Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'll be taking a short break for a few days. Enjoy the archives.


Traudi Stahl

What We Talk About When We (Don't) Talk About Dying

It will be okay, I finally said. And when she finally fell asleep I watched her and remembered all the times she told me, patient and comforting, that it would be okay. When I didn’t want her to leave my sight in a shopping mall. Or the times I got nervous before a grade-school field trip. Or when I was sick and needed to take medicine, back in the days when it actually tasted like medicine. Or when I woke up in the middle of the night, not old enough to know what a nightmare was but young enough to call out for the one person who always came. It will be okay, she always said, and I always believed her.

My mother always told me what I needed to hear and I gradually came to understand—and appreciate—that none of these things were a matter of life and death. Eventually I acknowledged—and accepted—that it would be okay, because when your mother tells you this, she knows it’s the truth. She wouldn’t say it unless she believed it, so I believed her.

You each get older and learn to recognize the things you can control and the things you can’t. You gain perspective and experience and grasp that life goes on no matter how you wonder and worry. You might get sick and you might need reassurance but that’s all part of the process, another step in your journey. You adapt and endure because it always gets better. You remind yourself: it’s not a matter of life and death.

And so on.

So what can you say when, one day, it becomes a matter of life and death? What do you do when the person crying in the bed is looking to you for reassurance? How do you proceed when the person who always calmed you down is shuddering with fear and afraid to be alone? What else is left when actions have failed and, for the first time, even words are incapable of offering consolation? You tell your mother it will be okay. You do this because there’s nothing else left to do. You say it will be okay because you know it won’t and you still hope she’s able to believe you. (...)

It gets very quiet while time and place and the guarded feelings that enable us to function all fall away and you concentrate every thought into one simple, implausible objective: peace. You think it and you will it and for a moment that might be forever you become it in ways you’re never able to talk about later, even if you are inclined (and you aren’t, especially). You shiver but are calm; you are entirely in the present tense yet you are also somewhere else, somewhere deeper inside that, somehow, connects you to everything else you’ve ever known.

It will be okay, you whisper, actually believing this because it’s not even your own voice you hear. You don’t know if this is you, or your mind, or the actualization of thatother place (you are hazily aware) you have managed to access, understanding it’s not anything you can anticipate or comprehend even though you’ve been preparing for it (you realize, abruptly) as far back as you can remember.

It’s okay, you say, and maybe your vision is blurred or your eyes are closed, or probably you’re seeing more clearly than ever before, but now you recognize this voice and, as you look down at eyes that can no longer see you, understand, finally, that you’re talking to yourself.

by Sean Murphy, The Weeklings |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Peckham Library

[ed. Someday I'll make this for someone special.]

Bummer Beach

Early on the morning of October 21, 2012, five surfers pile into a Chevy Suburban in Half Moon Bay and drive south on Highway 1. Just past the city limits, they pull off the road at the entrance to Martins Beach, a beautiful little cove frequented by generations of fishermen, beachgoers, and surfers. It’s a typical coastal morning: damp, chilly, the sky a latticework of fast-moving clouds. They shrug off their hoodies and suit up.

From the highway a single road—the only way in or out—tumbles toward the beach past hay fields, weathered bungalows, and stands of wind-sculpted cypress. The road, which runs over private property, was open to the general public for almost a century. But an automatic metal gate installed by the property’s new owner now bars the way. Signs hang from the gate: “Beach Closed, Keep Out” and “No Trespassing.”

The signs make the surfers a little nervous, sure. But they had read the California Constitution the night before, saving screenshots of the relevant portions to their smartphones just in case. Article 10, Section 4, it seems to them, is pretty clear: “Access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof.” In other words, the public owns all of California’s 1,100-mile coastline.

Shortly after the group hops the gate, they are confronted by an older man in an SUV who yells, “The cops are on their way!” before driving off. Jonathan Bremer, the leader of this group of unlikely dissidents, shoots back sarcastically: “Good morning! Thank you for allowing us to access public lands!”

The road bends in on itself, and the beach comes into view: a natural amphitheater framed by sheer 75-foot cliffs, Mediterranean in its color palette. Jutting out of the waves is Pelican Rock, a postcard-ready formation that bisects the cove. The group paddles out. It is far from an epic day—the peaks are shifty and windblown—but at least they are making their point. Bremer, a 28-year-old vehicle engineer, grew up near the coast in Bellingham, Washington, and moved here three years ago. His manner is intense, at odds with surfer stereotypes. “I really don’t like it,” he says, “when people tell me I can’t go places that I’m legally entitled to go.”

Then, as they sit in the lineup, their boards rising and falling with the swell, the cops show up.

With this act of aquatic civil disobedience, the Martins Beach Five, as the group inevitably became known, inserted themselves into a dispute that has made headlines worldwide. It is a conflict that mirrors decades of beach-access battles in Southern California, where wealthy property owners have long jousted with coastal advocates over public beach access.

It has also opened a new front in the Bay Area’s ever-widening class war. While this fight doesn’t involve Google buses squatting in Muni stops or luxury condo developers building on the Embarcadero, protesters like Bremer say that it amounts to the same thing: the de facto privatization of public resources.

In this case, though, the target of activist ire isn’t a monolithic tech company or a cabal of Pacific Heights swells. It is, instead, one very rich and rather famous man: Vinod Khosla.

In 2008, the Silicon Valley billionaire and Sun Microsystems cofounder paid an alleged $37.5 million for two parcels encompassing all but a sliver of the land surrounding Martins Beach. Then he closed the only road to the beach, which runs across his property. Years of back and forth ensued, culminating in two lawsuits.

One suit, brought on behalf of the anti-Khosla group Friends of Martins Beach, is grounded in the public trust doctrine, a legal principle stretching back to the Roman Empire and English common law that holds that nobody owns the waterways. This idea is enshrined in the passages from the California Constitution that Bremer and his buddies studied before paddling out. The other case, brought by the Southern California– based Surfrider Foundation, draws on the thicket of 1970s-era state laws that govern all beachfront development. It is narrower and rooted in the minutiae of coastal regulations. Both of them aim, ultimately, to restore public access to the beach.

Khosla, who is known for his clean-tech investments, is perhaps Silicon Valley’s leading apostle of messianic eco-capitalism. A major philanthropist and committed environmentalist, he has ruthlessly pursued his dream of “reinventing society” along eco-friendly lines. More traditional approaches draw his contempt—especially those that involve the government. Ordinary environmentalists, he reportedly told an audience in 2012, “push all these idealized solutions that don’t make any economic sense.” Government, he added, should just “stay out of our way.”

Khosla’s legal team’s arguments reflect this libertarian ethos. The coast may be public, they concede, but the road isn’t. “This issue touches upon one of the essential principles of property ownership— the right to exclude others,” they write. To force Khosla to reopen that road, they contend, would be tantamount to theft.

by Chris A. Smith, San Francisco Magazine | Read more:
Images: Jim Patterson, Michael Short

Why Movie Streaming Services Are Unsatisfying — and Will Stay So

A team of web designers recently released an astonishingly innovative app for streaming movies online. The program, Popcorn Time, worked a bit like Netflix, except it had one unusual, killer feature. It was full of movies you’d want to watch.

When you loaded Popcorn Time, you were presented with a menu of recent Hollywood releases: “American Hustle,” “Gravity,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “12 Years A Slave” and hundreds of other acclaimed films were all right there, available for instant streaming at the click of a button.

If Popcorn Time sounds too good to be true, that’s because it was. The app was illegal — a well-designed, easy-to-use interface for the movie-pirating services that have long ruled the Internet’s underbelly. Shortly after the app went public, its creators faced a barrage of legal notices, and they pulled it down.

But like Napster in the late 1990s, Popcorn Time offered a glimpse of what seemed like the future, a model for how painless it should be to stream movies and TV shows online. The app also highlighted something we’ve all felt when settling in for a night with today’s popular streaming services, whether Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, or Google or Microsoft’s media stores: They just aren’t good enough.

“Netflix Instant Thinking About Adding Good Movie,” an Onion headline joked recently. It was funny because it was true — and it’s not getting better.

In the music business, Napster’s vision eventually became a reality. Today, with services like Spotify and Rdio, you can pay a monthly fee to listen to whatever you want, whenever you want. But in the movie and TV business, such a glorious future isn’t in the offing anytime soon.

According to industry experts, some of whom declined to be quoted on the record because of the sensitivities of the nexus of media deals involved, we aren’t anywhere close to getting a service that allows customers to pay a single monthly fee for access to a wide range of top-notch movies and TV shows.

Popcorn Time isn’t an achievable dream; it’s a cruel joke about a future we won’t realize any time soon.

by Farhad Manjoo, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Stuart Goldenberg

The Rio Linda Deep-Freeze

Herb and Harry were the names of our two steers, the one a Hereford, the other a Holstein. They did not do much but stand, bovine and stoic, from one day to the next. They sculpted strange rolling shapes into the salt lick with their fat blue tongues, and delighted, with minimal expression, in the delivery of fresh hay. My father liked to joke that they were 'out standing in their field', and they were. They excelled in matters of bovinity, one could not dream of surpassing them. That there was not much to do in the role of bovine did not diminish their excellence, and did not increase their strangeness. In fact, it made them so much more familiar, so much more like me. I was seven, and I did not do much either. I had no known talents, and it would be a long while yet before I would get the idea to try to write. I spent my time taking the world in, watching the animals, mostly. Sitting in the pasture as Herb and Harry grazed nearby, and calling them, in imagined conversations, by their names.

I do not remember when these two appeared, but I do recall, as if it were yesterday, the day the deep-freeze was delivered: a freezer, waist-high to an average adult, as long and as wide as a comfortable bed. It was a descendant of the old ice-boxes that had brought the miracle of long-term food storage to the sweltering Central Valley of California already in the 1920s. Fifty years later, every household in Rio Linda would have in its kitchen a vertical refrigerator with a small freezer compartment at the top, but only a special few would have a ground-dwelling vault, a shiny white tomb dedicated solely to the preservation of sweetmeats and tissues in an eternal solid state, installed with pride by toothless men with tool belts in a corner of the family garage.

We were of indeterminate class. We inhabited a defunct chicken farm, inherited from the Scandinavian grandparents of my mother's side. My father, born in Southern California to a renegade Utah Mormon and an Arkansas dustbowl migrant, was exposed to big ideas and the hope of some upward mobility thanks to a naturally curious mind and also in part to a stint in naval intelligence (involving the transcription of Chinese and Russian radio signals) followed by the GI Bill and graduate study. My mother, born in Sacramento to Minnesota Lutherans (softened by the pseudomystical fun of Shrinerdom), went to law school by night, with the dream of eventually helping the poor white women of the trailer parks of Rio Linda escape their abusive relationships. When the JD in family law was finally earned, and nailed to the wall of the strip-mall office, she would discover that the local economy still functioned mostly by barter, and she would receive, in remuneration for her services, a 1978 AMC Pacer, home grown tomatoes, a vicious goat named Snowy (of whom we have not heard the last), and many a hand-scrawled misspelled Post-It note of gratitude.

There were some lean times in the Valley, and though San Francisco was only a two-hour drive away, though Michel Foucault was just down the road at Berkeley, where my own mother had been an undergraduate at the end of the 1960s, speaking of technologies of the self and the liberatory potential of pleasure, I recall a Central Californian childhood in which the cycles of drought and flood still played a role, in which the desperation of James Agee's interbellum South had been translated Westward with little change. While my parents were not themselves peasants or 'harvest gypsies', to speak with John Steinbeck, the simple fact of their choice to settle in Rio Linda, California, was sufficient to pull us downward, classwise, and to ensure that in all of my subsequent motion through elite East Coast institutions and centers of metropolitan sophistication, I would never, for a second, be free of the singular thought: you are from Rio Linda. You are white trash.

by Justin Erik Halldór Smith | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Andrés David Carrara, "Fornelli", 2002

Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting

Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients. Or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile.

These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music. Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.

I’ve just spent a very depressing afternoon looking through the leading music periodicals. And what did I learn? Pretty much what I expected. I found out what the chart-topping musicians are wearing (or, in many instances, not wearing). I got updates on their love life, and learned whose marriages are on the rocks. I read updates on the legal proceedings of the rich and famous. I got insights into the food preferences and travel routines of megastars. And I read some reviews of albums, and got told by “‘critics” (I use that term loosely) that they were “badass,” “hot,” “sexy,” “tripped-out,” and “freaky.” (...)

I can hardly blame the power brokers at Billboard. The disappearance of critical judgment from music coverage can be seen across the full spectrum of modern media. Newspaper reviews have been downsized and many music critics with specialized expertise dismissed, especially in perceived “niche” categories such as jazz and classical, genres with small sales but a long history of smart music-driven criticism. TV reportage of music is even less sophisticated, with scandal stories predominating, except for the occasional obituary tribute to the dearly departed, where a word or two on musical matters is obligatory. On the radio dial, NPR offers occasional snippets of high quality commentary on musical artists, but one wonders how long they can hold out amidst the Bieberization of arts journalism. Some smart criticism flourishes in the blogosphere but, with all the background noise, you would have a better chance of finding a Victrola needle in a Radio Shack. (...)

Few can remember a time when music wasn’t a tool of self-definition, but until the second half of the twentieth century this was only a small part of a song’s appeal. For most people living in the world, circa 1920, music was embedded into their life, not chosen as a lifestyle accessory. But gradually, over the next several decades, music’s value as a pathway of personal definition came to the forefront of our culture. Sometimes the shift was barely perceptible, but in retrospect we can gauge its profound impact. For example, people in rural America didn’tchoose country music during the early decades of the 20th century, but were literally born into its ethos; yet by the ’70s, country music had evolved into a lifestyle choice, a posture adopted by millions who never roped a steer or herded cattle, but still wanted to affiliate themselves with the values espoused by the songs. By the time we arrive at the age of disco and punk rock, the music consciously builds its appeal on lifestyle considerations.

Record label execs and critics never actually announced that they had given up on music as music, but their actions made clear how little faith they retained in its redemptive power, how much they craved the glamour of other fields. They acted as if music were a subset of the fashion or cinema or advertising industries. Songs became vehicles, platforms for something larger than just notes and words. Or—dare I suggest?—something smaller.

Our everyday language also reflects this shift. During the entire year 1967, The Chicago Tribune only employed the word “lifestyle” seven times, but five years later the term showed up in the same newspaper more than 3,000 times. Fast forward to the present day: many newspapers have full-time lifestyle editors. This shift has impact on coverage of every aspect modern society, from sports to the weather. The lead-in for traffic is a cheery: “Now a look at your morning commute.” Business news is introduced with a glib: “Here’s a look at your money.” Hey Mr. Announcer, you better look fast. But the arts have suffered the most from this mind-numbing approach. Music, in particular, gets treated as one more lifestyle accessory, no different from a stylish smartphone or pair of running shoes. Hard-nosed criticism is squeezed out by soft stories, gossip and fluff. For better or worse, music journalism has retreated into a permanent TMZ-zone, where paparazzi and prattlers, not critics, set the tone.

by Ted Gioia, The Daily Beast | Read more:
Image: DreamWorks/Courtesy Everett Collection

Jean-Honore' Fragonard, The Fountain of Love, 1785, oil on canvas.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Birth Control Rule Divides Supreme Court

[ed. Let me guess how this'll play out: Citizen's United, anyone?]

Seemingly divided, the Supreme Court struggled Tuesday with the question of whether companies have religious rights, a case challenging President Barack Obama's health overhaul and its guarantee of birth control in employees' preventive care plans.

Peppering attorneys with questions in a 90-minute argument, the justices weighed the rights of for-profit companies against the rights of female employees. The discussion ranged to abortion, too, and even whether a female worker could be forced to wear an all-covering burka.

The outcome could turn on the views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote, as his colleagues appeared otherwise to divide along liberal and conservative lines.

As the court heard the challenge brought by the Hobby Lobby chain of stores and others, demonstrators on both sides of the issue chanted outside in an early spring snow.

The justices upheld the overall health care law two years ago in a 5-4 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts cast the deciding vote in favor of Obama's signature domestic legislation. The latest case focuses on a sliver of the law dealing with preventive services, including contraception, that must be offered in a company's plan at no extra charge.

The family-owned companies that are challenging the provision provide health insurance to their employees but object to covering certain methods of birth control that they say can work after conception, in violation of their religious beliefs. (...)

Kennedy voiced concerns about the rights of both female employees and the business owners. He wondered what would happen if an employer ordered a woman who works for him to wear a burka, a full-length robe and head covering commonly worn by conservative Islamic women.

He asked: Does the employer's religious belief "just trump?"

Later in the 90-minute argument, however, he seemed troubled about how the logic of the government's argument would apply to abortions. "A profit corporation could be forced in principle to pay for abortions," Kennedy said. "Your reasoning would permit it."

The three women on the court, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, repeatedly questioned Paul Clement, representing the businesses, whether blood transfusions, vaccinations and laws against sex discrimination would be subject to the same religious objections if the court ruled for his clients.

"Everything would be piecemeal and nothing would be uniform," Kagan said.

Clement acknowledged that courts would have to decide on a case-by-case basis, but he said only the kind of family-owned companies he represented would make such claims, not large, multinational corporations. "That's something that's not going to happen in the real world," Clement said.

Roberts at one point suggested that the court could limit its ruling to just such companies.

One key issue before the justices is whether profit-making corporations may assert religious beliefs under the 1993 religious freedom law or the First Amendment provision guaranteeing Americans the right to believe and worship as they choose.

The court could skirt that issue by finding that the individuals who own the businesses have the right to object. But the justices still would have to decide whether the birth control requirement impinges on religious freedom, and if so, whether the government makes a persuasive case that the policy is important and has been put in place in the least objectionable way possible.

by Mark Sherman. AP |  Read more:
Image: via:

[ed. Here's another interesting fact, though it's not particularly related to the issue at hand: "When people donate to religious groups, it's tax-deductible. Churches don't pay property taxes on their land or buildings. When they buy stuff, they don't pay sales taxes. When they sell stuff at a profit, they don't pay capital gains tax. If they spend less than they take in, they don't pay corporate income taxes. Priests, ministers, rabbis and the like get "parsonage exemptions" that let them deduct mortgage payments, rent and other living expenses when they're doing their income taxes. They also are the only group allowed to opt out of Social Security taxes (and benefits). (...)

Cragun et al estimate the total subsidy at $71 billion. That's almost certainly a lowball, as they didn't estimate the cost of a number of subsidies, like local income and property tax exemptions, the sales tax exemption, and — most importantly — the charitable deduction for religious given. Their estimate that religious groups own $600 billion in property is also probably low, since it leaves out property besides actual churches, mosques, etc." Here's a debate on the merits.]

Kevin Nance

The $2,000 an-Hour Woman

Jason Itzler, the self-anointed world’s greatest escort-agency owner, prepared to get down on his knees. When a man was about to ask for the hand of a woman in holy matrimony, especially the hand of the fabulous Natalia, America’s No. 1 escort, he should get down on his knees.

This was how Jason, who has always considered himself nothing if not “ultraromantic,” saw it. However, as he slid from his grade-school-style red plastic seat in preparation to kneel, the harsh voice of a female Corrections officer broke the mood, ringing throughout the dank visitor’s room.

“Sit back down,” said the large uniformed woman. “You know the rules.”

Such are the obstacles to true love when one is incarcerated at Rikers Island, where Jason Itzler, 38 and still boyishly handsome in his gray Department of Corrections jumpsuit, has resided since the cops shut down his megaposh NY Confidential agency in January.

There was also the matter of the ring. During the glorious summer and fall of 2004, when NY Confidential was grossing an average of $25,000 a night at its 5,000-square-foot loft at 79 Worth Street, spitting distance from the municipal courts and Bloomberg’s priggish City Hall, Jason would have purchased a diamond with enough carats to blow the eye loupe off a 47th Street Hasid.

That was when Itzler filled his days with errands like stopping by Soho Gem on West Broadway to drop $6,500 on little trinkets for Natalia and his other top escorts. This might be followed by a visit to Manolo Blahnik to buy a dozen pairs of $500 footwear. By evening, Itzler could be found at Cipriani, washing down plates of crushed lobster with yet another bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue label and making sure everyone got one of his signature titanium business cards engraved with NY Confidential’s singular motto: ROCKET FUEL FOR WINNERS.

But now Jason was charged with various counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance, money laundering, and promoting prostitution. His arrest was part of a large effort by the NYPD and the D.A.’s office against New York’s burgeoning Internet-based escort agencies. In three months, police had shut down American Beauties, Julie’s, and the far-flung New York Elites, a concern the cops said was flying porn stars all over the country for dates. Reeling, pros were declaring the business “holocausted” as girls took down their Websites and worried johns stayed home.

Many blamed Itzler for the heat. In a business where discretion is supposed to be key, Jason was more than a loose cannon. Loose A-bomb was more like it. He took out giant NY Confidential ads in mainstream magazines (the one you’re holding included). In restaurants, he’d get loud and identify himself, Howard Stern style, as “the King of All Pimps.” Probably most fatally, Itzler was quoted in the Post as bragging that he didn’t worry about the police because “I have cops on my side.” After that, one vice guy said, “it was like he was daring us.”

Only days before, Itzler, attired in a $5,700 full-length fox coat from Jeffrey, bought himself a Mercedes S600. Now the car, along with much of the furniture at Jason’s lair, including the $50,000 sound system on which he blared, 24/7, the music of his Rat Pack idol, Frank Sinatra, had been confiscated by the cops. His assets frozen, unable to make his $250,000 bail, Jason couldn’t even buy a phone card, much less get Natalia a ring.

“Where am I going to get a ring in here?” Jason said to Natalia on the phone the other night. He suggested perhaps Natalia might get the ring herself and then slip it to him when she came to visit.

“That’s good, Jason,” returned Natalia. “I buy the ring, give it to you, you kiss it, give it back to me, and I pretend to be surprised.”

“Something like that,” Jason replied, sheepishly. “You know I love you.”

by Mark Jacobson, NY Magazine | Read more:
Image: Alex Majoli

Wireless Companies Fight for Their Futures

Mobile Future is just one thread in the massive influence web being deployed by AT&T and Verizon as they fight proposals advocated by their smaller competitors and the Justice Department to limit how much of the new wireless frequencies they’ll be allowed to bid on at the auction that’s scheduled for next year.

The spectrum that’s up for sale is highly coveted because it allows transmissions to travel long distances and penetrate buildings. Good spectrum is crucial for wireless companies to attract customers by delivering an ever-increasing amount of information to smartphones and computer tablets.

The competition for control of the airwaves has set off an intense lobbying fight that rivals some of the largest battles over telecommunications policies of the past. The four biggest carriers together spent $37.3 million in 2013 trying to influence lawmakers and the FCC on a host of policy issues ranging from taxes to cyber security as well as spectrum — and the auction is still more than a year away.

But the carriers led by AT&T and Verizon likely have spent at least twice as much more on behind-the-scenes influence campaigns — hiring Ivy-league academics, giving cash to think tanks, associations and universities, and employing public relations firms — all part of a synchronized effort to sway the FCC to establish rules that favor them, said James Thurber, a professor at American University who has been studying lobbying for 30 years.

“This includes all the advertising, white papers, surveys, grass-roots and top-roots activities going on,” Thurber said. “Lobbying isn’t just what the federal registered lobbyists do. It’s an orchestration of a variety of techniques and influence.”

Battling AT&T and Verizon are Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile, the third- and fourth-largest carriers whose networks and customer bases are dwarfed by their larger rivals. The two have put together their own influence campaigns, hiring teams of paid academics and building connections with consumer groups and associations. But Sprint and T-Mobile are at a disadvantage against the deeper pockets and vast network of political ties of AT&T and Verizon, according to those who track Washington lobbying efforts.

At stake is no less than who may ultimately control the public’s wireless access to the Internet, on which all kinds of data — from medical records and bank transactions to Amazon purchases and movie downloads — travel from providers to smartphones and tablets.

The sale of the newly available airwaves also will determine if the wireless market becomes one ruled by two companies or if a recent burst of competition initiated by T-Mobile will continue, said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group in Washington that wants to limit how much spectrum each carrier can purchase in the upcoming auction.

“For wireless carriers, the stakes are enormously high,” Feld said. If the smaller companies are shut out of the auction, “it’s hard to imagine they can overcome that and compete with AT&T and Verizon over time.”

by Allan Holmes, Center for Public Integrity |  Read more:
Image: Shutterstock

The Future of Brain Implants

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain's hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought ("the French sun king") into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?

Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.

Unlike pacemakers, dental crowns or implantable insulin pumps, neuroprosthetics—devices that restore or supplement the mind's capacities with electronics inserted directly into the nervous system—change how we perceive the world and move through it. For better or worse, these devices become part of who we are. (...)

Today, effective brain-machine interfaces have to be wired directly into the brain to pick up the signals emanating from small groups of nerve cells. But nobody yet knows how to make devices that listen to the same nerve cells that long. Part of the problem is mechanical: The brain sloshes around inside the skull every time you move, and an implant that slips by a millimeter may become ineffective.

Another part of the problem is biological: The implant must be nontoxic and biocompatible so as not to provoke an immune reaction. It also must be small enough to be totally enclosed within the skull and energy-efficient enough that it can be recharged through induction coils placed on the scalp at night (as with the recharging stands now used for some electric toothbrushes).

These obstacles may seem daunting, but many of them look suspiciously like the ones that cellphone manufacturers faced two decades ago, when cellphones were still the size of shoeboxes. Neural implants will require even greater advances since there is no easy way to upgrade them once they are implanted and the skull is sealed back up.

But plenty of clever young neuro-engineers are trying to surmount these problems, like Michel Maharbiz and Jose Carmena and their colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley. They are developing a wireless brain interface that they call "neural dust." Thousands of biologically neutral microsensors, on the order of one-tenth of a millimeter (approximately the thickness of a human hair), would convert electrical signals into ultrasound that could be read outside the brain.

The real question isn't so much whether something like this can be done but how and when. How many advances in material science, battery chemistry, molecular biology, tissue engineering and neuroscience will we need? Will those advances take one decade, two decades, three or more? As Dr. Maharbiz said in an email, once implants "can be made 'lifetime stable' for healthy adults, many severe disabilities…will likely be chronically treatable." For millions of patients, neural implants could be absolutely transformative.

by Gary Marcus and Christof Koch, WSJ |  Read more:
Image: Getty

Monday, March 24, 2014

Scarlett Johansson

[ed. See also: Scarlett Fever.]

Heavy crystal bowl by Rachael Woodman, 1985. Corning Museum of Glass.

Curtis Mayfield

The Brutal Ageism of Tech

[ed. See also: What Zuckerberg Hath Wrought.]

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. “Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its “careers” page: “We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.”

And that’s just what gets said in public. An engineer in his forties recently told me about meeting a tech CEO who was trying to acquire his company. “You must be the token graybeard,” said the CEO, who was in his late twenties or early thirties. “I looked at him and said, ‘No, I’m the token grown-up.’ ” (...)

The economics of the V.C. industry help explain why. Investing in new companies is fantastically risky, and even the best V.C.s fail a large majority of the time. That makes it essential for the returns on successes to be enormous. Whereas a 500 percent return on a $2 million investment (or “5x,” as it’s known) would be considered remarkable in any other line of work, the investments that sustain a large V.C. fund are the “unicorns” and “super-unicorns” that return 100x or 1,000x—the Googles and the Facebooks.

And this is where finance meets what might charitably be called sociology but is really just Silicon Valley mysticism. Finding themselves in the position of chasing 100x or 1,000x returns, V.C.s invariably tell themselves a story about youngsters. “One of the reasons they collectively prefer youth is because youth has the potential for the black swan,” one V.C. told me of his competitors. “It hasn’t been marked down to reality yet. If I was at Google for five years, what’s the chance I would be a black swan? A lot lower than if you never heard of me. That’s the collective mentality.” (...)

Fast-forward to the present and it’s hard not to detect the PCC/Homebrew influence on the local patois. In 2011, famed V.C. Vinod Khosla told a conference that “people over forty-five basically die in terms of new ideas.” Michael Moritz, of Sequoia Capital, one of the most pedigreed firms in the tech world, once touted himself as “an incredibly enthusiastic fan of very talented twentysomethings starting companies.” His logic was simple: “They have great passion. They don’t have distractions like families and children and other things that get in the way.” But, of course, whereas the Homebrewers mostly wanted to unleash the power of computers from IBM and share it with the common man, the V.C.s want to harness youthful energy in the service of a trillion-dollar industry.

Whatever the case, the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. Take Dropbox, which an MIT alumnus named Drew Houston co-founded in 2007, after he got tired of losing access to his files whenever he forgot a thumb drive. Dropbox quickly caught on among users and began to vacuum up piles of venture capital. But the company has never quite outgrown its dorm-room vibe, even now that it houses hundreds of employees in an 85,000-square-foot space. Dropbox has a full-service jamming studio and observes a weekly ritual known as whiskey Fridays. Job candidates have complained about being interviewed in conference rooms with names like “The Break-up Room” and the “Bromance Chamber.” (A spokesman says the names were recently changed.)

Once a year, Houston, who still wears his chunky MIT class ring, presides over “Hack Week,” during which Dropbox headquarters turns into the world’s best-capitalized rumpus room. Employees ride around on skateboards and scooters, play with Legos at all hours, and generally tool around with whatever happens to interest them, other than work, which they are encouraged to set aside. “I’ve been up for about forty hours working on Dropbox Jeopardy,” one engineer told a documentarian who filmed a recent Hack Week. “It’s close to nearing insanity, but it feels worth it.”

by Noam Scheiber, TNR |  Read more:
Image: Fredrik Brodén

Some Facts About How NSA Stories Are Reported

Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc.

True to form, however, these beacons of courage refuse to malign the parties that actually made the choice to publish these revelations – namely, the reporters and editors of the New York Times – and instead use it to advance their relentless attack on Edward Snowden. To these journalists, there are few worse sins than “stealing” the secrets of the US government and leaking them to the press (just as was true in the WikiLeaks case, one must congratulate the US Government on its outstanding propaganda feat of getting its journalists to lead the war on those who bring transparency to the nation’s most powerful factions). But beyond the abject spectacle of anti-transparency journalists, these claims are often based on factually false assumptions about how these stories are reported, making it worthwhile once again to underscore some of the key facts governing this process:

(1) Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago. Back then, he provided a set of documents to several journalists and asked that we make careful judgments about what should and should not be published based on several criteria. He has played no role since then in deciding which documents are or are not reported. Those decisions are made entirely by media outlets that are in possession of those documents. Thus, calling a new NSA story “Snowden’s latest leak” or asking “why would Snowden decide to publish this now?” – as though he’s doling out documents one by one or deciding which documents should be published – is misleading in the extreme: those decisions are made exclusively by the journalists and editors of those news outlets.

(2) Publication of an NSA story constitutes an editorial judgment by the media outlet that the information should be public. By publishing yesterday’s Huawei story, the NYT obviously made the editorial judgment that these revelations are both newsworthy and in the public interest, should be disclosed, and will not unduly harm “American national security.” For reasons I explain below, I agree with that choice. But if you disagree – if you want to argue that this (or any other) NSA story is reckless, dangerous, treasonous or whatever – then have the courage to take it up with the people who reached the opposite conclusion: in this case, the editors and reporters of the NYT (indeed, as former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith observed, the NYT‘s Huawei story was “based on leaks other than the Snowden documents”). In most other cases where critics claim reckless disclosures, the decision to publish was made by the Washington Post. The judgment to which you’re objecting – that this information should be made public – was one made by those newspapers, not by Edward Snowden.

(3) Snowden has made repeatedly clear that he did not want all of the documents he provided to be published. When Snowden furnished documents to the journalists with whom he chose to work (which, just by the way, expressly did not include the NYT), he made clear that he did not believe all of those materials should be published. Obviously, if he wanted all of those documents published, he could have and would have just uploaded them to the internet himself; he wouldn’t have needed to work with journalists.

As he has said repeatedly, he wanted journalists – not himself – to make these decisions based on what is in the public interest and what can be disclosed without subjecting innocent people to harm. He was adamant that not all of the documents he provided were appropriate for publication, and was especially clear (at least to me) that certain categories of documents not be published (which is why those who demand that all documents be released are arguing, even though they won’t acknowledge it, that we should violate our agreement with our source, disregard Snowden’s conditions for furnishing the documents, and subject him to a wide range of risks he did not want to take).

by Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept |  Read more:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

LCD Soundsystem

[ed. Crank it up. Alternate Official Version here.]

Why Apple Can’t Match Google’s All-Seeing New Smartwatches

Apple is a fantastic hardware company. And when the rumored iWatch (probably) arrives, it will no doubt be a thing of beauty. But there’s good reason to think that the key to a successful smartwatch won’t be its hardware, but its operating system.

Apple’s genius is in creating personal computing devices that invite us to linger over them and inspire developers to create the best possible apps. But that beautiful hardware may not be enough to compete with the simplicity and the ability to harness huge amounts of data that are built into Google’s smartwatch operating system, Android Wear. Google’s OS, which it released on demos this week, will run on a variety of watches from manufacturers including Asus, HTC, LG, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm, Motorola and Fossil Group.

Smartwatches are, in some ways, a much tougher design problem than smartphones or PCs. (Witness the failures of Samsung’s and Sony’s smartwatches.) Their tiny screens make it hard to direct their actions—to tap out an email, go to a web page, find a favorite song. So Google has reasoned that it should work the other way around. A smartwatch should have almost no interface at all. It should know where you are and what you want before you do. And that makes it the perfect fit for one of Google’s most innovative and rapidly improving bits of software, Google Now, which is part of Android.

Knowing your needs better than you do is something Google has been working on for a long time. The umbrella term for it is predictive search. Here’s a simple example: Most of us probably pop open a weather app at some point in our morning routine. Given how predictable this is, why should our devices wait for us to signal to them that we want to know the weather? Why not just tell us?

That’s what Google Now is all about. Instead of giving you information through apps or a web browser, Google Now shows you a bunch of virtual cards that already have the information you (probably) need at that moment. Just swipe a card away to get to the next one.

by Christopher Mims, Quartz | Read more:
Image: Motorola

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Raquel Zimmermann, Vogue Italia, June 2002 by Steven Meisel

Mark Tipple for the Underwater Project, Shelter from the Storm

EPA Chief Doesn't Like Moose Meat (or Trinkets)

As a young child, raised in a small Interior village by my grandmother, I would participate with members of my large extended family in potlatches, birthdays, parties, celebrations, funerals, and gatherings of friends and family in my village of about 600. Many times, the food was placed in the center of our gathering and our elders would pray to God to thank Him for life, for the bounty and blessings He placed before us, and for keeping us safe.

During the meal, adults would talk of years gone by, share hunting stories, days spent on the river, time out on the trapline and the migration of animals. The importance of sharing and community was always at the forefront; it was about unity, the necessity of community, there were no secrets and we were all reminded of the importance of looking out for one other. You see, that is how we survived for millennia in this harsh and beautiful landscape, working together, providing for each other -- these are the values we live by, responsibility to each other to ensure everyone is taken care of and no one is left behind. One could truly answer, "Yes! I am my brother’s keeper."

The other day I read an article from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: "Environmental Protection Agency Chief Gina McCarthy is being criticized by Alaska officials for two disparaging comments she made about Interior Alaska in a recent Wall Street Journal article." The Journal article, "Rare Detente: New EPA Chief and Industry," focused mostly on McCarthy's ability to find relative harmony between the regulatory agency and energy companies, citing specifically her unrelentingly forthright nature. In the story, McCarthy told a Wall Street Journal reporter that she had been surprised by the government's strict ethics regulation regarding the acceptance of gifts, going on to ridicule two gifts in particular she received while visiting Alaska in August.

The story said she remarked how officials chased her down for accepting a small pin from North Pole that was presented to her her at an event -- ('I threw the thing away,' she told them) -- and that she received a jar of moose meat that 'could gag a maggot.' The moose meat was given by a little girl during a hearing," the story said.

I was utterly disgusted by McCarthy’s comments.

First of all, in my Gwich’in tradition, one of our most important values is to share, not only with each other but with others who come to visit us. This is a critical component throughout Alaska because without sharing most of us could not survive. It is also about respecting those who visit and ensuring that they are taken care of and knowing that they are welcome in our community. The person who shared the moose meat with McCarthy was carrying on the tradition of ensuring that she did not go home empty-handed, and giving it as part of the hunting tradition that says you must share your first harvest. The gestures were handed down from many generations past.

by Craig Fleener, Alaska Dispatch | Read more:
Image: Eric Engman/News-Miner

The Future of Europe: An Interview with George Soros

Schmitz: What do you think of Vladimir Putin’s recent policies with respect to Ukraine, Crimea, and Europe?

Soros: Now you are coming to the crux of the matter. Russia is emerging as a big geopolitical player, and the European Union needs to realize that it has a resurgent rival on its east. Russia badly needs Europe as a partner, but Putin is positioning it as a rival. There are significant political forces within the Russian regime that are critical of Putin’s policy on that score.

Schmitz: Can you be more specific?

Soros: The important thing to remember is that Putin is leading from a position of weakness. He was quite popular in Russia because he restored some order out of the chaos. The new order is not all that different from the old one, but the fact that it is open to the outside world is a definite improvement, an important element in its stability. But then the prearranged switch with Dmitry Medvedev from prime minister to president deeply upset the people. Putin felt existentially threatened by the protest movement. He became repressive at home and aggressive abroad.

That is when Russia started shipping armaments to the Assad regime in Syria on a massive scale and helped turn the tide against the rebels. The gamble paid off because of the preoccupation of the Western powers—the United States and the EU—with their internal problems. Barack Obama wanted to retaliate against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. He asked for congressional approval and was about to be rebuffed when Putin came to the rescue and persuaded Assad to voluntarily surrender his chemical weapons.

That was a resounding diplomatic victory for him. Yet the spontaneous uprising of the Ukrainian people must have taught Putin that his dream of reconstituting what is left of the Russian Empire is unattainable. He is now facing a choice between persevering or changing course and becoming more cooperative abroad and less repressive at home. His current course has already proved to be self-defeating, but he appears to be persevering.

Schmitz: Is Russia a credible threat to Europe if its economy is as weak as you say?

Soros: The oligarchs who control much of the Russian economy don’t have any confidence in the regime. They send their children and money abroad. That is what makes the economy so weak. Even with oil over $100 a barrel, which is the minimum Russia needs to balance its budget, it is not growing. Putin turned aggressive out of weakness. He is acting in self-defense. He has no scruples, he can be ruthless, but he is a judo expert, not a sadist—so the economic weakness and the aggressive behavior are entirely self-consistent.

Schmitz: How should Europe respond to it?

Soros: It needs to be more united, especially in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Putin prides himself on being a geopolitical realist. He respects strength and is emboldened by weakness. Yet there is no need to be permanently adversarial. Notwithstanding the current situation in Ukraine, the European Union and Russia are in many ways complementary; they both need each other. There is plenty of room for Russia to play a constructive role in the world, exactly because both Europe and the United States are so preoccupied with their internal problems.

Schmitz: How does that translate into practice, particularly in the Middle East?

Soros: It has totally transformed the geopolitical situation. I have some specific ideas on this subject, but it is very complicated. I can’t possibly explain it in full because there are too many countries involved and they are all interconnected.

Schmitz: Give it a try.

Soros: I should start with a general observation. There are a growing number of unresolved political crises in the world. That is a symptom of a breakdown in global governance. We have a very rudimentary system in place. Basically, there is only one international institution of hard power: the UN Security Council. If the five permanent members agree, they can impose their will on any part of the world. But there are many sovereign states with armies; and there are failed states that are unable to protect their monopoly over the use of lethal force or hard power.

The cold war was a stable system. The two superpowers were stalemated by the threat of mutually assured destruction, and they had to restrain their satellites. So wars were fought mainly at the edges. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a brief moment when the United States emerged as the undisputed leader of the world. But it abused its power. Under the influence of the neocons, who argued that the United States should use its power to impose its will on the world, President George W. Bush declared “war on terror” and invaded Iraq under false pretenses.

That was a tragic misinterpretation of the proper role of hegemonic or imperial power. It is the power of attraction—soft power—that ensures the stability of empires. Hard power may be needed for conquest and self-protection, but the hegemon must look after the interests of those who depend on it in order to secure their allegiance instead of promoting only its own interests. The United States did that very well after World War II, when it established the United Nations and embarked on the Marshall Plan. But President Bush forgot that lesson and destroyed American supremacy in no time. The neocons’ dream of a “new American century” lasted less than ten years. President Obama then brought American policy back to reality. His record in foreign policy is better than generally recognized. He accepted the tremendous loss of power and influence and tried to “lead from behind.” In any case, he is more preoccupied with domestic than foreign policy. In that respect America is in the same position as Europe, although for different reasons. People are inward-looking and tired of war. This has created a power vacuum, which has allowed conflicts to fester unresolved all over the world.

Recently, Russia has moved into this power vacuum, trying to reassert itself as a geopolitical player. That was a bold maneuver, inspired by Putin’s internal weakness, and it has paid off in Syria because of the weakness of the West. Russia could do what the Western powers couldn’t: persuade Assad to “voluntarily” surrender his chemical weapons. That has radically changed the geopolitical landscape. Suddenly, the prospect of a solution has emerged for the three major unresolved conflicts in the Middle East—Palestine, Iran, and Syria—when one would have least expected it.

by George Soros and Gregor Peter Schmitz, NY Review of Books | Read more:
Image: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

IBM to Set Watson Loose on Cancer Genome Data

Earlier today, IBM announced that it would be using Watson, the system that famously wiped the floor with human Jeopardy champions, to tackle a somewhat more significant problem: choosing treatments for cancer. In the process, the company hopes to help usher in the promised era of personalized medicine.

The announcement was made at the headquarters of IBM's partner in this effort, the New York Genome Center; its CEO, Robert Darnell called the program "not purely clinical and not purely research." Rather than seeking to gather new data about the mutations that drive cancer, the effort will attempt to determine if Watson can parse genome data and use it to recommend treatments.

Darnell said that the project would start with 20 to 25 patients who are suffering from glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer with a poor prognosis. Currently, the median survival time after diagnosis is only 14 months; "Time, frankly, is not your friend when you have glioblastoma," as Darnell put it. Samples from those patients (including both healthy and cancerous tissue) would be subjected to extensive DNA sequencing, including both the genome and the RNA transcribed from it. "What comes out is an absolute gusher of information," he said.

It should theoretically be possible to analyze that data and use it to customize a treatment that targets the specific mutations present in tumor cells. But right now, doing so requires a squad of highly trained geneticists, genomics experts, and clinicians. It's a situation that Darnell said simply can't scale to handle the patients with glioblastoma, much less other cancers.

Instead, that gusher of information is going to be pointed at Watson. John Kelly of IBM Research stepped up to describe Watson as a "cognitive system," one that "mimics the capabilities of the human mind—some, but not all [capabilities]." The capabilities it does have include ingesting large volumes of information, identifying the information that's relevant, and then learning from the results of its use. Kelley was extremely optimistic that Watson could bring new insights to cancer care. "We will have an impact on cancer and these other horrific diseases," he told the audience. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when—and the when is going to be very soon."

by John Timmer, ARS Technica |  Read more:
Image: IBM

Friday, March 21, 2014


Thelonious Monk
[ed. Caravan]

Anita Hill

[ed. See also: Clarence Thomas's Disgraceful Silence]

It's been more than 22 years since Anita Hill sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee in that famous bright blue suit - one she could never bring herself to wear again - to make the sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas that transfixed a nation.

And much has changed since then.

But not everything.

"I hope you rot in hell," went an email that Hill, now 57 and a professor at Brandeis University, received just a few weeks ago from a member of the public.

After all this time?

"Yes," Hill says, with a resigned air. "As they go, this one was fairly mild. But it happens. And it'll happen again."

Especially now. The soft-spoken Hill, who still speaks in the same calm, precise tone many remember from 1991, has for two decades been living a quiet academic life, occasionally venturing out to speak about sexual harassment but often declining interviews.

But she's about to enter the maelstrom again with the release Friday of a new documentary, "Anita," by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Freida Mock. After years of declining requests to collaborate on a film about her experiences, she said yes.

Why now?

Hill says she was inspired by the reactions she was getting from people as the 20th anniversary of those Supreme Court confirmation hearings approached - particularly in 2010, when news broke that she'd received a voice mail from Thomas' wife, Virginia, asking Hill to "consider an apology." (That voice mail opens the film.)

"People responded with outrage to that," Hill says. "But even more, I realized that here we are 20 years later and the issues are still resonating - in the workplace, in universities, in the military. So if 1991 could help us start a conversation, how then can we move this to another level? Because clearly we haven't eliminated the problem."

Experts agree the problem surely hasn't been eliminated. But many cite Hill's testimony as a landmark event, in both social and legal terms.

"Back then, this was an invisible issue, until Anita testified," says Marcia D. Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center. Not only did Hill's testimony raise public consciousness about sexual harassment in the workplace, she says, and spur other women to make claims, but only months later, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which addressed issues of employment discrimination, was passed with strong support.

"That happened in direct response to the growing realization of what the American public had seen in the hearings," Greenberger contends.

It's clear that Hill became, and remains, a heroine to many women. It's also clear that while she doesn't reject it, she remains somewhat uncomfortable with the status. In an interview at a Manhattan hotel, she seems almost more excited to discuss her work preparing a strategic plan for Brandeis than her public persona.

"In some ways I'm not very well suited, I think, for that position of heroine," she says. "People do want that person who is sort of out there and vocal and adamant about who they are and what they want. But I wouldn't be credible if I didn't come to this with my own personality."

Hill says that in her day-to-day life, "1991 just doesn't figure in." Case in point: At Brandeis, many of her students don't even know about her past. Hill points out that her grad students were only children in 1991, and the undergrads weren't even born.

"It doesn't bother me," she says. "It's important to help them focus on what their learning objectives are, and not on me as a person."

by Jocelyn Noveck, AP |  Read more:
Image: Greg Gibson

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Joan Miró, Maternity, 1924

Linda Ronstadt

Dear Abby (Polly) on Steroids

Dear Polly,

The amazing man I'm with told me to improve my looks when we first got together. We've been together four years now. Here's the story:

When he first met me, he had fallen for me straight away, always coming in for coffee on my shift at the local cafe, always texting first, offering rides home, asking me out first. He was very sweet and persistent.

I was hooked and I said yes, yes I will be your girlfriend. Then some shit started…

He never complimented me on any of my physical traits, yet every weekend we hung out, he would somehow manage to tell me that he wanted me to have larger breasts like so-and-so, get more toned legs like this person, grow your hair long and put on some eye shadow…. A lot of similar things were said over and over for probably the first six months of our relationship. I think I didn't confront him for so long because I really liked him otherwise. I was also only 20 at the time and really wanted this relationship to work.

I was incredibly hurt every time but I held my disappointment and devastation inside. Then one day, I was mad enough to confront him. I told him that what he was saying was downright hurtful and that he shouldn't be with me if all he can think of is improving me and making me more like other women he probably desired.

He was completely shocked at my confrontation as if he didn't realize he was hurting me. Right after that he never compared me to anyone again, he even started complimenting me and saying that I was the most beautiful woman in the world to him.

I usually tell him to drop it with the comments because I don't believe him. It annoys the hell out of me that he always tries to overcompensate.

You might be wondering why I stay with him? Well, he's WONDERFUL. He does dishes, takes out garbage, is kind and thoughtful. He always wants to buy me anything and everything I want, even though he can't cause we're not rich, but he always tries his best. He listens to me and is interested in my life. He supports my goals and dreams and always believes in me when other people do not. He is faithful and compassionate. It's difficult to leave such a lovely package.

My theory for his actions at the beginning of the relationship is that, he was just being completely honest, without any thought for consequence. On the very downside, his ridiculously honest comments at the beginning of the relationship have given my self-esteem a beating. Sometimes during sex I feel inadequate cause I know I don't look a certain way.

BUT… why oh why did he say such cruel things and then try to over-compensate??? It is very very annoying.

AND HERE'S THE TWIST. The other night he decided to compliment me. I got mad and started saying he has been lying all these years. And then… he admitted that he had been!

He said that I am not the most beautiful woman to him. He was just trying to make me feel better and mend the wound.

WHAT THE FUCK. Why go through all the trouble of lying just to tell the truth? Sigh. I am pretty relieved to finally hear the truth. Because I always knew.

Now I don't know what to do, I've been largely ignoring this issue, sweeping it under the rug.

I would love some straightforward advice. I want to know if it's worth it to stay with a man who didn't really want me for who I was physically. I know relationships are not based on physical attraction. But do you think his actions have been unreasonable? I feel hurt and kind of ugly. Should I completely forgive him and keep focusing on the positives of our relationship?

He has since said, "Physically you are an okay, pretty girl, but that's it. Many girls are much hotter than you." I know this is true. I'm glad he can be honest again. But I don't know if I can get over the fact that he lied for sooooo long.

I really don't want you to tell me to follow my heart, and that it's up to me to choose what I do. (Because that's what people have told me.) Please tell me what to do… OR tell me what you would do if you were in my situation now.

Thanks in advance.

Not Hot Enough

by Heather Havrilesky, The Awl | Read more:
Image: Dan DeBold

What I Want to Know Is Why You Hate Porn Stars

Here's what I want to know.

It's an open question to everyone, to my ex-boyfriends, neuroscientists, radical feminists, politicians, people on Twitter, my friends, myself.

What is it about porn stars that bothers you so much?

Why do you hate us?

What is it about us that you don't like? (...)

"Food porn" is pictures of food you love eating.

"Wedding porn" is pictures of lavish dresses, table settings, cakes.

"Science porn" is pictures of the natural world or how-things-work charts.

There's skater porn (videos of skateboarders doing daring tricks on stairways and in parking lots), book porn (images of huge libraries and bookstores), fashion porn (photos of outrageously ornamental outfits). There's even Christian missionary porn (pics of missionaries helping the poor).

People love using the word "porn" as long as there's a partner for it. Pair "porn" with something else and it's usually a good thing. A celebration of style and culture. But that word on its own? Well.

by Conner Habib, The Stranger |  Read more:
Image: Paccarik Orue

Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains. One of them turns on the radio—Shaggy is playing (Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door)—as the others feel in their pockets to make sure the candy bars and soda cans are still there. Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure. Come tomorrow and the Land might have a whole new topography.

Other than some walls lit up with graffiti, there are no bright colors, or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek). The actual children’s toys (a tiny stuffed elephant, a soiled Winnie the Pooh) are ignored, one facedown in the mud, the other sitting behind a green plastic chair. On this day, the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar.

The Land is an “adventure playground,” although that term is maybe a little too reminiscent of theme parks to capture the vibe. In the U.K., such playgrounds arose and became popular in the 1940s, as a result of the efforts of Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood, a landscape architect and children’s advocate. Allen was disappointed by what she described in a documentary as “asphalt square” playgrounds with “a few pieces of mechanical equipment.” She wanted to design playgrounds with loose parts that kids could move around and manipulate, to create their own makeshift structures. But more important, she wanted to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage. (...)

If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much. Claire Griffiths, the manager of the Land, describes her job as “loitering with intent.” Although the playworkers almost never stop the kids from what they’re doing, before the playground had even opened they’d filled binders with “risk benefits assessments” for nearly every activity. (In the two years since it opened, no one has been injured outside of the occasional scraped knee.) Here’s the list of benefits for fire: “It can be a social experience to sit around with friends, make friends, to sing songs to dance around, to stare at, it can be a co-operative experience where everyone has jobs. It can be something to experiment with, to take risks, to test its properties, its heat, its power, to re-live our evolutionary past.” The risks? “Burns from fire or fire pit” and “children accidentally burning each other with flaming cardboard or wood.” In this case, the benefits win, because a playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.  (...)

Like most parents my age, I have memories of childhood so different from the way my children are growing up that sometimes I think I might be making them up, or at least exaggerating them. I grew up on a block of nearly identical six-story apartment buildings in Queens, New York. In my elementary-school years, my friends and I spent a lot of afternoons playing cops and robbers in two interconnected apartment garages, after we discovered a door between them that we could pry open. Once, when I was about 9, my friend Kim and I “locked” a bunch of younger kids in an imaginary jail behind a low gate. Then Kim and I got hungry and walked over to Alba’s pizzeria a few blocks away and forgot all about them. When we got back an hour later, they were still standing in the same spot. They never hopped over the gate, even though they easily could have; their parents never came looking for them, and no one expected them to. A couple of them were pretty upset, but back then, the code between kids ruled. We’d told them they were in jail, so they stayed in jail until we let them out. A parent’s opinion on their term of incarceration would have been irrelevant.

I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?

by Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: Hanna Rosin