TIME society

The Changing Face of Exonerations

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For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted.

The popular image of exonerations—fueled by any number of movies and TV criminal procedurals—is of a wrongly accused rapist set free after DNA testing reveals the real perpetrator. But as a new report shows, this DNA-centric scenario is becoming increasingly less common in the real world of exonerations. Indeed, while the number of exonerations hit a record high in 2013—87 compared with the previous high of 83—only 18 of these involved DNA evidence.

(MORE: Study: Record Number of U.S. Convicts Cleared in 2013)

These figures point to a hard truth: For all the understandable weight we give DNA evidence, it is of little if any use for the vast majority of the wrongfully convicted. While DNA remains the focus of exoneration efforts around the country, and all states have passed laws that provide for post-conviction access to testing, experts estimate that only 5% to 10% of all criminal cases involve such evidence. If we are to make meaningful progress towards freeing innocent people now serving time—a population some now place at more than 100,000—we need new laws designed to target miscarriages of justice that lack DNA evidence.

Taking such steps is especially critical for women, who make up a fast-growing segment of the nation’s prison population. Women’s alleged crimes of violence—often involving children or romantic partners—do not typically hinge on the whodunit question of identity that DNA is so useful in resolving. To the contrary in such cases, the more common question is whether a crime was even committed, with one salient example being the increasingly discredited diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome. (Notably, “no crime” cases comprise another category on the increase, accounting for a whopping 22% of this year’s exonerations.)

Happily, recent years have seen the beginnings of a movement to grapple with these issues. In a curious twist, it is Texas—not a state generally associated with progressive criminal justice reform—that is leading the way. Last fall, the state passed the nation’s first law recognizing faulty forensic evidence (aka junk science) as a basis for post-conviction relief. The underlying logic is simple: as science evolves and past scientific testimony is seen in new light, we ought to revisit those convictions that have been cast in doubt.

The first to successfully invoke the Texas junk science law were three women convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing a child. Days later, another woman was separately released after serving 21 years for sexually abusing multiple children–one of the many satanic ritual day care scandals of the 1990s, often rightly compared to the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. Without the new legislation, these women would still be behind bars.

Another sign of this trend came last month, when a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling finding “actual innocence” in a case based on shaken baby syndrome. Even without DNA to prove her innocence, 43-year-old Jennifer Del Prete was able to show that, based on current science, no reasonable jury could possibly find her guilty of murdering the baby in her care. As U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly wrote in his 97-page opinion, it’s now apparent that the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

These incisive words reflect the growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive proof of a caregiver’s guilt may well have natural causes, including congenital defects, metabolic disorders, infectious diseases and autoimmune conditions. Such “mimics of abuse” have attracted growing attention in the five years since I began studying the criminal justice system’s treatment of shaken baby syndrome. But our law’s approach to unwinding injustice remains both far too fluky and far too delayed.

If Del Prete is ultimately exonerated—as appears not unlikely—her case will be in keeping with the demographic trend away from a reliance on DNA. Yet in so many ways, hers is also a cautionary tale. Del Prete is now almost a decade into a 20-year prison sentence. And, notwithstanding the finding of “actual innocence,” she will remain incarcerated, at least for now. Federal law allows state prisoners to challenge the constitutionality of their convictions, but the grounds are narrowly defined. In the Alice in Wonderland world of federal criminal procedure, the judge who found her claims of innocence entirely credible was not permitted to vacate her conviction, since innocence is not a basis for relief. The ruling simply means she can move forward to challenge her conviction on separate constitutional grounds.

Such troubling cases underscore the need to reform our laws to better address the realities of all wrongful convictions. We need new avenues for post-conviction relief that reflect what we now know about the common causes of false convictions: false confessions, lying informants, eyewitness misidentification, and invalid forensic science. And we owe it to those wrongly convicted to move far more quickly—to recognize the moral imperative of overcoming the inertia of injustice.

Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Professor of Law at DePaul University, is a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan who has written widely on rape and domestic violence. She is currently a Public Voices Faculty Fellow with the OpEd Project. Her book Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice (Oxford University Press) is forthcoming in April.

TIME society

San Francisco Techies Now Doing Weird Sex Stuff With Ethernet Cables

Computer Network Cable
Konstantin Inozemtse—Getty Images/Vetta

The owners of San Francisco private sex club 'Mission Control,' where clients can creatively employ various electronics cords (amid other activities) say they've seen a notable bump in membership since Silicon Valley's post-crash resurgence began

The tech boom in San Francisco has sparked a renaissance among the city’s members-only sex clubs, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. One in particular, named Mission Control, has seen its membership rates skyrocket, thanks primarily to the droves of open-minded techies who have flocked there. App builders and startup friends are wrapping up their 14-hour days by unwinding at Mission Control’s “fundgeon”–that’s a portmanteau combining “fun” and “dungeon!”

So what, exactly, are they doing at these parties?

San Francisco State University adjunct instructor Michael Shannon had been the dungeon master a few weeks earlier when some attendees were talking about how they would use consumer electronics cords in sex play.

“If you’ve never tied (someone) up with an Ethernet cable,” Shannon once said, “you’re not geeky enough.”

You do you, San Francisco. You do you.

TIME society

Spike Lee’s Racism Isn’t Cute: ‘M—–f—– Hipster’ Is the New ‘Honkey’

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Director Spike Lee attends a screening of "OldBoy" in New York City, Nov. 11, 2013. Jim Spellman—WireImage/Getty Images

What’s really bothering Lee is that he doesn’t like seeing his old neighborhood full of white people, which makes him historical detritus.

It’s interesting that the director of the richest oeuvre of black films in the history of the medium doesn’t understand what the Civil Rights revolution was for. In his expletive-laced comments about the gentrification of Fort Greene during an interview at the Pratt Institute, Spike Lee seemed to think that what we Overcame for was to be grouchy bigots.

Basically, black people are getting paid more money than they’ve ever seen in their lives for their houses, and a once sketchy neighborhood is now quiet and pleasant. And this is a bad thing… why?

Lee seems to think it’s somehow an injustice whenever black people pick up stakes. But I doubt many of the blacks now set to pass fat inheritances on to their kids feel that way. This is not the old story of poor blacks being pushed out of neighborhoods razed down for highway construction. Lee isn’t making sense.

“Respect the culture” when you move in, Lee growls. But again, he isn’t making sense. We can be quite sure that if whites “respected” the culture by trying to participate in it, Lee would be one of the first in line to call it “appropriation.” So, no whites better open up barbecue joints or spoken word cafes or try to be rappers. Yet if whites walk on by the culture in “respectful” silence, then the word on the street becomes that they want to keep blacks at a distance.

In his interview with Anderson Cooper on Wednesday to clarify, Lee mentioned the controversy in Harlem some years ago over park drumming, which new white residents protested. Lee thinks whites were supposed to put up with being woken up on weekend mornings by the drums. That was a subtle issue. I refer to it in my Western Civilization class as a difficult judgment — the kind that shows that real life offers few easy answers.

Lee seems to think it was an open-and-shut case – but then how would he feel if it were whites drumming and blacks moving into the neighborhood and complaining? Maybe he thinks blacks are supposed to be accommodated as payback for the past. But for how long? Pity is not respect. W.E.B. DuBois once said that “Black America needs justice and is given charity.”

But on gentrification Lee doesn’t have time for making sense or trying to, despite the nuance he so brilliantly displays in his films. His comments are instead a tantrum, and an ugly one. What’s really bothering Lee is that he doesn’t like seeing his old neighborhood full of white people.

Or whitey, perhaps. Just as “thug” is a new way of saying the N-word in polite society, Lee’s “m—–f—– hipster” epithet for the new whites of Fort Greene is a sneaky way of saying “honkey.” Lee is less a social analyst than a reincarnation of George Jefferson with his open hostility to whites.

But George had grown up in Jim Crow America. We let his bigotry pass as “cute” because it was just desserts for a nasty past that was barely even past. But it’s been 40 years.

Surely what bothers Lee is not that Fort Greene is now a cushy neighborhood. He just wishes it had gotten that way with all black faces. He’s yearning for the multi-class black communities that people of his generation regret the dissolutions of after the end of institutionalized segregation (when black people like my parents, for example, moved out to mixed or white neighborhoods).

But let’s face it: The reason there were black communities like that was because of segregation. If there still were black communities like that, no matter how beautiful they would look when shot lovingly in films like Lee’s, it would signify racial barriers. The neighborhood would be prime fodder for people like Lee to intone with smug indignation about how non-post-racial America is. “You barely see a white face on the streets. What’s that about? What are they afraid of?”

Enough, Mr. Lee. Enough.

When racial barriers come down, people mingle, cohabitate, and mate. People grumbling on the sidelines about the losses and appropriations and whatnot that this involves are historical detritus. That becomes ringingly clear in how impossible it is to scorn the multiracial children who grow from processes like this, who grow up to be perfectly normal adults — and life goes on.

And black will go on — but hopefully not the way people like Lee would prefer. There are those who think recreational contrarianism is the soul of blackness — surely, if we aren’t mad, we aren’t truly black.

But history records no human group whose core essence was eternal indignation. Lee’s films, ironically, teach much about what black is and what it will be. Odd that in real life he thinks hearkening back to the social politics of Fred Sanford is moving on up.

TIME relationships

How an Insensitive Jerk Saved My Marriage

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Never ask a woman if she's pregnant—or forget to tell your wife she's beautiful.

“Oh, you’re pregnant again!?” one of my wife’s colleagues (who does not work with her on a daily basis) asked. Upon seeing her reaction, he tried to backtrack. But the damage was done. Allie hid in her office for most of the day and refused to eat even one of the delectable Munchkins sitting, so temptingly, in the kitchen down the hall.

Someone called my wife fat. It made her upset. That makes me upset. When she told me, I wanted to kick that dude’s ass!

Everyone knows: You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant! EVER!!! Not unless you’re her gynecologist and you see her crowning. And, even then… try to get her to mention it first.

Allie is not fat. Maybe she didn’t lose all of the baby weight from our second child, but she is not fat. She is, however, self-conscious about her weight.

She works long hours, and would rather spend her time off with our kids than at the gym. She did not grow up with the healthiest or most diverse diet, but she tries to eat right. Easier said than done, since she usually just takes a quick lunch at her desk. Allie doesn’t drink alcohol. So when she’s stressed or depressed, she has a tendency to turn to food. (We all have our vices.)

Believe it or not, Allie wanted me to write this article. Not for her, but for our children, especially our little girl and the body-image issues she may have to face as she grows up. Penny is undeniably beautiful, which she hears all the time from strangers and relatives alike. Allie and I are not immune from letting her know pretty she looks, but we also tell her how funny and intelligent she is. We make sure to heap on the praise when she tries something new or really puts effort into accomplishing a goal (especially after she has suffered setbacks). Penny has so many amazing attributes.

I want her to be aware of, appreciate, and improve on everything that makes her unique. I want so many things for her! I want her to have high self-esteem and know that she can get things done when she sticks to them… I want her to feel beautiful all the time, no matter what other people think… I want her to know her jokes are funny, even if no one else is laughing… I want her to be kind, even when no one notices… I would rather she be healthy than thin… I want her to know she is awesome.

As I write this list, I am no longer sure if I’m talking about my daughter or my wife. For Penny, I want these things in the future. For Allie, I want them right now.

This article is probably not the one my wife expected. It is not about our children, it’s about her. And it’s about me.

If Allie’s self-esteem were higher, she would not have given a second thought to what that jerk said. Truth is, he wasn’t trying to be mean. He just said something really, really stupid.

My wife is awesome. (Where do you think our kids get it from?) If she were looking from the outside, she would see it with undeniable clarity. She always finds the best in people, including me. I’ve suffered my own bouts of low self-esteem and depression, and she helped me (continues to help me) battle my demons. It can be difficult to see the best in ourselves, especially when the fog of depression clouds our vision. We all need a little reminding, sometimes.

As her husband and best friend, I was failing my wife. I wasn’t reminding her enough. I wasn’t making her feel special. She was vulnerable (in addition to the weight, she has also had some hair loss), and I wasn’t providing the support she required.

She is still beautiful. But I forgot to tell her, when that is what she needed to hear.

I never said anything to actively insult my wife, but my passivity was more detrimental to her self-esteem than anything anyone could say. It became a downward spiral. Allie would feel bad about her weight or her hair, and I would shrink further from my husbandly responsibilities. I just didn’t feel like dealing with. It was too much for me. I was stressed, too. I wanted my cool, fun wife back! I’m the one with issues. I’m supposed to be able to lean on her… she’s the strong one!

That guy who made the dumb comment about Allie didn’t need a kick in the ass. I did.

Like the Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.” I didn’t want to get into a big fight with Allie. I didn’t even understand how it happened or really what it was about, not at the time anyway. She was upset because I was ignoring her. I had excuses and tried to pretend that her accusations weren’t true. But I knew she was right. I was being inconsiderate, in that I was literally not considering her feelings and needs.

I’m trying to be better.

I’ve seen the changes in her. She’s been smiling more lately. She started exercising. Hell, even her hair has been growing back. I feel like I have my wife again. It’s fantastic! She still gets into occasional funks, but I’m there for her.

All of us could use a little help sometimes. My wife needed me to be there for her, like I’ve needed her so often in the past.

We focus so much of our attention on our children, guiding them to become the people we know they can be. Their personalities and self-esteem, however, are formed in those moments when we’re not looking and they are. Children see, hear, and sense much more than we realize. Our kids need us, and more specifically, need us to be there for each other.

And that dude who asked if my wife was pregnant? Maybe I should thank him for making me understand that I was being an insensitive jerk. But what he needs is to just shut up for a while.

TIME society

America on Same-Sex Marriage: 10 Takeaways From a New Report

Gay Couples Marry At New York City Hall
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Shyla Smith (R) and Courtney Burdeshaw hold hands in the west chapel during their wedding ceremony at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA on June 27, 2013 Mario Tama—Getty Images

The Public Religion Research Institutes releases a sweeping study on U.S. attitudes

On Wednesday, the Public Religion Research Institute released a sweeping survey about American attitudes toward LGBT issues. Using 2003, the year Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage, as a point of comparison, the editors show how opinions about gay marriage and other related topics have changed in recent years. They also analyze where major religious groups, from Catholics to Jews, stand on the issue right now. Here are 10 takeaways from their report:

1. The majority of Americans favor the legalization of gay marriage, but those numbers aren’t surging: Big victories like the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act don’t appear to have had huge effect on America’s leanings. The PRRI poll found that 53% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, which is where ratings have been hovering since pollsters first reported majority approval in 2011. Less than one-third approved in 2003.

2. About 5% of Americans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender: Of the 4,509 Americans they polled in November and December, 5.1% self-identified as LGBT. The American public, the editors note, overestimates the size of that population, with median estimates at 20%.

3. People who believe that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior form a shrinking minority: The poll found that 14% of American’s believe in the theory of divine retribution. That’s less than half the amount that believed in it in 1992, when 36% said AIDS could be a punitive measure.

4. The people most supportive of same-sex marriage are Jewish and the unaffiliated: People who identify themselves as affiliated with no religion have more than doubled, to 22%, since 2003, the poll found. Members of that group approved same-sex marriage at a rate of 73%, trailing the Jewish community’s resounding approval rate of 83%. The poll doesn’t provide a comparison for Jewish Americans in 2003, when surveys found that the unaffiliated were the most supportive.

5. The religious groups least supportive of same-sex marriage are evangelicals and Protestants, but they are becoming more tolerant: Just 27% of white evangelical Protestants approve of same-sex marriage, while only 35% of black Protestants support it—but these are more than 10-point increases from where the groups were in 2003. These groups were also the most likely to say that being gay or lesbian was “due to factors such as upbringing or environment” rather than “something a person is born with.”

6. Catholics are perceived as least friendly to LGBT people: Nearly 60% of the American public sees the Catholic church as unfriendly to LGBTs, even though 57% of Catholics polled by PRRI said they supported same-sex marriage and were less likely than black or white evangelical Protestants to say that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs.

7. Republicans have a long way to go in winning over the LGBT community. Less than 30% of Americans believe the Republican Party is friendly to LGBTs, and that drops to 15% among self-identified LGBT respondents.

8. People who feel that public opinion is with them tend to support a federal solution to the same-sex marriage debate: In 2003, when legal same-sex marriage was hardly a reality, the majority of those who opposed it said they preferred a decision about the institution being made on a federal level. Now that 17 states have legalized it, those supporting same-sex marriage are more likely to support a federal action, while opponents are more likely to say the issue should be left to states to decide.

9. Americans incorrectly believe that many anti-discrimination protections are in place: 75% of respondents said they believed that there was a federal law prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, which there is not. The majority of states also lack anti-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Proponents of such laws say that the widespread belief that the measures already exist makes it hard to build political momentum.

10. Young people and old people are not on the same page: “It is difficult to overstate the effect age has on support for same-sex marriage,” the poll reads. Even groups that are most opposed to same-sex marriage show significant generation gaps. The majority-approval rule does not apply, for instance, to Southerners, Republicans, rural residents or black Americans as a whole, but it does apply to the Millennial slices of all those groups. Overall, nearly 70% of Millennials support same-sex marriage.

TIME society

‘Straight Talk’ the Princeton Mom Should Give to Young Men

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Check the stats: young men — not young women — are the ones who need to start spouse hunting... now

Susan Patton, a Princeton mom who lit up the internet last year with her unsolicited dating advice for college women, is back with a Wall Street Journal column that sounds an awful lot like what she said last year. In the op-ed, she tells young women to “smarten up and start husband hunting” instead of focusing on their careers. But before doling out more of her rules for female happiness, Ms. Patton should probably have taken a look at the research on gender, marriage, and success. If she had, she would have realized she was addressing her letter to the wrong audience. It’s men who benefit most from locking down a smart woman early. I’ve taken the liberty of drafting an alternative letter for her:

A Little Straight Talk For Young Men

Another Valentine’s Day weekend, another Friday night spent bro-ing out with your friends and picking up chicks in bars… or watching porn. You don’t have to hide it. You’re a 20-something man, so the only thing you could possibly want is sex. Settling down with a steady girlfriend you meet on campus now is inconceivable. Once you’re in your 30s and have made some money all the hot 20-year-olds will be clamoring after you, right?

Actually, it’s time for a reality check. Forget your biological clock — your financial clock is ticking. If you have any hopes of leading a successful life, you need to lock down a woman now.

This is the only time in your life where you’re going to be surrounded by so many smart, eligible women. That won’t be the case for long if you’re planning on moving to New York or San Francisco after graduation — as I’m sure many of you ambitious future lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs are. Those places are kind of a sausage fest.

And the sooner you get married the better. Men who marry in their 20s make more than those who marry after the age of 30, according to a the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.

Sadly for you, the opposite is true for women: college-educated women bring in 56 percent more income if they settle down in their mid-30s rather than their mid-20s. So you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to wrangle one into marrying you ASAP.

And the longer you wait, the worse your prospects are. If current trends continue, any woman you’re currently attending college with will be making more than you in 10 years. If you wait too long, she’ll be financially independent and and looking for a young, hot guy willing to be a stay-at-home dad while she conquers her field of choice. Or at least someone who makes more than she does. The last thing she’ll want is some mid-30s guy who’s her own age. And your sperm is degrading by the year. (You might think about freezing some while you’re young.)

Could you marry someone dumber than you, who doesn’t have the ambitions the girls you go to college with do — someone who’s still willing to actually get married young? Sure, but how long could you really stick with someone who doesn’t want to talk about Ibsen? And you’re not actually considering having children with someone who doesn’t know Ibsen, are you?!?

So what’s a smart guy to do?

Go find a girl in college now. I mean right now. Go outside your dorm and grab one. They have apps for this now, too, right? Use one of those.

And remember, you have to offer those beautiful, smart, success-oriented women something they can’t get on their own. That is definitely going be tough. What could you give a woman that she can’t get on her own? Well… there is that one thing you guys have to offer. But these days you’ll have to convince her that you’re at least as good as any intimate appliance she can order online.

Who needs that hassle, you say? You have your bros to bro out with and a career to pursue, after all. Well, guess what. All your bros are going to start getting hitched quick. According to a 2013 survey, men are more likely than women to equate marriage with success. And for you and your bros, nothing matters more than winning. Just wait a couple years. Soon those smug marriage announcements will be popping up on your Facebook Newsfeed. They’re winning at life, and you’re still playing Madden after work every day.

What’s worse: Those committed guys are probably better off than you in almost every way. Studies show married men live longer than their bachelor counterparts, make more money, and have more sex. And men who marry educated women live longer than those who marry less educated women.

Sure, there are men who don’t want longevity, financial stability, and regular sex. But if you do, you need to start listening to your gut and ignoring the anti-feminist line that one Ivy League mom has been shoving down your throat for the last year. There is nothing wrong with an educated man who actually wants a family.

And if you fail to identify “the one” while you’re in college, don’t worry. There’s always graduate school. Those places are chock full of chicks. Just tell your parents to think of it as an investment: They foot the bill now, the wife you find takes care of you financially for the rest of your life. They’ll probably be cool with that.

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

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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.

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