Friday, July 31, 2015

Georgia O’Keeffe, Tan Clam Shell with Seaweed. 1926

Dynasty Trusts: The Permanently Wealthy

It’s a common-sense notion that society’s wealth shouldn’t be governed by ghosts. “Our Creator made the earth for the use of the living and not of the dead,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. (Also: “One generation of men cannot foreclose or burthen its use to another.”) But in our new age of inequality—the top 10 percent now own nearly 80 percent of all wealth—old concerns about wealth and inheritance are coming back from the dead.

Americans have, historically, had a simple approach to dealing with wealth after its holder dies: You can do whatever you want with your property, but not for very long. Rich people can disinherit children. They can put extreme conditions on how their successors can inherit, like requiring marriage. They can build monuments to themselves or give everything to their pets. But they can only do it so long. Eventually, time catches up with them and their estates dissolve.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. Remember that the dead can’t actually do any of this themselves because they are, in fact, dead. Instead, a trust is empowered to carry out the last wishes of the deceased. A trust is simply a legal entity that contains property; people tell a trust what they want to do, and the trust acts like a ghost, enforcing their wishes beyond the grave. But there’s a safeguard built in to prevent abuses: Trusts have been governed by something called the rule against perpetuities, which places a roughly 100-year limit on how long they can exist. This prevents people with no connection to the living world from putting restrictions on our country’s wealth.

In recent years, the safeguard of time has been eroded. As the tax expert Ray D. Madoff documents in her 2010 book Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead, we are experiencing a rapid rise of dynasty trusts, which massively expand the power of the dead over the wealth of the living.

To take advantage of a change made to the tax code in the 1980s, states started to radically diminish or outright remove the rule against perpetuities in the 1990s. This resulted in a race to the bottom, with states competing to see which could most effectively restructure their laws to benefit the rich. By 2003, states weakening these rules received an estimated $100 billion in additional trust business. Now, 28 states allow trusts to live indefinitely, or nearly so, creating what are called perpetual dynasty trusts.

Since they’re designed to live forever, dynasty trusts can engage in more controlling long-term activities than normal trusts, which are designed to have an end. Dynasty trusts can also avoid taxes for the term of the trust. A generous multimillion-dollar tax exemption for trusts that skip a generation can be leveraged aggressively. And since the eventual death of the trust isn’t built in, a dynasty trust can buy houses and assets that are retained for descendants, tax-free, by the trust indefinitely. The wealthy can tie up their money, outside of any public obligation or scrutiny, forever.

by Mike Konczal, The Nation | Read more:
Image: Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn

Chambers Bay

[ed. Site of this year's US Open. Way more stunning in person than on tv -- including greens fees starting at $215/round. And no, I didn't pay that, but I did buy a hat.]
images: markk

Seattle's $87.6 Million Dollar Man

[ed. I love Russell Wilson, but... wow. I hope this doesn't compromise contract negotiations for any of the other great players on the team.]

It took until almost the 11th — or should that be the 12th? — hour.

But the Seahawks have reached an agreement on a contract extension with quarterback Russell Wilson this morning, shortly before the team is to begin training camp at the VMAC in Renton, preparing for the 2015 season — and when Wilson’s side had set a deadline to get the deal done or play the season without an extension. Wilson confirmed the news via Twitter.

The contract is said to be a four-year extension worth $87.6 million, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who first had the news.

It is said to include a $31 million signing bonus with $60 million guaranteed. The guaranteed money had been regarded as one of the prime sticking points in the negotiations. That is more than the $54 million guaranteed of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, whose contract is for $22 million a year, a little more than the $21.9 million of Wilson.

While the average per year is about what it had been said Wilson had been offered all along, the guarantee is higher than a source said the team had initially been offering, and it was that increase that appears to have allowed the deal to get done.

Wilson was entering the final season of his initial four-year rookie contract which would have paid him $1.52 million in 2015.

by Bob Condotta, Seattle Times | Read more:
Image: Wikipedia

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Power in Numbers

The best historical analogy for the ‘‘hackathon’’ might be the 18th-­century custom of the barn-­raising. Despite the technological abyss separating the two rituals, they are structurally akin: Each is a social observance in which a lot of people focus their collective will on an undertaking too great for any individual to carry out alone. Though the informal practice of hackathons arose slightly earlier, the first use of the portmanteau name dates to 1999, when Sun Microsystems and the freeware operating system OpenBSD each staged events under that banner to write very specialized pieces of software very quickly.

Over time, the sense of the term has expanded; one count estimates that in 2015 there will be more than 1,500 gatherings branded as hackathons, with this summer alone offering events designed to plan for Australia’s aging population, conserve water in India and streamline the resale of tickets at Wimbledon. There are hackathons for television technologies, life sciences and political causes — the term these days is used anywhere people congregate with the expectation of getting something vaguely machine-­oriented done in one big room.

The world’s largest recurring convention of people and their machines is DreamHack, a 72-hour rally that takes place twice a year in the convention center in Jonkoping, Sweden, a lake city about 200 miles southwest of Stockholm. The most recent jamboree hosted more than 23,000 people from at least 55 nations and every inhabited continent; on their 9,500 computers (as well as 14,000 other network-­connected devices), the attendees made up what organizers believe to be the largest impromptu LAN, or local area network, assembled anywhere.

DreamHack began in 1994, in the basement of a nearby elementary school, as a small, local subvariant of what was then called a ‘‘copy­party’’ — pre-­broadband occasions to share software or demonstrate flashy off-­label uses of early home computers. As the event has grown, its enormous ad hoc network has been given over largely to gaming; for far-flung clans of four or five teammates, this can be the only chance they get all year to palaver in person. But participants also use the LAN to collaborate on all manner of projects, from songs to films to digital artworks, all of which are presented to the crowd.

by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Franck Bohbot

Windows 10 is the Best Version Yet—Once the Bugs Get Fixed

I'm more conflicted about Windows 10 than I have been about any previous version of Windows. In some ways, the operating system is extremely ambitious; in others, it represents a great loss of ambition. The new release tries to walk an unsteady path between being Microsoft's most progressive, forward-looking release and simultaneously appealing to Windows' most conservative users.

And it mostly succeeds, making this the best version of Windows yet—once everything's working. In its current form, the operating system doesn't feel quite finished, and I'd wait a few weeks before making the leap.

Windows 7 was a straightforward proposition, a testament to the power of a new name. Windows Vista may have had a poor reputation, but it was a solid operating system. Give hardware and software vendors three years to develop drivers, come to grips with security changes, fix a few bugs, and freeze the hardware requirements, and the result was Windows 7—an operating system that worked with almost any hardware, almost any software. It was comfortable and familiar. Add some small but desirable enhancements to window management and the task bar, and the result was a hugely popular operating system, the high point of the entire Windows family's development.

Windows 8 was similarly easy to understand. With it, Microsoft wanted to make Windows work well on tablets while also wanting an operating system that continued to support the enormous legacy of Win32 applications.

Windows 8 did both of these things—just not at the same time. It contained the basics of a very competent tablet platform, with particularly strong handling of multitasking. It also contained, in most regards, a solid desktop operating system that was very similar to Windows 7. Some things it even made a little better; in Windows 8, for instance, the taskbar finally became multi-monitor aware, ending the need for various third-party hacks.

But these worlds collided in an ugly fashion. The tablet part was never self-contained, with touch users forced to visit finger-unfriendly desktop apps to access a full range of system settings, manage files, and so on. And many desktop users resented being forced to use a full-screen application launcher that, while perfectly functional, was clearly designed for touch users first.

This operating system showcased some of Microsoft's worst habits. Windows has always been a frustratingly inconsistent platform, sporting a mix not just of visual styles but also of user interface elements. It contains, for example, multiple different styles of "menu." While these all do roughly the same thing, they differ both in how they look and in some of the finer points of their behavior. Windows 8 introduced yet another new and very different appearance and set of interface elements to Windows, with no effort to unify and integrate. (...)

Since Windows 8's launch, touch PCs have proliferated, and while there was some initially awkward experimentation, manufacturers today have a decent idea of how to do touch systems. While there's still some skepticism about the value of touch on a desktop PC, on laptops it's an attractive feature, especially when paired with perhaps the best form factor innovation that has come from the Windows 8 experimentation: the 360-degree hinge. As an occasional business traveler sitting in misery in cattle class, the ability to use a laptop in "stand" mode or "tent" mode for watching movies is genuinely useful. Touch makes it practical.

Similarly, devices such as Microsoft's own Surface Pro 3 have found a small but growing audience. Its combination of touch, pen, and keyboard has won plaudits, and, while it's still early days, it looks as if Microsoft is starting to build a small but credible PC hardware business.

Which all means that Microsoft's broad desire with Windows 8 was perhaps not entirely off-base. Touch systems are not some discrete category entirely disjointed from more traditional machines. Rather, there's a continuum of devices, ranging from the dedicated mouse-and-keyboard machine through to the tablet that may occasionally be paired with a Bluetooth keyboard and all the way on to the smartphone, which will almost never use anything but touch. Microsoft continues to want to make Windows an operating system that works across this spectrum—and the dream lives on in Windows 10.

by Peter Bright, Ars Technica |  Read more:
Image: Andrew Cunningham

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Taking It Slow, Until She Took Charge

They didn’t plan for things to turn out this way: both of them well past 50, both living with a parent in the houses they grew up in, never married, no children. Most people don’t.

They thought, growing up where Brooklyn is more snug suburb than freewheeling city, that there would be romance, weddings, independence. She thought she would marry a man she met while working for the Coast Guard, but he was transferred to Los Angeles. He thought he might settle down with a woman who worked at the pharmacy around a decade ago, but a jealous ex-husband got in the way.

Even now, after decades of waiting, Ann Iervolino, 57, and Peter Cipolla, 58, are learning patience.

But love is no less sweet for coming to them late.

Summer 2007: On weekends or after work at American Express, where Ms. Iervolino was an auditor, she would ride her bike from her house in Homecrest, Brooklyn, over to Marine Park, where a swirl of young men blurred the basketball courts and those for whom life had slowed down tarried at the bocce courts. She would stop to chat with a few friends, the wives of the bocce players. Mr. Cipolla would be sitting there on a bench in shorts and a white T-shirt, close-cropped hair paling, a man of no particular outward distinction except that he was the youngest around.

She thought he was a sanitation worker. Then she thought, “Gee, he must be married, and I’m not looking to fool around.”

Not that she was looking for somebody. And anyway, he never talked to her, just sat there watching the balls hop and skid. After long days of work at a Long Island lab, it was his time for letting his mind empty out.

But when she failed to appear a few days running, “I’d say, Where’s the girl on the bike? I don’t know — she had nice legs. I like athleticism,” he explained, in his slow, earnest way. She was good-looking. Dark and petite. Nice body. A good head on her shoulders.

“You know, Ann,” said Terry, one of the park regulars, “you and Peter have a lot in common. You guys should talk.”

The list of parallels was short, pared down to the essentials. They were both single. Both never married. Both taking care of an aging parent. Both Italian.

“Just those things alone,” Terry predicted, “you could probably be in tune with each other.”

The advice fell on skeptical ears. “He’s so frickin’ shy that he doesn’t talk to me,” Ms. Iervolino retorted.

Eight years later, Mr. Cipolla was explaining himself over egg creams. “I’m methodical,” he said recently at the Floridian Diner in Marine Park. “I’m analytical.” She had finished her egg cream in short, deft slurps; his straw was still half-submerged.

He hit on a secret scheme — and, it must be acknowledged, an awfully slow one — for helping things along. She wanted to watch Larry David on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but she did not have HBO. She surveyed the Marine Park Bocce Club: Could anyone record it for her?

He volunteered to tape every episode on VHS every Sunday night. He would call her and say, “Ann, is it on HBO or HBO West?” He didn’t need to know. He just wanted to call her. (...)

In September, Ms. Iervolino went by herself to the bocce club’s annual dinner, where she danced with Vito, with Vinny, with Ben.

The others missed nothing. Word on the bocce court was that “Ann was dancing up a storm with these older gentlemen, that Vito really liked her,” Mr. Cipolla recalled. “I didn’t get jealous, but I got a little hot under the collar. I move like a snail.”

He had the advantage in age, he consoled himself. In money. In education. He had a doctorate in forensic anthropology from St. John’s University. “I said, I could beat him out.”

Ms. Iervolino protests to this day that Vito was never in the picture. “Vito’s a nicer, older gentleman,” she said calmly. “He was very cordial. But I don’t want somebody old. I’m not Anna Nicole Smith.”

Even so, things advanced sluggishly. By October, Larry David was off the air, and still no official declarations had been made.

“Now what do I do?” Mr. Cipolla said. “I have to get flowers. I can’t just get any flowers. I go to Marine Florists. They ask, ‘Who are they for?’ I say, ‘A potential girlfriend.’  ”

They asked what he wanted to write on the card.

“I’ve got to remember the saying,” she said at this point in the retelling, though one suspects it would be difficult to forget what he wrote: “I thought I had everything,” the card said, “and then I met you.”

by Vivian Yee, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Damon Winter

Pizza with Lemon, Smoked Mozzerella, and Basil

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Square du Vert-Galant. Paris (1955)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Somehow Teen Girls Get the Coolest Wearable Out There

Jewelbots are bracelets with programmable plastic flowers made for middle-school girls. They’re also the most interesting wearable I’ve seen this year.

Their creators describe them as “friendships bracelets that teach girls to code.” Compared to a gleaming Apple Watch or even an entry-level Fitbit, the Jewelbot hardware is primitive: a semi-translucent plastic flower charm that slides onto a hair tie–like elastic bracelet. The functionality is basic, too. The charms talk to each other over Bluetooth, and using a Jewelbots smartphone app, youngsters can program their charms to vibrate or light up when their friends are nearby. But despite their apparent simplicity, Jewelbots exhibit some truly fresh thinking about wearable technology. And with a little imagination, they hint at devices far more interesting than today’s computer watches.

Jewelbots was co-founded by Sara Chipps, Brooke Moreland, and Maria Paula Saba. Chipps is a developer and co-founder of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit that teaches women to code. Moreland is an entrepreneur with experience in high-tech fashion products, and Saba is a graduate of NYU’s ITP program, now studying Bluetooth and Arduino as a post-doc fellow. But before Jewelbots was a product, it was a shared ambition. More than any particular feature or function, the group wanted to build something that would get teenage girls interested in programming.

The idea took shape over several years. The group started by looking at products like MySpace and Minecraft that had successfully enticed kids to dabble in code. “We kind of wanted to reverse engineer that,” Chipps says. These examples were reassuring. They proved that if kids are genuinely interested in an outcome or effect—building a unique Minecraft structure, say, or tricking out their Myspace profiles—they won’t shy away from code as a means to achieve it.

That just left the question of the desired effect. Initially, the creators imagined Jewelbots as digital ornament that could be programmed to match girls’ outfits. But the verdict from talking to prospective preteen users was negative. “They were like,’That sounds really stupid, and I would never use that,'” Chipps says. Instead, the girls always returned to two themes: friendship and communication.

The enmities and allegiances that form and dissolve in a single day rival anything that might be taught in European history class. Teens and preteens crave ways to make these connections visible.

This isn’t surprising. As the Jewelbots founders were reminded by company adviser Amy Jo Kim, a longtime researcher of online communities, middle school is an age where everyone is tribal. The enmities and allegiances that form and dissolve in a single day rival anything that might be taught in European history class. What’s more, teens and preteens crave ways to make these connections visible. That settled things. Where other wearables had sought to reinvent the watch, Jewelbots followed a different template: the friendship bracelet.

Using the Jewelbots smartphone app, a girl can assign a friend one of eight different colors. When they’re nearby, both of their charms light up that color. They can assign other friends to other colors; if they’re hanging out in a group, all their Jewelbots bangles turn into pulsing rainbow flair. The charm also doubles as a button which can be used to send haptic messages to friends in a particular color group (the message presumably drafted in accordance with a phenomenally complex code developed by the cohort at an earlier time.) All these features are set up through a smartphone app, but the Jewelbots stay connected through a Bluetooth mesh network, independent of Wi-Fi or cell towers. “The way we designed it is that girls never need their phones,” Chipps says.

There’s much more Jewelbots can do if girls care to figure it out. The smartphone app is meant to be a simple point of entry, but by plugging their charm into their computer, girls can use Arduino software to hook up their Jewelbots to just about anything. Maybe someone wants hers to glow green every time she gets a new follower on Instagram, or to vibrate when her dog leaves the yard. Both possible, and totally doable for a novice coder, Chipps says. With this more advanced use, the Jewelbot becomes a personal node linked up to the greater world of open-source hardware and software. “That’s where we’re really hoping to drive the girls,” Chipps says.

Jewelbots are a thoughtfully constructed Trojan Horse for getting young girls to think about programming. The company’s Kickstarter campaign has raised $90,000. But the bracelets might also have worthwhile lessons for other wearable makers.

by Kyle Vanhemert, Wired |  Read more:
Image: Jewelbots

Patriots QB Tom Brady Has Only Himself to Blame

Up front, long before the air started hissing out of his charmed world, Tom Brady should have taken a knee. He should have confessed his venial football sin and admitted to everyone that his never-ending pursuit of a competitive edge got the better of him.

OK, so maybe he should have waited to confess until sometime after the Super Bowl, just in case Roger Goodell had it in him to bench the big star for the big game. But either way, Brady should have come clean about the improper deflation of his AFC Championship Game footballs and then banked on the American public's unbreakable ability to forgive and (pretty much) forget.

Although he enjoys top-of-the-line legal representation and his lawyers will file a brilliantly written lawsuit, Tom Brady's effort to stop his suspension is doomed.

Many teams, players, coaches and executives have run afoul of the NFL's rules. Check out the most recent examples here.

Alex Rodriguez disgraced himself and his sport in ways Brady never has and never will, and now there are millions of New Yorkers itching to throw the revived and allegedly reformed slugger a parade. Did one of the two greatest quarterbacks of all time really believe his standing among New England Patriots fans -- and among neutral observers worldwide who simply appreciate self-made masters of their trade -- couldn't survive the plain truth about Deflategate?

Bill Belichick survived Spygate; he's up there with Vince Lombardi among the all-timers. Brady is up there with his idol, Joe Montana, and his decision to destroy a cell phone that likely implicated him in a low-rent scheme with two team flunkies doesn't destroy his legacy as a four-time champ.

But it does make Brady look like a liar. A liar in this case, anyway. In announcing his ruling to uphold Brady's four-game suspension, Goodell said the quarterback had his personal assistant do an end zone dance on his phone on or around the same March day Brady met with the investigators who already had asked to see relevant texts and emails on that phone.

Brady didn't reveal he'd effectively deleted nearly 10,000 texts over a four-month period until days before his 10-hour appeal hearing on June 23. According to the NFL ruling, he said the destruction of old cell phones was merely a part of his normal routine, like warming up with Julian Edelman and Gronk. But on page 12 of Goodell's 20-page decision, the commissioner points out that the phone Brady used before the one in question was intact and available for a forensic expert to review. "No explanation was provided for this anomaly," Goodell wrote.Tom Brady missed an opportunity to save face -- and he has only himself to blame.

Brady hasn't offered a credible explanation in this case from the start, and for good reason: He doesn't have one. The Ted Wells probe turned up enough circumstantial evidence for a common-sense, agenda-free reader to conclude what Montana and Troy Aikman and their combined seven rings and two Hall of Fame busts concluded in the early hours of this mess: Brady had to have known what those two Patriots staffers, or Watergate burglars, were doing to his footballs.

Goodell cited Brady's quarterback-room meeting and numerous cell-phone conversations with John Jastremski after the allegations surfaced; the quarterback had no such meeting or conversations with the equipment assistant during the regular season. Jim McNally, the officials' locker room attendant and the man believed to have taken a 100-second bathroom break with New England's AFC Championship Game balls, also makes a return appearance in the commissioner's decision as the self-described "Deflator."

Of course, we already knew about Jastremski and McNally. We also knew that Wells had offered to allow Brady's agent to screen his phone before turning over texts and emails to investigators, and that Goodell's lieutenant, Troy Vincent, had noted in the May announcement of the quarterback's suspension his refusal to cooperate despite "extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information."

We didn't know Brady had crushed the phone in question like, you know, he'd crushed the Indianapolis Colts.

by Ian O'Connor, ESPN | Read more:
Image: via:

Less Money, Mo' Music & Lots of Problems: A Look at the Music Biz

The disruption of the music industry has undoubtedly benefited consumers, but for many on the inside, its consequences have been both profound and painful. Artists finally have direct connections to their audiences, but they must fight through more noise than ever before. Distribution is no longer constrained by shelf space or A&R men, but a stream or download generates royalties many artists decry as untenable. Audiences can now enjoy more music, more easily and in more places – yet the amount they spend is at an unprecedented low.

Music may have been the first media format to be upended by digital, but it remains deeply challenged even as video, publishing and gaming continue their path forward (however modestly). If the industry hopes to restore growth and fix the problems with today’s streaming models, it needs to confront its evolution: how have ecosystem revenues – from albums sales to concerts, radio plays, digital downloads and streams – changed and been redistributed? What is the underlying value of music? Did streaming erode this value or correct it? What’s the logic behind streaming royalty models and where are its flaws and decencies? How can it be improved? After 15 years of declining consumer spend, it’s time to stop focusing on what was or “should” be. Industries don’t rebuild themselves.


The Decline of Recorded Music Sales

Since the RIAA began its comprehensive database of US music sales in 1973, the category has never commanded less in consumer spend than it does today. On an inflation-adjusted basis, sales have plummeted by over 70% (or $14B) since 1999 – even though the American population has grown by some 46M over the period. And this decline is likely to continue. Digital revenues have begun to fall and CDs, which still represent 30% of sales, are unlikely to rebound. In Q3 of 2014, Wal-Mart, which moves one in every four physical discs sold in the United States, nearly halved the shelf space dedicated to the format, as well as the number of unique records it carried. In a few years, Amazon may be the only mass market retailer of physical music, at which point prices will undoubtedly tumble further.

What makes this decline particularly controversial is the fact that consumption of recorded music is greater than ever before. We listen to it wherever we go: on the subway, waiting in line, getting groceries and anywhere else we can. The soundtracks of our lives, so to speak, rarely stop. As a result, music executives often blame the collapse of revenues on iTunes’ 99¢ price points (and claim that the associated deal they struck with Apple arose only out of the extraordinary paranoia and confusion surrounding digital distribution and piracy in the early 2000s). However, much of the industry’s pre-iTunes value was inflated, held up only by bundle-based packaging (viz. albums), rather than consumer demand. Per track prices mattered, of course, but they’re also a distraction.

The End of the Age of Ownership: First Albums, then Tracks

The introduction of true a la carte music purchasing was bound to disrupt the music business. Everyone knew the album model had forced consumers to “own” tracks they didn’t want and prevented them from owning some of those they did, but how this would net out was impossible to predict. Nearly 15 years later, however, the answer has become clear.

By 2010, the total number of tracks (including album track equivalents) sold in the United States each year had fallen by 57% (to roughly 4.6B). Though it’s convenient to blame piracy, NPD estimates that fewer than 340M tracks were pirated in the United States in 2010 (~17M pirates downloading an average of 20 tracks each). Even if every one of these illegal downloads represented a cannibalized sale, the industry would still be down more than 50%. The same is true if the number of pirated tracks were somehow twice as many as NPD had estimated. With fewer than 1.5M Americans subscribed to music streaming services in 2010, this explanation also falls short. The end of the album didn’t just bring about the end of unearned revenues, it revealed that the underlying demand for “owned” music was much lower than most believed. Recognizing this fact is critical. If the music industry hopes to increase sales and better support its artists, revenues will need to be generated outside of conventional unit sales.

But first, it’s also important to note that the album-to-track conversion has been doubly bad for the most popular artists. In the album days, consumer spend was monopolized by a handful of $20 “must have” records released by the Beatles and Michael Jacksons of the world. Today, that same spend (or what’s left of it) can be spread across dozens of artists – with each one compensated only for the specific tracks a consumer picks.

by Jason Hirschhorn and Liam Boluk, REDEF |  Read more:
Image: RIAA

There's An App For That

I have a mental map of everywhere in New York City I can freely do my business outside of my apartment in relative secrecy. There are the bathrooms halfway down the stairs to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where the stall doors are too squat but everything smells decent. There’s the 4th floor of Century 21, where nobody will find you amid the hoards of tourists ripping through discount prom dresses. There’s the door behind the children’s book section of the Union Square Barnes & Noble, and the basement of the Old Navy in SoHo, and Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station and the Port Authority. Of course there are plenty of diners and Starbucks’ where I could order a coffee in exchange, but this is not . I have a volatile stomach and I should not have to pay to relieve it.

New York is not very welcome to my problems, but there are some solutions. There is now an app, Looie, where for $25 a month New Yorkers can reserve clean restrooms inside local businesses. It is only the latest in the many ways the sharing economy is trying to hack our bladders. Airpnp, Toilet Finder, and all show us where in New York (and often the world) we can pee for something resembling free, whether it’s in exchange for the purchse of a coffee or just a dirty look and/or risk of expulsion from a hotel concierge. On a site like Nyrestroom, search for just “public restrooms” and the crowded map becomes painfully bare for such a dense city, especially considered most are in playgrounds, where adults are not allowed to enter without children. Why so few? And why should we be paying $25 for the privilege?

There used to be more. In subways you can still see them: scratched black doors with male and female caricatures. But like many restrooms in New York’s parks and other public spaces, they seem forever padlocked. Untapped Cities reported that out of the 129 bathrooms in the city’s subway stations, just 48 are unlocked, and I’m going to assume many of those aren’t handicap accessible. You’re basically shit out of luck (sorry) with any bathroom in public.

However, this is not a planned disruption on behalf of the sharing economy. They are just capitalizing on a system that long ago stopped considering public restrooms and public service, as well as a system that would rather not serve some members of the public.

by Jaya Saxena, The Hairpin |  Read more:
Image: Amazon

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hendrik Eckenheimer, Gnosis

No, It's Not Your Opinion. You're Just Wrong

[ed. Opinions are like farts. Everybody has 'em. It feels great to let 'em out. But mostly they just stink up the air.]
I have had so many conversations or email exchanges with students in the last few years wherein I anger them by indicating that simply saying, "This is my opinion" does not preclude a connected statement from being dead wrong. It still baffles me that some feel those four words somehow give them carte blanche to spout batshit oratory or prose. And it really scares me that some of those students think education that challenges their ideas is equivalent to an attack on their beliefs.
-Mick Cullen
I spend far more time arguing on the Internet than can possibly be healthy, and the word I’ve come to loath more than any other is “opinion”. Opinion, or worse “belief”, has become the shield of every poorly-conceived notion that worms its way onto social media.

There’s a common conception that an opinion cannot be wrong. My dad said it. Hell, everyone’s dad probably said it and in the strictest terms it is true. However, before you crouch behind your Shield of Opinion you need to ask yourself two questions.

1. Is this actually an opinion?

2. If it is an opinion how informed is it and why do I hold it?

I’ll help you with the first part. An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is black. I think mint tastes awful. Doctor Who is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside the fact that I believe them.

There’s nothing wrong with an opinion on those things. The problem comes from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions. If you think vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many other share this opinion give it any more validity.

To quote John Oliver, who referenced a Gallup poll showing one in four Americans believe climate change isn’t real on his show, Last Week Tonight…
Who gives a shit? You don’t need people’s opinion on a fact. You might as well have a poll asking: “Which number is bigger, 15 or 5?” or “Do owls exist?” or “Are there hats?”
by Jef Rouner, Houston Chronicle |  Read more:
Image: via:

Blacked Out: The Fine Print

Getting booked to play a summer festival like Timber!, Sasquatch, or the Capitol Hill Block Party brings a band a certain prestige. Once lineups are announced, participants are often quick to promote the fact. But the increasing number of summer festivals also means something many music fans may not know about: blackout dates.

For most, the term “blackout date” refers to credit cards and airline miles. But in the music community, it means a specific duration before and after a show date during which bands contractually can’t play within a certain radius of a gig. It’s a type of non-compete clause.

This agreement has many ripple affects. It’s meant to discourage festival bill crossover and oversaturation of a band in a given market, as well as increase excitement for exclusive festival gigs. But it also limits a band’s moneymaking opportunities locally, and can tie the hands of club owners trying to bring in summer audiences.

“It’s rough on the whole music community,” says Jodi Ecklund, talent buyer at Chop Suey. “Festivals attract a bunch of bridge-and-tunnel folks. They sell out prior to even announcing their lineup. It doesn’t really matter who’s on the bill. I have bands that cannot play again until October due to Sasquatch, Block Party, and Bumbershoot.”

Don Strasburg, co-president and senior talent buyer for AEG Live Rocky Mountains and AEG Live Northwest, the outfit that took over production of Bumbershoot this year, says he and his group look for a “certain level of exclusivity.”As Strasburg puts it, “overplaying is generally not going to help create desire. I’m not saying local artists should play once a year—but two months is not that long a time.”

Jason Lajeunesse, talent buyer for CHBP and booker for Neumos and Barboza, says his festival is “pretty flexible” with local bands. While the blackout dates vary for local versus national bands, he says, there is at least a 100-mile-radius restriction with a 30–90 day blackout in advance of a show. “And, generally speaking,” he says, “as soon as the performance is over, it’s OK for bands to advertise their upcoming show.” But here’s his hard line: “If we’re guaranteeing an artist up-front money to play, you can’t be playing the market multiple times.”

But therein lies the issue: Local bands aren’t making gobs of money from festivals—certainly not enough to make blacking out all these dates and venues financially worthwhile. Sometimes bands make as little as $200 per festival gig. Split four ways, that’s hardly worth the time.

“If you’re an artist,” says Lajeunesse, “and want to build your career, you don’t want to be overplaying and saturating your market, as a rule. I don’t believe a band should be playing every three weeks if they want to make those shows special.”

Many might agree with this sentiment. According to Daniel Chesney of local power-pop surf group Snuff Redux, the band’s CHBP contractual blackout dates for this year totaled “90 days, 45 before and 45 after (with a 120 mile radius). But we negotiated them down from another larger blackout,” he says, “so what we have is pared down. We bargained down all the blackout arrangements so that we could have time playing Seattle after our tour. But to be honest, the blackout has been relatively useful for us as a group. We went from playing shows nonstop all the time to having an excuse to sit down and work on new material and releases. Not that people don’t ignore their blackouts all the time... but it seemed prudent to use the time they expected us to be quiet well.”

But the problem is: Shouldn’t bands themselves be making that decision, not contractual black-out dates? Evan Flory-Barnes of local instrumental jazz group Industrial Revelation explains that the proximity restrictions associated with CHBP prevented his band from playing Sasquatch and opening for well-known jazz pianist Robert Glasper.

“I think blackout dates are from the same era as ‘pay to play’ and the era of playing for ‘exposure,’” Flory-Barnes says. “No one limits the opportunity for club owners and talent buyers to do their thing, but when it comes to a musician being entrepreneurial, it’s a different story. Blackout dates represent an old model established when there was fewer people in the city and fewer people listening to music.”

by Jake Uitti, Seattle Weekly | Read more:
Image: Kelton Sears

Forget Ashley Madison, the Big One's Coming

Computer experts have long warned about a catastrophic cyber-attack in the US, a sort of Web 3.0 version of 9/11 that would wreak enormous damage throughout the country. Like most Americans, I shrugged. With all of the enormous resources the country enjoys, those warnings seemed like the rantings of a digital Chicken Little.

Oddly enough, the revelations of the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden gave me some false comfort. If the powerful NSA was so good at hacking its own citizens, then surely the agency could prevent criminals, terrorists and foreign enemies from doing the same?

And then there’s Silicon Valley, which I frequently write about. Surely the uber-geeks who run the world’s greatest innovation cluster could code something to smite the evildoers? Well, on behalf on the US, I admit I was terribly wrong. We are so screwed.

I came to this conclusion recently, over a span of seven days. Earlier this month I attended a preview of retail giant Target’s new “Internet of Things” showroom in downtown San Francisco. The company had constructed a mock house intended to show how “smart devices” connected to the internet could seamlessly work together to automate the 21st-century digital home. A car alarm wakes up the baby sleeping in the nursery. A sensor detects the baby’s cries, alerts the parents and automatically triggers the stereo to play soothing music.

It was all very impressive, but I couldn’t help notice an irony: the retailer that in 2013 was subject to a hack that comprised the credit-card data of 100 million consumers now wanted people to entrust their entire homes to the internet. “It’s been a long time coming, but we are just getting started,” a Target executive said.

One week later I found myself at a dinner in a fancy hotel to discuss cybersecurity with the executives of top Silicon Valley firms. Unlike the festive Target event, the mood was decidedly grim. Actually it was downright alarming.

Forget about the Sony and Ashley Madison hacks. Those cyberthefts may cost companies some money and embarrassment, but that’s not what the execs were nervous about. Even the successful breach of Chrysler’s in-car systems, which allowed hackers to take control of a Jeep on the highway and prompted the recall of 1.4 million vehicles, is a mere appetiser compared with what’s coming down the road.

By 2020 the US will be hit with an earthquake of a cyber-attack that will cripple banks, stock exchanges, power plants and communications, an executive from Hewlett-Packard predicted. Companies are nowhere near prepared for it. Neither are the Feds. And yet, instead of mobilising a national defence, we want a toaster that communicates with the washing machine over the internet.

by Thomas Lee, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Wired

Selfie with ‘Sunflowers’

Just as there are writers’ writers, so there are painters’ painters: necessary exemplars, moral guides, embodiers of the art. Often they are quiet artists, who lack a shouty biography, who go about their work with modest pertinacity, believing the art greater than the artist. Noisier painters sometimes unwisely patronise them. In France, the 18th century gave us Chardin, the 19th Corot, and the 20th Braque: all true north on the artistic compass. Their relationship with their descendants is sometimes one of influence, more usually one of semi-private conversation across the centuries (Lucian Freud doing versions of Chardin, Hodgkin painting ‘After Corot’). But it also goes beyond that – beyond admiration, beyond style, homage, imitation. Van Gogh, even as he was violently wrenching himself towards a form of painting which still startles us today, was filling his letters and his mind with thoughts of Corot (he also greatly valued Chardin). It was a tribute by the living artist to his predecessor’s clarity of seeing, an acknowledgment that this is what painting is. Just as the young John Richardson, visiting Braque’s studio for the first time, felt that he had arrived ‘at the very heart of painting’.

But these apparently quiet artists often turn out to have been more far-sighted and more radical than we assume. Corot, for example, once dreamed the whole of Impressionism. As Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in May 1888,
When good père Corot said a few days before he died: last night I saw in my dreams landscapes with entirely pink skies, well, didn’t they come, those pink skies, and yellow and green into the bargain, in Impressionist landscapes? All this is to say that there are things one senses in the future and that really come about.
By the time of Van Gogh’s letter, the century-long struggle in French art between colour and line had been settled in favour of colour. (Settled for the time being, that is – until a few years later Cubism restored the primacy of line.) Corot pink developed into a leading, raging, shocking colour: the pink loitering surreptitiously in shadows, the overt pink of Monet’s haystacks and Van Gogh’s Pink Peach Tree, and still active in the pink of Bonnard’s last painting, Almond Tree in Blossom. But yellow and green were there too, as Van Gogh noted, and orange and red; oh, and blue and black. The tops were taken off all the tubes, and colour seemed to get its freedom and intensity back: richnesses that had been suppressed – either by self-censorship or academic dictate – since the days of Delacroix.

No one did colour more blatantly and more unexpectedly than Van Gogh. Its blatancy gives his pictures their roaring charm. Colour, he seems to be saying: you haven’t seen colour before, look at this deep blue, this yellow, this black; watch me put them screechingly side by side. Colour for Van Gogh was a kind of noise. At the same time, it couldn’t have seemed more unexpected, coming from the dark, serious, socially concerned young Dutchman who for so many years of his early career had drawn and painted dark, serious, socially concerned images of peasants and proletarians, of weavers and potato-pickers, of sowers and hoers. This emergence, this explosion from darkness, has no parallel except for that of Odilon Redon (who was prompted into colour more by internal forces, whereas Van Gogh was prompted into it externally – first in Paris by the Impressionists, and then by the light of the South). Yet there are always continuities in even the most style-changing of artists. Van Gogh’s subject matter, after all, remained much the same: the soil, and those who tend it; the poor, and their stubborn heroism. His aesthetic credo did not change either: he wanted an art for everyone, which might be complicated in means but simple to appreciate, an art that uplifted and consoled. And so even his conversion to colour had a logic to it. In his youth, reacting against the stolid piety and conformity of the Dutch Reformed Church, he had lurched not into atheism but its opposite, evangelism. His notion of working as a priest among the downtrodden was to end no more successfully than most of his other youthful schemes; but the fundamentalist, all-or-nothing streak in human beings, once aroused, never entirely goes away. So the striving painter who, in the most successful of his schemes, took himself off to Arles, first working alone, then alongside Gauguin, then alone again, then in the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, was continuous with that violently principled younger man: he had grown up to become an evangelist for colour.

It has become harder over the last 130 years or so to see Van Gogh plain. It is practically harder in that our approach to his paintings in museums is often blocked by an urgent, excitable crescent of worldwide fans, iPhones aloft for the necessary selfie with Sunflowers. They are to be welcomed: the international reach of art should be a matter not of snobbish disapproval but rather of crowd management and pious wonder – as I found when a birthday present of a Van Gogh mug hit the mark with my 13-year-old goddaughter in Mumbai. But there is so much noise around Van Gogh besides the noise of his paintings. There is the work, then the several hundred thousand words he himself wrote, then the biographies, then the novel, then the film of the novel, then the gift shop, then even (as at the National Gallery) the Sunflower bags in which you cart your treasures away from the gift shop. The painter has become a world brand. (...)

The life gets in the way as well. We have become over-familiar with the lineaments of the biography. The poverty, the rage, the despair, the prostitutes, the madness, the ear-cutting, the suicide; the lifetime of apparent failure followed by a deathtime of astonishing success. Back-projecting, we read the painter’s encroaching madness into the paint: those whirls and whorls and disturbed trenches of paint, those black skies, those blacker crows taking off across the wheatfield. He suffered so that we might enjoy. Inevitably, we are tempted to equate the madness with the genius, to propose Van Gogh as the ultimate modern exemplar of the myth of Philoctetes: of the wound and the bow. And if that now feels a little dated, a little obviously reductive, the furious belief in the locatability of artistic creativeness remains, and has lately moved into genetics. A recent study of 86,000 Icelanders purported to find that those with genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder appear to have a greater chance of being creative. But sometimes the archer pulls the bow despite the wound rather than because of it. This is certainly what the painter himself thought. Less than three months before his death, Vincent wrote to Theo: ‘Ah, if I’d been able to work without this bloody illness! How many things I could have done …’ One of Van Gogh’s uncles went to pieces and killed himself, while his sister Willemina was committed to an asylum in 1902 and spent 39 years there in near-total silence. Neither of them painted much. This seems to me to prove that it was madness which ran in the family rather than creativity.

by Julian Barnes, LRB |  Read more:
Image: Vincent Van Gogh via: Wikipedia

[ed. Beauiful mountain biking video.]

Friday, July 24, 2015

Chick Corea and Return to Forever

Levi’s Tries to Adapt to the Yoga Pants Era

At the foot of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, in a renovated grain mill with soaring ceilings and wooden beams, Bart Sights is refining his recipes for denim. In his hands, stained dark blue from day after day of plunging fabric into buckets of indigo dye, he holds a list of steps for creating a particularly vexing style: women’s skinny jeans. Most such jeans contain so much synthetic fiber they appear slick, cheap, and unlike real denim. Sights has been searching for a way to give the fabric just the right amount of stretch, in just the right places—enough to flatter the figure, but not so much that they stop looking like jeans.

Sights is Levi Strauss’s senior director for technical innovation, and the Telegraph Hill space is the company’s research and development lab. There, Levi’s is overhauling its namesake brand’s entire women’s line. The company, founded in 1853, has survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, and other epochal threats, but in the last two years it’s been tormented by an enemy none of its executives saw coming: yoga pants. “I don’t even say the words,” Sights says. Comfortable and flattering at the same time, athletic pants last year sold in about equal numbers to jeans for the first time in the U.S., according to market researcher NPD Group, as revenue from women’s jeans fell 8 percent. At Levi’s, the yoga pants scourge is especially vexing, disrupting a turnaround plan by a new chief executive officer that had been showing signs of success.

Sights, 50, has a closely shaved head and the soft remnants of a Kentucky accent. In his lab, he points to a pair of men’s jeans purchased from a secondhand market in Thailand, possibly worn by a construction worker or roofer, that he wants to recreate for the women’s line. Years of sweat, dirt, and stress have created a pattern as unique as a fingerprint; deep whiskers mark the upper thigh, and strips of blue have faded like paint on an old barn. Artificially reproducing the wear is easy, done with sandpaper, oxygen baths, and rocks. “The trick,” Sights says, “is to get a look like this on a very modern fabric—a fabric with a lot of stretch in it.”

His new technique, inspired by the makeup industry, is called contouring. Sights uses lasers to etch away the top layer of indigo, highlighting the center of the leg so the inner and outer thighs appear to recede into the background, helping the leg look slimmer. The whisker patterns on the thighs are applied in a way that draws the eye away from the edge of the hips, while chevrons run along the legs to give an elongated impression.

The finishing comes on top of new materials that Sights and his team have helped develop. It’s not as simple as putting more stretch into the denim. They don’t want to make yoga jeans. They want to make jeans that are more comfortable, yet retain their 19th century essence. For Levi’s, a company whose riveted trousers can be found at the Smithsonian, the entire notion of innovation is ticklish. “There’s not another piece of apparel in the world—probably in the history of mankind—that has remained virtually unchanged and still provides function,” Sights says. “Pride in what you’re wearing. Beauty.” But if the tenets of denim are immutable, the way Levi Strauss sells jeans has been long overdue for a change.

by Tim Higgins, Bloomberg Business |  Read more:
Image: Justin Kaneps

Young Women, Give Up the Vocal Fry

[ed. Another thing to blame on men, or culture, or something  (it's not clear what exactly). Bleh.]

Patriarchy is inventive. The minute a generation of women has figured out how to not be enslaved by Ideology A, some new cultural pressure arises in the form of Internalisation B, making sure they don’t get too far too fast. The latest example: the most empowered generation of women ever – today’s twentysomethings in North America and Britain – is being hobbled in some important ways by something as basic as a new fashion in how they use their voices.

This demographic of women tends to have a distinctive speech pattern. Many commentators have noticed it, often with dismay. Time magazine devoted a column to the mannerism called vocal fry, noting a study that found that this speech pattern makes young women who use it sound less competent, less trustworthy, less educated and less hireable: “Think Britney Spears and the Kardashians.”

“Vocal fry” is that guttural growl at the back of the throat, as a Valley girl might sound if she had been shouting herself hoarse at a rave all night. The less charitable refer to it privately as painfully nasal, and to young women in conversation sounding like ducks quacking. “Vocal fry” has joined more traditional young-women voice mannerisms such as run-ons, breathiness and the dreaded question marks in sentences (known by linguists as uptalk) to undermine these women’s authority in newly distinctive ways. Slate notes that older men (ie those in power over young women) find it intensely annoying. One study by a “deeply annoyed” professor, found that young women use “uptalk” to seek to hold the floor. But does cordially hating these speech patterns automatically mean you are anti-feminist?

Many devoted professors, employers who wish to move young women up the ranks and business owners who just want to evaluate personnel on merit flinch over the speech patterns of today’s young women. “Because of their run-on sentences, I can’t tell in a meeting when these young women have said what they have to say,” confided one law partner.

“Their constant uptalk means I am constantly having to reassure them: ‘uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh’. It’s exhausting.”

I myself have inadvertently flinched when a young woman barraging a group with uptalk ran a technology-based conference call: “We’ll use Ruby on Rails? It is an MVC framework to support databases?” Well, will we?

One 29-year-old woman working in engineering told me it was easier for gatekeepers in her male-dominated field to disregard running-on, softspoken, vocally frying and uptalking women. “It is difficult for young women to be heard or even responded to in many male-dominated fields if they don’t strengthen their voices, That kind of disregarding response from men made me feel even softer and even lesser – in a vicious circle of silencing.” she said. (...)

What is heartbreaking about the current trend for undermining female voice is that this is the most transformational generation of young women ever. They have absorbed a feminist analysis, and are skilled at seeing intersectionality – the workings of race, class and gender. Unlike previous generations, they aren’t starting from zero. They know that they did not ask to be raped, that they can Slutwalk and Take Back the Night, Kickstarter their business ventures and shoot their own indie films on their phones – and that they deserve equal pay and access.

Which points to the deeper dynamic at play. It is because these young women are so empowered that our culture assigned them a socially appropriate mannerism that is certain to tangle their steps and trivialise their important messages to the world. We should not ask young women to put on fake voices or to alter essential parts of themselves. But in my experience of teaching voice to women for two decades, when a young woman is encouraged to own her power and is given basic skills in claiming her own voice then huge, good changes follow. “When my voice became stronger, people took me more seriously,” says Ally Tubis. “When people feel from your voice that you are confident, they will believe that you are smarter, and that you are better at what you do – even when you are saying the exact same thing.”

by Naomi Wolf, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Noma Bar


In the early hours of 16 July, the Greek parliament voted overwhelmingly to give up its sovereignty and become a semi-colonial appendage of the EU. A majority of the Syriza Central Committee had already come out against the capitulation. There had been a partial general strike. Tsipras had threatened to resign if fifty of his MPs voted against him. In the event six abstained and 32 voted against him, including Yanis Varoufakis, who had resigned as finance minister after the referendum, because, he said, ‘some Eurogroup participants’ had expressed a desire for his ‘“absence” from its meetings’. Now parliament had effectively declared the result of the referendum null and void. Outside in Syntagma Square thousands of young Syriza activists demonstrated against their government. Then the anarchists arrived with Molotov cocktails and the riot police responded with tear-gas grenades. Everyone else left the square and by midnight it was silent again. It’s difficult not to feel depressed by all this. Greece has been betrayed by a government that when elected only six months ago offered hope. As I walked away from the empty square the EU’s coup brought back memories of another.

I first went to Greece at Easter 1967. The occasion was a peace conference in Athens honouring the left-wing Greek deputy, Grigoris Lambrakis, murdered by fascists in Salonika in 1963 as the police looked on, and later immortalised in Costa-Gavras’s movie Z. Half a million people attended his funeral in Athens. During the conference wild rumours began to spread around the hall. On the podium, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam couldn’t understand why people had stopped listening to him. Someone with family connections in the military had reported that the Greek military, backed by Washington, was about to launch a coup to pre-empt elections in which they feared the left might do a bit too well. The foreign delegates were advised to leave the country straightaway. I caught an early-morning flight back to London. That afternoon tanks occupied the streets. Greece remained under the Colonels for the next seven years.

I went to Athens this month for the same reason: to speak at a conference, this one ironically entitled ‘Rising Democracy’. Waiting for a friend in a café in Exarchia, I heard people discussing when the government would collapse. Tsipras still has supporters convinced that he will triumph whenever the next election is held. I’m not so sure. It has been an inglorious six months. The young people who voted for Syriza in large numbers and who went out and campaigned enthusiastically for a ‘No’ vote in the referendum are trying to come to grips with what’s happened. The café was packed with them, arguing furiously. At the beginning of the month they were celebrating the ‘No’ vote. They were prepared to make more sacrifices, to risk life outside the Eurozone. Syriza turned its back on them. The date 12 July 2015, when Tsipras agreed to the EU’s terms, will become as infamous as 21 April 1967. The tanks have been replaced by banks, as Varoufakis put it after he was made finance minister.

Greece, in fact, has a lot of tanks, because the German and French arms industries, eager to get rid of surplus hardware in a world where wars are fought by bombers and drones, bribed the politicians. During the first decade of this century Greece was among the top five importers of weapons, mainly from the German companies Ferrostaal, Rheinmetall and Daimler-Benz. In 2009, the year after the crash, Greece spent €8 billion – 3.5 per cent of GDP – on defence. The then Greek defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who accepted huge bribes from these companies, was convicted of corruption by a Greek court in 2013. Prison for the Greek; small fines for the German bosses. None of this has been mentioned by the financial press in recent weeks. It didn’t quite tally with the need to portray Greece as the sole transgressor. Yet a Greek court has been provided with conclusive evidence that the largest tax avoider in the country is Hochtief, the giant German construction company that runs Athens airport. It has not paid VAT for twenty years, and owes 500 million euros in VAT arrears alone. Nor has it paid the contributions due to social security. Estimates suggest that Hochtief’s total debt to the exchequer could top one billion euros.

It is often in times of crisis that radical politicians discover how useless they are. Paralysed by the discovery that those they thought were friends are not their friends at all, they worry about outrunning their voters and lose their nerve. When their enemies, surprised that they have agreed to more than the pound of flesh demanded, demand more still, the trapped politicians finally turn to their supporters, only to discover that the people are way ahead of them: 61 per cent of Greeks voted to reject the bailout offer.

It’s no longer a secret here that Tsipras and his inner circle were expecting a ‘Yes’ or a very narrow ‘No’. Taken by surprise, they panicked. An emergency cabinet meeting showed them in full retreat. They refused to get rid of the ECB placeman in charge of the Greek State Bank, and rejected the idea of nationalising the banks. Instead of embracing the referendum results, Tsipras capitulated. Varoufakis was sacrificed. The EU ministers loathed him because he spoke to them as an equal and his ego was a match for Schäuble’s.

Why did Tsipras hold a referendum at all? ‘He’s so hard and ideological,’ Merkel complained to her advisers. If only. It was a calculated risk. He thought the ‘Yes’ camp would win, and planned to resign and let EU stooges run the government. The EU leaders launched a propaganda blitz and pressured the Greek banks to restrict access to deposits, warning that a ‘No’ vote meant Grexit. Tsipras’s acceptance of Varoufakis’s resignation was an early signal to the EU that he was about to cave in. Euclid Tsakalotos, his mild-mannered successor, won the rapid approval of Schäuble: here was someone he could do business with. Syriza accepted everything, but when more was demanded, more was given. This had nothing to do with the economy, and everything to do with politics. ‘They crucified Tsipras,’ an EU official told the FT. Greece had sold its sovereignty for a third bailout and an IMF promise to help reduce its debt burden – Syriza had begun to resemble the worm-ridden cadaver of the discredited Pasok.

by Tariq Ali, LRB |  Read more:
Image: via:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gil Scott Heron

[ed. My nephew, Tony (in the middle). Hope he got to keep those boots.]

My Month of Hell

Day 1
Coach Brad is a magnificent, roaring Clydesdale of a man, standing 6-and-a-half feet tall, with blond hair, a golden complexion, and deep-set blue eyes. He speaks in a core-shaking baritone. His head looks like it ought to be atop a pedestal in the antiquities wing of the Met, where it could be quietly admired. His facial features are so architectural that I scribble in my notebook, “Looks part Klingon.” Then Coach Brad slaps his hands together and booms: “Excellent! You should all be taking notes, like this guy!” I haven’t a clue what he’s been talking about for the past five minutes to our timid group of misshapen nerds, but have jotted down odd words like “burpee,” “snatch,” and “jumping squat.”

Each level of the Black Box, an open-floor-plan CrossFit gym in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, is divided into four “pods.” Some CrossFitters from other gyms around the city criticize the Black Box for its factory-like atmosphere, where classes of different skill levels, with about 20 students each, stream in and out with blazing efficiency all day long, nearly every hour from about 5 a.m. until 8 at night.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, about a half dozen of us are in the southwest pod of the second floor for Elements Class 1, our introduction to CrossFit. All around us there’s a psychotic whir of jump ropes slicing through the air, well-bred young women in yoga pants and ponytails swooping like orangutans along wooden rings suspended from the ceiling, and scores of people crawling guerrilla-style along the floor. The whole thing has a sort of Taylor Swift-meets-jihad feel.

Three days ago, when I set out to report on doing a month of CrossFit, I was put in touch with Craig Convissar, a 30-year-old attorney and one of CrossFit’s biggest cheerleaders. We met at one of the Black Box’s monthly LGBT workout classes that he helps organize. He’s a self-appointed liaison between LGBT CrossFitters and the gym through a Facebook group called Black Box: Guerrilla Queer WOD (it has 229 members). He’s also active in a citywide LGBT CrossFit community called OUTWOD. “WOD” is CrossFit jargon for “Workout of the Day” and is pronounced “wad.”

“I’ve definitely gotten stronger, and my cardiovascular endurance has gotten way better,” Convissar says. “I know I’m a much better athlete than I thought I was.” He’s been doing CrossFit for almost two years, and before that took trampoline classes and had been a member of a gym geared toward the musical theater community.

“I look at it this way: I have a share in the Pines with nine other boys. Most of them look better than me when they take their shirts off, but I know that in a physical fitness competition I could crush any of them,” he says, which I find bizarre because it looks like he could club a seal with his biceps and deflect bullets with the pecs stretching out his crossfit south brooklyn T-shirt.

He also has huge, bloody calluses on his hands. When I ask another CrossFitter, Steve, about his own scabby calluses, he says, “I guess I haven’t found any lifting gloves that I really like yet,” which I later learn is probably a lie. No one in CrossFit wears lifting gloves, because massive, disgusting, bloody hands are a sort of hanky code among members — a way to spot your own in society, as well as a badge of honor.

CrossFit gyms, in further parlance, are called “boxes.” They are pared-down, bare-bones facilities that reflect the gritty CrossFit philosophy, which mixes Olympic weight lifting, calisthenics, and gymnastics with that eye-rolling paleo diet (what the cavemen would have eaten!) — heavy on meat and veggies and forbidding sugars, grains, and dairy.

After the gay workout, a guy named Jake invites a bunch of us to his rooftop around the corner for drinks. “If you’re on the paleo diet, you can only drink wine and tequila,” he explains.

Jake is one of the few not excessively cheerful people in CrossFit.

“I hate New York,” he says. He’s leaning against the ledge, watching airplanes fly northward along the West Side of Manhattan while his fellow CrossFitters gather in circles to talk about CrossFit. He has a hobby of memorizing flight paths and can identify aircraft from the ground, saying things like, “That’s a US Airways Embraer 190, probably the 3 o’clock from Reagan to LaGuardia.”

“CrossFit is designed for someone who doesn’t have a life outside of CrossFit,” Jake says. “All these guys have really drunk the Kool-Aid.”

Steve, who does CrossFit six days a week on top of swimming and boxing classes at two other gyms, pipes up from several feet away. “They actually didn’t drink Kool-Aid at Jonestown,” he says, referring to the 1978 mass cultic suicide of more than 900 people. “It was actually Flavor Aid.”

Day 2
As part of our warm-up, we move back and forth across the pod several times, first like a crab, then like a bear, then like Frankenstein. Everyone looks completely stupid. It seems to me an exercise in humiliation designed to crush the ego and subjugate.

I spot Craig in the pod next door and flash him a big, dumb grin while waving exaggeratedly, but he only looks at me wide-eyed and gives a cryptic nod before darting away. It is sort of like the most popular girl in school being spotted by that differently abled girl she was nice to that one time. (...)

A CrossFit gym opens somewhere on earth every few hours. In the 1990s, a personal trainer in Southern California named Greg Glassman kept getting kicked out of gyms for his unorthodox training philosophy. In 1995, he started his own operation in Santa Cruz, and in 2000, he founded CrossFit Inc. In 2009 there were around 1,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms in the world; six years later that number is approaching 13,000 (for comparison, in 2014, the global number of Starbucks stores was 21,000). CrossFit claims between 2 million and 4 million members, with more than 100,000 “level 1 certificate holders” (trainers), according to Russell Berger, a spokesperson for CrossFit.

There is no board of directors at CrossFit Inc. Glassman owns 100% of the company and has been known to pop into affiliates across the country unannounced. CrossFit ruthlessly pursues legal action not only against non-affiliated gyms for brand infringement, but against researchers who question the safety and effectiveness of the workout. The company has also been accused of retaliating for negative press coverage. Glassman has been quoted saying things like, “We’re changing the world. We’re doing all the right things for all the right people for all the right reasons,” and “The strength and value of CrossFit lies entirely within our total dominance of other athletes, and this is a truth that cannot be divined through debate, only competition.” In a recent interview with CBS News, a correspondent remarked that the way he talks about CrossFit sounds like preparation for war.

“Yeah, why not?” he said. “Getting ready for war, getting ready for [an] earthquake, getting ready for mugging, getting ready for the horrible news that you have leukemia. What awaits us all is [a] challenge, that’s for sure.”

I phone Daniel Shaw, a psychoanalyst in Manhattan and volunteer for the International Cultic Studies Association. He moderates a support group once a month for cult survivors, sees several former cult members in his private practice, and wrote the book Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. He is also a former member of Siddha Yoga, which, in a 1994 New Yorkerarticle, was exposed for widespread abuse and cultishness.

“At the head of [any cult] is a person whose narcissism has led them to believe they are superior to others and therefore entitled in ways that other people are not to control people,” Shaw explains. “What they basically are saying is, because of my superiority, I and only I can give you what you need to fix you and make you better, to make you be what you’re supposed to be, and you need me.”

“In a cult, there is a mission,” he continues, “whether it’s world peace or spiritual enlightenment or whatever. Religions often have a mission — say, to build a community of the faithful who support each other and do good work. Well, if you look at the church [as being that], they are fulfilling their vision. When you look at a cult who say they’re creating world peace, they’re not creating world peace. They are, however, creating a very wealthy and powerful leader. That’s the difference.”

Contrary to popular belief, says Shaw, even everyday, healthy people are susceptible to getting involved in cults. “Everybody can be at some point in their life vulnerable to be lonely or frustrated or despairing or discouraged, and cults make tremendous promises,” he says. “They’re great advertisers. They offer solutions. They are friendly and they have communities.”

by Chadwick Moore, Out |  Read more:
Image: Luke Austin-Paglialonga

The Low Road

The first boy to break my heart was the first one to whom I gave it. This is pretty standard; if your teen romance ended not in tears and mournful mixtapes, you probably did it wrong.

His name was Geoff and he was tall and lanky and white, after a fashion. I was tall and shapely and black, after a fashion. We met at boarding school in New Hampshire, a strange and chilly place, surreal for both of us. He took me for pizza, made me mixtapes, introduced me to the Sugar Hill Gang, gave me a dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. I took it all, wary and ecstatic. No male human being save my brother had ever really loved me before, but Geoff’s affection meant such loving was possible. Part of me prayed it would last forever. Part of me knew it would not.

I don’t remember the precise reason it fell apart. Maybe because I wouldn’t sleep with him or maybe he got bored or maybe I was a confused and contradictory mess. Maybe he was young and confused himself, finding his way in a bifurcated world: white skin, black stepfather, child of Harlem and fancy boarding school. I don’t even remember how he told me, what words he used, whether we stood together in the snow outside my dorm or the pain sliced over the phone. All I remember is that it hurt deeply for awhile and then less so, and that he moved on to someone else before getting into trouble and being expelled from school.

What lessons we take from life depend so much on the classroom to which we’ve been assigned. By the time I landed in boarding school I was pretty sure I was too much to be loved: too tall, too fat, too black. There are reasons for this—absent father, mother herself unloved and overwhelmed, an omnipresent cultural representation of blackness as ugliness—but in general people did the best they could with the tools they had at the time and so this is not about assigning blame. The point is simply that I entered the world of romantic love not believing myself worthy, and so what I took from that first heartbreak was confirmation. Geoff was the first boy to break my heart but it never occurred to me to seek revenge against him. This was the right impulse but the reason behind it, strangely, was wrong.

Not everyone who breaks your heart is a monster. Not everyone who wounds you deserves to be wounded in return. Geoff was not and did not but those are not the reasons I failed to consider revenge. I sought no revenge against Geoff because his wounding of me seemed not only expected but justifiable: the sure and natural course of things. Geoff hurt me but I was never angry at his hurting, not even a little. It was my own damn fault for losing his love. (...)

Revenge, wrote Nietzsche, can be either self-preservation (striking out at a person to prevent further hurt) or readjustment (a usually futile attempt to settle scores.) Futile because revenge will not return whatever was destroyed by the action of the offender—unless that thing was honor. Limbs and loved ones and burned houses cannot be reclaimed if taken, but honor can. An intentional attack proves the attacker is not afraid of us. Revenge proves we are not afraid of him. Thus balance is restored.

In such case, writes Nietzsche, a person will forgo revenge for only three reasons:
  • He loves the offender.
  • He finds the offender beneath his contempt and bother.
  • He kinda despises himself. “Depending on whether he projects himself strongly or weakly into the soul of his opponent and the spectators, his revenge will be more embittered or tamer; if he lacks this type of imagination entirely, he will not think of revenge at all, for in that case the feeling for ‘honor’ is not present in him and hence cannot be injured.”
In other words, revenge will never occur to the one who lacks the self-esteem to be offended, who views the cruel and casual slogging of her heart as painful but expected, life’s little par for the course. Revenge will not occur to the one who suspects she deserves such mistreatment, who believes life deigns for her only the attentions of such blatant, unrelenting jerks. “A small revenge is more human than no revenge at all,” Nietzsche said.

Between Geoff and the first rising of my revenge lay some 30-odd years of relationships, the bulk of which I spent with one very good and decent man. S. and I met when I was 19 and he was 20. I was a sophomore in college, plowing my way forward to a more secure life. He had dropped out and was working in a restaurant and hanging out with friends, trying to figure out how to restart his life. Turned out I could help with that.

During our time together I graduated and got a job as a reporter and he went back to school and I got another job and he got his degree and I got another job and we moved to Philadelphia and he went to grad school and we got married and I got another job and he finished his Ph.D. and we moved to New York and got a dog and had a child and I wrote a novel and quit my job and had another child and he got a job and we moved to Boston and the marriage came slowly apart. My fault, or so I reasoned. If S. was a good and well-intentioned man, which he was, and if he loved me, which he did or tried to, as best he could, and if the marriage was still unsustainable then it must be because there was something deep and broken inside of myself. Almost none of the women in my family had sustained a marriage beyond a decade but we all believed this to be the result of choosing untenable men. If somehow I had managed to chose a decent guy and still couldn’t make it work, what did that mean?

Coming apart was terrible anger and pain and woundedness. The worst thing he said, during our divorce mediation, was that he feared I would take the children and move to California to be near my family. I was astonished that a man who had known me for twenty years would think I would take my children from their father, given how much my father’s absence from my life had wounded me. But then I understood: he didn’t really think I would do such a thing to be near family. He thought I might do it out of anger. Even after twenty years of knowing me, he still thought me capable of wounding my children out of spite.

Which is strange because there are no spiteful women in my family. Grudge-holders, yes; there are women in my family who can hold a grievance like Pavarotti could hold high C. But grudge-holding, of course, serves only to wound the grudge-holder; the object of unforgiveness goes skipping on with his life. Still, these seemed to be the options: wounded acceptance or self-destructive unforgiveness.

Turns out there is another way.

by Kim McLarin, TMN |  Read more:
Image: Luis Molina-Pantin, Scenery III (Women's Jail), 1997