The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero? I called Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the lead authors of the study, to ask if there was any good news hiding behind those brutal numbers. Were we really at risk of extinction? She failed to comfort me. “The What Does It Mean question means extrapolating beyond your data,” Swan said, “which is always a tricky thing. But you can ask, ‘What does it take? When is a species in danger? When is a species threatened?’ And we are definitely on that path.” That path, in its darkest reaches, leads to no more naturally conceived babies and potentially to no babies at all—and the final generation of Homo sapiens will roam the earth knowing they will be the last of their kind.
A very strange thing about national flags is how similar they are. More than 75 percent of all national flags include the color red, and more than 72 percent include the color white. A whopping 30 national flags have the red, white, and blue color combination. Stripes, stars, and crosses are exceedingly common. There are no rules, no international governing bodies, that tell a country what a flag can and cannot be, and yet all but three flags are rectangles. Two—Switzerland and Vatican City—are squares. And then there’s Nepal.
The Nepali flag consists of two overlapping triangles, of different sizes defined with mathematical precision. It is the world’s only five-sided national flag, and the only flag that does not have two parallel sides. Other countries could do this and do not, and probably never will. So how did this happen?
I am seven years old, and it is the better part of a year we spend in the Carson Valley, my mother taking a break from the constant reminder of her divorce, from the South, from the women in grocery stores who stare down her nurse shoes, the pale white sneakers always glowing in spite of everything they touch. My older sister, a half-sister though she feels whole, is a teenager delighting in her upcoming adulthood, who walks me with pride from our ugly brown apartment to my school. My breath in the cold before me, my tiny legs aching to catch up. It’s always cold in Nevada, a to-the-bone cold I’ve never known before having grown up in fetid winters that brought tornadoes and hardly any snow. We stop at a halfway point, and she pays for my powdered donut, which spills across the paper plate, white against white. She is explaining to me how we could always do this, how it could always be this way. Just two sisters, mending their way through the small town, as if two sisters in a village in France, on their way always to the patisserie. Merci et adieu.
Transcription stands alongside its immediate predecessors as a fine example of Atkinson’s mature work; an unapologetic novel of ideas, which is also wise, funny and paced like a spy thriller.
“There’s no war on race, there’s a war on poverty!” yelled a drunken man as he violently clanked his silverware inside Top of the Notch restaurant, nestled near the summit of Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel Mountains. Though his rhetoric pulsated unnervingly through the mountains, I didn’t say anything back; I didn’t want my mini-vacation ruined by a pointless fight. But the new anthology Violence: Humans in Dark Times reminds readers the power of confronting political disparities, and the necessity of speaking out — it reads like a poignant, if imperfect, reply to this man’s belief.