Muhammed Muheisen—AP
By Mikko Takkunen
March 10, 2014

Features and Essays

It may have taken a few weeks, but the world's attention has fixated on Nigeria, thanks, in large part, to a hashtag. On April 14, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped while taking their final exams by extremist group known as Boko Haram (which roughly translates as "Western education is sinful"), yet in the days that followed, appallingly little was done to help. The Nigerian military flasely claimed it had rescued the girls -- only to retract the claim the very next day. The story barely registered with the international media. Then, on April 23, Oby Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank for Africa, gave a speech in Nigeria in which she urged the government to intervene and "bring back our girls." Soon after, Twitter users in Nigeria began to repeat her call, adopting the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Ibrahim M Abdullahi, a lawyer in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, told the BBC, "this was not a coordinated campaign. It was a number of individuals in Nigeria tweeting to raise awareness in the hope that the international community would eventually take notice." By the time reports emerged that kidnappers had taken some of the girls over state lines to Cameroon and Chad and sold off as "brides" -- effectively made sex slaves -- #BringBackOurGirls was beginning to do just that. A few days later, it had exploded around the world and, now, more than a million tweets have been sent with the hashtag, including those sent by Hillary Clinton and, somewhat surprisingly, Chris Brown. This timelapse map shows how the hashtag went viral: [INSERT MAP] Yet how much can a social media campaign actually help? True, #BringBackOurGirls has gone internationally viral and placed the spotlight on an alarming atrocity, but we've seen such a viral cause before with #Kony2012, the well-intentioned but ill-conceived campaign launched by California-based NGO Invisible Children. The #Kony2012 campaign video outlined the organization's goal to stop the Ugandan militia and cult leader Joseph Kony, whose Lord's Resistance Army recruited child soldiers, and it clearly resonated on social media, becoming the most viral video of all time. Yet, the video lacked important context about the issue and, despite the worldwide attention, the campaign fizzled out spectacularly; a follow-up video on Kony failed to garner even a fraction of attention on social media, though it was released just a month after the first. Today, Kony and the LRA are still free and very much operating; recent reports reveal that boys continue to be abducted and recruited in Central African Republic. Yet there are important differences between the two campaigns. #BringBackYourGirls began, and remains strong, within Nigeria, whereas #Kony2012 was a case of outsiders looking in -- and often missing the mark. The Nigerians who've taken up the cause of the kidnapped schoolgirls are familiar with the atrocities Boko Haram -- a complex and amorphous group that's been operating in Nigeria since the early 2000s -- have perpetuated. Even more problematic, is that past attempts by the Nigerian military to stop Boko Haram have resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent Nigerians. Promisingly, #BringBackOurGirls has prompted physical protests, both within Nigeria and around the world, which in turn has stirred Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to promise, "wherever these girls are, we'll get them out." Nigerian police are now offering a reward of $300,000 for the rescue of the girls. And the Obama administration has announced they're sending military officials and hostage negotiators to Nigeria to aid in the recovery efforts. There's still a danger that the flood of attention now being focused on the kidnapped girls will ultimately lead people to tune out -- a particular danger in the likely event that the search for the girls drags on. But the worldwide attention has put Boko Haram on many people's radar for the first time, which means that subsequent crimes and attacks committed by the group are likely to garner international media attention, even if they're on a smaller scale. Just this week, it was reported that Boko Haram had kidnapped another, much smaller, group of girls in Nigeria, as it has done sporadically for years. But this time, the news of the smaller scale kidnapping was reported widely and quickly.  
Muhammed Muheisen—AP

Muhammed Muheisen: Female Brick-makers in debt in Pakistan (AP Big Story) Tens of thousands of poor Pakistanis work hard in brick kilns, agriculture fields and other hard labor across Pakistan in what is called “bonded labor” to pay off family loans often passed down through generations.

Andrea Bruce: Where Lush Beauty Conceals Dread (NYT Lens) The community spirit that Andrea Bruce knew from her grandfather’s farm was nowhere to be found in India, where the widows of farmers who commit suicide confront creditors and ostracism.

[caption id="attachment_90926" align="alignright" width="176"] Fred Whan, of Kingston, Ont., shows off a fishstick he cooked a year ago that he claims shows the likeness of Jesus Christ. Iam Macalpine—AP[/caption] Every now and then, there's a viral news article about someone claiming to see religious imagery on a Goldfish cracker, a power meter, a turtle shell, or more commonly, a piece of toast. According to a new study published in the journal Cortex, that's totally understandable because of a phenomenon called "face pareidolia, the illusory perception of non-existent faces" caused by the interaction between the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps produce "expectations" of what an object should look like, and the posterior visual cortex, the part that processes the image. Researchers at the University of Toronto — in partnership with Chinese universities — performed brain scans on 20 participants and showed them computer-generated pictures made up of indiscernible shapes. Some were told in advance that they were going to see images of a face, while others were told they would see a letter of the English alphabet. In both instances, about 35% saw an illusory image where there wasn't one. "Our findings suggest that it's common for people to see non-existent features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there's only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face," the study's lead researcher Kang Lee of the University of Toronto's Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study said in a statement. The CBC reports that Lee also said people who see Jesus or the Virgin Mary in food or other objects may see them because religious beliefs can dramatically affect how they want to see the way life works. New York University researchers Ana Gantman and Jay Van Bavel recently discussed similar findings (available online) in an April New York Times editorial. In a few experiments, they "flashed strings of letters" across a computer screen and asked participants whether they could see a word. Some of the words shown contained "moral content (virtue,steal, God) and others did not (virtual, steel, pet)." They "found that participants correctly identified strings of letters as words more often when they formed moral words (69 percent accuracy) than when they formed nonmoral words (65 percent accuracy)," and have dubbed this phenomenon the “moral pop-out effect" — comparing it to the experience of food seeming especially pronounced to people who are hungry.  
Andrea Bruce—NOOR Images for MSF

Andrea Bruce and Mikhail Galustov: Afghanistan – Long and Dangerous Road (Médecins Sans Frontières) After over a decade of international aid and investment, Afghans still struggle to access critical medical care due to insecurity, distance, cost, or the dysfunction of many health facilities.

Adam Dean: Bigotry Against Muslims Fuels Massacre in Myanmar (NYT) On the increasing violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya, an estimated 1.3 million people who are denied citizenship under national law.

Mehran Hamrahi: Iranian People (Lens Culture) Currently, Iran has one of the youngest populations of any country in the world. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran’s population has grown to 76 million people — and 70% are under 35. But due to the policies of the current regime, the youth are deprived of basic social freedoms.

Samuel Rodriguez: Clown ‘revolution’ lifts refugee kids (CNN Photos) In refugee camps around the world, the group Payasos Sin Fronteras — or Clowns Without Borders — gives children something to smile about.

A longstanding orthodoxy among social scientists holds that human races are a social construct and have no biological basis. A related assumption is that human evolution halted in the distant past, so long ago that evolutionary explanations need never be considered by historians or economists. In the decade since the decoding of the human genome, a growing wealth of data has made clear that these two positions, never at all likely to begin with, are simply incorrect. There is indeed a biological basis for race. And it is now beyond doubt that human evolution is a continuous process that has proceeded vigorously within the last 30,000 years and almost certainly—though very recent evolution is hard to measure—throughout the historical period and up until the present day. An understanding of recent human evolution, including the emergence of race, might go far to explaining outstanding problems in history and the modern world. But economists and historians never consider genetics as a possible explanatory factor in disparities of wealth between nations, or in the relative success of one culture over another. The differential biology of human groups, especially races, cannot at present be explored. Researchers who venture into the subject risk being accused of racism by their academic rivals and seeing their careers destroyed. New analyses of the human genome have established that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional. Biologists scanning the genome for evidence of natural selection have detected signals of many genes that have been favored by natural selection in the recent evolutionary past. No less than 14% of the human genome, according to one estimate, has changed under this recent evolutionary pressure. Most of these signals of natural selection date from 30,000 to 5,000 years ago, just an eyeblink in evolution’s 3 billion year timescale. Analysis of genomes from around the world establishes that there is a biological basis for race, despite the official statements to the contrary of leading social science organizations. An illustration of the point is the fact that with mixed race populations, such as African Americans, geneticists can now track along an individual’s genome, and assign each segment to an African or European ancestor, an exercise that would be impossible if race did not have some basis in biological reality. Racism and discrimination are wrong as a matter of principle, not of science. It seems doubly foolish to link a stance against racism with science, as do the many social scientists who deny that race has a biological basis. What do you do if the science doesn’t turn out the way you have declared to be the case? – Say that racism is OK then? Second, linking science to a potent political issue like racism opens the door for politics to corrupt or suppress science. That said, it is hard to see anything in the new understanding of race that gives ammunition to racists. The reverse is the case. Exploration of the genome has shown that all humans, whatever their race, share the same set of genes. Each gene exists in a variety of alternative forms known as alleles, so one might suppose that races have distinguishing alleles, but this is not the case. A few alleles have highly skewed distributions but these do not suffice to explain the difference between races. The overwhelming verdict of the genome is to declare the unity of humankind. The difference between races seems to rest on the subtle matter of relative allele frequencies. Genetics and Social Behavior Human evolution has not only been recent and extensive; it has also been regional. The period of 30,000 to 5,000 years ago, from which signals of recent natural selection can be detected, occurred after the splitting of the three major races, so represents selection that has occurred largely independently within each race. The three principal races are Africans (those who live south of the Sahara), East Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), and Caucasians (Europeans and the peoples of the Near East and the Indian subcontinent). In each of these races, a different set of genes has been changed by natural selection. This is just what would be expected for populations that had to adapt to different challenges on each continent. The genes specially affected by natural selection control not only expected traits like skin color and nutritional metabolism, but also some aspects of brain function. Though the role of these selected brain genes is not yet understood, the obvious truth is that genes affecting the brain are just as much subject to natural selection as any other category of gene. What might be the role of these brain genes favored by natural selection? A clue comes from ants, the organisms at the other pinnacle of social behavior. Sociality is rare in nature because to make a society work individuals must moderate their powerful selfish instincts and become at least partly altruistic. But once a social species has come into being, it can rapidly exploit and occupy new niches just by making minor adjustments in social behavior. Thus both ants and humans have conquered the world, though fortunately at different scales. With ant societies, nature’s method has been to keep the ant body much the same but alter the social behavior, generating some 15,000 ant species. Thus leaf-cutter ants cultivate a mushroom-like fungus in underground caverns, army ants conduct mass raids, other ants specialize in attacking termites, and so forth. In the case of humans, evolution has evidently taken the first few steps down the same path, in that a variety of human societies already exist. Roaming hunter gather societies differ greatly in their social structure and behavior from settled groups. Tribal societies differ from modern states, particularly in that people’s radius of trust does not extend beyond the family or tribe. Conventionally, these social differences are attributed solely to culture. But if that’s so, why is it apparently so hard for tribal societies like Iraq or Afghanistan to change their culture and operate like modern states? The explanation could be that tribal behavior has a genetic basis. It’s already known that a genetic system, based on the hormone oxytocin, seems to modulate the degree of in-group trust, and this is one way that natural selection could ratchet the degree of tribal behavior up or down. That human social structures change so slowly and with such difficulty suggests an evolutionary influence at work. Social behavior that is genetically influenced would take generations to change, and this might explain why the various races, evolving independently though along substantially parallel paths, have taken so long to make the pivotal social transitions both from foraging to settled life, and from tribalism to modern states. Since these transitions occurred independently, it’s unsurprising that they took place at different times. Caucasians were the first to establish settled communities, some 15,000 years ago, followed by East Asians and Africans. China, which developed the first modern state, shed tribalism two millennia ago, Europe did so only a thousand years ago, and populations in the Middle East and Africa are in the throes of the process. The fact that these transitions took so long – modern humans have lived 185,000 years as hunters and gatherers - may be because genetic changes in social behavior were required and took this long to evolve. Two case studies, one from the Industrial Revolution and the other from the cognitive achievements of Jews, provide further evidence of evolution’s hand in shaping human behavior within the recent past. The Behavioral Makeover Behind the Industrial Revolution The essence of the Industrial Revolution was a quantum leap in society’s productivity. Until then, almost everyone but the nobility lived a notch or two above starvation. This subsistence-level existence was a characteristic of agrarian economies, probably from the time that agriculture was first invented. The reason for the economic stagnation was not lack of inventiveness: England of 1700 possessed sailing ships, firearms, printing presses, and whole suites of technologies undreamed of by hunter gatherers. But these technologies did not translate into better living standards for the average person. The reason was a Catch-22 of agrarian economies, called the Malthusian trap after the Rev. Thomas Malthus. In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed that each time productivity improved and food became more plentiful, more infants survived to maturity, and the extra mouths ate up the surplus. Within a generation, everyone was back to living just above starvation level. Malthus, strangely enough, wrote his essay at the very moment when England, shortly followed by other European countries, was about to escape from the Malthusian trap. The escape consisted of such a substantial increase in production efficiency that extra workers enhanced incomes instead of constraining them. This development, known as the Industrial Revolution, is the salient event in economic history, yet economic historians say they have reached no agreement on how to account for it. “Much of modern social science originated in efforts by late nineteenth and twentieth century Europeans to understand what made the economic development path of western Europe unique; yet these efforts have yielded no consensus,” writes the historian Kenneth Pomeranz. Some experts argue that demography was the real driver: Europeans escaped the Malthusian trap by restraining fertility through methods such as late marriage. Others cite institutional changes, such as the beginnings of modern English democracy, secure property rights, the development of competitive markets, or patents that stimulated invention. Yet others point to the growth of knowledge starting from the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18thth century or the easy availability of capital. This plethora of explanations and the fact that none of them is satisfying to all experts point strongly to the need for an entirely new category of explanation. The economic historian Gregory Clark has provided one by daring to look at a plausible yet unexamined possibility, that productivity increased because the nature of the people had changed. Clark’s proposal is a challenge to conventional thinking because economists tend to treat people everywhere as identical, interchangeable units. A few economists have recognized the implausibility of this position and have begun to ask if the nature of the humble human units that produce and consume all of an economy’s goods and services might possibly have some bearing on its performance. They have discussed human quality, but by this they usually mean just education and training. Others have suggested that culture might explain why some economies perform very differently from others, but without specifying what aspects of culture they have in mind. None has dared say that culture might include an evolutionary change in behavior, though nor do they explicitly exclude this possibility. To appreciate the background of Clark’s idea, one has to return to Malthus. Malthus’s essay had a profound effect on Charles Darwin. It was from Malthus that Darwin derived the principle of natural selection, the central mechanism in his theory of evolution. If people were struggling on the edge of starvation, competing to survive, then the slightest advantage would be decisive, Darwin realized, and the owner would bequeath that advantage to his children. These children and their offspring would thrive while others perished. “In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic inquiry,” Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The results of this would be the formation of a new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.” Given the correctness of Darwin’s theory, there is no reason to doubt that natural selection was working on the very English population that provided the evidence for it. The critical issue, then, is that of just what traits were being selected for. Clark has documented four behaviors that steadily changed in the English population between 1200 and 1800, as well as a highly plausible mechanism of change. The four behaviors are those of interpersonal violence, literacy, the propensity to save, and the propensity to work. Homicide rates for males, for instance, declined from 0.3 per thousand in 1200 to 0.1 in 1600 and to about a tenth of this in 1800. Even from the beginning of this period, the level of personal violence was well below that of modern hunter-gatherer societies. Rates of 15 murders per thousand men have been recorded for the Aché people of Paraguay. Work hours steadily increased throughout the period, and interest rates fell. When inflation and risk are subtracted, an interest rate reflects the compensation that a person will demand to postpone immediate gratification by postponing consumption of a good from now until a future date. Economists call this attitude time preference, and psychologists call it delayed gratification. Children, who are generally not so good at delaying gratification, are said to have a high time preference. In his celebrated marshmallow test, the psychologist Walter Mischel tested young children as to their preference for receiving one marshmallow now or two in fifteen minutes. This simple decision turned out to have far-reaching consequences: those able to hold out for the larger reward had higher SAT scores and social competence in later life. Children have a very high time preference, which falls as they grow older and develop more self-control. American six-year-olds, for instance, have a time preference of about 3% per day, or 150% per month; this is the extra reward they must be offered to delay instant gratification. Time preferences are also high among hunter-gatherers. Interest rates, which reflect a society's time preferences, have been very high—about 10%—from the earliest historical times and for all societies before 1400 AD for which there is data. Interest rates then entered a period of steady decline, reaching about 3% by 1850. Because inflation and other pressures on interest rates were largely absent, Clark argues, the falling interest rates indicate that people were becoming less impulsive, more patient, and more willing to save. These behavioral changes in the English population between 1200 and 1800 were of pivotal economic importance. They gradually transformed a violent and undisciplined peasant population into an efficient and productive workforce. Turning up punctually for work every day and enduring 8 eight hours or more of repetitive labor is far from being a natural human behavior. Hunter-gatherers do not willingly embrace such occupations, but agrarian societies from their beginning demanded the discipline to labor in the fields and to plant and harvest at the correct times. Disciplined behaviors were probably evolving gradually within the agrarian English population for many centuries before 1200, the point at which they can be documented. Growth in productive efficiency makes all the difference to economic output, on which a population’s prosperity and survival depend. In 1760, just as the Industrial Revolution was about to take off, 18 hours of labor were required to transform a pound of cotton into cloth. A century later, only 1.5 hours were needed. Clark has uncovered a genetic mechanism through which the Malthusian economy may have wrought these changes on the English population: the rich had more surviving children than did the poor. From a study of wills made between 1585 and 1638, he finds that will makers with £9 or less to leave their heirs had, on average, just under two children. The number of heirs rose steadily with assets, such that men with more than £1,000 in their gift, who formed the wealthiest asset class, left just over four children. The English population was fairly stable in size from 1200 to 1760, meaning that if the rich were having more children than the poor, most children of the rich had to sink in the social scale, given that there were too many of them to remain in the upper class. Their social descent had the far-reaching genetic consequence that they carried with them inheritance for the same behaviors that had made their parents rich. The values of the upper middle class—nonviolence, literacy, thrift, and patience—were thus infused into lower economic classes and throughout society. Generation after generation, they gradually became the values of the society as a whole. This explains the steady decrease in violence and increase in literacy that Clark has documented for the English population. Moreover, the behaviors emerged gradually over several centuries, a time course more typical of an evolutionary change than a cultural change. In a broader sense, these changes in behavior were just some of many that occurred as the English population adapted to a market economy. Markets required prices and symbols and rewarded literacy, numeracy, and those who could think in symbolic ways. “The characteristics of the population were changing through Darwinian selection,” Clark writes. “England found itself in the vanguard because of its long, peaceful history stretching back to at least 1200 and probably long before. Middle-class culture spread throughout the society through biological mechanisms.” Economic historians tend to see the Industrial Revolution as a relatively sudden event and their task as being to uncover the historical conditions that precipitated this immense transformation of economic life. But profound events are likely to have profound causes. The Industrial Revolution was caused not by events of the previous century but by changes in human economic behavior that had been slowly evolving in agrarian societies for the previous 10,000 years. This of course explains why the practices of the Industrial Revolution were adopted so easily by other European countries, the United States, and East Asia, all of whose populations had been living in agrarian economies and evolving for thousands of years under the same harsh constraints of the Malthusian regime. No single resource or institutional change—the usual suspects in most theories of the Industrial Revolution—is likely to have become effective in all these countries around 1760, and indeed none did. That leaves the questions of why the Industrial Revolution was perceived as sudden and why it emerged first in England instead of in any of the many other countries where conditions were ripe. Clark’s answer to both these questions lies in the sudden growth spurt in the English population, which tripled between 1770 and 1860. It was this alarming expansion that led Malthus to write his foreboding essay on population. But contrary to Malthus’s gloomy prediction of a population crash induced by vice and famine, which would have been true at any earlier stage of history, incomes on this occasion rose, heralding the first escape of an economy from the Malthusian trap. English workmen contributed to this spurt, Clark dryly notes, as much by their labors in the bedroom as on the factory floor. Clark’s data provide substantial evidence that the English population responded genetically to the harsh stresses of a Malthusian regime and that the shifts in its social behavior from 1200 to 1800 were shaped by natural selection. The burden of proof is surely shifted to those who might wish to assert that the English population was miraculously exempt from the very forces of natural selection whose existence it had suggested to Darwin. Ashkenazi Cognition A second instance of very recent human evolution may well be in evidence in European Jews, particularly the Ashkenazim of northern and central Europe. In proportion to their population, Jews have made outsize contributions to Western civilization. A simple metric is that of Nobel prizes: though Jews constitute only 0.2% of the world’s population, they won 14% of Nobel prizes in the first half of the 20th century, 29% in the second and so far 32% in the present century. There is something here that requires explanation. If Jewish success were purely cultural, such as hectoring mothers or a zeal for education, others should have been able to do as well by copying such cultural practices. It’s therefore reasonable to ask if some genetic pressures in Jews’ special history may have enhanced their cognitive skills. Just such a pressure is described by two economic historians, Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, in their book “The Chosen Few.” It arose because of a decree in 63 or 65 AD by the high priest Joshua ben Gamla that every Jewish father should send his sons to school so that they could read and understand Jewish law. Jews at that time earned their living mostly by farming, as did everyone else, and education was both expensive and of little practical use. Many Jews abandoned Judaism for the new and less rigorous Jewish sect now known as Christianity. Botticini and Eckstein say nothing about genetics but evidently, if generation after generation the Jews less able to acquire literacy became Christians, literacy and related abilities would on average be enhanced among those who remained Jews. As commerce started to pick up in medieval Europe, Jews as a community turned out to be ideally suited for the role of becoming Europe’s traders and money-lenders. In a world where most people were illiterate, Jews could read contracts, keep accounts, appraise collateral and do business arithmetic. They formed a natural trading network through their co-religionists in other cities, and they had rabbinical courts to settle disputes. Jews moved into money-lending not because they were forced to do so, as some accounts suggest, but because they chose the profession, Botticini and Eckstein say. It was risky but highly profitable. The more able Jews thrived and, just as in the rest of the pre-19th century world, the richer were able to support more surviving children. As Jews adapted to a cognitively demanding niche, their abilities increased to the point that the average IQ of Ashkenazis is, at 110 to 115, the highest of any known ethnic group. The population geneticists Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran have calculated that, assuming a high heritability of intelligence, Ashkenazi IQ could have risen by 15 points in just 500 years. Ashkenazi Jews first appear in Europe around 900 AD, and Jewish cognitive skills may have been increasing well before then. The emergence of high cognitive ability among the Ashkenazim, if genetically based, is of interest both in itself and as an instance of natural selection shaping a population within the very recent past. The Adaptive Response to Different Societies The behavioral changes in the English population prior to the Industrial Revolution and in Jews as they thrived in their special occupational niche are two possible instances of adaptation, meaning a evolutionary change in response to environmental pressures. The argument rests on plausibility; proof awaits discovery of the underlying genes, which are not yet known. But if significant evolutionary changes can occur so recently in history, other major historical events may have evolutionary components. One candidate is the rise of the West, which was prompted by a remarkable expansion of European societies, both in knowledge and geographical sway, while the two other major powers of the medieval world, China and the house of Islam, ascendant until around 1500 AD, were rapidly overtaken. In his book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, the economic historian David Landes examines every possible factor for explaining the rise of the West and the stagnation of China and concludes, in essence, that the answer lies in the nature of the people. Landes attributes the decisive factor to culture, but describes culture in such a way as to imply race. “If we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference,” he writes. “Witness the enterprise of expatriate minorities—the Chinese in East and Southeast Asia, Indians in East Africa, Lebanese in West Africa, Jews and Calvinists throughout much of Europe, and on and on. Yet culture, in the sense of the inner values and attitudes that guide a population, frightens scholars. It has a sulfuric odor of race and inheritance, an air of immutability.” Sulfuric odor or not, the culture of each race, whether genetically based or otherwise, is what Landes suggests has made the difference in economic development. Given the distinctiveness of European societies and the period for which they have been on their own path of development—at least 1,000 years—the social behavior of Europeans has doubtless adapted genetically to the challenges of surviving and prospering in a European society. The data gathered by Clark on declining rates of violence and increasing rates of literacy from 1200 to 1800 provide some evidence for such a process. Though equivalent data does not exist for the Chinese population, China’s society has been distinctive for even longer—at least 2,000 years—and intense pressures on survival would have adapted the Chinese to their society just as Europeans became adapted to theirs. The implicit assumption of historians and economists is that societies differ only by culture, apart from which their component human units are interchangeable. But the hypothesis that culture is the only shaping force in social history is just that – a hypothesis. A perhaps more plausible idea is that a society’s institutions are a blend of culture and inherited genetic behavior. The genetic basis of human social behavior is still largely opaque, and it’s hard to tell exactly how the neural rules that influence behavior are written. There is clearly a genetic propensity to avoid incest, for example. But it’s very unlikely that the genetic rule is written in exactly those terms. Marriage records from Israeli kibbutzim and Chinese families in Taiwan suggest that in practice the incest taboo is driven by an aversion to marrying partners whom one knew intimately in childhood. So the neural rule is probably something like “If you grew up under the same roof with this person, they are not a suitable marriage partner.” Do Chinese carry genes for conformism and authoritarian rule? May Europeans have alleles that favor open societies and the rule of law? Obviously this is unlikely to be the case. But there is almost certainly a genetic propensity for following society’s rules and punishing those who violate them. If Europeans were slightly less inclined to punish violators and Chinese more so, that could explain why European societies are more tolerant of dissenters and innovators, and Chinese societies less so. Because the genes that govern rule following and punishment of violators have not yet been identified, it is not yet known if these do in fact vary in European and Chinese populations in the way suggested. Nature has many dials to twist in setting the intensities of the various human social behaviors and many different ways of arriving at the same solution. For most of recorded history, Chinese civilization has been pre-eminent and it’s reasonable to assume that the excellence of Chinese institutions rests on a mix of culture and inherited social behavior. The rise of the West, too, is unlikely to have been just some cultural accident. As European populations became adapted to the geographic and military conditions of their particular ecological habitat, they produced societies that have turned out to be more innovative and productive than others, at least under present circumstances. That does not of course mean that Europeans are superior to others— a meaningless term in any case from the evolutionary perspective – any more than Chinese were superior to others during their heyday. Civilizations may rise and fall but evolution never ceases, which is why genetics may play some role alongside the mighty force of culture in shaping the nature of human societies. History and evolution are not separate processes, with human evolution grinding to a halt some decent interval before history begins. The more that we are able to peer into the human genome, the more it seems that the two processes are delicately intertwined. Nicholas Wade is a science editor at The New York Times. This piece is adapted from his new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (The Penguin Press).
Davide Monteleone—VII

Davide Monteleone: Made in Maidan (The New Yorker’s Photo Booth) Photographer Monteleone set up a makeshift portrait studio beside one of the barricades erected by protesters, posing his subjects in front of a red carpet emblazoned with the guelder rose, one of Ukraine’s national symbols. | Also on the VII website here

Donald Weber: Cheers to the Revolution: Kiev’s Molotov Cocktails (Vice) Kiev’s EuroMaidan protesters used fire to their advantage. With fire, the protesters were able to defend their barricades, extend their lines, and fortify their positions. They were mobilized throughout the city to collect as many bottles as possible, and thousands of Molotov cocktails were used to set fire to tanks, other armored vehicles, and buses. These little bombs were the only real weapon protesters had against the government’s well-armed forces. | Also on the VII website here

Oksana Yushko: ‘Unwanted people:’ A portrait of Crimea (MSNBC) Yushko explored the lasting effects of a lifetime under Soviet rule by photographing residents of Balaklava, a small seaside town on the Crimean Peninsula that enjoyed prosperity as host to a Soviet naval base.

Andrew Querner: The Bread With Honey (The New Yorker’s Photo Booth) Project on a mining community in northern Kosovo

Txema Salvans: Playing ‘the waiting game’ (CNN Photos) For nearly eight years, photographer Salvans traveled the winding roads of Spain’s Mediterranean coast to document the lives of alleged prostitutes.

Newly-minted NBA MVP Kevin Durant gave a tear-filled acceptance speech on TK. The Oklahoma City Thunder star thanked his fans, teammates and his mom in a 25-minute speech that left the audience reaching for their tissues. He told personal stories about his relationships with each of his teammates, and his coach, thanking them all by name. But the real tear-jerking moments came when Durant thanked his mother. By 21, Wanda Pratt was the single mother of two sons. Durant recalled when his mom used to wake him up in the middle of the night to work out and improve his game and the moments when she went to bed hungry but made sure her children were fed. "You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP," he told her in the speech.
Fabio Bucciarelli for Al Jazeera America

Fabio Bucciarelli: On the Ground in South Sudan: A new nation, in crisis (Al Jazeera America) 800,000 refugees. Massive food shortages. Ongoing violence. As the world’s newest country falls further into crisis, photographer Fabio Bucciarelli — on assignment for Al Jazeera America — documents the harsh realities

Johan Bävman: Uganda, Maternal mortality (Agence Vu) Every day, 800 women die because they are pregnant. More than half of the deaths occur in rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where the chance of surviving childbirth is the lowest in the world.

Glenna Gordon: Liberia’s new army comes of age (Al Jazeera America) The U.S. spent millions to rebuild Liberia’s army after civil war; now the force must stand on its own

Glenna Gordon: Nigeria Ever After (PROOF) Series documenting Nigerian wedding celebrations

Samuel Aranda: Battered and Broke, Africans Surge to Europe’s Door (NYT) Africans trying to reach Melilla, a Spanish enclave surrounded by Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, which offers a land border between the two continents

After routinely getting bashed in consumer surveys, Spirit Airlines is overhauling its brand to better explain its prices and policies. The gist is that travelers should lower their expectations. Spirit Airlines refers to itself as the "dollar store of the sky," and at every opportunity company CEO Ben has told the media (including TIME) that the carrier's ultra-low fares come as a result of an across-the board a la carte business model. The way it works is that base price of a flight includes the bare minimum (a seat on the plane) and nearly everything else (including the right to a carry-on bag and a reservation for a precise seat on that plane) costs extra. Spirit's fee-crazed policies shouldn't come as a surprise to passengers, and yet because they stand out as extreme even in the fee-heavy airline industry, the company regularly gets ranked dead last by travelers and advocacy groups like Consumer Reports. Compared to other airlines that rely heavily on business travelers, Spirit attracts an inordinately large portion of the leisure segment—people who are paying their own way, and who are very likely to be drawn in primarily by the cheapest fare possible. They're also people who don't fly nearly as much as business travelers, and they're therefore less likely to know the ins and outs of carrier policies, especially a smaller operator like Spirit. Apparently, a broad swath of consumers hasn't gotten Spirit's message—that its low fares buy a seat and almost nothing else—and now, the airline is relaunching its brand and kicking off a new ad campaign to explain its model better. Overall, the point is to lower the expectations for what's included in a flight, or what's now being called a "Bare Fare." The hope is that when passengers understand that the base price includes only the bare minimum, and that the tradeoff for a cheap fare is that customers encounter fees at every turn for anything extra (bottled water, bigger seats, you name it), they're a lot less likely to complain about being nickel-and-dimed—because, again, that's the model. Spirit isn't explicitly saying that travelers should expect less, of course. Instead, the airline is trying to eliminate unpleasant surprises on the part of customers by stressing that it works differently from other carriers. Baldanza told Fox Business News that these differences benefit Spirit customers in the form of fares that are 40% lower than the competition. "Yet to get that price successfully we have to do some things that are a little bit different and if a customer is not expecting those differences, they can get frustrated by those or be surprised by those and we don’t want them to be surprised," Baldanza said. "So this new brand identity or brand unveiling is helping to educate our customer to understand what it is to fly Spirit Airlines and how to feel smarter about getting those 40 percent lower fares.” In particular, the relaunch is supposed to stop travelers from feeling duped, ripped off, or caught off guard by Spirit's fine print and fees. "Let's not have any more gotchas," Baldanza said to USA Today. "Because the thing we do best is give you a really low fare. And these are the things it takes to get the low fare. So understand that, and you decide whether that trade-off is good for you." For travelers, the takeaway is that when you book a Bare Fare, you shouldn't expect much. You should expect the bare minimum. That's what Spirit promises, and that'd what Spirit delivers. For anything more than that, expect to pay extra.
Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

Marco Longari: Saving Chad’s Elephants (TIME) Anti-poaching measures in Zakouma National Park in Chad | Longari on the working on the assignment on the AFP Correspondent blog here

Ami Vitale: The Last of the Northern White Rhinos (PROOF) Documenting efforts to save the endangered species in Kenya

Brian Sokol: The Most Important Thing: Central African Republic Refugees (UNHCR) Part of series by photographer Brian Sokol focusing on the possessions that refugees take with them when they are forced to flee from their homes.

Pop culture has no shortage of tales about tragedy, but rarely does it offer anything more than a glimpse of the trauma that lingers and haunts its survivors. Roxane Gay’s riveting debut, An Untamed State, captivates from its phenomenal opening sentence and doesn’t let go — even after the novel’s harrowing nightmare appears to be over. An Untamed State is told mostly from the perspective of Mireille Duval Jameson, a stubborn, quick-tempered daughter of Haitian immigrants who’s a mother to a baby boy and wife to a handsome, all-American husband. One ordinary morning, while visiting her wealthy parents' home back in their native Haiti, she is kidnapped and held for ransom — an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence in country racked by staggering inequality. But despite his vast, self-made fortune, Mireille's proud father refuses to pay her captors, who spend the next thirteen days subjecting her to gruesome acts of sexual violence and torture. Gay writes a lot about the human body and its capacity for survival, but just as heartbreaking are the mental places Mireille must go to in order to endure. The ordeal, which draws from Gay’s own experience with rape, cleaves Mireille’s life into two halves — the Before, and the After — and leaves no relationship untouched. Flashbacks to her rocky courtship with husband Michael are excellently plotted alongside her imprisonment, providing the novel's few moments of levity and some of its greatest suspense as Mireille struggles to return to normalcy. Her conflicted feelings toward Haiti get messier, too, as she tries to make sense of its many contradictions. “We loved Haiti. We hated Haiti,” Gay writes. “We did not understand Haiti or know Haiti. Years later, I still did not understand Haiti, but I longed for the Haiti of my childhood. When I was kidnapped, I knew I would never find that Haiti again.” Gay’s writing is simple and direct, but never cold or sterile. She directly confronts complex issues of identity and privilege, but it’s always accessible and insightful. That will come as no surprise to fans of her writings about race, gender and culture that grace sites such as Salon, The Nation, BuzzFeed and TIME — and it will only make the wait for her first book of essays (Bad Feminist, due in August) all the more trying. So let this be the year of Roxane Gay: You’ll tear through An Untamed State, but ponder it for long after.
Todd Heisler—The New York Times

Todd Heisler: The Cuban Evolution (NYT) An island nation starts to catch up

Jehad Nga: The Comandante’s Canal (The New Yorker’s Photo Booth) Photographs from Nicaragua

Alessandro Gandolfi: Nogales Crossroads (Parallelo Zero) A city on the US-Mexico border

Get ready to hear a lot about Alibaba in the coming weeks. The Chinese e-commerce giant filed for its initial public offering in the United States Tuesday, and the hype machine is quickly heating up for what could be the largest tech IPO ever. Though Alibaba’s filing indicates that the company plans to raise just $1 billion, that number is only a placeholder -- the company is expected to raise as much as $20 billion in its offering, leading to an overall valuation as high as $250 billion. What is it about Alibaba that's causing such a furor on Wall Street? The uproar is most easily explained through these two charts:   Massive volume: Alibaba says it's the largest e-commerce company in the world. The company operates a wide number of businesses, but the most lucrative are Taobao Marketplace, a large, eBay-like commerce site with more than 8 million vendors; Tmall, an online marketplace for name-brand retailers like Apple; and Juhuasuan, a daily deals site similar to Groupon. These sites generated a massive $248 billion in retail transactions in 2013 between them, dwarfing both eBay and Amazon. Alibaba processed 254 million orders on a single day last year. Amazon, by comparison, sold 36.8 million items on Cyber Monday in December. With China’s online population expected to grow to 800 million by next year, Alibaba will soon have even more customers to serve.   A low-expense business model: The key to Alibaba’s financial success—and a significant differentiator from Amazon—is that the company doesn’t actually sell any products. Instead, Alibaba operates vast marketplaces for third-party sellers who either pay a commission for sales or pay an advertising fee to have their wares displayed more prominently on Alibaba’s sites. Amazon spent $8.6 billion on its fulfillment centers in 2013, a cost that never dings Alibaba’s bottom line. Alibaba also has less than 21,000 full-time employees and 4,500 part-time customer representatives, compared to 33,500 total employees for eBay and 117,300 for Amazon. In short, the company doesn't have to spend more to make more to the same extent that Amazon does. Before you call your broker to bet the farm on Alibaba’s IPO, though, there are some caveats to consider. The company has a troubled history with counterfeit items, for example. There were once so many knockoff goods on Alibaba’s shopping sites that it was on the U.S. government’s list of notorious markets, but the company says it has since cleaned up its act. It's also worth learning about the company's odd governance structure that makes it nearly impossible to remove chairman Jack Ma from power. And even if Alibaba continues flying high, it’s possible the Wall Street hype machine could over-inflate its stock. That’s what happened to Facebook, the last heavily sought tech stock, which didn’t reach its IPO price for its first 14 months as a public company.  
Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Meridith Kohut: Protests Broaden in Venezuela (NYT) Antigovernment protesters in San Cristóbal and other cities in Venezuela have taken to the streets, an outpouring attributed to a litany of problems that have long bedeviled the country — high inflation, high crime, chronic shortages of basic goods, like milk and toilet paper, and more recently, a government crackdown on public dissent.

Natalie Keyssar: Venezuela: A Tale of Two Cities (Vocativ) A year after Hugo Chavez died, two very different Caracas groups took to the streets

Renee C. Byer: Running Out of Time (zReportage) California’s criminal justice realignment through the story of one woman

Wayne Lawrence: Goldsboro (MSNBC) Beyond Trayvon Martin, a Florida community struggles to heal.

Gabriele Galimberti and Pietro Chelli: Military sexual assault survivors step out of shadows (MSNBC) Series of portraits of women who were sexually assaulted during their military service.

Graham McIndoe: My Addiction, Through My Eyes (New York Magazine) Most documentary projects about addiction expose someone else’s self-destructive behavior, but Graham MacIndoe took a very different approach: He photographed himself during the years he was addicted to drugs

Pete Marovich: The Politics of a Democracy (burn magazine) When it comes to politics in the United States, Washington, D.C. is ground zero.

Articles

After routinely getting bashed in consumer surveys, Spirit Airlines is overhauling its brand to better explain its prices and policies. The gist is that travelers should lower their expectations. Spirit Airlines refers to itself as the "dollar store of the sky," and at every opportunity company CEO Ben has told the media (including TIME) that the carrier's ultra-low fares come as a result of an across-the board a la carte business model. The way it works is that base price of a flight includes the bare minimum (a seat on the plane) and nearly everything else (including the right to a carry-on bag and a reservation for a precise seat on that plane) costs extra. Spirit's fee-crazed policies shouldn't come as a surprise to passengers, and yet because they stand out as extreme even in the fee-heavy airline industry, the company regularly gets ranked dead last by travelers and advocacy groups like Consumer Reports. Compared to other airlines that rely heavily on business travelers, Spirit attracts an inordinately large portion of the leisure segment—people who are paying their own way, and who are very likely to be drawn in primarily by the cheapest fare possible. They're also people who don't fly nearly as much as business travelers, and they're therefore less likely to know the ins and outs of carrier policies, especially a smaller operator like Spirit. Apparently, a broad swath of consumers hasn't gotten Spirit's message—that its low fares buy a seat and almost nothing else—and now, the airline is relaunching its brand and kicking off a new ad campaign to explain its model better. Overall, the point is to lower the expectations for what's included in a flight, or what's now being called a "Bare Fare." The hope is that when passengers understand that the base price includes only the bare minimum, and that the tradeoff for a cheap fare is that customers encounter fees at every turn for anything extra (bottled water, bigger seats, you name it), they're a lot less likely to complain about being nickel-and-dimed—because, again, that's the model. Spirit isn't explicitly saying that travelers should expect less, of course. Instead, the airline is trying to eliminate unpleasant surprises on the part of customers by stressing that it works differently from other carriers. Baldanza told Fox Business News that these differences benefit Spirit customers in the form of fares that are 40% lower than the competition. "Yet to get that price successfully we have to do some things that are a little bit different and if a customer is not expecting those differences, they can get frustrated by those or be surprised by those and we don’t want them to be surprised," Baldanza said. "So this new brand identity or brand unveiling is helping to educate our customer to understand what it is to fly Spirit Airlines and how to feel smarter about getting those 40 percent lower fares.” In particular, the relaunch is supposed to stop travelers from feeling duped, ripped off, or caught off guard by Spirit's fine print and fees. "Let's not have any more gotchas," Baldanza said to USA Today. "Because the thing we do best is give you a really low fare. And these are the things it takes to get the low fare. So understand that, and you decide whether that trade-off is good for you." For travelers, the takeaway is that when you book a Bare Fare, you shouldn't expect much. You should expect the bare minimum. That's what Spirit promises, and that'd what Spirit delivers. For anything more than that, expect to pay extra.
UNRWA/AFP/Getty Images

A shocking image of Syria’s brutal war – a war that will continue regardless (Guardian) Even the most horrific photos are not able to prevent wars happening, they remain decoration for our conscience, argues Guardian’s Jonathan Jones

The Day We Pretended to Care About Ukraine (Politico Magazine) Sarah Kendzior critics media’s fascination with recent Kiev photo coverage

Canadian Photojournalist Ali Moustafa Killed in Syria (AP Big Story) Also on TIME here

‘A Day Without News?’ campaign marks first anniversary (BJP) A year since the launch of a worldwide campaign to highlight the risks journalists and photographers face when working in conflict zones, there’s still more to do, says Aidan Sullivan of A Day Without News?

On today's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman delivered a powerful tirade about women, the media and slut shaming. Scarborough spoke out about the press' treatment of Monica Lewinsky in the wake of her recent Vanity Fair tell-all about her infamous affair with former President Bill Clinton. [protected-iframe id="3b107c2c8e0b2f59810cb28a473e53c9-1359921-2596079" info="http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/EmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_mj_monica_140507" width="635" height="500" scrolling="no"] Scarborough condemned the power dynamic between young women and powerful men, saying that women who claim they are for women's rights had no problem blaming Monica Lewinsky who was 22 at the time of the affair. He had particular ire for female columnists like the New York Post's Andrea Peyser who he says are piling on Monica Lewinsky today. "For anyone who has a daughter that has anything to do with these attacks on Monica Lewinsky," he said, "ask yourself what you would do if your daughter lived in shame and was a punch line for 18 years?" Read more of TIME's coverage of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
John Stanmeyer—VII for National Geographic

Fred Ritchin on What the World Press Photo of the Year Means for Photography (LightBox) The underlying message of this year’s World Press Photo selection can be seen then as a nod to the increasingly pivotal role of social media.

The Art of Violence in the 21st Century (No Caption Needed) Robert Hariman’s thoughts on Christopher Vanegas’ World Press Photo award winning photograph showing a Mexico crime scene where two bodies hang from a bridge.

World Press 2014: In Search of Viking Whalers (PROOF) National Geographic Senior Photo Editor Pamela Chen and photographer Marcus Bleasdale on the World Press Photo Award winning series

World Press 2014: Cougars and Bonobos (PROOF) National Geographic Senior Editor Kathy Moran on Steve Winter’s 1st place nature story on cougars and Christian Ziegler’s 3rd place nature story on bonobos.

Pictures of the Year: Finding Stories Everywhere (NYT Lens) Barbara Davidson, who was named newspaper photographer of the year by the Pictures of the Year International contest, says there are good stories everywhere, and that “foreign is relative to where you are.”

Image of Syrian Girl Wins Unicef Photo of The Year (Daily Mail)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R—S.C.), the recently-appointed chairman of a new select committee into the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, said Wednesday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on his witness list. “If they have knowledge about the pre, during, or after, they would be on the list,” said Gowdy. “I would be committing legal malpractice if I didn’t talk to a witness that had knowledge. When a reporter pressed if that included Clinton, the new chairman indicated that it did. “You think she has knowledge, I want to talk to everyone who has knowledge.” Republicans argue that the Obama administration has intentionally deceived the public about the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Libya, in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner defended his leadership's decision to establish the committee after conservative group Judicial Watch unearthed a previously undisclosed White House email detailing talking points for U.N. ambassador Susan Rice three days after the attack. "A line was crossed," said Boehner, who added that it would be a "serious investigation" and no "sideshow" or "circus." The White House has claimed it followed CIA advice on drafting talking points after the attacks, and many Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, believe there is no information left to uncover that would warrant a new committee. Earlier this week House Democrat Whip Steny Hoyer said he would urge members to vote against the creation of the committee. While Gowdy avoided detailing what exactly his committee would try to solve in the investigation, he did raise one question for potential witnesses Wednesday. “Why were we still in Benghazi despite all the episodes of violence and despite the fact that everybody else had left?” he asked. “That to me is a legitimate question, and could be apolitical.” The Administration has responded to that question before, saying Americans were there as part of diplomatic efforts in the region. But after the committee is created, they will likely have to respond again. Based on the previous investigations—13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents and 50 briefings, according to one count—it is unlikely it will do so to the satisfaction of most Republicans.
Mosa'ab Elshamy

PDN’s 30 2014: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch (PDN) Including photographers such as Mosa’ab Elshamy, Fabio Bucciarelli, Phil Moore, Ilona Swarc, Kiana Hayeri, and many more.

Sebastián Liste, Mehran Hamrahi, Win 2014 Alexia Foundation Grants (NPPA)

Erika Larsen: In Search of a Horse (PROOF) From 2011 to 2013 Erika Larsen travelled to many locations in the western U.S. to learn about the significance of the horse in Native American culture. Larsen’s photographs documenting this bond are featured in the March 2014 issue of National Geographic.

Sebastião Salgado: Migrant in a World of Migrants (NYT Lens) In the 1960s, Sebastião Salgado’s left-leaning politics led him to flee from Brazil to France, where he explored the lives of the working poor through photography

The End of Innocence: Photojournalist Mariella Furrer documents child sexual abuse (CNN) She has compiled her work into a nearly 700-page book, “My Piece of Sky.”

Sergey Ponomarev on covering the Russian army in Crimea (NYT Lens) Sergey Ponomarev has been covering the unrest in Ukraine since early December for The New York Times, first from Kiev and now from Crimea.

Ukraine’s People Power in Photos by Anastasia Taylor-Lind (National Geographic News) A makeshift photo studio provides a captivating look at the Ukrainian upheaval. | Related on Foreign Policy here

Ukraine Euromaidan Protests: The Stories Behind Pictures Of Deadly Riots (Huffington Post UK)

Ed Ou Captures Quiet Moments Amid the Conflict in Ukraine (National Geographic News) Ou describes the challenges of documenting the unfolding crisis—and the patience that’s required.

Larry Towell on photographing the revolution in Kiev (CBC) “I’m looking for images that tell a story obviously and things that suggest sometimes what’s going on outside of the frame, not necessarily what is in the frame, as poetry does with language.” | Text, photos and audio

Instagramming Ukraine’s Revolution (Newsweek) Brendan Hoffman’s on his Instagram photos from Ukraine

Crimea: Where War Photography Was Born (LIFE)

Meanwhile, #Venezuela (Roads & Kingdoms) Eduardo Leal on photographing the turmoil in Venezuela

At the Radio Shack six blocks from the White House, one may be tempted to purchase the $49.99 Propel Wasp remote controlled helicopter. But fly it outside in Washington, D.C. at your own risk. The results of remote hobbyist drone flights can be spectacular, with or without a camera attached to show the view. Until recently, you could watch on Vimeo this DJI Phantom 2 Vision Quadcopter piloted by Viktor Mirzoyan taking off from an area rooftop and shooting stunning footage of the nation's capital. Then there was the spectacular footage shot by Adam Eidinger, which remains on YouTube for all to see. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he64s3IFBrw] Too bad it's illegal—very illegal. What's the problem with flying a remote controlled aircraft in D.C.? In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration banned nearly all aviation—including model aviation—from what is known at the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), a roughly 10-nautical mile area centered around Reagan National Airport in Virginia. The FAA's "Temporary Flight Restriction" (poorly-named in this instance because the one over Washington is permanent) lists the rules for the FRZ in painstaking detail, and apparently with its keyboard stuck on caps-lock: THE FOLLOWING OPERATIONS ARE NOT AUTHORIZED WITHIN THE DC FRZ: FLIGHT TRAINING, AEROBATIC FLIGHT, PRACTICE INSTRUMENT APPROACHES, GLIDER OPERATIONS, PARACHUTE OPERATIONS, ULTRA LIGHT, HANG GLIDING, BALLOON OPERATIONS, TETHERED BALLOONS, AGRICULTURE/CROP DUSTING, ANIMAL POPULATION CONTROL FLIGHT OPERATIONS, BANNER TOWING OPERATIONS, MAINTENANCE TEST FLIGHTS, MODEL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS, MODEL ROCKETRY, FLOAT PLANE OPERATIONS, UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (UAS) AND AIRCRAFT/HELICOPTERS OPERATING FROM A SHIP OR PRIVATE/CORPORATE YACHT. So, what would happen to me? The FRZ falls within a larger security zone called the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), where aircraft are subject to additional security measures but model aircraft flight is permissible. The FRZ and the SFRA may be enforced with deadly force to shoot down an imminent threat, but more often planes are intercepted by fight aircraft and helicopters, escorted to a nearby airport, where the pilots are reamed out by law enforcement, suspended and/or fined. Knowingly flying a model aircraft or drone in D.C. would violate the rules of the FRZ. —an offense punishable by a fine or up to a year in prison: 49 U.S. Code § 46307 - Violation of national defense airspace: A person that knowingly or willfully violates section 40103 (b)(3) of this title or a regulation prescribed or order issued under section 40103 (b)(3) shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both. But will they really catch me? Doubtful, unless you upload the video to the Internet, crash spectacularly, or get way too close to a really sensitive area like the White House. What's the big deal anyway? First off, there's the safety of people and property on the ground to consider. These devices can weigh well more than 10 pounds, and dropped from even a few stories can do serious damage. Here's one brilliant pilot's attempt to fly a drone through midtown Manhattan last year: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpQQngr5o2M] The operator was fined $2,200 by the FAA after the remote controlled quadcopter nearly hit a pedestrian. Yosemite National Park in California and Zion National Park in Utah recently announced that flying unmanned aerial vehicles would earn visitors a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, or both because of the danger and disruption they pose. And what about privacy? Good question. Increasingly these mini-aircraft have cameras—some capable of extremely high resolution and transmitting live footage to a laptop or iPhone—and they're getting cheaper and cheaper. The one used by Mirzoyan retails for about $1000. [caption id="attachment_89331" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Amazon.com[/caption] What about if I wanted to fly a drone over the CIA or NSA? Cute idea, but the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va. falls within the FRZ. The NSA's headquarters in Fort Mead, Md. falls within the tightly-controlled Class B airspace for Baltimore Washington International Airport, so you'd be breaking the law. There must be some way to fly a drone in D.C. legally? Yes. CBS spent weeks lobbying lawmakers and the FAA for a special permit to use a drone to take this stunning footage of the Capitol building. But short of that, you're out of luck. [protected-iframe id="ca6057bb1ed7dc72aa4ccf054359c0e9-1359921-47168189" info="http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_player.swf" width="425" height="279"] So where can I legally fly my remote controlled helicopter or personal drone? Under long-standing FAA guidelines, model aircraft may be flown below 400 feet above ground level as long as they don't pose a hazard to people or property on the ground and other aircraft in the sky. When flying within 3 miles of an airport, the airport operator and/or control tower must be notified. But as long as you stay in "Class G" airspace you should be fine. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="658"] FAA[/caption] So where's Class G airspace? It's generally airspace below 700 feet or 1,200 feet above ground where air traffic controllers do not provide any services. West of the Rockies it might rise as high as 14,500 feet above sea level in some areas.
Jill Freedman—Courtesy Higher Pictures

On Everybody Street: Meet New York’s Famous Street Photographers (LightBox) Everybody Street, a new documentary by Cheryl Dunn, chronicles the life and work of 13 of New York’s most renowned street photographers

Afghan Photography (BBC) 5 minute radio piece on a new documentary film about the resurgence of photojournalism in Afghanistan

The True Henri Cartier-Bresson (The Daily Beast) Over the years, the famed photographer’s work has been the subject of many shows. But a new retrospective in Paris takes a more complete look at the full range of his career.

Comrade Cartier-Bresson: the great photographer revealed as a communist (Guardian) A comprehensive new exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris shows off the street photographer’s little-known surrealist shots – and reveals his radical politics

What is Bruce Gilden Doing? (Vice) Magnum Photos Creative Director Gideon Jacobs on the polarizing figure that is Bruce Gilden

Facebook’s Teru Kuwayama on How To Use Social Media for Documentary Storytelling (PDN Pulse)

The world’s largest photo service just made its pictures free to use (The Verge) Getty Images is betting its business on embeddable photos

Industry concerned about Getty Images’ free-for-all approach (BJP) Representatives organisations around the world, including the American Society of Media Photographers and the National Press Photographers Association in the US, have condemned Getty Images’ decision to offer 35 million images at no cost for all non-commercial uses

One of the biggest Internet backbone companies in the world, Level 3, claimed this week that some of the major American consumer broadband providers--a category that includes Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter and AT&T--have been abusing their near-monopoly access to American homes and offices to pad their profits, raise consumers costs and delay enhancements to the high speed lines. The charge comes just as Congress, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission begin considering a merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable that would make the new company the largest broadband provider in the country. The big broadband providers "are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers," wrote Mark Taylor, Level 3's VP of Content and Media, in a blog post, who argued that their near-monopoly in local markets was the main factor allowing them to get away with it. "They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content." While Taylor did not name the Internet Service Providers at issue in his post, he dropped a few big hints. "Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe," he wrote. "There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers." All five of the U.S. ISPs in question also “happen to rank dead last in customer satisfaction across all industries in the U.S,” Taylor writes, citing the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The 2013 ACSI report lists those companies with the worst customer satisfaction, in descending order, as AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast. At issue is a high-stakes debate over the type of financial model that should be used to build the next generation of Internet connections, which, thanks to increased use and high speed video, demand ever higher levels of data to move through America's broadband wires. In recent months, Taylor says that the big American commercial broadband providers have refused to share the cost of widening the important choke points that connect them to the global internet network. Those so-called peering connections have become congested in recent years as more and more people use the Internet for things like streaming HD video. In the past, broadband providers have shared the cost of expanding the capacity of these connections, but now they say they shouldn't have to pay anymore, Taylor writes. Instead, the big broadband providers argue that the companies that are producing all that content, like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, should be the ones who pony up. A spokesperson at one large broadband company compared it to paying for a postage stamp: "if you want to send something, you pay for it." But that argument is “unreasonable on its face,” wrote another Level 3 executive, Michael Mooney, in a blog post in March, and “entirely inconsistent" with the fact those broadband providers already make money (quite a lot of it) from consumers who pay them to deliver content at certain speeds. The ISPs’ refusal to help maintain the peering connections that they rely on is simply creating a global game of chicken, Mooney wrote. Who blinks first is less the point than who is suffering is mean time: everyday internet users, whose YouTube video won’t stop “buffering,” whose NBA playoff games won’t stream, and whose web pages, at a peak hours, sometimes simply won’t load. Here’s his basic argument: Level 3 and other so-called “transit” or “Tier 1” companies, like Cogent, XO, and GTT spend lots of money maintaining great, sprawling networks of fiber and cables stretched across the world in trenches and sea beds. Consumer-facing ISPs, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, then “hook up” to those global transit companies to allow their customers to access the whole internet. Broadband customers like you and me, who never interact with middlemen like Level 3, pay our regional broadband providers to deliver the internet to us at acceptable speeds. A company like Level Three, which has 51 “peering connections” in 45 cities, pays to maintain its global network, but splits the cost of maintaining its connections with whomever it’s connecting to—its “peers”--depending on how much traffic is passing between the two, and in which direction. Almost all the transit companies have two types of peers: they’ve got other transit companies—Level 3 connects with Cogent, for example—and they’ve got consumer-facing ISPs, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. In the past, consumer-facing ISPs have been willing to share the cost of maintaining those peering connections in order to keep their customers satisfied. If the Internet started streaming more slowly, customers would complain or simply find a new broadband provider. Recently, however, as more and more ISPs are beginning to enjoy “a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market,” keeping customers satisfied no longer matters as much, Taylor writes. And that, he says, is the crux of the problem. Check out the stats: Level 3 currently has 51 peers. It has congested connections with 12 of them. It’s sharing the cost of fixing six of those. Of the remaining six congested connections where the peer is refusing to share the cost of maintenance, five of them are in the U.S. and one is in Europe, and all of them operate as near- or total local monopolies. As Mooney wrote in March, this problem isn’t new. This game of chicken between ISPs and the transit companies has been happening for more than a year. Level 3’s choice to go public with lengthy, albeit diplomatic, blog posts is an indication that they’re done with the backroom standoff.
Nick Ballon

Nick Ballon’s best photograph: on the trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Guardian)

Featured photographer: Mark Edward Harris (Verve Photo) Harris on his photograph from North Korea

Featured photographer: Lottie Hedley (Verve Photo) Photographer based in New Zealand

Featured photographer: Fatemeh Behboudi (Verve Photo) Iranian photographer

Interviews and Talks

After routinely getting bashed in consumer surveys, Spirit Airlines is overhauling its brand to better explain its prices and policies. The gist is that travelers should lower their expectations. Spirit Airlines refers to itself as the "dollar store of the sky," and at every opportunity company CEO Ben has told the media (including TIME) that the carrier's ultra-low fares come as a result of an a la carte business model. The base price of a flight includes the bare minimum (a seat on the plane) and nearly everything else (including the right to a carry-on bag and a reservation for a precise seat on that plane) costs extra. Spirit's fee-crazed policies shouldn't come as a surprise to passengers, and yet because they stand out as extreme even in the fee-heavy airline industry, the company regularly gets ranked dead last by travelers. Compared to other airlines that rely heavily on business travelers, Spirit attracts an inordinately large portion of the leisure segment—people who are paying their own way, and who are very likely to be drawn in primarily by the cheapest fare possible. They're also people who don't fly nearly as much as business travelers, and they're therefore less likely to know the ins and outs of carrier policies, especially a smaller operator like Spirit. Apparently, a broad swath of consumers hasn't gotten Spirit's message—that its low fares buy a seat and almost nothing else—and now, the airline is relaunching its brand and kicking off a new ad campaign to explain its model better. Overall, the point is to lower the expectations for what's included in a flight, or what's now being called a "Bare Fare." The hope is that when passengers understand that the base price includes only the bare minimum, and that the tradeoff for a cheap fare is that customers encounter fees at every turn for anything extra (bottled water, bigger seats, you name it), they're a lot less likely to complain about being nickel-and-dimed—because, again, that's the model. Spirit isn't explicitly saying that travelers should expect less, of course. Instead, the airline is trying to eliminate unpleasant surprises on the part of customers by stressing that it works differently from other carriers. Baldanza told Fox Business News that these differences benefit Spirit customers in the form of fares that are 40% lower than the competition. "Yet to get that price successfully we have to do some things that are a little bit different and if a customer is not expecting those differences, they can get frustrated by those or be surprised by those and we don’t want them to be surprised," Baldanza said. "So this new brand identity or brand unveiling is helping to educate our customer to understand what it is to fly Spirit Airlines and how to feel smarter about getting those 40 percent lower fares.” In particular, the relaunch is supposed to stop travelers from feeling duped or ripped off by Spirit's fine print and fees. "Let's not have any more gotchas," Baldanza said to USA Today. "Because the thing we do best is give you a really low fare. And these are the things it takes to get the low fare. So understand that, and you decide whether that trade-off is good for you." For travelers, the takeaway is that when you book a Bare Fare, you shouldn't expect much. You should expect the bare minimum. That's what Spirit promises, and that'd what Spirit delivers. For anything more than that, expect to pay extra.
pp.104-105, National Geographic magazine, March 2014 issue

Erika Larsen (NPPA) Jim Colton interviews Larsen about her career so far

John Stanmeyer on his World Press Photo of The Year (Think Tank Photo Vimeo)

Susan Meiselas (Aperture blog) Magazine’s guest editor Susan Meiselas discusses how documentary photographers can respond to a transformed media environment by utilizing the new tools and opportunities for connection offered by digital platforms.

Susan Meiselas (NYT Lens) Empowering photographers to embrace an uncertain future

David Guttenfelder on the Second Camera (NYT Magazine 6th Floor blog)

Thomas Dworzak (Ideas Tap) Magnum Photos’ Thomas Dworzak on war and photojournalism

Jason Larkin (A Photographer Discloses) Larkin on his work, Cairo Divided, a series of photographs documenting the development of high-end housing communities just outside of Cairo.

David Burnett (Jarecke + Murnion Creative Group) Burnett shares some thoughts and images from the Sochi Games

Lauren Greenfield (The Editorial)

Michael Christopher Brown (Vice)

Diana Markosian (Columbia Visuals) “I’m always trying to find other ways to fund my work”

Glenna Gordon (African Digital Art) Gordon is a documentary photographer who has been working in West Africa for a number of years.


Mikko Takkunen is an associate photo editor at TIME.com. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.


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