When Hurricane Sandy pummeled the east coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean in October 2012 it exposed millions of people and billions of dollars worth of economic assets to the sorts of hazards that might be expected to increase as a result of climate change. An estimated 1.8 million structures and homes were destroyed or damaged, with economic losses exceeding $65 billion.
Among the businesses most negatively affected by Sandy were tourism (losses of more than $1 billion and 10,000 jobs) and small- and medium-scale manufacturing and storage. Retailers, such as clothing firm Eileen Fisher, lost inventory when Sandy flooded warehouses and disrupted supply chains.
WHEN THE late, great George Sheehan took up running, neighbors asked his mortified children why their father ran around town in his underwear. This was in the 1960s, before Sheehan’s philosophical books helped to fuel the running boom. He’d be pleased to know that wearing underwear on public streets is now accepted, even admired; it’s running in tutus that has become the issue.
Before corporations, entertainment companies, sports franchises, and political parties acquired “brand narratives,” the notion of branding was a subset of a practice called “corporate identity.” CI, as it was known, required companies and design firms to develop, refine, and maintain an integrated identity system defined by laws set down in a bible known as the graphic standards manual.
This gospel according to the design-creator was handed down to supplicant designers whose job, like scribes of old, was to precisely apply the logos, adhere to the corporate color and typographic palettes, and follow the formats without diverging even a fraction from the established guidelines. For designers and collectors of graphic design, some of these manuals—including ones for IBM, Lufthansa, the New York Subway System, and NASA—are sacred texts, revered for how they help shift graphic design from simply an intuitive practice to a rigorously strategic one.
It’s a daring thing to write about an evil person, especially in this day of autobiographical fiction, when readers assume most characters are thinly veiled self-portraits. And yet evil characters are usually dynamic and fascinating, upstaging all the goody-goodies. Think of Milton’s blazing, sexy Satan; Balzac’s scheming, driven master criminal, Vautrin; or Shakespeare’s Iago. Despite the allure of such characters, writers today usually avoid them, maybe because the whole category of Evil seems too theological or because modern psychology assumes that every bad act can be traced to childhood neglect or abuse and thus be explained away. I have to give my students an assignment to write about bad guys in order to get them to do it. But when they do write about them, it’s such a release!
The problem is that the moment you know the interview is being taped, your attitude changes. In my case I immediately take a defensive attitude. As a journalist, I feel that we still haven’t learned how to use a tape recorder to do an interview. The best way, I feel, is to have a long conversation without the journalist taking any notes. Then afterward he should reminisce about the conversation and write it down as an impression of what he felt, not necessarily using the exact words expressed. Another useful method is to take notes and then interpret them with a certain loyalty to the person interviewed. What ticks you off about the tape recording everything is that it is not loyal to the person who is being interviewed, because it even records and remembers when you make an ass of yourself. That’s why when there is a tape recorder, I am conscious that I’m being interviewed; when there isn’t a tape recorder, I talk in an unconscious and completely natural way.
A growing body of literature now suggests that the earlier we turn back the clock in kids’ development, the more profound the impact of their environment. Early childhood is critical—race and class differences in achievement are pretty much evident by the time kids reach kindergarten, for instance. Even what happens before you’re born turns out to have consequences for decades afterward. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster lowered the IQs and graduation rates of kids who were in utero all the way over in Sweden, where some of the radioactive iodine blew. An earthquake in Chile resulted in fewer boys being born (boys are a riskier genetic bet and thus have a higher rate of miscarriage under stress) and lower achievement among those whose mothers were closest to the epicenter. If pregnant women fast during Ramadan, their babies suffer. And so on.
When Oprah Winfrey served on a Chicago jury in 2004, she couldn’t go to the bathroom attached to the jury room unless her fellow jurors sang to drown out the noise. One of the songs they sang was Kumbaya.
When Alexis Sanchez used the bathroom in her college dorm, she brought her iPod with her.
“I would blast it,” she says. “I would play ‘D. A. N. C. E.’ by Justice, and some Maroon 5 song. That was my poop playlist. It had to be a ritual or else I would focus too much on if there were other girls there who could hear or smell what was happening.”
Sanchez, now a 22-year-old front-end web developer for the Tampa Bay Times, has since abandoned her poop playlist, but is still incredibly anxious about using public bathrooms—for both numbers one and two. “It’s definitely a problem,” she says. “It affects my life.”
Each year, the average American spends nearly 2,000 hours working. For many, that time passes inside the three little walls of a modern cubicle.
Writer Nikil Saval explores these odd spaces—how they came to be, how they make us feel—in his new book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. I spoke to Saval about the modern office, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Your book is, as I see it, about twin themes: the spaces we work in, and the quality or character of the work itself. Can you talk, just briefly, about the relationship between those two ideas?
I’ve found that space in an office often reflects the way power operates in a workplace: design expresses (though not in a simple way) relationships of hierarchy, control, and authority.
It was the greatest art theft in history: 650,000 works looted from Europe by the Nazis, many of which were never recovered. But last November the world learned that German authorities had found a trove of 1,280 paintings, drawings, and prints worth more than a billion dollars in the Munich apartment of a haunted white-haired recluse. Amid an international uproar, Alex Shoumatoff follows a century-old trail to reveal the crimes—and obsessions—involved.