Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Life and Death of the American Lawn

The hashtag #droughtshaming—which primarily exists, as its name suggests, to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought—has claimed many victims. Anonymous lawn-waterers. Anonymous sidewalk-washers. The city of Beverly Hills. The tag’s most high-profile shamee thus far, however, has been the actor Tom Selleck. Who was sued earlier this summer by Ventura County’s Calleguas Municipal Water District for the alleged theft of hydrant water, supposedly used to nourish his 60-acre ranch. Which includes, this being California, an avocado farm, and also an expansive lawn.

The case was settled out of court on terms that remain undisclosed, and everyone has since moved on with their lives. What’s remarkable about the whole thing, though—well, besides the fact that Magnum P.I. has apparently become, in his semi-retirement, a gentleman farmer—is how much of a shift all the Selleck-shaming represents, as a civic impulse. For much of American history, the healthy lawn—green, lush, neatly shorn—has been a symbol not just of prosperity, individual and communal, but of something deeper: shared ideals, collective responsibility, the assorted conveniences of conformity. Lawns, originally designed to connect homes even as they enforced the distance between them, are shared domestic spaces. They are also socially regulated spaces. “When smiling lawns and tasteful cottages begin to embellish a country,” Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the nation’s first landscaper-philosophers, put it, “we know that order and culture are established.”

That idea remains, and it means that, even today, the failure to maintain a “smiling lawn” can have decidedly unhappy consequences. Section 119-3 of the county code of Fairfax County, Virginia—a section representative of similar ones on the books in jurisdictions across the country—stipulates that “it is unlawful for any owner of any occupied residential lot or parcel which is less than one-half acre (21,780 square feet) to permit the growth of any grass or lawn area to reach more than twelve (12) inches in height/length.” And while Fairfax County sensibly advises that matters of grass length are best adjudicated among neighbors, it adds, rather sternly, that if the property in question “is vacant or the resident doesn’t seem to care, you can report the property to the county.”

That kind of reporting can result in much more than fines. In 2008, Joe Prudente—a retiree in Florida whose lawn, despite several re-soddings and waterings and weedings, contained some unsightly brown patches—was jailed for “failing to properly maintain his lawn to community standards.” Earlier this year, Rick Yoes, a resident of Grand Prairie, Texas, also spent time behind bars—for the crime, in this case, of the ownership of an overgrown yard. Gerry Suttle, a woman in her mid-70s, recently had a warrant issued for her arrest—she had failed to mow the grass on a lot she owned across the street from her house—until four boys living in her Texas neighborhood heard of her plight in a news report, came over, and mowed the thing themselves.(...)

Which is all to say that lawns, long before Tom Selleck came along, have doubled as sweeping, sodded outgrowths of the Protestant ethic. The tapis vert, or “green carpet”—a concept Americans borrowed not just from French gardens and English estates, but also from the fantastical Italian paintings that imagined modern lawns into existence—became, as installed in the not-yet-united states, a signal that the American colonies aspired to match Europe in, among other things, elitism. (Lawns, in Europe, were an early form of conspicuous consumption, signs that their owners could afford to dedicate grounds to aesthetic, rather than agricultural, purposes—and signs, too, that their owners, in the days before lawnmowers lessened the burden of grass-shearing, could afford to pay scythe-wielding servants to do that labor.) Thomas Jefferson, being Thomas Jefferson, surrounded Monticello not just with neatly rowed crops, but with expanses of sheared grass that served no purpose but to send a message—about Jefferson himself, and about the ambitions of a newly formed nation.

As that country developed, its landscape architects would sharpen lawns’ symbolism: of collectivity, of interlocking destinies, of democracy itself. “It is unchristian,” the landscaper Frank J. Scott wrote in The Art of Beautifying Suburban Home Grounds, “to hedge from the sight of others the beauties of nature which it has been our good fortune to create or secure.” He added, magnanimously, that “the beauty obtained by throwing front grounds open together, is of that excellent quality which enriches all who take part in the exchange, and makes no man poorer.” Lawns became aesthetic extensions of Manifest Destiny, symbols of American entitlement and triumph, of the soft and verdant rewards that result when man’s ongoing battles against nature are finally won. A well-maintained lawn—luxurious in its lushness, implying leisure even as its upkeep had a stubborn way of preventing it—came, too, to represent a triumph of another kind: the order of suburbia over the squalor of the city. A neat expanse of green, blades clipped to uniform length and flowing from home to home, became, as Roman Mars notes, the “anti-broken window.”

by Megan Garber, The Atlantic |  Read more:
Image: Robert Couse-Baker / Flickr

Denali. Finally.

[ed. About time. Actually, way past time.]

It’s official: Denali is now the mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley.

With the approval of President Barack Obama, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has signed a “secretarial order” to officially change the name, the White House and Interior Department announced Sunday. The announcement comes roughly 24 hours before Obama touches down in Anchorage for a whirlwind tour of Alaska.

Talk of the name change has swirled in Alaska this year since the National Park Service officially registered no objection in a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C.

The tallest mountain in North America has long been known to Alaskans as Denali, its Koyukon Athabascan name, but its official name was not changed with the creation of Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980, 6 million acres carved out for federal protection under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The state changed the name of the park’s tallest mountain to Denali at that time, but the federal government did not.

Jewell’s authority stems from a 1947 federal law that allows her to make changes to geographic names through the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, according to the department.

“I think for people like myself that have known the mountain as Denali for years and certainly for Alaskans, it's something that's been a long time coming,” Jewell told Alaska Dispatch News Sunday.

Every year, the same story plays out in Washington, D.C.: Alaska legislators sometimes file bills to change the name from Mount McKinley to Denali, and every year, someone in the Ohio congressional delegation -- the home state of the 25th President William McKinley -- files legislation to block a name change. (...)

According to the order Jewell signed, there is a policy of deferring action while a matter is under consideration by Congress. So the Ohio delegation’s annual legislative efforts have stalled any federal movement. But the law does allow the interior secretary to take action when the board naming doesn’t act “within a reasonable amount of time,” the order said.

“It's something (former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond) pushed for back in 1975, and because of an effort to stop it in legislation that has not actually gone anywhere in the last 40 years, the Board of Geographic Names did not take it up,” Jewell said.

As interior secretary, she has authority to make a unilateral decision after a “reasonable time has passed,” Jewell said.

“And I think any of us would think that 40 years is an unreasonable amount of time. So we're delighted to make the name change now, and frankly I'm delighted that President Obama has encouraged the name change consistent with his trip,” Jewell said.

Jewell said the “overwhelming support for many years from the citizens of Alaska is more robust than anything that we have heard from the citizens of Ohio,” and that filing the same legislation year after year has not been accompanied by any “grass roots support” in Ohio. (...)

“I think most of us have always called it Denali. I know that's true in the climbing community and I suspect it has been true in Alaska for a very long time. So it'll just be great to formalize that with our friends at the U.S. Geological Survey and the Board of Geographic Names,” Jewell said.

The name “Denali” is derived from the Koyukon name and is based on a verb theme meaning “high” or “tall,” according to linguist James Kari of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, in the book “Shem Pete’s Alaska.” It doesn't mean "the great one," as is commonly believed, Kari wrote.

The mountain was named for McKinley before he became president, by gold prospector William A. Dickey, who had just received word of McKinley’s nomination as a candidate in 1897. McKinley died without ever setting foot in Alaska, assassinated at the start of his second term in office.

by Ercia Martinson, ADN |  Read more:
Image: Bob Hallinen

The Perfect Poop

It’s the middle of the day for Eric, a 24-year-old research assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and nature is calling.

Eric leaves his job and hops a train. Then a bus. Then he walks some more. He passes countless toilets, and he needs to use them, but he doesn’t.

Eventually, Eric arrives at a nondescript men’s room 30 minutes away from MIT. A partition separates two toilets. There’s a square-tiled floor like in any public restroom. It’s unremarkable in every way, with one exception: A pit stop here can save lives.

Eric hangs a plastic collection bucket down inside the toilet bowl and does his business. When he’s finished, he puts a lid on the container, bags it up and walks his stool a few doors down the hall to OpenBiome, a small laboratory northwest of Boston that has developed a way to turn poop from extremely healthy people into medicine for really sick patients.

A lab technician weighs Eric’s “sample.” Over the past 2½ months, Eric has generated 10.6 pounds of poop over 29 visits, enough feces to produce 133 treatments for patients suffering from Clostridium difficile, an infection that kills 15,000 Americans a year and sickens half a million.

To donate, Eric had to pass a 109-point clinical assessment. There is a laundry list of factors that would disqualify a donor: obesity, illicit drug use, antibiotic use, travel to regions with high risk of contracting diseases, even recent tattoos. His stools and blood also had to clear a battery of laboratory screenings to make sure he didn’t have any infections.

After all that screening, only 3% of prospective donors are healthy enough to give. “I had no idea,” he says about his poop. “It turns out that it’s fairly close to perfect.”

And that, unlike most people’s poop, makes Eric’s worth money. OpenBiome pays its 22 active donors $40 per sample. They’re encouraged to donate often, every day if they can. Eric has earned about $1,000.

“It takes us a lot of time and effort to find these donors,” says OpenBiome’s research director, Mark Smith. “When we do find them, we want to keep them as engaged as possible and really want to compensate them for their time.”

Why is Eric’s poop so valuable?

A hundred trillion bacteria live inside your gut, some good, some bad. When patients take antibiotics for infections, sometimes they fail to work; good bacteria gets killed off while bad bacteria — C. difficile — grows unchecked.

The life-saving bacteria from the guts of people like Eric can help. When their healthy microbes are placed inside the intestines of a sick person they can chase out harmful C. difficile bacteria. It’s called a fecal transplant. The treatments are administered bottom-up, through a colonoscopy, or top-down, through a tube in the nose.

OpenBiome’s poop donors have created about 5,000 treatments, and the organization says the results have been stunning. Stinky human waste is an astonishingly simple cure: 90% of the patients get better.

“They’ll actually have this really transformational experience where they’ll be going to the bathroom 20 times a day and then have normal bowel movements sort of immediately or the next day,” Smith says.

The organization’s fecal transplants cost $385 to purchase and are providing a treatment to more than 350 hospitals in 47 states.

by CNN Wire |  Read more:
Image: Andrea Levy, The Plain Dealer

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Salvador DaliThe First Day of Spring 1923

Friday, August 28, 2015

Chanel sunglasses from the 90’s

Cancer Cells Programmed Back to Normal

Cancer cells programmed back to normal by US scientists

Scientists have turned cancerous cells back to normal by switching back on the process which stops normal cells from replicating too quickly
Image: Wellcome Collection

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keith Richards on ‘Crosseyed Heart’

[ed. I want that guitar.]

Sometime around 2011, Keith Richards was ready to retire from his life in rock ’n’ roll. Approaching half a century with the Rolling Stones, he had done it all. “I know what luck is. I’ve had a lot,” he reflected in an interview this month.

He’s the archetypal rock guitarist: the genius wastrel, the unimpeachable riff-maker, the architect of a band sound emulated worldwide, the survivor of every excess. Onstage, he is at once a flamboyant figure and a private one, locked in a one-on-one dance with his guitar, working new variations into every song. “I never play the same thing twice,” he said. “I can’t remember what I played before anyway.”

With the Stones in “hibernation” after a tour that ended in 2007, Mr. Richards took two and a half years “immersed in my life twice” to write (with James Fox) a best-selling memoir, “Life,” that re-examined his many sessions, tours, trysts, addictions, mishaps, arrests and accomplishments. After “Life” was published in 2010, he was enjoying being a family man and a grandfather. Retirement was a real possibility.

“I thought, that’s the craziest thing I ever heard,” said Steve Jordan, Mr. Richards’s longtime co-producer and drummer on his solo projects. “He felt comfortable with where he was and what he had done and what he had achieved. But knowing Keith, to not have him pick up an instrument and play, it was weird. When you’re a musician, you don’t retire. You play up until you can’t breathe.”

Mr. Jordan nudged Mr. Richards in a different direction: back into the recording studio to make his first solo album in 23 years, “Crosseyed Heart” (Republic), to be released Sept. 18. “I realized I hadn’t been in the studio since 2004 with the Stones,” Mr. Richards said. “I thought: ‘This is a bit strange. Something in my life is missing.’”

It’s a straightforwardly old-fashioned, rootsy album that could have appeared 20 years ago. The instruments are hand-played, the vocals are scratchy growls, and the songs revisit Mr. Richards’s favorite idioms — blues, country, reggae, Stonesy rock — for some scrappy storytelling. The album was recorded on analog tape. “I love to see those little wheels go around,” Mr. Richards said.

Eased onto a couch at his manager’s downtown Manhattan office, surrounded by merchandise from this year’s Rolling Stones tour and memorabilia dating back decades, Mr. Richards, 71, alternated between a Marlboro and a drink. He was wearing an ensemble only he could pull off: a striped seersucker jacket over a black T-shirt decorated with a Captain America shield, black corduroy jeans and silvery-patterned running shoes. A woven headband in Rastafarian red, gold and green held back his luxuriantly unkempt gray hair. A silver skull ring was, as usual, on his right hand as a reminder, he has said, that “beauty’s only skin deep.”

In a conversation punctuated by his wheezy, conspiratorial growl of a laugh, he was a man at ease with himself as a rock elder. “It’s all a matter of perspective and which end of the telescope you’re looking at,” he said.

“Nobody wants to croak, but nobody wants to get old,” he said. “When the Stones started, we were 18, 19, 20, and the idea of being 30 was absolutely horrendous. Forget about it! And then suddenly you’re 40, and oh, they’re in it for the long haul. So you need to readjust, and of course kids happen and grandchildren, and then you start to see the pattern unfolding. If you make it, it’s fantastic.”

by Jon Pareles, NY Times | Read more:
Image: J. Rose/NetflixCrediJ. Rose/Netflix

How Cities Can Beat the Heat

The greenhouses that sprawl across the coastline of southeastern Spain are so bright that they gleam in satellite photos. Since the 1970s, farmers have been expanding this patchwork of buildings in Almería province to grow produce such as tomatoes, peppers and watermelons for export. To keep the plants from overheating in the summer, they paint the roofs with white lime to reflect the sunlight.

That does more than just cool the crops. Over the past 30 years, the surrounding region has warmed by 1 °C, but the average air temperature in the greenhouse area has dropped by 0.7 °C.

It's an effect that cities around the world would like to mimic. As Earth's climate changes over the coming decades, global warming will hit metropolitan areas especially hard because their buildings and pavements readily absorb sunlight and raise local temperatures, a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. Cities, as a result, stand a greater chance of extreme hot spells that can kill. “Heat-related deaths in the United States outpace—over the last 30 years—all other types of mortality from extreme weather causes,” says Kim Knowlton, a health scientist at Columbia University in New York. “This is not an issue that is going away.”

Some cities hope to stave off that sizzling future. Many are planting trees and building parks, but they have focused the most attention on rooftops—vast areas of unused space that absorb heat from the Sun. In 2009, Toronto, Canada, became the first city in North America to adopt a green-roof policy. It requires new buildings above a certain size to be topped with plants in the hope that they will retain storm water and keep temperatures down. Los Angeles, California, mandated in 2014 that new and renovated homes install 'cool roofs' made of light-coloured materials that reflect sunlight. A French law approved in March calls for the rooftops of new buildings in commercial zones to be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

But the rush to act is speeding ahead of the science. Although cool roofs and green roofs can strongly curb temperatures at the tops of buildings, they do not always yield benefits at the street level, and they may trigger unwanted effects, such as reducing rainfall in some places. “There was a notion that the community had reached a conclusion and there was a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Matei Georgescu, a sustainability scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “But that is not the case.”

On top of that, it is unclear whether the limited programmes currently in place will have a measurable effect on temperature—and citizen health—and whether cities will expand their efforts enough to produce results. “If you're just putting green roofs on city hall and schools, it's not going to move the needle,” says Brian Stone Jr, an urban scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

by Hannah Hoag, Nature/Scientific American |  Read more:
Image: Goldmund Lukic ©

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Djuno Tomsni, Lemon Juice, 2012

Americans Are "Fired Up" About First Commercially Available Flamethrowers

Facing possible ban, more Americans are buying new—and legal—$900 flamethrowers

And why would anyone need a handheld flamethrower, you ask? Here are some "ideas" from the Ion Productions' official XM42 website:
  • start your bonfire from across the yard
  • kill the weeds between your cracks in style
  • clearing snow/ice
  • controlled burns/ground-clearing of foliage/agricultural
  • insect control
As Ion goes on to point out (correctly, we might add), there are "endless possibilities for entertainment and utility."

[ed. Is this a great country or what?]

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Romano Cagnoni, (Italian, 1935), British Museum, 1967

Why. Didn't. I Sell.

As the Dow Jones Drops

Let’s review: First, various “emerging economy” exchanges lost value, then China, then Wall Street.

The actual economic contagion started with resource prices. That was driven by reduced demand, primarily from China. Oil prices (only one commodity), already under pressure from moderately increased supply (it was less than boosters make out), were crashed by Saudi Arabia’s decision to increase production rather than cutting it back. There’s plenty of speculation why, the practical result was to trash multiple exchange rates and economies and to encourage everyone to overproduce, breaking OPEC solidarity. I don’t think Saudi Arabia is going to win this bet, whether it was to crush specific countries (Russia, Iran) or to crush American high cost oil production.

During this period we had repeated currency devaluations in an attempt to increase the competitiveness of exports. These devaluations had marginal effect at best, didn’t work at least.

China’s growth had been slowing (thus the reduction in their demand for commodities), they encouraged a stock market bubble as consumers were proving reluctant to continue piling into real-estate. They printed vast amounts of money, at least twenty times as much as Europe, Japan, and the US combined, but exports were no longer leading growth. Regular Chinese and private firms have massive amounts of debt.

To put it simply, China had reached the point where export-led mercantilism was no longer working. They needed to shift to domestic consumer demand. They chose to try and inflate bubbles instead.

Virtually every country in the world was either rolling off a cliff, or struggling to keep their head above water. Most of the South of Europe had never really recovered (Ireland is a partial exception). Latin America was diving, Turkey’s real-estate driven, neo-liberal growth was stalling, India’s “miracle” was always more of a paper tiger than most made out, being concentrated to a minority even as the average number of calories consumed in the country dived.

But this started in China, which is important.

We are now in a situation analogous to the late 19th and early 20th century. America is the global hegemon (as Britain was then), and China is the world’s most important economy (America was then.) China is the global manufacturer. It buys the most resources, which is what most of the world sells, since most countries have given up manufacturing most goods for themselves. It prints the most money, dwarfing America and Europe. Its rich people are driving up real-estate prices all over the globe.

Yes, yes, by some measures the US economy is still “bigger,” but those measures are even more inflated than inflated and bogus Chinese ones. China is the key maker of goods. There are a few other countries that also make goods as the most important (not largest, most important) part of their economy. Everyone else is a commodity producer, a financier, or trying to sell intangibles (intellectual property, whether inventions or fiction or branding).

So what and how China does now matters most, economically. The contagion started in China, spread to emerging economies, money fled to the US and a few other safe havens, China’s economy continued to stall, its stock market fell despite radical attempts to keep it inflated, and that has now come home to New York.

Some are worried this is 1929, but in China. I have been stating for years that the big one would start in China. Whether this is it, we won’t know for a while (just as they did not know in 1929 that it was 1929).

Welcome to the new world. The US and Europe put a LOT of effort into moving as much industrial production as possible to China. China just promised that a very few people would get very rich doing it, and those people made sure it happened. (Look up the profit margins on iPhones.)

I will note that there are still bubbles. Real-estate bubbles (Canada, Britain, a few important US cities, Australia, etc.) and a vast amount of highly leveraged derivatives have been pumped back out since the 2008 crash, since no one actually bothered to regulate or forbid them. And banks and financial companies are now larger and fewer, making the economy and financial markets both more subject to contagion.

The elites learned from 2008 that the important thing to do in a financial crisis is to just print enough money and relax enough accounting rules–extend and pretend. That will be the play again this time if this contagion turns truly serious. I would guess that it will work, sort of: More zombies will be created, they will need higher profits, the real economy will be even more stagnant.

by Ian Welsh |  Read more:
Image: gavatron

Monday, August 24, 2015

Whales Found Dead In ‘Mortality Event’ In Alaska
Image: Dr. Bree Witteveen/Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program

Duke Kahanamoku

Why Salad Is So Overrated

As the world population grows, we have a pressing need to eat better and farm better, and those of us trying to figure out how to do those things have pointed at lots of different foods as problematic. Almonds, for their water use. Corn, for the monoculture. Beef, for its greenhouse gases. In each of those cases, there’s some truth in the finger-pointing, but none of them is a clear-cut villain.

There’s one food, though, that has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.

It’s salad, and here are three main reasons why we need to rethink it.

Salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition. The biggest thing wrong with salads is lettuce, and the biggest thing wrong with lettuce is that it’s a leafy-green waste of resources.

In July, when I wrote a piece defending corn on the calories-per-acre metric, a number of people wrote to tell me I was ignoring nutrition. Which I was. Not because nutrition isn’t important, but because we get all the nutrition we need in a fraction of our recommended daily calories, and filling in the rest of the day’s food is a job for crops like corn. But if you think nutrition is the most important metric, don’t direct your ire at corn. Turn instead to lettuce.

One of the people I heard from about nutrition is organic consultant Charles Benbrook. He and colleague Donald Davis developed a nutrient quality index — a way to rate foods based on how much of 27 nutrients they contain per 100 calories. Four of the five lowest-ranking foods (by serving size) are salad ingredients: cucumbers, radishes, lettuce and celery. (The fifth is eggplant.)

Those foods’ nutritional profile can be partly explained by one simple fact: They’re almost all water. Although water figures prominently in just about every vegetable (the sweet potato, one of the least watery, is 77 percent), those four salad vegetables top the list at 95 to 97 percent water. A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, 4 percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious.

Take collard greens. They are 90 percent water, which still sounds like a lot. But it means that, compared with lettuce, every pound of collard greens contains about twice as much stuff that isn’t water, which, of course, is where the nutrition lives. But you’re also likely to eat much more of them, because you cook them. A large serving of lettuce feels like a bona fide vegetable, but when you saute it (not that I’m recommending that), you’ll see that two cups of romaine cooks down to a bite or two.

The corollary to the nutrition problem is the expense problem. The makings of a green salad — say, a head of lettuce, a cucumber and a bunch of radishes — cost about $3 at my supermarket. For that, I could buy more than two pounds of broccoli, sweet potatoes or just about any frozen vegetable going, any of which would make for a much more nutritious side dish to my roast chicken.

Lettuce is a vehicle to transport refrigerated water from farm to table. When we switch to vegetables that are twice as nutritious — like those collards or tomatoes or green beans — not only do we free up half the acres now growing lettuce, we cut back on the fossil fuels and other resources needed for transport and storage.

by Tamar Haspel, Washington Post | Read more:
Image: T.J. Kirkpatrick

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In Praise of Missing Out: On the Paradoxical Value of Our Unlived Lives

“Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.”

“In the gap between who we wish one day to be and who we are at present, must come pain, anxiety, envy and humiliation,” Alain de Botton wrote in his meditation on Nietzsche and why a fulfilling life requires difficulty. “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not,” Joan Didion wrote in contemplating the value of keeping a notebook. But we are just as well advised, it turns out, to keep on nodding terms with the people we could’ve been, the people we never were, the people who perished in the abyss between our ideal selves and our real selves. So argues psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (public library) — a fascinating read, acutely relevant to our culture so plagued by the fear of missing out that we’ve shorthanded it to “FOMO.”

Phillips — whom I’ve long considered the Carl Jung of our time, and who has written beautifully about such transfixing psychosocial complexities as how kindness became our forbidden pleasure, balance and the requisite excesses of life, and the necessity of boredom — examines the paradoxical relationship between frustration and satisfaction, exploring how our unlived lives illuminate the priorities, values, and desires undergirding the lives we do live.

In a sentiment that calls to mind Parker Palmer’s magnificent commencement address on the wholehearted life“If the unexamined life is not worth living,” he counseled graduates, “it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.”— Phillips writes:
The unexamined life is surely worth living, but is the unlived life worth examining? It seems a strange question until one realizes how much of our so-called mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not. What we fantasize about, what we long for, are the experiences, the things and the people that are absent. It is the absence of what we need that makes us think, that makes us cross and sad. We have to be aware of what is missing in our lives — even if this often obscures both what we already have and what is actually available — because we can survive only if our appetites more or less work for us. Indeed, we have to survive our appetites by making people cooperate with our wanting. We pressurize the world to be there for our benefit. And yet we quickly notice as children — it is, perhaps, the first thing we do notice — that our needs, like our wishes, are always potentially unmet. Because we are always shadowed by the possibility of not getting what we want, we learn, at best, to ironize our wishes — that is, to call our wants wishes: a wish is only a wish until, as we say, it comes true — and, at worst, to hate our needs. But we also learn to live somewhere between the lives we have and the lives we would like.
We refer to them as our unlived lives because somewhere we believe that they were open to us; but for some reason — and we might spend a great deal of our lived lives trying to find and give the reason — they were not possible. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives. Indeed, our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.
Nowhere is this paradox more evident than in how we think of loves that never were — “the one that got away” implies that the getting away was merely a product of probability and had the odds turned out differently, the person who “got away” would have been The One. But Phillips argues this is a larger problem that affects how we think about every aspect of our lives, perhaps most palpably when we peer back on the road not taken from the fixed vantage point of our present destination:
We are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do… We share our lives with the people we have failed to be. 
Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken. The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short, a continual and continuing loss, a sustained and sometimes sustaining rage.
Phillips argues that these unlived lives reveal themselves most obviously in our envy of others, the psychology of which Kierkegaard keenly observed a century and a half earlier, and in the demands we place on our children — an idea that furthers the parallel between Phillips with Jung, for it was the great Swiss psychiatrist who famously asserted that what most shapes children’s developing psychological reality are “the unlived lives of the parents.” But where Jung believed that “the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being,” Phillips suggests that it’s equally important to kindle a light in the darkness of non-being, of never-having-been.

by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Dinner and Deception

It's 4:25 p.m. I make my way through the kitchen, past the prep cooks, up to the locker room on the second floor. Getting dressed takes 10 minutes. That leaves 20 to get “family meal” before the porters break everything down. At 4:55, I’m ready. Lineup is in five minutes — “live at five.” I double-check my uniform, an expensive-looking suit issued by the restaurant, before I join the rest of the wait staff downstairs.

Lineup is our final meeting before service. The managers report on menu changes and our ranking on the world’s top restaurants list. Sometimes they test us. “Where did Chef get his first Michelin star?” “What kind of stone is the floor made of?” But tonight we just taste the new wine. A classic Burgundy: red fruit, rose petal, underripe cherry; med-high acid, soft tannins. It’ll pair well with the pork.

The dining room has four “stations,” each with six or seven tables overseen by a four-person service team — captain, sommelier, server and assistant server. As a captain, I’m in charge of my team. It took me eight months to get promoted to this job; some captains waited for years.

Six food runners also roam the floor, along with three managers. Two expediters — the “expos” — stay in the kitchen to decide when food leaves and where it goes. At most other three-Michelin-star restaurants in New York City, the system is much the same.

Doors open at 5:30. Tonight, the book says 152 covers. About 120 used to be normal, but the owners are opening a new place next month and need cash. So tonight it’s 152. The service director calls this an “opportunity for more guests to experience the restaurant.” But this is spin, and everyone knows it. Thirty-two more covers means we need to turn eight more tables, two more in my section, which means I’ll be taking a cab home at 3 a.m., not 2.

My team is good. Not perfect, good. The sommelier knows his wine, but on busy nights gets buried fast. I can rely on my server. My assistant server is great. Every captain knows that an assistant server can make or break you. “Crumb, clear, water” — that’s all an assistant server technically does, but a good one keeps things moving in your section.

First table gets seated at 5:31. I print and scan the chit, a digital dossier we keep on every guest, new or old. Who are these people? V.I.P.? (“Soigné” is the preferred term.) It’s the first seating, so I know they’re not, but I check anyway. Have they been here before? Do they have a water preference? Food allergies? Likes? Dislikes? Spend big on wine?

I announce my presence on the greet: a flourish, a hand gesture, a pressing of the palms, anything to signal that everyone at the table needs to pay attention, that I’ll be dictating the pace of the experience tonight, not the other way around. “Good evening.” Big smile. “Do you still prefer sparkling water? Or would you like something else this time?” The assistant server stands by the credenza next to the Champagne bucket, waiting. A slight wiggle of my fingers behind my back means bubbles; a slashing motion, still; a twist of the fist, ice water. Like magic, he appears with the correct selection. “May I take a moment to explain the menu?”

Captains compete for the briefest menu spiel possible. The key is to eliminate unnecessary choices; most people just want to be told what to do. At 5:35 I’m back at the table for the order. I memorize every guest’s selection; writing things down would suggest a “transactional” relationship, something I want to avoid. Each guest should feel special. A minute later I dictate the orders to the server, who transcribes and then places them while I stay on the floor.

In an ideal service, the captain never leaves the floor. After that, it’s all about table maintenance until I drop the check with some complimentary cognac in three or five hours, depending on whether they go four-course or tasting. I’ll do this 13 more times tonight.

by Edward Frame, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Owen Freeman

Saturday, August 22, 2015

[ed. What?]

A Simple Fusion Reactor That Could Be Running in 10 years

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) in the US have designed a 6.6-metre-wide fusion reactor that they say could provide electricity to around 100,000 people. Even better, it could be up and running within 10 years, according to their calculations.

For decades, scientists have been trying to find a way to harness nuclear fusion - the reaction that powers stars - because of its ability to produce almost-unlimited energy supplies using little more than seawater, and without emitting greenhouse gasses. But despite many promising designs, finding a way to contain and commercialise the reaction on Earth has proven far more challenging than imagined. In fact it's a long-running joke among scientists that practical nuclear fusion power plants are just 30 years away - and always will be.

But not only does the new MIT design promise to be cheaper and smaller than current reactors, it also provides hope that commercial nuclear fusion reactors could become a reality in our lifetime, with the team explaining that similar devices in size and complexity have taken just five years to build.

"Fusion energy is certain to be the most important source of electricity on Earth in the 22nd century, but we need it much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic global warming," David Kingham, a UK-based nuclear fusion expert who wasn't involved in the research, told David L. Chandler from the MIT news office. "This paper shows a good way to make quicker progress."

To explain it very simply, nuclear fusion relies on fusing hydrogen atoms together at super-high temperatures to release enormous amounts of energy. This is different to the nuclear fission used in nuclear power plants, which is where scientists split atoms to generate electricity - a process that's less stable and also produces large amounts of nuclear waste.

So why aren't we already using nuclear fusion to generate ridiculous amounts of clean energy? Well, that's because the reaction requires heating hydrogen atoms to hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius. And keeping that super-hot plasma together in one place for long enough for the atoms to fuse is a lot harder than it sounds.

by Fiona McDonald, Science Alert |  Read more:
Image: MIT

Are Lawyers Getting Dumber?

Last August, the tens of thousands of answer sheets from the bar exam started to stream into the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The initial results were so glaringly bad that staffers raced to tell their boss, Erica Moeser. In most states, the exam spans two days: The first is devoted to six hours of writing, and the second day brings six hours of multiple-choice questions. The NCBE, a nonprofit in Madison, Wis., creates and scores the multiple-choice part of the test, administered in every state but Louisiana. Those two days of bubble-filling and essay-scribbling are extremely stressful. For people who just spent three years studying the intricacies of the law, with the expectation that their $120,000 in tuition would translate into a bright white-collar future, failure can wreak emotional carnage. It can cost more than $800 to take the exam, and bombing the first time can mean losing a law firm job.

When he saw the abysmal returns, Mark Albanese, director of testing and research at the NCBE, scrambled to check his staff’s work. Once he and Moeser were confident the test had been fairly scored, they began reporting the numbers to state officials, who released their results to the public over the course of several weeks.

In Idaho, bar pass rates dropped 15 percentage points, from 80 percent to 65 percent. In Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, scores dropped 9 percentage points or more. By the time all the states published their numbers, it was clear that the July exam had been a disaster everywhere. Scores on the multiple-choice part of the test registered their largest single-year drop in the four-decade history of the test.

“It was tremendously embarrassing,” says Matt Aksamit, a graduate of Creighton University School of Law, who failed Nebraska’s July bar exam last year. “I think a lot of people can relate to what it’s like to work hard for something and fall short of what you want.” (Aksamit took it again in February and passed.)

Panic swept the bottom half of American law schools, all of which are ranked partly on the basis of their ability to get their graduates into the profession. Moeser sent a letter to law school deans. She outlined future changes to the exam and how to prepare for them. Then she made a hard turn to the July exam. “The group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013,” she wrote. It’s not us, Moeser was essentially saying. It’s you.

by Natalie Kitroeff, Bloomberg | Read more:
Image: Meredith Jenks

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thursday, August 20, 2015

[ed. I'll be taking a short break. Enjoy the archives.]

Tsuneo Sanda (1986)

Love in the Age of Big Data

Once upon a time, in the Pony Expresso cafe in Seattle, a man and a woman began to experience the long-mysterious but increasingly scientifically investigated thing we call love. The first stage is called "limerence." This is the spine-tingling, heart-twisting, can't-stop-staring feeling, when it seems as though the world stops whirling and time itself bows down and pauses before the force of your longing. The man, a then-44-year-old University of Washington research psychologist named John Gottman, was drawn to the woman's wild mane of black curly hair and her creativity: She was an amateur musician and painter as well as a psychologist like himself. The woman, a then-35-year-old named Julie Schwartz, who'd placed a personal ad in the Seattle Weekly that John had answered, was turned on by John's humble little car—voted the ugliest vehicle in the University of Washington faculty parking lot—and his expansive curiosity. He read physics and math and history and kept a little spiral-bound notebook in his pocket that he used to jot down things his companions said that captivated him.

They talked avidly; it felt as if they'd known each other forever. Over the following months they drew closer and closer, proceeding through subsequent stages of building a fulfilling love relationship. John learned about the unhappy home life growing up in Michigan that had driven Julie to spend so much time in the forest by herself, and Julie learned about John's desire to understand deeply earth's biggest mysteries, like the nature of time. Although they were afraid—they'd both been divorced before—they confided their admiration for each other, John's for the courage Julie showed in her therapy practice by helping the “sickest of the sickest,” schizophrenics and Vietnam veterans on Skid Row, and Julie's for John's absurdist sense of humor. They kayaked together. They joined a synagogue. They married and had a daughter, fulfilling one of John's longtime dreams, and bought a house on a forested island three hours north of Seattle, fulfilling a dream of Julie's. They fought. They attended couples therapy. Through their conflict they came to love each other more.

Twenty-nine years after that first date, John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman stood on a black stage in a ballroom of the Seattle Sheraton in front of about 250 other couples, young and old, straight and gay. The intense intimacy of their relationship was on full display: They finished each other's sentences, bantered with each other and talked candidly about how their struggles had made them stronger. Julie wept. John held Julie, caressing her hair. The rest of us, seated in chairs that had been hooked together in sets of twos, watched them with yearning.

We'd come to see the Gottmans because the pair has spent the last 20 years refining a science-based method to build a beautiful love partnership yourself. They reveal it over a two-day, $750-per-pair workshop called "The Art and Science of Love." “It turns out Tolstoy was wrong," John told the crowd in an opening lecture. "All happy relationships are similar and all unhappy relationships are also similar. … Is there a secret? It turns out, empirically, yes, there is a secret."

by Eve Fairbanks, Huffington Post |  Read more:
Image: Jun Cen

Plain White T-Shirts, Ranked

In case you momentarily forgot which website you were reading, let me say right here up at the top that I am not a textile expert. I’m actually not even particularly fashionable. To me, obsessing about fashion is silly. There are better things to obsess about, such as the optimal marinade for skirt steak. The fact that I’m not qualified to opine about fashion, however, makes me absolutely well qualified to opine on something that symbolizes its opposite: the white T-shirt.

The white T-shirt is my kind of garment. It is utilitarian by design. Extensive research has taught me that its origin dates back to the Spanish-American War, when the Navy issued them as part of the standard uniform. “The word T-shirt became part of American English by the 1920s,” says a website I read. This makes it even better: Not only is the white T the garment of choice for those of us who despise having to choose garments, but it’s also quintessentially American.

In Amazon, there are 2.6 million results that come up when you search “Men’s White T-Shirt,” and while those get pretty interesting pretty fast (“Konflic NWT Men’s Giant Cross Graphic Designer MMA Muscle T-shirt”), reviewing all of them would take more time and effort than anyone has. Here, along with my research assistant (pictured at left), I’ve done my best to compile a range of recognizable brands at various price points, with some curveballs thrown in as well, because if you’re going to write about white T-shirts, you need to buy at least one of the outlandishly expensive ones, just to see how the other half lives. And actually, since that particular shirt is far and away the worst garment of the 14 brands I tried, we might as well just start there. Here is the definitive ranking of white T-shirts, from worst to best, with at-press-time prices from Amazon, plus a few from the brands’ sites themselves.

14. Hanro of Switzerland’s Cotton Superior

Price: $70 for a single damn shirt

These guys have one of those websites where everything is in black and white and the sexless models stare back at you like failed AI experiments (which actually sums up the Swiss in general, I’ve found). The shirt itself is made from a blend of cotton and “elastane” (aka spandex) and stretches like a pair of pantyhose. You’re not supposed to put it in the dryer. Now, I believe that if a T-shirt makes you feel like $70 worth of awesome when you wear it, then go right ahead and spend that money (you overpaid social-media marketing whiz, you). This shirt, however, makes me feel like a robot’s penis sheathed in a polymer condom. Knowing that there are people are out there actually wearing this somehow makes me feel both superior and inferior at the same time.

13. Levi’s 200 Series Cotton V-Neck

Price: $29.50 for a two-pack

I had high hopes for Levi’s. I have at least two pairs of their 511 jeans in heavy rotation at all times, and a lot of their flannels and jackets are the male equivalent of yoga pants, in that they’re basically designed like pajamas you can wear outside. But this “reengineered” V-neck blows. It’s not soft, it rides up in the armpits, and there’s an obnoxious square of red stitching sewn into the lower-right flank. White T-shirts should be white, period—no branding, no subtle flourish that whispers, “Dude, check it out, I’m wearing Levi’s.” Even the Swiss Robot Condom people know better.

by Garrett Kamps, Adequate Man |  Read more:
Image: Jim Cooke

Welcome To Larry Ellison’s Cat Island

“They’re the island’s cats,” Kathy Carroll says as I literally trip over Shelby, a gray tabby who won’t stop rubbing my leg. We’re standing among 399 formerly stray and feral cats in a 15,000-square-foot, open-air enclosure on a sparse hillside that slopes down toward the cliffs above Kaumalapau Harbor on Lana’i, Hawaii’s sixth-largest island. In 2012, as Jon Mooallem reported for the New York Times Magazine, Oracle founder, billionaire playboy, and Marvel movie cameo Larry Ellison bought this patch of red dirt — along with about 97% of the island and everything on it, nearly everything except the airstrip, the harbor, the public school, some playing fields, and a few private homes — for a price reportedly between $300 and $600 million.

Like a cat, an island is a funny thing to own. But Ellison is far from the first person to have this much control over the well-being and employment of the people who made their homes on Lana’i. The island has, at times, served as King Kamehameha I’s favorite fishing village, ranch lands for a cattle company, a pineapple plantation for what eventually became Dole foods, and a quaint resort town in service of two Four Seasons hotels.

Lana’i has the sort of worn-in, authentic-feeling vibe that would make developers in the Florida Keys or North Carolina’s Outer Banks flip out. In Lana’i City, the 3,100-resident town that serves as the island’s commercial and cultural center, nearly every one of the single-story, plantation-style houses has a porch. You can tell who’s a tourist because they all drive the same late-model Jeep Wrangler rented from the local gas station. Down on the beach at Hulopo’e, next to the pristine luau grounds at the Four Seasons, there’s a boarded-up snack bar where packs of local teens like to vape. There are two golf courses and no stoplights. There’s a pizza place with a bar in the back and a bustling takeout business.

And there are cats, hundreds and hundreds of them — many in the sanctuary, many still roaming free around the island. They, like the deer and sheep that still attract hunters to Lana’i today, were originally brought here for someone’s amusement, before they were eventually abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Mooallem was concerned with how Ellison would take care of an island that has a long history of booms and busts at the hands of foreign entrepreneurs. I want to know who’s taking care of all these cats.

by Andrew Dalton, Buzzfeed |  Read more:
Image: Andrew Dalton

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

[ed. Man, it's hot.]

Ad Blockers and the Nuisance at the Heart of the Modern Web

The great philosopher Homer Simpson once memorably described alcohol as “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Internet advertising is a bit like that — the funder of and terrible nuisance baked into everything you do online.

Advertising sustains pretty much all the content you enjoy on the web, not least this very newspaper and its handsome, charming technology columnist; as I’ve argued before, many of the world’s most useful technologies may never have come about without online advertising. But at the same time, ads and the vast, hidden, data-sucking machinery that they depend on to track and profile you are routinely the most terrible thing about the Internet.

Now, more and more web users are escaping the daily bombardment of online advertising by installing an ad blocker. This simple, free software lets you roam the web without encountering any ads that shunt themselves between you and the content you want to read or watch. With an ad blocker, your web browser will generally run faster, you’ll waste less bandwidth downloading ads, and you’ll suffer fewer annoyances when navigating the Internet. You’ll wonder why everyone else in the world doesn’t turn to the dark side.

Well, everyone may be catching on. Ad blocking has been around for years, but adoption is now rising steeply, at a pace that some in the ad industry say could prove catastrophic for the economic structure underlying the web. That has spurred a debate about the ethic of ad blocking. Some publishers and advertisers say ad blocking violates the implicit contract that girds the Internet — the idea that in return for free content, we all tolerate a constant barrage of ads.

But in the long run, there could be a hidden benefit to blocking ads for advertisers and publishers: Ad blockers could end up saving the ad industry from its worst excesses. If blocking becomes widespread, the ad industry will be pushed to produce ads that are simpler, less invasive, and are far more transparent about the way they’re handling our data — or risk getting blocked forever if they fail.

“It’s clear to us that the ads ecosystem is broken,” said Ben Williams, a spokesman for Eyeo, the German company that makes Adblock Plus, the most popular ad-blocking software. “What we need is a sea change in the industry to get to a place where we have a good amount of better ads out there, ads that users accept.”

The industry may not have much time to wait. In a report last week, Adobe and PageFair, an Irish start-up that tracks ad-blocking, estimated that blockers will cost publishers nearly $22 billion in revenue this year. Nearly 200 million people worldwide regularly block ads, the report said, and the number is growing fast, increasing 41 percent globally in the last year.

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

David Crosby

Writers and Their Favorite Tools

In seventh grade, I started hanging out with a girl who wore thick, dark eyeliner and convinced me to shoplift. We’d walk to Main Street after school. One of my favorite shops was the office supply store—no surprise to anyone who knew my nerdy self. I spent a long time in front of the pens, trying each one out on the Post-It notes on display. I’d uncap a Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen (turquoise ink) and write SMILE! with a Super S, one of those strange blocky S’s that was popular in the 1990s. One day, my friend encouraged me to just stuff a bunch of pens into the pocket of my monogrammed eggplant-purple L.L. Bean bag. I caved to peer pressure, but immediately regretted it. It was too late. The cashier noticed.

“Give the pens back immediately, and we won’t call the police.”

Panicking, I unzipped my bag and grabbed the fistful of stolen loot, dropping them on the counter in one guilty gesture.

As a teenager, I got a job at Staples. I’ve always loved office supplies. I have fond memories of going back-to-school shopping with my mother, picking out a Lisa Frank trapper keeper, a planner (maybe this would be the year I’d finally get organized!), journals with college-ruled lines so I could write tiny, bold letters with my Bic mechanical pencils, which I coveted even though the thin lead constantly broke.

Nowadays, I sometimes write by hand in my Moleskine journals with the same pens I obsessively used throughout high school and college: Pilot P-700 Rollerball Stick Gel Pens, preferably in blue or purple.

I am not alone in my intense relationship to the tools of the writing trade, so I thought I’d ask some writers I deeply admire about their favorite pens and pencils. The first person who came to mind was Mary Norris, author of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen and a copy editor for The New Yorker.

“I have a lot of nerve, as a non-artist, being so precious about pencils,” Norris says. “But when I copy-edit with Blackwings I think of something a friend’s mother once said as she bought underwear for her daughter who was going off to nursing school: ‘As long as you have to wear that uniform, you might as well feel fancy underneath.’”

by Michele Filgate, Literary Hub | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Was the Ashley Madison Database Leaked?

[ed. What's more concerning to me (other than a bunch of adulterers being outed) is that businesses such as Netflix are using tools like Scumbler to scour the web, presumably to enforce copyright, defamation and other corporate interests. Scary.]

Many news sites and blogs are reporting that the data stolen last month from 37 million users of — a site that facilitates cheating and extramarital affairs — has finally been posted online for the world to see. In the past 48 hours, several huge dumps of data claiming to be the actual AshleyMadison database have turned up online. But there are precious few details in them that would allow one to verify these claims, and the company itself says it so far sees no indication that the files are legitimate.

Update, 11:52 p.m. ET: I’ve now spoken with three vouched sources who all have reported finding their information and last four digits of their credit card numbers in the leaked database. Also, it occurs to me that it’s been almost exactly 30 days since the original hack. Finally, all of the accounts created at for prior to the original breach appear to be in the leaked data set as well. I’m sure there are millions of AshleyMadison users who wish it weren’t so, but there is every indication this dump is the real deal.

Original story:

A huge trove of data nearly 10 gigabytes in size was dumped onto the Deep Web and onto various Torrent file-sharing services over the past 48 hours. According to a story at, included in the files are names, addresses and phone numbers apparently attached to AshleyMadison member profiles, along with credit card data and transaction information. Links to the files were preceded by a text file message titled “Time’s Up” (see screenshot below).

From taking in much of the media coverage of this leak so far — for example, from the aforementioned Wired piece or from the story at security blogger Graham Cluley’s site — readers would most likely conclude that this latest collection of leaked data is legitimate. But after an interview this evening with Raja Bhatia — AshleyMadison’s original founding chief technology officer — I came away with a different perspective.

Bhatia said he has teamed up with an international team of roughly a dozen investigators working seven days a week, 24-hours a day just to keep up with all of the fake data dumps claiming to be the stolen AshleyMadison database that was referenced by the original hackers on July 19. Bhatia said his team sees no signs that this latest dump is legitimate.

“On a daily basis, we’re seeing 30 to 80 different claimed dumps come online, and most of these dumps are entirely fake and being used by other organizations to capture the attention that’s been built up through this release,” Bhatia said. “In total we’ve looked at over 100GB of data that’s been put out there. For example, I just now got a text message from our analysis team in Israel saying that the last dump they saw was 15 gigabytes. We’re still going through that, but for the most part it looks illegitimate and many of the files aren’t even readable.”

The former AshleyMadison CTO, who’s been consulting for the company ever since news of the hack broke last month, said many of the fake data dumps the company has examined to date include some or all of the files from the original July 19 release. But the rest of the information, he said, is always a mix of data taken from other hacked sources — not

“The overwhelming amount of data released in the last three weeks is fake data,” he said. “But we’re taking every release seriously and looking at each piece of data and trying to analyze the source and the veracity of the data.”

Bhatia said the format of the fake leaks has been changing constantly over the last few weeks.

“Originally, it was being posted through and, and now we’re seeing files going out over torrents, the Dark Web, and TOR-based URLs,” he said.

To help locate new troves of data claiming to be the files stolen from AshleyMadison, the company’s forensics team has been using a tool that Netflix released last year called Scumblr, which scours high-profile sites for specific terms and data. (...)

I should be clear that I have no idea whether this dump is in fact real; I’m only reporting what I have been able to observe so far. I have certainly seen many people I know on Twitter saying they’ve downloaded the files and found data from friends who’d acknowledged being members of the site.

Nearly every day since I first reported the exclusive story of the Ashley Madison hack on July 19, I’ve received desperate and sad emails from readers who were or are AshleyMadison users and who wanted to know if the data would ever be leaked, or if I could somehow locate their information in any documents leaked so far. Unfortunately, aside from what I’ve reported here and in my original story last month, I don’t have any special knowledge or insight into this attack.

by Brian Krebs, Krebs on Security |  Read more:
Image: Unknown

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Robert Suermondt, Sortie (Exit)

Could the FDIC Seize Bank Deposits During a Crisis?

As we noted last week, one of the biggest problems for the Central Banks is actual physical cash.

The financial system is predominantly comprised of digital money. Actual physical Dollars bills and coins only amount to $1.36 trillion. This is only a little over 10% of the $10 trillion sitting in bank accounts. And it’s a tiny fraction of the $20 trillion in stocks, $38 trillion in bonds and $58 trillion in credit instruments floating around the system.

Suffice to say, if a significant percentage of people ever actually moved their money into physical cash, it could very quickly become a systemic problem.

Indeed, this is precisely what caused the 2008 meltdown, when nearly 24% of the assets in Money Market funds were liquidated in the course of four weeks. The ensuing liquidity crush nearly imploded the system.

Because of this, Central Banks and the regulators have declared a War on Cash in an effort to stop people trying to get their money out of the system.

One policy they are considering is to put a carry tax on physical cash meaning that your Dollar bills would gradually depreciate once they were taken out of the bank. Another idea is to do away with actual physical cash completely.

Perhaps the most concerning is the fact that should a “systemically important” financial entity go bust, any deposits above $250,000 located therein could be converted to equity… at which point if the company’s shares, your wealth evaporates.

Indeed, the FDIC published a paper proposing precisely this back in December 2012. Below are some excerpts worth your attention.
This paper focuses on the application of “top-down” resolution strategies that involve a single resolution authority applying its powers to the top of a financial group, that is, at the parent company level. The paper discusses how such a top-down strategy could be implemented for a U.S. or a U.K. financial group in a cross-border context… 
These strategies have been designed to enable large and complex cross- border firms to be resolved without threatening financial stability and without putting public funds at risk… 
An efficient path for returning the sound operations of the G-SIFI to the private sector would be provided by exchanging or converting a sufficient amount of the unsecured debt from the original creditors of the failed company into equity. In the U.S., the new equity would become capital in one or more newly formed operating entities. 
…Insured depositors themselves would remain unaffected. Uninsured deposits would be treated in line with other similarly ranked liabilities in the resolution process, with the expectation that they might be written down. (ed.
In other words… any liability at the bank is in danger of being written-down should the bank fail. And guess what? Deposits are considered liabilities according to US Banking Law. In this legal framework, depositors are creditors.

So… if a large bank fails in the US, your deposits at this bank would either be “written-down” (read: disappear) or converted into equity or stock shares in the company. And once they are converted to equity you are a shareholder not a depositor… so you are no longer insured by the FDIC.

So if the bank then fails (meaning its shares fall)… so does your deposit.

by Phoenix Capital Research, Zero Hedge | Read more:
Image: Rick Wilking