted is sometimes enough to close the case. Joseph, like many American doctors, also worried about getting a bad review from a patient who didn’t want to hear “no.” Such frustrations were a big reason he stopped practicing, he says.

In most of the world, what the doctor says still goes. “Doctors are more deified in other countries; patients follow orders,” says Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, a consulting firm that researches international health care. He contrasts this with the attitude of his grown children in the U.S.: “They don’t trust doctors as far as they can throw them.” (For what it’s worth, patients in China may be even worse than American patients in this regard. According to one report, they spend an average of eight hours a week finding and sharing information online about their medical conditions and health-care experiences. Various observers have told me that Chinese patients wield that information like a club, bullying doctors into providing as many prescriptions as possible.)

American patients’ flagrant disregard for routine care is another problem. Take the failure to stick to prescribed drugs, one more bad behavior in which American patients lead the world. The estimated per capita cost of drug noncompliance is up to three times as high in the U.S. as in the European Union. And when Americans go to the doctor, they are more likely than people in other countries to head to expensive specialists. A British Medical Journal study found that U.S. patients end up with specialty referrals at more than twice the rate of U.K. patients. They also end up in the ER more often, at enormous cost. According to another study, this one of chronic migraine sufferers, 42 percent of U.S. respondents had visited an emergency department for their headaches, versus 14 percent of U.K. respondents.

Finally, the U.S. stands out as a place where death, even for the very aged, tends to be fought tooth and nail, and not cheaply. “In the U.K., Canada, and many other countries, death is seen as inevitable,” Somava Saha said. “In the U.S., death is seen as optional. When [people] become sick near the end of their lives, they have faith in what a heroic health-care system will accomplish for them.”

It makes sense that a wealthy nation with unhealthy lifestyles, little interest in preventive medicine, and expectations of limitless, top-notch specialist care would empower its health-care system to accommodate these preferences. It also makes sense that a health-care system that has thrived by throwing over-the-top care at patients has little incentive to push those same patients to embrace care that’s less flashy but may do more good. Medicare for All could provide that incentive by refusing to pay for unnecessarily expensive care, as Medicare does now-but can it prepare patients to start hearing “no” from their physicians?

Marveling at what other systems around the world do differently, without considering who they’re doing it for, is madness. The American health-care system has problems, yes, but those problems don’t merely harm Americans-they are caused by Americans.