Confessions of an Ex-Ex-Gay

Depressing narrative:

“Are you gay?” she asked. I blurted out that I was.

“I knew it, ever since you were a little boy.”

Her resignation didn’t last long. My mom is a problem solver, and the next day she handed me a stack of papers she had printed out from the Internet about reorientation, or “ex-gay,” therapy. I threw them away. I said I didn’t see how talking about myself in a therapist’s office was going to make me stop liking guys. My mother responded by asking whether I wanted a family, then posed a hypothetical: “If there were a pill you could take that would make you straight, would you take it?”


Cephalopod Intelligence

Octopuses are really damn intelligent, and weird:

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.

“It is as if each arm has a mind of its own,” says Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and an admirer of octopuses. For example, researchers who cut off an octopus’s arm (which the octopus can regrow) discovered that not only does the arm crawl away on its own, but if the arm meets a food item, it seizes it—and tries to pass it to where the mouth would be if the arm were still connected to its body.


The Mafia of Naples

A look at one of the most powerful mob bosses of Italy:

And maybe that doesn’t matter. People may wring their hands about the horror of it all, but this is Naples, one of the great alternatives to modern life. It is possible that the world should no more root out the Camorra than make Neapolitans operate on time. And then there is the practical side. An anti-Mafia judge told me that some of the police—even those who have not been corrupted—would rather not see the government prevail, because they fear the even greater disorder that would result. Another judge pointed out to me that the government needs the Camorra for social control. He said, “For a political leader, it’s easier to speak to a Camorra boss than to 100,000 people to get a message across.” More than that, he said: the Camorra sets standards, enforces laws, keeps police power itself in check, fends off aggressive tax collectors, employs a huge percentage of the population, creates and distributes wealth more efficiently than any other sector of society, and stands in to keep things going, especially in times like these, when the national economy has failed and the currency itself is at risk.


The Impact of AC

On the tremendous and widespread impact of air conditioning:

Before air conditioning, in a bygone and surely less comfortable era, people employed all sorts of strategies for keeping cool in the heat. Houses were designed with airflow in mind — more windows, higher ceilings. A style once prevalent in the American south, the dogtrot house, was really two smaller cabins — one for cooking and the other for living — connected under one roof with an open-air corridor between them. In addition, many homes had porches where families could spend a hot day, and also sleeping porches with beds where they could ride out a hot night. Many home designs took passive solar design principles into account, even if they didn’t name them as such.

Besides housing design, people had other tricks: taking naps during the heat of the day, carrying hand-held fans around, and, of course, swimming. My grandmother told me she used to pay a bus fare and sit on the open, upper deck for hours, riding all around the city.


The Case of the 500-Mile Email

One day, the range of successful emails was “500 miles, or a little bit more”:

I was working in a job running the campus email system some years ago when
I got a call from the chairman of the statistics department.

“We’re having a problem sending email out of the department.”

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“We can’t send mail more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.

I choked on my latte.  “Come again?”

“We can’t send mail farther than 500 miles from here,” he repeated.  “A
little bit more, actually.  Call it 520 miles.  But no farther.”

“Um… Email really doesn’t work that way, generally,” I said, trying to
keep panic out of my voice.  One doesn’t display panic when speaking to a
department chairman, even of a relatively impoverished department like
statistics.  “What makes you think you can’t send mail more than 500
miles?”

“It’s not what I *think*,” the chairman replied testily.  “You see, when
we first noticed this happening, a few days ago–”

“You waited a few DAYS?” I interrupted, a tremor tinging my voice.  “And
you couldn’t send email this whole time?”

“We could send email.  Just not more than–”

“–500 miles, yes,” I finished for him, “I got that.”


The Mob and The Rust Belt

The mob, a congressman, and the rust belt:

Today, the Mahoning valley is one of the most depressed corners of America. But it wasn’t economic bust that first brought the mob to the valley; it was economic boom. In the early years of the twentieth century, the valley–a thin corridor of land that twists and turns its way through northern Ohio–was the heart of an industrial empire. Steel mills stretched as far as the eye could see, their furnaces streaking the sky with 15-foot flames. For more than 50 years, their lights drew immigrants–Poles and Greeks and Italians and Slovaks who thought they had found the Ruhr Valley of America–as well as a burgeoning class of racketeers who thought they had found their own “Little Chicago.” Youngstown’s streets were lined with after-hours joints, where the steelworkers drank and played Barbut, a Turkish dice game, and where capos, dressed in white-brimmed hats and armed with stilettos, ran the numbers, or “bug,” as the locals called it. Youngstown in the 1940s wasn’t particularly unusual. Like Chicago, Buffalo, or Detroit, it had a teeming immigrant population accustomed to arbitrary and violent authority, a booming economy, and pliable local politicians and police–all the ingredients the mob needed to flourish.

But, unlike those larger cities, Youngstown was too small to have a mob family of its own. And, as a result, it turned into a battlefield. By 1950, as the rackets mushroomed into a multimillion-dollar industry, the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Mafia families began fighting for control of the region. Bombings began to ricochet through the valley–warnings to those who allied themselves with the wrong side. It got so bad over the next two decades that the local radio station ran public-service ads featuring an earsplitting bang and the slogan “Stop the bomb!” In 1963, The Saturday Evening Post dubbed the area “Crimetown U.S.A.,” noting: “Officials hobnob openly with criminals. Arrests of racketeers are rare, convictions rarer still and tough sentences almost unheard of.”

Shortly after Bob Kroner arrived in the valley in 1976 as a 29-year-old FBI agent, a full-scale war broke out. On one side was Joey Naples’s and Lenny Strollo’s faction, which was controlled by the Pittsburgh Mafia; on the other were the Carabbia brothers–known in town as simply “Charlie the Crab” and “Orlie the Crab”–who were aligned with Cleveland. “It seemed like you’d get up every morning and get in your car and hear someone else had been murdered,” says Kroner.


Bear Criminal Justice

How to solve a crime where the perpetrator is a bear:

At this point, the main suspect in Wallace’s death was a grizzly bear with offspring, whose home range was somewhere in the Hayden Valley—a lush, meadow-filled expanse in the middle of Yellowstone, about 20 miles northeast across the park’s Central Plateau from its most famous landmark, the Old Faithful geyser. Rangers knew there was at least one bear that fit the description—and she already had a criminal record. The so-called Wapiti sow had already killed a tourist in July and given some other park visitors a fright.