Sunday, December 31, 2017

Karlie Goya

[ed. As regular readers may have surmised, I've rededicated myself to learning the ukulele. I think I've got this song down but thought I'd share the wonderful Karlie Goya's interpretation.]  

Right to Repair

Apple reported earlier this month that a software update deliberately degraded performance of older iPhones, ostensibly to prevent unexpected shutdowns as the device’s battery ages, without warning users (see this post by Yves, Quelle Surprise! Apple Rips Off Owners of Older iPhones, for further details).

Faced with a throttled iPhone– and having no clue as to why the device had slowed down– many consumers undoubtedly opted to pony up for a new device, when a simple battery replacement would have made the old phone work as before. This outcome is no doubt a feature of the Apple policy, not a bug, although in an apologia posted Thursday, the company denied that was the case. Well, they would now, wouldn’t they?

Not only does this crapification goose Apple’s profits, it also contributes to the waste crisis that threatens to bury us in plastics and ewaste, as I discussed in this previous post, Plastic Free July: What YOU Can Do to Reduce Plastics Waste.

Unsurprisingly, several lawsuits have been filed against the company, according to Reuters, in federal district courts in California, Illinois, and New York, as well as Israel. Seems to me that the company does have a bit of a case to answer here– but I’ll admit I’ve not read any of the filings, and I’ll not delve into any legal issues in this post.

Botched Battery Replacements?

Apple initially responded by botching the rollout of a program to allow customers to get a replacement battery for iPhones 6 or later. Customers could get a new battery for $29, rather than the $79 usually charged, but would have to wait until the end of January to qualify for that discount, according to CNN. The $50 discount will expire at the end of 2018. Customers must bring their iPhones into an Apple store, or mail them in for service.

On Saturday, Apple announced that the discount would be available immediately but an Apple spokesperson hinted, somewhat ominously, that further holdups might be expected, according to CNN:
“We expected to need more time to be ready, but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away. Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited,” said an Apple spokesperson in a statement.
iFixit has further picked up on this point, noting in Apple apologizes, but continues to fight against Right to Repair:
There are hundreds of millions of iPhones that need new batteries, but Apple’s only got 499 retail stores. Keeping all those iPhones operational is going to take a village — DIYers, independent pro repair shops, and of course Apple’s service centers.
For those who don’t want to wait– or have older iPhones not covered by the Apple battery discount– there is an alternative. iFixit has slashed the price of its battery replacement kits to match Apple’s $29:
In fact, $29 sounds like a pretty good price. Effective immediately, we’re cutting the prices on all of our DIY battery install kits to $29 or less as well. The kits include all the tools you need to open up and swap your own battery. We also have options for the iPhone 4S, 5, 5s and 5c — which are excluded from Apple’s new program.
Now, on the one hand, it’s a bit of a drag having to open up the device and replace the battery. That burden’s offset, however, by not having to stand in line at an Apple store, or surrender your phone, while you wait to have it repaired. To me, one definition of hell would be having to get anywhere near a big city Apple store during the holiday shopping period (and the returns hangover).

It seems I’m not the only one who thinks that way, as iFixit has noticed a jump in demand for its DIY alternative:
In the last week, we’ve seen an incredible 3x increase in people using iFixit to replace their batteries. Installing a new battery has a big impact, and makes your phone feel good as new. Millions of people — most with no prior electronics experience — have learned how to repair their iPhone. Just this month, 171,221 people have used our iPhone 6 battery install guide. Across all iPhone models, 509,867 people have learned how to replace their battery this month.
Right to Repair

What’s been bad for Apple has been good for iFixit. So I’m not surprised they’ve taken Rahm Emanuel’s advice not to let a crisis got to waste and are proselytizing on behalf of a right to repair:
This incident underscores the importance of maintenance and repair of electronics. Unfortunately, Apple has been leading the fight against Right to Repair legislation. That legislation would, not coincidentally, require Apple sell batteries directly to consumers and third party repair shops. 
This public outcry, and the hard work of journalists around the world, has caused Apple to blink. That’s great, but their proposed fix is only temporary. Battery prices are going back up in a year, and Apple still won’t sell OEM batteries to independent shops. That needs to change.
It’s important to note that while Apple is improving their battery replacement program, every single Android phone manufacturer also refuses to sell consumers integrated batteries or other internal repair parts. 
Twelve states are considering Right to Repair legislation. Manufacturers are not acting in the public’s best interest, and it’s time for that to change.
I’ve written about this issue before in Waste Not, Want Not: Right to Repair Laws on Agenda in Some States. I’m not very optimistic about the short-term prospects for these initiatives. But Apple’s battery screw-up will no doubt prod further pressure for change, particularly if significant bottlenecks develop in its battery replacement program.

by Jerri-Lynn Scofield, Naked Capitalism | Read more:
Image: iFixit

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hiroshi Yoshida (Japanese, 1876-1950), Winter in Taguchi

photo: markk

Why Champagne and Fried Chicken Are Perfect Together

There is no bad time to drink Champagne, of course. It just so happens that New Year’s Eve is a particularly good time to do it. This is a universal truth that needs no undoing. The only question becomes: What do you want to eat with it? This year, that answer should be a big bucket of fried chicken. In fact, there may be no better marriage on earth than the one that exists between fried chicken and Champagne, the ultimate symbiosis of grease and acid.

When Champagnes are made, they go through a process called autolysis, during which the wine spends time in contact with the lees. The French phrase is sur lie, which is a beautiful way of saying the wine was aged on the dead yeast that’s leftover after fermentation ends. The liquid in each bottle eventually takes on the flavors of that yeast — which is to say, the bready, toasty, briochey notes that come through when you smell and taste good Champagne.

Those bread flavors just so happen to align perfectly with the crunchy, golden goodness of nicely fried chicken. In fact, as a Kentucky native, I’d go so far as to say that the Colonel’s Original Recipe is the chicken you want to try. The spice blend is packed with savory, umami-driven pleasures, Champagne’s natural acidity plays very well with chicken grease, and the wine’s bubbles amplify the crunchy effects of the skin and coating.

As for which Champagne to get, look for Brut Multi-Vintage (Brut meaning dry, and Multi-Vintage meaning a blend of grapes from different years). This is the style every Champagne house hangs their hat on, and because it makes up a majority of their production, it’s easy to find. They’re designed to taste the same year after year, so you can always expect a consistent bottle.

Alas, they’re also consistently expensive. Luckily, there are some non-Champagne sparkling options that work well, too — just know that not all sparkling wine is the same. You’ll want to look for wines that have been made in the Méthode Traditionelle, which is the same technique used to produce Champagne, minus the famous region. It’s a process of fermenting wine in the very same bottle that you drink it from, which is crucially important to getting that bright acidity, bready character and mineral finish that make Champagne so distinctive. (Prosecco, for example, is fermented through a different method, and produces an entirely different style of bubbly.)

by Vanessa Price, Grubstreet |  Read more:
Image: The Ellaphant In The Room
[ed. I wish champagne were 80 proof.]

What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical.

It’s hard for me to understand how the Democratic Party, which once felt scepticism towards the intelligence agencies, can now embrace the CIA and the FBI as sources of incontrovertible truth. One possible explanation is that Trump’s election has created a permanent emergency in the liberal imagination, based on the belief that the threat he poses is unique and unprecedented. It’s true that Trump’s menace is viscerally real. But the menace posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was equally real. The damage done by Bush and Cheney – who ravaged the Middle East, legitimated torture and expanded unconstitutional executive power – was truly unprecedented, and probably permanent. Trump does pose an unprecedented threat to undocumented immigrants and Muslim travellers, whose protection is urgent and necessary. But on most issues he is a standard issue Republican. He is perfectly at home with Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda, which involves enormous transfers of wealth to the most privileged Americans. He is as committed as any other Republican to repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act. During the campaign he posed as an apostate on free trade and an opponent of overseas military intervention, but now that he is in office his free trade views are shifting unpredictably and his foreign policy team is composed of generals with impeccable interventionist credentials.

Trump is committed to continuing his predecessors’ lavish funding of the already bloated Defence Department, and his Fortress America is a blustering, undisciplined version of Madeleine Albright’s ‘indispensable nation’. Both Trump and Albright assume that the United States should be able to do as it pleases in the international arena: Trump because it’s the greatest country in the world, Albright because it’s an exceptional force for global good. Nor is there anything unprecedented about Trump’s desire for détente with Russia, which until at least 2012 was the official position of the Democratic Party. What is unprecedented about Trump is his offensive style: contemptuous, bullying, inarticulate, and yet perfectly pitched to appeal to the anger and anxiety of his target audience. His excess has licensed overt racism and proud misogyny among some of his supporters. This is cause for denunciation, but I am less persuaded that it justifies the anti-Russian mania.

Besides Trump’s supposed uniqueness, there are two other assumptions behind the furore in Washington: the first is that the Russian hack unquestionably occurred, and the second is that the Russians are our implacable enemies. The second provides the emotional charge for the first. Both seem to me problematic. With respect to the first, the hacking charges are unproved and may well remain so. Edward Snowden and others familiar with the NSA say that if long-distance hacking had taken place the agency would have monitored it and could detail its existence without compromising their secret sources and methods. In September, Snowden told Der Spiegel that the NSA ‘probably knows quite well who the invaders were’. And yet ‘it has not presented any evidence, although I suspect it exists. The question is: why not? … I suspect it discovered other attackers in the systems, maybe there were six or seven groups at work.’ The NSA’s capacity to follow hacking to its source is a matter of public record. When the agency investigated pervasive and successful Chinese hacking into US military and defence industry installations, it was able to trace the hacks to the building where they originated, a People’s Liberation Army facility in Shanghai. That information was published in the New York Times but, this time, the NSA’s failure to provide evidence has gone curiously unremarked. When The Intercept published a story about the NSA’s alleged discovery that Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into US state and local election systems, the agency’s undocumented assertions about the Russian origins of the hack were allowed to stand as unchallenged fact and quickly became treated as such in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. (...)

The consequence is a spreading confusion that envelops everything. Epistemological nihilism looms, but some people and institutions have more power than others to define what constitutes an agreed-on reality. To say this is to risk dismissal as the ultimate wing-nut in the lexicon of contemporary Washington: the conspiracy theorist. Still, the fact remains: sometimes powerful people arrange to promote ideas that benefit their common interests. Whether we call this hegemony, conspiracy or merely special privilege hardly matters. What does matter is the power to create what Gramsci called the ‘common sense’ of an entire society. Even if much of that society is indifferent to or suspicious of the official common sense, it still becomes embedded among the tacit assumptions that set the boundaries of ‘responsible opinion’. So the Democratic establishment (along with a few Republicans) and the major media outlets have made ‘Russian meddling’ the common sense of the current moment. What kind of cultural work does this common sense do? What are the consequences of the spectacle the media call (with characteristic originality) ‘Russiagate’?

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters. (...)

We can gauge the corrosive impact of the Democrats’ fixation on Russia by asking what they aren’t talking about when they talk about Russian hacking. For a start, they aren’t talking about interference of other sorts in the election, such as the Republican Party’s many means of disenfranchising minority voters. Nor are they talking about the trillion dollar defence budget that pre-empts the possibility of single-payer healthcare and other urgently needed social programmes; nor about the modernisation of the American nuclear arsenal which Obama began and Trump plans to accelerate, and which raises the risk of the ultimate environmental calamity, nuclear war – a threat made more serious than it has been in decades by America’s combative stance towards Russia. The prospect of impeaching Trump and removing him from office by convicting him of collusion with Russia has created an atmosphere of almost giddy anticipation among leading Democrats, allowing them to forget that the rest of the Republican Party is composed of many politicians far more skilful in Washington’s ways than their president will ever be.

by Jackson Lears, London Review of Books |  Read more:
Image: Plxabay
[ed. See also: Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent]

Sneaker Pimps

[ed. See also: Tesko Suicide]

What Sounds Better To You-- Guaranteed Basic Income Or Federal Job Guarantee

“A job guarantee,” wrote Paul, Darity and Hamilton, “is not a new idea. It has been part of the American conversation at least since populist governor Huey Long put forth his Share Our Wealth Plan. In 1934, he argued that the United States should use public works to ensure “everybody [is] employed.” These calls were echoed by politicians from Roosevelt in his Economic Bill of Rights to George McGovern during his 1972 presidential bid. Martin Luther King also stumped for a job guarantee, demanding immediate ‘employment for everyone in need of a job.’ He saw ‘a guaranteed annual income at levels that sustain life and decent circumstances’ as the second-best option. Here are five reasons to agree with him.”

1- A Job Guarantee Means Fewer Poor Americans

A job guarantee would reduce poverty more quickly and provide more benefits than a UBI. To ensure a sufficient income, we argue for a FJG that would pay a minimum annual wage of at least $23,000 (the poverty line for a family of four), rising to a mean of $32,500. This would eliminate the “working poor” for full-time working households. In addition to the wage, workers in the FJG program would receive health insurance and pension benefits in line with those that all civil servants and elected federal officials receive.

In comparison, many of the UBI proposals promise around $10,000 annually to every citizen (for an example, see Charles Murray’s proposal here). On the one hand, this plan would break the link between employment and money. But it does so at half the rate that would be available under the FJG, not even considering lifesaving benefits like health insurance.

2- The Robots Haven’t Taken Over Yet. We Still Need Workers.

The dangers of imminent full automation are overstated: there is little evidence that companies are largely replacing human workers with robots. As Dean Baker explains,
If technology were rapidly displacing workers then productivity growth-- the rate of increase in the value of goods and services produced in an hour of work-- should be very high, because machines are more efficient. In the last decade, however, productivity growth has risen at a sluggish 1.4 percent annual rate. In the last two years it has limped along at a pace of less than 1 percent annually. By comparison, in the post–World War II “Golden Age,” from 1947 to 1973, productivity grew at an annual rate of almost 3 percent.
No doubt, stable and high-paid employment opportunities are dwindling, but we shouldn’t blame the robots. Workers aren’t being replaced by automatons; they are being replaced with other workers— ones lower-paid and more precariously employed. Nevertheless, technology, and globalization, have struck fear into American workers.

Not because they are by nature a raw deal, but because the balance of forces over the last few decades has been skewed so dramatically in the favor of capital. Technology, nor globalization, need have negative employment effects on workers-- but they certainly can. It’s time to get the rules right, and ensure workers are provided the dignity of a job. A federal job program would solve the real problem, while UBI would simply treat a side effect.

3- A FJG Could Build An Inclusive Economy.

Conventional wisdom holds s that people dislike work. Introductory economics classes will explain the disutility of labor, which is a direct trade-off with leisure. Granted, employment isn’t always fun, and many forms of employment are dangerous and exploitative. But the UBI misses the way in which employment structurally empowers workers at the point of production and has by its own merits positive dimensions.

This touches on a heated debate on the Left. But for now, there is no doubt that people want jobs, but they want good jobs that provide flexibility and opportunity. They want to contribute, to have a purpose, to participate in the economy and, most importantly, in society. Nevertheless, the private sector continues to leave millions without work, even during supposed “strong” economic times.

The workplace is social, a place where we spend a great deal of our time interacting with others. In addition to the stress associated with limited resources, the loneliness that plagues many unemployed workers can exacerbate mental health problems. Employment-- especially employment that provides added social benefits like communal coffee breaks-- adds to workers’ well-being and productivity. A federal job guarantee can provide workers with socially beneficial employment-- providing the dignity of a job to all that seek it.

The FJG would also act as a de facto wage floor-- private employers will have to offer wages and benefits at least as enticing as the federal government to attract workers. There has been extensive public support for recent increases in the minimum wage, such as the Fight for $15 campaign, demonstrating that most Americans believe workers deserve a living wage. Fighting for a higher minimum wage is an important step to ensure that workers are compensated a living wage rather than a poverty wage, yet let us not forget that the effective minimum wage in this country without a UBI or a job guarantee is $0. This must change.

Finally, some argue that a “skills mismatch” explains why some workers remain unemployed. While we reject that narrative, a well-designed FJG will nevertheless include a training element to build workers’ skills and a jobs ladder to create upward mobility in the workplace.

All of these elements will build an inclusive economy that provides good jobs for all. The UBI, in contrast, could subsidize bad jobs-- allowing low minimum wages and lack of benefits to persist.

4- Federal Jobs Could Provide Socially Useful Goods And Services.

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were public employment programs designed to put Americans back to work after the national unemployment rate reached 25 percent. These programs, implemented under the Roosevelt administration, provided socially beneficial goods and services that benefited all Americans. Some of our national parks-- Zion, Glacier, and Shenandoah-- received substantial work contributions from employees of the federal jobs programs. The Blue Ridge Parkway was a federally funded and staffed infrastructure program.

A new federal job guarantee could undertake similarly bold and much-needed public-works projects.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D+ in infrastructure and prices necessary repairs at $3.6 trillion. This lack of investment has lowered employment rates, cost businesses sales, and reduced incomes for American families. Make no mistake, these are government choices. They could choose instead to hire unemployed workers to repair bridges, maintain roadways, and update power grids.

Likewise, Bill McKibben just called for us to “declare war” against climate change. With climate change being perhaps the largest threat to our well-being, bold action is needed. The job guarantee program would create the capacity to do just that. Professor Robert Pollin of the Political Economy Research Institute calls for scaling up the transition to a green economy, which would create millions of new jobs along the way. He and his colleagues estimate what a Green New Deal would look like, and find that a transition to a green economy would amount to an estimated $200 billion in investment annually, resulting in a drop in “US emission by 40 percent within 20 years, while creating a net increase of 2.7 million jobs.” In part, this is due to the labor-intensive nature of energy efficiency and other “green” investments.

Additional services, when combined with a FJG, would save average American households thousands, if not tens of thousands, a year. According to the Economic Policy Institute, for example, tuition-free and universal child care and education-- staffed by FJG workers-- would trim an average of $22,631 annually from families’ budgets in expensive places such as DC while saving households in places like Arkansas a more modest $5,995 on average.

To be sure, a UBI would free up time to volunteer, to care for sick relatives, or to start small businesses. Additionally, the UBI would finally provide greater financial freedom to those that choose to stay at home and engage in care work-- disproportionately provided by women. However, the FJG has the ability to provide high quality services, such as child care and elder care, that would greatly reduce the care burden, providing more choice while building on the current social safety net.

by Howie Klein, Down With Tyranny |  Read more:
Image: uncredited
[ed. See also: The New Poverty and The Ultimate Currency.]

Friday, December 29, 2017

A ‘Wheel Estate’ Boom is Coming

The cost of housing is so outrageous in California that stories that might once have seemed preposterous now seem completely unsurprising. Case in point: In a scene straight out of a dystopian movie about a ravaged future Earth, homeless people set up an encampment at a toxic Superfund industrial site in Oxnard, saying they had nowhere else to go.

Media coverage of the extreme cost of housing in the Golden State has focused on how it has increased homelessness and poverty, led more people to move to cheaper states and made it difficult for school districts, governments and private employers in the costliest areas to find workers. But there has been little focus on what our future ultimately will look like. This mess isn’t going to be solved by building “affordable housing” — at least as long as it’s of the expensive sort traditionally seen in California. Nor is it going to be solved by offering slight regulatory relief such as the state Legislature recently enacted to encourage housing construction.

Here’s my confident prediction about how this problem will be dealt with by a growing number of Californians — not the destitute homeless, but single people with both low-paying and middle-income jobs. They’re going to decide to live in their cars, trucks, vans, campers and recreational vehicles — and once this demand is clear, automakers will start building more vehicles designed to be lived in, entrepreneurs will sell kits to convert existing vehicles into more comfortable homes and businesses will emerge that cater to vehicle dwellers’ needs.

In an era in which the cost of shelter consumes at least half the income of millions of California households, it’s going to dawn on a lot of people that instead of finding perfect roommates and living paycheck to paycheck, it will be easier just to get a roomy sports-utility vehicle from GMC (dubbed “Grand Man Caves” by the Complex website), add a drop-down TV screen and a small satellite dish and think of that $700 monthly vehicle loan payment as the equivalent of rent — with the bonus that after a few years, you’ll no longer have to pay rent. You’ll own your vehicle-home. Yeah, you’ll also have to pay $79.99 a month to use the showers at 24 Hour Fitness, but that beats $1,500 or so a month for your share of the rent — without counting the cost of utilities.

When iPhones came out a decade ago and supercharged the smartphone era, it didn’t take long for companies to figure out there were billions to be made off iPhone accessories. When conventional politics completely fails to address a giant problem, an unconventional response is certainly possible. And when a group that’s disproportionately hurt by California’s housing crisis — millennials — already have a reputation for being less materialistic and less conformist, why wouldn’t they look for alternative housing?

Jessica Bruder, author of a new book called “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” says employed people living in their vehicles have become more prevalent in the U.S. since the Great Recession. This is from a book excerpt in The Guardian, a London newspaper:

During three years of research for my book ... I spent time with hundreds of people who had arrived at the same answer. They gave up traditional housing and moved into “wheel estate”: RVs, travel trailers, vans, pickup campers, even a salvaged Prius and other sedans. For many, sacrificing some material comforts had allowed them to survive, while reclaiming a small measure of freedom and autonomy. (...)

What’s striking in California is that many communities already accept people living in vehicles, despite there often being rules or laws against it. This fall, the city of San Diego expanded its Safe Parking Program, which designates lots that can be used by those living out of their cars, and many other cities have similar programs. Under a law passed last year, Los Angeles also allows overnight parking in some commercial districts. In Mountain View, the mayor brags about the services his city provides to those living in more than 330 cars, trucks and RVs.

So long as vehicle dwellers aren’t in residential areas, the NIMBY attitudes that have helped spur California’s housing shortage seem to be relatively in check. And given the many huge parking lots that are empty overnight, capacity is not going to be a problem if living in vehicles becomes a California phenomenon — at least if owners of those lots have a compassionate streak or can monetize this use of their property.

by Chris Reed, San Diego Union-Tribune |  Read more:
Image: Damian Dovarganes/AP via
[ed. This is important. Not just in California.]

Surveying the Ruins of Merkelism

Power? Politicians in Germany don't seem to want it. The Free Democrats (FDP) already ran away from it and the Social Democrats (SPD) have been fussing over it for weeks. What's wrong with these politicians? Isn't power supposed to be the ultimate aphrodisiac? People used to say that birds would fly strangely before natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. The same seems to apply to some politicians. They sense that something is about to happen -- something big -- the end of the Merkel era. As a result, they are behaving differently than usual.

It could still be awhile before Angela Merkel cedes power, but it's clear that we've entered the late phase of Merkelism. This form of governance has been dominant in Germany for the past 12 years. It places consensus, quiet and stability above all else. That's why the leaders of Merkelism do all they can to avoid disputes and appease the voter. Merkelism's natural habitat is the political center, where the desire for societal consensus is greatest precisely because the center believes it is the embodiment of consensus. No attention is paid to the political periphery. Backbone is optional and political policies are fluid -- and can even be borrowed from political opponents.

Germany, to be sure, has profited from Merkelism. The country skated elegantly through the global financial crisis and the economy prospered. Nonetheless, Merkel was never able to bring herself to undertake major reforms because doing so would have riled people up and put an end to the stifling quiet. Unfortunately, democracy has also decayed a bit because strife is its lifeblood -- the competition between different positions. The darkest symptom of this type of governance was the desire for lower voter turnout because Merkel's party, the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), was thought to profit from it.

Now Merkelism is in a state of crisis because two important prerequisites are no longer being filled. For one, it requires a societal climate in which broad consensus is possible. And, by its very nature, it also requires that Merkel be strong.

For many years, a fundamental consensus held in Germany. Merkel's concept of sedation worked by and large -- and not even the greatest crisis of her time, the global financial crisis, could divide the country. But that peace finally came to an end due to the 2015 refugee crisis -- a conflict that landed the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in parliament, divided Merkel's Christian Democrats, distanced the Free Democrats from the Greens and drove a wedge between the center-left Social Democrats and parts of the conservatives. That divide now runs right through the political center and a broad periphery has emerged on the right with which no consensus is possible.

Indeed, the great irony of our time is that Merkelism slid into crisis because it violated its own principles. The chancellor actually dared to take a stand on the refugee issue and it unsettled part of the country.

by Dirk Kurbjuweit, Der Spiegel |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Fanny Hagdahl Sörebo

Kōrin Furuya, Shin bijutsukai, 1902

I, Too, Am Thinking About Me, Too

Sarah Silverman recently made a video in which she described the painful conflict she was feeling about her good friend of 25 years, Louis CK. Watch it and you will see cognitive dissonance in action: on the one hand, she loves and admires the man, and values their long friendship. On the other hand, she detests and condemns the exhibitionist sexual behavior that he acknowledged. Many of the people watching this video wanted her to reduce that dissonance by jumping one way or the other: disavow their friendship, or trivialize his behavior. In this brave embrace of her emotional conflict and their friendship, she did neither.

Our whole country is living in a constant state of hyper-dissonance: “my political candidate/my most admired actor/a brilliant artist/my dear friend has been accused of sexual abuses and misconduct; how do I cope with this information? Do I support him/see his movies/enjoy his art/keep the friendship or must I repudiate him entirely?” Living with dissonance and complexity is not easy, but surely skeptics, of all people, must try. We hear a story that outrages us and, just like true believers and justice warriors of any kind, we’re off and running, and once we are off and running we don’t want to hear quibbles, caveats, doubts, complexities. Thus, when the Guardian (Dec. 17, 2017) reported Matt Damon’s remarks that there was “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation. Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated,” Minnie Driver blasted him: it’s not for men to make distinctions; “there is no hierarchy of abuse”; men should just shut up for once. “If good men like Matt Damon are thinking like that then we’re in a lot of fucking trouble,” she said. “We need good intelligent men to say this is all bad across the board, condemn it all and start again.”

No hierarchy of abuse? Really? That is one of the universal symptoms of revolutionary zealotry: go for broke, ignore gradations of villainy, who cares if some innocents are thrown over the side, we are furious and we want everything at once. No wonder those of us in the boring older generation, who have lived through cycles of anger and protest, are so annoying. “Wait!” we keep saying. “Be careful! Remember the stupidity of ‘zero tolerance’ programs in schools, where a kid who brings a pocket knife for show-and- tell, or a 6-year-old boy who kisses a 6-year-old girl, got expelled?” We have also learned that while there is a time and place for revolutionary zealotry, the hardest challenge comes next, because change will not be accomplished without allies. (...)

Whenever a movement is fueled by rage and revenge, it is more important than ever to tolerate complexity and ask questions that evoke dissonance. We can all imagine the ways in which “Me, too” might benefit women, but how might it backfire? Because it will. Moralistic crusades to censor “sexist” pornography, for example, led to suppression of lesbian books, sex-ed books, and plain old sexypleasure books that someone thought offensive. What might be the consequences of a moralistic crusade to root out any behavior that might be misconstrued—now, next week, in 10 years—including affectionate touches, supportive hugs, jokes? Do professional women really want a Mike Pence world where they cannot have a business dinner or go to a party without a chaperone? When feminists find themselves in bed with right-wing puritans, they are going to get screwed.

What, exactly, are the goals here? The answer is clear in the case of hotel housekeepers, fast-food workers, and immigrant women who are routinely subjected to disgusting sexual harassment and who rarely have recourse to protect themselves from the powerful men who feel entitled to abuse them; in the case of women who enter formerly male-only occupations (tech, science, the military), where hostile harassment and rape are weapons to convey “you don’t belong here; get out.” The answer is always clear when the goal is to bring down some bad guys and protect the powerless.

But the goals of “me, too” seem eerily non-political, other than “bring down the patriarchy and by the way let me tell you about me.” For the vast majority of women in their personal and professional lives, where the complexities of sexuality abound, surely another goal is to become more assertive and clear about their wishes. If women seek true sexual equality, they have to do some hard thinking about their own behavior. As Laura Kipnis observes in Unwanted Advances, when did “empowerment” for women come to mean filing an assault claim months after a drunken night rather than developing the ability to say to the guy, “take your fucking hand off my knee”? 

by Carol Tavris, Skeptic |  Read more:
Image: Getty

All the Money in the World: The Enigma of J. Paul Getty

When David Scarpa heard that a producer wanted to make a movie about the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, the teenage grandson and namesake of the oil tycoon, the screenwriter wasn’t sure there would be enough content for a feature-length film.

“I said, ‘Well, you’ve got the whole business with the ear, but you can’t base an entire movie on that,” Scarpa told Vanity Fair, recalling the kidnapping’s grisly, most-remembered detail—how Italian captors sliced off the ear of the teenager while he was held hostage.

It was only after Scarpa learned that J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world at the time—worth approximately $2 billion—and still refused to pay his grandson’s ransom of $17 million that the screenwriter became interested and wrote the script that became Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, which opens on Christmas Day.

“It became a story about money and the power that money has over people in my mind,” said Scarpa. “And not just the power that money has over poor people, or ordinary people, but the power money has over the people you think would be most free from it.”

By 1973, the five-times-divorced Getty (played in the film by Christopher Plummer, who replaced Kevin Spacey in a much-publicized story of actor-swapping) was spending most of his time in his 16th-century manor house, Sutton Place, in England, isolated from the four sons he rotated in and out of his will at whim. He was driven to accrue his fortune out of the deep-seated desire to disprove his late father, who expected him to destroy the family business. As Getty’s bank account grew, though, so did his obsession and paranoia. By the time his grandson was kidnapped, Getty had hired his own security team, stationed Alsatian dogs around his estate, and famously installed a coin-operated pay phone in the mansion for guests to use.

“This was happening against the backdrop of the oil crisis of 1973, when the price of oil skyrocketed to the point where Getty’s profits daily would’ve been enough to pay the ransom,” pointed out Scarpa. “Yet the wealthier he became, the more dependent he became on money, like an addict. This idea of that gnawing insecurity never really going away seemed like an interesting jumping off point for kind a Shakespearean drama.”

Getty’s relationship with his fortune was tested, in extreme circumstances, when Italian kidnappers demanded $17 million in exchange for the safe return of his grandson Paul. John Pearson’s 1995 book, Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty—on which Scott’s film is based—details the magnate’s flimsy family ties at this point in his life. Getty was not speaking to his son and Paul’s father—John Paul Getty Jr., who had squandered his own business opportunities, divorced Paul’s mother, Gail (played by Michelle Williams), and was sliding in and out of drug addiction. The elder Getty disapproved of the bohemian lifestyle of his teenage grandson—who had become a minor celebrity in Rome because of his surname—and suspected that the kidnapping was a hoax concocted by Paul to extract money from him. Though Getty would not return frantic phone calls from Paul’s mother, he did speak to the press, explaining why he would not pay the ransom: “I have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” (...)

Paul’s mother, Gail, could not get through to Getty. Paul’s father, John, haunted by his own demons and unable to return to Italy for complicated reasons, would not call Getty on the grounds that he was not speaking to his father. Five weeks into the kidnapping, Getty’s only gesture of goodwill was sending former C.I.A. agent J. Fletcher Chase (played in the film by Mark Wahlberg) to Rome to help Gail. Chase, who believed, along with Italian police, that the kidnapping was a hoax, only affirmed his employer’s suspicions. Gail, without the money to pay her son’s ransom, and not in a position of power for anyone to take her seriously, was left helpless.

“Interestingly, the F.B.I. agent I spoke to while researching, who worked on the case, was actually sympathetic to Getty,” said Scarpa. “At the time this was very much a man’s world, so the men, be it Getty or Chase, felt that this was no place for a woman. Today we would assume, if a woman’s child got kidnapped, she would be in charge in a sense. Yet at the time the attitude was, ‘Well, you can’t possibly involve a woman in all this business, right?’ ”

All Gail could do was wait for phone calls from one of the kidnappers, “Cinquanta,” who found himself, ironically, sometimes pleading on Paul’s behalf.

“Who is this so-called grandfather?” Cinquanta told Gail, according to Pearsons’s book. “How can he leave his own flesh and blood in the plight that your poor son is in. Here is the richest man in America, and you tell me he refuses to find just 10 miliardi for his grandson’s safety. Signora, you take me for a fool.”

Though the idea of a kidnapper actually protecting his hostage—as Cinquanta does in the film—sounds like a fictional flourish, it was not.

“He can’t even conceive the world of these wealthy Americans . . . It’s like, how can you have all this money, and yet the money is more important to you than your kid, and he finds himself sympathizing with the kid,” said Scarpa. “Cinquanta eventually found himself negotiating kind of on Gail’s behalf with the kidnappers.

by Julie Miller, Vanity Fair |  Read more:
Image: Fabio Lovino

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Food Lab: Japanese-Style Tempura

Tempura-style batters were originally brought to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century.* Since then, tempura has been perfected to a near art form by Japanese chefs. At the best tempura houses in Japan, all of your courses will be cooked by a single tempura chef who spent years in apprenticeship before ever being allowed to touch the batter or fry oil.

* The word tempura itself comes from the Portuguese, as do many other Japanese words. According to Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, tempora means "period of time" and refers to the fasting seasons during which fried fish was consumed in place of meat. These days, the word refers to any battered and fried item cooked in the manner of tempura fish, much like Americans have their "chicken-fried steak"—steak cooked in the manner of fried chicken.

Tempura chefs are sort of like the Jedi of the cooking world: They must deftly perform with the utmost skill and precision, using extremely dangerous tools, all while maintaining a calm, serene demeanor. It is an elegant technique, from a more civilized time. The bad news is that you, I, and the vast majority of people in the world are never going to become as great as the masters who spend their entire lives training. But the good news is that we can get about 90% of the way there right off the bat.

The key characteristics of a tempura-style batter are extreme lightness of color and texture: Good tempura should be pale blond with an extraordinarily lacy, light, and crisp coating. To achieve this takes just a little more care than other types of batter. Traditional tempura batter is made by combining flour (usually a mix of wheat flour and lower-protein-rice flour—I use wheat flour and cornstarch instead) with eggs and ice-cold water. The batter is mixed until just barely combined so that plenty of pockets of dry flour remain and virtually no gluten development occurs. A tempura batter has a lifespan of only moments before the flour becomes too saturated with water and a fresh batter must be made. But there are ways we can improve on this fickleness, so long as we aren't married to tradition.

First off, using the old vodka-in-the-batter trick (which by now you may be sick of) works very well, limiting the rate of gluten formation so that the batter can sit a bit longer before it goes bad. So does replacing the ice water with club soda, a trick I learned from my old chef Ken Oringer, at Clio Restaurant in Boston. But the real key is in the process: Rather than simply dumping the dry and wet ingredients into a bowl and whisking them together, I found that by adding the wet ingredients to the dry, then immediately lifting up the bowl and shaking it with one hand while simultaneously rapidly stirring with a pair of chopsticks, I could get all of the ingredients incorporated while minimizing the amount of flour that is completely moistened by the liquid.

Recipe: Tempura Vegetables and/or Shrimp

by J. Kenji López-Alt, Serious Eats | Read more:
Image: J. Kenji López-Alt

Lady Gaga and the Economics of Las Vegas Residencies

The race to lock down Las Vegas’ highest-paying residency is heating up with Lady Gaga announcing a two-year engagement at the MGM Park Theater. According to two well-placed sources, Gaga is guaranteed just over a million dollars per show, and is committed to 74 appearances. Should all go well with ticket sales, she could extend that run, inching closer to the $100 million mark, a new — and record — threshold for the city and for even the biggest of current pop artists. Gaga stands to earn even more on merchandise sales — typically a 50/50 split with the venue — and VIP offerings.

The price tag for a superstar artist’s residency has been inching up steadily in the post-recession years and as more and more acts, both contemporary (like Bruno Mars, also performing a run of shows at the MGM Park Theater, and Pitbull) and heritage (Cher), nostalgic (Backstreet Boys) and somewhere in between (Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears), plant semi-permanent roots in the desert outpost.

It’s a rite of passage that goes back to the days of Elvis Presley and Dean Martin, the hottest acts of their respective days, but one that eventually gave way to those whose careers were careening to a halt. Which is why in recent decades Las Vegas was viewed more as a destination for also-rans — where a musician goes to die, was a common crack. Not so any more.

“Years ago, artists would put up their noses if I mentioned the thought of a Vegas residency,” says Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich, who has helmed Celine Dion’s Vegas production at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum and, with Raj Kapoor, also produced Mariah Carey’s Colosseum residency and John Fogerty’s Wynn residency. “Honestly, Celine changed all that in one fell swoop and now everyone wants in. I think acts are reacting to the rigors of the road, the uncertainty of fickle audiences today, and the advantages of being in one place for a defined period of time. Frankly, I’d love to do Gaga there… We’ve had some great moments with her over the years and she’s an absolutely perfect act for Las Vegas.”

But industry insiders contend that the Gaga numbers don’t add up in a way that makes financial sense for MGM Resorts, the hotel and casino giant with a current valuation of over $30 billion. “At the very high range, an act might clear $500,000,” says one representative of major music artists who’s familiar with the economics of Vegas residencies. “And that’s at a complete sell-out.” Whether the act draws people to the hotel’s and casino’s bars and restaurants doesn’t get factored into such a talent buy. Rather, it’s a matter of ticket pricing and being able to offer a more affordable tier — or not. At the reported Gaga rate, that means a seat in the 5,200-capacity theater would cost the ticket buyer at least $200 just to clear Gaga’s take-home, a steep price, her production value notwithstanding. (...)

The music stars who offer the biggest bang for a host hotel’s buck in Las Vegas? Dance music DJs like Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Avicii. Paydays for top names in EDM can add up to $400,000 per night, on the high end, but that’s without the expensive set-up of a pop star’s show. “One guy and a laptop,” cracks the insider. “It’s like printing money.”

by Shirley Halperin, Variety |  Read more:
Image: AP/Darron Cummings

Sheena Liam


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Truth about Pulp Fiction and Ezekiel 25:17

Of the 50+ postings I’ve made on, the runaway most-read post remains the “Top 5 Most Misquoted, Misused, and Misunderstood Bible Verses.”

Given the preoccupation with misused Bible verses, I want share what I find to be, by far, one of the most intriguing, and perhaps unrealized, modern misquotations of the Bible. In a 2004 poll, Samuel L. Jackson’s misquotation of Ezekiel 25:17, in Pulp Fiction, was voted the fourth best movie speech of all time.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the scene. Jackson says,
“Do you read the Bible, Brett? Well there’s this passage I’ve got memorized – sort of fits this occasion. Ezekiel 25:17.”
Then Jackson goes on to deliver what appears to be a tremendously dramatic Bible exhortation:
“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
*The following video contains violent content not suitable for all viewers.

The thing is, the quotation above is not at all a proper rendering of Ezekiel 25:17. The actual verse reads as follows:
Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
Sure Jackson’s quote finishes along the same lines as the Bible verse, but the preceding lines in Pulp Fiction’s rendition appear nowhere in the Bible, and certainly not in Ezekiel chapter 25. Additionally, there are a couple of theological inconsistencies present in the Pulp Fiction monologue. Admittedly, Quentin Tarantino, the writer and director of Pulp Fiction, dreamed up this quotation as a re-imagining of several Biblical themes, and reworked them as a monologue that he believed best expressed the drama intended for the movie scene.

Pretty much all of the themes Jackson’s passage incorporates are found in different places in the Bible, but they are all re-workings, not true to the original text. The portion of the monologue about the tyranny of evil men is inspired by Ezekiel 34. The portion about the valley of darkness refers to King David’s words in Psalm 23, and the portion about being one’s brother’s keeper refers to the first human death, occurring in Genesis 4, in which Cain, after murdering his brother, asks the LORD, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

It should be noted that this post is neither an endorsement of Tarantino’s re-rendering the Bible, nor of the movie Pulp Fiction as a theological guide. I would hope that much would be obvious. But, what I do find most interesting, and want to point out, is that often over-looked in this incredibly popular film is the salvation story of Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules Winnfield. Toward the end of the movie the savage bounty hunter experiences what clearly seems to resemble the effectual calling of the LORD.

Winnfield, who seemed to have always had a passing fascination with the way the words of the Bible sounded (rather than what they actually meant), comes to confess that in the context of (his rendition of) Ezekiel 25:17, he has always been “the tyranny of evil men.” But by divine revelation (or as he called it, “a moment of clarity”) he has come to the realization that he must denounce his wicked ways and strive to ”be the shepherd.” Jules Winnfield has experienced what Ezekiel 36:26-27 tell us is a regeneration of the heart.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
*The following video contains language not suitable for all viewers.

As the end of the movie nears, this enlightened Jules Winnfield, rather than kill a man that he previously would have, says this about (his rendering of) Ezekiel 25:17:
“Now… I been sayin’ that *** for years. And if you ever heard it, that meant your ***. You’d be dead right now. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was a cold-blooded thing to say to a ***** before I popped a cap in his ***. But I saw some **** this mornin’ made me think twice. […] See, now I’m thinking it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. And I’d like that. But that **** ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”
And for that reason, rather than kill Ringo, Jules shares this brief testimony and gives Ringo his wallet (which Ringo was trying to steal). In doing so he begins the process of repentance, turning from his prior way of life.

Lost in the melee of the artistic brilliance and grunge that Pulp Fiction truly is, lies a beautiful, realistic, and moving depiction of God’s sovereign grace in the redemption of lost men.

by Chad Hussey, Truth by Grace |  Read more:
Image: Pulp Fiction
[ed. I suppose one can read whatever they like into the Bible or Koran or Torah. Even Tolkien's Silmarillion. Still, this is an interesting and welcome interpretation of a movie classic from a different perspective.]

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Toko Shinoda


The Difficulty is the Point

I’ve recently finished marking 40-odd exams, mostly written by people between the ages of 18 and 21. In them our students had to answer questions about aspects of literature, such as free indirect speech or genre. They also had to write an essay of 1,000 words, on the work of Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Judith Wright, Jack Davis or Tim Winton.

My students are, for the most part, education students who live in regional Australia. If they get their degree, they are bound for early childhood centres, preschools, primary schools, high schools. These are our new teachers. (...)

I find myself pausing here, to wonder why I am writing this essay. I have two burning concerns: one is to give readers an insight into what it is currently like to teach at an Australian university. To satisfy this concern I want to tell you about semesters and classes shortened to save money on teaching; on passing incapable students simply to keep quotas up; on teaching students for whom attendance at university is no longer a necessary part of gaining a degree. This loops back to the idea of the university as business. Asking universities to stop making it easy for students to gain entrance, and making it easy for them to pass, is like asking Coca-Cola to slow down its sales. The logic of capitalism overrides everything.

The second concern is more abstract. I want to tell you about what it is like to teach literature to habituated non-readers, and why it is worth it.

Possibly the single most important component of English One is compulsory attendance. Again, if you have little to do with tertiary education you may not know this: that most universities no longer make attendance at tutorials and lectures compulsory. At other universities and in other subjects I have had to pass students who have attended no classes at all. Not distance or online students: internal students who live not far from campus. Some non-attendees do not learn enough to pass their subject; their non-attendance bites them on the arse, we fail them, everyone moves on. But many are able to access just enough information about the course to pass. And no one can say a word about the fact that they never came to class.

Spoon-fed, I hear you say? Don’t make me laugh. This is a feast of force-feeding, a Roman orgy of information and assistance, with students helpless and lolling while academics assist them in opening their mouths so the food can be tipped in, and then hold their jaws and help them masticate until it goes down. We keep asking ourselves why this generation are so anxious. They are anxious because nobody lets them do things alone: we intervene before they have had a chance to try, let alone succeed or fail. They never get to feel the limits, or the limitlessness, of their real selves.

But in English One, students are only allowed to miss two classes without a documented explanation. Not only that, but if they don’t pass the subject – they are allowed two attempts at this – they cannot take their literacy test, and they cannot receive their degree. I can’t tell you the difference this makes in a classroom. As a teacher, you feel traction: you feel as though you are doing something worthwhile. These students need you, and they must learn what you have to teach.

The first assignment in English One is called a Reading Reflection. It asks students to write about their reading habits: how often they read, what they read, what they feel they take from their reading.

What have our students been reading before they come to our class? Some – a very few, and almost always women – have read 19th century classics: the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens. Some – a very few, and almost always men – have read 20th century science fiction (Asimov and his ilk), and some of the Beats and their offspring: Kerouac, Bukowski, Burroughs.

The next and much larger group have read The Hunger Games, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, some or all of the Harry Potter series, and a lot of autobiographies, either by sportsmen (the men) or by women who have been held in dungeons for years by rapists (the women).

The final group, about the same size as the group of Hunger Games readers, read their and their friends’ Facebook pages, their own news feed, and the occasional copy of a women’s or a men’s magazine. None, unless they have been made to by their high school English teacher, has read anything by an Australian author.

The first time I taught Monkey Grip in English One I was struck by two things. First, by how many of my students were offended by it. They found it too sexually explicit, too full of “profanity”, and they deplored Norah’s method of parenting: the shared household, the children exposed to drug taking and other radical behaviours.

The second thing that struck me was how difficult my students found the 10-page extract. They didn’t know who Helen Garner was, the 1970s were too far away to mean anything to them, and they couldn’t locate themselves in the story. They didn’t know who was speaking, and who she was speaking to. How old was she, where was she, what was happening?

Here is the book’s opening sentence:
In the old brown house on the corner, a mile from the middle of the city, we ate bacon for breakfast every morning of our lives.
If you are reading this essay, you’re a reader. You probably know this sentence, and if you don’t, you are comfortable with interpreting it. You can hear a character beginning to form: its romantic, optimistic, nostalgic voice; a voice yearning for simplicity; probably, in its deliberate imitation of a child’s singsong, the voice of a woman, a mother. You know it might take a few pages to learn just who this woman is. You’re skilled in this sort of patience.

But if you have never read anything more difficult than a Harry Potter book, how are you meant to proceed?

by Tegan Bennett Daylight, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: uncredited

Amid Sales Drop, Harley-Davidson Wants to Teach More People to Ride

Harley-Davidson is placing a renewed emphasis on teaching people to ride as part of its efforts to attract more customers.

The Milwaukee-based company's decision to expand the number of dealerships with a Harley "Riding Academy" comes as the industry grapples with years of declining sales and an aging customer base.

The program launched in 2000 with about 50 locations and now 245 dealerships in the U.S. offer the three- or four-day course. The company says about a quarter of those launched since 2014.

Harley sold 124,777 new motorcycles through nine months in 2017, down from 135,581 during the same period the previous year, according to the company's most recent earnings report.

The Motorcycle Industry Council says the median age of motorcycle owners increased from 32 to 47 since 1990. About 46 percent of riders are over 50; only about 10 percent are 30-34.

Samantha Kay rode on the back of her father's motorcycle growing up, but when the 25-year-old took a class to ride for the first time she couldn't help being anxious.

"I think motorcycles inherently do scare a lot of people," said Kay, a Milwaukee woman who is one of 50,000 people nationwide who took a riding course at a Harley-Davidson dealership this year.

The training is one of the ways Harley is trying to attract a new generation of riders like Kay amid big demographic shifts.

"Some of the aging Baby Boomers, which have been the guts of Harley-Davidson's purchasers, they're getting older and some of them are just getting out of the sport because they can't handle the motorcycle anymore," said Clyde Fessler, who retired from Harley-Davidson in 2002 after holding several executive positions over 25 years. He created what became the "Riding Academy."

He said the idea "is getting people comfortable on a motorcycle and getting them to feel safe and confident."

In addition to riders getting older, a slow economic recovery has made it harder for millennials to buy new motorcycles, said Jim Williams, vice president of the American Motorcyclist Association.

Among the newest models, a 2018 Softail Slim starts at $15,899 and a 2018 Sportster Forty-Eight at $11,299.

"The younger generations are buying plenty of motorcycles, they're just not new," Williams said.

But it's not all the millennials' fault, said Robert Pandya, who managed public relations for Indian Motorcycles and Victory Motorcycles. Pandya recently launched "Give A Shift," a volunteer group discussing ideas to promote motorcycling. One of their conclusions, he said, is the idea that "if mom rides, the kids will ride."

Currently, women are about 14 percent of the riding population, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

"The biggest possible opportunity in motorcycling is to invite more women to ride," he said.

by Ivan Moreno, AP |  Read more:
Image: AP
[ed. Yeah, blame it on boomers, millennials - and women; just my opinion, but Harley's troubles go way beyond those easy targets. I keep seeing articles like this every couple of years. Maybe it's as simple as this: no one wants to ride big hogs anymore. I have a couple friends who sold theirs for smaller, nimbler bikes and couldn't be happier. Also, you don't need Harley to teach you how to ride, just sign up for a basic MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course. They're everywhere (and only cost about $125, or so). ] 

The Surprising History (and Future) of Paperweights

On a Friday night this spring, I reported to the inaugural show at Fisher Parrish Gallery, in Bushwick. Some awfully cool looking folks were packed into the small white space. The table was laid with 117 new examples of paperweights. Almost none of them resembled the office accoutrement of last century, when open windows and fans sent paper sailing through reeking cigarette fog. These were objet d’art. They ranged from the purely ironic (a furry outgrowth) to the purely beautiful (chain links encrusted in sherbet crystals). Many were ineffable abstracts, and a few were just satisfying (animal figurines drilled into each other). “My life doesn’t justify a paperweight,” a girlfriend remarked. “My life isn’t settled enough. You don’t buy one until you think you’re not going to move.”

Paperweights had never struck me as markers of stability. But a month later, when I was laid off from the legacy media company where I worked for a print magazine, I surveyed my desk, picked up a stack of our branded notepads and a handle of whiskey and thought, At least I don’t have to lug no paperweight.

Then Saturday came without Saturday’s feel. In a vintage shop, I drifted from taxidermy pheasants to a shelf staged with dusted curio, and there was a Murano blown-glass paperweight. At its center, the softball-size bubble had a clear tubular ring, inside of which was a clear finial shape from which streaks of red sprayed in arches at 360 degrees. The thing was maybe five pounds? My fiancé found me cradling it to my heart. “You’re going to bring that home, aren’t you,” he said, meaning: Did my foolhardy troth to paper in the age of new media know no bounds? The paperweight seemed to englobe our opposed perspectives: he thought it looked like a nasty vortex; I thought it looked like a wine fountain. (...)

In the late forties, Jean Cocteau arranged for a young Truman Capote to have tea with Colette at her apartment in Paris. They did not manage to discuss literature; instead, Capote was moonstruck by the Frenchwoman’s collection of valuable antique paperweights, which she called “my snowflakes”:
There were perhaps a hundred of them covering two tables situated on either side of the bed: crystal spheres imprisoning green lizards, salamanders, millefiori bouquets, dragonflies, a basket of pears, butterflies alighted on a frond of ferns, swirls of pink and white and blue and white, shimmering like fireworks, cobras coiled to strike, pretty little arrangements of pansies, magnificent poinsettias. Colette suggested she might take them with her in her coffin, “like a pharaoh.”
When she gave a Baccarat with a single white rose inside to Capote, he caught the fever. He sought paperweights at auctions in Copenhagen and Hong Kong. Once, he found a four-thousand-dollar weight in a junk shop in Brooklyn for which he shelled out just twenty bucks. In East Hampton, he successfully bid seven hundred dollars for a millefiori (“the real thing,” “an electrifying spectacle”) worth seven grand.

At home, my weight immediately found its use. When you are a paperweight, you have one job, and it is so easy. In theory, any lousy rock could do it: be heavy (glass, crystal, marble, brass, and bronze have been standard issue), be flat-bottomed (spheres, pyramids, cubes, and discs tend not to topple), and sit pretty (on this last point, common geology would fail). If you can do that, you are doing great. Layoffs still involve paperwork, which, once printed, generally has to get notarized and posted; such documents can stagnate on your desk, along with odd to-do lists, tear sheets, bills, and greeting cards. But I found none of it was to be easily ignored or mislaid when it was pinned down by this shroom of glass that catches and carnivalizes the sky.

Last year, Christie’s mounted Dress Your Desk, an online auction of dozens of paperweights that had belonged to Arnold Neustadter, the inventor of that other once-ubiquitous desktop accessory, the Rolodex. He was “the most organized man I ever knew,” his son-in-law told an obit writer. Adding, “Whenever anyone put something on his desk that didn’t belong there, he’d move it.” Carleigh Queenth, head of ceramics at Christie’s, told me, “He had a really lovely collection, including some incredibly rare pieces like a Pantin salamander weight.” Only twenty of those are known to exist, and only extreme talent could have pulled off the forms, textures, and patterns (e.g., polka-dotted amphibian bod on floor of sand and lichen). A prior director of the Corning Museum of Glass, which has assembled one of the most important exhibitions of paperweights, regards these salamanders as “the greatest technical achievements of nineteenth-century paperweight makers.”

by Chantel Tattoli, Paris Review | Read more:
Image: Ron Farina