Pacemaker, The University Hospital In Lille, France, Pacemaker And Heart Defibrillator. (Photo By BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
For the past four years, author Jameson Rich has had a small defibrillator implanted in his chest. Its job? To detect and prevent an arrhythmia that could end his life.
At OneZero Rich reports on what happens when the cure itself brings a whole host of new problems. The defibrillator, called an ICD, is part of the internet-of-things, sending data to his doctor and updating its software to patch vulnerabilities. Despite empty assurances from device manufacturers, anything on the internet can and will eventually be hacked. Is it only a matter of time before malicious people hack the very device that protects his heart’s rhythm?
The ICD would be a fail-safe, a tiny defibrillator inside my body that could go everywhere that I went.
When I came across an FDA safety notice warning that some ICDs, namely those made by a company called St. Jude, could be hacked, I was only days away from surgery. Once hacked, the devices could allow an external actor to gain control of the ICD, reprogram its functions, and inflict all kinds of damage—even trigger death.
In the past 13 years, these devices have also been fully integrated into the so-called Internet of Things—millions of everyday consumer items being programmed for and connected to the internet. Once connected to the internet, the devices ease the work of physicians and hospitals, who can now manage the device and monitor the patient’s condition remotely. Patients are typically charged each time their device sends data to the hospital. Think of it as a subscription—for your heart.
ICDs are just one increasingly popular medical gadget in a rising sea of clinical and commercial wireless health devices. Whether it is the growing suite of cardiac-monitoring devices available at home and on the go or an Apple Watch outfitted with diagnostic software, we are outsourcing more and more of our health to internet-enabled machines.
Having now lived with an ICD for more than three years and a pacemaker for the preceding 14, I understand intimately the consequences of being a body paired to the grid. If your smart fridge loses connectivity, maybe your food goes bad a few days early. But if a wireless ICD experiences a failure, the result could be lethal. I am stalked by the fear of the device misfiring and have wondered endlessly whether the documented security risks posed by these devices could end up harming me.
Three men sit in front of a store window under a poster of Jimmy Carter in Plains, Georgia. Carter, who was born in this small Southern town, is running for the 1976 presidential election. (Photo by Owen Franken/Corbis via Getty Images)
We had to walk around the Black neighborhoods—for Durham was still de facto segregated—and get as many Black people to register to vote for the presidential election as possible.
There was one home we stopped by, small and neat with a short stack of steps and a few flowers in the yard. That day, the lady who answered the door was light-skinned and maybe forty-five, though again, I was nine, so she probably seemed ancient to me. Her face was apathetic, and she sighed in a bored way as she explained, it didn’t matter who somebody voted for president, because these White folks were going to do whatever they wanted.
I expected my mother to correct the light-skinned lady. Maybe even start shouting, because Mama wasn’t known for holding her tongue. Instead, she nudged me toward the lady, asking, was her message of futility what we wanted to send to our children? That they didn’t have any power? That they couldn’t ever change their circumstances? Mama’s voice had turned “proper,” the accent of a schoolteacher who had graduated from Spelman College and had a master’s degree from another university as well.
I thought the lady would close the door on us, but she looked at me and smiled. Told me, I sure had some pretty long hair, and Mama nudged me again.
“Tell the nice lady who you want to be president, baby.”
On cue, I said, “I’m voting for Jimmy Carter!”
Mama held out the registration clipboard and pen to the lady, and after some hesitation, the lady took both and wrote down her information.
On voting Tuesday that year, Mama picked me up after school and drove us to the polls. She told me she had a very important job for me to do. But first, she needed to remind me of how I was reared, how I should remember to respect my elders.
She explained that I would take the hand of each old, Black person she would send my way. These would be people who couldn’t read. They knew the candidates they wanted to vote for, but because they couldn’t recognize the names on the ballot, they needed me to call out all the names for them, and then, they’d tell me which of those names they wanted to vote for.
American singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing on stage with her guitar and Chris Barber's Jazz Band, Cardiff, Wales, November 1957. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)
As a keen student of guitar and bass, I can never read enough about women who have played guitar. I’m eager to learn about them and their stories, about the experiences that infuse their playing and musicianship with skill and creativity.
Her distorted Gibson and a voice that echoed from the center of the earth floated out of a lifetime of holy and carnal exaltations into the future, and changed the trajectory of rock & roll, blues, and soul music. …
Then she struts across the edge of the platform, with a little shimmy in her step, talking all the way about how fine the people are, how happy she is, how sweet everyone is. The band on the platform is vamping and the crowd is clapping in time. She picks her guitar up, where it is resting in what appears to be an empty washbasin, straps it on, and hits a couple of notes, in the wrong key. She calls to the band to ask for the right key and then—she brings it. My God, she brings it. She launches into “Didn’t It Rain” and it is transcendent, chilling, thrilling, and everything music is supposed to be.
Then comes the moment, two minutes and forty-nine seconds into the film, the few seconds that are a master class in performance, which I have watched dozens of times. She makes this little move that I’ve seen her do in other performance clips, but there is something particular about this one. She is playing her solo, and she lets go of the guitar and holds her hand up in front of her chest and leans forward, rocking back and forth a little, as if the strings are vibrating through her body. Her face is inscrutable. She is, as they say, filled with the spirit. To me, she looks to be in a numinous, otherworldly place. She is incredibly graceful, decked out in her Sunday best with her close-cropped, finely styled hair. She doesn’t care that it’s raining or that she is performing in a Brit’s weirdly conceived idea of the rural South, with wagon wheels and rocking chairs, or that the audience is sitting tightly packed on the other side of the wide expanse of the unused railroad tracks, shivering in the cold rain. She is not thinking of herself, or them, or about how to play the chords or the words of the song, she is not thinking of her last note, or the next one, or how her shoes look or if her hair is in place, she is not embarrassed that she started the song in the wrong key a couple of minutes earlier, she doesn’t care how awkward that horse and buggy arrival was. She’s not thinking of anything at all. She is a vehicle of musical ecstasy.
Guernica: You write in your introduction, about microaggressions: “Writing was a way to have my say—to pick up those words like a piece of glass and turn it over in the sun and consider the sharp edges or blunted corners.” This makes me think a lot about the gap between experience and an inability to articulate that experience. In what ways does writing help you find a way to fill those linguistic gaps?
Sejal Shah: Writing helped me by forcing me to find a form that accommodates and allows for and even represents or at least acknowledges those linguistic gaps. I am so grateful to have discovered the lyric essay. I read Citizen by Claudia Rankine in 2016, and I saw her give a talk that year that I found transformative—it was after the election, on the last day of November. I reread Citizen while putting my manuscript together in 2018. To see PTSD and the repeated impact of different kinds of violence on the page, and also, the gaps on the page—actually what it looks like—made me think of how I struggled with microaggressions and what do you do in this moment of violence?
There is a line in Citizen, “The route is often associative.” She also writes, “Not long ago you are in a room where someone asks the philosopher Judith Butler what makes language hurtful. Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable. Our emotional openness, she adds, is carried by our addressability. Language navigates this.” I thought that was so helpful. “We suffer from the condition of being addressable.” I struggle with this in my own life. Once you see the way someone sees you, I don’t think you can unsee it.
As to the form of the lyric essay, I didn’t know at first what I was doing. I was just trying to represent the inside of the feeling. The first lyric essay that I wrote, “Street Scene” was about my friend LeeAnne [who died by suicide]. I had really struggled with how to write about the grief and loss and shock, and also with what was mine to share? I based that essay on a painting by the same name [Maurice Utrillo’s Street Scene], and continuing to work with images and colors was the thread that showed me how to write it.
Regardless, when I was tromping around MacDowell’s woods, trying to fix the iconic fall leaves in my viewfinder, I was irritated. I didn’t have a tripod with me, or any serious camera equipment that would have helped in the low light. All I had was my frustration.
On the third day of bad pictures I got angry. As I released the shutter, I jerked the camera up and down, like I could teach it a lesson. I probably looked like some kind of strange, large bird, pecking in the dusk on the edge of the forest.
Actually, it was fun. I did it over and over again.
When I saw the results that evening, I was astonished. The images looked more like abstract pastels than photographs. Like I’d wrought some kind of accidental magic with light and motion. I hadn’t taken pictures of what I’d seen, but of the moment my imagination moved in the semi-dark, groping towards the half-obscured woods around me. A moment of fusion rather than focus. A moment “so imperceptible,” as Scottish poet Annie Boutelle writes in her poem “Liminal,” that “one perceives.”
At Bitter Southerner, author Rachel Lord Elizondo interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey about something awful they have in common: “both their mothers were murdered by their former partner in Georgia.” In a connection forged in pain, loss, and anger, they explore behavior norms such as “stand by your man” and the state of Georgia’s reluctance to institute gun control measures that could have protected their mothers.
Trethewey and I compare our stories. We were both young women when our mothers were murdered. Both of our mothers were employed and well-educated. Trethewey’s former stepfather killed her mother in a suburb outside of Atlanta, while my father committed the murder-suicide in my mother’s house in Ben Hill County in south-central Georgia. Trethewey was the child of an interracial marriage in Mississippi — her mother was Black and her father was white — when such marriages were still illegal; I am white, and I was born in Georgia. Trethewey’s mother had sought help from a shelter; my mother didn’t. Her mother lived in an apartment complex with dozens of neighbors around; mine could have screamed at the top of her lungs and not been heard.
Trethewey’s mother, as a Black woman, faced increased risk. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 51.3% of Black adult female homicides are related to intimate partner violence. Additionally, in 2017, for female victim/male offender homicides, Black females had the highest rate at 2.55 per 100,000, meaning a rate higher than their white, rural counterparts.
The rural landscape where my mother was killed presented its own unique challenges, such as neighbors not being able to hear or being within running distance, gun ownership being more prevalent, and limited resources in terms of victims services and access to medical care.
I ask Trethewey for her opinion, wondering if these differences and similarities can reveal how the system failed our mothers in their own unique way. We went from being the interviewer and the interviewee, the virtually unknown freelance writer and the well-known poet and memoirist, to just two people whose lives were marred by the ugliness of domestic violence. Two women angry with the state of Georgia, their lawmakers, and all the systems that seemed to fail their mothers and so many people before and after them. Trethewey, 35 years out from her experience, sees the opportunity for connection.
Starlings (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
If you love birds, you’ll enjoy “Bird Man” by Eva Holland. It’s a deeply researched essay on extreme birding and the innate human need to classify the world around us.
Using her deep knowledge of bird anatomy, she solved crimes of passion and busted poachers. She helped reduce bird-strike-induced aviation accidents and disasters. At Audobon, Chris Sweeney introduces us to birder-extraordinaire Roxie Laybourne, the world’s first forensic ornithologist, who died in 2003 at age 92.
As part of a nine-month investigation, officials sent the bird remains to the Smithsonian Institution, where they made their way to the desk of Roxie Laybourne. Laybourne had been at the Smithsonian for 15 years and during that time had prepared thousands of bird specimens from around the world for research purposes. Over all that time and all those birds, she had started homing in on the subtle differences in the structure of feathers. It wasn’t hard for her to confirm that the birds hit in Boston were European Starlings.
The FAA’s final accident report, issued in July 1962, concluded that Flight 375 had struck a large flock—perhaps as many as 20,000 starlings—as it lifted off. This, in turn, caused three of the four engines to malfunction in a way that was impossible for the pilot to recover.
For most people, the accident report closed the books on Flight 375. For Laybourne, it marked the start of a remarkable scientific journey that was at times as thrilling as it was bizarre. She’d go on to establish the field of forensic ornithology, and the methods she developed for feather identification would be used to prosecute murderers, bust poachers, and inform conservation efforts. Most importantly, her work would entirely reshape our understanding of the threat birds and airplanes pose to one another—a threat that continues to hang over every airplane in the sky today.
A creek in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in the Fall. (Getty Images)
Alice Driver grew up in Arkansas in a house her father built in pieces over decades. She was raised by her father, a potter, and her mother, a weaver, as part of a community of back-to-the-landers who wanted a life of self-sufficiency apart from mainstream American commercialism. At Oxford American, she shares the story of her dad’s wish to build his own tomb on his own land. “He wanted his death, like his life, to be a work of art—a tomb he designed and filled with ceramics—and one that would allow him to define death on his own terms.”
…my sense of life and death was informed by nature. As a result, I felt only curious, at home with natural life cycles and possessed by the idea that I needed to find my place among the land and its creatures, to test my mettle…Under piles of hay, I found nests of baby copperheads, their bodies well-fed, hourglass stripes glistening. I swam across the Little Mulberry River when it was brown, swollen, angry from flooding, fighting against the strength of the current. I was raised in equal parts by my parents and by the land.
For them, buying the land was my dad’s way of committing to a different way of life than the one he had witnessed growing up. His father had a corporate job and hated it; he smoked and drank and was rarely around to be a father to his five boys. He died of a heart attack when my dad was fourteen, and at the funeral home, my dad remembers burning up with anger because, he said, “They were torturing my mother and trying to get her to spend more money on a casket because my father deserved it.” Much of his life, as I’ve witnessed it over the past thirty-eight years, has been a reaction to his dad’s life and death.
As dusk set in, he looked out over the field toward the Little Mulberry River. “This is one of the few places on the planet where I feel connected,” he said. “I didn’t want to join the system. I wanted to create my own reality, and I’m going to create my own reality on the way out too.”
William Barents' ship in the ice during the third Dutch expedition in search of the North-East Passage, 1596-1597. Engraving from Peregrinationes, by Theodor de Bry (1528-1598). (Getty Images)
In this moving account of reporting her book Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World at Outside, Andrea Pitzer traces the journey of William Barents, a polar explorer who died in 1597 on his third voyage to the Arctic along with five members of his crew, in an attempt to find passage to China.
When her journey is unexpectedly lengthened, Andrea experiences both the natural wonders of the North and the shock and sadness of returning from her voyage to learn that her cousin has died, the memorial service already complete. “Joe is gone, with his PTSD, his alcoholism, his terrible jokes, and his love for so many people. He’s already been gone for more than a week, while I was out in the Arctic, heedless of his disintegration.”
Now, 423 years later, we see the long timbers that formed the base of the shelter where Barents and his men spent months praying not to die. Blizzard after blizzard came, until more than an inch of ice built up in the cabin’s interior.
Pacing out its dimensions—roughly 36 feet long by 22 feet wide—I walk through the space where the crew huddled in fear as a polar bear rampaged on their roof, trying to claw its way in. I stand on the site of the fireplace that couldn’t keep them warm, at one point nearly killing them with toxic fumes from ship’s coal they burned. I wander along the beach where the men dragged makeshift sleds over ice and snow for miles, scavenging firewood.
Wonders keep coming, day by day. A bird lands on Sasha’s head while he’s at the wheel. We spot a polar bear running on the beach. The Arctic makes itself known to us, though not always on our terms.
The trash-studying biologists have the most worthwhile mission of anyone on the boat: by scanning the ocean and exploring shorelines on foot, they’re using equipment to map where washed-up litter is and isn’t found in the Arctic. But ultimately, the sea and sky decide what they will allow. Plans for exploratory landings can blow up at the last minute. A bear sighting or fog can kill any chance to gather data from a particular spot. It becomes apparent that my ghost-chasing forays, Alexey’s meditation, and the natural challenges thrown up by the sea will make it harder for the scientists to get their work done.
Sasha appears on deck with his accordion and begins the same Doga waltz he played before. Dozens of walruses swim to where he perches near the gunwale, on the port side of the boat. They listen, watching him. Occasionally, a small mosh pit forms, then dissolves. Mostly his audience floats before him, snorting and hawing with rapt intensity while we look back.
ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND - JULY 05: In an aerial view from a drone, a large-scale ground mural depicting Breonna Taylor with the text 'Black Lives Matter' is seen being painted at Chambers Park on July 5, 2020 in Annapolis, Maryland. The mural was organized by Future History Now in partnership with Banneker-Douglass Museum and The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. The painting honors Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by members of the Louisville Metro Police Department in March 2020. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
In recounting her mother’s inability to remember her own grandmother’s name, and in considering her daughter Brianna, Louisville poet and activist Hannah L. Drake remembers and honors Breonna Taylor vowing that, “never again will a Black woman’s name be forgotten.” Read her essay and listen as she delivers her poem, “Formation” at The Bitter Southerner.
I had to search deeply for the names of Black women. I thought of my name, my daughter’s name, which just so happens to be Brianna. I thought of the name of my mother, the name of my great-grandmother lost forever, and something inside of me said, “Not today. Not now. Never again will a Black woman’s name be forgotten. Her name deserves to be remembered.” She would not be another Black woman, erased. She would not be another Black woman, similar to Alberta Jones, who never found justice in Louisville. She would not be a memory hidden underneath bluegrass and bourbon. She existed. She was here. She lived. She breathed. She had a future. And she had a name. A name that this city and this nation needs to remember.
It is in Louisville that I was reminded as a Black woman, I will always be screaming to be heard.
However, I refuse to be silent. This city, this state and this nation have silenced Black women long enough.
So, I say her name, Breonna Taylor. I say her name loudly. I say her name often, fighting back the tears. I find myself whispering her name. I find myself pausing as I say my own daughter’s name, Brianna. I find myself taking Breonna’s name in my mouth, chewing it and spitting it out boldly for the world to hear. I say her name along with the other Black women that have died and that have been forgotten in the dialogue about Black lives mattering. Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Yvette Smith, Shereese Francis, Aiyana Jones, Breonna Taylor. Women. All Black and all women, which at times is a double edge sword — race and gender — where rock and a hard place often collide.