Saturday, October 31, 2015

Sex and Drugs and Rock'n'Roll Insurance

A day after Katy Perry tweeted she had just completed her 151-date Prismatic world tour and that it was “only By The Grace Of God that I made each & every one of them”, One Direction had to cancel their show in Belfast at the last minute due to Liam Payne falling ill.

Insurers and underwriters looking at Perry’s next tour will regard it as low risk. But they will be keeping a closer eye on One Direction, even though the show was quickly rescheduled, and mentally reworking the numbers if more shows get cancelled. Since record sales started to tumble 15 years ago, touring has become the way that most acts make a living these days. The numbers are staggering. Taylor Swift, for example, is grossing $2.93m per night on her 1989 tour, based on from figures published by Billboard. With stakes this high, touring insurance, on the surface an admittedly dry subject, has never been more important.

Acts on the road generally take out three types of insurance: equipment (to protect against damage and theft); public liability (in case an audience member is injured during a show); and non-appearance. The last two are relatively modern developments, but it is non-appearance that is arguably the most critical, especially as tours become longer.

At the start of October, promoter and agent John Giddings spoke at the International Festival Forum and suggested that David Bowie has effectively retired from touring, having performed his last solo British show in 2004 at the Isle of Wight festival (which Giddings runs). There have been rumours that Bowie is not willing to put himself through the exertion of a world tour. Unlike, say, 74-year-old Bob Dylan, who has played between 85 and 112 shows every year this century, Bowie has not played for so long it could be difficult to insure a tour against cancellations.

David Enthoven, co-founder of management company ie:music, whose biggest client is Robbie Williams, started managing acts in 1969 with EG Records. He says it was the late Willie Robertson, founder of specialist insurance company Robertson Taylor, who invented parts of touring insurance in the 1970s that acts today take as read. “There was certainly no non-appearance insurance then,” says Enthoven of his earliest experiences touring with King Crimson. “I remember [taking it out for the first time] in the mid-1970s for Roxy Music. It was a package that Willie Robertson thought up.”

The reality for most touring acts, as One Direction are finding and that was painfully made clear to Foo Fighters when Dave Grohl broke his leg on stage in Gothenburg in June, is that long tours are fraught with risk. “If you are insuring a 100-date world tour, as far as the insurers are concerned, the likelihood is that at least one of those 100 shows will be cancelled,” explains Paul Twomey, director of entertainment at insurance specialists Doodson Broking Group. “The singer’s voice could deteriorate as the tour goes on and they get more tired.”

Insurance companies regard some cancellations as collateral damage on lengthy tours, and structure their policies around that. “The underwriter could put in a deductible on the policy that means they won’t pay out if one show is cancelled,” says Steven Howell, head of music at Music Insurance Brokers. “So they might add in a one-show or two-show deductible. In a string of 30 shows, if you miss one or two, you are not going to be able to make a claim; but if you miss a third one then you can make a claim.”

The amounts of money at risk can be phenomenal. “For a stadium show, it could be anything up to two million quid,” says Enthoven. But it is not just the income from ticket sales at risk. “For an act like One Direction, they possibly make more money from merchandise than they do for the tickets,” suggests Twomey. So that has to be factored into their policies, which are often taken out at the earliest stages in planning a tour and will only run for as long as the tour lasts. “They are not annual policies, like car insurance, where you rack up year after year of no claims,” says Howell. “It is very specific to the life and health of the individual or the band members that you are insuring.” (...)

For a small act playing back rooms of pubs, insurance may be seen as a luxury they can rarely afford. Once you get to a certain level, however, the stakes become so high that it would be reckless to consider scrimping on insurance.

“You have to weigh up how expensive it is to go on the road,” says Niamh Byrne of ElevenManagement, who represent Blur. “In Blur’s instance there is a significant cost to putting the show on the road as the band likes to give a lot and make every show special. Rehearsals, crew, equipment hire, production rehearsals, strings, brass, guests – that all costs money. If a show doesn’t happen then you are going to be in the hole for a significant amount of money.”

Ahead of the tour, brokers will be appointed to cost up and take out insurance policies. Part of that will be based on the act’s touring history – or, more specifically, their cancellation history. If they keep missing shows then their premium will rise exponentially. Byrne takes pride in Blur’s clean record, which makes their touring insurance relatively straightforward. “We have a band with an incredible work ethic,” she says. “Even if anyone is ill, they have always managed to be able to perform.”

Twomey adds that most insurance policies will only cover the key members of the band as, frankly, no one is going to be disappointed or ask for their money back if the third trombonist misses a show. “You have to look at if those members are changeable,” he says.

Byrne puts it more bluntly. “Non-appearance insurance is only for the people who are necessary to perform,” she says. “If, say, the sound engineer is ill, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do the show. You can get another sound engineer but you can’t get another Damon Albarn.”

by Eamonn Forde, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: Damon Albarn, Mário Cruz/EPA

Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice

On Page 5 of a credit card contract used by American Express, beneath an explainer on interest rates and late fees, past the details about annual membership, is a clause that most customers probably miss. If cardholders have a problem with their account, American Express explains, the company “may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration.”

Those nine words are at the center of a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home.

Among the class actions thrown out because of the clauses was one brought by Time Warner customers over charges they said mysteriously appeared on their bills and another against a travel booking website accused of conspiring to fix hotel prices. A top executive at Goldman Sachs who sued on behalf of bankers claiming sex discrimination was also blocked, as were African-American employees at Taco Bell restaurants who said they were denied promotions, forced to work the worst shifts and subjected to degrading comments.

Some state judges have called the class-action bans a “get out of jail free” card, because it is nearly impossible for one individual to take on a corporation with vast resources.

Patricia Rowe of Greenville, S.C., learned this firsthand when she initiated a class action against AT&T. Ms. Rowe, who was challenging a $600 fee for canceling her phone service, was among more than 900 AT&T customers in three states who complained about excessive charges, state records show. When the case was thrown out last year, she was forced to give up and pay the $600. Fighting AT&T on her own in arbitration, she said, would have cost far more.

By banning class actions, companies have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination, court records show.

“This is among the most profound shifts in our legal history,” William G. Young, a federal judge in Boston who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview. “Ominously, business has a good chance of opting out of the legal system altogether and misbehaving without reproach.”

More than a decade in the making, the move to block class actions was engineered by a Wall Street-led coalition of credit card companies and retailers, according to interviews with coalition members and court records. Strategizing from law offices on Park Avenue and in Washington, members of the group came up with a plan to insulate themselves from the costly lawsuits. Their work culminated in two Supreme Court rulings, in 2011 and 2013, that enshrined the use of class-action bans in contracts. The decisions drew little attention outside legal circles, even though they upended decades of jurisprudence put in place to protect consumers and employees.

One of the players behind the scenes, The Times found, was John G. Roberts Jr., who as a private lawyer representing Discover Bank unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case involving class-action bans. By the time the Supreme Court handed down its favorable decisions, he was the chief justice.

Corporations said that class actions were not needed because arbitration enabled individuals to resolve their grievances easily. But court and arbitration records show the opposite has happened: Once blocked from going to court as a group, most people dropped their claims entirely.

by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Chief Justice Roberts, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Friday, October 30, 2015

Joe Jackson


Goodnight and Thank You, Grantland

[ed. See also: Talent First]

When ESPN launched Grantland four years ago as a website built around the hyper-popular writer Bill Simmons, predictions of its irrelevance and death abounded. In The Atlantic, Nicholas Jackson predicted that “the new site is doomed,” saying it wouldn’t “be distinct enough to draw the audience it needs.” He was wrong—Grantland quickly became the premier location for intelligent, thoughtful, unique writing on a whole range of subjects in sports and culture, and featured some of the Internet’s best reporting and podcasting, delivered by a staggering lineup of talent on staff. But on Friday, ESPN decided to abruptly pull the plug on the site, months after abruptly firing Simmons.

It’s easy to castigate ESPN’s thinking: Simmons left after clashing with management, mostly for calling out his parent company’s coverage of recent NFL scandals. After he was gone, the company didn’t find a permanent successor for the site (instead tapping Chris Connelly as an interim editor-in-chief), and subsequently, much of its deep bench of talent departed, some to a new project being set up by Simmons. Still, there were numerable writers and editors left on staff who heard about their site closing via press release today, though ESPN will apparently honor their contracts.

Grantland was sometimes pigeonholed as a “speciality site” or a “special project,” a prestige undertaking for ESPN that didn’t need to succeed in terms of raw traffic. But by any yardstick, it exceeded expectations. Throughout his tenure, Simmons remained himself: He hosted his super-popular B.S. Report podcast, wrote a weekly column, and occasionally weighed in on aspects of pop culture. But he also showed an eye for fantastic talent and let his staff explore diverse topics well outside of ESPN’s normal purview.

by David Sims, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: ESPN

Laura Grimes and Todd Baker


[ed. Killer cover. Amazing! Here's the original.]

A $99.99 Surfboard Upends the Industry

On a recent Saturday along the Los Angeles coast, from Venice Beach all the way up past Malibu, tens of thousands of surfers jostled for position on the small, clean waves the Pacific was churning out. Many were riding the same board: an 8-foot blue-and-white Wavestorm, sold exclusively at Costco Wholesale stores for $99.99—the same price as the store’s Italian sausage-stuffed turducken.

Since its debut in 2007, Wavestorm has become the most popular surfboard in the U.S., with about half a million sold. Novices and veterans have embraced the mass-produced soft-foam boards, which cost much less than competing products. Entry-level soft boards typically sell for around $300, and hand-shaped long boards can go for upwards of $1,000. (...)

Surfing schools used to be the main customers for soft-top surfboards, which are covered in a thin membrane of absorbent foam that makes them more forgiving for beginners than traditional fiberglass models. In recent years, however, Wavestorm boards have found favor even among dedicated surfers, who buy them for their kids and friends, or for themselves. Veteran Scott Mortensen tested his Wavestorm against Hawaii’s epic waves. “The 8-foot model had good paddle power, turned well, and was very forgiving, unlike other soft-top boards with designs that caused the nose to pearl, ” says Mortensen, using surfer speak for a board that bends like a wet noodle, resulting in a wipeout. “We know how to put a sandwich of foam together with different layers and substrates,” Zilinskas says, “so it has adequate flexibility for different functions.”

AGIT says this year it will sell more than 100,000 Wavestorm surfboards through Costco, the only retailer that carries them. Because most board makers, including AGIT, are privately held, there are no reliable data on the size of the market. However, the industry consensus is that Wavestorm is now the leader, selling five times more boards annually than the largest surfboard brands.

Zilinskas, who as AGIT’s vice president for sales travels from his home in San Francisco to Taiwan several times a year to help oversee design, production, and marketing, says the decision to bypass traditional sales channels has been key to Wavestorm’s success. “We don’t want to mess around collecting money from little surf shops and sporting goods stores,” he says. “Margins are slim at Costco, but we pump out volume and get paid on time.”

While Costco stocks several Wavestorm products, with some paddleboards costing more than $500, the $100 8-foot board accounts for 90 percent of sales. That price, along with Costco’s policy of issuing refunds to customers whose boards break (a hazard of inexpensive foam models), has had a ripple effect on the industry. Huntington Surf & Sport, one of the largest surf shops in Huntington Beach, Calif., an epicenter of the global surf scene, no longer stocks soft-top boards. “Why even bother when you can go to Costco for $100?” says assistant manager Cody Quarress.

by David Sax, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Dave Weldon/A-Frame

R.E.M.


Readying to bury your father and your mother,
What did you think when you lost another?
I used to wonder why did you bother,
Distanced from one, blind to the other?

Listen here my sister and my brother
What would you care if you lost the other?
I always wonder why did we bother,
Distanced from one, deaf to the other.

Oh, oh, oh but sweetness follows

The Degeneration of Europe

There is a paradox at the heart of the new “Völkerwanderung,” the mass movement into Europe of people from all over North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. From the outside Europe looks alluringly beautiful. But from the inside it is ugly, like one of those grand old Prussian or Polish manor houses that were turned into shabby workers’ sanitoriums under the communists.

The great migration of 2015 makes it clear that the European Union (EU) is an attractive destination for hundreds of thousands, and probably millions of people. It is so attractive that since January this year, 2,600 people have died crossing the Mediterranean trying to enter the EU. Yet, viewed from the inside, Europe looks a mess. The European economy seems much closer to “secular stagnation”—in Larry Summers’s phrase—than the United States economy. European politics is also in disarray. In almost every member state there is at least one populist party, and nearly all of them are deeply hostile to immigration.

No doubt, many forms of euroscepticism are unpleasant. But that is not to say that euroscepticism is all unwarranted. (...)

What does this mean in the great historical scheme of things? Europe is not quite stagnating, but it is certainly not growing dynamically. It is failing to create jobs, and it is failing especially to create jobs for young people and for immigrants. Seen in a broad historical perspective, this suggests that the great shift from the west to the rest is continuing apace. As I argued in my book Civilization: the West and the Rest, this is the biggest economic change the world has seen in 500 years.

If, 500 years ago, you had gone on a world tour, you would not have been especially struck by western Europe compared with some of the other great civilisations you could have visited. It would not have been obvious to a traveller that over the next five centuries there would be a huge divergence in living standards between Europe and the rest of the world. Five hundred years ago, Ming China was in many ways the most sophisticated civilisation in the world. It certainly had some of the biggest cities. Nanjing or Beijing, for example, were far larger than Paris or London. Between the 1600s and the 1970s, a great divergence occurred that saw living standards, on almost any conceivable measure, improve dramatically in western Europe and in places where western Europeans settled in large numbers, notably North America, relative to living standards in China and the rest of the world. This great divergence is the most striking feature of modern history.

The great empires that emerged from Europe together dominated the world’s political landscape (and seascape) as well as its economy. They may have accounted for a minority of the world’s population, but those European empires controlled a huge proportion of the rest of the world’s people.

In our lifetime, however, the great divergence stopped and went into reverse. Back in the late 1970s, when the People’s Republic of China first began to reintroduce market forces into the planned economy, its GDP was a small percentage of the world’s total: around 2 per cent. But last year China’s GDP (adjusted for differences in domestic purchasing power) exceeded that of the United States at more than 16 per cent of total global output.

What has driven this shift? One answer to that question is a good news story, the other a not-so-good news story. The good news is that China and other countries have adopted the things that after 1500 made Europe so successful. First, was the idea of competition in economic as well as in political life. Second, the notion of science that underpinned the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. Third, was the notion of the rule of law based on private property rights. Fourth, modern medicine, the branch of the scientific revolution that doubled and then more than doubled life expectancy. Fifth, was the consumer society, and sixth, the work ethic.

Part of what we are seeing today is the belated adoption by the rest of the world of ideas and institutions that worked really well for Europe and the west. That is a cause for celebration. It can only be good news that increasing numbers of Asians and now Africans, too, are leaving poverty behind and discovering the benefits of these western institutions and ideas. They still have a long way to go (think about the lack of rule of law in China today, to give just one example), but they have covered an astonishing distance since the 1970s.

The bad news is that even as the rest of the world is getting better institutionally, we in Europe and the west appear to be getting worse. We are suffering from a strange institutional degeneration. This has four aspects.

by Niall Ferguson, Prospect |  Read more:
Image: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The Football of Tomorrow Will Be Connected - And Undeflateable

[ed. See also: British bloggers who are reinventing how the NFL coaches.]

For a glimpse into football’s immediate future, you have to go back in time. Nestled among the silos and wheat fields and wind turbines that dot the rural northwest Ohio landscape, there’s a large white factory in the town of Ada. There are no sign markers to lead you there but drive toward the “ADA”-emblazoned water tower and, there in its shadow, you’ll come upon the Wilson Football Factory. It’s been in constant operation for 60 years with one primary purpose: manufacture official NFL game footballs. Every ball in every Super Bowl has come from here, crafted by the gnarled, taped-up hands of 120 or so local residents, who clock in at 7:30 a.m. and leave by 3:30 p.m. Many of the workers have been here 10, 20, even 30 years or more; one recent retirement party celebrated 48 years of service.

On a slow day, the workers pump out about 2,000 footballs, with the busiest times approaching 3,500 or more. The NFL may have a five-month season from opening day to the Super Bowl, but Wilson’s football-makers never stop. In all, about 700,000 footballs exit the Wilson warehouse doors every calendar year — about 70 percent of the global football market. “If they’re not perfect,” plant manager Dan Reigle, who’s been there 35 years, tells me, “they don’t go to the NFL.” (...)

The next wave of footballs is so close. For about five years or so, there’s been talk of chipping a football with some kind of Bluetooth- or RFID-transmitting device that can be tracked in real-time and let officials know, say, when a ball swallowed up in a scrum has crossed the plane of the goal line, even when obscured by all those 350-pound linemen. This has been one of the holy grails with football analytics for years. Baseball, soccer, and basketball have it easier because the game ball is rarely obscured from view, so they can rely on optical tracking (i.e. a camera being able to follow and calculate its movements). In the NFL, the football is often hidden so the only real way to crack this problem is to embed a chip in the ball that is self-powered and has a success rate somewhere on the order of 99.9 percent. Trying to determine a Super Bowl-deciding scoring play only to discover the ball’s gadgetry malfunctioned? That’d be bad for business.

But Wilson is close, as evinced by the ball being thrown around in its company parking lot on a recent afternoon. Randy Schreiner, who’s only been with the company about eight months, making him an extreme newbie around these parts, boots up the beta app that Wilson had built, slaps the ball in his hand to mimic it being “snapped” to the quarterback, and lets loose a 30-foot-long spiral. It looks perfect to me, but the iPad app shows an animated ball wobbling along a straight line and only gives the throw a 68 percent rating. It’s been a painstaking process to get this far — Wilson engineers have logged thousands of throws in the course of “teaching” the app what constitutes both a complete and incomplete pass — but this is proof of a concept that is inching ever closer to market. The idea is to unveil a few hundred of these balls to the public at the NFL Experience before Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara and then start selling them in stores later in 2016. If all that goes well, Murphy says, you should see a connected football coming to the NFL in less than five years.

The NFL has been keen to get this done, but Wilson has had to basically create everything from scratch. The league came to them with the bulky impact sensors that are used in shoulder pads and said they wanted them in the ball, but they were heavy and had to be reduced down to the size of about six quarters stacked on top of each other. Then they had to decide where to put the transmitter. They found that smack in the core-middle of the football was best but they had to design a completely new bladder for this to happen, one that has a pouch in the middle to keep the chip and battery (which lasts about a year) stable and protected.

But while developing the technology has been a challenge — and Wilson owns all the IP, so the R&D expense will be worth it — the toughest part has been figuring how to incorporate the new materials into the traditional manufacturing process, and that’s something Wilson is still fine-tuning. 

by Erik Malinowski, Wired |  Read more:
Image: via:

Why Is There An ‘R’ in Mrs.?

There are a couple of odd things about the title Mrs. First, the word it stands for, missus, looks strange written out that way in full. In fact, except in the jokey context of “the missus,” meaning the wife, you almost never see it written out. “Missus Claus” looks far more awkward than “Mister Rogers.” Second, the abbreviation has an ‘r’ in it, and the word doesn’t. Why is there an ‘r’ in Mrs.?

Originally, Mrs. was an abbreviation for mistress, the female counterpart of master. There were various spellings for both forms—it might be maistresse/maistre or maystres/mayster—and variation in pronunciation too. The word mistress had a more general meaning of a woman who is in charge of something. A governess in charge of children was a mistress, as was a woman head of a household. The abbreviated form was used most frequently as a title for a married woman.

Eventually, the title form took on a contracted, 'r'-less pronunciation, and by the end of the 18th century “missis” was the most acceptable way to say it. (A 1791 pronouncing dictionary said that to pronounce it "mistress" would “appear quaint and pedantic.”) The full word mistress had by then come to stand for a paramour, someone who was explicitly not a Mrs.

by Arika Okrent, Mental Floss | Read more:
Image: iStock

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Parts Unknown

The Okinawa Missiles of October

John Bordne, a resident of Blakeslee, Penn., had to keep a personal history to himself for more than five decades. Only recently has the US Air Force given him permission to tell the tale, which, if borne out as true, would constitute a terrifying addition to the lengthy and already frightening list of mistakes and malfunctions that have nearly plunged the world into nuclear war.

The story begins just after midnight, in the wee hours of October 28, 1962, at the very height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then-Air Force airman John Bordne says he began his shift full of apprehension. At the time, in response to the developing crisis over secret Soviet missile deployments in Cuba, all US strategic forces had been raised to Defense Readiness Condition 2, or DEFCON2; that is, they were prepared to move to DEFCON1 status within a matter of minutes. Once at DEFCON1, a missile could be launched within a minute of a crew being instructed to do so.

Bordne was serving at one of four secret missile launch sites on the US-occupied Japanese island of Okinawa. There were two launch control centers at each site; each was manned by seven-member crews. With the support of his crew, each launch officer was responsible for four Mace B cruise missiles mounted with Mark 28 nuclear warheads. The Mark 28 had a yield equivalent to 1.1 megatons of TNT—i.e., each of them was roughly 70 times more powerful than the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bomb. All together, that’s 35.2 megatons of destructive power. With a range of 1,400 miles, the Mace B's on Okinawa could reach the communist capital cities of Hanoi, Beijing, and Pyongyang, as well as the Soviet military facilities at Vladivostok.

Several hours after Bordne's shift began, he says, the commanding major at the Missile Operations Center on Okinawa began a customary, mid-shift radio transmission to the four sites. After the usual time-check and weather update came the usual string of code. Normally the first portion of the string did not match the numbers the crew had. But on this occasion, the alphanumeric code matched, signaling that a special instruction was to follow. Occasionally a match was transmitted for training purposes, but on those occasions the second part of the code would not match. When the missiles' readiness was raised to DEFCON 2, the crews had been informed that there would be no further such tests. So this time, when the first portion of the code matched, Bordne’s crew was instantly alarmed and, indeed, the second part, for the first time ever, also matched.

At this point, the launch officer of Bordne's crew, Capt. William Bassett, had clearance, to open his pouch. If the code in the pouch matched the third part of the code that had been radioed, the captain was instructed to open an envelope in the pouch that contained targeting information and launch keys. Bordne says all the codes matched, authenticating the instruction to launch all the crew’s missiles. Since the mid-shift broadcast was transmitted by radio to all eight crews, Capt. Bassett, as the senior field officer on that shift, began exercising leadership, on the presumption that the other seven crews on Okinawa had received the order as well, Bordne proudly told me during a three-hour interview conducted in May 2015. He also allowed me to read the chapter on this incident in his unpublished memoir, and I have exchanged more than 50 emails with him to make sure I understood his account of the incident.

By Bordne's account, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Air Force crews on Okinawa were ordered to launch 32 missiles, each carrying a large nuclear warhead. Only caution and the common sense and decisive action of the line personnel receiving those orders prevented the launches—and averted the nuclear war that most likely would have ensued.

by Aaron Tovish, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Most Interesting Curator on the Internet Knows Exactly What You Want to See


In the final weeks of 2014, a site called Archillect first appeared online. At first glance, Archillect doesn’t look too out of the ordinary; it’s a fairly standard “mood board”—that is, a collection of images curated from other places on the internet, usually by an artist looking to put together a source of aesthetic inspiration for themselves and others.

Archillect’s brand of imagery consists of lots of abstract forms, fashion photography, and striking, surrealist GIFs. While nice to look at, it’s not a huge departure from some of the better-curated mood boards that have existed on Tumblr for quite some time. Instead, the thing that makes Archillect unique is who’s doing the curating.

No human is directly involved in deciding what gets posted on Archillect. Archillect herself is an artificial intelligence that curates her own content. Deploying a network of bots that crawl Tumblr, Flickr, 500px, and other image-heavy sites, Archillect hunts for keywords and metadata that she likes, and posts the most promising results.

Murat Pak, the creator of Archillect, has a difficult time defining what exactly he does for a living. Part developer, part designer, part artist, none of those terms on their own do a very good job of summarizing his work. Instead, he might be best described as an automator.

“I don’t like to actually do things manually,” Pak explains. “For instance, most of my designs, I didn’t actually design something, but I designed something that designed some other thing, and the second thing was the actual product. That’s how I like things.”

by Mitch Bowman, Motherboard |  Read more:
Image: Archillect

Various seashells. Handbuch für Naturaliensammler. 1913.
via:

A Penny for Your Books

Ever since a university gave me a literature degree certifying that I have read Chaucer in the original Middle English, my taste in books has reverted to very specific, lowbrow stuff. I like murder mysteries, heist books and spy books, preferably from the 1950s through the 1980s. These titles can be hard to find; many of them are out of print, unavailable on Kindle, and their presence in the New York Public Library is hit or miss.

But in recent years, my bookshelves have swelled. Old John le Carré and Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block titles are easier than ever to find online, along with pretty much every other book published in the last century. They’re all on Amazon, priced incredibly low, and sold by third-party booksellers nobody has ever heard of.

Better-known titles with more robust print circulation quickly obey the seesaw of supply and demand; after time, their prices can sink even lower, because of the increased number of copies floating around. Take Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From the Goon Squad”: You can buy a new hardcover or paperback copy for $18.82 or $9.19, from Amazon itself, or download the Kindle version for $8.56. Or, as with hundreds of thousands of other books on Amazon, you can click through to the “used” section and buy the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction for a penny.

Despite the naysaying about the death of publishing, the industry’s most vital numbers — sales and revenue — aren’t actually all that gloomy. In 2014, publishers sold just over 2.7 billion books domestically, for a total net revenue of just under $28 billion, a larger profit than in the preceding two years, according to the Association of American Publishers. There were just over 300,000 new titles (including re-releases) published in the United States in 2013. The book industry may not be as strong as it once was, but it’s still enormous, and generates a considerable amount of surplus product each year.

Enter the penny booksellers. There are dozens of sellers — Silver Arch Books, Owls Books, Yellow Hammer Books and Sierra Nevada Books — offering scores of relatively sought-after books in varying conditions for a cent. Even including the standard $3.99 shipping, the total sum comes out to several dollars cheaper than what you’d pay at most brick-and-mortar used-book stores.

“At some point in the next two to three years, I predict that ‘Go Set a Watchman’ will be selling for a penny,” says Mike Ward, president of the Seattle-based used-book seller Thriftbooks. Ward would know; though it isn’t considered in the same league as Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, Thriftbooks sells about 12 million books a year, mostly on Amazon, and many for a penny. (In comparison, Barnes & Noble, the country’s largest book retailer, sells somewhere around 300 million books a year, but has the added weight of hundreds of enormous, expensive megastores to run and thousands of employees.)

“We are taking garbage [and] running it through a very sophisticated salvage process in our warehouses, to create or find or discover products people want, and then we sell them at a very, very cheap price,” Ward explains. Garbage isn’t a value judgment: His company, along with several other enormous used-book-selling operations that have popped up online in the past decade, is literally buying garbage. Thrift stores like Goodwill receive many more donations than they can physically accommodate. Employees rifle through donations, pick out the stuff that is most likely to sell and send the rest to a landfill. The same thing happens at public libraries; they can take only as many donations as their space and storage will allow, so eventually they have to dispose of books, too. (For libraries, the process is a little more complicated; they can’t legally sell books, so they essentially launder them through groups with names like Friends of the Library, which sell the discards and donate the proceeds to the library.)

Operations like Thriftbooks step in and buy these landfill-bound books, sight unseen, for around 10 cents a pound. Thriftbooks has 10 warehouses across the country, each with its own name. Ward says each of them is “about the size of your typical Walmart,” somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 square feet. The enterprise is still largely a human operation: Between 15 and 18 people at each warehouse sift through the truckloads of books, sending more than 80 percent of the material immediately to the recycling plant. (Hey, it’s better than the dump.) That 80 percent may include stuff that’s obviously garbage: old three-ring binders, notebooks, half of a Bible. Anything that might possibly be sellable is scanned into the company’s database.

Discover Books, another major used bookseller on Amazon, is also based in the Seattle area. Unlike Thriftbooks, Discover Books relies on automated scanners to enter books into its system, which can handle more than 60 books per minute. “If there’s any history of that book online, our system will pick it up,” says Tyler Hincy, Discover Books’ vice president of marketing. (...)

A “penny book” is something of a misnomer. Used books sold on Amazon typically carry a $3.99 shipping fee. But that isn’t a reflection of the actual cost of shipping them — it’s a function of the company’s rules, which mandate a consistent shipping cost for every category of the product in the Marketplace. Amazon takes a standard cut of every book sold — $1.35 — which leaves each of the penny sellers of “A Visit From the Goon Squad” with a whopping $2.65 to cover the cost of the item, shipping and handling, labor, rent on warehouses and all the other costs that come up along the way.

The sellers wouldn’t tell me exactly how much profit they make on penny books. Shipping costs vary depending on the kinds of deals you can cut with delivery services. “We make more than it costs us on the postage to ship it, but not much,” Ward says. “A couple of cents, to be honest.” But the sellers aren’t selling only penny books — Ward says that less than half of his stock sells for that price. And because processing costs don’t increase with book price, while Thriftbooks may only make a few cents on a penny book, it will make $2, plus a few cents, from a book priced at $2. Not bad, when you sell 12 million books a year.

by Dan Nosowitz, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Thrifty Books

Makeup Face

My non-interest in cosmetics probably stemmed from growing up in a household that had never heavily encouraged, or even really talked about, them. My mother has never worn much makeup, so I grew up without a made-up influence or go-to instructor who could address my curiosities with the strange beige powders, face-crayons, or tubes of color I watched my friends obsessively collect.

Eventually as I matured, my annoyance with cosmetics dulled, and I began to see the appeal of putting the products on. Slowly, my own interest, in what I had come to see as an art form, began to build.

After nearly 23 years of steering clear from the stuff, I began to consider the possibility of applying more than the eyeliner and lip stick that I had moderately familiarized myself with in order to be “presentable” among the sea of gorgeous girls present in Southern California.

With the mystical fairy-godmothers of YouTube and Pinterest as my guides, I plunged headfirst into the world of makeup. I watched countless videos, read numerous articles, and pinned dozens of makeup tutorial pins before finally feeling satisfied that I had caught up with years of cosmetic progress. Armed with a long list of the necessary products I would need, I walked into the brightly lit cosmetics department of my local Target Store.

I can only imagine how much I would have spent at ULTA or Sephora, because I walked out from Target’s crimson doors with a single bag and over $100 emptied from my bank account. I assured myself and my debit card, that we would probably be returning it all anyway.

The following day, I applied all of my newly purchased products: face primer, eye lid primer, eye shadow, foundation, compact, bronzer, contour crayon, blush, eye pencil, liquid eye liner, mascara, lip primer, lip liner, lip stain… all of this tacking on an extra hour and a half to my normal 15 minute morning routine. If this was what it took to put on a pretty face, I wasn’t sure I could manage this on a daily basis.

However, when I entered my first class, and a friend of mine walked right by me before having to turn around and take another look, I realized that it may not have been a complete waste of my time after all.

Apparently Makeup Face, what I like to call the layers of product between my actual face and the world, is surprisingly attractive. The slew of compliments seemed unending.

I was hit on and flirted with by more people in the past few months than ever in my life. Suddenly men, and not just creepy old guys, but men my own age, some even incredibly attractive, were noticing me.

I’d never found myself to be anything more than average in the looks department; a characteristic I accepted after assuring myself that being intelligent was more important than being pretty. But I have to admit, having experienced what it feels like to have people flock to you and complement you non-stop, I can understand the obvious draw. I may have never brought in many suitors, but Makeup Face, Makeup Face brought in a ton. (...)

I began to wonder why everyone was so much more interested in Makeup Face, and for that matter, whether the difference between my face and Makeup face was so drastic that people actually thought I was sick when I wasn’t wearing makeup.

Which made me a tad peeved, if I’m going to be honest. I was not about to regress into the insecure teenage version of myself over Makeup Face. Clearly the reactions to both my actual face and Makeup Face had left me a little off-balanced, but having recently experienced both, I saw past my now insecure, if “perfect,” reflection and tried to take a deeper look.

I recognized the obvious benefits of people finding me attractive; the truth was, people treated Makeup face much better than they treated me. This isn’t to say that people were suddenly outright rude to me when I didn’t have makeup on, but they definitely didn’t notice me in the same way they did when I was.

Doors opened for Makeup Face. Like, literally every door was held open for her. Makeup Face was allowed to go first in line, given the best guest service, and did not, not even once, have to ask for a refill. Makeup Face was noticeably treated better, by strangers, than I had ever been.

by Bree Lopes, Medium |  Read more:
Image: via:

[ed. New frontiers in fashion design: Moon Parkas and Suit Wetsuits.]

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Inside the Secretive Circle That Rules a $14 Trillion Market

Fifteen of the biggest players in the $14 trillion market for credit insurance are also the referees.

Firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wrote the rules, are the dominant buyers and sellers and, ultimately, help decide winners and losers.

Has a country such as Argentina paid what it owes? Has a company like Caesars Entertainment Corp. kept up with its bills? When the question comes up, the 15 firms meet on a conference call to decide whether a default has triggered a payout of the bond insurance, called a credit-default swap. Investors use CDS to protect themselves from missed debt payments or profit from them.

Once the 15 firms decide that a default has taken place, they effectively determine how much money will change hands.

And now, seven years after the financial crisis first brought CDS to widespread attention, pressure is growing inside and outside what’s called the determinations committee to tackle conflicts of interest, according to interviews with three dozen people with direct knowledge of the panel’s functioning who asked that their names not be used. Scandals that exposed how bank traders rigged key interest rates and fixed currency values have given ammunition to those who say CDS may also be susceptible to collusion or, worse, outright manipulation. (...)

CDS on corporate and sovereign debt, which are subject to the panel’s decision-making, have bubbled into prominence lately. The plummeting price of oil and other commodities has caused some corporations and governments to struggle to keep current with creditors. For instance, CDS prices are showing that traders have priced in 95 percent odds that Venezuela will default within five years, according to S&P Capital IQ CDS data released Tuesday.

The stakes go far beyond a few hedge funds and banks. Although the market for credit insurance on individual companies and countries has shrunk by 59 percent since 2008, more money is now invested in benchmark CDS indexes than at any time since the committee’s creation in 2009, according to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. Mutual funds increasingly use CDS because they’re having trouble finding bonds to trade. That means the determinations committee is increasingly affecting the $3.5 trillion of bond mutual funds, a staple of U.S. retirement savings.

Though the determinations committee has rendered more than 1,000 judgments in the last six years, no records of its discussions have ever been made public -- nor is ISDA proposing they be.

“The problem is there’s no ability for an independent body to determine whether or not the process is fair, which ISDA says it is,” said Dennis Kelleher, CEO of Better Markets Inc., a Washington-based nonprofit watchdog group. (...)

Determining whether a company or government has formally defaulted might sound easy, but bonds are often freighted with covenants and structures that are virtually indecipherable to anyone but lawyers and traders.

Before the determinations committee was created, CDS sellers facing payouts on the insurance might insist a “default event” hadn’t been triggered.

After the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008 exposed the complexity of the CDS market, Timothy Geithner, then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, decided it needed an overhaul -- and fast. At his bidding, executives of the largest CDS dealers and money management firms met at Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Working with markers on paper white boards, the group drew up a new system for improving the settlement of CDS obligations.

Their solution: Let us decide.

by Nabila Ahmed, Bloomberg | Read more:
Image: via:

The First Time

When I was 7 or 8, I hoisted myself into a tree and accidentally gave myself an orgasm. It was snowy out, and I was bundled in a puffy winter jacket and cumbersome ski pants, which made the branch I’d been hanging from unusually difficult to straddle. As I struggled to pull myself higher, flexing my abdomen with every move, I noticed an unfamiliar kind of pelvic euphoria, which subsided by the time I finagled my way up.

That’s really all I remember — a flash of pleasure. I can’t say I knew then what the feeling was, or what it meant — I am not, I should note, a dendrophiliac — but it must have made an impression on me, somewhere deep in my psyche, because when I first started masturbating, around the age of 12 or 13, I went at it handless.

There was a green leather chair in the guest room of my childhood home, and it had sturdy armrests I’d use to lift myself up — then I'd tighten my stomach and do the deed. I don’t recall the first time I attempted this balancing act or the exact moment I realized it was masturbation. I only know that it made complete sense. I went at it with un-self-conscious zeal for a year or so, until I realized that it was kind of unusual and normalized my behavior by switching over to a more boring method. You know, the quick, furtive stroke.

It's often hard to take masturbation as anything more than a joke. Whenever I tell friends and colleagues about my original method, it elicits eyebrow raises and embarrassed chuckles. But I’ve always wondered if other kids have gotten off using the same technique I began with — besides my brother, who told me that, in his adolescent years, he’d hang from jungle gyms and shower-curtain rods in order to climax. (He called it his “funny feeling,” the perfect words for it, in my opinion.)

“We still can't be relaxed about the idea of giving ourselves an orgasm,” said Betty Dodson, who literally wrote the book on masturbation, Sex for One, “which simply displays how unfucked this country is.” She told me that my adolescent jerk-off method is most common among women, who will cross their legs, lie on their stomachs, and squeeze and release. Pleasure comes from pumping the pelvic floor muscle, which is at the base of the abdomen. “I have to give you credit,” Dodson told me. “You managed to have an orgasm without, quote, touching yourself, unquote, down there.”

by Matthew Kassel, NY Magazine | Read more:
Image: Universal Pictures

Monday, October 26, 2015


Tony
via: markk

Easy Way to Peel Potatoes


[ed. How did I get through life without knowing this.]

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Youth (1893)
via:

Freedom From Fries

Like many of their millennial peers, Kathleen Davis and Andrea Nguyen eat out a lot. “Nothing fancy,’’ Davis told me one recent evening, as she took a sidewalk table next to mine at Sweetgreen in Nolita. “We want what we eat to be healthy and tasty,’’ Davis said. “Decent prices matter, too.” The women were working their way through one of the restaurant’s seasonal specialties—the “wastED” salad, which consists almost entirely of carrot peels, broccoli stalks, roasted bread heels, cabbage cores, and other ingredients that are usually tossed out.

Ten years ago, no American would have regarded a bowl of vegetable scraps dressed with lime-cilantro or spicy pesto vinaigrette as fast food. Many people wouldn’t have considered it food at all. But millions of diners, fuelled by concerns about their health and the state of the environment—and propelled by a general distaste for industrially produced and highly processed food—have begun to shun the ubiquitous chains that have long shaped the American culinary character. Sweetgreen and places like Lyfe Kitchen, Chipotle, Smashburger, Five Guys, Shake Shack, and Dig Inn now occupy the rapidly expanding middle ground between restaurants with tablecloths and the giant fast-food chains. The category, referred to broadly as fast casual dining, is growing more quickly than any other segment of the market.

For more than fifty years, eating at fast-food restaurants has been an almost clinically impersonal experience: the food is rapidly prepared, remarkably cheap, utterly uniform, and served immediately. The cheeseburger you get at a McDonald’s in Orlando is exactly the same as the one you get at a McDonald’s in San Francisco, Montreal, or Little Rock. Each month, more than two hundred million people eat at least one meal at one of the hundred and sixty thousand fast-food restaurants in the United States. McDonald’s alone serves twenty-six million people every day at its fourteen thousand American outlets—more than the population of Australia. Millions more visit Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Dunkin’ Donuts, In-N-Out Burger, as well as the other chains that occupy virtually every highway, strip mall, and town center in the nation.

Almost seventy per cent of customers at places like McDonald’s, which are known in the trade as quick-service restaurants, get their food at a drive-through—a process that, according to last year’s Drive-Thru Performance Study, conducted by QSR, an industry magazine, takes an average of 219.97 seconds and costs most people about five dollars. I asked the women at Sweetgreen if they ever patronized McDonald’s or similar restaurants. Davis shuddered and said nothing. After a brief silence, Nguyen owned up to eating at McDonald’s once or twice a month, but not for a Big Mac or French fries. “They have some surprisingly good food these days,’’ she said in a confessional whisper. “But I would never be seen walking down the street with a McDonald’s bag in my hand.’’ I asked why. “Shame,” she replied. “I don’t know anyone who would feel differently.’’

Hers is a commonly voiced sentiment. Speed and convenience matter as much as ever to American diners. But increasingly people also demand the information that places like Sweetgreen offer. They want to know what they are eating and how it was made; they prefer to watch as their food is prepared, see the ingredients, and have a sense of where it all came from. And they are willing to pay more for what they perceive to be healthier fare. Most of these restaurants, where meals generally cost between eight and fifteen dollars, rely on a few ingredients, stress the quality of their food, and often treat the farms that supply their vegetables with the kind of reverence once reserved for fine wineries.

The rise of the healthy fast-food chain has been aided by the easing recession, but it comes largely at the expense of traditional competitors. None have struggled more than McDonald’s, one of the world’s most recognizable brands. In March, the company replaced its chief executive with one of his deputies. Two months later, it ended its long-established practice of issuing monthly reports on individual store sales. And this year, for the first time since 1970, McDonald’s will close more locations in the U.S. than it opens. When I asked Dan Coudreaut, the company’s executive chef and vice-president of culinary innovation, what mattered most to McDonald’s, taste, price, or efficiency, he sighed. “Our main job is to create value for our shareholders, for our company, for our restaurateurs,’’ he said. “We are not a nonprofit organization and we are not married to any one area. We are married to being a successful business. Society is shifting in a major direction, so guess what—McDonald’s is going to shift, too.’’ (...)

Fast food has become a synonym for bad food. Yet, the industrial farm system that has made it possible for McDonald’s and many other chains to sell cheeseburgers for a dollar has also enabled Americans to spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than people do in any other country. At the start of the First World War, food purchases consumed half the average paycheck; today the figure is six per cent. According to federal statistics, an American in 1919 had to work for two and a half hours to earn enough money to buy a chicken; these days it would take less than fifteen minutes of labor. (...)

In less than a century, our ability to produce cheap calories on a massive scale, long considered the signature triumph of American agriculture, has become a genuine threat to the nation’s health. We wouldn’t be able to eat fifty billion hamburgers a year, and at least as many orders of French fries, unless thousands of the farms that provided the meat and potatoes were also factories. Along the way, the term “fast food’’ has come to describe so many options that its meaning has vanished. Sweetgreen serves meals you can purchase in three minutes and eat in five; that’s fast food. But it consists of salads and fresh soups, not processed meat, fattening sodas, or fries. The latter is the kind of fast food that people associate with McDonald’s; it’s also what millions of Americans eat at home every day.

by Michael Specter, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Andrew B. Meyers 

Why Laws Against Begging Don't Work

All across America, municipalities have criminalized begging. This is bizarre. It is now clearly established that the first amendment protects people who express themselves by spending millions of dollars. How can it fail to protect people who express themselves by asking for one dollar?

Many cities have suggested that begging fails to express ideas worthy of the first amendment. Not so. Requests for charity – whether from homeless persons, Salvation Army volunteers or firefighters – express need. They do so inherently and sometimes profoundly.

During a recent retrospective on hurricane Katrina, the radio program This American Life told the story of a middle-class woman from New Orleans whose life was so thoroughly destroyed after the hurricane that she wound up at a Kmart parking lot in Dallas, begging for money so she could buy diapers for her grandkids. “They needed Pampers, they needed food,” she explained. So she sat on a curb and “begged every car that came out of that parking lot”.

The story of this woman’s plea for help was gut-wrenching. And yet, public officials across the country are trying to make what she did illegal.

Some, like Portland, Maine, have done so by banning all speech in public spaces traditionally used by panhandlers, such as traffic medians. Others, like Grand Junction, Colorado, have enacted no-begging buffer zones within which all panhandling, no matter how peaceful, is deemed “aggressive”. Because these bans criminalize speech, and because the first amendment’s free-speech guarantee does not say “except for poor people”, the ACLU and other groups have challenged anti-begging laws in court.

No one wants to be accused of stifling speech. So the champions of these crackdowns on begging say what people always say when criminalizing words: asking for money is merely conduct, and thus doesn’t deserve the first amendment’s utmost protection.

One city that has unabashedly expressed this view is Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell has banned begging in its 400-acre downtown historic district and in numerous 20-foot buffer zones around restaurants, bus stops and other places where people might seek charity. The city reasons that substantially all begging – even standing by a restaurant with a sign that says “Please Help” – is coercive and devoid of value.

Thus, when the ACLU of Massachusetts and the law firm Goodwin Procter sued on behalf of two homeless people, Lowell compared them to vermin:

“[P]anhandling represents a raucous alternative culture that for reasons of economic dependence – or in a different view, parasitism – must occupy the same geographic space as those mainstream souls who lack the ‘need’ – or perhaps the chutzpah – to importune strangers for money.”

This view misunderstands the first amendment and offends democratic values.

Anti-begging measures contradict not one but two recent supreme court decisions: McCullen v Coakley, which invalidated a Massachusetts law creating buffer zones around reproductive health clinics, and Reed v Town of Gilbert, which invalidated an Arizona sign code because its rules hinged on what each sign said. So zones that prohibit begging are unconstitutional both because anti-speech buffer zones are problematic under McCullen, and because singling out one type of speech – begging – is content-based, like the sign code struck down in Reed.

by Matthew Segal, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Joel Stettenheim/CORBIS

The Beach Boys

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blocking Enzymes in Hair Follicles Promotes Hair Growth

Inhibiting a family of enzymes inside hair follicles that are suspended in a resting state restores hair growth, a new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center has found. The research was published today in the online edition of Science Advances.

In experiments with mouse and human hair follicles, Angela M. Christiano, PhD, and colleagues found that drugs that inhibit the Janus kinase (JAK) family of enzymes promote rapid and robust hair growth when applied to the skin.

The study raises the possibility that JAK inhibitors could be used to restore hair growth in forms of hair loss induced by male pattern baldness, and other types of hair loss that occur when hair follicles are trapped in a resting state. Two JAK inhibitors have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. One is approved for treatment of blood diseases (ruxolitinib) and the other for rheumatoid arthritis (tofacitinib). Both are being tested in clinical trials for the treatment of plaque psoriasis and alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

“What we’ve found is promising, though we haven’t yet shown it’s a cure for pattern baldness,” said Dr. Christiano. “More work needs to be done to test if JAK inhibitors can induce hair growth in humans using formulations specially made for the scalp.”

Christiano and her colleagues serendipitously discovered the effect of JAK inhibitors have on hair follicles when they were studying alopecia areata, a form of hair loss that’s caused by an autoimmune attack on the hair follicles. Christiano and colleagues reported last year that JAK inhibitors shut off the signal that provokes the autoimmune attack, and that oral forms of the drug restore hair growth in some people with the disorder.

In the course those experiments, Dr. Christiano noticed that mice grew more hair when the drug was applied to the skin than when the drug was given systemically. This suggested JAK inhibitors might be doing something to the hair follicles in addition to stopping the immune attack.

JAK inhibitors trigger the follicles’ normal reawakening process, the researchers found. Mice treated for five days with one of two JAK inhibitors sprouted new hair within 10 days, greatly accelerating the onset of hair growth. No hair grew on control mice within the same amount of time. (...)

“There aren’t many compounds that can push hair follicles into their growth cycle so quickly,” said Dr. Christiano. “Some topical agents induce tufts of hair here and there after a few weeks, but very few compounds have this potent an effect so quickly.” The drugs also produce longer hair from human hair follicles grown in culture and on skin grafted onto mice.

by Columbia University Medical Center |  Read more:
Image: S. Harel et al., Sci. Adv. 1, e1500973 (2015)

Lykke Li

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President

What happened on the Hill Thursday echoed the famous scene from All the President's Men, when super-source Deep Throat scolds reporter Bob Woodward for botching a story about hated Nixon henchman H.R. Haldeman.

"You let Haldeman slip away," says Deep Throat.

"Yes," answers a sheepish Woodward.

"You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away. You've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible."

With Thursday's interminable, pointless, haranguing, disorganized, utterly amateurish attempt at a smear job, the Republicans and their tenth-rate congressional attack schnauzer, South Carolina's Trey Gowdy, got people feeling sorry for Hillary Clinton. Over the course of 11 long hours, they made the most eloquent argument for a Hillary Clinton presidency yet offered by anyone, including Clinton herself.

Hillary's detractors, and I've been one of them, have long complained that she is a politician without firm principles. She, her husband and the other Third Way types who've dominated the modern Democratic Party specialize in a kind of transactional politics, in which issues are endlessly parsed to maintain a balance between fundraising interests and populist concerns. It's a strategy that wins elections, but doesn't get the heart racing much.

But there is one overriding principle that does animate and define the Clinton campaign, and that's keeping Republicans out of office. For years, this has been the Democratic Party's stock answer for every sordid legislative compromise, every shameless capitulation to expediency, every insulting line of two-faced stump rhetoric offered to get over: We have to do this to beat the Republicans.

I never bought that argument, for a lot of reasons, but Trey Gowdy made it look pretty good Thursday. Those idiots represent everything that is wrong not just with the Republican Party, but with modern politics in general. It's hard to imagine a political compromise that wouldn't be justified if its true aim would be to keep people like those jackasses out of power.

What was that whole thing about? What was Gowdy trying to prove? That Sidney Blumenthal had Hillary's private email address, and an ambassador didn't?

The overriding implication of the Benghazi hearing seemed to be that Hillary Clinton was so crass, unfeeling and politically self-involved as to not care if members of her State Department were massacred. Again, Hillary has a lot of flaws, but we're supposed to believe that she doesn't have a problem with dead Americans? Seriously?

This is the same kind of abject stupidity we saw in the 9/11 Truth movement, which believed unquestioningly that a whole bund of Bush administration officials was willing to see Americans murdered en masse in order to further some convoluted world domination scheme. (...)

If you follow partisanship to the extreme, this is where you end up: Israel-Palestine, Serbia-Albania, Ajax-Feyenoord, Sox-Yankees, Republicans-Democrats. You get to a place where you don't merely disagree with your opponents, you actively disbelieve in their basic humanity.

The Republicans at the Benghazi hearing made Hillary a proxy for an aspect of this phenomenon that virtually every blue-state American has seethed at in the last decade or so: being accused of treason.

We've been told that we hate veterans, that we sympathize with terrorists, that we long for a UN takeover or Soviet rule. It's said all the time that it makes us happy to see cops shot or soldiers killed in battle. Not only do we hear this on right-wing TV, we see the amazing spectacle of millions of conservatives believing it. To believe this stuff, you'd have to believe we aren't even people.

Hillary was forced into that same narrative Thursday. In this hearing she wasn't really being accused of mismanaging just the latest of thousands of logistical screw-ups by the U.S. government over the years.

On a deeper level the Republican committee members were accusing her of not caring about martyred American lives, because, well, "liberals" only care about the victims of torture or police brutality or other special interest groups they can exploit for political gain. In conservative legend, they don't care about "regular" Americans.

by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone |  Read more:
Image: via:

Clark Little
via:

My Mum Was a Keanu Reeves Superfan

[ed. Me too. I'll watch anything with Keanu in it.]

For as long as I can remember, my mom has been a Keanu Reeves super fan. She’s had a non-stop obsession with the actor and musician since 1994, and it’s one she’s been unable to shake. “It has nothing to do with the fame,” she told me. “I like him because he is a beautiful person who has endured the same struggles and challenges in life as me. But, if I was to say it has nothing to do with his looks, I would be lying.”

Meredith Nirui, my mom, moved to Japan in 1989 to escape the Islamic leadership transition in Iran, and became more aware of western culture after witnessing the legions of Hollywood-obsessed Japanese girls in Kobe. After my father forced her to watch the movie Speed, starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, my mom took an immediate interest in the Canadian actor. “I remember absolutely hating action movies and I was really mad your dad forced me to watch this film with tons of explosions and violence,” she said, “but the moment I started watching Speed, I was so mesmerized by Keanu. I loved absolutely everything about him, and he had such a great energy. I can't quite explain it.”

From this moment on, she religiously kept tabs on the actor in the media, while forming an impressive VHS collection of Keanu's films — Point Break, Feeling Minnesota, My Own Private Idaho—you name it. “I joined a Keanu fan club online and would visit the forums every night and stay on for hours. I would put you and your brother to bed and rush to the computer,” she said. “From the web, I learned he was the bass player in the post-grunge band Dogstar. They became my new favourite band.”

By 1996, my mom had built a detailed Keanu shrine on the interior of our linen closet, featuring a bunch of posters and cut-outs from TV Weekly and other tabloid mags, along with a life-size framed Keanu poster stapled to our living room wall. When she discovered through a forum that Dogstar was touring in the U.S, she saw this as an opportunity not only to see him in the flesh, but to potentially profess her love for him face-to-face. “A completely random girl asked me if I wanted to meet her in Chicago and drive around to all the shows. I was really scared of meeting a stranger off the Internet, but I had Keanu in mind and would do whatever it took to get to him.” She met with the stranger in Chicago, and they drove for days over the span of two weeks to see Keanu play each and every show.

by Ava Nirui, Dazed | Read more:
Image: Meredith Nirui

Some Thoughts About Constant Connectivity

I don’t have a smartphone. I am aware that this puts me in an ever-shrinking demographic (when I got my most recent phone, a model so simple that its most advanced feature is a slide-out keyboard, the person helping me called over two of her co-workers because none of them had seen it before), and there are certainly annoyances I put up with to maintain that status: When I’m heading somewhere unfamiliar I have to plan my journey out in advance. I always need to remind people that if they’re going to be late or they need to cancel plans they have to text me because I can’t get email. I spend a lot of time standing on line thinking about things instead of calming myself with crushable candy or whatever. (This is perhaps the hardest part of refusing to enter our mobile world; there is almost no one who needs protection from being alone with his thoughts more than I do.) And yet I persist, because I refuse to become a hostage to the web. I refuse to be always available. I refuse to forget that most of life is boredom and discomfort with no easy recourse to distraction.

I have no illusion that my refusals are in any way reflective of a growing movement against constant connection. If anything, it’s only going further the other way. For example: Do people in Silicon Valley ever turn off their phones? The answer seems to be an occasional, semi-braggy “yes, but only when I’m running marathons,” which is overshadowed by an overwhelming “no, not really, not by choice,” or, as one person actually put it, “We’re building a company for the long term and being offline is not an option.” “I do sleep with my phone under my pillow, though!” says a woman who prides herself on carving out two-to-four hours “away from device-enabled connectivity.”

I get it. I understand that once you have the technology it is almost impossible not to use it, even if you know it is ultimately bad for you. I am aware that making yourself constantly available—creating a world, in fact, where being unavailable is not an option—is a way to signal how busy and vital and valuable you are. If your self-esteem is completely wrapped up in the idea that “online” equals “working” and “working” is how you demonstrate your level of importance, the idea that you might miss an email is horrifying, because it robs you of your carefully-constructed concept of yourself as a dynamic, important part of the digital age.

And then there’s this: “I can come up with a long list of reasons why you should be a lot more worried about people who are on their phones than people who are off them. But culture is a weird thing. Sometimes we want to be pure and above it all, to be observational. Other times we want to fit in. At that moment, in that bar, anyone not looking at their phone was presumed to be a serial killer. So I took mine out of my pocket and looked at it, and everyone else chilled out.”

by Alex Balk, The Awl |  Read more:
Image: 

Crusty Broiled Cod with Littlenecks and Chouriço


Setting the Oven to ‘Broil’

INGREDIENTS
½ cup panko, lightly toasted
¼ cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 5-ounce pieces cod fillet, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick
1 lemon, quartered
2 tablespoons medium or hotsmoked paprika
Salt
Cracked black pepper
½ pound chouriço, diced medium
12 littleneck clams, well washed
½ cup dry white wine

PREPARATION
Heat broiler (to high if you have the option).

Combine panko, parsley, garlic, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl, mix well and set aside.

Rub cod and lemon quarters all over with remaining oil, sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper, then place in 9-by-12-inch shallow baking dish or disposable foil pan. Arrange chouriço and clams around cod and pour in wine. Place under broiler on top rack (about 3 to 4 inches from flame) and broil, turning dish back to front after about 5 minutes, until fish is almost opaque and littlenecks are open, 10 to 12 minutes.

Sprinkle panko mixture over the cod and return to broiler until crumbs are crispy golden brown, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Split cod, clams, chouriço, and lemon among 4 shallow bowls, pour pan juices around and serve.

by John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Rikki Snyder

Friday, October 23, 2015

Animal Collective


[ed. Probably as close as anyone's gotten to the old Beach Boys sound. Too bad they couldn't keep it going.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015