Today’s dystopian novels seem less preoccupied with onerous political systems than with digital technology, the silvery glow of iPhone screens inoculating us against ineradicable reality of the grimy un-virtual kind. There will be an estimated 10.9 billion people on Earth by 2100.
Some will live in glass towers where retina-tracking sensors will adjust the ambient temperature and bedside DNA readers will sound a gentle alarm if your TP53 tumor suppressor gene suddenly goes astray; many will live in crowded slums, much as they do today in Bombay and Lagos and Los Angeles.
They will drink the same dirty water the poor have always drunk. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch will grow, as will the hole in the ozone layer. Some of us will exercise by swallowing a pill. Armies will clash, maybe with guns, maybe with sonic cannons. And so we will hurtle into the future.
It’s no surprise that three of our finest novelists - Margaret Atwood, Chang-rae Lee and David Eggers - have recently published dystopian novels that warn against a world pulled apart into pockets of techno-luxury and vast expanses of old-fashioned, unalloyed misery.
We published an extensive Q&A with master-producer Rick Rubin in this week’s issue of Newsweek. It’s pretty much a must-read for any music fans out there, as his influence ranges from the Beastie Boys’ License to Ill to Johnny Cash’s American series to Kanye’s Yeezus. No long read about music is complete, however, without the music itself. So here’s an accompanying Spotify playlist to listen along while you read!
This week’s cover story—Kill Zone—says gun control isn’t about rights in America’s cities. It’s about survival.
SUMMER IS the killing season in American cities. The temperature rises and, yes, tempers do, too. And many young men who might have been in school are out in the streets taunting, hunting, and shooting at each other. Collateral carnage like the slaughter of Tyquran’s mother is inevitable, and for many innocents it’s inescapable in neighborhoods where young guys spray bullets. In Los Angeles County, with an estimated 450 gangs that have 45,000 members, about half the murders are gang related. Young men get shot again and again, and those who survive show a calm pride when they’re wheeled into the trauma units. As a wide-eyed British correspondent reported last week, the doctors call them “frequent fliers.” In Chicago, gang and gun violence is endemic, with 12 shootings last weekend and one death. And in New York, although the murder rate is much lower than the other cities, in the rougher parts of town that’s no guarantee of immunity. Between Friday and Sunday the first weekend in June, 26 people were shot and seven of them killed.
Over the last few months I’ve spent time with the New York Police Department and alone in parts of the city where guns are a way of life, but not in the way that pro-gun-rights partisans usually mean. I met kids like Tyquran and cops like Deputy Chief Theresa Shortell, head of the department’s fast-growing gangs division. And something that ought to be obvious kept hitting me. The embattled streets of the city and the gunland of the heartland are wildly different places, and the failure to understand that difference, and overcome it, is the great American tragedy of our time.
Today in infuriating laws that drastically need to be re-examined, Abigal Pesta takes a deep look at the sad case of Ken Baldino, an 18-year-old senior in high school who spent six years in jail for having sex with his girlfriend, a 14-year-old freshman.
Here’s an excerpt:
ON A RECENT RAINY AFTERNOON, Francie Baldino steps into her kitchen and pulls out a favorite photo of her son as a toddler, dressed in a bee costume. Then she sits down at the table and describes the events that sent him to prison.
Baldino was a remarried mother of two when her son, Ken Thornsberry (who uses his father’s surname), met a girl named Emily Lester at a local Tower Records. The two teenagers were living with their fathers in the wake of divorce; both were struggling to find their footing at home and at school, says Baldino. They attended different high schools, but started spending all their free time together. Eventually, they slept together, although they certainly didn’t announce that to their parents.
Lester, now 22 and living in nearby Lake Orion, Mich., remembers the romance fondly. “I’ll never forget that day we met,” she says, recalling evenings spent wandering the county fair with her boyfriend, or listening to him play guitar in his high-school band. “I’ve never loved someone like Ken.”
Her father disapproved of the relationship, Lester says, and told the pair to split up. (Her father didn’t respond to attempts to contact him.)
The teens didn’t listen. “Ken was young,” says Baldino. “He was in love. He thought nothing bad could happen to him.” She admits that she wishes she had paid more attention, but in hindsight says she was focusing too much on running a graphic-design business.
One morning, Thornsberry drove to Lester’s house when he thought her father would be at work. His plan, he says: to pick up some belongings and drive his girlfriend to school. But her father saw Thornsberry outside the home and the two started arguing. Thornsberry kicked open the front door and hurled a sugar bowl at the TV. The father called the police. Thornsberry was arrested for home invasion.
When questioned by detectives, Thornsberry, then 18, admitted to sleeping with his 14-year-old girlfriend. On the advice of his attorney, he pleaded guilty to criminal sexual misconduct and was sentenced to a year in jail followed by three years’ probation, during which time he could not be around minors, including his girlfriend. He would also go on the sex-offender registry, which would list his home address and other personal information, for 25 years.
Keep reading. It’s a long read but well worth it for its examination of the merits of jailing high school lovers because the law says what they’re up to is illegal. What’s most frustrating about this to us is it completely denies the kid, Ken, of a normal young adulthood in which he would’ve learned the skills necessary to be a normal contributing member of society. Nice job, government.
Update: The New York Times' Motherlode blog weighs in, asking, “How do we balance protecting children on the cusp of teenage life with not destroying the lives of teenagers barely over the edge of legal adulthood? Neither jail nor a free pass feels like the right answer.”