Monday, February 29, 2016

What Restaurants Should Know About Food Critics (& How to Spot One)

As a former restaurant critic for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Ruth Reichl knows what can make or break a great dining experience. She’s famous for her creative and serious approach to the job, which earned her two James Beard Awards for restaurant criticism and led to her dressing up in elaborate disguises to avoid being recognized on the New York dining scene, as she describes in her memoir Garlic and Sapphires.

Here, we ask Ruth what restaurants should know about criticism, how to deal with a negative review — and yes, how to spot a critic.

If you could tell restaurateurs one thing about food critics or criticism, what would it be?

This isn’t necessarily about critics or criticism, it’s about running a restaurant. It amazes me how few restaurants understand how important the initial contact is. However you are accessing the restaurant — on the phone or website — you take that impression into the restaurant with you.

The same holds true for when you sit down at the table. The first things that happen there are very hard to recover from. Everyone pays attention to the welcome, but the smell of a restaurant when you walk in was always really important to me. The quality of the bread, the quality of the butter. If you give me soft butter that smells like the refrigerator, I’m done.

Overall, what was your approach to criticism?

If you judge a restaurant on what they’re trying to do as opposed to what you want them to do, you can review anything from a hot dog stand to a four-star restaurant. I would do my homework ahead of time and figure out what they’re trying to do, and how well do they do that. I would study up on chefs, figure out what their previous places were, and really read whatever statements they put out about what they’re trying to do. Then you can judge them on their own pretensions. One of the biggest faults of criticism is that critics have a tendency to judge a restaurant on what they wish it would be. That’s a real mistake.

What are some other little things you’d notice as a critic that people might not think about?

One of the things that always baffles me is when cocktails are too expensive. You’re sitting at a bar, someone asks if you want something while you’re waiting, you order a cocktail — and you realize it’s the most expensive cocktail you’ve ever bought in your life. I am immediately put out by that. I know it’s a profit center for restaurants, but it’s also that first contact people have with you, and it leaves an impression.

I’m also stunned by how unaware restaurateurs are of the sophistication of wine buyers. If you’re marking bottles up three times what you paid for them, it’s very likely that half of your customers know it. Thirty years ago you could get away with that, but today you’re dealing with a more sophisticated diner and drinker. If you’re charging $10 a glass for a bottle you bought for $8, half of your customers will know it and they’re going to be pissed about it. It’s not a smart place to make money.

What you really want as a restaurateur is to get the customer on your side as quickly as possible. You want them to want you to succeed. When I was a critic and giving out stars I really took that into consideration. I would often give restaurants a glowing review and give them two stars instead of three, because if you give three stars, people go in with a huge chip on their shoulder. But if you give a glowing review and two stars, they’ll go in saying, why is she such a bitch?

Every one of your customers can be on your side or not on your side, and that’s something you really want to think about. A lot of it is not how good the food or service is but how much they like you. Restaurateurs don’t think much about the likeability factor. As a critic, you think about it a lot because it’s what you always hear from readers. That’s why Danny Meyer is so smart — he makes is customers feel like they’re loved. (...)

What were some things you looked for from the service staff?

I still think that we as Americans have a very difficult time with service. There used to be rules, and now there aren’t any rules, so we’re still trying to figure out what is American service.

I’m still stunned by how many restaurants you walk into where the waiter will say, “Hi, my name is so-and-so.” You really want to say, “I don’t care what your name is.” We still have yet to figure out how to have service that is friendly and yet a little bit distant. It should be caring and anticipatory. The best service is the service that you don’t notice, where you never have to ask for your wine glass to be refilled, for more water or bread, or for a plate to be taken away. It just happens. It’s still really rare to get that in restaurants.

One of my real pet peeves is that I really hate it when somebody’s plate is cleared when someone else isn’t finished. It still happens way too often.

Another thing that drives me crazy: overfilling the wine glass. Every time they come by they fill it, because they’re trying to get you to order another bottle. That really aggressive upselling drives me insane. I think it’s counter-productive. Nobody wants a full glass at every minute! When you feel that, you start to notice how aggressive they are about other things, and it unbalances the trust you have in the restaurant. Trust is the most valuable thing you can have with your customer, and you don’t want to do anything to upset that trust.

And this is everybody’s pet peeve: there is nothing more annoying than having a waitperson say “good choice” after you order. I did not need your approval.

by Olivia Terenzio, Open for Business | Read more:
Image: Fiona Abound

Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato


[ed. This is very much the theme of Mortals, a great novel by Norman Rush]

When I was twenty-three, I was hired by the CIA. I was working at a Catholic school at the time, coaching squash and teaching seventh-grade social studies—which was funny, since I had never before seen a squash game before and was not even so much as a lapsed Catholic. I lived behind the school in a former convent where the only consistently functioning lights were a pair of glowing red exit signs. My prevailing feeling that year was one of intense personal absurdity, and it was in this spirit that I applied to the CIA (I liked international relations, and who knew they had an online application?) and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (I liked writing stories, and what the hell?). These things certainly didn’t make any less sense than coaching squash and living in a convent—though they weren’t really ambitions as much as gestures: reflections of my general hope that I would, someday, do something else. Each was something in between a dice roll and a delusion, a promissory note and a private joke to no one but myself.

Later, it turned out that this was a lot like what writing a novel would feel like.

In some ways, it is hard to imagine two paths more different than being a writer and being a spy. It is certainly hard to imagine two careers with more wildly disparate stakes. And yet there are parallels in the underlying qualities of their practitioners: an interest in psychology, a facility with narrative, a tendency to position oneself as an observer, and a willingness to lie and call it something else.

In The Great Game: The Myths and Reality of Espionage, Frederick P. Hitz notes that one of the requirements of a good intelligence officer is “a profound understanding of human nature”—the ability to get into “the heads and the guts of a recruited spy.” Spy running often involves a carefully choreographed pulling of psychic marionette-strings: threads of desire and ambition, paranoia and greed, ideology and pragmatism—all unique to the individual in question and to the broader cultural and geopolitical context. Vanities and resentments are especially important, and CIA officers must play to these without ever acknowledging them outright (Hitz’s book offers a catalog of spies who were motivated, at least in part, by the most minor of grievances—and won over by the most minor of flatteries). Intelligence failures, like literary ones, tend to stem from failures of empathetic imagination.

We do not generally think of spying as an exercise in empathy, since its results are rarely benign. But insight into another person is a tool like any other (everything depends on what you do with it), and empathy forms the only springboard from which we can hope to access it. Spies must be empathetic in gaining understanding and ruthless in using it. In some ways, this is the real-world counterpart of the kind of empathy writers extend toward their characters. Novelists spend years conjuring fictional people—intricately constructing backstories, lovingly sketching minds—so that they can be made to react plausibly to whatever horrors have been planned for them all along. The stakes of this process are, in the scheme of things, nonexistent. Yet to be good at it does demand a non-squeamish imagination, as well as an aptitude for what Keats called negative capability: the ability to accept uncertainties, to sustain incompatible possibilities. This is an uncommon quality, I think—and like insight itself, much depends on how it is used. It lets us consider ideas we don’t completely believe in, inhabit perspectives we don’t totally endorse. It lets us linger too long in liminal spaces where we don’t necessarily want to stay.

A few weeks after I submitted my online application, the CIA contacted me for a phone interview. I was surprised by this—less by the fact that my résumé had passed some initial scrutiny than that somebody had read it in the first place. This, combined with the quick turnaround, left me in the very weird (and possibly unprecedented) position of being impressed with the honesty of the Central Intelligence Agency and the efficiency of the federal government.(...)

Writers and spies share an ability—and a willingness—to hide in plain sight, to deflect attention not only from the nature of their role but from the fact that they have any role at all. A spy obscures his relationship to events in order to affect them, just as a writer hovers anonymously beyond the page in order to exert her tyrannical, obsessive control. What is authorial distance, anyway, but a form of plausible deniability? This willingness to disappear is another difficult quality to gauge in normal terms—it seems to be simultaneously a form of delusional arrogance and its exact opposite. But writers and spies both understand its uses; in both cases, it is the vanishing act that enables the sorcery.

In the fall, I began my teaching job. I wasn’t the only one to notice I wasn’t great at it. Maybe jobs aren’t for me, I thought, and applied to MFA programs. And then the CIA invited me to Washington, D.C., for a three-day interview.

As one does with unforeseen outcomes, I began to make a retroactive case for inevitability—not of my future position as a CIA officer, but of my present position as an apparently viable CIA candidate. For this, according to the CIA itself, was what I was—a fact too bizarre to be meaningless. I still felt almost totally sure I would not get the job—beyond the candidate evaluation lay a vast labyrinth of security-clearance assessments from which, it seemed, almost nobody emerged—but it was time to seriously entertain the possibility.

It was also time to reconsider the question of whether I actually wanted this job. In a way I had wanted it all along, of course, but more like someone who wants to go to space someday and less like someone who wants to leave for a mission to Mars in six months; it was an issue that needed revisiting in light of this new, apparently literal reality. Another question was the ethical one—heretofore academic or, at most, civic. I believed in the necessity of the CIA; I respected many of the things it did or tried to do and was, like all sane people, horrified by other things. I’d raised some of these issues in my initial interviews, but more as a citizen in a unique position to learn how she should regard actions undertaken on her behalf than as a person contemplating undertaking any particular action herself. Should morally alert people shun the CIA, or are they the very people we most need working for it? I’d thought about this question in the way I’d thought about a lot of questions—as a philosophy major. I was going to have to think about whether there was another way to think.

It is fair to say that I had doubts. But doubts, I reasoned reasonably, were not a reason not to go to Washington. Doubts were a reason to go and get more information. And maybe they were. But the bigger thing was this: I was curious.

by Jennifer duBois, Lapham's Quarterly | Read more:
Image: “The Crow Spy Talks to the King of Owls and His Ministers,” Kalila wa Dimna

Nobel Prize Economists Say Free Market Competition Rewards Deception and Manipulation

The late nineteenth century was a busy time for inventors: the automobile, the telephone, the bicycle, the electric light. But another invention of the time has received much less attention: the “slot machine.” Slot machine in the beginning did not have its present-day connotation. The term referred to any sort of “vending machine”: you deposited your coin in a slot; you got to open a box. By the 1890s slot machines were selling chewing gum, cigars and cigarettes, opera glasses, chocolate rolls in individual paper wrappers, even quick looks at the precursor-to-the-phone-book city directories— all manner of things. The basic innovation was a lock activated by the deposit of a coin.

But then a new use was discovered. It wasn’t long before slot machines began to include gambling machines. A newspaper of the time dates the appearance of slot machines in this modern sense to 1893. One of those early machines rewarded winners with fruit candy rather than money; it was not long before everybody ascribed special meaning to that rare coincidence: the appearance of three cherries.

Before the 1890s were over, a new kind of addiction, to gambling slot machines, had been born. In 1899 the Los Angeles Times reported, “In almost every saloon may be found from one to half a dozen of these machines, which are surrounded by a crowd of players from morning to night…. Once the habit is acquired it becomes almost a mania. Young men may be seen working these machines for hours at a time. They are sure to be the losers in the end.” (...)

What Markets Do for Us

The history of the slot-machine-good/ slot-machine-bad from the 1890s to the present illustrates our dual view of our market economy. Most fundamentally, we applaud markets. Free markets are products of peace and freedom, flourishing in stable times when people do not live in fear. But the same profit motive that produced those boxes that opened and gave us something we wanted has also produced slot machines with an addictive turn of the wheel that takes your money for the privilege. Almost all of this book will be figuratively about slot-machines-bad, rather than about slot-machines-good: because as reformers both of economic thought and of the economy we seek to change not what is right with the world, but rather what is wrong. But before we begin, we should reflect on what markets do for us.

To do so, it is useful to take a long perspective and return to that era of the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century. In December 1900, in The Ladies Home Journal civil engineer John Elfreth Watkins Jr. participated in the sport of predicting what life would be like one hundred years hence. He predicted we would have “hot and cold air [coming] from spigots.” We would have fast ships that would get us “to England in two days.” “There will be airships,” mainly used by the military, but sometimes for passengers and freight. “Grand opera will be telephoned to private homes and will sound as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box.” The predictions go on.

Watkins described his predictions as seeming “strange, almost impossible”; but, remarkably, free markets, with their incentives to produce what people want, as long as a profit can be made, have made his predictions come true, and more.

However, free markets do not just deliver this cornucopia that people want. They also create an economic equilibrium that is highly suitable for economic enterprises that manipulate or distort our judgment, using business practices that are analogous to biological cancers that make their home in the normal equilibrium of the human body. The slot machine is a blunt example. It is no coincidence that before they were regulated and outlawed slot machines were so common that they were unavoidable. Insofar as we have any weakness in knowing what we really want, and also insofar as such a weakness can be profitably generated and primed, markets will seize the opportunity to take us in on those weaknesses. They will zoom in and take advantage of us. They will phish us for phools.

Of Phish and Phool

The word phish, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was coined in 1996 as the Web was getting established. That dictionary defines phish as “To perpetrate a fraud on the Internet in order to glean personal information from individuals, esp. by impersonating a reputable company; to engage in online fraud by deceptively ‘angling’ for personal information.” 11 We are creating a new, broader meaning for the word phish here. We take the computer definition as a metaphor. Rather than viewing phishing as illegal, we present a definition for something that is much more general and goes much further back in history. It is about getting people to do things that are in the interest of the phisherman, but not in the interest of the target. It is about angling, about dropping an artificial lure into the water and sitting and waiting as wary fish swim by, make an error, and get caught. There are so many phishers and they are so ingenious in the variety of their lures that, by the laws of probability, we all get caught sooner or later, however wary we may try to be. No one is exempt. (...)

Four broad areas indicate how widespread are the NO-ONE-COULD-POSSIBLY-WANTs, regarding personal financial security; the stability of the macroeconomy (the economy as a whole); our health; and the quality of government. In each of these four areas we shall see that phishing for phools has significant impact on our lives.

Personal Financial Insecurity. A fundamental fact of economic life has never made it into the economics textbooks. Most adults, even in rich countries, go to bed at night worried about how to pay the bills. Economists think that it is easy for people to spend according to a budget. But they forget that even if we are careful 99 percent of the time, the remaining 1 percent, when we act as if “money does not matter,” can undo all that prior rectitude. And businesses are keenly aware of those 1-percent moments. They target the events in our lives when love (or other motivations) trumps our budgetary caution. For some, this is an annual Christmas potlatch. For others, it occurs at rites of passage: such as weddings (where the wedding mags assure brides that the “average wedding” costs almost one half of annual per capita GDP); funerals (where the parlor director carefully lays out the caskets to induce the choice, for example, of the Monaco “with Sea Mist polished finish, interior richly lined in 600 Aqua Supreme velvet, magnificently quilted and shirred”); or births (where Babies “R” Us will give a “personal registry advisor”).

But rites of passage are not the only life punctuations where sticking to budget is presented as being mean. It is thus no coincidence that, as rich as we are in the United States, for example, relative to all previous history, most adults still go to bed worried about their bills. Producers have been just as inventive in getting us to feel we need what is produced as they have been in filling the needs that we really have. No one wants to go to bed at night worried about the bills. Yet most people do.

One source of our angst about those bills comes from rip-offs: as consumers we are especially prone to pay too much when we step outside of our comfort zone to make the rare, expensive purchase. In some 30 percent of home sales to new buyers, total— buyer plus seller— transaction costs, remarkably, are more than half of the down payment that the buyer puts into the deal. Auto salesmen, as we shall see, have developed their own elaborate techniques to sell us more car than we really want; and also to get us to pay too much. Nobody wants to be ripped off. Yet we are, even in the most carefully considered purchases of our lives.

by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Evonomics | Read more:
Image: George Akerlof and Robert Shiller

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Seeking distraction one winter afternoon, a Milwaukee boy takes to some old-fashioned mischief and hurls snowballs at passing cars. A driver gives chase and kicks in the door of the house where the boy lives with his mother and younger brother. The landlord puts the family out. Thus begins an odyssey that in Matthew Desmond’s gripping and important book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, exposes the harrowing world of the ten million or so low-income households that pay half or more of their income for rent and utilities, a long-overlooked population whose numbers have recently soared.

The mother, Arleen, finds a house she likes, and it consumes only 84 percent of her cash income. But the city condemns it. So she moves the teen, Jori, and his brother, Jafiris, to a place she calls “Crack Head City” and then to a duplex where the rent, $550 a month, requires 88 percent of her income. She falls behind and gets evicted two days before Christmas, but the new tenant lets her stay until she finds a place. Living with a stranger causes friction, and Arleen calls ninety landlords before finding a place, from which she is again evicted. The situation worsens. She and the boys double up with a neighbor who is turning tricks. They rent a place where they are robbed at gunpoint. When Arleen’s next apartment takes 96 percent of her welfare check, she can’t keep the lights on. Her worst fear comes to pass: child welfare takes the kids.

Evicted tells this and other disturbing stories in spellbinding detail in service of two main points. One is that growing numbers of low-income households pay crushing shares of their incomes for shelter—50 percent, 60 percent, 70 percent, and more—leaving inadequate sums for items as basic as medicine and food. Their numbers were rising for decades but soared to record levels during the Great Recession. The book’s second point is that the evictions aren’t just a consequence of poverty but also a cause. Evictions make kids change schools and cost adults their jobs. They undermine neighborhoods, force desperate families into worse housing, and leave lasting emotional scars. Yet they have been an afterthought, if that, in discussions of poverty. (...)

Evictions are brutal. Desmond watches as an armed deputy knocks and a mother pleads vainly for time. The mover says she can pay to store her possessions or have them left on the street. She can’t afford storage. “Curbside service, baby!” the mover tells the crew. Three children watch their mother pace. “Her face had that look,” Desmond writes. “The movers and the deputies knew it well. It was the look of someone realizing that her family would be homeless in a matter of hours.” One woman from the trailer park spent $1,000 on the storage bills but fell behind and lost her belongings anyway. About 70 percent of evicted tenants who opt for storage do. A week earlier, a man asked the deputy for a private moment, then shot himself in the head.

Evictions destabilize neighborhoods. The more people come and go, the less chance there is for cohesion. A case in point is the Hinkston family—Doreen, four kids, and three grandkids—who were neighborhood fixtures on a block where they lived for seven years. Doreen was a porch sitter who knew everyone and kept her eyes on the street. When an eviction notice forced them to move in a hurry, they quickly settled for a run-down house on a block where they knew no one and kept inside. “With Doreen’s eviction, Thirty-Second Street lost a steadying presence,” Desmond writes, “but Wright Street didn’t gain one.” Evictions often generate two moves—a rush that often ends in a hellhole and an effort to climb out of it.

Worse, evictions destabilize people. Jori, the snowball thrower, went to five different schools in seventh and eighth grades, “when he went at all.” He once missed seventeen consecutive days. The disruptions cause workers to get fired. Letters sent to wrong addresses cause people to miss appointments and lose public aid. Evictions mar the tenants’ records, making it harder to get housing assistance or rent private apartments. The effects are enduring, as measured by incidents like hunger or lost utilities. “The year after eviction, families experience 20 percent higher levels of material hardships than similar families who were not evicted,” Desmond writes. He continues:
Then there is the toll eviction takes on a person’s spirit…. One in two recently evicted mothers reports multiple symptoms of clinical depression, double the rates of similar mothers who were not forced from their homes. Even after years pass, evicted mothers are less happy, energetic, and optimistic than their peers.
Eviction isn’t just another hardship, Desmond argues, but a detour onto a much harder path—“a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”

The landlords in Evicted hold all the cards. Technically, they can’t retaliate against tenants who complain of stopped-up toilets or broken windows. But they can evict anyone who fails to pay the rent, regardless of the housing conditions. The result is a kind of devil’s pact. “Tenants who fell behind either had to accept unpleasant, degrading, and sometimes dangerous housing conditions or be evicted,” Desmond writes. When cases go to court, tenants rarely win. About 70 percent of them don’t even appear. They can’t miss work or find child care or stomach the humiliation. The sound of eviction court is the call of a name, “a pause, and three loud thumps of the stamp.”

When one of Sherrena Tarver’s houses catches fire, a baby dies. There were supposed to be smoke detectors in the bedroom, but the firemen didn’t hear them. Sherrena fears she’s at risk. “I thought we had put some smoke detectors up there,” she says. “I can’t remember right now.” The baby’s mother, Kamala, is one of her former students. When the fire inspector calls the next day and tells Sherrena she’s off the hook, she has one question: Does she have to return Kamala’s rent?

The answer is no. And she doesn’t.

by Jason DeParle, NY Review of Books | Read more:
Image: Magnum Photos

Swag Reflex

This year’s Oscars goodie basket is worth a record $230,000. Even the academy is disgusted.

Psst—did you hear about the controversy at the Oscars? No, I don’t mean the dearth of minorities nominated for Academy Awards, which is a real and shameful scandal.

This year’s purported thank-you package for Oscars presenters and prominent nominees, a basket containing goodies worth an estimated $230,000, is causing a furor. First, activists opposed to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories urged a boycott of the costliest item, a $55,000, 10-day jaunt to Israel including first class airline tickets and luxury accommodations.

Then the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stepped up with a lawsuit.That gift bag? Has nothing to do with them, no way, no how. Instead, the academy would like Distinctive Assets, the promotional and product-placement company that’s distributing the things to the 25 nominees in the directing and acting categories and host Chris Rock, to cease advertising its giveaway as the “14th Annual ‘Everyone Wins’ Nominee Gift Bags in honor of the Academy Awards®.” Specifically, the academy is alleging trademark infringement.

Why is the academy ticked off? It’s not because someone asked, “Hey, why does Leonardo DiCaprio (estimated 2015 earnings: $29 million) need a free round of laser skin tightening treatment valued at $5,500, a $45,000 junket to Japan, and a $275 roll of Swiss toilet paper?” Surely he’ll show up to the Oscars anyway.

The academy is angry because of the combination of almost obscene luxury—$230,000!—and family-unfriendly freebies like a $250 vibrator and something called a Vampire Breast Lift ($1,900) that apparently besmirches the Oscars’ good name. “Press about the 2016 gift bags has focused on both the less-than-wholesome nature of some of the products,” reads the complaint, which goes on to mourn “the unseemliness of giving such high value gifts … to an elite group of celebrities."

To be clear, no one’s being particularly generous here. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t getting that Swiss toilet paper because someone’s a huge fan (though they may be!). Celebrities receive these hauls each year because companies hope the gifts will boost their bottom lines.

And the gift basket is the least of it. There’s an entire subeconomy of freebies surrounding the Oscars, not to mention other high-wattage celebrity events like the Golden Globes, the Grammy Awards and even the Kids’ Choice Awards. And this onslaught of swag seems to be growing each year.

by Helaine Olen, Slate | Read more:
Image: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ok Go

[ed. Still one of the best music videos ever...]

‘Some Rain Must Fall’, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

[ed. Pretty good description of Knausgaard's style. The anti-novel.]

In a recent interview, the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard said that “a [romantic] relationship is based on lies and lies and lies . . . If you don’t lie it collapses.” His relationship with his readers, on the surface at least, depends on an opposite pact: that he will lie about nothing.

Knausgaard’s intensely autobiographical six-novel cycle, My Struggle, has become a literary monument to the aesthetic value of tactlessness. Across its thousands of pages he explores his feelings towards his loved ones with brutal candour. This commitment to the truth not only challenges the mutual illusions of family life, but also deprives his prose of the traditional novel’s formal excitements: narrative pace, suspense, symbolism. Most of our days are not, in reality, the stuff of page-turners. His characters walk around nude, stripped of all their novelistic vestments; their only meaning comes from the fact that Knausgaard has experienced them. And yet, the charisma of these books, a combination of critical acclaim, commercial success and the strange brilliance of their form, has made being hypnotised by their extensive descriptions of ordinary Norwegian life a sort of cultural obligation.

The mystery remains: how do we stomach reading Knausgaard? How does the novel form survive his onslaught against its well-tested seductions? In the first volume, the death of Karl Ove’s father gives dramatic structure to the final section. He and his brother travel to the house where their father had been living in isolated, drunken squalor with their demented grandmother. They begin obsessively disinfecting and clearing out soiled clothes. Karl Ove’s wish to hold the wake in the house — an act of redemption and reclaiming — gives urgency to the protracted accounts of bleach and garbage bags. The symbolic quality of human death rituals piggybacks symbolism into Knausgaard’s anti-novelistic novel.

Some Rain Must Fall, the fifth book of the cycle to be translated into English, returns briefly to this haunted house. Karl Ove is back scything the long grass out front. More coffee is brewed. Or perhaps it is the same coffee as before. Knausgaard gives us a few new vistas on to these mournful days, including the funeral itself. One of the startling joys of My Struggle’s looping, non-chronological form is that reading collides with the processes of memory. When Knausgaard revisits the same detail thousands of pages and, perhaps for the reader, several years apart, he manages to transfer the author’s act of recollection on to us. At these strange junctures, where two strands of the story cross, it is as though author and reader are remembering together, simultaneously.

But in the scheme of this volume this return to the father’s death is a glimpse through a keyhole. The other 600 pages must do without this traumatic epicentre, and earn their keep elsewhere. This volume concerns Karl Ove’s 14-year residence in the provincial town of Bergen, where he pursues various studies and jobs, takes summer breaks, drinks heavily, falls in and out of love and, most crucially, turns himself into a writer.

If the first book built itself towards one particular death, the fifth encodes death into its microstructure; it is felt on every page. One evening Karl Ove tells us: “I got dressed and went downstairs, death, out of the door, death, up the hill, death, through the underpass, death, down the road, death, along the fjord, death, and into the park, which wrapped itself around me with its living yet sleeping darkness.” These thoughts arise between him masturbating in the shower and having “a couple of beers” in the café before his brother turns up.

On one hand this passage is part of a familiar novelistic tradition of the young male anti-hero — morbid, horny, banal — mired in existential crisis. On the other, it is a shorthand for the latest book’s power. These Bergen years are infused with death, not because of Karl Ove’s gauche tussles with mortality, but because they belong to a dead age. We know already which love affairs will endure and which will not, and so death oversees the hungover waffle-eating. It crawls under the duvet with Karl Ove and his cosy, doomed relationships. Part of Knausgaard’s wizardry is that our knowledge of his story doesn’t drain this book-length flashback of intensity, but rather enhances it. The mundane details of this period — the cyclical drunkenness and self-loathing, the days spent reading and failing to write well — are rendered exquisite because the reader can feel the loss of them. Dramatic irony, generated when the audience’s knowledge of the fictional universe exceeds that of the characters, is this volume’s cold-blooded pulse.

The same irony animates the account of Karl Ove’s writerly ambitions. He feels he lacks the necessary imagination: “Everything I wrote was connected to reality and my own experiences.” This volume foreshadows the huge project that is to come, of which it, in fact, is a part. One evening he wonders: “Why actually should you write about actions? X loves Y, Z kills W, F commits embezzlement and is caught by G . . . ” Here he questions the cause-and-effect of traditional narrative. As with previous volumes, Some Rain Must Fall has exchanged novelistic plotting for the relative formlessness of life, where the causes of our effects are often hidden.

by Laurence Scott, Financial Times |  Read more:
Image: Anne Rose

[ed. Yow.]

Friday, February 26, 2016

organic by f-resh featuring Tokyo Milk
[ed. Seems like a good all-purpose, go anywhere outfit.]

10 Sites To Download Free Audio Books

If you’re looking for a place to download some free audio books, you’re in luck. Whether you want to get inspired, scared by a mystery, or simply have something to listen to on a long drive, there are loads of places to find free audio books. They may not be on the New York Times Bestseller list but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time.

For example, Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ is not quite selling like the ‘Shades of Gray’ but it’s an important read. In any case, these sites all host free audio books that are worth checking out!

NOTE: These are all legal sites that host public domain books. There’s more than enough great stuff in these libraries so check them each out when you have the time!

Free Classic Audio Books
This site hosts a myriad of books that are all in mp3 or m4b format. You can find what you’re looking for by sorting by the author’s last name. The advantage of using the iPod format (m4b) is that it remembers where you stop in a file.

Project Gutenberg
Another source for the classics. Read timeless tales from Dickens, Poe, and more with Project Gutenberg’s massive inventory. Boasting more than 2,000 free audiobooks in basically all categories, this should be one of your bookmarked sites!

Books Should Be Free
Like the aforementioned ‘Art of War,’ many all-time bestsellers are available on Books Should Be Free. They’re from the public domain and you can find what you’re looking for through some handy sorting tools. Want a children’s book? How about just seeing the adult book results? Yep, you can do that.

When you first go to this site, you’re shown the price of every book. That price is $0.00, possibly the best price ever. Librophile has a substantial library of audio books as well as e-books that you can search by keyword, language, price (free), and more.

Lit2Go is a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format. An abstract, citation, playing time, and word count are given for each of the passages. Many of the passages also have a related reading strategy identified. Each reading passage can also be downloaded as a PDF and printed for use as a read-along or as supplemental reading material for your classroom.

LibriVox provides free audiobooks from the public domain. There are several options for listening. LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books.

LearnOutLoud Free Audio has scoured the Internet to bring you over 5000 free audio and video titles. This directory features free audio books, lectures, speeches, sermons, interviews, and many other great free audio and video resources. Most audio titles can be downloaded in digital formats such as MP3 and most video titles are available to stream online. Enjoy!

The term podiobook was coined by Evo Terra in April 2005 to describe serialized audiobooks which are distributed via RSS, much like a podcast. Podiobooks is supported by donations (if you use it, you should think about giving!) and boasts a solid set of sorting tools. You can browse popular books, award-winning books, all titles, etc. Lots of great novels in here!

Beautifully read audio stories for children and adults. Listen online or via podcast or app. Fairytales, myths, legends and stories from around the world.

The audiobooks are absolutely free. They have a solid set of books that are worth reading such as Kipling and Dickens. All audiobooks have been recorded especially for the AudioCloset website.

Nor a Lender Be

The day after International Women’s Day in March 2015, I attended a Clinton Foundation production put on by its No Ceilings initiative at the Best Buy Theater in New York City. It wasn’t a campaign event—the 2016 race had not really started at that point—nor was it a panel discussion, as there were no disagreements among the participants or questions from the audience. Instead, it was a choreographed presentation of various findings having to do with women’s standing in the world. But if you paid attention, the event provided a way to understand Hillary Clinton’s real views on the great social question before the nation—the problem of income inequality.

Onto the stage before us came former secretary of state Clinton, the Democratic Party’s heir apparent; Melinda Gates, the wife of the richest man in the world (the event was produced with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); various NGO executives; a Hollywood celebrity; a Silicon Valley CEO; a best-selling author; an expert in women’s issues from Georgetown University; a Nobel Prize winner; and a large supporting cast of women from the Third World. Everyone strode with polished informality about the stage, reading their lines from an invisible tele­prompter. And back and forth, the presenters called out to one another in tones of supportiveness and sweet flattery.

In her introduction to the event, for example, the TV star America Ferrera, who has appeared at many Clinton events both philanthropic and political, gave a shout-out to the “incredible women who have brought us all here today” and the “amazing girls” whose conversation she had been permitted to join. Then Chelsea Clinton, who announced herself “completely awed” by the “incredible swell of people and partners” who had participated in some event the previous day, invited us to hearken to the “inspiring voices of leaders, of communities, of companies, of countries.”

Those were just the first few minutes. It kept on like that for hours. When someone’s “potential” was mentioned, it was described as “boundless.” People’s “stories” were “compelling” when they weren’t “inspiring,” “incredible,” or “incredibly inspiring.” A Kenyan activist was introduced as “the incomparable.”

But the real star of this show was the Creative Innovator, the figure who crops up whenever the liberal class gets together to talk about spreading the prosperity around more fairly. In this case, the innovations being hailed seemed mainly to be transpiring in the Third World. “Every year, millions and millions of women everywhere are empowering themselves and their communities by finding unique, dynamic, and productive ways to enter the workforce, start their own businesses, and contribute to their economies and their countries,” said Chelsea Clinton, introducing an “inspiring innovator and chocolatier” from Trinidad.

Melinda Gates followed up the chocolatier’s presentation by heaping even more praise: “She is an amazing businesswoman, you can see why we all find her so inspiring.” Then, a little later on: “Entrepreneurship is really vital for women…. It’s also their ability to advance into leadership roles into corporations. And corporations play such a big role in the global economy.”

Roughly speaking, there were two groups present at this distinctly First World gathering. Many of the people making presentations came from Third World countries—a midwife from Haiti, a student from Afghanistan, the chocolate maker from Trinidad, a former child bride from India, an environmental activist from Kenya—­while the women anchoring this swirling praise fest were former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the wealthy foundation executive Melinda Gates.

What this lineup suggested is that there is a kind of naturally occurring solidarity between the millions of women at the bottom of the world’s pyramid and the tiny handful of women at its very top. The hardship those Third World women have endured and the entrepreneurial efforts they have undertaken are powerful symbols of the struggle of American professional women to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (one of the ambitions that was discussed in detail) or of a woman to be elected president, which was the unspoken theme of the entire event.

What the spectacle had to offer ordinary working American women was another story.

That was my first experience of the microclimate of goodness that always seems to surround Hillary Rodham Clinton. The mystic bond between high-achieving American professionals and the planet’s most victimized people, I would discover, is a recurring theme in her life and work.

But it is not her theme alone. Regardless of who leads it, professional-class liberalism seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself, and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program.

There have been many other virtue objects over the years, people and ideas whose surplus righteousness could be extracted for deployment elsewhere. The great virtue-rush of the 1990s, for example, was focused on children, then thought to be the last word in overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness. Who could be against kids? No one, of course, and so the race was on to justify in their name whatever your program happened to be. In the course of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village, for example, this favorite rationale of the day—think of the children!—was deployed to explain her husband’s draconian crime bill as well as more directly child-related causes such as charter schools.1 I am taking Democrats to task here, but of course Republicans do it too. The culture wars unfold in precisely the same way as the liberal virtue-quest: they are an exciting ersatz politics that seem to be really important but at the conclusion of which voters discover they’ve got little to show for it all besides more free-trade agreements, more bank deregulation, and a different prison-building spree.

You can find dozens of examples of this kind of liberal-class virtue quest if you try, but instead of listing them, let me go straight to the point: this is not politics. It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with. But ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any sincere discussion of the policies in question. The virtue quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a prison-building spree.

by Thomas Frank, Harpers |  Read more:
Image: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Expedia Thinks It Can Help You Find the Dream Vacation You Didn’t Know You Wanted

On a Monday morning in mid-October, in a suburb of Seattle, a young woman named Megan went online to make some travel plans. She and her parents, along with her siblings and their spouses, wanted to go somewhere tropical in January, and in a flurry of texts and Facebook messages, Belize had emerged as the leading candidate. It had fallen to Megan, as it often did, to execute. So, a little after 9 a.m., she typed the name of the online travel agency Expedia into her browser bar and began to explore flights.

Her preference was for Alaska Airlines—she’d had good luck with the carrier—but when she couldn’t find anything, she started looking at American. She noticed there was only one ticket left for the least expensive flight, which caused her some concern. She grew more apprehensive as she noticed that the cheaper available flights had long layovers. Then she saw that some of the layovers were in Los Angeles, and she briefly considered a visit to Disneyland.

After eight minutes, without settling on a flight, Megan began to explore hotels. The photos from a “jungle spa” resort caught her eye—it looked adventurous but also pampering—so she was crestfallen when she noticed that it was booked up for the dates she wanted. “Oh, so sad,” she said softly. She looked through the reviews of another promising hotel and found it had no Wi-Fi, which wouldn’t be a problem, but also ants, which would. She stumbled onto a review someone had written about going to a resort to recover after “a surprising end to a marriage engagement.” That bummed Megan out a bit.

Then she found what looked like the one. This hotel wasn’t on the beach, but the reviews mentioned a spiral staircase, which sounded neat, and an on-site bakery. Megan loved bakeries. And it wasn’t too expensive. She’d have to confirm with her family, she reminded herself, but it was pretty close to ideal.

At that moment, a disembodied woman’s voice came over a speaker and told Megan she was finished. The voice belonged to an Expedia user-experience researcher named Susan Motte, who, with a team of programmers and designers from the company’s hotel-shopping and activities-booking teams, had been sitting in the next room watching Megan through a two-way mirror. Megan, who actually was planning a family trip to Belize (and whose full name Expedia asked not to be used, for privacy reasons), had been invited to the Usability Lab at Expedia headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., compensated with a gift card, and asked to use the site as she would at home. An eye tracker mounted on the bottom of the computer monitor logged where Megan was looking on the screen at any given moment. Sensors on one side of her face measured the electrical impulses in two muscles—the zygomaticus major, which tugs the corner of the mouth into a smile, and the corrugator supercilii, which furrows the brow. Megan’s emotions, manifested in infinitesimal changes in muscle fiber tone, had been playing out on a screen mounted on the wall in the adjoining room. A red waveform on a scrolling graph tracked her tension during the session, a green waveform below it, her delight.

All of her reactions, and her answers to the questions Motte asked as Megan used the site, went into a growing database. Expedia, the parent company of more than a dozen travel-oriented brands in addition to, is obsessed with figuring out how to make booking travel online more intuitive, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That means, among other things, understanding the psychodrama of trip planning: the shifting desires and paralyzing wealth of choices, the unsettling gyrations in room rates and ticket prices, the competing demands of family members and budgets and schedules, the need to balance the thirst for adventure against the fear of Zika virus in Latin America or Islamic State in Europe.

There’s a modest body of literature on the psychology of vacations, and one of its findings is that much of the pleasure comes from anticipation—a 1997 study found that people are happier thinking about a trip beforehand than when they’re actually taking it. The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads.

The basic act Megan performed under such close scrutiny plays out tens of millions of times a day—in homes, in offices, in line at the coffee shop on smartphones. In 2015 people performed 7.5 billion airfare searches and booked 203 million hotel room nights through Expedia and the other sites owned by the company—, the “meta-search” site Trivago, the business travel site Egencia, the discount site Hotwire, Australia’s Wotif, and others. Over the past decade revenue has more than tripled, from $2.1 billion in 2005 to $6.7 billion last year, and the stock price has risen fivefold. Along with Priceline, whose sites include, Kayak, and OpenTable, Expedia dominates the online travel business. (...)

Expedia sees its traveler-behavior data as a defense against superfluity. Despite its size and name recognition, Expedia doesn’t have its own hotel rooms or its own airplanes. It’s a middleman among other middlemen. still has the bigger inventory of hotel listings; Google shows flight and hotel results right in the search page. Even TripAdvisor, spun out of Expedia in 2011, has become a major competitor by allowing visitors to book directly on its site. For Expedia to continue to justify its commissions and its existence, it has to be better than everyone else at divining vacationers’ desires. That draws on both the steady churn of testing and learning and the more open-ended qualitative work in the Usability Lab, where researchers use terms like “delight” and “fantasy” in a clinical manner.

“We’re doing more work to understand the dream state, the plan state,” says Scott Jones, who runs Expedia’s design and user-experience department. “People are always planning a trip. They may not be actively shopping for a trip, but they’ve always got this idea in mind.” The problem, as he sees it, is that purchasing the tickets and reserving the room breaks the spell. “Booking travel online has become so full of decisions and answering questions,” Jones says. “People are always daydreaming about trips, but as soon as they come to our site, it becomes more of a work thing.”

by Drake Bennett, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Kyle Johnson

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Kira Hiromu, The Thinker, ca 1930

An Open Letter To My CEO

[ed. English major moves to San Francisco, rents an apartment she can't afford, is offered an entry-level job in a tech company which she accepts (even though it's not the "media" position she really wanted, writing memes and twitter jokes), has all her benefits paid, and gets free food at work. But apparently this isn't enough because she's written an 'open letter' to her CEO shaming him for... well, I'm not sure exactly what. Not fully acknowledging her true awesomeness? Not drowning her in money? You'll have scroll down to the end to see how this turned out. I don't know, maybe this is just satire. It certainly hits every dumb Millennial cliche I can think of. See also: this, this and this. Hmm, must have hit a nerve.]

Dear Jeremy,

When I was a kid, back in the 90s when Spice Girls and owning a pager were #goals, I dreamed of having a car and a credit card and my own apartment. I told my 8-year old self, This is what it means to be an adult.

Now, seventeen years later, I have those things. But boy did I not anticipate a decade and a half ago that a car and a credit card and an apartment would all be symbols of stress, not success.

I left college, having majored in English literature, with a dream to work in media. It was either that or go to law school. Or become a teacher. But I didn’t want to become a cliche or drown in student loans, see. I also desperately needed to leave where I was living — I could get into the details of why, but to sum up: I wanted to die every single day of my life and it took me several years to realize it was because of the environment I was in. So, I picked the next best place: somewhere close to my dad, since we’ve never gotten to have much of a relationship and I like the weather up here. I found a job (I was hired the same day as my interview, in fact) and I put a bunch of debt on a shiny new credit card to afford the move.

Coming out of college without much more than freelancing and tutoring under my belt, I felt it was fair that I start out working in the customer support section of Yelp/Eat24 before I’d be qualified to transfer to media. Then, after I had moved and got firmly stuck in this apartment with this debt, I was told I’d have to work in support for an entire year before I would be able to move to a different department. A whole year answering calls and talking to customers just for the hope that someday I’d be able to make memes and twitter jokes about food. If you follow me on twitter, which you don’t, you’d know that these are things I already do. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get back to the situation at hand, shall we?

So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. Every single one of my coworkers is struggling. They’re taking side jobs, they’re living at home. One of them started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent. She ended up leaving the company and moving east, somewhere the minimum wage could double as a living wage. Another wrote on those neat whiteboards we’ve got on every floor begging for help because he was bound to be homeless in two weeks. Fortunately, someone helped him out. At least, I think they did. I actually haven’t seen him in the past few months. Do you think he’s okay? Another guy who got hired, and ultimately let go, was undoubtedly homeless. He brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor (except on the weekends when the customer support team is working, because we’re what makes Eat24 24-hours, 7 days a week but the team who comes to stock up those snacks in the early hours during my shift are only there Mondays through Fridays, excluding holidays. They get holidays and weekends off! Can you imagine?). By and large, our floor pummels through those snacks the fastest and has to roam other floors to find something to eat. Is it because we’re gluttons? Maybe. If you starve a pack of wolves and toss them a single steak, will they rip each other to shreds fighting over it? Definitely.

I haven’t bought groceries since I started this job. Not because I’m lazy, but because I got this ten pound bag of rice before I moved here and my meals at home (including the one I’m having as I write this) consist, by and large, of that. Because I can’t afford to buy groceries. Bread is a luxury to me, even though you’ve got a whole fridge full of it on the 8th floor. But we’re not allowed to take any of that home because it’s for at-work eating. Of which I do a lot. Because 80 percent of my income goes to paying my rent. Isn’t that ironic? Your employee for your food delivery app that you spent $300 million to buy can’t afford to buy food. That’s gotta be a little ironic, right?

Let’s talk about those benefits, though. They’re great. I’ve got vision, dental, the normal health insurance stuff — and as far as I can tell, I don’t have to pay for any of it! Except the copays. $20 to see a doctor or get an eye exam or see a therapist or get medication. Twenty bucks each is pretty neat, if spending twenty dollars didn’t determine whether or not you could afford to get to work the next week. (...)

Will you pay my phone bill for me? I just got a text from T-Mobile telling me my bill is due. I got paid yesterday ($733.24, bi-weekly) but I have to save as much of that as possible to pay my rent ($1245) for my apartment that’s 30 miles away from work because it was the cheapest place I could find that had access to the train, which costs me $5.65 one way to get to work. That’s $11.30 a day, by the way. I make $8.15 an hour after taxes. I also have to pay my gas and electric bill. Last month it was $120. According to the infograph on PG&E’s website, that cost was because I used my heater. I’ve since stopped using my heater. Have you ever slept fully clothed under several blankets just so you don’t get a cold and have to miss work? Have you ever drank a liter of water before going to bed so you could fall asleep without waking up a few hours later with stomach pains because the last time you ate was at work? I woke up today with stomach pains. I made myself a bowl of rice.

Look, I’ll make you a deal. You don’t have to pay my phone bill. I’ll just disconnect my phone. And I’ll disconnect my home internet, too, even though it’s the only way I can do work for my freelance gig that I haven’t been able to do since I moved here because I’m constantly too stressed to focus on anything but going to sleep as soon as I’m not at work. Should I sell my car? It’s not my car, actually, it’s my grandpa’s. But the back left tire is flat and the front right headlight is out and the registration is due to be renewed in April and I already know I can’t afford any of that. I haven’t even gotten an oil change since I started this job (in August). But maybe I could find someone on Craigslist who won’t mind all of that because they’ll look at the dark circles under my eyes and realize I need the cash more than they do.

by Talia Jane, Medium |  Read more:
Image: via:

With This Genetic Engineering Technology, There’s No Turning Back

[ed. See also: When Extinction is a Humanitarian Cause]

The students in Anthony James’s basement insectary at the University of California, Irvine, knew they’d broken the laws of evolution when they looked at the mosquitoes’ eyes.

By rights, the bugs, born from fathers with fluorescent red eyes and mothers with normal ones, should have come out only about half red. Instead, as they counted them, first a few and then by the hundreds, they found 99 percent had glowing eyes.

More important than the eye color is that James’s mosquitoes also carry genes that stop the malaria parasite from growing. If these insects were ever released in the wild, their “selfish” genetic cargo would spread inexorably through mosquito populations, and potentially stop the transmission of malaria.

The technology, called a “gene drive,” was built using the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR and is being reported by James, a specialist in mosquito biology, and a half dozen colleagues today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A functioning gene drive in mosquitoes has been anticipated for more than a decade by public health organizations as a revolutionary novel way to fight malaria. Now that it’s a reality, however, the work raises questions over whether the technology is safe enough to ever be released into the wild.

“This is a major advance because it shows that gene drives will likely be effective in mosquitoes,” says Kevin Esvelt, a gene drive researcher at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute. “Technology is no longer the limitation.”

Starting last summer, Esvelt and other scientists began warning that gene drives were about to jump from theory to reality (see “Protect Society from Our Inventions, Says Genome Editing Scientists”) and needed more attention by regulators and the public. The National Academy of Sciences is studying the science and ethics of the technology and plans to release recommendations next year on “responsible conduct” by scientists and companies.

Gene drives are just the latest example of the fantastic power of CRISPR editing to alter the DNA of living things, which has already set off a debate over the possibility that gene editing could be used to generate designer human babies (see “Engineering the Perfect Baby”). But Henry Greely, a law professor and bioethics specialist at Stanford, says environmental uses are more worrisome than a few modified people. “The possibility of remaking the biosphere is enormously significant, and a lot closer to realization,” he says. (...)

The mosquitoes have two important genetic additions. One is genes that manufacture antibodies whenever a female mosquito has a “blood meal.” Those antibodies bind to the parasite’s surface and halt its development. Yet normally, such an engineered mosquito would pass the genes only to exactly half its offspring, since there’s a 50 percent chance any chunk of DNA would come from its mate. And since the new genes probably don’t help a mosquito much, they’d quickly peter out in the wild.

That’s where CRISPR comes in. In a gene drive, components of the CRISPR system are added such that any normal gene gets edited and the genetic cargo is added to it as well. In James’s lab, practically all the mosquitoes ended up with the genetic addition, a result Esvelt calls “astounding.”

What worries Esvelt is that, in his opinion, the California researchers haven’t used strict enough safety measures. He says locked doors and closed cages aren’t enough. He wants them to install a genetic “reversal drive” so the change can be undone, if necessary. “An accidental release would be a disaster with potentially devastating consequences for public trust in science and especially gene-drive interventions,” he says. “No gene-drive intervention must ever be released without popular support.”

James says the experiment was safe since the mosquitoes are kept behind a series of locked, card-entry doors and because they aren’t native to California. If any escaped, they wouldn’t be able to reproduce.

In fact, the whole point of a gene drive is to release it into the wild, a concept that has long been accepted, at least in theory, by public health organizations including the Gates Foundation. Now that they’re actually possible, however, alarming news headlines have compared the technology to “the next weapon of mass destruction” and even raised the specter of insect terrorism, such as mosquitoes that kill people with a toxin.

by Antonio Regalado, MIT Technology Review |  Read more:
Image: Matt Panuska

Let Me Tell You About Smaug

[ed. If Donald Trump had written Lord of the Rings.]

Let me tell you about Smaug. Now, I knew the guy a long time, a good friend, he worked with me on the Laketown deal and told me he learned a lot from watching me. You could say I invented him. By the way, people do tell me that all the time, that I am one of the great teachers. They tell me that on my hit show The Apprentice, they tell me that in life.

But Smaug, if he learned anything, he didn’t learn enough. He turned out to be a terrible investor, a real dummy, just sat on his gold. He literally sat on it! No deals, no moves. I said Smaug, you dummy, you gotta be out there making deals, negotiating, sitting down at the table, incinerating people with fire. You’re not going to make any money sitting there like a big lazy dumb rock! You’ll be small potatoes forever! But he didn’t listen and he stayed in that backwater and he got so lazy, he was such a slow moving target – I mean, come on, an illiterate redneck takes one shot at you and boom, done, gone, dead. At a Trump property, we are always on the move, we are cutting deals, the best deals, and we use gold the way it was meant to be used, on fountains, escalators, walls – all the best, and very classy, people say.

I’m the best at talking to Sauron, I really am. Tough guy, tough negotiator but you really just have to have a man-to-man. Not like the people running Gondor, they’re stupid. I mean, how stupid are they? Now, my tower – and let me tell you, it’s the biggest, classiest tower, great views of the whole ring of stone and the forest and the river – I can get him on the line. Doesn’t answer anybody else, but when I want him, here’s there. I’ll be so good at dealing with him, it’ll make your head spin.

See now Gandalf, that guy is a total failure. Very low in the polls. Can’t win Rohan, can’t win Gondor. Everywhere I go they tell me they are glad to get rid of him. How many towers has he built? He doesn’t even have his own house. Very low energy. His idea of a good hotel, you ever been to the Green Dragon? What a dump. Terrible mattresses. Good beer, you know, I give him that, I don’t drink but they tell me very good beer, but the place attracts a very bad crowd, not classy at all. Awful service. Gandalf is like – dwarves, hobbits, these guys in green smocks and stuff – I mean, I’m very open-minded, the dwarves love me, but this is who you ask to kill a dragon? You bring them in and they fight over gold, we need to make better deals and tell them to go get their own gold. Very bad deals!

by Federalist Staff, The Federalist |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How America Made Donald Trump Unstoppable

The first thing you notice at Donald Trump's rallies is the confidence. Amateur psychologists have wishfully diagnosed him from afar as insecure, but in person the notion seems absurd.

Donald Trump, insecure? We should all have such problems.

At the Verizon Giganto-Center in Manchester the night before the New Hampshire primary, Trump bounds onstage to raucous applause and the booming riffs of the Lennon-McCartney anthem "Revolution." The song is, hilariously, a cautionary tale about the perils of false prophets peddling mindless revolts, but Trump floats in on its grooves like it means the opposite. When you win as much as he does, who the hell cares what anything means?

He steps to the lectern and does his Mussolini routine, which he's perfected over the past months. It's a nodding wave, a grin, a half-sneer, and a little U.S. Open-style applause back in the direction of the audience, his face the whole time a mask of pure self-satisfaction.

"This is unbelievable, unbelievable!" he says, staring out at a crowd of about 4,000 whooping New Englanders with snow hats, fleece and beer guts. There's a snowstorm outside and cars are flying off the road, but it's a packed house.

He flashes a thumbs-up. "So everybody's talking about the cover of Time magazine last week. They have a picture of me from behind, I was extremely careful with my hair ... "

He strokes his famous flying fuzz-mane. It looks gorgeous, like it's been recently fed. The crowd goes wild. Whoooo! Trump!

It's pure camp, a variety show. He singles out a Trump impersonator in the crowd, tells him he hopes the guy is making a lot of money. "Melania, would you marry that guy?" he says. The future first lady is a Slovenian model who, apart from Trump, was most famous for a TV ad in which she engaged in a Frankenstein-style body transfer with the Aflac duck, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.

She had one line in that ad. Tonight, it's two lines:

"Ve love you, New Hampshire," she says, in a thick vampire accent. "Ve, together, ve vill make America great again!"

As reactionary patriotic theater goes, this scene is bizarre – Melania Knauss didn't even arrive in America until 1996, when she was all of 26 – but the crowd goes nuts anyway. Everything Trump does works these days. He steps to the mic.

"She's beautiful, but she's more beautiful even on the inside," he says, raising a finger to the heavens. "And, boy, is she smart!"

Before the speech, the PA announcer had told us not to "touch or harm" any protesters, but to instead just surround them and chant, "Trump! Trump! Trump!" until security can arrive (and presumably do the touching and/or harming).

I'd seen this ritual several times, and the crowd always loves it. At one event, a dead ringer for John Oliver ripped off his shirt in the middle of a Trump speech to reveal body paint that read "Eminent Domain This!" on his thorax. The man shouted, "Trump is a racist!" and was immediately set upon by Trump supporters, who yelled "Trump! Trump! Trump!" at him until security arrived and dragged him out the door to cheers. The whole Trump run is like a Jerry Springer episode, where even the losers seem in on the gags.

In Manchester, a protester barely even manages to say a word before disappearing under a blanket of angry boos: "Trump! Trump! Trump!" It's a scene straight out of Freaks. In a Trump presidency, there will be free tar and feathers provided at the executive's every public address.

It's a few minutes after that when a woman in the crowd shouts that Ted Cruz is a pussy. She will later tell a journalist she supports Trump because his balls are the size of "watermelons," while his opponents' balls are more like "grapes" or "raisins."

Trump's balls are unaware of this, but he instinctively likes her comment and decides to go into headline-making mode. "I never expect to hear that from you again!" he says, grinning. "She said he's a pussy. That's terrible." Then, theatrically, he turns his back to the crowd. As the 500 or so reporters in attendance scramble to instantly make this the most important piece of news in the world – in less than a year Trump has succeeded in turning the USA into a massive high school – the candidate beams.

What's he got to be insecure about? The American electoral system is opening before him like a flower.

by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone |  Read more:
Image: Mark Peterson/Redux

Justin Timberlake ft. Jay Z

Robert Steven Connett

Edible Marijuana Goes Gourmet

20-Minute Cannabis Olive Oil

Adapted from The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook by Robyn Griggs Lawrence/chef Chris Kilham

Makes about 1⁄4 cup THC per cup: 283.5 milligrams*

1⁄4 ounce cured cannabis flowers, finely ground
1⁄4 cup organic extra-virgin olive oil
coffee grinder
fine mesh strainer

Place cannabis into a coffee grinder and grind until powdered. The cannabis will stick to the inside of the grinder, so scrape it out thoroughly. (Be careful about licking the spoon; that’s potent goo.) Place oil into a 6-inch diameter shallow frying pan or saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, continuously stir cannabis into the oil over a very low simmer for 10–20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl, wide-mouth jar, or measuring cup. Twist cannabis with cheesecloth, squeezing out every last drop of oil. Compost cannabis solids. Use oil immediately or transfer oil to a clean, clear or dark bottle or jar with a lid or cork. Label with the type of oil and date. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

*Disclaimer: THC calculations for these recipes were made based on the assumption of 10 percent THC in the plant. That’s used as a standard, but your chances of growing or buying cannabis with 10 percent THC are extremely low. These calculations are for comparison purposes only. The potency of the material you use is the most important indicator as to how a recipe will affect you.

by Jennifer Kaplan, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Cannabis oil, Povy Kendal Atchison

The Madness of Airline Élite Status

When you fly a lot for work, as I do, you check your frequent-flier mile balance often, to provide data for competitive commiseration. “Eighteen flights this year already, fourteen hotel nights in eleven different hotels,” a friend e-mailed me, in victory, earlier this month. You also compulsively track your frequent-flier “status” levels, to mark your progress toward becoming a trusty in the prison of weekly air travel. And so, last month, when my United Airlines app told me that my status—as a customer, as a flier, as a man—had changed, I did a delighted double take. United had made me a member of Global Services, its apotheosis of a frequent flier. But even as I tried to remember the advertised perks (free tickets? free back rubs?), I was beginning to sense some symptoms.

My status was good only for 2016, which meant that I would be relegated to a lower level if I didn’t keep up the pace of ticket purchases. So, not twenty minutes after achieving my new status, I found myself calling the Global Services help desk and asking how much it would cost to change a frequent-flier award ticket to a bought one. (Global Services veterans had warned me never to lose the chance to “earn” miles, and instead to use frequent-flier points for other people’s flights.) I then asked my wife for permission to spend five hundred and sixty dollars for a flight that I already had a free ticket for. She told me I was insane. But I wasn’t insane. I knew others similarly afflicted. I had Global Services Maintenance Anxiety Disorder.

GS-MAD afflicts only a small sliver of the frequent-flying élite. As a precondition, you have to be extremely loyal to United, either because you have a soft spot for incessantly played “Rhapsody in Blue” (and I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?) or, more probably, because the airline has a hub near your home. You also have to fly a lot. Global Services is a level above another status tier, Premier 1K, that requires you to fly an annual cumulative distance equal, more or less, to four times the circumference of the earth. With Premier 1K and the Platinum, Gold, and Silver MileagePlus status levels, you can track your progress with each flight. It’s a logical system of inputs and outputs, like dieting, except instead of being rewarded for skipping a fudge nut sundae, you’re credited for flying to Peru. But the diabolical marketing genius of Global Services is that, as St. Paul said of grace, it cannot be earned by works. It is a gift. And God, in this case, is an algorithm of United Airlines.

Absent posted guidelines, road-warrior message boards are filled with speculation about why certain travellers receive Global Services. Is it a measure of dollars spent? Segments flown? Behavior? Maybe United is watching us all, and you weren’t elevated because someone noticed you wiping Doritos dust off your fingers on the armrest in 17C. Maybe United is reading this essay. Maybe by writing this I am committing an unpardonable sin, akin to a Scientologist mafia underboss penning a memoir. Or maybe United will be pleased by the publicity and invite me to an even more secretive status level—Solar System Services, here I come.

by Gary Sernovitz, New Yorker |  Read more:
Image: Kent Nishimura, Denver Post via Getty