TIME society

Selling Social Justice Short

What are we to do in a world where corporations have assumed the voice of social justice?


This Super Bowl season we’ve learned that social justice is in fashion. It sells. It sells Coke, it sells cars, and it sells us short.

So it begins, imagine it with me. The loud roar of the ocean, waves crashing across the screen. Then the small child-like voice of an African American girl speaks. We see her awakening in her bed in the morning light, and she narrates to us the story of the little ones.

“The world is full of giants,” she begins, “they have always been here. We had to learn how to overcome them.” We see on the screen an inner city alley. We see mountains and we see a shadow fall across them. “As long as we keep our heads down. As long as we work hard. Trust what we feel in our guts, our hearts. Then we’re ready.” We see workers in steel mills, on boats, fighting fires, in wheat fields. A ballerina tying her shoe.

“We wait until they get sleepy. Wait until they get so big they can barely move.” We see Wall Street, we see skyscrapers, we see the center of finance. “Then we walk out of the shadows, quietly walk out of the dark, and strike.”

A roar fills the frame, giants fall, a system crashes, and our power becomes incarnate in… Fiat’s new Maserati Ghibli. For $67,000, it’s all yours.

The same day this Super Bowl ad premiered, the New York Times reported that since the recession “ended” in 2009, the top 5% of people in this country have increased their spending by almost 20%. The bottom 95% have found their role in the market flat or declining.

Bob Dylan, with his folk protest blues playing in the background — Bob Dylan! — tells us we should buy Chrysler. An interracial couple sits around a breakfast table with their biracial child, using Cheerios to tell her about a new baby on the way. Coca-Cola paints a picture of our nation with “America the Beautiful” so diverse, that some in the Tea Party are planning a boycott of Coke. Go Coke.

And finally, Morpheus from the Matrix, a revolutionary leader who resists the colonization of all thought by the oppressive machine of illusion and consumption asks us to choose the blue car keys or the red car keys. Luxury will never be the same.

If this year’s Super Bowl advertisements allow us to see what the brightest advertising minds in the world think will sell, then a progressive, diverse, revolutionary, little-ones-unite spirit is alive in our land. And it’s being used to sell the things that will make us free: Coke, cars, beer, nutritionally empty food, and more cars.

What are we to do in a world where corporations have assumed the voice of social justice? As a pastor and president of Union Theological Seminary, I worry that the voice of the liberating Jesus, the savior, the lover, the world-transforming vision-maker, the embracer of our world’s real little ones, has been co-opted by major corporations to sell us things. They have come in through the front gate and we are following them, not like those seeking life abundant, but as sheep led to the slaughter.

These commercials work because they paint existentially compelling pictures. They show us things that we really want, good things, connection and love and meaning and beauty. But they are tied to products, and we are led to believe that in buying them, we will feed our deepest selves.

But we know they won’t. There’s no pleasure in cars or sugar water or cereals like the pleasure that comes from true community. The joys of life abundant together. But at this time in history, when progressive possibilities are opening up before us, we need to look at our culture and our yearnings and discern even more deeply why meaningless things like soft drinks and cars have taken over the language of social justice and love.

What is it? We’re afraid of dying. We’re lonely. We’re desperate for a connection with people we love and, perhaps even more importantly, with people we don’t even like. We want that connection. We want a story that brings meaning to our lives, gives us purpose and direction. Not just an individual story, and not even just a tribal story, but a cosmic story. A cosmic story that makes our daily life shimmer with life. A story as beautiful as the one that fills these ads.

And at the end of the day, we want a story that reminds us that we seek love, that we want to be loved, that we want to love, that we have the power of love within us and the power of love around us. And we seek a grace that lets us go on the morning after the Super Bowl—even Broncos fans—and forgives us, embraces us, calls us to newness.

Historically at Union, as a Christian seminary, we’ve called this the story of Jesus. Sometimes we call it the Trinity, sometimes just God. But at this moment when the market is running away with all our cultural stories about justice and love, we don’t have to figure out “God’s” proper name. Too much is at stake to quibble. The struggle before us is to take those stories back. Claim the sounds and sights of a poetry that has long filled them. They are strong enough to actually hold our lives, to narrate our hopes.

Yes, it true, that more than any other social barometer, our advertisements illuminate the defining spirit of our moment. They tell us who we are. Right now, they are showing us that at one level, there is a progressive, loving spirit moving us toward greater things. It tells us: this is your moment. Awaken.

It tells, too, us that those who would steal the vision have gotten very big. And very beautiful.

And the real question is …how do we, the little ones, truly, strike back?

Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where she holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World.

TIME World

Why Marius the Giraffe Had to Become Lion Chow

Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo, on Feb. 7, 2014.
Marius the giraffe at Copenhagen zoo, on Feb. 7, 2014. Keld Navntoft—AFP/Getty Images

Zoo staff have found that carcass-fed carnivores are calmer than those fed processed food

A few years ago, I attended a biannual convention of zoo nutritionists in Oklahoma for the book I was writing. Hanging out one night at the hotel bar with a group from around the United States, we got to talking about a practice in some European zoos that sounded shocking. It was called carcass-feeding, and like most Americans, I had never heard of it. This was long before the story of Marius, the giraffe fed to lions last Sunday at the Copenhagen Zoo, put carcass-feeding in the national headlines.

“Let me get this straight,” I said in the bar. “It means taking a healthy animal from one part of the zoo, euthanizing it, and feeding it to a carnivore in another part of the zoo?”

(MORE: Did Marius the Giraffe Have to Die?)

The nutritionists nodded and explained: In the wild, lions don’t encounter tidy portions of boneless, ground meat lying conveniently under the bushes. At dinnertime, meat-eaters like tigers, hyenas, and cheetahs don’t find stainless steel bowls filled with ready-to-eat kibble. Eating in the wild is bloody and hard, and carnivores have to work at it. Their fangs and digestive systems have evolved to deal with hair, bones, and other obstacles. Activities like gnawing and licking occupy the animals physically, but also have psychological and social value. Some carnivores instinctively hide and hoard meat and return to eat it later. Others observe strict hierarchies of who in the group gets to eat first. In these ways, eating behaviors play an important role in the animals’ mental health.

In many European zoos, my companions explained, carnivores are fed carcasses to promote these healthy, normal behaviors; zoo staff have found that carcass-fed carnivores are calmer than those fed processed food. So instead of being served, say, some minced beef, as it might in a U.S. zoo, a Tasmanian devil might be given a piece of a kangaroo. Or a cheetah might get a gazelle instead of a ground-chicken patty. In Europe, these prey animals often come from other parts of the zoo — recycled, if you will, as food for the carnivores.

(MORE: Marius The Giraffe Is Not The Only Animal Zoos Have Culled Recently)

While animal nutritionists in the U.S. do enrich animals’ eating experiences with puzzles and games, they tend to feed their carnivores processed meat from an outside source. The difference in this approach roughly divides American and British zoos from their counterparts in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe.

Carcass-feeding isn’t the sort of thing that most zoos feature on the welcome page of their websites. But it’s not exactly a secret, either. On a recent visit to a zoo in the Netherlands, I saw picked-over remains in the enclosure of some European wolves. A placard nearby explained the drill.

Even knowing about the cultural differences in feeding, I, like many people around the world, have been following — with interest, dread, horror, and ultimately sorrow — the story of Marius the giraffe. It was impossible not to feel sad, confused, and even outraged on Marius’ behalf. Like others, I wondered why the zoo chose to euthanize Marius instead of sending him to one of several facilities that offered to take him in. Or why Copenhagen seemed so heartless and, frankly, in-your-face about their process. (In the name of education, the zoo invited the public to a post-euthanasia necropsy — an animal autopsy — of Marius. And they made no attempt to disguise the telltale giraffe-hide markings when his remains were given to the lions.)

Eating is not the only thing that European zoos encourage their animals to do in a natural way. Zoo visitors might see animals courting and mating. Giving birth and nursing young. Bonding with infants in a mixed-age community. Living in a social group with extended family. These are all “natural” behaviors that are part of many animals’ “normal” lives in the wild. While they do have strategic breeding programs, European zoos place importance on giving animals the unrestrained opportunity to experience these life stages and cycles. The downside of this approach, however, is over-population. Allowed to breed freely, animals produce offspring that zoos might not have room to house.

Most American and British zoos, by contrast, carefully manage the reproduction of their animals, in part through contraception. When mature females are housed with males, they are usually placed on birth control (pills, shots, or implants). Although some males are castrated, long-term contraception is usually aimed at the females (as with humans). This allows for it to be reversed if the animals are to be bred. A zoo that’s cautious about how and when animals get pregnant may have fewer individuals living in smaller, less biologically “natural” groupings. But there’s no over-population problem.

American and European zoos also differ in how they treat one particular animal: human beings. As we’ve seen, the Danish approach is rather dismissive of sentimentality. With science education as the stated goal, children (with parental permission) were invited to observe Marius’s necropsy. Some parents might prefer the G-rated approach of American zoos, which generally keep mating and death offstage. But other zoo visitors could make a case for the Danish lack of hand-holding.

So we have two approaches to eating and sex in zoos — both created by people who care deeply about the animals in their care. There is, of course, another philosophy — that zoos shouldn’t exist at all, that captivity itself is cruel. Some of the outcry over Marius certainly comes from that perspective. And fair enough. But if you do think zoos have a role to play in preserving species — especially with wild habitats disappearing at a rapid rate — the high-profile and sad case of Marius offers an opportunity to talk about which approach is best for animals in captivity and in particular, what constitutes, emotionally and socially, a “good life.”

Kathryn Bowers is Los Angeles & nature editor of Zocalo Public Square, for which she wrote this. She is currently a New America Foundation fellow. Her book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Animal and Human Health, explores how our physical and emotional health overlaps with that of non-human animals.

TIME Retail

Hallmark’s Problem With Gay Love

Getty Images

The corporate card-maker could muster only one option for gays and lesbians to express their feelings on Valentine's Day

I stand at the racks in the local CVS inspecting the merchandise and pondering life’s little issues: Should we be mice this time? Or little bunnies? Gosh, the bunnies are awful cute – but, dang, the one on the left is wearing mascara and lipstick, isn’t it? Mice then? Or does that one have a bow in its hair?

This is how gays browse for Valentine’s Day, birthday, wedding, or anniversary greetings. We walk into Walgreens or Target, ignore just about any card that shows pictures of actual humans or that declare love to a “husband” or “wife,” because inevitably the language, and probably the imagery too, will be positively hetero. Instead, we find cards with mutually enamored, anthropomorphic animals and ascertain they aren’t drawn to imply gender. Or, alternatively, we go schlocky because a crude cliché about one’s age or a knowing joke about the banality of a long-term relationship really knows no sexual orientation.

With the acknowledgment that the gays of Sochi and Uganda would kill for such mundane dilemmas, I’m still baffled. If this is an ultimate first-world problem, it is because the marketplace in first-world countries is supposed to resolve these inconveniences and awkward moments by providing products to satisfy a growing niche. Back in 1992 when I sought out my first Valentine’s card for another man, I expected nothing more. More than two decades later, though, it’s surprising – and surprisingly bad business – that so little has changed.

The key player here, of course, is Hallmark. There are other card makers, but Hallmark dominates the $8 billion-a-year industry with more than 5 billion cards sold in the U.S. annually, and a presence in drug stores and other retailers that goes far beyond its own 38,000 stores. Back in 2008, when only Massachusetts and California had legal same-sex marriage, Hallmark made a big deal about rolling out what they considered to be gay wedding cards. Even though the cards were carefully unspecific — artwork showed intertwined flowers and overlapping hearts and the nondescript message “Two hearts. One promise,”– they enjoyed praise for their foresight.

That the company is basically doing roughly the same thing six years and 15 additional marriage-equality states later is strange. This is an age, after all, when all-American icons Chevy and Coca-Cola include same-sex families in their diversity montages during the most mainstream of TV events, the Super Bowl and Olympics.

“This year, Hallmark offers two cards in our in-store Valentine’s Day selection that are specifically created for same-sex relationships — titled ‘Love: Man to Man’ and ‘Love: Woman to Woman’ — and they are labeled that way in the display,” the company’s publicist, Kristi Ersting, wrote to me last week. “There are other relevant Valentine’s Day cards that would be appropriate for same-sex relationships as well as other romantic relationships. They would be found in the display under titles like ‘Love for Him / Her,’ ‘Man / Woman I Love’ and ‘For My Partner.’”

Wow. Two cards, one for each same-gender pair. Neither of which, it should be noted, the clerks at any of the Hallmark stores in and around Ann Arbor, Mich., seemed aware of or could locate. And then, of course, some other cards that can, as they say, go both ways.

Ersting did the company no favors by pointing me to Hallmark.com’s LGBT page, which was, like the rest of Hallmark’s efforts in this regard, as coded and unclear as possible. The top three cards there were ones you can customize – Hallmark’s way of saying, ‘Ah, do it yourself, give us your money and leave us alone’ — but the examples and the images provided were all of and for opposite-sex couples. For some reason, two of the mere 14 options were cards that invited you to write your name on the unsightly business end of an elephant’s behind.

Meanwhile, there were at least 10 different versions of birthday cards for 90-year-olds at one brick-and-mortar Hallmark in Ann Arbor. Which is more common for most people: that they’ll need a wedding or anniversary card for a same-sex couple or for a 90-year-old’s birthday? And, anyhow, what are the odds you’d ever need more than one at a time? Or, on the off chance you know a gang of 90-year-olds all hitting the milestone at once, how likely is it that they’ll be at each other’s houses snarking, “Oh, you got that one from Emily, too, huh?”

A few other occasions for which Hallmark feels there’s a bigger market than the gays include a priest’s anniversary, a thank-you note from a pet or for a day-care provider, and congratulations on potty training, the loss of teeth, a new cat, or a gold award from the Girl Scouts. I did spot a Valentine’s card under the banner “Daughter & ‘Son’” – but it’s unclear whether this is a passive-aggressive way of questioning an in-law’s validity in the family or acknowledging his gender transition.

Gay people have won so many victories in such a short period of time that many figure it’s all over but the mopping-up. But the mopping-up includes small things like this that illustrate inclusion and respect as well as acceptance.

These are the things that make it real. It’s when you check into a hotel with your boyfriend and the clerk doesn’t automatically assume you want two beds. It’s when the bakery doesn’t force you to sue for your right to perch two brides upon the buttercream.

And, indeed, it’s when you trudge out on a snowy afternoon early in February to the store – any store – and find what you’re looking for. Yes, the Internet makes it easier, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a nearby LGBT bookstore, they can certainly use the business.

But we’ll know we’ve made it, too, when we can roll down to the Piggly Wiggly to find an encouraging card for that nephew who just came out or for that couple whose teenager is asking for gender reassignment surgery.

Or, in our case, something with a pair of adoring and adorable boy bunnies pledging their Valentine’s affections. If straight people buy it without noticing, all the better. They can always draw a skirt on one of them if they really must.

Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.–based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico, who teaches journalism at Michigan State University. The views expressed are solely his own. You can follow him on Twitter @stevefriess.

TIME Dating

Millennials in Love: Why They’re Not So Different From Their Parents After All

Couple holding hands outside in thick fog.
Couple holding hands outside in thick fog. -Rekha Garton-—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Technology might be rewriting the rules of dating, but the game itself is a very old pursuit

There’s nothing quite like a new generation setting out to breed. It’s an exercise in feverishness and fretfulness, in urgency and appetite, a sweet and simpleminded leave-taking of the senses in the pursuit of, well, a lot. Sex, certainly—plenty of that. Then there’s companionship, and security and the esteem of your friends—to say nothing of yourself—and the basic thrill of thinking that maybe, just maybe, you’re in love. Only a handful of years earlier, the same demographic was nothing but a swarm of pre-sexual children. Then the mating software booted up, but it was constrained by bodies and minds way too young to do much about it. And to the extent that anyone tried, there were parents, teachers and society as a whole policing their behavior.

Then all at once the limits are gone—the young breeders jump the traces and are set free to have at it. Soon enough, their sexuality will be back in harness—they’ll be married, with children, their primal impulses constrained again by commitment and culture. But for now, they’re a cohort of sexually electric young adults, and romance is one big, heaping helping of yes.

And oh, the kind of sex they’re going to enjoy. Their parents and grandparents had their turn at it, but theirs was sex within limits, sex by the rules, sex—let’s be honest—as intercourse. The new generation has sex with a wink, sex with awareness—sex as an exercise in bonding and socializing, experimentation, even irony, sex as a complex act that can mean anything at all or nothing at all, and you know what? That’s just fine. This is a whole new breed of breeders.

( MORE:The New Dating Game: How Smartphone Apps Have Changed Courtship)

Except it’s not. The popular trope of the Millennial age is that sex and love might not be any different now from what they’ve always been, but the way they’re practiced and pursued has changed meaningfully, in large part because of the technology that enables it. The school dance gave way to the singles bar which gave way to the personal ad, which gave way to the Internet which gave way to the smartphone—your handheld, in-pocket, 24-hour police scanner for love. OKCupid and Match.com have always-with-you apps; Grinder and a host of other new apps trump that by swapping compatibility for geography: who’s nearby and who’s available—right now? Tinder gamifies it all—dating and mating as a portable match game, with an unending succession of faces appearing on your screen, all dispatched with a swipe one way to pick the winners and a swipe the other to designate losers—and somewhere out there, your face is being swiped too.

“Curation has been a lifestyle trend for a while now,” says consumer anthropologist and consultant Jamie Gordon. “There are services and apps that help you access and consume products. Tools like Tinder are just about accessing and consuming humans.”

By any measure, that does seem like a sea change. But the thing is, the sea is always changing, in big ways and small, from generation to generation and even year to year. When it comes to romance, the last century alone has seen multiple transformations, all of which felt like never-before force multipliers for human sexuality. There was feminism in the 1970s—which freed women to heed both the urges of their bodies and the imperatives of their dignity, allowing them to make the kinds of choices they never could before. There was the Pill in the 1960s and the back seat of the Chevy in the 1950s. There was the exquisite collision of illegal gin, hot jazz and the forbidden lure of the speakeasy in the 1920s. That same car with the big back seat was a “struggle buggy” back then, something you’d share with a snuggle pup you met at a petting party. Laugh now, but the sex was just the same.

“Technology is changing rapidly but human beings are not,” says clinical psychologist Elizabeth Churchill, currently director of human-computer interactions for eBay research labs and formerly with Yahoo, where she analyzed blog profiles for the company’s personal and dating services. “Dating apps just let you collapse space and time in ways you couldn’t in the past. Back then, if I wanted to know if there was someone around the corner I could have sex with I had to get up and have a look. Now I can do it all online.” That’s different—a little—but only in the way that going out to a movie is different from streaming one at home.

(MORE: Inside Tinder: Meet the Guys Who Turned Dating Into an Addiction)

The gamification element may be less than it seems too. There’s no way to deny that Tinder has reframed the win-lose quality of mate selection like nothing ever before. But gamification has always been a big part of the mating mix. It’s what mid-century makeout games like spin the bottle and pass the grapefruit were about. It’s strip poker and suburban key parties —whose spouse are you going home with tonight? It’s half the point of the game Twister, with its left-hand-red, right-foot-blue, and who knows what other body parts will bump up against each other in the process? Arm wrestling in a bar gamifies which man’s fitness display will best catch the eye of a woman. Four-inch heels ain’t worn for comfort; they’re worn because they give a woman an advantage over her friend who can barely totter around on three-inchers.

Conception itself is the biggest, most existential game of all. If a woman ovulates for 35 years, she’ll release 420 eggs, and conception requires just one. The rest? Thanks for playing. And as for sperm? In a single sex act, perhaps 250 million of them go racing for the same irresistible target. If a sperm could spike a football, don’t you think the winner would?

Global events—which are by definition unique to a particular point in time —don’t make any one generation as special as it seems either. Gordon cites 9/11 and the global recession as formative experiences for Millennials—and they surely were, piling burdens of loss and economic hardship on the shoulders of young people who might not be equipped to bear them. In the process, diversions like steamlined dating, enabled by game-like apps became all the more appealing. “It makes the work of finding a mate more lightweight,” she says.

Maybe, but listen to all the recent sociological jawboning about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan. In this case, it was the assassination of President Kennedy that was the traumatic experience, feeding the need to cut loose with new, faintly outlaw music, and leading in turn to the freedom of the sexual revolution. Before that it was Pearl Harbor and before that the Depression. Crises are episodic, but human sexuality is eternal, and it’s a certainty that the two will line up now and again.

Even the image-curation power that apps provide—posting your most flattering pictures, with your best-looking friends, and advertising only your good points—is just the digital version of ancient analogue behavior: leaving your glasses at home when you go on a date, or choosing a dimly lit restaurant because who doesn’t look better in candlelight? Yes, it’s all more sophisticated when an app is involved, but that’s a difference of degree, not of kind.

“When I was at Yahoo, we interviewed people and watched them as they filled out their profiles,” says Churchill. “People are were smart and they knew there was an algorithm out there, so they were forever changing what they wrote to game the system—saying they’re 39, for example, because they weren’t getting enough hits with 41. They’d admit that that felt like lying, but it’s all just impression management.”

None of this is to say that new technologies and circumstances don’t present situational challenges that didn’t exist before. The condomless era that the Pill ushered in meant dealing with the rise of STDs—including, eventually, AIDS. Key parties and mate-swapping led to long-term affairs and broken marriages. Single secretaries and predatory Mad Men were just obeying ancient seduction rituals, but those rituals had a new impact in a suburban-centric era in which wives and children were parked a train commute away and the randy dad got to spend his days in the city. What happens on Madison Avenue stays on Madison Avenue—until it doesn’t and the family busts up.

So too is it with Tinder, Grindr and the whole new world of app-potentiated dating. Easy technology in the hands of young, hormonally charged singles is undeniably a mutually reinforcing match, especially since the apps are designed with all the psych-savvy bells, whistles and reinforcement signals that make games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds so addictive.The thing is, we didn’t come from the factory pre-loaded with a primal need to line up jelly beans or launch birds at pigs, but we did come with a powerful suite of sexual needs and behaviors. Millennials must admittedly wrestle with all that in ways no other generation did. Still, it’s a very old struggle—even if it’s being fought by very new rules.

Click here to join TIME for as little as $2.99 to read more about The New Dating Game and how apps like Tinder have changed courtship.

TIME public health

Despite Philip Seymour Hoffman, There Is No Heroin Crisis

A copy of a New York Times Magazine with a photo of movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover in a memorial in front of his apartment building in New York City, on Feb. 3, 2014.
A copy of a New York Times Magazine with a photo of movie actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover in a memorial in front of his apartment building in New York City, on Feb. 3, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

The actor's death should remind us that addicts aren’t the only ones who overdose on drugs

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has given rise to a massive outpouring of grief and sadness by his fans and admirers. It has also given rise to an equally massive outpouring of patently false and exaggerated stories about the increase in heroin use and the need to do something — anything! — about it. This is not just misguided but dangerous: High-profile drug deaths in the past have lead to major public policy mistakes — think mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines — that can take decades to correct.

Even before the inconclusive results of Hoffman’s autopsy were made public, news outlets such as MSNBC were already running stories about “America’s Heroin Problem,” “the rapidly growing crisis of heroin,” and quoting “law enforcement officials [who] believe the spike in heroin use is driven by addicts becoming priced out of more expensive prescription opiate-based pain killers.”

Yet as my colleague at Reason, Jacob Sullum, was quick to document, the government statistics that track heroin use show absolutely no increase in regular use of the drug. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (the latest available), 0.1 percent of Americans ages 12 and older reported using the drug in the past month. That’s exactly the same percentage that used in 2002 and there has been no significant fluctuation in the intervening decade. The Monitoring the Future Study, which tracks behavior of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, shows annual use of heroin declining across the board from a decade ago.

Much of the confusion stems from journalists and their sources using raw numbers without controlling for population growth or mistaking lifetime use for anything approaching a habit (both errors are on display in this “Journalist’s Resource” put out by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy).

Politicians are prey to the same mistakes. Earlier this year, the Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont made news when he devoted his annual “state of the state” address to what he called “a full-blown heroin crisis.” Shumlin testified that “we had nearly double the number of deaths in Vermont from heroin overdose as the prior year.”

It’s certainly true that there can be regional spikes even if national usage rates are flat. But according to Vermont’s Department of Health, in 2012 there were just nine deaths classified as “heroin involved” (a category that doesn’t mean heroin was the sole or even the principal cause of death). Taking the governor at his word, that means there were fewer than 18 deaths last year in Vermont in which heroin was a factor. (2013 data were not available.)

Those deaths are sad, but in a state with 626,000 residents, they should not be driving major decisions about law enforcement, medical resources, and health policy. As the Vermont Department of Health reports, “mortality due to drugs in Vermont has not changed greatly over the past nine years….these data do not suggest that deaths from any one specific type of drug is increasing or decreasing over the span of multiple years.” The 2013 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that just 2 percent of high school students say they have ever tried heroin, down from 3 percent in 2011. If Vermont is at the forefront of a “major comeback of heroin in the U.S.” (as the Los Angeles Times puts it), we all need to take a few deep breaths.

Indeed, the history of crusades and legislation related to drug deaths teaches us that lawmakers should proceed with caution and resist overreaction. In 1986, liberal Democratic lawmakers used the high-profile, cocaine-related death of Len Bias, a college basketball star who had signed to play with the Boston Celtics, to show that they could be just as tough on drugs as conservative Republicans during the “Just Say No” era. The result was a series of mandatory-minimum sentences that had no clear effect on drug use or black markets but helped the United States become the biggest jailer country on the planet.

A wide-ranging, bipartisan group of politicians including Attorney General Eric Holder, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Reps. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) are finally working to reform federal mandatory minimums, and state-level efforts are also underway.

That’s great news for all of us who care about fact-based public policy, but it’s a problem that never should have needed fixing in the first place. If Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death leads to a round of new laws built around a non-existent increase in heroin use, we’ll only be compounding the tragic loss of a troubled soul. And if past experiences are any indication, we’ll be stuck with bad policy for decades to come.


The ‘Mad Men’ Problem at Home

Dish Washing
Getty Images / Getty Images

Closing the wage gap begins with remedying the housework gap first

When President Obama addressed the gender-based wage gap during his State of the Union address last week, women cheered and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro even gave out high fives. Obama called on Washington and businesses to help women succeed at work and “do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode.” However, the President forgot to name a key constituency in his call to help women succeed: husbands.

All the workplace policies in the world aren’t going to get women to parity unless we do away with our Mad Men-era policies at home, too. Despite the fact women are the sole or primary source of income in a record 40% of U.S. households, they still do the majority of housework and childcare. According to the Pew Research Center, during an average week[OK? The study, if I’m looking at the right one, seems to have measured weeks rather than days.], women spend more time cleaning, doing laundry, and preparing food then men do. Men, on the other hand, spend more time watching television than women do. And even in households where the woman is the sole breadwinner, the labor division is far from equal. Men who stay home average 18 hours of housework per week, while their working partners average 14. Stay-at-home mothers, though, average 26 hours of housework. Their working partners average just a third of that time. America has a housework gap, and it’s fueling the gender gap at work.

Research indicates there is a direct and negative correlation between housework and the wage gap. One theory, from research in The Journal of Human Resources, suggests this could be employers’ negative reactions to women who appear dedicated to household activities. It could also be that many employers believe mothers are less committed to their jobs than other employees, as Shelley J. Correll, a sociology professor at Stanford University, posits. As a result, employers are reluctant to hire them and offer them high salaries. The “mommy penalty” is real. The wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is greater than that between women and men, according to the advocacy group MomsRising.

It appears that in 2014, we have high expectations of what a woman can accomplish at work, but we still have 1950s expectations about her role at home. But it’s time to rethink and renegotiate who does what where. Men who have opted out of housework should lean in at home so their wives can lean in at work. And they should advocate for, and take advantage of, family-friendly policies such as paid sick days, paternity leave, and flex benefits in order to create a more equitable arrangement at home.

If we truly believe that, as Obama said, “when women succeed, America succeeds,” then we need to stop ignoring the housework gap. Laundry and dirty dishes may not be standard agenda items for our legislators and business leaders, but they should be. After all, a woman can’t have it all if she’s too busy doing it all.

Liz O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.


Singer Challenges Beauty Stereotypes by Being Transformed With Photoshop in New Music Video

The 27-year-old Hungarian songstress hopes to challenge society's impossible standards


In the new music video for her song “Nouveau Parfum,” Hungarian singer Boggie (real name: Csemer Boglarka) shows just how far some Photoshopping can go. The three-and-half-minute clip shows her going from an average girl to a glamorous, blemish-free beauty.

“Women open magazines and they have to face that on the pages everyone looks perfect, therefore they start to feel imperfect,” the 27-year-old singer told the Daily Star. “I wanted to make it clear that we shouldn’t try to compete with this perfectionism and manipulation which ruins your self-esteem.”

This video was done with creative editing, lots of screen effects and a ton of makeup and costume changes rather than actual Photoshop, but the message is clear. Oh, and the song isn’t bad either, so make sure your volume’s turned up when you watch.


Let’s Not Make Thug the New N Word

Richard Sherman
Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman speaks at an NFL football news conference on Jan. 22, 2014, in Renton, Wash. Elaine Thompson / AP

We’re stuck with endless misunderstandings about the N word already. Adding another one will only mean twice the mess.

The statement of the week on race worries me a little. I sense new waves of cognitive dissonance coming.

I refer to the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, black, on the word thug. Commenting on the wave of online attacks directed his way after his controversial postgame TV interview, the outspoken cornerback said, “It seems like [thug] is the accepted way of calling somebody the N word nowadays.”

Well, yes, but.

Sherman is correct that these days, a white person can object to a black person’s behavior as “thug” in public, when what they mean is that the behavior was not just offensive but offensive in a way associated, negatively, with black men. Of course no one puts it that way. But nobody calls, say, Justin Bieber a thug (or fighting hockey players, as Sherman pointed out). Why is there a particular word used when, say, someone like Sherman goes off on somebody?

To the extent that the N word as a slur is the same business — meaning that someone is offensive in a supposedly “black” way — Sherman is right. A white person who uses the N word is roasted publicly for weeks, and so the word is out to hold back on that one. Yet whites do not perceive blacks the same way they do whites. As such, thug has quietly been recruited as the salty but suitable way of saying, “There one of them goes again.”

However, there’s more to this than what many people are going to make of it – namely, that white racism will eternally create slurs against black people and racism is forever.

For one thing, it’s not only whites who have a way of breaking out slurs referring to black people behaving in “certain ways.” There are black people who draw a line between “black people” and “niggers.” Need I even mention Chris Rock’s famous routine? Sure, he’s a comedian, but being a good one means tapping into real community sentiment. Claude Brown, black author of the underread autobiography Manchild in the Promised Land, about Harlem in the 1940s, once called nigger “the most soulful word in the world,” elsewhere recounting how as a youth he was “expected to kill a nigger if he mistreated me.”

And another problem is that there is a part of black America that likes the thug image in spite of itself. Yes, the technical definition is supposed to be, roughly, a criminal, a bad guy. But dictionary definitions are mere abbreviations of reality. Things get realer in the Urban Dictionary. The most popular definition there of thug is “someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug, and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster.”

People who approve of a definition like that show that there is a positive element in people’s sensibilities as to what and why a thug is. That is clear in countless other ways. Beyoncé’s take on 50 Cent’s “In da Club” was “Sexy li’l thug.” If thug really just means “reprobate,” why is there such an expression as “thug love” at all? When R&B singer Aaliyah died, one fan eulogized her as both “classy” and harboring a dash of “thug image”.

So, just as among black people the N word is partly affectionate, thug has a positive aspect. There is major overlap between thug and swagger. That means that within the wider discourse thug is coming to occupy the same strange position as the N word. We’d like to condemn it as a slur when whites use it. But the grimy truth is black people use the word with a ticklish combination of disgust and pride. As long as a critical mass of black people think of the thug as someone who has the guts to “act up” — someone with what others might call cojones — then some whites will feel like they can use it without causing too much offense. Unsurprisingly, many of them will be in the macho world of sportscasting.

I’m not sure there’s any point in elevating thug as yet another word called a slur only when white people use it. We’re stuck with the endless misunderstandings this creates with the N word already. Adding another one will mean only twice the mess.

TIME Bizarre

2014’s Hot New Bridal Trend Is Pizza Selfies

Diamonds are forever, but pizza with your face on it transcends space, time, and the Internet

Pizza-loving couple Kieran and Natasha Morris just changed the wedding game. You thought hoarding antique mason jars and making your bridesmaids wear cowboy boots with their slightly mismatched dresses was the pinnacle of the modern wedding experience? This British couple just out-Millennial-wedding’d everyone ever in the world by serving pizza decorated by a food artist to look like their faces at their nuptials.

The couple requested pizzas from Domino’s with the toppings arranged to resemble them, and Domino’s obliged, likely smelling a potent promotional opportunity. The results are impressively true-to-life, considering the canvass was a doughy circle smeared with cheese and sauce.

The wizard who made these pizza portraits is Nathan Wyburn, a Welsh artist Internet-famous for making a portrait of Simon Cowell with Marmite and toast.

Wyburn spent three hours crafting the portraits, using a photo of the couple as a guide. The pizzas were quickly consumed by the wedding guests shortly after delivery to the reception, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Pizza selfies are clearly the ultimate wedding move for 2014, so if you were planning on having a flash mob dance-walk down a burlap-lined aisle on your big day, just take that ad off Craigslist, because your wedding stunt is passé. Let’s break this masterpiece down into its meme-worthy parts:



- viral marketing

- potentially ironic endorsement of chain food

This wedding gimmick couldn’t be more ready for Tumblr if Benedict Cumberbatch emerged, mewling and naked, from inside one of the pepperonis.

TIME Marriage Equality

Black Gay Men Are Still Invisible

Getty Images

Whenever I read about this mythical place in which a person’s sexuality is no longer taboo, in the wake of a handful of states allowing marriage equality, I often think to check the balance of my credit card. I would love to be able to afford to go to such a wondrous place. Unfortunately, reality quickly smacks me upside the head. There’s no way I could ever enter such a utopia — given that the only people allowed admittance are white, upper middle class white gay men. (Oh, and maybe the occasional straight “ally.”)

Months ago, I read David Carr’s essay in which he asserted “now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.” I chalked that up to him being a straight, white guy who didn’t know any better. However, Brandon Ambrosino recently lent credence to Carr’s possibly misguided remarks by noting, “Carr’s is a welcome reminder of the progress we often forget we’ve made. A person’s gayness isn’t a talking point, and his alleged gayness ought never be since it takes us back to an era when it was culturally acceptable to shame a gay person as a curious oddity.”

For the record, it’s still culturally acceptable to shame a gay person as a curious oddity. Otherwise, any conversation about a public figure’s sexuality would reflect that on its own. What really bugs me about this conversation, and all those like it, though, is that marriage equality is often the sole basis on how to weigh progress.

Should I meet the R&B singer or NBA player of my dreams, I’d love to get married and have all of the legal protections that come with that institution in all of the 50 states. Nonetheless, when I think about actual progress, as a gay Black man I can’t be silly enough to base “how far we’ve come” on where I can get married. I can see same sex marriage being legalized nationwide — but at present moment, I have other things on my mind to worry about.

We can start with the one-sided representation of the LGBT community.

Although Black people have traditionally been portrayed as the boogiemen and boogiewomen of gay rights (disproportionately opposed to gay marriage, on the whole), a Gallup poll nonetheless found that “Blacks are more likely to identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender than any other racial or ethnic group in the nation.” A year before that, the Census Bureau highlighted that gay couples “in Southern states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England.”

And yet, who are the faces of gay families in the media? I recall Stephen Marche’s review of the now cancelled NBC comedy, The New Normal, in which he claimed that, “Gay people are becoming too boring for television.” Well, maybe the ones we’re stuck with are.

And even when there is some diversity — e.g. the picture of two gay Black men raising children together that caused a stir recently — it comes from the Internet and is still framed with a disingenuous, “Ohmigod, why are you talking about their race as if that matters?” It’s always the people who aren’t subjected to scrutiny because of their color telling everyone else about the beauty of colorblindness.

The lack of effort to reach and represent other types of gay men has numerous consequences. For instance, take the New York Times report about Black and Latino men becoming the face of HIV. The story notes that “there has been little political pressure to focus on young gay blacks and Hispanics.” On the booming AIDS rates among minority gay men, Krishna Stone, a spokeswoman for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, lamented, “There wasn’t even an ad campaign aimed at young black men until last year — what’s that about?” Phill Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles, added that there are “no models out there right now for reaching these men.”

But again, someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter anymore because a few guys in New York and San Francisco have gotten married, which means the gay dudes living in New Orleans, Houston, and Atlanta just need to shut up and smile. The struggle is over now.

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