Friday, May 26, 2017

Cameron Crowe on the 'Singles' Soundtrack, Chris Cornell

In 1986, Cameron Crowe, in love with a Pacific Northwest girl, and frustrated with the craven scene in L.A. ("hair bands ... guys who lived off their girlfriends") moved to Seattle to make a fresh start. That girl was Nancy Wilson of hard-rocking sister act Heart, so Crowe was soon immersed in the city's scrappy music scene, frequenting the clubs and getting to know the young music geeks who, often laboring in coffee shops, "worked a nine to five and then played music all night." Crowe fell in love with the sounds and the ethos, and the idea for Singles, which he saw as a love letter to Seattle akin to Woody Allen's Manhattan or Spike Lee's many paeans to Brooklyn, was born.

In many ways, the film's story is in service to the music. Singles not only featured live performances by Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, but employed a newly drafted Eddie Vedder – just called up to the majors of Pearl Jam from California himself – as well as Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard in acting roles as members of Citizen Dick, the fictional band fronted by Matt Dillon's lead character, Cliff Poncier. "The first time the cast all got together was at the Off Ramp, a club just off the main freeway in downtown Seattle," Crowe recalls. "It was the second time Pearl Jam played in public with their new lead singer – Eddie from San Diego. Eddie had read the script, and wrote a new song for the movie, about relationships, called 'State of Love and Trust.' It became the soul of the movie in many ways."

Warner Bros. held the film at bay, unsure what to do with it, for almost nine months, until the explosive success of Nirvana's Nevermind put all things Seattle on the map. Suddenly the Singles soundtrack, packed to the gills with choice material by almost every other significant act on the scene, was rushed to release on June 30th, 1992, almost three months before the film itself saw light. On Friday, just short of 25 years later, the soundtrack will be reissued with an 18-track bonus disc of demos, live recordings and alternate takes. Crowe talked to Rolling Stone about putting together his ultimate mixtape.

What was your initial concept for the soundtrack, and how did that evolve over time?

Well, so much of the enthusiasm came from meeting and falling in love with a Seattle, Pacific Northwestern native. And when I started going up to Seattle, and ultimately got married in Seattle, part of the whole kind of wonderful feeling of love and community that was so different from L.A. to me was there was this great radio station called KCMU. It was kind of the college station, and it was way to the left of the dial. They played a lot of what would later be called the "Seattle sound," but they mixed it in with all kinds of stuff, like old blues. What in L.A. would have been called "cheesy R&B" was mixed in with Blood Circus or Mudhoney, and I just thought it was the greatest programming ever. Or somebody would tape Kurt Cobain half asleep having a phone conversation and they'd put that on the air. So I fell in love with the whole mix of genres, and I thought, "If I get to make a movie up here, it's going to sound like this."

Right, the soundtrack is not just about Nineties Seattle. You have a Jimi Hendrix tune, "May This Be Love," and he's a Seattle native, so you're dipping back into history a bit.

So much of it came from wanting to do a mix of Jimi Hendrix or Muddy Waters or Junior Wells, along with Mother Love Bone. We'd started to do a little bit of that in Say Anything, the movie before Singles, which was also partially shot in Seattle, and Mother Love Bone's "Chloe Dancer" is in Say Anything. So it was kind of like I was starting to be able to use some of this music that felt like it was only for those people that lived up there, and I was lucky to have gotten a taste of it. And Ann and Nancy Wilson are big music geeks and they were always surrounded by local musicians, and Kelly Curtis who was their publicist was managing Mother Love Bone, so I was immediately getting thrust into a community of great music and great people.

What came first, the music or the story?

They're intertwined for me: The music and the city and the people are all kind of beautifully twisted roots around each other. But the music was always there. I used to make cassettes of KCMU so that when I had to come down to L.A. for something, I could still be listening to KCMU. Now of course you can just stream it, but I still have all these cassettes, and they're filled with the greatest segues ever. ... I think it's called KEXP now, but it used to be called KCMU, "Music That Matters." And it was. (...)

One of the best bits of Singles lore I've heard is the story of the Poncier tape that Jeff Ament designed – which is coming out in full on this new edition of the soundtrack – and how all these actual songs were birthed out of it.

It's kind of amazing. The idea was that Matt Dillon's character, Cliff Poncier, in the course of the movie, he loses his band, and he loses his girlfriend, and he gains soul. So, there's a period where he's on a street corner busking, having lost his band, but beginning his solo career. And there would be, in reality, these guys standing on the corner outside the clubs in Seattle hawking their solo cassettes. So we wanted Cliff Poncier to have his own solo cassette. And Jeff Ament, in classic style, designed this cassette cover and wrote out these fictitious song names for the cassette.

And Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always around.

Anyway, Jeff Ament had designed this solo cassette which we thought was hilarious because it had all of these cool song titles like "Flutter Girl," and "Spoonman," and just like a really true-type "I've lost my band, and now I'm a soulful guy – these are my songs now" feeling. So we loved that Jeff had played out the fictitious life of Cliff Poncier. And one night, I stayed home, and Nancy, we were then married, she went out to a club, and she came back home, and she said, "Man, I met this guy, and he was selling solo cassettes, and so I got one for you." And she hands me the Cliff Poncier cassette. And I was like, "That's funny, haha." And then she said, "You should listen to it." So I put on the cassette. And holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette. And it's fantastic. And "Seasons" comes on. And you just can't help but go, "Wow." This is a guy who we've only known in Soundgarden. And of course he's incredibly creative, but who's heard him like this?

by Alexis Sottile | Read more:
Image: markk
[ed. I still watch Singles a couple times a year. For an alternate (and, in my opinion, totally bullshit) take on Grunge: Was Grunge Good?]

Ralph Goings, Perth Diner Still Life 1980
via:

Those Modern Pathologies

That modern pathology, the Pyramid of Cheops

The final triumph of modern individualism is an afterlife ensconed in a giant stone structure, carefully segregated from any other souls, based entirely around stuff. No county churchyards here. No slow surrender to nature and the weeds. Just piles of golden goblets and jeweled necklaces, carefully guarded by snake-infested traps. And, of course the bones of dead servants, guaranteed to keep serving you in the great beyond. Of course Heaven is neoliberal. There is no alternative!

That modern pathology, heterosexual intercourse for the sole purpose of procreation

Sex can bring people together. It can cement relationships between people and families. It can pulse with celestial fire, it can shatter inner worlds, it can inspire transcendent art, it can remake souls. Of course moderns took one look at all of that and thought: you know what the only acceptable purpose of sex is? Making a smaller copy of myself.

But calling this narcissism would be missing half the picture. It’s equally related to a sort of productivity fetish, a mindset where anything that doesn’t leave a material token didn’t really happen. Enjoyed the company of your closest friends? Not real unless you put the pictures on Facebook, tagged #bestiesforever. Broadened your horizons with a trip to another culture? Not real without crushed pennies or some other gift-shop tchotchke. Met your soulmate? Not real unless you’ve got a lump of screaming flesh to show for it. This is what capitalism does – reduce experiences to souveniers, reduce relationships to commodities, demand that everything good be mediated by a material end product in order to model the laboring-for-others that workers are told is their only life purpose.

That modern pathology, Homer’s Odyssey


If Harry Potter wasn’t vapid enough for you, now we have a travelogue for the Instagram generation.

Odysseus’ only salient characteristic is being “polymetis”, Very Smart. This is enough to give him a raving fan club of front-row-kids and aspirational Ivy Leaguers, the same people who thought Hermione Granger’s straight A’s made her a symbol of an entire generation of womenhood. Odysseus proves his chops in his very first adventure, where he encounters Lotus-Eaters who convince most of his men to eat a magic fruit that leaves them drugged and listless; Odysseus nobly drags them back to the ship and forces them to keep on rowing for him.

Imagine the horrors of a world where poor galley slaves can leave behind their unpaid labor to live on a tropical beach and enjoy their lives! It is only thanks to Odysseus that this catastrophe is averted. One might think a few readers would note that a few months later, the vast majority of sailors in Odysseus’ fleet died horribly, eaten by cannibals. One might think a few readers would wonder if, really, the guy who dragged galley slaves back to their galleys only to get them killed a few months later was really such a good guy. In fact, nobody asks this question, because Odysseus is Very Smart. It’s no coincidence that the Odyssey came out in the generation of the invasion of Iraq War – if Very Smart people declare that dying horribly was the right thing to do, and then it turns out it wasn’t, at least they were benevolent technocrats with your best interests in mind.

Odysseus then goes on to have sex with various sorceresses and sea-nymphs while protesting that he doesn’t want to have sex with them and is loyal to his far-off wife. This is portrayed as clearly a difficult problem that we should empathize with. Also, his sailors get turned into pigs, eaten by sea monsters, and drowned in a giant whirlpool. This is not portrayed as clearly a difficult problem that we should empathize with. In one scene, some starving sailors eat a sacred cow belonging to the Sun God; this is portrayed as clearly justifying their deaths.

We can start to sketch a psychological picture of the sort of person who could enjoy the Odyssey. They identify with Odysseus, that’s obvious. They want to feel like they’ve suffered – after all, suffering is ennobling! – but they don’t want to actually suffer. They imagine the “suffering” of having to have sex with lots of sea nymphs they’re not super-interested in, all while their friends and subordinates are massacred all around them (but only for good reasons, like them stealing cattle, or them not being Very Smart). At the end of all of it, much like the rich kids attending the Fyre Festival, they can show up on their front doorstep and say “Oh, what suffering I have seen – and I the only survivor!”

The Odyssey is a book for rich individualist aspirational Very Smart narcissists who simultaneously want to outsource their ennobling hardships to the lower classes, and remain so contemptuous of those lower classes that they imagine them literally getting turned into swine by a sorceress, and end up having sex with that sorceress, who is unable to resist them because they are Very Smart.

I weep for the modern generation.

by Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex |  Read more:
Image: Homer's Odyssey

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Who Goes Nazi?

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis.

It is preposterous to think that they are divided by any racial characteristics. Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance. There are Jews who have repudiated their own ancestors in order to become “Honorary Aryans and Nazis”; there are full-blooded Jews who have enthusiastically entered Hitler’s secret service. Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind.

It is also, to an immense extent, the disease of a generation—the generation which was either young or unborn at the end of the last war. This is as true of Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Americans as of Germans. It is the disease of the so-called “lost generation.”

Sometimes I think there are direct biological factors at work—a type of education, feeding, and physical training which has produced a new kind of human being with an imbalance in his nature. He has been fed vitamins and filled with energies that are beyond the capacity of his intellect to discipline. He has been treated to forms of education which have released him from inhibitions. His body is vigorous. His mind is childish. His soul has been almost completely neglected.

At any rate, let us look round the room.

The gentleman standing beside the fireplace with an almost untouched glass of whiskey beside him on the mantelpiece is Mr. A, a descendant of one of the great American families. There has never been an American Blue Book without several persons of his surname in it. He is poor and earns his living as an editor. He has had a classical education, has a sound and cultivated taste in literature, painting, and music; has not a touch of snobbery in him; is full of humor, courtesy, and wit. He was a lieutenant in the World War, is a Republican in politics, but voted twice for Roosevelt, last time for Willkie. He is modest, not particularly brilliant, a staunch friend, and a man who greatly enjoys the company of pretty and witty women. His wife, whom he adored, is dead, and he will never remarry.

He has never attracted any attention because of outstanding bravery. But I will put my hand in the fire that nothing on earth could ever make him a Nazi. He would greatly dislike fighting them, but they could never convert him. . . . Why not?

Beside him stands Mr. B, a man of his own class, graduate of the same preparatory school and university, rich, a sportsman, owner of a famous racing stable, vice-president of a bank, married to a well-known society belle. He is a good fellow and extremely popular. But if America were going Nazi he would certainly join up, and early. Why? . . . Why the one and not the other?

Mr. A has a life that is established according to a certain form of personal behavior. Although he has no money, his unostentatious distinction and education have always assured him a position. He has never been engaged in sharp competition. He is a free man. I doubt whether ever in his life he has done anything he did not want to do or anything that was against his code. Nazism wouldn’t fit in with his standards and he has never become accustomed to making concessions.

Mr. B has risen beyond his real abilities by virtue of health, good looks, and being a good mixer. He married for money and he has done lots of other things for money. His code is not his own; it is that of his class—no worse, no better, He fits easily into whatever pattern is successful. That is his sole measure of value—success. Nazism as a minority movement would not attract him. As a movement likely to attain power, it would.

by Dorothy Thompson, Harper's | Read more:

Jackson Browne




[ed. Jackson Browne's Love Is Strange album. Great songs, great performances, crystal clear audio. Can't recommend it highly enough.]

Outsmarted

Way back in 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald figured out something very shrewd about right-wingers. He discovered, and described, an emerging social type: the reactionary pedant.

It comes in Chapter One of The Great Gatsby, where Fitzgerald introduces his dramatis personae. Our narrator, Nick Carraway, is chatting away aimlessly with his sophisticated cousin Daisy Buchanan and her equally sophisticated friend, Jordan Baker. Embarked upon his second glass of a “corky but rather impressive claret,” Nick remarks that the conversation has grown a bit too recherché for his taste: “You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy. Can’t you talk about crops or something?” He “meant nothing in particular by this remark but it was taken up in an unexpected way”—by Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, whom Nick had known when both attended Yale.
“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we—”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently.

“This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California—” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and—” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “—And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.
In a novel that precisely deploys status markers, every detail here matters. Nick, blithe, ironic, and self-possessed, is perfectly comfortable making light of his preference for intellectually uncluttered chitchat. Tom Buchanan, not so self-possessed, has to rush in to demonstrate that he is smart too—though 1925 readers would immediately understand he is actually stupid, because he’s biffed the names of two real-life thinkers: Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920), and the eugenicist Madison Grant, inventor of “Nordic theory” and author of the equally alarmist The Passing of the Great Race (1916).

However, contemporary readers don’t have to boast familiarity with the contents of 1920s bookstores to grasp that this guy is a clown—or to recognize the type. Think Spiro Agnew, braying about the downfall of America at the hands of “an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals,” in speeches scripted for him by William Safire. (Safire dropped out of college to take a job with a gossip columnist. He later got a job as the resident conservative op-ed sage at the New York Times, and also published an “On Language” column in the Times magazine. In both capacities, he never let the world forget he knew a lot of six-syllable words.) Or William F. Buckley, whose rebarbative vocabulary conned a generation of liberals into believing conservatism was a “movement of ideas.”

Liberals want to make you feel stupid, but—na na na!—it’s actually liberals who are stupid: this trope is a commonplace of conservative rhetoric. If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans: that’s the title of a 2007 book by Ann Coulter. Rush Limbaugh boasts that he performs his program “flawlessly with zero mistakes” with “half my brain tied behind my back.” “We outnumber the stupid people” was one of the slogans of Herman Cain, the pizza magnate who ran for the Republican presidential nomination on a “9-9-9 plan” that sought to replace all federal taxes with a 9 percent personal income tax, 9 percent corporate income tax, and 9 percent national sales tax. Then there is Donald J. Trump, whose favorite word, besides “sad,” is “smart,” and who explains he doesn’t need to attend to intelligence briefings because, “You know, I’m, like, a smart person.” (...)

The Great Gatsby finds that sort of cognitive narcissism risible too. In that dialogue in which Tom Buchanan dresses up his racism in scientific raiment, all of us, because we know ourselves to be sophisticated and smart, identify with Daisy Buchanan. Fitzgerald had also figured out something shrewed about such—but how shall we put it—cultural sophisticates? Effete snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals? Elite liberals?

Grant me this liberty. I can’t guess whether, in the 1924 presidential election, Daisy Buchanan would have voted for the Democrat John W. Davis, the Republican Calvin Coolidge, or the Progressive Party’s Robert M. La Follette. But I can recognize the kind of person who mockingly agrees with someone who issues a racist rant by not just winking, but winking “ferociously”—ferociously enough, that is, so that everyone around them could not possibly miss that they know who is and who is not an intellectually vacant ass. No less than in the case of the reactionary pedant, her greatest fear is that others will see her as dumb.

These days, the person who does that sort of thing would almost certainly be a liberal—the kind of person, say, who the weekend before the 2010 congressional elections attended Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart’s massive rally in Washington, D.C., dedicated to pointing and laughing at conservatives while winking ferociously. The signs they carried were along the lines of “ANYONE FOR SCRABBLE LATER?” and “USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE” and “I SEE SMART PEOPLE.” (I’m referring here to a collection from the website Funny or Die called “The 53 Funniest Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” which received nineteen thousand “likes” on Facebook.)

That was the very weekend when the Tea Partying objects of their scorn were out knocking on doors to get out the vote for the following Tuesday’s election. Thereupon, the Democratic Party lost control of Congress. I see stupid people.

What does it mean to be “smart,” and why does it matter to us so much?(...)

“Smart” is an identity. “Smart” has a politics. “Smart” can be a road to authenticity, or “smart” can be a con. (Think of Elizabeth Holmes, who founded the biotech startup Theranos after studying Mandarin as a child, launching a company during college at Stanford, and then dropping out; she gulled George Shultz and Henry Kissinger into serving on her new company’s board of directors, becoming “America’s youngest self-made female billionaire in the world,” according to Forbes, even though the technology she was selling apparently didn’t even work.) “Smart” carries within it its own logic of domination, resistance, resentment—the logic that produces both reactionary pedants and ferociously winking liberal elites.

I’ve been quietly obsessing over all of this ever since my intellectually melodramatic childhood, never quite able to figure it out or put much of it into words. One important conclusion I’ve been able to reach, however, is exactly Nick Carraway’s: whatever “smart” actually is, it bears no necessary relation to fundamental decency. But that’s a psychological, or even spiritual, lesson, not an intellectual one. (There’s a distinction it took me an awfully long time to be able to make—one of the things that landed me in therapy.) The intellectual lesson is something I’m still groping toward. It has something to do with understanding how, more and more with each passing year, in American culture and politics, “smart” has become a dangerous stand-in for judgments concerning self-evident moral worth.

by Rick Perlstein, The Baffler | Read more:
Image: Zipeng Zhu

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Secret Life of Urban Crows

On a blustery overcast morning this past April, Kaeli Swift walked across the campus of the University of Washington toting a weathered, purple-and-white plastic shopping bag. This bag, if found by some unsuspecting student or grounds person, would almost certainly trigger a campuswide panic. Inside Swift had stowed a rubber mask of a grotesque, exaggerated male face—large ears, bulbous nose, silver-whiskered soul patch—a guise that would not look out of place in a 1980s horror film. Also inside: a corpse. That the corpse was only that of a bird hardly made the tattered bag’s combined payload any less creepy.

She tromped through the wet grass in calf-high Sorel snow boots and made her way to the university’s Center for Urban Horticulture, where she’s a teaching assistant for an undergraduate natural history class. Near the Dumpsters and trash cans parked behind the center, Swift found a perfect spot for what she was about to do: perform a ritual that, depending how you look at it, is a couple of years old or a couple million.

Swift, a PhD candidate, is a member of UW’s nationally acclaimed Avian Conservation Lab. If you’ve heard or read a news story in the last decade about Corvus brachyrhynchos—aka, the American crow—and what science has to say about its confounding habits and aptitude, there’s a good chance it was thanks to the work conducted by the lab, led by a man named John Marzluff. The UW professor and wildlife biologist is the author of numerous popular books on the subject. In 2008, Marzluff and his fellow researchers made national headlines when they tested a hypothesis—that crows recognize individual human faces—by donning Dick Cheney masks. That led to another revelation: Crows teach other crows to detest specific people (and sometimes attack them).

Today Swift, 30, would repeat an experiment that uncovered one of the team’s more staggering revelations. And she conducted it with the ceremony of an undertaker.

From the old shopping bag she unsheathed the dead crow and turned it in what little sunshine strained through the fibrous clouds. The black feathers sparkled in the light, and close inspection revealed iridescent blues and purples. She covered it back up with a tan cloth and, with the draped bird lying breast down on her two upturned palms, stepped gingerly onto a patch of grass. She tore the linen away and unveiled the corpse to the gray heavens.

There was nothing at first, just an empty sky. Then, a caw. A crow appeared on a nearby power line. Then another caw and another crow. Suddenly crows flew in from all directions. Their plaintive entreaties soon combined into a chorus. New arrivals joined what quickly grew into a cacophonous dervish of black silhouettes swirling directly above Swift.

It was like sorcery. Conjuring dozens of birds from thin air by simply removing fabric from a body.

This, according to Swift, is what its like to attend a crow funeral—an instinctive ritual that evolved generations ago and was just discovered by humans; Swift coauthored an article on her findings in the journal Animal Behaviour in 2015. The gist: Upon spotting one of its dead, the flock attends to the fallen bird en masse with loud shrieking. Given enough time the throng will mob any predator it thinks is responsible, like say, a human in a Dick Cheney mask, or in a mask like the one Swift had in her bag (the lab affectionately refers to that be-soul-patched fellow as Joe).

Because she had decided to leave Joe out of today’s repeat of her groundbreaking experiment, she had to take precautions. Early during this gathering tsunami of sound, once the crows became particularly agitated, Swift pulled the hood of her rain jacket over her face, lest the birds, days later, recognize that face—elfin features, sometimes sharpened with rectangular-framed eyeglasses, and bracketed by a cascade of brown curls.

It’s no accident that Swift and the Avian Conservation Lab are based here. Seattle is unique among U.S. cities for what its human citizens have unwittingly fashioned over the past century or so, a habitat ideal for these ebon-winged aviators. It’s also a city obsessed. Crows figure into local iconography, they occupy our art, and, last year, they were at the center of a $200,000 lawsuit.

For now, up above, the birds Kaeli Swift had stirred into a squawking horde were just getting started. She gave one more tug on her jacket hood, pulling it down tight. It was going to be a wild ride.

by James Ross Gardner, Seattle Met | Read more:
Image: Mike Kane

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters


[ed. A national blues treasure on par with SRV and Buddy Guy. See also: Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters - Blues Guitar Virtuoso Live in Europe [Full Album] and Song For a Sun].

Retirement Savings Is a Bigger Crisis Than Health Care

Everyone talks about how health care is the biggest crisis facing retirees, but unfortunately that crisis takes a distant second to another, far more serious issue.

Most retirees don't have any money.

A 2015 National Institute on Retirement Security study found that the median working-age household has just $14,500 in retirement savings -- woefully short of the hundreds of thousands in savings truly needed to retire in the first place.

That's not to say that health care isn't a retirement crisis in and of itself -- it is. But when comparing and contrasting the two, it's clear which one is more pressing, and it isn't soaring drug prices.

One of the authors of the 2015 NIRS study, Ilana Boivie, agrees that the $14,500 figure is startlingly low. But why?

"Forty-five percent of all households, and 41 percent of near-retirement households, do not have a retirement account at all. So, when you take all of these people into account (who essentially have $0), the median balance is very low," Boivie says.

But even when you only consider those people with retirement accounts, the average person near retirement age has just $104,000 in investments saved up.

"Even this is far less than what people need for a secure retirement. Converted to an annuity, it would only bring in a few hundred dollars per month," Boivie says.

By the time someone is 67, experts recommend having anywhere from five to eight times your annual income saved up for your golden years. Seeing as most employed Americans make far more than $13,000 to $20,800 in their final years of employment, you can see how devastatingly low that $104,000 figure is.

Considering many Americans have traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, that means they'll have to pay tax on their earnings when they withdraw their funds, further diminishing the size of their investments.

That said, health care costs are also on the rise, and that remains one of the most prominent, concerns facing soon-to-be retirees.

Numbers from PwC, the international auditor and professional services firm, shows the troublesome reason health care continues to become more unaffordable: Reliably each year, health care costs rise by more -- far, far more, in fact -- than inflation.

In 2007, health care costs rose by 11.9 percent. Though that growth rate has been declining, coming down to 6.5 percent in 2016, it's still light years higher than inflation. The pace of inflation in 2007 and 2016, respectively, was 2.8 percent and 1.3 percent.

While rising drug prices certainly contribute to this issue, another problem for many retirees is the cost of places like retirement homes.

"Almost 70 percent of people over age 65 will require long-term care services at some point, and more than 40 percent will need nursing home care," says Pamela Yellen, a two-time New York Times bestselling author and financial security expert.

"Based on the average cost of a private nursing home and the average length of stay, you would need about $255,000 to cover a stay," Yellen says.

In other words, average nursing home costs alone are more than 2.5 times what the typical retiree has saved up.

So why isn't health care the central part of the retirement savings crisis? Because of this sad truth: The debate on soaring health care costs is totally irrelevant if you have no savings to begin with. It doesn't matter how cheap something is or how much you plan in your later years if you can't afford it at almost any price.

by John Divine, Yahoo News | Read more:
Image: via

Paris Hilton Invented Everything You’re Doing in 2017, and She Knows It

No one but Paris Hilton knows the exact location of her old Sidekick cell phone.

Upon request one afternoon in April, she disappeared into the depths of one of the many closets in her Beverly Hills mansion and returned minutes later with not one, but two of the early Aughts T-Mobile artifacts, as well as her bedazzled Blackberry with a pink ‘P’ on it, a gold Razr flip phone—also bedazzled in a cheetah pattern—and two more recent Blackberry models.

As she presented me with over a decade’s worth of technology, it became clear that while fellow 2000s icon Kim Kardashian may claim to “remember everything,” Paris Hilton hangs on to it, too.

In the present day, Hilton has a total of five iPhones, and when we first met she was toggling between two of them, one open to an article on Buzzfeed deeming her the “Queen of Coachella,” and the other ready to share the post on Instagram with her 6.9 million followers.

When asked if she had fun at Coachella, she replied in a startlingly low-octave: “Is the Pope Catholic?”

Despite Hilton’s longtime dependency on various cellular devices, it is perhaps visionaries like Steve Jobs who are indebted to her, seeing that it was Hilton who took their creations beyond their wildest expectations, inventing along the way the maligned but ubiquitous selfie.

“If a beeper had a camera, I would have taken a selfie with it,” said Hilton later, agreeing that she was truthfully the matriarch of the modern phenomenon. “I think I have a selfie from when I was a little kid, like on a disposable camera.”

Selfies aren’t the only thing Paris Hilton did first: The heiress turned the stuffy New York social scene upside-down in the early 2000s, setting not only every fashion and lifestyle trend at the time, but also defining what it meant to be an ‘influencer’ before we even had a word for it.

“We started a whole new genre of celebrity that no one had ever seen before,” said Hilton.

At the age of 19, Hilton was signed to Donald Trump’s modeling agency, T Management, becoming one of the first signed scions long before her Millennial protégés, Paris Jackson, Sofia Richie, and a whole crew of celebrity children parlayed their last names into full-time careers.

Hilton then went on to have one of the first successful reality TV careers with Nicole Richie on The Simple Life, the premiere for which attracted a staggering 13 million viewers, according to Nielsen. (That’s more than the all-time highest ratings of The Hills and Keeping Up with the Kardashians combined.) This also coincided with her (non-consenting) starring role one of the earliest viral sex tapes, 1 Night in Paris.

Finally, Hilton took her influence and built a personal brand before personal brands were commonplace, publishing best-selling books and putting her name and face on everything from canine apparel to a German sparkling wine called “Rich Prosecco.” Her now-famous catchphrase, “That’s hot,” is also legally trademarked.

This year, Hilton will release her 23rd perfume since 2004—an estimated $2 billion business, according to Women’s Wear Daily. She’s also currently touring the world as a highly-paid DJ, taking up residence in Ibiza for her “Foam & Diamonds” night in the months of July and August. Her mother taught her to never talk money, but it’s been reported that Hilton makes approximately $347,000 an hour DJing, or around $1 million a night.

In sum, Paris Hilton proved that you can get paid to be yourself, and that ‘yourself’ can be a multi-hyphenated entity. And in the beginning, she did this all without a publicist, a stylist, glam squad, or social media.

“Nowadays, I feel like it’s so easy becoming famous,” said Hilton, with a shrug. “Anybody with a phone can do it.”

In the year 2017, with a Trump in the White House, the phrase “celebrity entrepreneur” no longer a laughable sobriquet, and the Kardashians firmly ensconced in the highest echelons of American society, it’s starting to look and feel a lot like the 2000s again. As a result, nostalgia is running rampant in popular culture, and Paris Hilton is shaping up to be a pioneer and prophet of the zeitgeist as we know it.

by Emilia Petrarca, W | Read more:
Image: Mayan Toledano

What Trump and Duterte Said Privately About the North Korean Nuclear Threat

President Donald Trump repeatedly addressed the possibility of a U.S. nuclear attack on North Korea in a private call last month with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Intercept.

“We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that. We have a lot of firepower, more than he has times 20, but we don’t want to use it,” Trump told Duterte. (In fact, the U.S. has 6,800 nuclear warheads and North Korea is thought to have about 10.) “You will be in good shape,” he added.

“We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines — the best in the world — we have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like they are, but we don’t have to use this, but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.”

The call took place on April 29. The transcript, an official Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs document, contains numerous typographical errors. Multiple government sources contacted by the Philippine news outlet Rappler, which collaborated with The Intercept on this story, confirmed its authenticity.

During the call, Trump echoed his publicly stated position that he wants China to take the lead in addressing potential threats from North Korea. “I hope China solves the problem. They really have the means because a great degree of their stuff come [sic] through China,” Trump said. “But if China doesn’t do it, we will do it.”

Duterte then volunteered to call Chinese President Xi Jinping, adding, “The other option is a nuclear blast which is not good for everybody.” Both leaders expressed a preference for avoiding a nuclear confrontation, but nonetheless, Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a leading expert on nuclear weapons, was alarmed by the exchange.

“Trump has a disturbing tendency to talk very cavalierly about nuclear weapons — as if he is an impulse away from using them,” Cirincione said. “He doesn’t seem to understand the vast destructive nature of these weapons and the line he would be crossing by using them.”

by Jeremy Scahill, Alex Emmons, Ryan Grim, The Intercept |  Read more:
[ed. Part 1: Here]

Lauren KeeleyHalfway Somewhere, 2017.
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Karl Plattner, Nello studio, 1979.
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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In the US, Voting is Not for Poor People

In 2016, I voted at my kitchen table. I made a mug of tea, splashed a small amount of bourbon into it, and sat, by low light, and bubbled in the seemingly endless series of questions about taxes, transit, the minimum wage, and yes, the next President of the United States.

I skimmed through my phone, Googling various initiatives and candidates at my leisure, taking a break to snap an Instagram photo and pet my dog.

When I was finished, I neatly folded the ballot itself, placed it inside the privacy envelope, signed the document where I was prompted to sign, put a stamp on it, and then skipped across the street to plop it into the blue mailbox. Total cost: Whatever a stamp costs. I don’t remember.

Voting by mail is all I’ve ever known; before I was a voter in Washington, I was a voter in Oregon. I have a vague memory of my mother going to my elementary school gym to cast a ballot at one point, but aside from that, I’ve never had an experience with a polling place.

Which also means I’ve never had to take time off work to vote. I’ve never had to figure out a series of connecting buses or trains to vote. I’ve never had to wait in line or worry that there wouldn’t be materials in my native language available when I got to the booth. I’ve never had to produce a photo ID to vote, or worry that when I arrived at the polling place, I’d have been purged from the ranks.

In short: Voting has always been easy for me—and it’s remarkable that, in this, the year 2017, it’s not so easy for everyone else, even though it definitely could be.

Washington voters often complain about the need for stamps on ballots here, and in a lot of ways, they’re correct to do so; just about every year, we collectively try to determine whether or not a stamp is technically a poll tax, if you need a stamp, or whether it’s worth the risk to try mailing it without. A lot of ballots get returned without postage. And while stamps may not break the bank for a lot of us, they do require a person to purchase something in order to vote by mail.

Ballot boxes which don’t require a stamp are scattered throughout the region and in the week leading up to an election, it’s common to see a line of families and individuals, each stopping to take a photo of themselves as they slip the envelope into the big metal box.

Democrats in the legislature have submitted proposals to pay for postage in order to reduce the barrier to voting even further. The estimated cost is fairly low (about $2.7M over two years) and, in counties where paid postage has been tried, it’s increased voter turnout noticeably.

But while voters grapple over 49 cents in Washington, the rest of the nation is dealing with the real cost of voter suppression. In addition to, you know, the election of the 45th President—who promptly attacked immigrants, refugees, the lowest-earners, and anyone with any kind of ailment; who has proven to be entirely untrustworthy with matters of national security, and who’s threatened to undermine the rule of law—the fallout of voter suppression is far-reaching.

In cities and counties and parishes and townships across the country, voter numbers are slipping and falling as more and more people give up on participating in our democracy—in large part because laws and policies and enforcements have made it clear to them that their votes don’t count, aren’t wanted, or aren’t important.

Despite the promise of the United States—this paragon of democracy—we have ruthlessly low voter turnout. On purpose.

Much of this is strictly racial; at least one recent voter suppression effort was determined to have targeted Black voters with “almost surgical precision.” Gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and other age-old techniques for keeping People of Color away from the ballot have proven successful for decades.

But many of the barriers to voting—barriers that aren’t so egregious, aren’t so specific, aren’t so surgical—in almost every state in the union also impact poor folks of other races. In fact, the very nature of in-person voting disproportionately benefits white-collar workers and the very wealthy.

Let’s do the math:

First, you have to factor in the cost of taking as much as an entire day off work. Ironically, voting on a Tuesday in November was originally determined because it was the easiest for workers to get off, not completely inconvenient as it is now. NPR’s Domenico Monanaro explains:
In order to understand the day chosen, you need to understand 19th century America. Most Americans were farmers, devoutly Christian and needed time to travel, because roads weren’t paved, and polling locations weren’t widespread like today. 
Sundays were out because of church. People had to get to the county seat to vote, and automobiles weren’t an option — they weren’t a factor until the early 20th century. The Interstate Highway System wasn’t authorized until the mid-1950s. 
As for why November — spring was planting season, summer was taken up with working the fields and tending the crops, but by November, the fall harvest was over. And in most of the country, the weather was still mild enough to permit travel over those unpaved roads.
So, while the time and day of voting was initially built around the working person, it’s now a way to keep workers away from the polls. Assuming you make just over the federal minimum wage—let’s say $8 per hour—and you can’t take a sick day to vote (which you probably can’t in a lot of areas) your day of voting will cost you upwards of $64.

Even if you don’t work, but you’ve got underage kids who won’t be in school on Tuesday, you’ll probably need childcare; waiting for five to seven hours in a line is going to require a LOT of coloring books. So either way, taking a full day off is probably a loss of cash upfront; the average cost for an hour of childcare hovers around $10–20, meaning dropping $70–100 just to stand in the cold without a toddle to juggle.

by Hanna Brooks Olsen, Medium | Read more:
Image: Wikimedia Commons

How Fonts Are Fueling the Culture Wars


How Fonts Are Fueling the Culture Wars
Image: Linotype and Machinery Ltd.