Thursday, January 17, 2019

Creating While Clean

This is a story about sober musicians—about the life that has led them here, and about the life that they live now—but there is no single story here.

Some drank, some used drugs, some did more or less everything, and they did so to very different degrees. Some found themselves at the edge of the precipice, or worse; others simply re-routed from a path or trajectory that they came to see as unwise. Some were clean before the end of their teenage years; some only surfaced into sobriety much later in their lives. Some created the work that made them first or best known before they were sober; some have done so since. Some see significant correlations here; some don’t.

In the modern pop-culture tradition, being a musician has often come with a series of default lifestyle expectations, ones of indulgence and recklessness, larger-than-life living, and a diligent pursuit of altered forms of consciousness. Some see these expectations as having played a part in what happened to them, though most ultimately see their decisions and actions as also—if not mainly—a matter of their own psychology and personality and predisposition.

Some delight in a dark humor about their earlier excesses; others talk in a way that suggests that to dwell on these too much, to give such memories too much oxygen, would be to take too lightly something they simply can’t risk taking lightly. That it would be foolhardy or perilous to risk returning, even in thought, to a place where for all kinds of reasons they’d rather not linger. A corollary is that some are reluctant in this context to offer much detail about the particular substances that they consumed, or that consumed them, or both. (Readers may be aware that at other times, in different situations or at different stages of their recovery, some of these interviewees may have detailed further specifics about how they used to alter their body chemistry, but GQ is respecting what they have chosen to share in this particular circumstance and setting.)

Some hew closely to the language of recovery programs; some don’t. (Readers may also notice that some in the former category prefer to honor rigorously the “…anonymous” code of such programs by not even specifying them.) Some have relapsed along the way; some have not—but to varying extents they all remain aware and watchful of the possibility. Some clearly think that everyone would be better in the long run to live the way they currently live; others consider where they are now a personal solution for their own individual predicament that should not necessarily be prescriptive for others.

What they have in common is that they are all, by their own account, for now, living sober. And quite evidently they all strongly believe—whatever their varying reasons and circumstances and perspectives and challenges—that sobriety has made life better.

This is not an article telling anyone how to live; this is not an article advocating the wisdom or foolishness of different paths. It is simply an article in which a diverse group of creative people articulate how their own lives veered off course, and about some of the ways they each found to correct that, and about what they believe they have learned about themselves and about living in the process.

Even for those interviewees who chose to pepper their accounts with wry humor and funny stories, these were not lighthearted interviews. Invariably these were intense and often painful discussions about something each clearly considered a hugely important and central part of who they now are; as they communicated their experiences, they were prepared to dig deeply, and often unsparingly.

And while the particulars they spoke of may be specific to each of them, the wider predicaments and decisions and quandaries and insecurities and dilemmas they spoke of are the same ones that confront us all. No matter which choices each one of us elects to make as we hack through the undergrowth into the future, no matter how like or unlike these lives here might seem to our own lives, I would be astonished—and perhaps a little worried, too—to discover anyone who could read the words these interviewees share without finding plenty to relate to or empathize with, and plenty more to think about.

by Chris Heath, GQ |  Read more:
Image: Ryan Pfluger

'The Truest Free-Range': Why Its Time to Start Eating Roadkill

My mother texts me four photos of a dead moose the week I leave Alaska. It is freshly hit. The pebbled pink brains fanning across the pavement have not yet grayed in the brisk autumn air. The animal will not go to waste. For the past 50 years, Alaska has been the only state where virtually every piece of large roadkill is eaten.

Every year, between 600 and 800 moose are killed in Alaska by cars, leaving up to 250,000lb of organic, free-range meat on the road. State troopers who respond to these collisions keep a list of charities and families who have agreed to drive to the scene of an accident at any time, in any weather, to haul away and butcher the body.

During a recent trip to Fairbanks, my hometown, I asked locals why Alaska’s roadkill program has been so successful for so long. “It goes back to the traditions of Alaskans: we’re really good at using our resources,” the Alaska state trooper David Lorring told me. Everyone I talked to – biologists, law enforcement, hunters and roadkill harvesters – agreed: it would be embarrassing to waste the meat. In the past few years, a handful of states, including Washington, Oregon and Montana, have started to adopt the attitude that Alaskans have always had toward eating roadkill. A loosening of class stigma and the questionable ethics and economics of leaving dinner to rot by the side of the road have driven acceptance of the practice in the lower 48.

The trooper in my mother’s photo will have no trouble finding someone to take the moose. It’s still daylight, and 200lb of good meat are sitting by the side of the road in Anchorage, the state’s largest city. The trooper may even wait until the salvagers arrive. Otherwise, someone driving by may grab the moose first.

Alaska’s geography, demographics and can-do spirit make it uniquely fit for salvaging roadkill. It is far from the contiguous 48 states, and shipping food can be prohibitively expensive. When Alaska became a state in 1959, it was branded as a loosely governed last frontier where practical knowhow and self-reliance were highly valued. Salvaging large roadkill is nothing if not practical. One moose – 300lb of meat – is dinner for a year. And if the internal organs have ruptured and tainted the meat, or troopers can’t determine the cause of death, then they call dogsledders or trappers. “We have plenty of people willing to take a rotten, nasty moose,” Lorring told me, to use as dog food or bear bait. But roadkill rarely goes bad, the wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger told me. People are quick to report large game collisions, and the cold climate limits wildlife diseases that can make meat unfit to eat. (...)

State-wide bans on salvaging roadkill began in the 1950s, when one in 10 people in the lower 48 hunted; today, it’s only one in 20. When California made picking up roadkill illegal in 1957, the law was supposed to prevent people from poaching by intentionally smashing into deer with their vehicles. Oregon, Washington and Texas passed similar laws. My mother grew up in Oregon during the ban. When food was tight, her father illegally killed deer – with a gun. Like many people, she laughed at the idea of using an expensive car to capture her dinner.

Forty years later, states began repealing their bans, partly to reduce the workload of state-funded highway cleaning crews. Tennessee was one of the earliest to do so. As a state senator, Tim Burchett received national attention when he proposed a bill to let Tennessee residents collect and eat roadkill without a tag in 1999. His prediction that “everyone’s going to make us look like a bunch of hayseed rednecks” was right. A Knoxville News Sentinel headline read “Grease the skillet, Ma! New bill will make road kill legal eatin’”, and a New York Times reporter covering the ridicule revealed his own prejudice when he wrote: “As if a state law were preventing anyone from scraping a happy meal off the asphalt. As if anyone would even dream of it.”

The reporter was wrong: within the last decade, more than five states have lifted or loosened their roadkill restrictions, making eating roadkill legal in more states than not. Today, thousands of people apply for salvage permits each year.

by Ella Jacobson, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

One Tab: How to Give Google’s Chrome Browser a Big Speed Boost With One Click

With more than 64% of the global market as of last month, Google’s Chrome browser is by far the most popular desktop web browser by a massive margin. The next closest is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and its global market share totalled less than 11% in December 2018. Chrome is the browser of choice for so many reasons, not the least of which are things like simplicity and speed. When it comes to speed though, things aren’t always straightforward. Chrome is typically lightning fast when loading webpages, but your browser speed can really take a hit when there are tons of tabs open. And if you’re anything like us here at BGR, you pretty much always have tons of tabs open.

Over the years, Google has made plenty of optimizations aimed specifically at improving performance and reducing resource utilization by background tabs. Even still, things tend to slow down — especially on older PCs — when you leave too many tabs open. As it turns out though, there’s an awesome free Chrome extension that lets you give your browser a big speed boost with a single click.

The extension in question is called One Tab, and it’s completely free to download from the Chrome Web Store. Once installed, a One Tab button will appear in your browser to the right of the address bar. Anytime you get overwhelmed by open tabs or your system starts to slow down, simply click the button and all of your open tabs will be closed. In their place, you’ll find a single tab with a list of hyperlinks, one for each tab that had been open. When you need to go back to a page, just select it from the list. It’s a wonderfully simple and effective solution to the problem, and again, it’s totally free.

by Zach Epstein, BGR |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Has the Government Legalized Secret Defense Spending?

October 4th, 2018, was a busy news day. The fight over Brett Kavanuagh’s Supreme Court nomination dominated the cycle. The Trump White House received a supplemental FBI report it said cleared its would-be nominee of wrongdoing. Retired Justice John Paul Stevens meanwhile said Kavanaugh was compromised enough that he was “unable to sit as a judge.”

The only thing that did not make the news was an announcement by a little-known government body called the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board — FASAB — that essentially legalized secret national security spending. The new guidance, “SFFAS 56 – CLASSIFIED ACTIVITIES” permits government agencies to “modify” public financial statements and move expenditures from one line item to another. It also expressly allows federal agencies to refrain from telling taxpayers if and when public financial statements have been altered.

To Michigan State professor Mark Skidmore, who’s been studying discrepancies in defense expenditures for years, the new ruling ­— and the lack of public response to it — was a shock.

“From this point forward,” he says, “the federal government will keep two sets of books, one modified book for the public and one true book that is hidden.”

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy was one of the few people across the country to pay attention to the FASAB news release. He was alarmed.

“It diminishes the credibility of all public budget documents,” he says.

I spent weeks trying to find a more harmless explanation for SFFAS 56, or at least one that did not amount to a rule that allows federal officials to fake public financial reports.

I couldn’t find one. This new accounting guideline really does mean what it appears to mean, and the details are more bizarre than the broad strokes.

by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone |  Read more:
Image: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

Ethan Hawke: The Rolling Stone Interview

[ed. Always seemed like a thoughtful guy. Also, check out Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (with Philip Seymour Hoffman). A favorite.]

Steely Dan

[ed. Love the spidery guitar work in the background (hard to hear on YouTube). Turn it up. See also: Joe Jackson's excellent cover.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Costco Is Selling a 27-Lb. Bucket of Mac and Cheese with a 20-Year Shelf Life

Oh Costco, you’ve truly outdone yourself this time.

The wholesale store just figured out a way to make sure you will never run out of mac and cheese again: sell it in a 27-lb. tub.

You read that correctly, 27 lbs. That’s as much as about 100 baseballs, half a bale of hay or your average 3-year-old child.

The Chef’s Banquet Macaroni and Cheese Storage Bucket now sold at Costco holds 180 servings of the fan-favorite meal.

Piled high in the six-gallon container are separate pouches of elbow pasta and cheddar cheese sauce.

The tub sells for $89.99, which really means you’re only paying about 50 cents per serving. Also, you’re making quite the investment as the product will last a long time—two decades in fact. The shelf life is so long that Costco listed the product under “all emergency foods” on the store’s website.

by Georgia Slater, People |  Read more:
Image: Costco/Amazon

Walter Becker

Rodents of Unusual Size

By now, anyone following environmental news recognizes Louisiana as one of the front lines for climate change in the United States. In recent years, writers from the state have famously wondered out loud about whether the boot shape we all learned in elementary school fits anymore, and residents of a small community in Isle de Jean Charles made headlines in 2015-2016 by becoming the first "climate refugees" in the country. Between flooding and the various forces pushing coastal erosion, the town quite literally lost 98 percent of its physical land in the 60 years between 1955 and 2015, forcing a concerted relocation effort.

The causes of this crisis are complex, numerous, and varied—but only one contributor kinda, sorta resembles a real-life Raticate. The large swamp rats known as nutria don’t look anything like the small mice you might take home from a pet store. Larger than small dogs and sporting giant orange teeth capable of doing some damage, most people wouldn’t want to mess with one in close quarters. But many in modern Louisiana don’t have a choice these days, which is where Rodents of Unusual Size—a documentary making its TV debut on PBS’ Independent Lens on Monday, January 14—comes in.

Know the nutria

Back in the early 20th century long before environmental changes imminently threatened the state's natural resources, Louisiana still needed more industry. So businessmen like EA McIlhenny (of the Tabasco family, yes) had an idea. Argentina has this abundance of these large, furry creatures called nutria, what if we acquired some?

The concept seemed solid: raise ‘em on a fur farm, skin ‘em for the pelts, and then export hats, jackets, and other fine furs to make a pretty penny. And for a long time, the scheme worked—even Sophia Loren once wore nutria, and the industry for Louisiana trappers peaked around $15 million in annual revenue. But as animal rights became more of a mainstream concept, the popularity of fur drastically decreased. Suddenly, folks in Southern Louisiana didn’t have the same motivation, and nutria quietly built out a larger population within their new habitat.

This, to put it lightly, had consequences. In the '70s and '80s when the fur game started drying up, Rodents of Unusual Size estimates 25 million invasive nutria occupied Southern Louisiana. Unfortunately, the rats tend to devastate their immediate environment, eating anything green in sight and uprooting plants in the process, which makes a plot of land more at risk to the natural forces of coastal erosion. When combined over time with things like trying to canal the Mississippi and dredging land for the oil and gas industry, it becomes easy to see where the nutria fit in within the larger pending-environmental disaster puzzle.

Rodents of Unusual Size gets through this history as swiftly as a fanboat in order to focus on the now—since recognizing the dilemma, how has the state and the people of Louisiana approached a problem like nutria? The most effective (or at least most documented here) tactic seems to simply be reinstating a financial incentive. In 2002, Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries instituted a bounty—just on nutria tails, even, so those wanting to utilize the meat or pelts could still double their profits.

There’s impetus to do it for a livable wage—at $5/pelt and the ability to (in good times at least) snag 1,200 or so pelts in a week, the money can be significant despite the tough work—but everyone seems to recognize a greater cause in play as well. “When I grew up this was a jungle, nothing but big oak trees,” says older nutria hunter Thomas Gonzales, who’s lived in Delacroix his entire life (the nutria only came to Delacroix in the 1950s by his account). “When I look out now it looks like a disaster. The nutria took over, and they’re going to destroy the land, so we gotta keep fighting ‘em.”

Today all types of Louisianans get involved, and this documentary sings by simply tagging along with a variety of hunters in order to showcase each one's distinct motivation and approach. Viewers spend time with the elderly and the youth, men and women, entire families, locals of all different racial and ethnic identities including those belonging to nearby Native American tribes. “This is pretty much one of the best college jobs you can do, coming out here is like seeing dollar signs on the land,” says college student Trey Hover. “Each one I kill gets me closer and closer to paying for school.”

And by this point, the nutria have expanded far beyond the immediate coast. Rodents of Unusual Size rides along with animal control specialists who take to the heart of New Orleans and battle these creatures within the city’s canals and sewer system, for instance. One constantly on call expert estimates in a two-mile stretch of canal these days, you’re likely to find at least 300 nutria, which means infrastructure faces more risk via burrowing and humans may have to deal with them showing up at home. “I remember calls to get nutria out of toilets,” the control expert says. “Canal drainage leads to sewer, which leads to toilet. So there’s going to be more human versus nutria conflict.”

by Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica |  Read more:
Image: Petar Milošević/Wikimedia Commons

Field + Screen

The world’s biggest golfer doesn’t reside in Florida or California or Scotland, but in the tech-city of Daejeon, South Korea. Gleaming stainless steel and 69 feet tall, “The Golfer” by artists Ji Yong Ho and Park Dae Gyu has androgynous curves through the hips and chest and is a monument to a player of the future, not the past. Reflecting the noon sun with nearly as much pop is the swooping seven-story structure adjacent, the company headquarters of Golfzon. (English speakers: Mentally tack on an “e” for the correct pronunciation.) Founded by a former Samsung executive, the company operates courses and retail shops, but the most important part of its business is its simulators, which last year totaled 56 million rounds across 46 countries, as well as Antarctica. Maybe you’ve taken indoor swings in a clubfitting studio or a wealthy buddy’s basement, but prepare to encounter something else entirely at the top of this building’s first escalator. When you come back outside, you’ll wonder if it really was a simulation, or the emergence of a new sport altogether.

Screen golf versus field golf

South Koreans differentiate between “screen golf” and “field golf” with no sense of irony. Recently, the republic became the only country where more rounds are played annually on the former than the latter. Golfzon locations (5,756) outnumber Starbucks by 5-to-1. New-course construction has halted, so for a golf-passionate nation where few children grow up with yards, screen golf has provided a rising middle-class with a sense of recreational green space. An hour of play, which is more than enough time for a single golfer to complete 18 holes, generally starts around $25 with small upcharges for better courses.

Screen baseball is also popular, as is screen fishing. Yes, you cast a line-less rod, and a projection of a hook and sinker penetrates the surface of an idyllic digital lake. Just the right amount of auditory hints, like lapping water and birdsong, sift through speakers. Algorithms decide when and if a fish will bite and how big, and gyroscopes inside the pole shudder to provide a sensation of fight. Your forearms will burn as you work the reel, and without proper finesse, you might lose the fish. Outdoorsmen from Montana can spit out their coffee and stammer—Is nothing sacred anymore?—but practices like catch-and-release aren’t without attendant philosophical questions, too. When it comes to what humans do for fun, let’s agree we’re all a little nutty sometimes.

So although a traditional golf tournament—you know, like, on a course with 18 physical holes—has a limit of about 150 players per day, screen golf knows no such restraint. Golfzon conducts up to 350 tournaments daily with top qualifiers regularly earning the chance to compete in weekend events at the headquarters store, which, along with its supporting restaurants and retail shops, is also known as Zoimaru (Joy-mah-roo). There, 27 simulator bays occupy three floors for a playing capacity of 108 players. When GTour is in session, panels on certain bays are removed to create stadium seating for spectators. (...)

Though the standard for an indoor hitting bay is some sort of cube with a turf mat and dark drapes, at Zoimaru the line with reality is more blurred. When it’s your turn to hit, you ascend a few stone steps to a terraced tee box bordered with flowers. After your drive, the teeing area tilts to match the slope of the approach shot. The ceilings are high—airy even—and the potted trees are a continuation of the same variety depicted in the landscape of the wall murals flanking the screen. There’s piped audio of wind rustling leaves. If you soften your gaze and want to believe you’re playing golf in the Taebaek Mountains—not above the parking garage—you can.

by Max Adler, Golf Digest |  Read more:
Image: Greg Samborski

Monday, January 14, 2019

Was the Ocean Cleanup Just a Pipe Dream?

Last fall, with much fanfare, a 2,000-foot-long contraption of floating pipes was towed out to sea from San Francisco as the first step in an ambitious project to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of trash (including some 87,000 tons of plastic) floating between California and Hawaii. System 001, also known as Wilson, was supposed to pick up some of those pieces. The Dutch nonprofit behind the endeavor, the Ocean Cleanup (TOC), hoped to eventually deploy 59 more similar devices, claiming that all together they could collect half the debris in the patch within five years.

Now, after less than four months, System 001 is coming home almost empty-handed—and in pieces. It’s being towed to Hawaii for investigation and repairs after what Boyan Slat, TOC’s founder and a much hyped boy genius (he started the organization in 2013, when he was 18) has described in a blog post as “structural malfunctioning.” In late December, a 60-foot piece of pipe broke off the end of the system, which is comprised of a horseshoe-shaped boom with a skirt designed to corral debris floating on or near the ocean’s surface. As was widely reported earlier in the fall, System 001 had difficulty holding onto much of the garbage it captured, though Slat wrote in his new blog post that the team had recovered some 4,400 pounds of plastic in the form of debris and old fishing nets. He called the failures “teething troubles,” and said he is “confident we’ll get The Ocean Cleanup fully operational in 2019.”

To others working the challenge of ocean plastics, however, System 001’s shortcomings were entirely predictable. “I am disappointed that it has failed, but I am not surprised,” says marine biologist Miriam Goldstein, the director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. Goldstein, who focused her Ph.D. research on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch while at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the mid-2000s, was an early critic of TOC. So was Kim Martini, an oceanographer with Sea-Bird Scientific, which manufactures offshore ocean-monitoring instruments for marine scientists. The two wrote highly skeptical reviews of TOC’s initial plans back in 2013. After TOC released a feasibility study the following year, Goldstein and Martini concluded that the prototype was “under-engineered” for the open ocean. “Being a naysayer is neither fun nor professionally rewarding,” they wrote on the blog Deep Sea News. “However, … we believe that scientists have a duty to communicate to the public on topics that the public wants to know about.” They concluded that the TOC system would be unable to capture plastic in the ocean and predicted that it wouldn’t be able to endure rough conditions at sea without breaking.

In response, Slat disputed some of the calculations that Goldstein and Martini had made, and remarked that “Ms. Martini and Ms. Goldstein are no engineers, they’re oceanographers.”

“The whole scientific-peer-review process is a process of constructive critique,” says Goldstein now. “I do not believe the Ocean Cleanup was open to engaging in that process,” adding that since 2014, TOC has released “very limited public information” about its design.

Other scientists echoed the concern that the system TOC was building wouldn’t be able to capture much plastic and could possibly break apart. They also worried that it might harm marine wildlife and that the plastic it did collect wouldn’t have anywhere to go. The consensus response among established ocean researchers was that was that old-fashioned human-powered beach cleanups would be much more cost-effective than rigging an experimental device to perform an autonomous cleanup. “In the opinion of most of the scientific community,” one marine biologist told Science, conducting a cleanup out at sea instead of closer to shore “is a waste of effort.”

by Svati Kirsten Narula, Outside |  Read more:
Image: Ocean Cleanup via Forbes 
[ed. Yes, pretty predictable. See also: Founder Of Ocean Cleanup Vows Return, Says Failure Talk Is 'Rubbish' (Forbes)]

Sunday, January 13, 2019

House Democrats Hoping to Stifle Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Are Only Hurting Themselves

The 116th Congress has only been in session for a week, but some senior Democrats are already dismayed by one new kid on the block. In a Politico report published Friday, several members criticized Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the record – an unusual choice, especially when the target is a freshman who’s had little chance to establish herself as a lawmaker. “I’m sure Ms. Cortez means well, but there’s almost an outstanding rule: Don’t attack your own people,” said Representative Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri. “We just don’t need sniping in our Democratic Caucus.” Ocasio-Cortez has publicly criticized the party, often on Twitter, for what she sees as its entrenched centrism.

Politico went on to explain that senior Democrats are put off by more than Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter account. Some Democratic representatives objected to a grassroots campaign to put the congresswoman on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and were affronted by her opposition to new House rules that include pay-as-you-go or PAYGO restrictions. PAYGO requires the House to match any new spending with proportional cuts, and critics generally consider it an obstacle to the welfare expansions that left-wing Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez are likely to favor.

Some conflict between Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, and senior Democrats, who are generally to her right, was inevitable. But the criticisms included in the Politico piece were not framed in ideological terms. “She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one unnamed Democrat described as being “in lockstep with Ocasio-Cortez’s ideology.” They added, “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.” Others worried that Ocasio-Cortez’s fame could cost the party seats. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat from New York, said that she’d counseled the congresswoman against backing primary challenges to fellow Democrats in the future. Ocasio-Cortez’s own record – she ran as a primary challenger and supported similar bids from other left-wing insurgent – appears to concern them, as does her affiliation with Justice Democrats, which endorsed her and other insurgents in 2018.

It’s not clear from these criticisms that senior Democrats understand the reasons for Ocasio-Cortez’s run, or her victory over incumbent Joe Crowley. One party aide told Politico that people “are afraid of her” and her viral tweets, a sentiment that reduces the congresswoman to emotion and affect. But her stardom has discernible origins that counter such a simplistic depiction of her rise to power. Ocasio-Cortez’s popularity is tied to her ideology, which incorporates both her policies and her hostility to establishment politics. She is an insurgent, and that’s exactly why people like her.

by Sarah Jones, NY Magazine/Intelligencer |  Read more:
Image: Brendan Smialosky/AFP/Getty
[ed. See also: How AOC is Changing the Game (Current Affairs), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has more Twitter power than media, establishment (Axios).]

Lord Sundance

[ed. Sleazy weirdness from the 60s. For your pleasure...]