The Ocean Is Melting Antarctica
Some 60% of the planet’s fresh water stores are locked away in Antarctica’s barren tundra. That’s a lot of water. For the obvious reasons, we’d all rather keep that water frozen away in the icy interior of the world’s southernmost continent than loose it into our already fast-rising oceans.
Unfortunately, new research from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows that we may be closer to unleashing an Antarctic flood than previously thought. The study shows that much more of Antarctica’s total mass loss is due to warm ocean water than to iceberg calving—which is what scientists previously thought drove shrinkage in the great white south.
So the question is, does that mean Antarctica’s ice stores are now more vulnerable to global warming than we thought?
Eric Rignot, a senior scientist at JPL, told me in an email that “the short answer is yes.” That’s because “existing ice sheet models do not include a warming ocean and realistic ice ocean interactions,” he says.
A Teacher and Her Student
Marilynne Robinson was my fourth and final workshop instructor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She is an intimidating intellectual presence—she once told us that to improve characterization, we should read Descartes. When I asked her to sign my copy of Gilead, she admitted she had recently become fascinated by ancient cuneiform script. But she is also generous and quick to laugh—when she offered to have us to her house for dinner, and I asked if we ought to bring food, she replied, “Or perhaps I will make some loaves and fishes appear!” Then she burst into giggles.
After receiving my MFA this May, I left Iowa believing that there’s no good way to be taught how to write, to tell a story. But there is also no denying that Marilynne has made me a better writer. Her demands are deceptively simple: to be true to human consciousness and to honor the complexities of the mind and its memory. Marilynne has said in other interviews that she doesn’t read much contemporary fiction because it would take too much of her time, but I suspect it’s also because she spends a fair amount of her mental resources on her students.
Our interview was held on one of the last days of the spring semester. The final traces of the bitter winter had disappeared, and light filled the classroom, which now felt empty with just the two of us. My two years at Iowa were over, and I selfishly wanted to stretch the interview for as long as possible.
There’s No Sex in Prison Showers
Let’s talk about turning gay in prison. I feel like I’ve written about this before, but let me repeat myself, ’cause the gay/rape question is frequently brought up when discussing jail. Basically, everyone I know thinks I did some gay shit in jail, or got raped or something. It makes me chuckle, ‘cause I never saw rape and rarely even heard rumors about gay hookups. Maybe there are a lot of rapes in the big, scary, maximum-security federal pens where they put the real insane hardened criminals. I don’t know about any of that though.
The average guy in jail is so scared of homosexuals or people thinking that he might be gay that we all wear our underwear in the shower. It’s pretty funny—we’ve all seen the jail shows and heard the endless “don’t drop the soap” jokes, but in all the years I was locked up, I was NEVER NAKED except when getting strip-searched by the cops or during my time in Shock boot camp, where they make you get naked on some psychological belittling bullshit. It was so nice to get out the slammajamma and just be naked. In fact, I’m naked right now, letting my ass and nuts marinate on the couch. I’m naked whenever I can be to make up for all that time I spent clothed in jail.
Stop SWAT Raids
How many dead and injured cops and civilians will it take for police to reevaluate how SWAT raids are conducted? There are almost 150 such raids a day, mostly over drugs, and many take place in the wee hours and include potentially lethal flash-bang grenades, military-like tactics, and plenty of chances for violence to escalate. Unless it’s a true hostage situation, using SWAT teams, especially against people in their homes, means you’re either scaring the hell out of a nonviolent person or making a violent one believe he’s being attacked. Bloodshed can occur in either case.
When these raids go wrong, lives are destroyed. One example is Matthew David Stewart, who committed suicide in his jail cell last month, apparently to avoid potentially facing the death sentence over his killing one officer and injuring five more in a 2012 Utah marijuana raid (he said that he opened fire on police because he thought he was being robbed). In the last decade, other cops have died at the hands of other targets of similar operations like Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick, both of whom plausibly claimed that they didn’t know who was busting down their doors.
Oh, the Memories – Photos from VICE on HBO’s Trip to North Korea
If you were alive back in March, chances are you heard about our little adventure to North Korea with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters. The news spread around the world like an exceptionally newsworthy wildfire, and in the months that have passed people have been itching to see our footage and find out exactly what happened on the first-ever basketball diplomacy mission. Well, all will be revealed tonight when the season finale of VICE airs on HBO at 11:00 PM. Until then, here is one last nugget from the trip to hold you over. These photos were taken by VICE producer Jason Mojica during the crew’s time in North Korea, and cover everything from the exhibition game with the North Korean national team to VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy’s cooldown at the Kim Il Sung University pool. Captions by Iris Xu.
The VICE crew that went to North Korea with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters is doing a Reddit AMA right now.
And don’t forget to watch the VICE on HBO season finale tonight!
There’s More to Stuart Franklin Than the Most Famous Photo of the 20th Century
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
One-time Magnum president Stuart Franklin is probably best known for his photo of an average-looking man with some groceries defying a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Yet, as I discovered when I spoke with Stuart, that photo was not the instant sensation people might expect it to be. He talked me through art school’s effect on his work, the difference between approach and style, what “news photography” really means, and getting caught up in the Heysel Stadium disaster.
VICE: Unlike some of the people we have spoken to in this series, you were classically trained in the arts.
Stuart Franklin: I studied drawing, painting, and photography on a degree course at what used to be called the West Surrey College of Art and Design.
Do you think that influenced the way you work?
In terms of photography, it gave me a better sense of lighting and urged me to not be afraid of anything—formats or technical hurdles. On the postproduction side, I was able to go straight into setting up my own darkroom in London, processing my films and functioning as an editorial photographer, which was quite useful.
Manchester, England. Moss Side Estate. 1986.
I feel that maybe your styles and subjects have been more varied compared to those of most other photographers. Do you attribute that at all to your lack of concern about formats and techniques?
I believe there are two things to consider: one is style and the other is approach. I think the approach I take to photography is quite consistent across the board. It’s a considered, gentle approach that I have to working in almost any context. The tools that I pack in my bag to take on different assignments or projects vary enormously. They become a localized and temporary style, but I think that underneath everything there is the thumping bassline of the work, which is about my approach attempting to be quite graceful, to be quiet. The tools are whatever I pick up on the day—it could be a pencil, it could be a camera.
You became well-known after covering the famine in the Sahel in the mid-1980s, directly after you studied art. How did you transition into photojournalism?
In the beginning of the 1980s, I did a lot of work in Mexico City, supported by the Telegraph Magazine. I also did lots of work in the north of England looking at the decline of the manufacturing industry, as well as similar stuff in France, the Pas-de-Calais and areas around Metz. Those were my early bits of work. I joined Sigma in 1980, and over a period of five years they mainly sent me to cover breaking news. The first major story I covered was the 1983 bombing of the US barracks in Beirut, where I think 285 US soldiers were killed. [It was 241; a further 58 French servicemen were killed in a separate blast nearby two minutes later. Six civilians and the two bombers also lost their lives.] I covered the civil war in Lebanon in a wider context, too—those things all happened before I went to Sahel to cover the famine.
Beirut, Lebanon. 1983. American soldiers sift through rubble in the aftermath of a devastating truck bomb in Beirut.
How did those early assignments compare to the expectations you had? Was photography as a job something of a shock?
I remember one of the first assignments I had with Sigma was the IRA bombings in Hyde and Regent’s Parks in 1982, down near Horse Guards. Sigma rang from Paris and asked me to go and cover it. I got there to see police tape, miles from what had happened. I couldn’t really see anything, so I went back home. They rang me later furiously asking what I had got. I told them that it didn’t look very interesting. I learned then that, in a news situation, anything visual is valuable—even if it’s only a photo of the police tape with something blurry in the background a mile away.
The materiality of any war or news story overrode the aesthetic potential for a while, and that was quite a shock to me. I was expecting to make powerful, striking photographs and often I was actually just expected to photograph anything I could.
On the subject of striking photos, I was wondering about your photo of the man in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. First off, do you ever feel that one image overshadowed the rest of the work you did during the student protests there?
Well, it didn’t actually happen that way. When I got back from China, I went into Michael Rand’s office at theSunday Times Magazine. He was laying out one of my photos on the cover of the magazine, but it was another of the photos from my trip —a topless guy with his arms raised. That became equally well known for a while. The “Tank Man” picture grew in importance over time, but it didn’t actually stand out far from the body of work immediately after the event.
But yes, in more recent years people talk about that photo a lot. Does it annoy me? Well, you can’t really be annoyed about it. I am just glad I was there. All I know is that I did my job and I think I did it well.
VICE on HBO Is Coming Back for Round 2!
Good afternoon, ladies and germs. We’d just like to borrow your attentions for a moment to let you know our TV show, VICE, has been renewed for a second season on HBO. It took a lot of work, some of us almost died a bunch of times, there were many sleepless nights, high points and low, and now we’re gearing up to do it all over again and can’t wait. According to our co-founder, Shane Smith, “We learned a lot over the course of shooting season one, and are insanely excited over our story selection for season two. Now that our various parasites, hernias, and virulent rashes have been treated, we are ready in mind and in body to go out there and get the gold.” Here, here.
This is the part where we’re supposed to thank you guys for watching, we think (we’re kind of winging it here—never had to write one of these before). And although it’s a cliched sentiment that people in sparkly clothes at fancy awards shows like to wax on about, it’s true that we wouldn’t be getting a second season if you people weren’t watching our show and enjoying all the weird crap we get ourselves in to. So thank you.
Don’t forget to watch tomorrow night’s season finale, which is entirely devoted to our recent trip to North Korea, and we’ll see you next year.
Hiding Your Calls and Texts from Big Brother
The recent news reports that the US government can pull whatever data it wants from the internet and has free rein to peek at your phone records might have been shocking initially, but really they just underscored something already known (or at least assumed) by lots of people—we’re being watched pretty much all the time. Thanks to all the technology we casually use every day, everyone from corporations to government intelligence agencies to petty criminals have the opportunity to snoop through our stuff on a level that would have been unimaginable just a couple of decades ago. There are some measures you can take to hide from the NSA, but one of the most aggressive ways to guard your data is using the products available from Silent Circle, a tech start-up that sells software that encrypts calls, texts, emails, and files. The company, which has been around since last year, employs well-known cryptography experts like Jon Callas and Phil Zimmermann, the creator of the widely used PGP email encryption program, and they also own servers in Canada and Switzerland, where the laws are more privacy-friendly than those of the US. Even if they did open their servers to law enforcement or other government agencies, they say, there’s little to find there—the keys to decipher their customers’ encrypted calls and messages are generated on the users’ own devices and automatically deleted shortly afterward.
Obviously, a company providing a way for individuals—and potentially criminals—to communicate in secret might worry law-enforcement agencies. But Silent Circle isn’t worried about that, and they say that they abide by the laws while giving people an edge over data-gathering busybodies. I recently chatted on the phone with CEO Mike Janke and CTO Jon Callas about the right to privacy, what I got wrong in a previous article, and why even the FBI is buying their products.
VICE: Surveillance is in the news because of the NSA stuff. But obviously, the government isn’t the only one monitoring people and collecting information. What are some common non-NSA threats to people’s privacy?
Jon Callas: The first obvious one is the Chinese government, who do an awful lot of spying, particularly on people who do business. Then there is the usual gang of identity-stealing criminals usually based in Eastern Europe. And there are a lot of cases when, if you’re in business, there are specific people who might engage in espionage against you. There are a lot of industries where the companies spy on each other all the time.
Mike Janke: For the average citizen, it’s not just about the threat of criminal hackers. Many other countries in the world have organizations similar to our NSA with very similar mandates, and many of those operate without the same type of oversight the US has, if you want to call it oversight. Also, how do you feel from a personal privacy perspective that your texts, the websites you shop on, the calls you make—whether it’s to an illicit lover or for a business deal—the pictures you share, and the documents you send are being collected, collated, repackaged, and sold as data? Where is your version of privacy and what do you use to reign [surveillance] in?
Do you think that this is a moral question? Do we have a fundamental right to keep our communications private?
Jon: Absolutely. In my view, in Silent Circle’s view, every person in this world, regardless of their station in life or religion, should expect a level of basic human privacy. And many of the people on the internet have no understanding on what level they are giving that up.