Author Archives: smax


I’ve written a lot of pieces for Slate since starting there in 2014. Topics I’ve covered include politics, breaking news, sports, language, holidays, and other stuff. You can see my author archive here.

The Takeaway

I produced many segments for The Takeaway, where I was a contributing associate producer. These segments covered national elections in India and Iraq, the Donald Sterling and Bryan Singer scandals, political tensions in Asia and Russia, Michael Jackson and Rosa Parks, Saturn’s moons, and the Ford Mustang. You can listen to those conversations and many others I produced here.

The Smog Beneath

With a hazy public understanding of the state of New York City’s subterranean landscape, with incessant city-wide construction, with infrastructure that dates from a century ago or more, and with millions of dollars necessary just to repair accidents across the five boroughs each year, the question is not if another underground leak, fire or explosion will kill people again in New York. It’s when.

Much of New York’s underground infrastructure was built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first gas lines were built nearly two centuries ago, in 1823. In the 1880s, steam became the primary method to heat New York. The New York Gas Light Company, the Edison Company, and the New York Steam Company all laid pipes, and soon after, their systems integrated, eventually becoming Consolidated Edison. Today, across New York City, Con Ed owns more than 100 miles of steam lines that are powered by seven steam plants in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Across such a large, dense system, and amid perpetual construction by Con Edison, Verizon, Time Warner and various contractors, the old pipes and cables weather consistent stress. When they break or malfunction, someone has to take the blame. Someone has to pay to repair the damage.

Read more at SMOG.

How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body

To this day, I am not sure how many consecutive nights I spent awake, but it was at least four. Espresso helped me keep going. So did furiously paced, illogical scribbling in a fat blue pocket notebook. As the sleepless days passed, I experienced the increasingly severe psychological effects common with extended sleep deprivation: I hallucinated, rambled, and lost focus. Toward the end of the ordeal, in New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, my body was giving out, too. While imposing a monologue on my biology teacher—who, I later learned, thought I was tripping on LSD—I blacked out and slumped mid-sentence. This happened more than once on my final day awake. Sleep specialists call these involuntary collapses “microsleeps.” It’s not hard to see why anybody—a high school chaperone, a parent, a doctor—might view a twitching, crumpling, babbling kid like me as some sort of nutcase. But what happened to me could happen to anyone who stays awake that long, voluntarily or otherwise.

Unlike other basic bodily functions, such as eating and breathing, we still do not fully understand why people need to sleep. There are theories—some think sleep may be the process by which the brain shuts down so it can store the day’s memories. Others, like Dr. Joyce Walseben, a psychiatrist and the former director of Bellevue Hospital’s Sleep Disorders Center, point to sleep’s importance in regulating the body’s hormones. But these theories are not complete. […] Sleep deprivation is nearly as misunderstood as sleep itself, but it can physically and mentally harm people in myriad ways.


Read the rest of this article at The Atlantic. I was interviewed about it on Vancouver radio show The Shift and on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time.

Do Americans Spend More On Video Games Or Movies?

Americans spend more on video games than on tickets to the movies. Grand Theft Auto V was the fastest-selling entertainment product of all time, with sales of $1 billion in just three days.

But when you factor in everything — not just movie tickets, but on demand, rentals, etc. — Americans still spend way more on movies than they do on video games.

See the graphs and read more at Planet Money.

Models, Rules And High School Dropouts: A Guide To The Economics Nobel

While a few gamblers bet real money on potential Nobel Prize winners, at Planet Money we’re content to merely speculate. We’re particularly interested in who might win the economics prize, which will be announced Monday morning.

The good folks at Thomson Reuters are interested, too. Each year, Reuters publishes a closely watched list of predictions about who might win. Since 2002, this list has successfully predicted the eventual economics laureate(s) five times. This year, it named three groups of economists as favorites.

Read about them at Planet Money.

The Key To Power At The Federal Reserve? Running The Meetings

I am asking this sincerely: Why does it matter who the next Fed chairman will be? What difference does it make if Larry Summers or Janet Yellen or someone else heads the central bank?

More to the point: What does the Fed chairman do? What kind of power does he or she actually have?

To find out, I called Joe Gagnon, an economist who worked at the Fed for nearly 20 years and who now works at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Read a condensed transcript of our conversation at Planet Money.

Mom Recalls Last Moments With Baby Killed in Brownsville

The distraught mother of a 16-month-old who was shot and killed in Brownsville Sunday said some of the baby’s last moments were spent laughing and hopping on a bed.

In a tearful interview near her home on Riverdale Avenue Tuesday, Cherise Miller said that on Sunday evening she found her boy, Antiq Hennis, bouncing happily on a bed.

“He’s jumping on the bed,” Miller said. “I was just sitting there. I didn’t yell at him. I just sat and watched him.”

Read the rest at DNAinfo, and check out all my pieces for them.

Founder of Marinos Italian Ices Dies at 97

Marinos Vourderis came to New York from Greece with little money and no education in the early 1940s, but in the years that followed, he founded a company whose name became synonymous with New York City summers: Marinos Italian Ices.

Vourderis died of natural causes last Tuesday in his Jamaica Estates home, surrounded by his large family. He was 97.

“He ws able to come here and live the American Dream,” Margaret Hackford, Vourderis’s 57-year-old daughter, said of her father.


“My father’s greatest saying was that, ‘look at how much I’ve accomplished with frozen sugar and water,’” Hackford said.

Read the rest at DNAinfo, and check out all my pieces for them.

Eid al-Fitr at The Futa Islamic Center


This photo essay documents Eid al-Fitr services on August 19, 2012, at the Futa Islamic Center, a Harlem mosque that serves a community of many Guinean immigrants from the Fulani ethnic group.