Opinion | Natural Born Settlers

Op-Docs

I’d never understood the Israeli settlers. So I moved in with them.

By Iris Zaki

Dr. Zaki is an Israeli filmmaker.

March 19, 2019

This video is part of a series by independent filmmakers supported by the Pulitzer Center.

To someone like me, the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories had always seemed like a burden, and an obstacle to peace. They annoyed me when I read the news and embarrassed me when I introduced myself as an Israeli. I had so many opinions about them. But, I realized, I’d never actually met a settler in person.

So I decided to move from my home in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv to the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank for a summer. I wanted to make a film about my experiences as I got to know the settlers I’d formed so many conclusions about. These settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, and tend to be depicted in extreme ways that don’t seem realistic.

Many films have been made about the violent settlers of Hebron and about the founders of the settlement movement, as well as about rare stories of friendship between Jews and Palestinians. For my film, I decided to focus on the gray area in between, to sit down and chat with settlers my age over coffee. Maybe we had more in common than I thought?

So I crossed the border — both the actual border between Israel and the settlements in the West Bank, and the boundaries of my own comfort zone. I wanted to hear about settlers’ experiences, and about their justifications for choosing to live where they do. At the same time, I figured the experience would let me share my uneasiness with the consequences of their decision for the Palestinians and for Israeli society. As long as the settlements exist, peace in the Middle East remains a tenuous prospect.

Moving to a settlement is hardly an easy affair, but the discomfort inherent in placing myself in a community where my presence alone is a source of tension felt necessary to me. The act of becoming a settler, however briefly (and against my own political ideology), allowed for a rare intimacy to emerge between camera and subject. Only through this discomfort is it possible to reach something deeper, and more essential, about Israel’s fractured society, but also, in a wider context, about trying to establish an honest dialogue between people of different perspectives.

Iris Zaki is a Tel Aviv-based filmmaker. This Op-Doc is adapted from her feature documentary “Unsettling.” Her previous Op-Doc is “Shampoo Summit.”

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[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/opinion/israel-settlements.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

I Detest the N.R.A. What Should I Do With My Gun?

As a gun owner who abhors the ‘‘slippery slope’’ philosophy of the N.R.A., every new mass shooting sickens me. I would like to sell one of my three weapons and give the proceeds to March for Our Lives or Everytown for Gun Safety. Is it better to: 1) Sell it knowing the $750-$1,000 would do some good; 2) Keep the gun knowing it won’t be used; or 3) Destroy it/surrender it to the police for disposal? Name Withheld

By the ‘‘slippery slope’’ philosophy of the N.R.A., I assume you mean its tendency to argue that any proposed gun regulation is a step toward canceling the Second Amendment: to equate restriction with abolition. I assume too that you think that some of these mass shootings could have been stopped by laws that the N.R.A. opposes and that are nevertheless consistent with the Constitution. The gun-control organizations you mention share those beliefs; sending them a check would express your support and enable you to join the community of people trying to do something about gun violence.

But the case against (1) is that your check, which isn’t going to make the difference between success and failure for either of these gun-control groups, scarcely changes the likelihood of future gun deaths, while selling the gun marginally increases the likelihood that it will end up being used in a crime. As for (2), you can’t be absolutely sure that a gun won’t cause harm just because it’s in your house. For one thing, someone might break in and steal it; for another, you might use it against yourself. Suicide, remember, accounts for a majority of gun-related deaths. If you went for (3), you could render the gun harmless by having it destroyed, but doing so wouldn’t much change the likelihood of future gun deaths, either.

One reason that I have misgivings about what’s been called ‘‘quandary ethics’’ — ethics conceived of as solving puzzles like these — is that, as in this case, it can be close to impossible to calculate the costs and benefits of the various outcomes you consider. A deeper problem is that there are typically options you haven’t considered. In this case, you could wait for a gun-buyback program — they’ve had these recently in many cities — and send the money (which would be less than the market value of your weapon) to one of these organizations, thus both supporting gun control and making sure that the weapon won’t be used for malign purposes.

For that matter, you could throw yourself into the work of one of these organizations, which are going to succeed only if more of their supporters aren’t content with just sending them money. The influence of the N.R.A. can’t be reduced to the power of the purse; though its political expenditures far exceed those of gun-control groups, its finances are surprisingly precarious. And note that the labor sector, say, hugely outspends it, while its political power has seemed to diminish. Many political experts would say that the N.R.A.’s ability to mobilize its millions of members has a lot to do with its efficacy. If gun control matters to you, your support shouldn’t be limited to your checkbook.

I agreed to sponsor a cousin’s immigration application, which involved affirming I can and will provide the applicant with a financial safety net for seven years. I’d met the cousin only once, but I count his aunts among my favorite relatives and was told by his father that he is financially independent, hardworking and eager to contribute to his new homeland.

With the process underway, my cousin’s father came to visit, and the two insisted on conveying their gratitude by hosting my family at a brunch. Somehow the subject of Trump came up. Though my husband and I did not vote for the president, we maintain relationships with friends and family who did. Yet hearing the young man that we put on the road to citizenship express his admiration for Trump and his anti-immigration policies struck us as odd.

I prodded ever so gently: At what point should the president close the gate — before or after your papers are finalized? Without a hint of irony, he clarified that, of course, he was referring to the wrong kind of immigrants.

Hours later, I couldn’t shake the notion that we’d made a terrible mistake. Yes, my husband and I refuse to allow politics to define our social circle, but could we remain neutral, knowing that we’d inadvertently recruited a new supporter of Trump’s views on immigration, which we regard as racist — or worse? And if we decide that we cannot, should we break with our extended family by revoking our support of my cousin’s application? Or could we let the cousin know that we find his views on immigration hypocritical and make our ongoing support of his application contingent on his joining the 50 percent of Americans who choose not to exercise their right to vote? Name Withheld

I’m not sure you’ve found a great way to model social tolerance. Your cousin sounds pretty blinkered in his views, I’ll grant. But adding one more bigot to the American population isn’t going to make a difference in our politics. And if he ends up, as is most likely, living in one of our great, culturally plural metropolises, his views on immigration may well evolve. Either way, it would be wrong to try to blackmail him into not exercising the right to vote — and ineffectual, because such an agreement would be unenforceable.

Nor is it fair, at this point, to pull out from your affidavit of support, unless you think that something you were told and that you therefore attested to was substantially untrue. You do have every right to tell him — like anyone else who expresses political views you consider odious — why you think he’s wrong. Given what you have done for him, he owes it to you to pay attention to what you say. But if your sponsoring your cousin was right, it didn’t become wrong when you learned about his opinions.

The point can be broadened. Policies you support in principle aren’t invalidated when their beneficiaries turn out to have vexing or perverse views. We don’t withdraw Social Security Disability Insurance from those who think that its other beneficiaries are largely wastrels. We don’t deny Medicare coverage to those who are skeptical of the program. We can’t give up on public-health measures to reduce suicide simply because suicide rates are highest in ‘‘red state’’ regions that aren’t inclined to back such measures. And a partisan who favors only the expanded immigration of people inclined to support her party isn’t interested in immigration reform; she’s interested in allies. Your cousin’s views, as I say, may evolve; perhaps yours will, too.

My stepdaughter-in-law confided in me that she is planning on leaving my stepson. They have a young child. She also informed me that she’s gay. She asked me to be discreet with this information, but I feel compelled to do something; I don’t feel that it’s fair for my stepson to be hit out of the blue. Is there a way for me to encourage her to talk to her husband, or should I say something directly to him? I’m fine with keeping the information about her sexuality secret. It’s more her plan to dump him that is weighing on me. I’m concerned not only for his well-being but also for how this secret could affect my relationship with him if he finds out I knew and didn’t say anything. Name Withheld

Let me invoke a rule I’ve posited before: In normal circumstances, when someone tells you something with the implicit expectation that you won’t pass it on, you shouldn’t break that confidence without first telling her. The confidence sharer has the right to try to dissuade you and the right to pre-empt you by passing on the information and managing the consequences herself. So tell your stepdaughter-in-law what you’re thinking. And what you’re thinking is correct: Your stepson has a right to know that she’s planning to leave him. She should come clean. And if she won’t, you should. (A discussion of her reasons should indeed remain between the couple.) You’re also correct to fear that your relationship with your stepson could be damaged by your reticence: He would be within his rights to consider it a betrayal.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/magazine/i-detest-the-nra-what-should-i-do-with-my-gun.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Letter of Recommendation: Revolving Restaurants

When I was 9, my dad took me to lunch at 360 Restaurant in Toronto’s CN Tower, then the tallest free-standing tower in the world. At the time, we lived in Saskatchewan, where my father was a judge serving the remote, northern parts of the province, flying into far-flung communities for court. Though this eventually took a toll on my family, as a child I always associated my dad’s absence with romantic adventure, and this father-son trip to Toronto only deepened my sense that any life away from home was one characterized by rich, unending discovery. It’s the visit to the CN Tower that still stands out most in my mind about that trip: Dining in a rotating restaurant in the sky, in a city so big that you could not clearly distinguish its edges, seemed to me the greatest thing in the world. Each moment, something new.

For decades, the world’s most famous revolving restaurant was located atop the Seattle Space Needle, which was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and literally named for the Space Age optimism of the era. From the late 1950s through the ’70s, dozens of cities in the United States and Europe built towers capped with rotating restaurants: the Florianturm in Dortmund, Germany (1959), was the first, followed by the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu (1961). Many more popped up around the world — the BT Tower in London, the Grand Nile Tower in Cairo, the Holiday Inn in Beirut — until they fell out of favor in the 1980s and ’90s. You might reasonably dismiss revolving restaurants as kitsch, or worse: imperious eyesores, turning a city’s skyline into a tacky tribute to “The Jetsons.” That’s not to mention the food, which is as overpriced as it is beside the point. For me, these restaurants have always evoked the spirit of ridiculous audacity that many of our cities lack today. They’re civic boosterism in physical form: We built a tower so you can properly enjoy the other towers we’re so proud of having built.

A Connecticut-based company called Macton built the bulk of America’s revolving restaurants — more than 100 — during the trend’s glory days. The company still exists, but the reigning king of the rotating-restaurant space is now a Chinese firm called Weizhong. That should come as little surprise, considering that most of the world’s new revolving restaurants over the last 20 years have been built in Asia. My own wanderings, both professional and personal, eventually took me there for many years abroad, mostly in China. In Asia, audacity reigns. Ceaseless development is certainly not good in and of itself, but it does, at least to some degree, speak to the prevailing sentiment of a people.

Every time I took the train from Beijing to Shanghai, there seemed to be a new skyline-defining building twisting into the clouds. I went on a reporting trip to Guangzhou, a city that I had scarcely heard of, and found that from almost any vantage point of modest height, you could spot an enormous tower. It was the Canton Tower, which, at 1,982 feet, surpassed the CN as the world’s tallest free-standing tower when it opened in 2010 — and yes, it had a revolving restaurant. (It has since been surpassed by a tower in Tokyo, topped by a restaurant that doesn’t revolve.)

Once, on an assignment in North Korea, I had a beer in the revolving restaurant on top of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, whose fortresslike structure in Pyongyang is one of the few places in the capital where foreigners are allowed to stay. The restaurant spun so slowly you could barely tell, offering views of what was a pretty spectacular city, at least to the eye: Futuristic skyscrapers, monuments to the leaders, urban sprawl out to the mountains. Unmissable was the Ryugyong Hotel, the unfinished pyramidal structure that was to feature not one but five rotating restaurants. Pyongyang may be decades behind its neighbors, but the towers said otherwise: Ours is a city to behold, to marvel at.

When I moved to New York City from Beijing in 2013, I had the surreal feeling that I had come from the future to a not-so-distant past. In China, I’d experienced six years of near relentless optimism. In the United States, I encountered a kind of pessimism and listlessness that I didn’t expect. It was almost as if Americans had settled for a kind of Yelp-reviewed urban sameness: third-wave coffee shops and facsimiles of Brooklyn bars. The same is true in Europe. Same polished concrete floors, same nebulous sense of where you are. Purgatory is a cafe stacked with Kinfolk.

I started to wonder if New York even had a revolving restaurant, and I was happy to find that it did: the View, which opened in the Marriott Marquis in Times Square almost 35 years ago. I met a friend there for drinks after work one day. A John Mayer song was playing, and there was a buffet with a chocolate fountain. I ordered a gin martini with a lemon twist. The rotation was faster than I thought it would be — a 360-degree turn per hour — resulting in a slightly disorienting feeling that went well with alcohol. Our server told us that when she travels, she likes to check out the competition, visiting revolving restaurants in cities such as Auckland, New Zealand; Hong Kong; and Vancouver, British Columbia — a fact my companion and I found delightful as we sipped our second martinis, marveling at the sheer might and scale of Midtown Manhattan as it silently zipped by. I found myself relieved by a gentle reminder that maybe I’d come to the right place, after all — New York City, this great experiment. The audacity still exists here. You just have to look for it.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/magazine/letter-of-recommendation-revolving-restaurants.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

11 Movies You Need to See at New Directors/New Films

Every spring, the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center present New Yorkers with the cinematic miscellany known as New Directors/New Films. This year’s program of movies, many gleaned from the international festival circuit, runs the gamut from the glorious to the grim and includes works of socially conscious realism, historical fantasy and experimental documentary. Our chief film critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, offer these highlights.

‘Angelo’

Some time in the 18th century, a young African boy is purchased by a European noblewoman and subjected to a curious form of enslavement. Given the name Angelo, he grows up among aristocrats who treat him not as a servant but as a curio and a symbol of their own benevolence. Angelo’s biography feels like both a plausibly factual chronicle and a fantastical allegory. Shot with classical rigor and attention to detail (with room for a few telling anachronisms), the Austrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer’s second feature presents history as a lavish, lucid nightmare from which nobody, Angelo least of all, can hope to awaken. (A.O. Scott)

‘Belonging’

A tale twice told, the ingenious Turkish puzzle “Belonging” opens with an unseen narrator introducing the story and then another voice delivering a just-the-facts description of a murder. Detailed, largely affectless and sometimes rushed, this recitation accompanies images that initially seem completely unrelated, even random. In time, though, words and images begin syncing up — we hear “the security chain was locked” over a shot of a safety chain lock — creating a seamless correspondence between what we hear and see. The writer-director Burak Cevik then flips the switch and the movie shifts into a more lyrical narrative register, one that fills in all the little nuances, most notably the intimate in-between moments that both explain and obscure so much. (Manohla Dargis)

Lila Avilés’s debut feature never leaves the high-rise Mexico City hotel where its title character, Eve (Gabriela Cartol), works long hours cleaning rooms with spectacular views. The effect of is claustrophobic, but also strangely serene, even sublime. The camera follows Eve through daily routines that include awkward encounters with guests, friendly exchanges with co-workers and curt meetings with supervisors. Our sense of exploitation and alienation is palpable, but the moments of beauty, tenderness and freedom that punctuate the drudgery provide flickers of humanity that feel almost miraculous. (A.O.S.)

‘Clemency’

Chinonye Chukwu’s film, which opens New Directors, is a somber, ethically serious consideration of the death penalty. It’s an issue movie that wants to be thought-provoking rather than polemical. It is also a showcase for the formidable talents of Alfre Woodard, who plays the warden of a prison where executions are a regular part of life. As the next one approaches (the condemned man is played by Aldis Hodge) the warden struggles with emotions that threaten every aspect of her identity, professional and personal. Woodard enacts this struggle with minimal vanity and abundant grace. (A.O.S.)

In 2004, María Alché appeared in “The Holy Girl,” the Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s haunting second feature. Fifteen years later, Alché’s directing debut shows signs of Martel’s influence in its blend of oblique narration and subtle psychological insight. But Alché, who is also an accomplished photographer, brings her own arresting visual sensibility to this story of grief, longing and memory. Mercedes Moran plays a middle-aged mother of three almost-grown children who is thrown off balance by the death of her sister. During her mourning period, nothing much happens, and yet everything happens, as Alché and Moran practice a kind of emotional sonar, picking up signals that lie deep under the dramatic surface. (A.O.S.)

‘Honeyland’

The documentary “Honeyland” contains worlds in one beautiful, seemingly simple story. Its focus, Hatidze Muratova, lives in a tiny stone house in remote northern Macedonia with her octogenarian mother, a plucky dog and an irregular number of cats. Her passion and apparent livelihood, though, are the wild bees she tends — keeping is too possessive — with hand flaps, vocalizations and deep respect. The directors Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska don’t overexplain this world, its history or seemingly fragile present, including the origin of the chaotic, sprawling family who soon moves in and begins taking over the bees. The family’s at times infuriating disruptions (animal lovers beware) turn this quiet, moving observational documentary into a heart-skipping thriller as well as a perfect encapsulation of humanity’s catastrophic domination of nature. (M.D.)

‘The Load’

During the Kosovo war in 1999, against a backdrop of NATO bombardment, a Serbian truck driver (Leon Lucev), transports a mysterious cargo toward Belgrade. He gives a ride to a young man whose reasons for traveling are equally enigmatic, and the two of them make their way across a chilly, drab landscape in this mordant, minimalist road picture, directed by Ognjen Glavonic, who leavens the journey with hints of suspense and glints of absurdist humor. This isn’t “The Wages of Fear” so much as the dividends of existential anxiety and political despair. (A.O.S.)

‘Midnight Family’

If it bleeds, it leads — and pays the bills. That’s the uneasy truism and slow-boiling moral of the gripping documentary “Midnight Family,” about a household of ambulance workers. The title isn’t metaphoric (or not exactly), but refers to the Ochoas, who operate one of the many private ambulances that race through Mexico City. Fantastically shot by the director Luke Lorentzen, the documentary develops an urgency that suits the life-or-death stakes onscreen. By turns terrifying and exhilarating, “Midnight Family” unfolds with such velocity that it may take a while for your ethical doubts to catch up to what’s happening. When they do, they leave you gasping. (M.D.)

‘Monos’

The pig’s head on a stick, posted in a jungle encampment occupied by a pack of feral children, pays obvious homage to “Lord of the Flies.” But Alejandro Landes’s “Monos” infuses the themes of that schoolboy parable with a grim, contemporary political perspective and filters them through cinematic influences that include Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog. The kids are members of a guerrilla army in the Colombian countryside. Their mission is to guard an American hostage played by Julianne Nicholson. A lot goes wrong. As the action shifts from mountains to rain forest, Landes makes clever use of drone-mounted cameras and trippy sound design to turn the natural world into a hallucination. Unless the human characters are figments dreamed up by the landscape. (A.O.S.)

‘Share’

When 16-year-old Mandy (an appealing Rhianne Barreto) wakes up on her family’s front lawn one dark day, she finds herself with no memory of and a body marred with wounds. The question of what happened — as well as why, who and where — reverberates through this thoughtful, low-key drama which tracks Mandy’s anguish and anger as a personal trauma increasingly becomes an exploitative public spectacle. As Mandy fights to recover her memory, she struggles with her fears, family and friends, growing progressively more isolated. Making a fine feature debut, the American Pippa Bianco uses a depressingly familiar story of high-school partying gone wrong to explore sometimes uncomfortable questions about gender, agency and collective guilt. (M.D.)

‘Suburban Birds’

Time bends in this sly, often-lovely drama, which pivots on a young surveyor whose past catches up with him while he’s out in the field. At one point, he walks into a seemingly deserted classroom, initiating an enigmatic journey into the past that keeps bumping into the present. Using splashes of primary color, punctuating zooms, visual echoes and narrative ellipses, the Chinese writer-director Qiu Sheng puts a fresh gloss on Faulkner’s observation that the past is never dead. It’s always here, vibrating in every red scarf, bird song and moment. “Suburban Birds” will open soon, but is so good — and delightfully kinked — that it’s well worth catching now (and watching twice). (M.D.)

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/movies/new-directors-new-films-critics-notebook.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Buying Your First Home? Save, and Save Some More

First-time buyers nationwide face similar hurdles.

“If you look at the housing market seven years ago, or eight years ago, qualifying for a mortgage was something more top of mind, because credit was so tight,” said Cheryl Young, a senior economist at Trulia. But recently, saving for a down payment has become a more primary concern.

According to a recent national survey by Trulia, 56 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 said saving enough for a down payment was the biggest barrier to homeownership, followed by rising home prices. Other top concerns included poor credit history and student loan debt, both of which can make it difficult to get a mortgage.

These problems have helped push the median age of home buyers to 46, the oldest age ever recorded by the National Association of Realtors. When the organization started collecting this data in 1981, the median age was 31. But millennials ranging in age from 25 to 34 make up the largest share of home buyers, and the median age for first-time buyers has remained around 30 to 32 for over 20 years.

“The best advice I give younger New York City residents is to try and make money like a New York City professional, but spend like you’re still a college student,” said Robert Stromberg, who works with six-figure earners in their 30s and 40s at his financial planning firm, Mountain River Financial, near Philadelphia. “If you don’t want to adjust your spending, well, then you’re left with just earning more.”

For first-time buyers Mark Hildreth, a construction manager, and his wife, Caitlin Saloka, a global account supervisor for an advertising firm, both 28, their debt made it difficult to save for a home.

“We blew most of what we had on a wedding in 2014,” Mr. Hildreth said. They spent the next year paying it off while also trying to pay down student debt.

Mr. Hildreth’s parents used their home-equity line of credit to help Ms. Saloka refinance her loans, reducing her interest rate to 3.5 percent from 12. Mr. Hildreth, who recently began pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia, had several school bills of his own.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/22/realestate/buying-your-first-home-save-and-save-some-more.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

An Insider’s View of Joy and Beauty in Africa’s Biggest Shantytown

As Brian Otieno was waiting to start college six years ago, he spent his days snapping pictures with his phone as he wandered the unpaved streets and alleyways of Kibera, a sprawling shantytown on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Often referred to as Africa’s largest slum, Kibera is home to up to a million people living side by side in ramshackle homes. Poverty, crime and hardship have long defined its visual narrative.

Mr. Otieno, who had grown up in Kibera, saw beyond those stark realities.

“I would look around me, at the rooftops and the scenery, and it just looks beautiful,” he said. “And I would think this view is amazing for photography.”

Raised by a hairdresser mother and a carpenter father, Mr. Otieno knew little about photography. He had begun a three-year program in print and broadcast journalism in the fall of 2013, but there was no real photojournalism class, so he turned to Google for inspiration. He was impressed with the work of war photographers in Afghanistan and Syria, and dreamed of working in such places. Then, one day in late 2013, Mr. Otieno was sitting by the railroad tracks that slice through the heart of Kibera and started scrolling though images of the area on his phone.

“They were pictures from Kibera, but only showing the deep, deep poverty,” Mr. Otieno said. “And I was seeing all these other sides that were not like that. So I decided to do stories from home. Here, I can do different stories every day. And they will leave a lasting impression on people’s minds. Home is like my studio.”

Right then and there Mr. Otieno created a Facebook page and posted some of the photographs he had taken with his mobile phone. Those initial posts soon evolved into a project he called “Kibera Stories,” with Instagram and Facebook pages and a website featuring images of daily life.

The learning curve was steep.

“Back then, I didn’t know anything about photography,” said Mr. Otieno, now 26. “I didn’t understand it; I just had this project in mind. My skills improved little by little.”

The Kibera Stories Instagram feed reveals the evolution of a personal style that defies stereotypes. There are joyful scenes of children playing at school, and images of people grappling with daily struggles, like flooding or blackouts. Fashion is a recurring theme, with Kibera’s youthful residents dressed in bright, patterned outfits and taking part in fashion shows. Simple details shine through. In one image, a tangle of colored electrical wires and tape protrudes from a rough concrete wall. In another, pink, orange and blue balloons adorn the inside of a mud hut with a concrete floor, plastic chairs and a desktop computer connected to a large speaker. The computer’s power cord is plugged into a power strip dangling from a ceiling of jumbled corrugated metal sheets. There’s also a frame of a single candle flame burning in front of an old TV during a blackout.

Of all Mr. Otieno’s images, a shot of Elsie Ayoo, a 16-year-old ballerina, has drawn the most attention. She holds a pose on a dirt road lined with shacks and onlookers, her outstretched arms diagonally bisecting the frame beneath dark rain clouds. There’s a hole in one of the knees of her tights, and a serene, distant expression on her face.

“I asked her where she wanted to be photographed and she took me to a street near her home,” Mr. Otieno said. “It was a busy Sunday morning and people stopped and looked at what we were doing. It’s a strong image and it shows her skill and talent and where it is rooted.”

Kibera Stories gives a sense of what it’s like to be a resident of one of the continent’s most notorious slums, and Mr. Otieno doesn’t ignore the grimmer aspects of what that entails.

“I’ve shown some really bad things, like police brutality and extrajudicial killings,” he said, “but people don’t say I’m giving a bad impression of Kibera because this is the reality. But doing it with integrity and dignity is really important.”

As the photojournalism industry grapples with issues of representation, there’s a growing acknowledgment that a more diverse range of perspectives is needed to reflect a broader spectrum of lived experiences, especially from the African continent. There are numerous efforts to address that imbalance. Mr. Otieno contributes to Everyday Africa, a collective of photographers who share images aimed at undermining stereotypes and clichés. He was also among a dozen African photographers who took part in a master class workshop that World Press Photo hosted in Nairobi in 2016.

“That workshop really built me,” said Mr. Otieno, who learned how to pitch stories at the workshop and for the first time felt connected to a global photography community.

Mr. Otieno often welcomes other photographers to Kibera, but suggests they approach it as if they were photographing in their home country. “Just don’t come with this image in mind that shows poverty and no place for growth and development,” he said. “It’s a matter of showing respect.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/26/lens/kibera-stories-photography-africa.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

These Tools Might Make Your Cakes Instagram Famous

Shag cakes, ruffle layers, string-art lattice work — these aren’t couture trends, they’re (almost) too-beautiful-to-eat cakes and pies that you can find on Instagram. Designing #baking art looks difficult, but bakers we talked to said their designs don’t require fancy equipment.

To find out what other tools Instagram bakers use to achieve flawless edges, vibrant colors and eye-catching designs, we sat down with Alana Jones-Mann, a designer and baker based in Los Angeles, Lauren Ko, a Seattle-based self-taught pie baker who makes “modern geometric pie art,” and Tampa-based vegan baker Dawn Konofaos.

“Some people might look at my cakes and think they look very complex, but I only use very basic cake decorating tools,” Ms. Jones-Mann said.

Ms. Ko uses pie dough and firm fruits to create freehand designs. Despite the precise look of her work, she doesn’t rely on X-acto knives or stencils. “I started with a sharp paring knife and a sharp chef’s knife. I’ve moved to a rolling pastry wheel and I have a basic ruler that I mainly use as a straight edge,” she said.

Ms. Jones-Mann re-creates Mexican embroidery and cactus gardens in frosting but is probably most well-known for her “shag cakes,” which she pipes by hand to create richly colored water-topography shapes with a carpetlike texture. She makes her intricate designs by using a piping tip that’s available in the most basic sets (Wirecutter, the product review site owned by The New York Times, recommends the Ateco 14-Piece Cake Decorating Set.) She prefers to use a simple No. 2 round piping tip to create individual strands, instead of a “grass tip” with multiple holes.

She also likes using a coupler, a two-piece plastic insert that can secure the selected piping tip onto the piping bag. The coupler lets you easily remove and replace a piping tip. “If you want to switch tips, or if a piece of sugar in your frosting gets lodged in the end of the tip, it makes it really easy to clean out,” she said. The Ateco set we recommend includes a single plastic coupler, but you may need extra if you want to use one for each bag of colored icing.

If you’re going through a lot of plastic disposable bags with multiple colors of buttercream frosting, consider switching to silicone piping bags, as Ms. Jones-Mann has — you can wash them out with hot water and reuse them, and they offer the added benefit of insulating the buttercream a bit more from the melting heat of your hands.

Customize your colors

Ms. Jones-Mann creates a vibrant palette for every cake by mixing custom colors each time. She prefers AmeriColor food coloring gels, which Wirecutter also preferred after testing them against the competition. To get her signature ’60s and ’70s colors, she sometimes adds a touch of cocoa powder to produce an ivory-based palette for true avocado green.

For pie doughs, Ms. Ko prefers natural colors, which she achieves by using natural dyes from the pulps and powders of beets, spirulina and spinach. They tend to look more subtle once the pie is baked. “I’ve seen pie doughs colored with artificial food coloring and I find that everything winds up looking like Play-Doh and largely unappetizing,” she said.

Ms. Ko pairs ingredients and colors that play well off each other, such as pink grapefruit curd with yellow mango. “I think about color combinations that will contrast really well but will complement each other in flavor,” she said.

Prep your cakes and frosting

For cakes, start with a clean canvas. Ms. Jones-Mann recommends refrigerating a cake to help it set before decorating. Rather than using a fancy cake leveler, she uses a simple serrated knife to even the cake. She smooths the icing on the sides with a flat-edged bench scraper or the pro baker’s secret weapon, a small offset spatula. “This is my most essential tool,” Ms. Jones-Mann said. “If I had to bring one cake tool with me somewhere, I would bring my tiny little offset spatula.”

As for Ms. Konofaos, to achieve an impressionistic look in her signature cool colors, she goes to the art aisle of the craft store for a set of tiny palette knives. “You use different-color buttercream and different strokes to make an oil-painted look,” she said.

To create delicate decorations, Ms. Konofaos uses the pasta attachment for her stand mixer. “You can roll your fondant through there, or your gum paste if you’re making sugar flowers, and that’s how you get it nice and thin.” Ms. Konofaos also uses rolling pins in both marble and wood in different sizes for everything, from laminating dough to shaping modeling chocolate. If you need a good rolling pin, we have suggestions here.

Ms. Jones-Mann works exclusively with a simple buttercream and recommends resting and refrigerating the icing for five minutes if your hand starts to warm and soften it.

Ms. Konofaos, who creates vegan cakes, uses shortening, which remains solid at warmer temperatures, so that’s another option. She also recommends a cast-iron Ateco cake turntable, which has a heavy, sturdy base for easy piping. “It’s beautiful, so if you want to do a nice video of icing a cake but you don’t want to use your plastic one, you can spend a little bit more money,” she explained.

The Ateco turntable comes with a single nonslip pad, but you can cut additional pads from a roll of nonslip shelf liner. Use these rounds to line the bottom of the disposable cardboard cake board; doing so will make it easy to transport a cake when it’s done. For a full list of additional gear to perfect your next bake, including the Ateco turntable, check out our full list.

Look for inspiration outside of the kitchen

What makes Ms. Ko’s work interesting is the contrast between her chosen medium of pie, a food generally presented as rustic and homey, and her unexpected mathematical patterns. Her mood board includes inspiration from outside the kitchen. “Lately I’ve been saving a lot of tile patterns — lots of pictures of showers and bathrooms and floors,” she said.

Ms. Konofaos eschews symmetry for designs that include stunningly realistic, hand-molded flowers and painted icings. A former fashion designer, she takes inspiration from the flower arrangements and the prints and flow of fabric she sees on her Instagram feed. “My inspiration lies somewhere between flowers and fashion,” she said.

If you feel intimidated, don’t be. Remember, these bakers managed to turn a hobby into a living by learning from other people who posted and shared their own creations on the internet, too. “I’m 100 percent self-taught. I always tell people I went to the university of YouTube,” Ms. Jones-Mann said.

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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/wirecutter/instagram-cakes-baking-tips-food.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

A Colonial-Era Cemetery Resurfaces in Philadelphia

In June 2017 Kimberlee Moran, a forensic scientist at Rutgers University-Camden, stood in a pit at a construction site in downtown Philadelphia, just across from the Betsy Ross House.

The walls of the pit were shored up by diagonal pillars of dirt. They bristled with coffin wood — and human bones. But what she couldn’t see bothered Ms. Moran still more.

“Where’s all the stuff in the dirt that’s now missing?” she wondered.

With her were Anna Dhody, a forensic anthropologist at the city’s Mütter Museum, and Kimberly Morrell, an archaeologist with the engineering firm Aecom, hired to excavate the site.

They were standing in what once was the cemetery of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, founded in 1698. Historical records said the remains were supposed to have been relocated to another cemetery, Mount Moriah, back in 1860.

And yet here were all these bones and remnants of coffins. Ms. Moran and Ms. Dhody were not entirely surprised.

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In fall 2016, after workers broke ground on a new condominium here, the two scientists were handed a single box of unclaimed bones collected on the site. A few months later, a backhoe crunched into skeletons and coffins.

“There is a very characteristic ‘pop’ sound when a backhoe goes through a skull,” Ms. Moran said.

With grudging permission from the developer, PMC Property Group, construction was halted whenever a backhoe turned up another body. The researchers mounted a two-week salvage excavation, recovering more than 80 burials. After hitting a stretch of soil that was grave-free, they hoped they’d found all the bodies.

They had not. After the visit in June 2017, Aecom dug all summer, eventually discovering another 328 intact burials. Then the researchers knew they had uncovered the rarest of opportunities.

Most unearthed cemeteries in the United States have been reinterred without analysis. Few dated to the colonial era. So Ms. Moran and Ms. Dhody — with George Leader, an archaeologist at The College of New Jersey, and Jared Beatrice, an osteologist at the college — started the Arch Street Project, a mostly crowdfunded attempt to understand more about the lives of these early Philadelphians.

“This cemetery has the potential to fill in a lot of gaps about not just Philadelphia but the colonial period,” said Sherene Baugher, an archaeologist at Cornell University and co-author of “The Archaeology of American Cemeteries and Gravemarkers.”

Comparing First Baptist’s remains, she added, to those from the African Burial Ground in New York City, as well as from Jamestown, Va., and St. Mary’s City, Md., may reveal widespread changes in health, lifestyle and diet over time, and hint at their impact by race and class.

But first, the bones had to be exhumed. City and state heritage agencies said they had no jurisdiction over remains found on private property in a privately funded project.

So the city’s Orphans’ Court, which oversees unmarked graves and cemeteries, decided the fate of those left behind in the First Baptist cemetery. The Philadelphia Archaeological Forum advocated in court for a respectful exhumation and reinterment. PMC, the developer, eventually agreed to pay for the effort.

The court gave archaeologists until Sept. 30, 2023, to study the remains. Then they must be interred where they were supposed to have been moved more than 150 years ago: Mount Moriah Cemetery.

As for the missing soil that so disturbed Ms. Moran? Doug Mooney, president of the archaeological forum, did the math and accused PMC of dumping perhaps as many as 782 bodies in a landfill during construction. The company denied dumping remains.

The living move, and then the dead

In 1707, the First Baptist Church moved into a former Quaker meeting house at what is now 218 Arch Street. It was a well-connected congregation with a cemetery open to different sects and faiths.

“You have lots of non-Baptists buried there, people from all walks of life — the wealthy, the poor, the influential, the unknown,” Ms. Moran said.

In 1855, the church moved again to a new spot at Arch and Broad streets, and the cemetery fell into disrepair. The church applied for a license from the city Board of Health to move the graves to Mount Moriah. Approval came in December 1859.

The move to Mount Moriah was to be made in haste. But by that point, perhaps 3,000 or more people had been buried at First Baptist, according to Nicholas Bonneau, principal historian of the Arch Street Project.

“They only have three months, from January 1st to April 1st, in the middle of winter, to move what we now know are thousands of bodies,” Mr. Bonneau said.

Newspaper articles indicate some relocation work occurred. An article on March 8, 1860, in The Public Ledger recounted how relatives of the dead, asked to identify their ancestors, were shocked to find many barely decomposed in their coffins.

And some headstones at Mount Moriah predate 1859. But did the bodies actually come with them?

Every day during the excavation in summer 2017, Ms. Moran or Dr. Leader loaded coffins into their cars and drove them to Waggin’ Tails, a former dog-grooming business in rural New Jersey.

Its exterior featured murals of romping dogs, ears and tongues flying, which the scientists hoped would throw illegal bone-hunters off the trail. The temperature-controlled interior helped maintain the remains.

The team now has the remains of at least 491 people. At Rutgers-Camden, the commingled bones are sorted and cleaned under Ms. Moran’s direction, while the intact remains, about 175 of which were found in or near coffins, are examined at The College of New Jersey.

The largest coffins are more than six feet long, the smallest no bigger than a shoe box.

With the help of students, Dr. Beatrice is creating a biological profile — age, sex, height, ancestry — of every person found intact. He’s finished with less than a quarter of them.

“I have nightmares,” he said. “I wake up in the middle of the night and think about how many skeletons I still have to analyze, and I can’t get back to sleep.”

The researchers assess teeth and bones, and look for pathologies and trauma that reveal details about an individual’s life. Cause of death can be hard to determine, thanks to what’s called the osteological paradox: Not every deadly disease or traumatic injury leaves a mark, and some kill before they do. Still other pathologies aren’t fatal or affect people in various ways.

Many children and young males lie among the remains. Nutritional deficiencies are common; conditions like anemia and scurvy leave characteristic bone porosities. Dr. Beatrice has found linear enamel hypoplasia — grooves in the teeth that indicate generalized physiological stress — in virtually every mouth.

“It’s very strange to have almost everybody exhibiting really obvious indicators of childhood stress that would disrupt their growth and development,” he said. The only parallel archaeologists have found comes from Philadelphia’s First African Baptist Church cemetery, unearthed in 1980 during a rail construction project.

One man has a quarter-size cranial depression above the “hat-brim line” — a telling spot. “Things that happen above that level tend to be the result of interpersonal violence,” Dr. Beatrice said.

Along his right side are healed injuries, perhaps from the impact of a carriage or a bad fall.

The skull of another man was opened after death with a hand-sawed circumferential cut. Its interior is imprinted with the elaborate folds and fine veining of the surface of his brain.

Philadelphia was home to some of the first teaching hospitals in the United States, but his skeleton has no other cut marks that indicate anatomical dissection.

A lot of crumbled brain matter has been discovered in cracked skulls. Ms. Moran is collaborating with researchers at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee to study what remains of the lipids and fatty tissue, which may reveal biomarkers of pregnancy, Alzheimer’s, immune responses to infectious disease and other telling conditions.

(The Lincoln scientists got in touch after she put out a call for research ideas by posting on Instagram a photo of a desiccated but clearly recognizable brain.)

Ms. Moran has done a genomic analysis of the soil that fell into the abdominal regions of four bodies, hoping to find evidence of the individuals’ gut microbiomes. So far she and her colleagues have recorded about 2,000 bacterial species, including those responsible for chlamydia, tuberculosis and leprosy.

Ms. Dhody is analyzing DNA of the calculus buildup on teeth. Tartar and plaque form hard deposits that trap a wealth of genetic material from pathogens that infect an individual. She and her colleagues are reviewing the initial results.

Just five names

Fabric fragments, fake-gold shroud rings and pins, coffin nails, broken pottery and glass comprise most of the artifacts. But the cemetery has yielded one of the largest collections of coffin hardware discovered in a colonial American cemetery.

These decorative plaques and handles have helped to date many burials to the 1720s to 1790s. One key resource has been a 1783 volume of the “Tuesby and Cooper Coffin Hardware Manufacturer’s Catalog.” Dr. Leader tracked down the only known copy at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Ms. Dhody made digital copies when she visited last fall. Dr. Leader matched First Baptist hardware to the catalog.

Coffin plaques have yielded the names of just three people: Thomas Weir, Mr. R. Watson and Benjamin Britton. Among nearly 500 remains, only Mr. Britton’s name is matched to his body.

His long, ornately decorated coffin suggests that he was a rich, and large, man. One of three Benjamin Brittons buried in First Baptist, he may have been the oldest, a successful baker — and slave-owner — who died in 1782 at age 78.

Two more names were found using headstones: Israel Morris and Sarah M. Rogers, who was 3 years, 9 months old when she died on Nov. 1, 1801. Mr. Bonneau identified her by matching a burial record to the age and death date on her broken headstone, from which the name had been lost.

Eventually the researchers would like to compare the health of individuals with the wealth of their burial. Dr. Leader created a system that assigns a point value to each coffin based on its materials. Mr. Britton’s, for example, has tin-dipped lead metalwork — the most expensive material.

Connecting the archaeological and historical data will yield a better picture of everyday life in colonial Philadelphia, which was the largest city in British North America by the end of the 18th century.

“It was a city defined by possibility,” Mr. Bonneau said. “It was built for trade.”

The city’s explosive growth had major health impacts. “People suddenly found themselves living in really tight quarters, and did not necessarily have the tools to manage hygiene or larger community sanitation,” he added. “That increased the amount of diseases that occurred throughout middle age.”

The cemetery interred many victims of yellow fever epidemics in 1793, 1797 and 1798. Gravediggers placed a thick cap of soil over these coffins, likely to quell the stench of death and contain the “miasma” thought to transmit disease. Public health initiatives followed these epidemics, including the formation of the Board of Health, better street-cleaning and improvements to municipal water quality.

Whether these changes are reflected in the First Baptist bones remains to be seen.

Most of the First Baptist dead seem to be of European ancestry. Mr. Bonneau has found burial records of 15 people of African descent — all were free, and none share the same surname — but archaeologists haven’t determined African ancestry for any remains yet.

“If the science comes back confirming that we have folks that are not European, then that makes it even more unique that we have a potentially truly — in every sense of the word — integrated cemetery,” Ms. Moran said.

Back to rest

Today, First Baptist Church hosts an elderly congregation with just a dozen members at weekly services at the church’s third location, at 17th and Sansom.

When the cemetery was discovered, “they felt no connection,” said Roy Harker, the church’s executive director. “And since there was no legal obligation, no one really expressed anything other than curiosity.”

No descendants of those buried in the cemetery have contacted the church to ask about their ancestors, he said.

When 2023 comes, the archaeologists would like to see the burials reinterred one person per box, reunited with any objects discovered with them, and the commingled bones buried together. But the final decision rests with PMC Property Group.

And Mount Moriah has its own problems. It’s been closed since 2011 and neglected for longer, though a dedicated group of volunteers clears brush and removes trash. One headstone-free area of First Baptist’s original plot is a candidate for the final resting place of those left behind.

The Arch Street researchers are presenting their findings at professional conferences and are submitting articles to peer-reviewed journals. They’re applying for research grants to supplement their crowdfunding. Multiple spinoff projects are being conducted at other universities.

But never far from mind is the fact that these were people, deserving of the final rest they were denied.

“I have all the respect in the world for every single person we have here,” Dr. Leader said. “As much as I am appreciative of getting the wealth of knowledge from them, I actually look forward to putting them back in the ground.”

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/science/colonial-cemetery-philadelphia-archaeology.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

German Clubs and English Teenagers: The Jadon Sancho Effect

DORTMUND, Germany — At first glance, it is easy to pinpoint the start of the Bundesliga’s love affair with young English players. The opening scene of a story that has swept a host of England’s brightest prospects out of the Premier League’s overstuffed academies and into top-flight German soccer is set at a specific time — the first few days of October 2016 — and in a specific place: Pula, Croatia.

That week, England’s under-17 team took part in the Croatian Cup, a youth invitational that also featured teams from Germany, Greece and the host nation. England won it, and in some style, rounding off the competition with an 8-1 rout of Germany.

Even before that, though, the amount of talent on display had turned heads. Several scouts from Bundesliga clubs had been in attendance at Pula’s Aldo Drosina Stadium for England’s first game, a 5-0 win against Croatia.

Though many of the English players involved would go on to win the under-17 World Cup a little more than a year later, one, in particular, stood out. A scout, present that day, remembers being taken aback by the player’s appetite. Even with England comfortably ahead, he said, he kept running, kept trying to score goals.

The scout flagged the player, Jadon Sancho, to his superiors, but to no avail. Less than a year later, Sancho was on his way to Germany, but to sign with Borussia Dortmund, another of the clubs that had watched him that day. Within a few months, he was a regular on Dortmund’s first team, a senior England international and one of the most coveted players in Europe.

He was also a trendsetter. After Sancho, a flood of young British players have landed in the Bundesliga: Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe — another veteran of that Croatian trip — and Reiss Nelson, on loan at RB Leipzig and TSG Hoffenheim; representatives at Augsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach and Schalke.

In January, Bayern Munich was so determined to sign Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi — another who featured in Croatia — that it offered 40 million euros (about $45 million) for a teenager who had made only a handful of senior appearances. Sancho’s effect, the legacy of that day in Pula, has been powerful.

It is a compelling story, but not necessarily an accurate one. Sancho has been presented as the trigger for German clubs’ fascination with young English talent, but, in reality, he was the end result: a consequence, rather than a cause, of a trend that dates way beyond 2016, one that explains why, exactly, all of those Bundesliga scouts were watching that under-17 game in Pula.

“About 10 years ago, we decided that young players had to be our focus as a club,” said Max Eberl, Mönchengladbach’s sporting director. “We had no financial potential to do anything else. We had to create money and value a different way.”

That meant keeping tabs on the best young talent not just in Germany, but across Europe. Mönchengladbach’s scouts started watching national youth teams, a shortcut to establishing which players were regarded as the best in their homelands, and a chance to compare them directly with the talent on the rise in Germany.

The initial emphasis, Eberl explained, was on France, Belgium and Holland — traditionally fertile breeding grounds — as well as markets like Denmark, where his club had strong links. England “was not a market we had focused on,” he said, but it did not take long to realize that there were a “lot of top players” in England’s age-group teams.

Eberl dispatched scouts not to watch the Premier League, but to games between clubs’ under-18 and under-23 teams. “At the time, English clubs bought players but did not care about their academies,” he said. “The players they were developing — 30 or 40 guys, really good, really well prepared — had no chance.”

Around the same time, Dortmund came to the same realization. “Five or 10 years ago, we had the feeling that the education and development of youth players in England is quite good,” Michael Zorc, the club’s technical director, said. “The teams don’t only spend money on transfers and salaries, but on infrastructure. When you see these academies, you cannot compare the standard with Germany. It is much, much higher.”

Most important, these state-of-the-art facilities were churning out players with the skill sets Bundesliga clubs needed. “England had so many creative players,” Nils Schmadtke, formerly the head scout at Cologne, said. “Kids like Sancho: good at penetrating the sidelines, not afraid in one against ones, good technique, fast.”

Just as significant as discovering this steady supply of talent in England, though, was the increasing demand in Germany.

Youth is the Bundesliga’s calling card. Germany’s top division prides itself on its clubs’ willingness to give players an opportunity — a report compiled in February found that it is the youngest of Europe’s major leagues — regardless of age or experience. It sees and sells itself, according to one recent mailing, as a “talent factory.”

Increasingly, though, there are concerns that less and less of that talent is emerging locally, at a time when German soccer — both at the international level and within the Bundesliga — is in need of renewal.

The generation that won the 2014 World Cup failed miserably in Russia last summer, a disappointment compounded by relegation from its group in the inaugural Nations League last year. Joachim Löw, the national team coach, has vowed to transform the side, informing several stalwarts — Mats Hummels, Thomas Müller and Jérôme Boateng — that they will no longer be considered for selection.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Bundesliga will not be represented in the Champions League quarterfinals. Bayern Munich is already planning for a substantial overhaul of its squad at the end of the season.

It is telling that Hudson-Odoi, a young English winger, is at the forefront of its thinking: Zorc admitted last month that at the under-17 and under-19 levels, England had “overtaken” Germany. Schmadtke said that he believed the “individual skills” he saw from young English players — as well as on scouting trips to France — stood out because they are now so rare in his homeland. For Bayern, as for the national team, the pipeline of German talent has dried up.

Eberl, for one, believes that Germany has “made mistakes” in developing its young players. Clubs, he said, have fallen into the trap of trying to produce winning youth teams, rather than concentrating on individuals. Schmadtke feels German teenagers suffer because they are exposed too quickly to senior soccer, playing for so-called B teams in regional leagues, rather than in youth-specific competitions, as they do in England.

Both are confident that it is a hiatus, rather than a full stop. “We will have players in the future, but it will take time,” Eberl said. In the meantime, German clubs will continue to flock to England, hoping to find yet more players to follow the path Sancho has plotted. It is a result not of a love affair, but of the simple economics of supply and demand.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/23/sports/jason-sancho-bundesliga.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

What Your Exercise Habits Might Say About How Long You’ll Live

A new study offers both hope and a subtle nudge to anyone who has slacked off on exercise in recent years. It finds that if people start to exercise in midlife, even if they have not worked out for years, they can rapidly gain most of the longevity benefits of working out.

But the reverse is also true, the study finds. Stop exercising and those longevity benefits shrink or evaporate.

We already have plenty of evidence that exercise affects how long and well we live. I’ve written about studies showing that older athletes develop and retain stronger bones, brains, hearts, muscles and immune systems than people of the same age who rarely work out.

On a broader scale, epidemiological studies yoke frequent exercise to prolonged life spans, underscoring that active people are much less likely than the inactive to die prematurely.

But most of those studies have looked at people and their exercise habits only once in their lives, rarely delving into what happens as someone’s workout routine waxes or wanes across the decades.

So, for the new study, which was published this month in JAMA Network Open, researchers with the National Cancer Institute and other agencies turned to data from the N.I.H.-AARP Diet and Health Study, which helpfully had long pried into how people occupy their leisure time.

The N.I.H.-AARP Diet and Health study began in 1995, enrolling hundreds of thousands of men and women between 50 and 71 years old and asking them to complete a series of questionnaires about their health.

One of these went into detail about the volunteers’ physical activities throughout their lives, asking them to recall how frequently they had walked, played sports, jogged or otherwise worked out. The questionnaire focused primarily on deliberate exercise, but also covered incidental physical activity like household chores or yardwork.

The questionnaire covered almost all points of the participants’ lives, asking about their teen years, then young adulthood from 19 to 29, fuller adulthood during their 30s and, finally, the past 10 years, when the volunteers would have been between 40 and 61.

In the new study, the researchers drew the records of replies for 315,059 of the men and women, most of whom had completed their questionnaires about 13 years before. They checked answers and categorized people according to their reported exercise habits and whether and how they had altered over the years.

Some of the men and women said they had been unwavering in their workout routines, spending about as many — or few — hours exercising in midlife as when they had been teenagers.

Others had been active when young but tailed off as adults, remaining mostly sedentary during middle age. And a few had exercised often as teenagers and young adults, slowed or stopped as adults, but returned to regular exercise later in life.

Finally, the researchers checked the National Death Index for deaths and their causes among the participants in the years since they had joined the health study and compared the risks of dying among the different groups. (They controlled for body mass, smoking and other health factors.)

Not surprisingly, those men and women who had been sedentary throughout their lives were the most likely now to have died, particularly from heart disease.

But those people who always had been active, exercising consistently for a few hours a week, were about 30 to 35 percent less likely to have passed away from any cause and about 40 percent less likely to have died of a heart attack than the consistently inactive people.

More buoying, people who had stopped exercising for a decade or two but begun again during their 40s or 50s, working out then for a few hours a week, shared the same relative protection against premature death as the people who always had exercised.

On the flip side, people who had been active and in shape as teenagers or young adults but sedentary in middle age seemed to lose any longevity benefits. They were as likely as the always-inactive group to have died.

Of course, this study relied on people’s recall of their past behavior, which can be notoriously unreliable. It also is observational and can tell us that exercise in middle age is associated with a longer life, but not whether exercise causes us to live longer. Other factors are likely to be involved, including our diets, wealth, weight, general health and genes.

Still, the message of the findings is twofold, says Pedro Saint-Maurice, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute who conducted the study with Charles Matthews and others.

“If you are active now, keep being active,” whatever your age, he says. “And if you have not been active lately, it seems that it is not too late, even if you are in midlife” to start exercising and reap the benefits for longevity.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/well/move/what-your-exercise-habits-might-say-about-how-long-youll-live.html?partner=rss&emc=rss