Stories by Tony Dokoupil

  • Did the Housing Crisis Help Prop 8 Pass?

    The great recession may be to blame for stirring up the culture wars: according to a study in the winter issue of the American Sociological Review, resistance to gay marriage deepens significantly during hard times. In conservative parts of the 30 states that have blocked same-sex unions (where ballot measures tend to be won or lost), researchers found that each 10 percent drop in homeownership led to a 5 percent increase in support for a ban. Other signs of a community in trouble—including spikes in the crime rate and the percentage of people moving—also tracked with heightened opposition. When people think their neighborhood is breaking down, says Notre Dame professor Rory McVeigh, a coauthor of the study, "they think gay marriage is only going to make things worse."That's bad news for gay-advocacy groups, as much of the country remains racked by the housing crisis. In California, where foreclosure rates are among the highest in the nation, it could help explain how Proposition 8...
  • Texas Panel Studies Wrongful Convictions

    Since the late 1990s, DNA evidence has cleared hundreds of people mistakenly put behind bars. In doing so, it's tarnished that staple of crime solving: the police lineup. Almost 80 percent of the wrongly accused were first fingered by an alleged eyewitness (who zeroed in on them in a traditional photo, or in-person, "six-pack"). For years the push to improve the system has stalled, with just nine states enforcing tightened procedures. These include requiring police to show pictures or suspects one at a time, and having an officer without knowledge of the case administer the lineup—processes that psychologists say are more reliable. Meanwhile, at least 17 other states and some major cities have resisted these changes, partly because a 2006 Chicago Police Department study found the new system to be worse than the old one, and partly because the Supreme Court has upheld entrenched lineup methodology.But reform could soon come from the unlikeliest of places: Texas. This fall a special...
  • Kentucky: Home to the Next Yucca Mountain?

    President Obama has called for a new generation of nuclear-power plants. But when he abandoned plans to store the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, he effectively forced states eager to break ground on reactors to accept the idea of keeping that waste within their borders—not a popular idea since the Three Mile Island meltdown. But could Kentucky become home to an alternative? Its state Senate recently approved a bill that would OK nuclear-waste storage. And Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, says storing other states' waste "would certainly attract a lot of interest from our administration."For a coal-rich area without an existing plant, Kentucky's openness is a sign, say energy analysts, that anxiety about waste storage is waning. It's "a tipping point," says Vanderbilt professor Charles Powers, an expert on nuclear-waste solutions. Still, don't expect resistance to end overnight: Kentucky's bill could die in the House, as did two previous...
  • A Coming Medical Marijuana Battle in Colorado?

    With more medical-marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks outlets, Denver has emerged as the per capita frontrunner for curative ganja. As more residents partake of doctor-prescribed pot, however, questions are emerging about where the line is between an employee's right to use medical marijuana and an employer's right to a drug-free office.Employers, of course, don't need to accommodate a worker who shows up stoned. But can someone who legally tokes on his own time, and whose performance isn't hurt, be fired for failing a drug test? "We're in uncharted territory," says Vance Knapp, a Denver employment lawyer who expects the issue to be tested in the courts soon.So far, judges in California, Washington, Montana, and Oregon have sided with employers. But because Colorado's medical-marijuana laws are in its constitution, not just statutes, legal experts give the edge in any test case to employees. That could mean a breakthrough victory for users, swinging momentum their way and giving...
  • The Best Thing for a Baby's Colic: Treating the Parent's Nerves

    Today we have a guest post from colleague Tony Dokoupil.We had known each other just a few weeks when the fights began. They were ugly affairs, full of kicks and screams that raged all day and night. Hours turned into days, then weeks, then months – and still the drama continued. “Things will get better,” people said. But that was hard to believe right there in the center ring. We needed help. And that’s when the real confusion set in.Nearly one in five babies – like my own – display the prolonged shrieks that characterize colic. But nobody knows what causes it – one leading medical dictionary defines it as “benign pain,” a devious concept – and researchers shrug off as a natural stage of development shared by baby chimps, gulls and even beetle larvae. None of which offers much succor for newly-minted, sleep-deprived parents. “I distinctly remember standing on a balcony with Quinn squawking in my arms and wondering what I would do if it wasn’t against the law to hurl her off it,”...
  • Cougar Hunting: Apple's Cat Options Dwindle

    Apple's latest operating system, known as "Snow Leopard," resolved dozens of headaches for users. But it may herald a new one for the company's marketing team: trying to come up with yet another big-cat name for the next version of the OS. After Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, and two types of Leopards, are there any more marquee felines left to poach? Yes, but none that Apple is likely to want. ...
  • In Defense of Permissive Parenting: Why Talking Back May Lead to Smarter Kids

    Inside a convenience store, Xenia is battling her 4-year-old son, Paulino, over buying a soft drink. She wants him to try a small size, he wants a larger one. "That one does not work," she says, referring to the rack of big cups. "These [smaller] ones do."Xenia eventually won the battle over beverages, but she may have lost the parenting war, according to a pair of new studies, highlighting how small differences in communication style can have a large impact on kids. And in many cases, it's minority families like this one (Xenia and Paulino are Mexican-American) that suffer the most.  Moms, dads, or caregivers who mainly talk to their offspring using commands, like Xenia, who was cited in the study, rather than reasoning may get their kids to do what they want, but they also fail to develop their children’s minds, the research out of the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA suggests.The findings have particular significance for minority communities...
  • Q&A: Author Alain de Botton Gave His Last Reading at ... Heathrow!?

    Over the last decade, British author Alain de Botton has built an empire out of his cotton-candy approach to big ideas. In a fistful of hits—including Status Anxiety, The Architecture of Happiness, and The Consolations of Philosophy—as well as numerous BBC and PBS documentaries, he’s offered a clever look at Western civilization, all from the mercilessly pragmatic perspective of what helps people live more fulfilling lives. But while his style has certainly sold books—more than 5 million worldwide—it has also drawn gob-smacking levels of professional scorn. The New York Times’s Jim Holt called his work “piffle dressed up in pompous language,” feminist critic Naomi Wolf wrote that “40 pages into his newest offering I was ready to hurl it across the room,” and Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker described de Botton as “an absolute pair-of-aching-balls of a man—a slapheaded, ruby-lipped pop philosopher who's forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious in a series of...
  • Wine Drinkers' Carbon Footprint

    At least they are if you live in the Big Apple. A New Yorker leaves a smaller carbon footprint drinking a French Bordeaux shipped across the Atlantic (2.93 pounds of carbon per bottle) than drinking a Napa merlot (7.05 pounds). That's because when it comes to calculating carbon costs, the method of transportation matters as much as the distance. Shipping freight by sea generates less than half the emissions associated with airplanes and tractor-trailers.
  • Older Brains Hatch New Ideas

    Earlier generations of scientists didn't have to wade through quite as much preexisting work before making an original contribution. Now innovators are establishing themselves much later in life. Over the last century and a half, the average age of a Nobel Prize winner at the moment of his great breakthrough has risen more than five years, from 34 to almost 39 years old. Run-of-the-mill inventors are also older: the average age for registering first major patents has jumped seven months per decade.
  • Recalling the Upside of the Great Depression

    History largely records the 1930s as a bleak chapter in American life. But some famous survivors fondly recall a time of resourcefulness, altruism, and even joy.
  • Books: Why Work Sucks

    If you're lucky enough to have a job—especially a cushy, high-status job—you might feel guilty about how much you hate it. Prosperity perpetuated a little white lie: that work is supposed to make us happy. But the office is a fickle friend, according to British author Alain de Botton, who in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work spotlights life in 10 alternately routine and rarefied industries, including accounting, rocket science and cookie marketing. His implicit question, "When does a job feel good?" is answered with brutal calm: "Rarely." The tragedy is that we expect anything more.For most of human history, work was seen as penance, punishment or a necessary evil. But with the creation of meritocratic America—an "aristocracy of talent and virtue," as Thomas Jefferson described it—toil was transformed into an expression of identity, a way for people to measure themselves and others. "What do you do?" entered the social lexicon as an unavoidable acid test of relevance, while the...
  • The Translation Wars, Starring Douglas Hofstadter

    In the literary world, translators are low in the pecking order. Titans like Milan Kundera and Isaac Bashevis Singer have branded them traitors for betraying the beauty of the original text, so most keep their heads down and hew closely to the source material. In their 2007 version of "War and Peace," translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky preserved Tolstoy's use of "wept" seven times in a single scene. But hold on a minute—is such slavish devotion really the right approach?No, says Douglas Hofstadter, Indiana University's Pulitzer Prize–winning cognitive scientist, who moonlights as a translator. In an afterword to his third work, Françoise Sagan's "La Chamade," he issues a cri de coeur, urging his brethren to become "co-progenitors"—Ella Fitzgeralds to the author's Cole Porter, as he puts it— who must take liberties or risk failure. In "La Chamade," he punches up flat dialogue, refines blurry descriptions and injects dozens of ready-made phrases (such as "bit his...
  • Debunking the 'Dating a Banker Anonymous' Girls

    It was billed as a blog and support group for Wall Street's saddest cases: the once pampered young women forced to adjust to life without bottle service, Bergdorf Goodman accounts and boom-time sex—the collateral damage caused by thousands of points vanishing in a blink from the Dow. Last month, Dating a Banker Anonymous broke out as the hated, irresistible Website du jour, and it has earned its self-pitying, gold-digging authors some national press, not to mention promises from Hollywood agents of a "Real Housewives"–style media franchise. But hold on a minute—are the DABA girls even for real?Not exactly. DABA cofounder Laney Crowell tells NEWSWEEK that what The New York Times and many other outlets portrayed as a serious Web site is, in fact, a full-blown parody by Crowell and her sidekick Megan Petrus, a Manhattan lawyer. There are no DABA meetings. There is no support group. Crowell and Petrus fill the blog with a liberal mix of their own experiences, anecdotes from girls they...
  • "Age Of Anxiety": America's Love Of Tranquilizers

    America's all-time favorite pill isn't for birth- control, according to historian Andrea Tone. It's a potent little tranquilizer called Miltown, after the New Jersey hamlet where it was born in 1955. The original "mother's little helper" set off a consumer frenzy that emptied drugstores and launched the era of psychiatric cure-alls. But it also raised a perennial question: do we actually need these drugs, or does Big Pharma push them on us? In "The Age of Anxiety," the McGill University professor pans for answers, and finds the blame lies largely with us. ...