The £3bn toiletries brand was one of the first brands to embrace ‘femvertising’, but its body-shaped bottles have been roundly ridiculed. Can it repair the damage?
by Kiran Raj Singh @ BeautifulhameshaBlog.com
Thu Sep 21 22:41:24 PDT 2017
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by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Wed Aug 16 16:09:00 PDT 2017
Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, Americans have gotten used to thinking about home entertainment as a $10-per-month, all-you-can-binge buffet. Now, a company run by one of Netflix's co-founders wants to bring a similar model to movie theaters—which are decidedly unhappy about it.
This week, the 6-year-old startup MoviePass announced that it was dropping the cost of its ticket subscription service to $9.95 a month. For a little more than the price of a large popcorn, users will (theoretically) be allowed to catch one flick every day at any theater in the country that accepts Mastercard. (According to the company's website, that covers 91 percent of theaters nationwide). However, the announcement drew a quick rebuke from AMC, the country's biggest cinema chain, which said in a statement that it was conferring with lawyers about whether it could block customers from using MoviePass at its theaters.
It's unclear whether AMC can do such a thing. Then again, it might not need to, since MoviePass seems to be counting on AMC's long-term cooperation to survive.
At the moment, MoviePass is poised to burn a prodigious pile of cash subsidizing the cost of its subscriptions. That's because every time a customer buys their movie ticket using one of the company's debit cards, it pays the theater for the full cost of admission. Given that the average film ticket cost $8.65 last year, MoviePass will end up losing money on every user who sees two or more showings a month. In big markets like New York, where catching the latest Avengers installment can easily cost $15, they'll come out behind on users who see just one movie a month.
This is not promising arithmetic. But CEO Mitch Lowe, the Netflix co-founder and Redbox executive who took the reins at MoviePass last year, thinks he has a vision to make his low, low price point work. He argues that his company's service gives theaters a big boost to ticket and concession sales, and eventually, theaters will feel compelled to hand MoviePass a slice of the extra profits, or maybe pay them back via advertising.
“There must be some way to make us whole,” Lowe told Variety. “We know we have to prove the value we deliver and, at that point in time, where we’re delivering value to studios and theaters, we can work together with them in a constructive manner so that everybody makes more money.”
That might not be quite as crazy as it sounds. U.S. movie ticket sales have been stagnant for about a decade now, as Americans have come to prefer Netflixing and chilling to sipping $6 Sierra Mists in an air-conditioned cavern full of strangers. At the same time, ticket prices have continually hit record highs, thus chagrining regular filmgoers, along with anybody who has ever suffered the indignity of paying out the nose to see a mediocre summer blockbuster. And while box office totals have edged up slightly over that time, they've failed to keep pace with inflation since 2009. In the era of unlimited TV and tunes, trying to lure Americans to go back to the cinema by cutting prices conceivably seems worth a try.
But it's also easy to guess why a company like AMC would recoil at Lowe's plan. In its statement, the chain argued that MoviePass' pricing was economically unsustainable, and “only sets up consumers for ultimate disappointment down the road if or when the product can no longer be fulfilled.” That's probably a valid concern. But more broadly, AMC can't be happy about the idea of a digital middle-man inserting itself into its industry, ultimately angling for a cut of the profits from each moviegoer even as it puts downward pressure on the price of an individual ticket. (AMC and MoviePass actually launched a pilot program together a few years ago when the startup's subscription prices were much higher, but the relationship has clearly soured.)
The sort of odd thing about MoviePass is that it's trying to become a middle man without asking permission first—or securing any payment for its services. Online ticketers like Fandango strike deals with theaters for the right to sell their seats, then market their service to the public. MoviePass is going to the public first, and hoping to gin up so much business that theaters will eventually strike a deal. The reason it can go that route is that its product is essentially just an app with movie times and a subscription debit card that customers can use to charge tickets to the company's account. Lowe argued to Bloomberg that for AMC to block his service from their theaters, they'd have to start declining Mastercard. Still, he's not going to make any money until he wins them over.
And if he can't? It's possible MoviePass could find other paths to profit. Eventually, it wants to use data on its users' moviegoing habits to sell targeted advertising. (How lucrative that could really be seems like an open question.) Or, it's possible that at $9.95, hordes of would-be film buffs will sign up for the service, then fail to see a movie each month. Milking money from subscribers who don't actually use the service was the company's original plan back when it was founded in 2011 and charged $30 a month, Bloomberg notes. But becoming the AOL of movie tickets doesn't seem like a recipe for long-term success.
It's a rather daring plan, all in all, made slightly less daring by the fact that MoviePass has already offloaded some of the risk: It sold a majority stake to a data-analytics firm on Tuesday to finance the scheme. If it succeeds, Lowe will have pulled off the impressive feat of fixing theaters' business model against their will. If it crashes and burns, at least savvy moviegoers will get a few cheap flicks out of the deal.
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What is the point of this latest move to commodify body positivity?
by Mark Vanhoenacker @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:54:54 PDT 2017
You might assume that pilots hate airports. That at best we’d view them as earthly pit stops, as the base—the adjective as much as the noun—precursors to a high dream.
Not me. I’m a 747 pilot, and I love airports. I love them even—perhaps especially—when I’m flying as a passenger. If you feel the same about airports, I’m delighted to hear it. But I’m really writing to those of you who don’t, because it’s part of my job to try to make your journey more pleasant.
Let’s concede, for the sake of argument, everything that anyone could possibly not like about airports. Done. Now if aviation remains a part of your life—if it’s only flying that allows you to visit your far-flung family, friends, colleagues, or customers, not to mention all the fascinating corners of the world you otherwise couldn’t—then let me try to nudge the needle on your airport-ometer just a little toward the wondrous side. After all, if you’re going to fly anyway, then why not make the terrestrial bookends to your next journey across the vault of the heavens a little more interesting?
One thing I have to ask you to pack, though, is time. Not much. In his forthcoming book Airportness, the literature (and airports) scholar Christopher Schaberg invites you to contemplate the “poetics” of the curbside and to dial up a William Blake poem as you observe a boarding gate. (I imagine a Max Richter or Ludovico Einaudi track would serve just as well.) As with Schaberg, the things I love best about airports are hard to appreciate when I’m in a rush. I know that passengers (and pilots) can’t always choose how much extra time we have in airports. But those of us who want to see airports in a new light might take Schaberg’s advice, near the start of Airportness, to “build in an extra ten minutes to spare.”
“Just ten minutes”—that’s all he asks. Here’s how I spend mine.
Marvel at What’s Taking Flight
It remains relatively expensive and complicated to move things across the planet. When it comes to exactly which objects we find it worthwhile to transport over significant distances, we might think of seaports, which handle an enormous physical volume of trade, and of airports, of course, which handle plenty of high-value and perishable cargo. But what strikes me most about airports is the critical role they retain in the transmission of information. I know, there’s this new thing called the internet. Exactly. So why does air travel continue to increase? Why travel to Kenya or Kathmandu or Kansas City these days, when you can learn so much about their wonders from afar? Why are conferences so crucial to science, medicine, and business? The next time you’re watching a fellow passenger unpack his or her world-shrinking, cloud-connecting electronic devices at a security checkpoint, step back and ponder what this scene really says to us: that a great deal of the world’s most valuable knowledge, ideas, and experiences still travels by airplane—by you.
Take in the Departures Board
When I was a kid, I loved to flip through atlases. I was mesmerized by the names of cities, whether near or far, familiar or strange—Samarkand, Phoenix, Albany, Athens. I could never quite get my head around the fact that all of these cities were existing at the same time: that in each there was at that moment a different light and a different smell in the air; that in each it was a certain temperature and a certain hour; and that the histories of each, whether short or long, were pressing their noses up against the same present moment—as if time were a sphere, a kind of round front that enveloped the planet much like the atmosphere itself.
Airport departure boards offer a supercharged version of the atlas experience. In fact, these signs make it even easier to imagine this planet of glowing conurbations you might someday visit, because the travelers on those planes will, later today or sometime tomorrow, be walking right down the far-off streets of those far-scattered cities. I recently asked my followers on Facebook and Twitter to describe some of their favorite things about airports. I was pleased, but not at all surprised, to see enthusiastic rhapsodizing about departure boards among the replies.
I’d happily spend all of my 10 minutes staring up at a departure board. I like how by the mere ordering of departure times a flight to Aberdeen can appear near one to Buenos Aires, or to Jeddah. I love to think of old metropolises such as Rome, of how it can be that the name of the Eternal City appears so matter-of-factly on screens in Seoul or Tehran or Los Angeles. Departure boards are especially pleasing at U.S. airports that have both regional and long-haul flights. Suddenly, staring upward as you sip your Starbucks in San Francisco International Airport, you have found at least one answer to the question of what Bakersfield and Osaka have in common.
People-Watch (and -Listen)
Whether you’re perched in a coffee bar or sailing along the moving walkway, airports are among the best places on earth to marvel at humanity. This is true not only at global hubs but also at the smaller, farther-flung airports that connect travelers to those hubs. When it comes to pretty much every visible aspect of culture, from dress through to manners and expressiveness (especially at the emotional extremes of bidding farewell to loved ones and greeting them after a long absence), airports offer some of the best people-watching on the planet. And if, like me, you find it pleasurable to hear conversations in the few languages you recognize and the many you can’t, you’re in luck. Airports are the perfect place to eavesdrop on the wonders of our spoken world.
Admire the Architecture
Airports are of architectural interest for a number of reasons. First of all, while it’s often claimed that museums are our modern cathedrals, I’d argue the same might be said of certain airports. As with museums, airports say a lot about what we value (or what their designers value, or think we should value). Second, airports present a number of unique design challenges, from signage to baggage handling to transport links. I’m no architect, but I find it interesting to think about these challenges and about whether there are different ways to meet them, or if in fact these constraints are the main reason so many airports look alike.
Third, many (though clearly not all) political authorities view airports as highly prestigious projects that represent a city—or indeed an entire country—to the wider world. Especially in countries that have just one main international airport, business travelers can’t help but reflect on the airport experiences that frame the bleary-eyed beginnings and ends of their visits. That’s one reason many authorities hire world-class architects, give them big budgets, and demand an inspiring structure with global stature but also (these days) a touch of local flair. As a result, and despite their functional similarities, the best airports offer experiences as transcendent as any that architecture can. A few are worth a visit even if you never intend to get on a plane.
Take the midcentury, Eero Saarinen–designed main building at Washington Dulles (not to mention the airport’s distinctive font, itself an icon of the jet age). I love the glowing lines of the now-classic terminal, especially as seen at night from an approaching car or bus. When I finally walk into the terminal I usually pause and look up—not for 10 minutes but maybe a minute—before walking on, almost always with a touch more spring in my step. And of course, many of the most beautiful airports are new. The first time I landed at Mumbai’s Terminal 2 I forgot all about my jet lag, pulled out my phone, and enthusiastically texted a bunch of photos to awestruck friends back in the States.
Gaze at the Planes
Newer airports tend to have more windows, and all that glass is an invitation to remember that planes themselves can be beautiful. And not just the jet-age icons such as the Boeing 747. In fact you are living in one of the best times in recent memory to look out for lovely new birds in the skies and to contemplate how pleasingly form can follow function—a principle, by the way, associated with the legendary architect Louis Sullivan, who, in the days before airplanes, found it helpful to refer to “the sweeping eagle in his flight.” It’s tempting to wonder what Sullivan would make of the wingtips of the shiny new Airbus A350. Are the engineers behind these bladelike appendages incredibly smart, or do they have a great sense of style? Or take a look at the distinctive saw-toothed engines on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Yes, they’re quieter. And yes, they look awesome.
Absorb the Culture (Really!)
Airports, it’s fair to say, are internationalized places that don’t always go far out of their way to cultivate difference. Maybe that’s what we secretly want? I’m certainly not unhappy when I find decent lattes, English signage, copies of the Economist, and a meticulously controlled climate no matter where on the globe I am. And I’m thrilled when offbeat ideas like rocking chairs (which I first sat on in Boston) and little smiley-face buttons to rate immigration officers (which I first pressed in Beijing) spread rapidly to other airports.
But the relative homogeneity of airports also highlights the differences that do confront the traveler. As you walk through a terminal, what can you see, hear, or smell that helps you identify where you are? At Singapore’s beloved Changi Airport, for example, of course there’s an observation deck, a rooftop swimming pool, an indoor slide, and a Hello Kitty–themed café. But it’s the gardens—the separate orchid, sunflower, cactus, and butterfly gardens—that really strike you and that it seems only this ultra-green garden city would go to so much trouble to construct for you. Singapore is one of the world’s most globalized hubs and yet, as you walk through a place built solely to move you to and from the farthest reaches of the world, there’s really nowhere else you could be.
I have a similarly local, well-grounded feeling in Vancouver’s airport. The airport is quiet. It’s full of beautiful wood and calming water features. The people are friendly. In other words, Vancouver’s airport is perfect in all the ways that Vancouver itself is. In a surprise to no one who’s ever flown here, Vancouver’s airport was recently named the best airport in North America for the eighth year in a row.
And back in the U.S. of A? The “peaks” of Denver’s airport always make me smile, as do the foodie options popping up at SFO. And I’ll never forget the warm breezes that I once felt in the open-air walkways of Honolulu’s airport.
Savor the Exit
I recently landed in Accra, Ghana, one of my favorite African cities, just after sunset. When the terminal doors at last opened, the heat and humidity rushed over me. I could smell the air, I could see the crowds of waiting families and porters, and I could hear laughter and the local television from the little bar and restaurant just outside. By then, I marveled, I’d been on Ghanaian ground for almost an hour.
The scene reminded me to think about what happens when the terminal doors open and we step across the line that airports draw so neatly for us. If flying, compared to older forms of travel, is essentially a kind of teleportation, then the airport is a big part of the machine. Indeed travel couldn’t be so fast and accessible without such a sharp border somewhere along the way. That is, the line between the internationalized realm inside airports and the world outside isn’t a flaw—it’s an inevitable consequence of the way that we’ve chosen to move.
It’s also one of the interesting aspects of airports. The poet Kirun Kapur (a college friend of mine) describes the invigoration of the airport exit’s assault on the senses in “Arriving, New Delhi,” a poem from her book Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist.
...Doors open and the blood pounds out
its local language along every limb.
Smell ashes. Men. Jasmine
climbing on a fence. A taxi driver
turbaned in a tongue of flame
says, Sister, I can take you into the city.
Sister, shall I take you home?
If you didn’t find 10 extra minutes at the start of your journey, perhaps you have half a minute to spare here at its end. Airports—as Christopher Schaberg, Kirun Kapur, Alain de Botton, and so many others who’ve stopped to think about them have written—are liminal places. So take note of their doors, which perhaps more simply than anything else sum up how airplanes have changed our world. Pause as they open and the bewildered airs meet. Welcome.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Fri Jul 28 13:42:00 PDT 2017
The tendency to lean on political beliefs is one of the most powerful forces in investing and financial media, and one of the most dangerous. There’s a general sense that Republicans are good for business (lower taxes, fewer regulations, an overall permisiveness) and therefore good for the stock market. And there’s a sense that Democrats are bad for business (higher taxes, more regs, a skepticism toward industry’s prerogatives) and therefore bad for the stock market. The lived experienced of the markets over the past 25 years—booming under Clinton and Obama, tanking under Bush—should give the lie to this feeling. But it endures. And it has become particularly powerful under Trump, who regards the stock market as a kind of real-time approval gauge.
But doing so is precarious. And it can be continually confounding at the macro level and at the level of sectors and individual companies. That’s a lesson that investors who held stocks in tobacco companies—in particular the biggest one, Altria (formerly Philip Morris)—learned Friday.
Tobacco companies are in a strange position right now. Smoking is on the decline in the U.S., in part because of government efforts to discourage it via higher taxation, regulation, outright bans, and President Obama’s use of the bully pulpit and the executive pen. Only about 15.1 percent of Americans smoked in 2016, down from about 21 percent in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet the profits of tobacco companies, paradoxically, are booming, in part because sales overseas are growing and in part because tobacco companies have the ability to raise prices. (That’s one of the advantages of making a product that is addictive.) Altria’s profit margins on tobacco products are remarkably high. Between 2001 and 2016, as the chart on Page 11 of Altria’s annual report shows, Altria’s stock nearly tripled, while the S&P 500 merely doubled.
Altria’s stock, like many others, continued to soar after Trump’s election—up about 10 percent in the first half of the year. It’s not hard to see why. Aside from benefiting from the general pro-business agenda of Trump—cutting corporate taxes, reducing the capital gains tax, and so on—Altria would seem to have far less to fear from a Trump administration than from an Obama or Clinton administration. While he doesn’t drink or smoke, Trump isn’t a particularly healthy person: He doesn’t work out or exercise or maintain a healthy diet. His administration has backed measures that would cut health care spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, some of which is now spent on smoking cessation. The Trump administration is full of lobbyists and corporate types eager to do the bidding of companies. The likelihood of the first family engaging in aggressive anti-smoking campaigns is laughable. Altria kicked in $500,000 to fund the Trump inauguration.
And the person Trump named to be the head of the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tobacco, doesn’t have a history of anti-smoking activism. Scott Gottlieb is a physician, biotech investor, and former resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who also served in the Bush administration. What’s more, Gottlieb has been strongly in favor of deregulating pharmaceuticals and medical devices, as part of an effort to bring innovations to market more quickly and reduce costs.
And yet Friday morning, with little apparent warning, Gottlieb announced a new comprehensive plan to regulate nicotine. In an aggressive speech that spoke about cigarettes and nicotine in harsh terms, Gottlieb said “we need to envision a world where cigarettes lose their addictive potential through reduced nicotine levels.” For this reason, Gottlieb said, “I’m directing our Center for Tobacco Products to develop a comprehensive nicotine regulatory plan premised on the need to confront and alter cigarette addiction.” With a “balanced regulatory approach,” he noted, “we may be able to reach a day when the most harmful products are no longer capable of addicting our kids.”
This clearly came as a surprise to the companies and to their investors. Stocks reacted violently. In about 30 minutes, Altria’s stock fell 15 percent, sawing nearly $21 billion in market capitalization off the company. By later in the afternoon, the stock had stabilized, though it was still off by about 10 percent, or about $14 billion.
Clearly, investors and the tobacco companies believed that the Trump FDA would take a more hands-off approach to regulating tobacco. After all, we’ve seen sharp pullbacks from regulation of toxic emissions and substances at the Environmental Protection Agency and a general desire to rip up consumer protections. But just because there’s a general air of deregulation, and just because people now in positions of responsibility are hostile to scientific consensus (hello, EPA and Interior), doesn’t mean that all important executive-branch appointees do so.
That’s the mistake tobacco investors made. Gottlieb, after all, is a physician, and a cancer survivor to boot. The science and medicine surrounding tobacco is long since settled, and the consensus is broad. The product has been regulated, without much controversy, for several decades. Everybody involved in health care really hates tobacco, an addictive product that has a host of really bad, expensive, and predictable effects on people’s health. “As a physician who cared for hospitalized cancer patients, and as a cancer survivor myself, I saw first-hand the impact of tobacco,” Gottlieb said in a speech Friday. “And I know all too well that it’s cigarettes that are the primary cause of tobacco-related disease and death. What’s now clear is that FDA is at a unique moment in history, with profound new tools to address this devastating impact.”
Not all of Trump’s appointees will be pro-corporate stooges at all times. And investing as if they are can be remarkably expensive.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 10:44:24 PDT 2017
In Florida, at least, there’s a tried-and-true indicator of potential hurricane damage: the futures market for frozen orange juice. Futures go up when traders think the future price of orange juice will go up, and down when traders think orange juice will be more plentiful, and therefore cheaper.
If traders are worried the state’s entire orange crop is at risk of being annihilated, futures go way up. And that’s what’s happening right now. Just as Harvey’s arrival in oil-and-gas-capital Houston gave us a big spike in gasoline prices, so Irma’s arrival in Florida may juice frozen OJ prices. As the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history heads toward South Florida, the Frozen Concentrate Orange Juice futures market opened at $1.45 a pound today, up from $1.30 last week—a gain of more than 10 percent.
There’s some history behind this. In 2004, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne left Florida with the smallest number of viable orange trees in 18 years, sending the cost of juice concentrate skyward. In 2012, anticipation of Hurricane Isaac drove futures to a six-week high. In 2016, Hurricane Hermine sent OJ to a five-week high.
Gains driven by Irma have FCOJ at the highest point since May, when the orange industry was coming off a brutally small harvest that had doubled prices. The volume of trading is up sixfold, the Financial Times reports, in anticipation of a price spike.
Only about 20 percent of the state’s crop winds up as concentrate—in recent years, not-from-concentrate juice has gained the upper hand as it has become more popular. Still, the market remains a valuable indicator.
The Intercontinental Exchange, which offers futures trading in coffee, cocoa, sugar, cotton, and orange juice, among other things, notes that the FCOJ market is built for this type of thing:
The volatile nature of FCOJ pricing is what makes this market so vital for hedgers and so interesting for speculators. The market is prone to sharp price spikes in anticipation of weather-related disruptions in supply, including freezes and hurricanes, and to retracements of those spikes when the damage was not as bad as feared initially, or when imports of FCOJ from Brazil and other suppliers enter the U.S. market.
Like all commodity futures markets, the FCOJ serves a practical purpose for juice producers and buyers. A grower with thousands of ripe orange trees is vulnerable to a price drop, and might short a futures contract to cover her holdings. A supermarket that needs to ensure it has store-brand from-concentrate OJ is vulnerable to prices rising, and would therefore “go long,” ensuring it makes enough money to cover its purchases if prices do rise.
But it can also be an intriguing gamble for speculators who think they know more than everyone else. This is of course the plot of Trading Places, the classic ’80s Wall Street comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd:
(Here’s a detailed explanation of what’s going on there.)
How do you measure the risk of a hurricane, then? In Florida, at least, you measure it in orange juice futures.
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by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:57:25 PDT 2017
This is a story about how the airport became the setting for the Great American Freakout. Once an icon of progress, then another stale waiting room of modern life, the airport has now entered a third phase.
This summer, Ann Coulter threw a three-day tantrum over a Delta seat assignment, comparing the airline gate attendants to Nurse Ratched, the sadistic warden who rules over the lunatics in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There was some truth to the observation. It was the latest incident in a year of airport fracases—including a brawl at the Spirit Airlines counter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (May), the concussion of the 69-year-old David Dao who wouldn’t relinquish his seat (April), widespread pro-immigrant protests (January), two full-on panic stampedes one year ago, and a steady drumbeat of racial and religious profiling at security and immigration—that have confirmed the airport’s new role in American life as the marble-floored home of our national, fear-fueled psychosis.
The airport is, on the one hand, as representative a civic space as America has. Nearly half of American adults fly commercial each year, making the airport nearly as common a shared experience as the voting booth. It is also roiled by the ceaseless friction of its many internal borders, real and felt, that separate safety from danger, admittance from expulsion, brown from white, the rich from the rest. Real anxiety has swelled in this liminal space for decades, as airlines grew stingier, the security state grew stricter, and the borders in airport basements grew busier. But as with many conflicts in American life, the rise of Donald Trump has both clarified and exacerbated the fault lines.
This was evident in January, when the Trump administration unveiled its travel ban and thousands of protesters assembled at terminals across the country. But that was only a reminder of all the ways in which the airport has become a symbol and a stage: for the related and unrelated detentions of visitors, immigrants, and American citizens; for flare-ups over dress, language, and skin color; for increasing stratification by class; for massive delays borne of computer failures; for that dangerous hunch that America ain’t what it used to be; and for the aggrieved knowledge that it isn’t all it could be. It is a temple for a political era built on paranoia, as good a symbol for our age as the corporate skyscraper was for the postwar era and the suburban megamall was for the end of the century. The airport is the place to understand America today.
People who run airports know this. You can see it in their attempts to soothe. We now have art designed to keep us calm in the terminal. Ponies. Herds of kindly dogs. A therapy pig, in San Francisco. Chairs that rock and chairs that massage. Jazz music and country music. Mostly, we keep our aviation-related anxieties at bay with chemistry. The airport bars open early and endow patrons with both fortitude and an aura of righteous intoxication rarely found in morning drinking. Savvy travelers not among the nearly 1 in 10 Americans who have prescriptions for Xanax and its ilk nevertheless procure their favored pills for air travel. Take one just after passing through security to sink into an Eames tandem sling, that familiar, inclined bank of chairs.
Whatever we do, it’s not working.
* * *
In 1962, New York’s Idlewild Airport inaugurated Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center, a swooping concrete-and-glass icon of jet-age glamor. The building incarnated an idea of air travel’s allure that lingered like a contrail in the national imagination. In his 2015 book The End of Airports, Christopher Schaberg diagnosed the end of an idea: “The end of airports as romantic places; the end of airports as sites of excitement; the end of airports as apexes of travel culture. The end of airports means the end of our ability to appreciate airports, to inhabit them as dynamic, fascinating, forward-looking spaces.” In his latest book, Airportness, he has turned darker still: “It is a miserable place—you can see it on everybody’s face.”
But the romantic idea of the airport has been dying at least since the hijacking crisis of the 1970s, when American airports began to install metal detectors. Gradually, all aspects of the flying experience would be securitized. Metal detectors first sliced the grand TWA atrium in two decades ago, dispensing the sense of the airport as a genuine public place, where lovers parted at the jetway and the homeless could nap undisturbed, and marking the rise of the age of terror and security. As late as 1997, J.G. Ballard, writing of the world’s international terminals as a “discontinuous city” of global travelers, could claim that “above all, airports are places of good news.” But the raft of changes implemented since 9/11 have amplified security’s psychic cost.
It’s not clear how much the Transportation Security Administration’s methods are protecting us: In a 2015 investigation, undercover agents succeeded in smuggling weapons past screeners in 67 out of 70 attempts, and the agency’s acting head was reassigned. The drawbacks are easier to perceive. The screening requires you to expose yourself, both to the eyes of agents (see the ex-screener Jason Edward Harrington’s confessional “Dear America, I Saw You Naked”) and to fellow passengers, who watch you disrobe. Bags are unzipped to put underwear on display like on a backyard laundry line.
“Taking off shoes,” Harvey Molotch writes of one of America’s more frustrating air travel requirements in Against Security, “makes bodies touch foreign surfaces in unaccustomed ways, bringing to mind the ass on the restroom toilet seat.” Molotch argues that the prison-visit style of airport security is a perpetual worry machine, stoking the concern that justifies its escalating rigors. A design firm hired by the TSA argued that the unpleasant nature of checkpoints was hurting security procedures by giving all travelers the sweaty, nerve-wracked mien of terrorists and drug smugglers, and illustrated the point with photographs of a shark in calm waters (easy to see) and rough waters (invisible).
As with mass incarceration, efforts to reform airport security are hamstrung by politicians and administrators who would prefer to inflict hassle on millions than be caught making one mistake. Normalcy won a rare victory over the security state in 2005, when small scissors, screwdrivers, and pliers were again allowed in carry-on bags over the objections of Congress. (“This is the equivalent of handing back the box cutters to the 9/11 hijackers,” Rep. Ed Markey wrote. Hillary Clinton introduced a special bill to stop the policy.) The exception proves the rule: In 2013, the TSA was set to allow pocket knives and golf clubs on planes before the policy was overruled by lawmakers.
These protocols, like other airport routines, extend a burden beyond the terminal. No traveler can set his or her alarm or pack a tube of toothpaste without thinking about the TSA. The years since Sept. 11, 2001, can be measured out in 3-ounce bottles and other security restrictions. Shortly after 9/11, my sister got carsick on the way to the airport. At the time, there were no trash cans in the check-in area, and so my mother passed the plastic bag of vomit through the metal detector. This story is dated, but only because you can no longer get a bag of vomit through a metal detector.
It’s the conditioning effect of these rituals, as much as terrorism itself, that makes even false alarms so harrowing. Last August, a mass panic enveloped New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, sending thousands of travelers fleeing from a phantom terror attack. The false alarm spread between terminals, and flights were delayed nationwide as terrified travelers stormed the tarmac, hiding behind jet wheels and luggage carts or running for the safety of the Atlantic Ocean. What set them off, apparently, was the collapse of a line of bollards whose clack-clack-clack against the floor sounded like gunshots. Two weeks later, police evacuated four terminals of LAX after a phantom shooting, while in Terminal 4, panicked passengers ran willy-nilly. Outside Terminal 6, they scurried down the sidewalk with their rolling luggage, heading nowhere at all.
* * *
As this everyday security check unfolds upstairs, a more substantive vetting process is underway below. For decades, America’s international airports have been an increasingly important port of entry for visitors and immigrants. In 2005, 81 million people—19 percent of international travelers—entered the U.S. by air. By 2015, that number had risen to 112 million, and 29 percent of international arrivals. (Those numbers underestimate the central role of airports, since hundreds of thousands of commuters cross the U.S.–Mexico border every day and are counted multiple times.) Just as airports are places where America must be defended from terrorism, they are frontiers through which immigrants, foreigners, and American expatriates pass onto U.S. soil. They are borders, with their attendant violence, nestled at the heart of domestic life.
This has occurred despite laborious efforts in Washington to push border functions out of our airports, through a series of international data-sharing negotiations, the export of biometric sensors to visa application sites abroad, and supplementary security requirements for U.S.-bound flights. “With a virtual border in place,” the security theorist Gallya Lahav writes, “the actual border guard is meant to become the last point of defense rather than the first.”
At least, that is the idea. The 2014 Ebola crisis demonstrated it hadn’t quite worked out that way. That summer at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie detained Kaci Hickox, an American nurse who had treated Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, placing her in a mandatory quarantine at a Newark hospital. Trump tweeted about the Ebola outbreak more than 50 times, calling for a travel ban and opposing the return of two infected U.S. aid workers. “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” our future president wrote. “People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences.”
It was a stance that, in its callousness and shallow thinking, anticipated Trump’s ham-handed attempt at a Muslim ban. On Jan. 26 of this year, the country’s international airports once again reprised their role as a conflict zone. Holders of visas and green cards arriving from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, some of them refugees, found that their legal status had changed overnight. After months of planning, they were imprisoned in the airport.
So it was the international airport, not the Mexican border or an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, that became the first testing ground for the Trump administration’s strident xenophobia. And concurrently, the site of the first, substantive protests against it.
On the Saturday after the ban was enacted, thousands of protesters convened in the parking lot outside JFK Terminal 4. Inside, U.S. representatives, lawyers, and the families of the detained arrivals struggled to determine where authority in the airport lay, which parts of the terminal belonged to whom, and who was responsible for directing the agents of Customs and Border Protection. “Call the president” was the response. We now know that CBP was deploying some kind of centralized strategy to flummox lawyers and members of Congress . But navigating the administration’s reversals often fell to the rank and file.
The vision of the airport as an austere, Taylorized space, where even the architecture is mathematically deduced (150 square feet per design-hour passenger is a common metric), has fallen away to reveal a deeply human frontier, in all the worst ways. A 2005 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom determined that there was “extreme” variation in the way that asylum cases were handled at different airports. In the past five months, we have seen the agency’s worst actors deploy their cynicism at the airport border. A French Holocaust historian was detained for 10 hours in Houston. A 70-year-old Australian children’s book author was detained and questioned in Los Angeles. Customs agents checked IDs on the jetway of an arriving, domestic flight. Muhammad Ali Jr., the son of the heavyweight champion, was detained in a Florida airport and asked about his Muslim faith. And those were just the names we knew.
* * *
Whether security and customs inspire reassurance, anguish, or outrage, there is a third and overarching gantlet at work in the form of economic stratification. The airport is to America’s petite bourgeoisie—the small-time capitalists and traveling salesmen who delivered us to Trump—what the factory is to the white working class: a symbol of how much better things used to be. (And the president agrees.) But there is a more widely shared feeling that the airport experience is a reminder of one’s paltry but declining status.
The oldest, basic sorting mechanism of ticket sales has been supplemented by a variety of market incentives, with the path to the plane (and back from the plane) lit by buy-ins and buy-outs: baggage fees, seat fees, concession fees, TSA Precheck and Global Entry, travelers’ clubs, and finally the unseemly bidding process to remove the most cash-poor, time-rich SOB from the plane. Airlines earn lower marks on customer satisfaction surveys than loathed institutions like the U.S. Postal Service and social media. When things go awry, the airport experience encapsulates that peculiar, desperate feeling of the modern American economy. Not the balm of total helplessness, but the regretful hunch that if you had just done one thing differently—routed yourself through Houston instead of Denver, gotten in line earlier, not gotten disconnected with the help line—you might be on your way to where you want to be.
Most gripes about the airport stem from the same No Exit complaint that motivates so much worry in America today: There are simply more people there than there used to be. More kids in your school district, more buildings in your neighborhood, more cars on your road, more people who don’t look like you or talk like you at the mall. Or at the airport. Tickets are cheaper, and the airport experience feels cheaper too. Democratization is stressful; tight quarters serve as the kindling for fires of racist fury (and all kinds of other bad manners).
Private jets and lounges have siphoned off onetime airport luxuries. Thanks to higher baggage fees, Americans increasingly lug their possessions through airports themselves. Not only is an airport delay an extended confrontation with your peers in a seating area, but with all the things they carry: blankets, neck pillows, hair brushes, 30 generations of digital devices—a state of disarray bordering on the domestic. To be in the airport is to inhabit Zeno’s static moment that movement requires. “It is dead time,” Don DeLillo wrote. “It never happened until it happens again. Then it never happened.”
A structural shift in the industry’s economics, spurred by a string of corporate mergers, has added a spark. Small- and medium-size airports have declined as more and more flights are routed through megahubs. Domestic boardings rose 7.7 percent between 2005 and 2015, but more than two-thirds of that gain occurred at the nation’s 10 busiest airports.
It can be difficult to untangle the lived airport from the airport of the mind, but it is easier with airports than with other buildings. Because each one is a glassy, highly regulated remix of its peers, with the same marked-up Dasani and magazines for sale, one airport can easily stand in for many. The airline whose hold music plays softly as you sink into a worn-leather every chair and watch a day and a vacation slip away could be any airline. The tarmac looks the same. The whole system, from the entry through security to the exit past the border agents, is a reminder of how little control you have—not just economic power, but even, for the moment, power over your own movement. From David Dao to the LAX stampede to delay-induced tantrums, these viral acts of airport chaos draw power from this sense of widespread agitation, like storms from a heated sea.
* * *
More from this series:
To understand why air travel has gotten so dreadful, just look at its labor force.
The factors that make travelers cranky are tightly intertwined with the reasons why pilots, flight attendants, and other aviation workers are learning less and less. And it’s partially our fault.
By Jeff Friedrich
But if the experience for everyone is so bad, why is airport retail booming?
That’s exactly why. The factors that immiserate travelers benefit retail sectors that would otherwise struggle in airports the way they do in the real world. Airport retail has guaranteed foot traffic and no competition from e-commerce (when you need new earbuds right before a flight, you’re not hitting up Amazon). They also benefit from delays and the fact that airlines are less likely to give you free food or drink.
By Daniel Gross
There is still one way to dodge the hellscape: small airports.
Just look at the Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York. It turns out that airport function is not helped by scale—the bigger the building, the more prone to morasses it is. Smaller, it turns out, is better.
By Daniel Gross
If you must navigate an airport, at least make the best of it.
A pilot’s tips for appreciating what there is to appreciate about air travel. Airports are destinations of accidental wonder, places an extra 10 minutes can reveal the marvel of travel still beneath the unpleasant surface. Take in the departures board, admire the small variations in culture between places that are all quite similar, people-watch, gaze at the architecture, and savor the exit.
By Mark Vanhoenacker
But not everyone can, of course. Being hypersurveilled in airports is now a part of being brown in America.
A reflection by an expert on surveilled communities on how his own experience is deepened by his day job and the fact that he is Indian. Like a lot of people, he opts out of the scanning machines, meaning instead he gets a physical patdown—a process that has become uncomfortably more invasive in 2017.
By Prashant Sinha
And the net of scrutiny catches even those people who need accommodation.
The devices that make life easier for people with medical conditions—like enhancements for diabetics—make life a much bigger hassle in the airport, and the subject of almost-performative scrutiny from the TSA, despite the agency’s attempt to improve its treatment of such passengers.
By Jacob Brogan
by ibh @ Indian Beauty Hub
Sun Aug 27 06:38:38 PDT 2017
Hello everyone, today I’m sharing the review of the new Lakme Absolute Argan Oil Radiance Oil-in-Creme. Lakme beauty brand has recently launched their Absolute Argan Oil collection that includes a day cream, a night face serum, a foundation, lipsticks, and a nail paint remover. I am a big fan of Lakme makeup products and I […]
The post Lakme Absolute Argan Oil Radiance Oil-in-Creme SPF 30 PA++ Review appeared first on Indian Beauty Hub.
Looking to spread your wings and learn how to fly? Learn from Dove! Check out our Dove Company History and Review feature here at Maple Holistics!
by Nicole Cliffe @ Slate Articles
Mon Sep 18 02:45:00 PDT 2017
Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.
Imagine yourself, amiable reader, in a coffee shop, ordering yourself a beverage, and paying the barista for the encupment of said beverage. At some point during the transaction, you will surely find yourself saying “thank you.” Imagine that the barista responds, “No problem.”
In that moment, you have multiple options: You can let that sentiment evaporate into the air, leaving you unaffected. Or you may fume.
Whither the lost and genteel days of you’re welcome? you might fume, in your head, or on the internet, or heaven forbid out loud. How dare these youngstren/baristas/waiterettes say “no problem” to me? That suggests that I might have created a problem in asking them to do their job at me. It is no problem at all! I know it is no problem! I wish you would go back to saying “you’re welcome” at me instead, posthaste!
Friends! This is a disingenuous and an unlovely response, and from making this complaint I fear you will find it a slippery slope to leaving a stack of bills on the corner of your table and removing one as punishment every time your waiter displeases you. Of course the service employee in question is not suggesting that you have created a problem by asking for more straws for your Diet Slice, or what have you. It is a filler phrase, a transaction smoother; barely a step up from the well, kindas that the Russians call “parasite words.”
As is, of course, “you’re welcome.” You are welcome to what? To thank me again? To rely upon my help again in future? Fine, sure. It is an arbitrary expression of politeness in exactly the same way “No problem” is an arbitrary expression of politeness. As is generally the case in most forced social interactions, both phrases are a variation on, “Here is my soft belly, fellow stranger; I am driven so often by fear but I wish you to know in this moment that I wish you no harm, and have no intention of attacking you. All is well.” There is already no there there, just a form of whimsical call-and-response that has lived a long life and is surely due to collect whatever pension is due for its years of service if people have organically moved on.
It is undoubtedly true that at some point over the last 10 or 15 years, there has been a general shift among young people and workers in the service industry from saying “you’re welcome” to “no problem” or “no worries” upon being thanked for services rendered. I suspect we have nationally snagged “no problem” from the Australians, who love to say “no worries” at one another almost as much as they love always showing up in hostels in countries where you don’t expect them, and teaching people how to surf and play guitar. This is a perfectly fine and neutral change, but with change always comes anxiety. What your server is saying in that moment—and what I suspect you know perfectly well, friendo—is “I will fulfill your request, I acknowledge your thanks, and will continue to serve you with friendliness and alacrity.” Between “no problem” and “happy to help” there is no separation, and it does not suit you to pretend to be confused by the two. This is a harmless phrase, not an attempt to call out you, specifically, for asking to have your croissants heated up for exactly eight seconds in the microwave. The tide of language sweeps ever along, and it carries you with it whether you like it or not. Do not struggle foolishly against it.
“Are you telling me that I, a human being with certain inalienable prerogatives, have no right to dislike this particular phrase? Must I remain silent forever? Have I no recourse to complain?” That is exactly what we are saying. You must allow this grievance to seize up, and shudder, and drift harmlessly out of your body. You will be nobler for it.
Now, of course, there are different ways to register one’s displeasure with hearing “no problem” from a member of the service industry. We are not here to police all of them. Perhaps upon being “no problem”–ed you find yourself quietly annoyed, forget your annoyance upon leaving the offending shop, and later mention it offhandedly in the comments section of an article about etiquette. If you must do this, you must. This is ranked with the venial permissible sins, like regularly tipping 15 percent out of a fear of being thought cheap but also reciting Mr. Pink’s speech about tipping from Reservoir Dogs whenever the topic arises, as though you think it novel or compelling. Perhaps you pull a face at the speaker; if ever I catch you doing that, we will have words outside on the king’s highway.
Those who return “no problem!” with a tart “you mean you’re welcome” are in grave danger. You must root out the tendencies in your own soul that lead to such conduct. This waiter is already fetching you seven extra straws for your Diet Slice. He is wearing a clean shirt, working with a sprained wrist because he doesn’t have health insurance, and faked his own lunch break because his manager asked if he would just clock out for 20 minutes since they’re already slammed today and nobody else can cover his tables. He’s doing everything he needs to be doing. Attend to your own spiritual condition.
It is, however, those who ask to speak to a manager or who write a letter of complaint whom we must condemn wholeheartedly and with extreme prejudice. You are as Henry VIII, consigning Thomas More to the block because he has failed to bend the knee and acknowledge you as the Supreme Head of the Church. Insisting on policing the manner in which someone responds to your ostensible wish to thank them, in order that it more clearly telegraph servility, is beyond the pale. Fix your wicked life. Otherwise we’ll have to come speak with your manager about your attitude.
by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 01 17:19:21 PDT 2017
The competition for the 2024 Summer Olympics came to a very un-Olympian finish this week: Gold medals for everyone! One went to Paris, the last city standing in the hunt for the 2024 Games. Los Angeles, too, has been draped in gold after agreeing to host the 2028 Games instead. And let’s go ahead and give a gold medal to the International Olympic Committee, for obtaining not one but two commitments to host its quadrennial spectacle of debt. (And from democracies, no less!)
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The IOC still needs to formalize these agreements at its summit in Lima, Peru, in September, but for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and his Parisian counterpart Anne Hidalgo, confidence runs high:
The settlement turns a coin toss between Paris and L.A. into a “win-win-win,” IOC President Thomas Bach said on Monday. The decision to award two Olympiads at once was framed as a reflection of “the exceptional circumstances and unique opportunities” presented by the two cities. But if you think the IOC decided to forgo its usual bribe-fueled dog-and-pony show because Paris and L.A. were both so grand, I’ve got a billion-dollar aquatics center to sell you.
In reality, the IOC is making the most of a bad hand. In the wake of the scandal that was Sochi and the ongoing debacle in Rio de Janeiro, the committee has been buffeted by a near-total lack of interest in the 2022 Games, which were awarded to Beijing, and a string of stinging repudiations from voters in Oslo, Vienna, and Hamburg. Boston, Rome, and Budapest all dropped out of the 2024 sweepstakes due to a lack of popular enthusiasm. In 2014, the IOC approved a 40-point plan of repentance, but the details of its arrangements with host cities are yet to be hammered out. Well, now’s the chance.
Paris is determined to showcase a once-in-a-generation infrastructure project to unite Paris with its suburbs via the construction of 68 new metro stations. Like Los Angeles, it has a history hosting mega-events—the Olympics twice, the World Cup in 1998, and the European Cup last summer—and will rely largely on temporary and repurposed venues to cut the cost. The city will also outsource elements of the competition to other French cities, making the soccer competition national and holding sailing races in Marseille. Back in 2005, Paris put in for the 2012 Games with a modest, low-cost bid that lost out to London’s gargantuan investment. Now that Olympic fashions have caught up, it will have its turn.
But it’s Los Angeles, deferring its bid to 2028, that has the more radical Olympic idea: Build almost nothing. The organizers propose a handful of temporary venues and four new permanent venues, some of which will be privately funded and each of which has a documented future use. The city has also dropped plans for a brand-new Olympic Village, instead proposing to house athletes in existing and already-planned dormitories at the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. All in all, the city projects the games will cost $5.3 billion—not even half the cost of Rio, and in a much more expensive place to build. Not quite an “austerity Olympics,” as the 1948 London Games were known, but a welcome rebuke to the bloated spectacles of the past. Only $1.2 billion is budgeted for infrastructure upgrades. That wouldn’t even cover one NFL stadium. And while every megaproject always features cost overruns, there’s not much “project” in the L.A. Olympic budget. Most of the money goes toward operations, technology, and workforce, with another $177 million for the opening and closing ceremonies.
The recent bad run for Olympic hosts began with Athens, in 2004, where the games wound up costing 10 times the initial $1.6 billion bid and double the project’s final budget. Most facilities were left abandoned and unused. That investment wasn’t the cause of the country’s subsequent debt-fueled debacle, but for Greeks upset with a vengeful international order, it did become a symbol. Sensitive to that association, then–IOC President Jacques Rogge went so far as to suggest the games had actually helped abate the nation’s economic crisis. “Had Athens still been outmoded, the economy would have been much worse probably than it is today,” he said in 2010.
This week’s IOC decision comes as Rio undergoes the traditional year-after Olympic check-in, with the usual results: The city and state are broke, the venues have been abandoned and the apartments remain unsold, and it’s hard to see any long-term benefits from the $13.1 billion investment. The Associated Press reports that the IOC has refused to help Rio pay off its creditors, after the Rio 2016 organizing committee attempted to do so with used air conditioning units, electrical cables, and other leftover games hardware. On Monday, the Rio de Janeiro State University announced it would suspend the start of the semester indefinitely because the state—which backed the organizing committee’s credit and is, along with the city, inheriting its debts—has no money to pay teachers and other employees.
It’s not that there’s no money to be made in sports. Sponsorships and television deals continue to bring in billions and account for more than 90 percent of the IOC’s direct revenue. Between 2009 and 2012, the IOC took in nearly $4 billion from broadcast rights and nearly another billion from sponsors. In the following four years, that revenue was up to $5.6 billion. The IOC says it redistributes 90 percent of revenue to promote and operate the games and keeps 10 percent. Even if that’s true—and the IOC is a notoriously corrupt organization—the IOC is taking home hundreds of millions on each games and sticking host cities with all the risk.
In some ways, the current state of play recalls the run-up to the 1984 Olympics. Then too, Los Angeles was the only bidder. And then too, it used that position as leverage in negotiations with the IOC, ensuring a lucrative television deal and a profit-sharing arrangement that wound up funding youth sports programs for years to come. As I wrote in 2015, nifty adjustments in urban management showed the kind of city Los Angeles could be and, to some extent, the city it has become:
Congestion fell by 60 percent as commercial deliveries were made at night, employers let employees work from home, and streets reversed their flows to smooth traffic. But most of all, what made the 1984 Games go was a specially devised Olympic bus network, which, when it was rolled out, became (on its own) the fourth-largest transit system in the state of California.
How much of that is possible now, working with an IOC that has tightly guarded its Olympic moneymaking capacity? The answer ought to be: a lot.
We know Los Angeles has already negotiated some concessions with the IOC, including an $180 million advance to cover committee costs and fund youth sports in the city. The bid includes a contingency budget of nearly $500 million, which, if unspent, will revert entirely to the city rather than partly to the IOC as has been customary. The IOC will contribute at least $1.8 billion, and possibly more than $2 billion, thanks to a new arrangement that allows the city to sell domestic sponsorships that IOC corporate partners don’t want. (The initial arrangement called for the IOC to share $1.3 billion with the city.) That suggests Garcetti and the bid committee have pushed hard, and the city council—which will have to review and approve public expenditures—should add its own demands.
One mark Los Angeles can make on the games: shredding the red carpet that host cities typically roll out for the IOC. Part of the pitch for L.A. is that the city, ever a disappointment to tourists, has the opportunity to introduce the world to its new self-image as the polyglot American metropolis—with a newly built subway network! That means it’s time to stop pampering a group that my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley once described as “a notoriously ridiculous organization run by grifters and hereditary aristocrats.”
When Oslo rejected the Winter Games, it was in part after a list of demands from IOC members leaked to the press. That list specified:
- The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.
- IOC members get to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony.
- IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.
- Seasonal fruit (in Norway, in February)
Seasonal fruit might be easier in Los Angeles; finding a king will be a challenge.
No public works endeavor in the United States should have room for those kind of riders, nor for another gift that’s currently included in the L.A. plan: “a robust and free-flowing Olympic Route Network [on which] ... drive-times to and from almost all competition and non-competition venues will be less than 30 minutes.”
UCLA to the Coliseum in 23 minutes? If the city can’t make that possible for everyday commuters, it shouldn’t shut down highway lanes to grant those perks to the stewards of the Olympic movement. This will have to be a people’s Olympics if it’s going to be any success at all.
by Shan @ You, Baby and I
Tue Aug 29 03:04:58 PDT 2017
This article was written by Guest Blogger – Mandy Lee Miller, Creator & Director of #CarseatFullstop. Topic: The importance of Car seats. One of the toughest things you face when you are trying to keep your children safe in cars using car seats is resistance from other people. While a stranger or casual acquaintance’s rolled eyes […]
The post Dear Grandparents, this is Why My Child Needs to be in a Car Seat… appeared first on You, Baby and I.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 01 10:50:00 PDT 2017
President Trump took to the Twitter-waves to broadcast some important economy news Tuesday morning.
Trump usually posts such tweets—another one Tuesday was on the media’s failure to report on the stock market’s gains this year—to take credit for the strength of the economy and reassure his audience (and himself) of his general awesomeness. Trump never tweets negative news, like, say, the crap sales this year from the auto industry, which is the largest manufacturing and retail sector of the economy.
Never mind the absurdity of Trump taking credit for positive economic news and ignoring the negative—Trump arrived in the White House after an eight-year boom in corporate profits and the stock market that can hardly be attributed to him. There’s something else that’s amiss. The fact that American companies are making more than ever is actually a big part of the problem in this country. And its arguably one of the reasons we ended up with Trump.
Of course, corporate profits are better than corporate losses. And more corporate profits are generally better than less corporate profits. But the signal fact of the past decade or so is that, while the fortunes of the corporate sector recovered rapidly after the financial crisis (thanks, Obama and Bernanke!), the fortunes of American workers never quite did.
For a variety of reasons, in fact, the relationship between pay and profits—which was already increasingly tenuous in the 1990s and the 2000s—broke down entirely during the Obama era. Companies, having survived the collective near-death experience of the 2008 financial crisis, were eager to keep costs down. With massive slack in the labor market—the unemployment rate was 10 percent in October 2009—and unions on their back, workers at all skill levels were not in much of a position to bargain for higher rates. If they did summon up the courage to ask for more, companies could wield the threat of automation, outsourcing, or offshoring. Oh, and thanks to Republican intransigence, the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at a measly $7.25 per hour for the past decade.
So even as median household income stagnated and wages grew a tiny bit, we saw a massive increase in pre-tax corporate profits, from $1.38 trillion in 2008 to $1.84 trillion in 2010, $2.13 trillion in 2012, and $2.16 trillion in 2016. That’s an increase of more than 56 percent in six years. More significantly, corporate profits as a percentage of GDP, which never topped 6.4 percent in the 1990s, rose from 7.3 percent in 2008 to 10.4 percent in 2014. Another way of looking at this, as Pedro da Costa points out in Business Insider, is that labor’s share of the overall economic pie has been plummeting during this expansion. America has been making a lot bigger pizzas in the past several years, but all the extra slices are being delivered to executives and shareholders.
The strange, unpredicted thing is that this trend continued even as the expansion continued to roll on and the labor market tightened. There have been more than 5 million jobs open in the U.S. since August 2014. The unemployment rate stands at 4.4 percent. In many states and cities, the minimum wage is rising. And yet overall pay isn’t really budging much. Median household income adjusted for inflation in 2015 was below its level in 2006.
This state of affairs is maddening. It’s true that inflation has generally been muted since the onset of the financial crisis. And many important things have become cheaper, like clothes and wireless service. But some goods and services that people really need—say, housing, education, and health care—have become significantly more expensive in the past decade. What’s more, there is something soul-sapping about showing up to work every day and either getting the same as you did last year, or getting paid less than you did last year, and never getting a raise or bonus—especially when you can see that your company’s profits are rising dramatically. It’s almost as if the system was, dare I say it, rigged against those who work and toward rewarding those who sit on their rears and collect dividends.
To aggravate matters, in the past few years, the financial press (me included), Wall Street, the Obama administration, and the Federal Reserve were trumpeting the economic gains apparent in this long-running expansion. That disconnect between corporate prosperity and the struggles of workers was one of the factors that helped ignite Trump’s campaign. While he’s gleefully taking credit for the corporate prosperity now, the previous political establishment’s identification with that disconnect was a theme that Trump played off of masterfully throughout the campaign and even in his closing argument campaign ad.
In theory, of course, profits and wages should be rising in closer harmony. The demand for labor relative to the supply is relatively high. But the structural forces that allowed companies to keep wages down as they recovered—the weakness of unions, the threat from offshoring and automation, the insecurity of millions of people traumatized by the financial crisis—are still with us, even as the economy enters its ninth year of expansion. I’d add another less appreciated factor. A kind of pathology has taken root among business owners. They’ve convinced themselves not only that they shouldn’t have to raise wages in order to attract, motivate, and reward workers, but that it would be detrimental to their business if they were to do so.
Given that the president views every relationship as a zero-sum game, it’s not likely companies will come under any short-term pressure to share a higher proportion of their profits with their employees. But that doesn’t mean executives should rest easy. If jobs stop roaring as profits continue to levitate, Trump may flip the script.
by Sarah Carr @ Slate Articles
Fri Sep 22 02:50:00 PDT 2017
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Leigh epitomizes the underemployed. The 39-year-old has a master’s degree in library science from a top-ranked school, years of experience working the circulation desk in a Boston library, and an IQ of 145. He is reliable and considerate, and he works hard.
Yet for the past eight years, since he lost his salaried Boston library job due to austerity measures, the only permanent job Leigh has landed is at the T.J. Maxx near his mother’s home on Cape Cod. He works part time dusting, vacuuming, and washing the mirrors, and he is paid the minimum wage, $11 an hour. Over the past few years, Leigh has applied for dozens of library positions. Every one has turned him down, most without an interview.
What’s held him back? The library business is contracting, not expanding, and full-time employment is hard to come by, of course. But Leigh, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his family’s privacy, faces an additional hurdle: He has a mild form of autism, a condition that used to be labeled “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” and is distinct from both autism and Asperger’s.
Autistic adults may very well be the most disadvantaged disability group in the American workplace. Only 14 percent of adults with autism held paid jobs in their communities, according to one May report from Drexel University’s Autism Institute (the report looked just at those who had received state developmental disabilities services). Yet a pathetic 2 percent of all autism research funding goes to understanding adulthood and aging, according to a 2017 report from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, based on 2015 numbers. While most research is focused on figuring out how to prevent or treat autism disorders when they are first diagnosed at young ages, we also have to remember that this work has not yet materialized as a solution for the more than 3.5 million Americans living with autism. “It’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that there’s been growing recognition of the fact that children grow up to be adults,” says Susan Daniels, executive secretary of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. As Leigh’s story demonstrates, autistic adults have their own needs—needs that we as a society are just figuring out how to fill.
* * *
For Leigh, autism has complicated the job search on a number of fronts: He takes most everything literally, so when a job listing requires only a bachelor’s degree, he neglects to mention his master’s degree on his résumé. He lacks the networking skills and friend base that could provide personal connections and social introductions to potential employers. And in interviews, he invariably presents as quirky, which can be off-putting for those less familiar with folks “on the spectrum.” When asked last year during one library interview how well he would do managing a small team of volunteers, Leigh replied, “Not very well. I can be tyrannical.” He did not get the job.
“I’m at a precipice,” Leigh says. “I’m so high-functioning that I don’t really register as disabled, but I’m not high-functioning enough that I can easily utilize anything social.”
When Leigh was 2 years old, his mother, Carole, noticed that her son behaved differently. He didn’t make eye contact or talk (a delay the family pediatrician implied was the mother’s fault, instructing her “to repeat until he gets it”).
Leigh clearly absorbed information and communicated in his own way, however. Carole recalls one day when Leigh, a toddler, climbed into the cabinet and started banging pots and pans. Over and over again, she cried at her son to quit the banging and put the pots down. “It was like I wasn’t there,” she says. Desperate, she finally wrote “stop” on a piece of paper and held it in front of Leigh’s face. He immediately paused. “It’s like the channels are different,” she said. “We weren’t always sure he heard or understood us.”
Leigh was teased sometimes during his years in the Nauset public schools on Cape Cod, where he took mostly honors classes and had a small group of friends—his “Faction,” he called them—who looked out for him. I was Leigh’s classmate during middle and high school and took many of those honors classes with him. I mostly remember his love for the Moody Blues’ music, as well as the rapport he developed with a few select teachers and classmates, and how grounded it was in a mutual respect for heart and mind (more grounded, I would argue, than the vast majority of teenage friendships). Leigh would regularly rise and salute our English teacher; he engaged in intellectual banter with our biology and chemistry teacher; he routinely addresses people using terms like “me lady,” “fare thee well,” or with a salute and bow. The Moody Blues (of course) quote he chose for his senior class yearbook: “Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door.”
“He had an utter respect for the people who were his friends or were kind to him, and it came out in his behaving like a knight,” recalls Amanda Sevak, one of his longtime friends and a member of his Faction.
Leigh still tries to come to the rescue: One day a few years ago, Sevak reached out to Leigh with an urgent question. She was chaperoning a field trip for her twin grade-school daughters’ class, and an autistic classmate was having a meltdown. He had cut himself but refused to wear a bandage.
Leigh calmly explained that they should tell the boy that the “strange sensation of the adhesive” would be preferable to the pain of getting an infection from air exposure. Sevak quickly relayed the message to the child. It connected with the child in a way that other pleas had not.
Although Leigh strikes most strangers as very serious, those who know him well often glimpse his humorous side. His mother recalls one time when he brought a video to his special education class featuring Victor Borge, a comedian and musician who pronounces different phonetic sounds when reading punctuation marks. It was one of his favorite clips, yet the screening still made Leigh laugh so uproariously he fell off his chair. And when the senior class decided to pelt water balloons at one another to celebrate graduation, everyone assumed Leigh would take a pass. Instead he showed up with a tin man–style container filled with water and gleefully sprayed his classmates.
When he graduated from high school, Leigh knew he wanted to pursue a career. And I don’t think anyone who knew him in high school would have questioned his capacity to succeed in a profession, at least one that didn’t require great social ease and self-possession: He had thrived in classes that were intellectually challenging and managed to find a kind of niche. He attended Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences for two years before questioning whether he could handle the patient counseling required of pharmacists. “Given my troubles with socialization, I was a bit leery,” he said.
So he switched to the library track, earning a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College. Over 12 years, he worked his way up from volunteer to full-time employee at a Boston public library branch, where he discovered that he was capable of interacting with patrons while manning the circulation desk. He lived by himself and enjoyed the independence and solitude. Unlike the more rural Cape Cod, Boston was a good city for him since he could easily navigate on foot and public transportation (he does not drive).
In 2010, Leigh’s quiet life was upended when he lost his job due to austerity measures across the city’s library system. Within a year, he moved back home to the Cape to live with his mother and look for work from there (his father died in late 2008).
The job search was unending. At first, Leigh sought out only library jobs. He estimates that he submitted resumes for 20 to 30 open positions scattered across New England—to no avail.
When he asked for advice, he sometimes ran up against job stereotyping, Leigh says. People suggest computer coding to him all the time, since many people with mild autism are detail-oriented and adept at solitary work (a new startup called Coding Autism aims to train people on the spectrum for technology jobs). “People look at my autism and assume I like coding,” Leigh says, adding an exuberant, “Not here!”
Instead, Leigh has two great passions: books and birds. He craves a job that is intellectually engaging and relates to at least one of those areas. Yet most of the jobs available for those with disabilities on the Cape are more menial in nature, like his T.J. Maxx position. “There are jobs for more severely disabled people” but not ones set aside for people with more modest challenges, Leigh says. “People with mild disabilities like my own don’t register on anyone’s radar.”
In addition to the T.J. Maxx job, Leigh eventually began volunteering at a Cape library and for an organization called Wild Care, where he feeds baby birds. He broadened his search from library work to any clerical position. He also met with a counselor through a state-sponsored vocational rehabilitation program, but for years his job search produced few interviews—and no jobs.
In early 2016, however, Leigh’s job search seemed to turn a corner when he connected with Cape Abilities, a local organization that provides a range of support and job placement services for people with disabilities. Leigh’s first counselor there, Peggy Boskey, was determined to find him a job that made better use of his mind. They began corresponding regularly and meeting every other week, working on résumés, interview strategies, and more. Given Leigh’s extensive education and experience, as well as his formidable intellect, Boskey assumed it would only take a few months to find him something more stimulating than janitorial work.
* * *
Employment rates for autistic adults are abysmal in both absolute and relative terms—they’re lower than those for just about any other disability type studied. Drexel’s Autism Institute found that 58 percent of young adults on the spectrum worked at some point in the years after high school, compared with 74 percent of those with an intellectual disability and 91 percent of those with an emotional disturbance. “People with autism tend to flounder more,” said Anne Roux, a research scientist at the Autism Institute who worked on the study.
Some employers and social service agencies have started trying to make inroads on the problem. A couple major businesses like Microsoft and PetSmart have prioritized hiring and supporting autistic employees. Microsoft, for instance, did away with its traditional interview process for applicants on the spectrum, instead inviting them to come and spend several days on site so they could be observed while working on projects.
And in many places, including Leigh’s home state of Massachusetts, adults with autism qualify for more state-sponsored job training and support than they did just a few years ago. A 2014 state law expanded the number of people on the spectrum who are eligible for help from the state’s Department of Developmental Services for services like job coaching (previously it was more difficult for those with IQs above 70 to qualify). More than 1,300 people have been newly deemed eligible for services as a result of this change.
Among the lessons learned: The autistic population is unfathomably diverse, in terms of skills, interests, and aptitudes. That means there is no easy, one-size-fits-all accommodation that employers can make and no single occupation that could be targeted as a solution for people on the spectrum. Some have severe cognitive or intellectual impairments; others, like Leigh, have sky-high IQs. Some possess little to no verbal skills; others can communicate with much greater fluency. Some are more socially aggressive than the average person; others are more withdrawn.
“The abilities of people with autism are just as diverse—maybe even more diverse than other people,” said Denise Resnik, a founder of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center who has a 26-year-old son with autism. That means the outreach to potential employers needs to be both broader (encompassing a larger range of job types) and more concrete (making clearer the potential needs and accommodations of autistic workers). It isn’t enough to create thousands of new positions for computer coders with autism spectrum disorders because thousands of others, including Leigh, won’t go that route. Technology jobs might be higher level and better paid, but Leigh says he can’t wrap his head around HTML and doesn’t enjoy coding-related work.
Resnik, as well as some employers, agree that once an autistic worker lands a suitable job, he or she usually excels. “I’ve heard over and over that they tend to be the first to arrive, the last to leave, the hardest workers, and people who bring out the best in their co-workers,” said Resnik. For people on the spectrum, work tends to be the main priority in their lives, rather than competing against social and other interests, Resnik added.
That said, part of the employer outreach component is educating potential bosses about unique needs of employees with autism. Phil Francis, the former CEO of PetSmart, said he’s found it more challenging, on average, for workers on the spectrum to follow multistep, complicated instructions; he tells their supervisors to break it down or assign more discrete tasks. “They are different in some respects, but many of the differences are highly positive,” he says.
The biggest hurdle in many instances seems to be helping them get to the point of being employees. That might require changing interview processes, where autistic individuals typically flounder—perhaps by allowing a counselor to sit in, ensuring that someone familiar with autism conducts the interview, or adopting Microsoft’s “interview-less” approach. Julie Urda, another of Leigh’s counselors at Cape Abilities, says people on the spectrum typically “don’t get nuance or body language or social convention,” yet interviewers often rigidly assess them on those traits.
Workers who are autistic often require at least some minimal level of ongoing job support, a person who can serve as intermediary if conflicts or confusion arise over their role or conduct. Leigh’s mother, Carole, says she feels like people with autism would benefit tremendously from job coaches who they can check in with, even if only for five minutes on the phone each week. “Someone who is readily available and can step in before misunderstandings get too big,” she says, noting that people with the disorder often struggle to “read” other people, as much as they may want to.
Leigh had volunteered as a docent at one wildlife organization but stopped because he struggled to know when to approach people and when to hang back. Yet he possesses his own form of empathy, and genuinely wants other people to feel at ease around him. Said his mother: “He’s very uncomfortable about making other people uncomfortable.”
* * *
Despite the increased awareness, the problem, as always, is how to scale up solutions in a country where the national conversation surrounding autism is so focused on young children and where we know so little about what drives macrolevel trends and outcomes for autistic adults. Our knowledge is patchy and anecdotal rather than systemic and informed by data. That’s partly because it’s “less sexy and more difficult” to study adulthood than to do research on “brains and genes”—the two topics that receive the lion’s share of the funding, said Roux. There’s a lot hype around prevention and finding a “cure” and very little around helping adults thrive.
“The consequence is a stagnation to the quality of life of people who are already with us … it’s hard to improve outcomes because we don’t know enough,” said Roux. Daniels from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee says she envisions this changing in the coming years, as the National Institutes of Health and other groups have started new programs that fund projects aimed at helping adolescents transition to adulthood or support adults on the spectrum with independent living.
Better and more widespread research could help us pinpoint the unique needs of autistic adults; the most effective ways of supporting them in finding, and keeping, jobs; and the states that are doing the best at providing services. We don’t even know exactly how many adults on the spectrum live in the United States, said Roux.
We also don’t know how severity of the disorder impacts employment prospects. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the highest-functioning people on the spectrum can be particularly hard to place in jobs since they can, and want to, do more ambitious work than the menial roles so often assigned disabled workers in the American economy. Yet routine interactions rarely come easily, even for the most verbal of them.
It didn’t turn out to be as easy as Peggy Boskey had hoped last year to find Leigh a better job. On the tourism-dominated Cape, service industry jobs abound, but entry-level office positions are more elusive. And those that exist often have dozens of qualified applicants. Leigh came close to close to landing one library job but struggled with the interview. “If they have three people who are qualified, they are going to go with the one they feel most comfortable with,” Boskey said. Leigh wants more engaging work but also needs it. He is trying to complete the paperwork to qualify for disability payments, which he currently does not receive. His mother would like him to be as financially secure as possible, particularly when she dies. Leigh has no siblings or other close relatives to fill the void that she will someday leave. “I’m trying to set things up as best I can for him,” she says.
She says she finds it encouraging how many more life and career options people with disabilities have than they did a generation or two ago. “We’ve greatly expanded our definition of who can take part in humanity,” she says. But there’s still a huge distance to go.
In January, Leigh finally got a break when the Barnstable Housing Authority hired him for a temporary, part-time position doing general office work, including preparing spreadsheets and retrieving mailings. He dropped some of his hours at T.J. Maxx but continued the two volunteer positions in an effort to keep his options open. It wasn’t clear whether the housing authority job would continue past the summer.
His counselor Urda noted that the housing authority representative who interviewed and hired Leigh has autistic relatives, which made her more aware and accommodating throughout the process. That personal connection is not something people with autism—and in need of jobs—can usually count on.
Last month, Leigh learned that his job at the housing authority would conclude at the end of August, putting him back at square one.
Leigh’s mother says that in spite of the long search, and its many disappointments, her son has never complained about his limited professional options.
As a society, though, we should be concerned. Leigh’s story has many lessons. But, for me, two stand out: First, too little attention has been paid to the employment needs of those with mild disabilities, as a disproportionate share of the assistance, support, and set-asides (understandably) target those with the most severe needs. We shouldn’t stop supporting employees with the most intense challenges, but we need to be much more willing to make accommodations and develop new programs for less disabled workers like Leigh, rather than expecting them to seamlessly “blend in” or relegating them to narrow career tracks.
Beyond that, change requires not only greater awareness but concrete alterations to the hiring and employee-support processes. More employers need to figure out a way to understand the skills of people with autism. Microsoft’s model, developing a distinct interview process for applicants on the spectrum, is a good start. As the numbers of Americans with autism spectrum disorders continues to rise, it’s not just a matter of social justice but of national economic health. And, in Leigh’s case, we’re failing to make use of a unique and elegant mind that continues, more than 20 years later, to enrich the few people who have gotten to know him well, a mind that has much to offer the lives—and, hopefully, workplaces—of most anyone who gives him a chance.
You, Baby and I
Baby Dove has arrived in South Africa with a strong message for moms. There's No Perfect Moms, Only REAL ones! Trust your way!
Gina Crisanti was taking out the trash at work one day when a stranger approached her with an odd request. It was a talent scout who wanted her to try out for an ad campaign to sell Dove beauty products _ wearing nothing but her underwear.
by Nick Thieme @ Slate Articles
Fri Aug 11 14:56:00 PDT 2017
Along with “decline of civilization,” add “danger” to the list of reasons fidget spinners are bad for the youth: Two recent incidents reveal the mindfulness tool and classroom distraction can burst into flames and explode.
Michelle Carr of Fenton, Michigan, told an NBC outlet in May that her Bluetooth fidget spinner caught fire while it charged on her bookshelf. Another incident in June in Gardendale, Alabama, ended with a screaming child dousing a flaming fidget spinner in the sink. Like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7s of flammable products past, the culprit seems to be the batteries: In both cases, the spinners were Bluetooth-enabled and were charging when they caught fire.
On Thursday, Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairwoman of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission, released a statement addressing reports of “fires involving battery-operated fidget spinners” and providing guidelines for usage. The regulations recommend being present when the batteries are charging, only using the charger provided with the spinner, and unplugging the spinner as soon as the batteries are fully charged—the “do not look into the sun” of safety recommendations. If their recommendations on the obsolescing toy seem uninspired, well, we’ve been here before.
The CPSC has also released guidelines in response to reports of children choking on nonbattery spinners. The most notable of these accidents happened in May, when a 10-year-old girl from Texas needed surgery to remove a bearing from her throat. The CPSC reasonably recommends not putting fidget spinners in your mouth. You can imagine the eyeroll that accompanied the writing of that sentence.
Fires and choking kids undoubtedly give ammunition to humbugs and culture critics. But the CPSC disagrees, noting “they can be fun to use,” and giving a list of ways to stay safe. Maybe instead of knocking fidget spinners, pick one up and let loose. Just make sure not to mistake it for a snack.
by Rachel Withers @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 13 08:30:58 PDT 2017
For the first four years of my adult life, I worked every weekend as a cashier in my local supermarket. By local, I mean nearby—this was no small-town convenience store. It was one of the busiest outlets of a major supermarket chain in the largest mall in the country, with more than a dozen registers siphoning shoppers out of the store. Despite the store’s size, I, like most cashiers, had my “regulars.” There was the little girl I knew by name who did the weekly family shop with her dad and insisted on seeking out my register, regardless of how long the line might be. There was the man in the tie-dye shirt with tight gray curls, whose name I did not know but whom I mentally referred to as “Old Tom” for his resemblance to a friend of mine (give or take 30 years).
Then there was Bill. Bill (whose name, along with other names, I’ve changed) was a white-haired gentleman, probably in his 80s, whom I never saw without his black beret. He might make a couple of purchases over the course of the weekend, and each one was a small social engagement. A visit. He always came through my register, making courteous conversation. If I had taken off the previous Sunday, he’d ask what I’d been up to. Over the years, Bill brought me chocolates and Christmas cards, and we even once went out for lunch on my break. After I ensured my co-workers knew where I was going, I accompanied Bill to a large café on the other side of the mall, and while I ate a panini (which he insisted on paying for), he told me stories and showed me his sketchbooks.
Bill and I had no reason to ever meet and get to know one another other than through customer service. We never had one another’s telephone number or email address. But the friendly face-to-face interaction we shared week-in week-out created something—perhaps not a friendship but a meaningful relationship nonetheless, an edge case among the kinds of serendipitous encounters customer service can foster. His visits made my day go by a bit more easily. And my conversation, I think, helped Bill avoid feeling lonely.
Over the four years I worked there, the supermarket became more and more focused on providing an automated shopping experience. The ratio of self-checkout to cashiers continued to shift in favor of the independent style, with space afforded to machines slowly eating into the line of registers. Often I’d find myself assigned to the self-checkout, where my only customer interactions consisted of telling customers they’d miscoded mushrooms as potatoes.
A 2016 RBR report forecasts that the global self-checkout market will grow by 44 percent by 2021. Whether buying chicken nuggets or condoms, businesses increasingly allow customers to skip the interaction and serve themselves. Earlier this year, Amazon opened a completely cashier-free store near its company headquarters in Seattle. The futuristic Amazon Go store tracks customers by cameras and sensors throughout the store and automatically charges them for their items as they exit. With Amazon now taking over Whole Foods, moving closer to its goal of becoming central to both online and offline retail, it’s likely the tech company will be bringing its interaction-free style of shopping into even more Americans lives. Meanwhile, 23 percent of American households completed at least a portion of their grocery shopping online last year, with that number expected to rise to 70 percent within a decade. We want things quickly and we want to deal with as few people as possible.
Loneliness, meanwhile, is on the rise, with twice as many adults describing themselves as lonely than did in the 1980s. Though we are more connected than ever before, it is quite possible to go a whole day without uttering a single word. Objective isolation—a lack of day-to-day human contact—has a strong effect on human mortality, according to John T. Cacioppo of the University of Chicago, who studies the negative health effects of loneliness. “Objective contacts and weak ties are good for health,” says Cacioppo. “Not so much for mental health but for physical health.” Objective isolation increases the odds of mortality by 26 percent, says Cacioppo. While no replacement for family and friends, regular interaction makes you more likely to engage in healthy behavior, like leaving the house to visit the pharmacist you like, and increases the social ties—like that pharmacist checking in on you—that improve well-being.
As casually social activities like grocery shopping become “smarter,” more automated and less personal, as the competitive prices of online shopping drive old-fashioned shops out of business, what will happen to these serendipitous encounters? And what will happen to those who rely on them? These nameless yet familiar faces—faces that light up with recognition—can create a vital sense of belonging, a sense of identity within a neighborhood or a city or even a shopping complex. These little encounters add up to a community.
I don’t know what happened to Bill after I left my part-time job: Our weak ties dissolved as soon as I handed in my badge. But I believe he made new ones. (In fact, I don’t doubt Bill had favorites in every shop he visited regularly.) Here in New York, where I moved one year ago not knowing a soul, the person I see most regularly is a smiling stranger, who greets me like a friend from behind the counter of a Brooklyn bodega. I’ll miss him when he’s gone.
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Bump, Baby and You
A review of the new ‘Baby Dove’ bathing range by Dove Baby products; oh my lord. The variety! The things to consider when selecting products to use on our baby’s delicate skin… Enough to send any first time mum into...
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by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Sun Sep 10 12:59:00 PDT 2017
Natural disasters present opportunities for companies to burnish their brands—or tarnish them. It’s relatively easy for a company to marshal resources after the disaster has happened by sending truckloads of supplies, distributing products, and stamping its name on relief efforts. It’s much harder to do the right thing as the disaster is approaching or actually happening—and that’s in part because so much of the human activity has been removed from business operations.
Operating at scale—managing millions of customers, running intricate and highly complex operations, keeping track of a huge amount of activity in real time—requires robust systems. The more computer algorithms can perform business activities and make decisions, the more efficient and profitable companies can be. Indeed, companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, which enjoy very high margins, rely to a large degree on algorithms to run their businesses.
Software can detect and follow supply and demand in real time and adjust prices accordingly. This is how companies that sell products with set expiration dates—like hotel rooms and airplane seats—manage to eke out profits in highly competitive environments. Retailers like gas stations also use software to scour the marketplace for price information and continually adjust prices.
But we’ve seen in the past how doing so can lead to problems when things go badly. Uber, the poster child for having too much artificial intelligence and too little emotional intelligence, was justly dinged for letting its system charge surge pricing during Hurricane Sandy.
Last week, several well-known, very large companies—not exactly paragons of customer service—intervened in their algorithms and altered policies to offer relief to stressed-out customers in ways that were counterintuitive to how the machines would act.
Ordinarily, when lots of people suddenly want to fly air routes at the same time, systems will adjust prices continually higher to capture the available dollars. Not this time. Several airlines last week, led by JetBlue, American, Delta, and United, capped fares for flights leaving Florida, waived some of the fees they charge for bringing baggage and pets along, and added flights and seats to the extent possible. All of which will have the effect of reducing revenues that the system could have captured.
Airbnb generates revenues partly as a percentage of how much guests pay to stay in the homes of hosts on its network. The prospects of millions of people fleeing Irma and seeking temporary shelter would therefore present an opportunity for Airbnb and its hosts to raise prices. But, in another counterintuitive move, Airbnb assembled a list of hosts willing to open their homes for free.
For wireless companies, which make money by charging users for data, a week in which people feel compelled to keep their phones on at all times and continually refresh weather maps or video coverage would be really good for business. The system, without any tweaking, would happily tally overages and charge accordingly. Ahead of Irma’s arrival, however, both AT&T Wireless and Verizon texted customers that they would either add more data to existing plans or simply not charge for text or data overuse for the next week.
Of course, these measures aren’t being done purely out of a sense of humanitarianism. Savvy companies have come to recognize that behaving like a jerk when customers are in extremis can add to your bottom line this quarter, but it invites investigations, and, in the age of social media, backlash. 7-Eleven swung into action quickly when it was reported that several store owners in Florida had jacked up prices of bottled water last week.
Now that so many operations are run by algorithms that have no appreciation for poor optics—or the morality of gouging consumers when they are desperate, or the damage that a greedy vision can do a company’s long-term viability—more and more executives are discovering they have to shut their systems off when the waters rise.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 22 15:05:22 PDT 2017
In the 19th century, nullification was the idea that states could void the actions of the federal government if they deemed them unconstitutional. Its proponents, chief among them John C. Calhoun, argued that if something the feds were doing—i.e. tariffs—was contrary to the economic interests of the entity he cared most about—South Carolina—then the state could simply do its own thing. Nullification, like Calhoun’s ideas about slavery, was a profoundly bad one, and it led to a constitutional crisis.
Today, I’d propose a different meaning for nullification—and it is a reason for both hope and concern for anyone dismayed by the presidency of Donald Trump. There is always a tendency for powerful actors—in state and local government, yes, but also in the private sector generally—to decide not to do business with the president, and to act as if the executive branch’s policies don’t exist. In the Trump era that tendency has already become notably pronounced, and it comes in three principal forms.
One form of nullification is denial of patronage: refusing to do business with the entities the president or his family owns. One theory has suggested that the presidency would be a boon to Trump’s businesses, including his golf courses, his private club Mar-a-Lago, and the hotels that carry his name. But with each month, Trump’s conduct in office has pushed people and groups concerned with their brands to cease working with Trump properties. The Trump-branded public golf course in the Bronx, New York, saw its business decline in 2016. While Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel attracts lobbyists and corporate events, most of the rooms are empty. (Its occupancy rate is a measly 42 percent.) Mar-a-Lago, a stalwart of the social and charity scene in Palm Beach, Florida, has been hit by a wave of event nullification. Since Trump’s disastrous series of comments about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, one by one charities and nonprofits have canceled their plans to host luncheons, dinners, galas, and dances at the facility. The club, write Drew Harwell and David Farenthold in the Washington Post, has “lost nine of the 16 galas or dinner events that it had been scheduled to host during next winter’s social ‘season’ in Palm Beach. At least three other groups have also canceled charity luncheons there this week.”
A second form of nullification is denial of association: refusing to provide counsel or show up to photo opportunities, or to be in the same room as the president. In the early days of the Trump administration and during the transition, CEOs, athletes, and other boldface names dutifully showed up—some with glee, some with pained expressions on their faces—to be part of the photo ops and volunteer to serve on various councils.
But the norm is no longer the norm. CEOs, athletes, and celebrities are denying Trump the privilege of their association. After Ken Frazier of Merck and Co. quit the Trump’s council on manufacturing, an exodus of CEOs commenced. Several of the advisory firms set up to grant corporate legitimacy and support for the Trump presidency quickly disbanded: the Manufacturing Council, the Strategic and Policy Forum, the Infrastructure Council.
The people on these committees had significant business with the government, and hence much to gain and lose from changes in government policy. But they decided that having their personal or corporate brands associated with Trump would be damaging, cause an intolerable level of cognitive dissonance at a personal level, or both. As Merck lead director Leslie Brun told the Wall Street Journal about boardroom discussion surrounding Trump: “Informal conversations among board members often revolved around ‘what do you tell your kids?’ ”
The Kennedy Center, about to toast six artists, breathed a sigh of relief when Trump said he wouldn’t show up to its annual Honors and canceled the White House reception associated with the event—this as some of the recipients, including actress and dancer Carmen de Lavallade, said they would not show up at the White House reception. Basketball star Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors said he would not go to the White House to celebrate his team’s victory in the NBA Finals, citing a lack of respect for its occupant. “I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” Durant said.
A third form of nullification is to act as if the proclamations, executive orders, and policy pronouncements are irrelevant to you, don’t exist, or are to be ignored—and to create alternate markets and realities. This dynamic can be seen most vividly in the energy and environmental arenas. Trump has promised to revive the coal industry, pulled out of the Paris climate accord, and installed a bunch of climate-change denialists and skeptics in relevant government agencies.
But states, cities, and companies make their own climate-change policy through laws, policies, standards, or procurement decisions. And many of them are actively nullifying Trump’s statements and actions.
Here are a few things that have happened so far this year:
California extended its cap-and-trade program through 2030. Hawaii became the first state to commit to having 100 percent renewable energy on its electricity supply grid. Orlando, Florida, adopted a target of getting all its electricity from renewable sources by 2050, joining the growing roster of more than three dozen cities that have done so. JPMorgan Chase said that by 2020, it would power all its operations through emissions-free energy. The bank has joined more than 100 large multinational corporations that have made the same commitment. Through May, utilities announced the closure of eight coal-burning plants as the industry continues its transition to a lower-carbon future.
This is not to say Trump doesn’t have real power or that his administration isn’t affecting change or delivering results to favored constituencies. Whether it is the Environmental Protection Agency rolling back water regulations, general nonfeasance at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Justice Department’s enforcement of immigration policies, the Trump administration is changing realities on the ground. The rise of nullification does not decrease the danger of an unfettered Trump administration.
What’s more, nullification isn’t a particularly good precedent. I would argue that it is much better for the country and our economy when all sorts of people feel comfortable visiting the White House and making common cause with the White House—and when states, cities, the federal government, and companies are on the same page in the pursuit of goals. There are good historical, constitutional, and practical reasons for the federal government to have primacy over states in many areas. And while it’s nice that some companies are relatively progressive on some issues, and that some CEOs can muster the moral courage to take stands, we shouldn’t be relying on them excessively. CEOs of defense contractors have a much harder time acting as if Trump doesn’t exist than, say, CEOs of consumer products or technology companies. Bench players and role players have far less leeway than all-stars to express their political views.
Still, nullification offers something more satisfying than catharsis or schadenfreude. The fact that people, institutions, and organizations are willing and able to deny their dollars and association with Trump and be celebrated for it is a sign that America’s democratic and market system, which has been under attack, is holding up strong.
One of the features about authoritarian regimes is that there is a price to be paid for defying the expressed wishes and whims of the government and its leader: You can lose your business, or get jailed, or get frozen out from contracts, or lose your license. That’s not happening here.
by Katy Waldman @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 12 05:00:00 PDT 2017
Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.
In an interview with New York magazine in March, David Letterman recalled the time a cashier at DSW sent him into existential crisis. “I’m waiting in line,” the former late-night host related, “and the woman checking people out says in a big loud voice, ‘May I help our next shoe lover, please?’ I just started to tremble.” Worse than the invitation’s presumption of intimacy could be the unholy way it combines stultifying cheerfulness with capitalist coercion. You’re going to buy these shoes, and you’re going to love it.
The Soup Nazi screamed “NEXT!” Sometimes you hear “Ma’am?” and you wonder how old you look that day. Sometimes it’s a smile or a nod or lingering eye contact and the next thing you know you and the barista at Saxbys are in bed together. (This is not something that’s ever happened to me, but I imagine it transpires frequently, what with all the smiling, nodding, and eye contact. Either that or you wind up with three more Luna bars than you wanted.) How do cashiers select the words they use to indicate that it’s your turn? And do they have any choice in the matter?
The 21st-century boilerplate for this interaction is, of course, “May I help the following guest?” which many Slatesters recall leaping to the fore at Starbucks, drugstores, and elsewhere sometime in the previous decade. With its classy substitution of “guest” for “customer” and its ostentatiously grammatical swap of “following” for “next,” the phrase threatens to turn your trip to Staples into an unwritten Bertie Wooster novel. A New York Times article from 2015 conceded: “Clearly the word ‘guest’ is supposed to lend an aura of warmth and welcoming.” But guest—which evokes coffee, biscuits, and a place to sleep—is hardly compatible with jamming your credit card into one of Giant’s chip readers while a bored teenager throws your detergent in a bag. “Be Your Guest? How About I Just Pay and Leave?” the headline complained.
Yet it is tough to fault salespeople (and their corporate overlords) for wishing to wrap us in an illusory heating blanket of kindly intentions. Some employees know that gracious service pays off; others genuinely want to be nice; often it’s a mixture of both. When I started asking friends and colleagues who’ve worked the register about communicating “nextness,” what emerged was a portrait of the contradictions that plague service industries in general. “I can help the next person in line,” said a literalist Urban Outfitters clerk. A cashier at a corner store relied on “subtle umming.” A shy Toys R Us counter drone opted for the minimal “Next, please.” A Nike store employee would occasionally produce “an out-of-the-ordinary noise to get someone’s attention, like ‘Heyyyyooooooooo, next up.’ ” Since he was in Florida, he added, the noise had a way of coming out vaguely Spanish, a polite variation on “oye amigo, look alive.”
Shoppers usually regard a cashier as a mechanism by which to obtain a latte or flat-screen TV. And for the cashier, the guy lugging his swag to the counter represents a simple task to be dispensed with, like a turtle you jump over playing Super Mario Bros. (Most of the jumps are easy, but remember, if you let your concentration flag for even a moment, that turtle could wreck you.) Each transaction involves a two-way depersonalization; yet only one of the sides is forced to pretend that they see the other as an important and multifaceted individual.
Consider the screen glimpsed by reporter Nathan McDermott at his local Starbucks.
“Recognize me,” the directive read, apparently in the customer’s voice. “Include me. Appreciate me. Support me. Delight me.” Is there anything less personal than corporately mandated, one-size-fits-all solicitude? (“Gag me,” one is tempted to reply.)
For all that the archetypal customer experience is being put on hold, it’s the cashiers, suppressing their feelings in the name of efficiency and profit, most often asked to place themselves on hold, and to defer their true emotions and responses until the shift ends. At the same time, an authentic connection can move products, and it makes human beings feel that their work is worthwhile. So what’s the answer—do you, drooping employee, pray for those moments in which capitalist imperatives and inner impulses align? Just get really, really good at faking it?
I had always suspected that modern, ruthlessly customer-focused businesses would mandate a certain greeting, or range of greetings, with the same sterile corporate spirit encapsulated by that Starbucks register screen. But no one remembered following a script. I reached out to the corporate brass at Target, Walmart, Starbucks, CVS Pharmacy, and Walgreens for thoughts on nextness signaling. (Free business jargon for the next retreat, guys!)
None of them got back to me. Insert your joke about poor customer service here.
Reco, 26, works at the counter at an H&M clothing store in D.C. When I approached with a $9.95 pack of underpants that I grabbed out of a bin by the register, he acknowledged me with a radiant smile. He said he switches up his language both to prevent boredom and to deliver a more tailored experience to individual shoppers: “I don’t like to make it too mechanical.” Reco prefers everyday words and gestures—“just smiling and nodding will get you a long way,” he observed. While H&M doesn’t prescribe specific phrases, he thinks the chain’s interview process screens for sunny cashiers like him. He wouldn’t have this job “if I was miserable having to deal with people all the time.”
What about rude people?
“That hasn’t really happened,” Reco said. “Are you going to buy this underwear?”
I also called one of the many Starbucks peppering the neighborhood around Slate’s D.C. office. I spoke to a manager who revealed that the company has no “actual policy” and leaves such matters to the discretion of the local franchise heads. “We do one person at a time,” he said, of his own store, “and we want everyone to feel taken care of. Rudeness isn’t tolerated.” When I pressed him about scripted expressions, he noted the most common ones he hears from his employees are “can I help you?” and “next in line.” But he added that “it is common courtesy to ask what’s going on.”
“Does that mean that Starbucks cashiers will actually say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” I responded, delighted at the caj vibe of such an icebreaker.
Silence. “Would that be a problem?” he asked.
Then I tried to get his name, and he hung up on me. Next!
Actually, can we pause for a second over how great it feels when your turn arrives? This is one of the core paradoxes of “may I help the next person”—that a moment so repetitious and dream-shriveling for the cashier carries such a singular affirmative power for the customer. There you are, waiting for the people ahead of you to resolve their business, sagging a bit under the weight of the social compact that equates every single other schmoe’s desires with yours. And then: The karmic klieg light swivels to soak you in its golden glow.
Whether you are picking up your prescription or buying a bagel, there’s primal, joyful satisfaction in approaching the counter, because you—you!—are “next.” But on the other side of that counter, all of the yous blur together into one long yawn. And by convention, that person, the bored one, is the party that is supposed to act cheerful. And so capitalism goes, until the moment you arrive at the gates of Heaven to find a smiling St. Peter amiably processing his long line of souls. “Oye amigo, look alive,” he’ll joke, at which point a lifetime of consumer interactions will have hopefully taught you how to see past the façade and respond with empathy. Cashiers are there to help the following guest. But God helps those who help themselves.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Fri Aug 25 05:49:00 PDT 2017
It's possible to get rich if your business only caters to rich people. But it's hard to have a massive and really successful industry in the United States today if you only cater to rich people. There are only so many people in the country with good credit and lots of cash sitting around. And this week, we got evidence that one of America’s largest industries may be running into trouble because its products appeal only to the upper crust. I’m not talking about jewelry or apparel. I’m talking about housing.
On Tuesday, luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers reported a blow-out quarter, noting that contracts and sales were up 20 percent from the year before, and said it might sell more than 2,500 homes in the upcoming quarter.
On Wednesday, the Census Bureau announced that new home sales in July were down 9.4 percent from June, and down 8.9 percent from July 2016.
On Thursday, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales in July fell 1.3 percent in July from June—to an annual rate of 5.44 million. While the rate of sales in July was still up 2.1 percent from July 2016, this was the lowest reading of 2017 to date.
It amounts to a fairly neat summation of the American economy right now. Toll Brothers builds McMansions and expensive condos in and around wealthy urban areas. It caters to a distinctly high-end crowd, and would be psyched if it could sell 10,000 homes in a year. At the company’s Pierhouse at Brooklyn Bridge Park building in New York, condos start at $1.5 million. In the most recent quarter, the average price for a Toll Brothers home that went into contract was $837,300. But yuppies, foreigners, millennials with cash, and baby boomers are lining up. In the first nine months of this fiscal year, Toll Brothers sold 22 percent more homes than it did the in the first nine months of the previous fiscal year.
Toll Brothers may not be a typical new homebuilder, but it is clear that the building industry writ large is aiming to pitch its product toward more affluent buyers. Look at the Census’ new home sales release. The median sales price of a newly constructed home sold in July was $313,700, up 7 percent from July 2016. That may not sound like much, especially if you live in an expensive coastal region. But that’s 21 percent higher than the typical price of an existing home. And over the past several years, the building industry has raised prices on its offerings at a pace that has exceeded both the rate of inflation and income growth. In July 2012, the median price of a new home sold was just $232,600. In five years, the price of a median new home has risen by 35 percent. All of which is to say that, with each passing month, the homebuilding industry is pitching its products at a smaller, wealthier demographic slice.
There’s also evidence that existing homes (about 10 times more existing homes are sold each year than new homes) are getting too expensive for buyers. For 65 straight months, the National Association of Realtors notes, the price of existing homes has notched year-over-year gains. In July, the median existing-home price for all housing types, the group says, was $258,300, up 6.2 percent from $243,200 in July 2016. Four years ago, the median existing home price was a mere $213,000. Which means that prices of existing homes have risen 21 percent in the past four years. Because income growth for typical Americans—the type of people who buy typical homes—has been stagnant, this means that as the market continues to rise, fewer and fewer people can afford to bid on and purchase existing homes.
To their credit, in this expansion, the mortgage industry has not responded to the rising challenge of affordability by massively lowering its standards or by offering no-money down mortgages and other exotic lending instruments. By and large, if you want to buy a house today, you’ve got to come up with a meaningful down payment and show good credit. Of course, there are a limited number of people in the U.S. who have $40,000 or $50,000 in cash lying around to make a down payment.
Clearly, there is something of a housing shortage in the United States. One of the reasons that the price of existing homes is rising so rapidly is that there isn’t much supply. The number of existing homes for sale fell 9 percent from July 2016 to July 2017, and, at 1.92 million, represents a meager 4.2 months of supply.
The solution to the problem is for developers to increase the supply of affordable homes, and to bring large numbers of homes to the market that are closer in price to existing homes. But there’s no evidence that is happening. In July, 9,000 new homes worth more than $500,000 were sold in the U.S.—only 8,000 homes worth less than $200,000 were.
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Tue Sep 19 02:50:00 PDT 2017
This story was co-published with ProPublica.
Want to listen to this article out loud? Hear it on Slate Voice.
This past June, Florida’s top education agency delivered a failing grade to the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy in suburban Jacksonville for the second year in a row. It designated the charter school for kindergarten through fifth grade as the worst public school in Clay County and one of the lowest performing in the state.
Two-thirds of the academy’s students failed the state exams last year, and only one-third of them were making any academic progress at all. The school had four principals in three years, and teacher turnover was high, too.
“My fourth-grader was learning stuff that my second-grader was learning—it shouldn’t be that way,” said Tanya Bullard, who moved her three daughters from the arts academy this past summer to a traditional public school. “The school has completely failed me and my children.”
The district terminated the academy’s charter contract. Surprisingly, Orange Park didn’t shut down—and even found a way to stay on the public dime. It reopened last month as a private school charging $5,000 a year, below the $5,886 maximum that low-income students receive to attend the school of their choice under a state voucher program. Academy officials expect all of its students to pay tuition with the publicly backed coupons.
The Rev. Alesia Ford-Burse, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor who founded the academy, told ProPublica that the school deserves a second chance because families love its dance and art lessons, which they otherwise couldn’t afford. “Kids are saying, ‘F or not, we’re staying,’ ” she said.
* * *
While it’s widely known that private schools convert to charter status to take advantage of public dollars, more schools are now heading in the opposite direction. As voucher programs across the country proliferate, shuttered charter schools like the Orange Park Performance Arts Academy have begun to privatize in order to stay open with state assistance.
A ProPublica nationwide review found that at least 16 failing or struggling charter schools in five states—Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia—have gone private with the help of publicly funded voucher programs, including 13 since 2010. Four of them specialize in the arts, including Orange Park, and five serve students with special needs.
“The voucher just is a pass through in order to provide additional funding for private schools to thrive and to continue to work,” said Addison Davis, superintendent of schools in Clay County. Changing a school’s status “isn’t going to stop the process where we continue to see kids who are declining academically and not being able to demonstrate mastery and proficiency.”
Two key factors underlie these conversions. The number of voucher and voucher-like programs across the country has more than tripled over the past decade from 16 to 53. And charter schools, which became popular as a way to spur educational innovation with reduced regulation, have increasingly faced more stringent oversight. Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform and a longtime supporter of charter schools, lamented in a recent op-ed that increased government regulation is turning them into “bureaucratic, risk-averse organizations fixated on process over experimentation.”
“Why not just be a private school if the kids qualify for the scholarships?” said Christopher Norwood, a consultant for the Orange Park school, in an interview. “With 90 percent fewer regulations, schools can be independent and free, and just deal with the students.”
As private schools, the ex-charters are less accountable both to the government and the public. It can be nearly impossible to find out how well some of them are performing. About half of the voucher and voucher-like programs in the country require academic assessments of their students, but few states publish the complete test results or use that data to hold schools accountable.
While most states have provisions for closing low-quality charter schools, few, if any, have the power to shut down low-performing voucher schools.
“Public money is being handed out without oversight,” said Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian and public schools advocate who served as assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush. “The fundamental voucher idea is that parents are choosing the schools and they know better than the state. If they want to send their kids to a snake-charming school, then that’s their choice.”
* * *
The type of voucher program that rescues failed charter schools like Orange Park in Florida may soon be replicated nationwide. Visiting a religious school in Miami last April, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos praised the state’s approach as a possible model for a federal initiative.
Typically, voucher programs are directly funded with taxpayer dollars. Florida’s largest program pursues a different strategy. Its “tax-credit scholarships” are backed by donations from corporations. They contribute to nonprofit organizations which, in turn, distribute the money to the private schools. In exchange, the donors receive generous dollar-for-dollar tax credits from the state. This subsidy indirectly shifts hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the state’s coffers to private schools. More than 100,000 students whose families meet the income eligibility requirements have received the tax-credit coupons this year.
Of the nearly 2,900 private schools in Florida, over 1,730 participated in the tax-credit voucher program during 2016–2017, according to the most recent state Department of Education data. On average, each school received about $300,000 last year.
While more than two-thirds of these schools are religious, the roundabout funding approach protects the vouchers against legal challenges that they violate the separation of church and state. Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by the Florida Education Association, a teachers union, challenging the constitutionality of the voucher program.
In an education budget proposal from May, DeVos detailed her voucher plans, pitching a $250 million plan to study and expand individual state initiatives. She has since suggested that the administration may also create a federal tax-credit voucher scheme through an impending tax overhaul.
School choice advocates like DeVos have long contended that vouchers improve educational opportunities for low-income families. They reason that competition raises school quality and that parents, given more options, will select the best school for their children.
A growing body of research, though, casts doubt on this argument. It shows voucher-backed students may not be performing better than their public school counterparts—and may do worse.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study compared students who attended private schools with vouchers in Washington, D.C., from 2012 through 2014 with those who qualified for the program but were turned down due to a lack of available slots. The private schoolers performed significantly worse than their public school peers in math and no better in reading.
According to a February 2017 analysis by Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University education professor, most studies of voucher programs over the past quarter-century found little evidence that students who receive the coupons perform better than their public school peers.
The lack of evidence on the benefits of vouchers, Carnoy wrote, “suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs.”
* * *
Across the Florida panhandle from Orange Park, another troubled charter school for the arts has reinvented itself as a voucher-funded private school.
“Every month they came before the board and there was a problem,” said Jeff Bergosh, a school board member at the time, adding that he supports school choice. “They tried to make it work, but they didn’t. There were serious issues that jeopardized student safety, like sanitation issues and not having supervision [for the students].”
After Dixon received two failing grades from the state—which triggers termination of a school’s charter under Florida rules—the Rev. Lutimothy May, a Baptist pastor who chaired its board, appealed to state education authorities. They allowed the school to operate for at least one more year, but he began to seek other options.
Around the same time, a local beverage distributor, David Bear of the Lewis Bear Company, told May that he was considering contributing to the state tax-credit program. If the Dixon school privatized, Bear told May, donations could help save it. In 2013, May turned the charter, which had recently been renamed the Dixon School of the Arts, into a private Christian arts academy located inside his church. Nearly all current students at Dixon receive the tax-credit vouchers, bringing the school more than $500,000 a year, according to the most recent data from the state’s department of education.
“Our goal is still the same,” but the conversion has “untied some of the strings on education,” May said.
* * *
Some of the untied “strings” to which May referred were state educational requirements. By converting from a charter to private status, Dixon and other schools largely shield themselves from accountability.
For instance, while Florida requires all private schools to test students who receive vouchers, the schools face no consequences for weak academic performance. The University of Florida publishes an annual report analyzing the test scores of students that receive vouchers, but data from only a small fraction of the schools is made public. The report excludes many schools that don’t have test results for enough students in consecutive years.
The latest report released the academic performance of only 198 schools in 2014–15, out of the more than 1,500 schools that that enrolled voucher-funded students that year. Most Florida families that receive vouchers do not have access to test data on their schools. The Dixon data was not published. Dixon’s principal, Donna Curry, maintained that the school has improved since its conversion from charter status but declined to provide exam results to ProPublica, saying they were “for internal use.”
Curry added that state test results are not necessarily reflective of student success. “I will not accept the fact that our children are not learning because they are not normalized on the state test,” she said. Her staff “knows more than what the test evaluates.”
The state also has little control over how private voucher-funded schools foster learning. There are no requirements on curriculum or teacher certification other than the criminal background checks that are required for personnel at all private schools.
Because Dixon receives more than $250,000 in voucher money, it does have to file a financial accountability report. Only about 40 percent of all voucher-funded schools met this threshold to undergo such an audit in 2016. The reports, including Dixon’s, aren’t publicly posted.
Even an official at Step Up For Students, the largest nonprofit distributor of voucher money to Florida’s private schools, acknowledges the need for closer supervision of educational quality. “As the program matures, and more students are enrolled, and as inevitably we see some schools continue to have what most people would consider to be poor performance year-in and year-out, we will be having more and more discussions about whether there should be some kind of regulatory accountability mechanisms to respond to that,” said Ron Matus, the organization’s director of policy and public affairs.
* * *
Indiana’s largest voucher program, unlike Florida’s, is directly backed by taxpayer dollars and has stricter accountability requirements. A private school that accepts vouchers can be sanctioned if its performance dips low enough. Last year, 10 schools lost their access to new vouchers, according to Adam Baker, the spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education.
The tighter supervision, though, didn’t deter Padua Academy in Indianapolis. Originally a private Catholic school, Padua had become a “purely secular“ charter in 2010 under an unusual arrangement between the local archdiocese and the mayor’s office. The school initially performed well, but soon sank from a solid A-rating to two consecutive F-ratings.
“These performance issues sounded alarm bells at the mayor’s office,” said Brandon Brown, who led the mayor’s charter office at the time. Leadership issues with the school’s board and at the archdiocese, he added, caused the school to falter. After receiving $702,000 from a federal program that provided seed money for new charter schools, the school’s board relinquished its charter.
In the meantime, Indiana had established a voucher program. So, instead of shutting down, the school rebranded itself as St. Anthony Catholic School, nailing its crucifixes back onto the walls and bringing the Bible back into the curriculum. Last year, more than 80 percent of its students were on vouchers, from which the school garnered at least $1.2 million.
Its academic performance has improved but still lags behind the state average. Only 25 percent of St. Anthony students passed both math and reading assessments this year, versus about half of all publicly funded students on average at both private and public schools, according to the state’s education data from 2017. Last year, the state gave St. Anthony a “C” grade.
Gina Fleming, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said through a spokesman that “significant staff turnover” at St. Anthony’s “made for a difficult start these past two years.” As a result, the archdiocese “has been studying ways in which we can recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teachers and leaders.” It has also “made shifts in scheduling, resources, diagnostic analyses and personnel to better accommodate the learning needs of our students.”
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, two other charter schools went private. Both Imagine MASTer Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway were associated with a national for-profit charter chain, Imagine Schools, which has been under scrutiny elsewhere. In 2012, the Missouri Board of Education shut down all six Imagine charter schools in St. Louis for financial and academic woes. In response to such setbacks, Imagine Schools has moved toward “an even deeper commitment to increasing the consistency of our network-wide performance,” said Rhonda Cagle, a spokeswoman for the chain.
The two Fort Wayne schools performed well initially, but by the time their charters were up for renewal, they had some of the worst test results in the area, said Robert Marra, executive director of the charter office at Ball State University, which was responsible for the schools’ oversight. ImagineMASTer received a “D” grade, and Imagine Schools on Broadway an “F,” from the state in 2013.
The data for the two schools “showed clear room for improvement but indicated consistent growth,” Cagle told ProPublica.
In 2013, Imagine merged its two failing charters with a local parochial school, Horizon Christian Academy. Since then, the Christian academy’s enrollment has soared from 23 students to 492. About 430 students paid their tuition with the help of state vouchers last year, totaling about $2.4 million in public funds.
While some of Imagine’s students and staff have stayed on, Cagle said that Imagine has no involvement in the merged academy other than owning the building.
“We could have allowed the buildings to just be empty, but we felt like if there was an interest by another entity for the purposes of education, that would be doing the right thing,” she said. Imagine “does not utilize vouchers for any of our schools,” she added.
Academically, Horizon Christian is far below average. Only 7 percent of its students passed both state exams this year, according to state data. One of its campuses received a “D” grade last year, and its other two campuses failed. The academy did not respond to questions.
“Low-performing operators in Indiana and elsewhere have skirted accountability by converting their charter schools to private schools either right before or right after a charter revocation or nonrenewal,” said Brown, the former Indianapolis official. “I can say unequivocally that any attempt to keep a low-performing school open by evading rigorous accountability is not good for students, families, or the broader school choice movement.”
* * *
As it awaits its first infusion of voucher funds later this month, the Orange Park Performing Arts Academy is strapped. The district has repossessed most of the former charter school’s instructional supplies, including 200 Chromebooks, 34 laptops, 27 iPads, and hundreds of textbooks. The arts—the school’s core mission—have been cleaned out: 10 easels, nine digital pianos, eight heartwood djembes, and four conga drums, all gone. Once lined with silver bleachers, the walls of the cavernous gym are now bare.
Many children have left, too. While the school had about 170 students last year, only 94 enrolled this fall. At least one-quarter are kindergarteners who didn’t attend the charter school. Tanya Bullard, who pulled her three daughters out of Orange Park, predicted it would slide further as a private school because there will be “no one to keep an eye on it and issues will be swept under the rug.”
The school’s new principal, Kelly Kenney, isn’t deterred. She said that she has already made significant strides to separate the school from its failed days as a charter. Most of the teachers and administrators are new hires, although half of the teachers are uncertified. Kenney plans to get the school accredited and strengthen the board of directors. “It can’t be a board of friends,” she said. She has been working with each teacher individually to raise standards and improve curriculum.
“Most people would have been defeated,” Kenney said. “Sometimes when you’re knocked down the hardest, you come back the hardest. And so for parents that have been skeptical, I’m like ‘This will be the best year of education your child will ever have. We’re going to be looking at every detail of their progress, every detail of their learning gap to make sure that we’re closing it.’ ”
Even though it’s not required, Kenney intends to publish her students’ performance data on the school’s website. “It’s important for us to show how we did compared to last year,” she said.
To recruit students this past summer, Kenney went door-to-door in nearby apartment complexes, hosting information sessions in laundry rooms. Believing that they couldn’t afford a private school, many families were reluctant to send their children to Orange Park—until Kenney told them about vouchers. For weeks, she and her staff have worked around the clock to sign up all the students in the voucher program, even helping them organize, fill out, and fax in the necessary paperwork.
Bria Joyce is a loyalist. When her son started kindergarten at the local public school, she says he was “bumping heads” with classmates and she worried that he wasn’t receiving enough attention from teachers. She transferred him to the Orange Park charter school where he took piano lessons and played Grandpa Joe in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
When Joyce heard that the school was converting to a private school, she was nervous that she wouldn’t be able to afford the tuition. But the school reached out to her immediately and walked Joyce through the voucher process. Now Joyce’s son is starting fourth grade there.
“They were prepared and made it as easy as they could, considering everything,” she said. “I believe in what they’re trying to get done.”
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by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 29 16:07:33 PDT 2017
It’s too early to tally the economic losses from Hurricane Harvey. But with the waters yet to subside, analysts are already suggesting that the financial impact of Harvey may not be as bad as Katrina was—at least for insurers. As CNBC reported on Monday, “Damages from Harvey, the hurricane and tropical storm ravaging Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast, are estimated to be well below those from major storms that have hit New Orleans and New York, according to [reinsurance company] Hannover Re.”
The analysis may be correct when it comes to the financial losses suffered by insurers. But the suffering is massive—in this natural disaster and in every natural disaster. And while it is understandable to look at Harvey through the lens of Katrina—they’re both hurricanes that swamped low-lying Gulf Coast areas with lots of energy infrastructure—doing so doesn’t provide the clearest possible picture of the economic damage. And it misconstrues the relative importance and economic power of New Orleans and Houston.
For the U.S. economy to lose New Orleans for a couple of weeks was a human and cultural disaster and an economic challenge. For the U.S. economy to lose Houston for a couple of weeks is a human disaster—and an economic disaster, too.
The Houston metropolitan area, with a population of well over 6 million, has nearly five times the number of people as the New Orleans metropolitan area. More significantly, Houston has more than five time as many jobs as New Orleans, 3.06 million to 578,000. And they tend to be well-paying jobs. The Houston metropolitan area gross domestic product in 2015 was $503 billion, compared with $78 billion for New Orleans. For any retailer or large e-commerce company, the Houston region likely represents close to 3 percent of annual sales.
Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, has a massive, diversified economy. Sure, New Orleans sits near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River and is an important entrepôt and site for export of raw materials, agricultural commodities chemicals, and petroleum products. But Houston is a larger, busier, and far more important node in the networked economy. Economies derive their power and influence from their connections to other cities, countries, and markets. And Houston is one of the more connected. It is one of the global capitals of the energy and energy services industries. The Johnson Space Center has 10,000 employees. Houston is home to the headquarters of 20 Fortune 500 companies and the massive MD Anderson Cancer Center. The two airports, George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, combined handle about 55 million passengers annually, about five times the number that Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport does.
Yes, there’s a degree to which consumption and other economic activity that is forestalled or foregone during a flood is consumption and economic activity deferred. And cleanup efforts tend to be additive to local economies. But in today’s economy, a lot of value can easily be destroyed very quickly. With only a small portion of the housing stock carrying flood insurance, billions of dollars in property will simply be destroyed and not immediately replaced. People who get paid by the hour, or who work for themselves, won’t be able to make up for the income they’re losing a few weeks from now. Hotel rooms and airplane seats are perishable goods—once canceled, they can’t simply be rescheduled. Refineries won’t be able to make up all the time offline—they can’t run more than 24 hours per day. And given that supply chains rely on a huge number of shipments making their connections with precision, the disruption to the region’s shipping, trucking, and rail infrastructure will have far-reaching effects. If you’re a business in Oklahoma or New Mexico, there’s a pretty good chance the goods you are importing or exporting pass through the Port of Houston.
There’s a conventional wisdom that holds that natural disasters aren’t always that bad for the economy. Reconstruction and relief efforts often function as miniature stimulus packages. And many sectors of our economy are indeed highly resilient and flexible—and hence able to weather the storm. Writing in the New York Times earlier this week, Neil Irwin was relatively sanguine about the economic impact of Harvey on the system at large. He noted that any disruption to supply chains was likely to be short-term and that insurers were well-situated to weather the storm. So, yes, it is tough to quibble with the notion that taking a long-term perspective, Harvey will be a blip. But we all know what John Maynard Keynes said about the long run. And in the meantime, there will be a lot of financial and human suffering.
by Aaron Mak @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 21 15:00:00 PDT 2017
For many of us, tracking down the correct eyewear was hassle enough leading up to Monday’s total eclipse. But what about unloading them now that it’s over?
Just hours after the eclipse, people are looking to make some quick cash by selling their “gently used” protective glasses. On Craigslist sites for cities in and around the path of totality—a narrow region running across the country in which you could see the moon completely block the sun—dozens of eclipse viewers are now putting up listings for their secondhand spectacles, often for exorbitant prices. Though the best-selling glasses on Amazon are priced at around $30 to $50 for a pack, it’s not uncommon to see used glasses listed for hundreds of dollars on Craigslist.
Enterprising vendors have come up with a variety of selling points to justify the steep costs, often describing the glasses as historical artifacts. As one $100 listing in Portland, Oregon, reads, “These glasses are a rare treat for anyone interested in space science! These glasses actually witnessed the Eclipse! Not like the ‘new’ glasses so common on the net. Why buy new when you could own EXPERIENCED glasses!” Others emphasize how prepared the buyer will be for the next eclipse, given that the eyewear had just been proven to work. A seller in St. Louis, also asking for $100, wrote, “I know the Eclipse is done and over with. But why not have a pair of glasses, for keep sake? Plus you can always have them for the next Eclipse in 2024!”
These numbers, though outrageous, aren’t as high as the asking prices found in listings posted just before the eclipse, presumably aimed at procrastinators struck by a sudden fear of missing out. Craigslist hucksters seemed to take advantage of this desperation, often charging thousands of dollars for a pair of spectacles.
Others highlighted the extraordinary qualities of their products:
Glasses that let you not only see the eclipse but hear it? Those might be collectors’ items one day. Plain old normal eclipse glasses that happened to be in the right path at the right time? Total rip-off.
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by Henry Grabar @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 12 14:17:46 PDT 2017
At Tuesday’s Apple event in Cupertino, California, Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts revealed that the Apple Store has gone the way of the headphone jack.
“We actually don’t call them stores anymore,” she said. “We call them town squares, because they’re gathering places for the 500 million people who visit us every year. Places where everyone’s welcome, and where all of Apple comes together.” Apple’s other language strives toward the claim, with “plazas” and “forums” to complement the sale of the new, $1,000 iPhone X. “We’re going to open Apple town squares in cities around the world.”
A store is not a town square. A store belongs to a company that wants your money, a town square to a government that serves you. But the idea is of a piece with retail trends, and has long been evident in Apple’s preference for doing business in grand, pseudo-public spaces: an old post office, a train station.
In May, as the company honed its plans to restore Washington’s Carnegie Library, the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell described some of the proposed changes:
Where the Carnegie Library once housed the city’s book collection, Apple plans a “Genius Grove,” a tree-lined sales floor where company reps will demonstrate how to maximize Apple products for music, photography or other passions. What long ago were reading rooms would become places to browse and sample Apple products.
It is in some ways a fitting succession: The tycoons of America’s second gilded age inherit the intellectual and civic spaces of its first. When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, the Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote: “let us hope that this is what the sale signifies: the beginning of a phase in which this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence.”
But there is a difference between undertaking that role with corporate profit and doing so for corporate profit. Apple’s “town squares” and Google’s citywide internet should not be mistaken for philanthropic ventures. That Apple is repurposing the District’s old Carnegie Library does not make the comparison more flattering for the company. CityLab’s Kriston Capps has forcefully argued that one of the city’s “most important cultural assets” deserves a more genuine public role. And, he adds, Apple’s aspiration towards public-interest placemaking—like Amazon’s—also make it a better candidate for tax breaks.
At the same time, it is true that companies increasingly provide the functions abandoned by the retreating public sphere. Long before Apple, malls claimed to be the new town squares, and have tried to develop cultural functions to differentiate themselves in a declining retail landscape. As public libraries cut hours or closed entirely, McDonald’s provided a clean, safe space for kids to do their homework. As understaffed public bathrooms deteriorated and closed, Starbucks became the de facto place to go in many cities. As the dream of a free public education recedes, Apple teaches people how to do stuff for free.
It’s easy to be grateful. If we didn’t have a Starbucks bathroom, where would we pee? If we didn’t have an Apple plaza, where would we sit? On the other hand, if we had not designed a society so friendly to the interests of corporations and their executives, we might still be able to provide those things ourselves.
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by Kate Taylor @ Slate Articles
Thu Jul 27 08:45:00 PDT 2017
When Taco Bell announced a service that allows Lyft users to push a button to have their driver take them to a Taco Bell drive-through, most taco lovers' reaction was to celebrate. However, many Lyft drivers—who found out about the new service at the same time as the rest of the world—had a different response.
Drivers immediately called out Lyft on Twitter, questioning why drivers would want to take the time of going through a Taco Bell drive-thru without additional compensation. Typically, Lyft drivers are paid by the mile—meaning that they aren't earning any cash when cars are stopped at the drive-thru under the current system. And, that's not even getting into the potential messes that a car full of Doritos Locos tacos could create.
"That Lyft might go ahead and do this—encourage riders to do something most drivers dislike doing—without offering drivers an incentive or otherwise communicating to us what the plan is is pretty bold," one Lyft driver told Business Insider.
"This is Uber type behavior, and I don't think even Uber does stuff like this anymore," he continued. "I wonder if it occurs to Taco Bell that drivers don't like going through the drive-through."
The same driver also emailed Business Insider a snarky, satiric corporate statement from "Lyft," reading: "A representative for the Los Angeles-based Southern California Rideshare Drivers Association said, 'Although drivers make very little money sitting in the drive through line, and many feel that Lyft and Taco Bell are encouraging riders to take advantage of the awkward situation this puts drivers in, the upside is this provides a great new revenue stream source for the drivers in the form of cleaning fees.'"
Lyft clarified on Twitter that drivers' participation in "Taco Mode," which is launching as a test in Orange County, California on Thursday, is completely optional. The company, which did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment, also said it plans to "gather and evaluate feedback from both drivers and passengers and use this to inform Taco Mode moving forward."
Taco Bell will test Taco Mode in Orange County, California, from July 27 to 29 and August 3 to 5, with plans to expand the service across the US in 2018. In addition to providing passengers the ability to order drive-through Taco Bell, Taco Mode also includes a custom in-car menu, free Doritos Locos tacos, and what the company calls a "taco-themed car."
"We realized that for every person who has asked their Lyft driver to make a pit stop at Taco Bell—and we've seen many—there are likely those who weren't sure if this was possible," Taco Bell CMO Marisa Thalberg said in a statement. "With the advent of this fantastic partnership with Lyft, we will erase any lingering uncertainty and celebrate the ability to 'ride-thru' in Taco Mode."
Many Americans use commercial bar soaps to cleanse their skin. Over time, these bar soaps can dry out your skin and cause premature signs of aging.
by Libby Lewis @ Slate Articles
Fri Aug 11 09:18:00 PDT 2017
So far, exploding air bags made by the Japanese auto supplier Takata have been linked to 18 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide. For its failures, the company has been besieged by lawsuits, a global recall, and finally bankruptcy. But odds are there will be more harm. A lot more.
For now, those future victims are potentiality burrowed away in one figure: 69 million. That’s Takata’s own estimate of how many flawed or questionable air bags are still in cars on the road, or on the market, as of July. Somewhere within that best guess are the lives that will be changed, or ended, because of malfunctioning air bags that use the same chemical compound the Taliban uses to make some of its roadside bombs.
But Takata and the carmakers that used the bags have structured the company’s bankruptcy to fend off liability for their actions—arguing that it’s necessary to salvage the disaster. In the end, it may leave future victims with no one to hold liable.
For years, Takata used ammonium nitrate to deploy its air bags because it was cheaper than what its rivals used, despite evidence it was volatile and could sometimes turn an air bag’s metal inflater into a mass of flying shrapnel. (Takata still uses an altered version of the compound in some of its replacement bags, with the approval of U.S. regulators.) As injuries mounted, Takata covered up the problem, and U.S. regulators lurched into overseeing a confusing, chaotic recall—the largest in U.S. auto history. When Takata filed for bankruptcy to deal with its vast liabilities in June, more than half of the recalled air bags had not yet been replaced.
Several states and dozens of families have sued Takata and some carmakers over deaths or injuries caused by metal shrapnel from their cars’ air bag inflaters exploding, either in collisions or by deploying on their own. Those families are represented in Takata’s bankruptcy—in a formal committee of creditors who are injury victims.
So what happens to those faceless victims-to-be?
As part of its criminal settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Takata has agreed to pay $125 million to injury victims, both current and future. That won’t be enough for the losses to come. The injuries people have sustained in these cases so far range from quadriplegia to loss of sight, hearing, and speech. And insiders are expecting many, many more. “It seems to be generally accepted there will be billions of dollars in claims,” the U.S. trustee in the case wrote in a recent court filing.
A Chinese competitor, Key Safety Systems, says it plans to pay $1.6 billion for the healthy parts of Takata’s business, which make seat belts and child seats. It is leaving behind the air bag inflater business that caused all the wreckage. That sounds like a lot of money. But if the sale goes through, most of that will likely go to the carmakers that have paid for much of the recalls and to the lawyers and advisers to the bankruptcy. It won’t leave much for victims.
The Chinese buyers won’t be responsible; why would they buy unless they were free and clear of those liabilities? And after the bankruptcy, there won’t be any Takata left for victims to appeal to.
The only realistic source of payment for those future victims, in financial terms, is the carmakers. They’re the ones that installed the bad airbags. And there’s significant evidence some of them knew about the flaws and ignored them, because Takata’s air bags were cheaper. But the carmakers have positioned themselves to control Takata’s bankruptcy by persuading the disgraced supplier to let them finance the process with money they already owe Takata for air bags Takata gave them on credit. If they pull it off, it’s a brilliant plan—for them, at least.
Robert Rasmussen, a professor of bankruptcy law at the University of Southern California, said it’s a novel approach to funding a recall that will last several years at the least. “It’s good if you believe what Takata says,” he said, “and I have no reason not to.” Takata says it would cost far more to borrow the money from banks. In theory, that savings would go to creditors.
But any savings would come at a huge price for everyone other than the carmakers.
In exchange for funding the bankruptcy, the carmakers want the bankruptcy version of superpowers. And they want to use them to fend off and limit their own liability for the Takata disaster. In other words, the carmakers want to use the powerful tools in bankruptcy law for themselves, even though they are not in bankruptcy.
Here’s some of what they’re pushing the judge to approve, according to court documents and interviews.
First, they want the bankruptcy equivalent of a force field to protect them from the consumer and personal injury lawsuits that have been filed against both Takata and them. That powerful bankruptcy protection is normally given only to debtors, like Takata.
But carmakers argued in court this week that they, as lenders, should get that protection as well—to make the bankruptcy work. Lawyers for the injury victims called that argument “the first salvo by (the carmakers) to coopt the bankruptcy of the supplier to their own advantage.”
Next, the carmakers want the legal protections that go to lenders that loan to bankrupt firms. That would mean securing, or guaranteeing, the money they give Takata with Takata’s remaining assets. And that would give them a lot of control over how Takata’s money can be spent.
Next, they want to use that control, in part, to harness their liability for Takata’s deadly air bags. According to lawyers in the case, the carmakers want to set up a trust for paying victims’ claims, funnel all the claims to that trust, and bar victims from suing them elsewhere.
It’s a model derived from the Johns Manville Corp. over asbestos—the first mass tort case to go into bankruptcy. But the purpose of the Manville trust was to keep a bankrupt business alive. Here, the carmakers that want the trust are not in bankruptcy.
Another condition carmakers want as lenders: to bar the injury victims from using any money from the bankruptcy to sue them, no matter how liable the carmakers turn out to be in Takata’s fraud. And they want a strict limit on how much money Takata’s victims can spend from their official bankruptcy funds to even investigate how much carmakers knew about Takata’s fraud and when they knew it. “It’s a fact of life in many cases —where the lender wants to make it difficult and risky for the creditors to sue or challenge the lender,” said William Weintraub, a partner at Goodwin Procter and a bankruptcy expert.
Here, the lender may be co-liable in wrongdoing that has led to an unknown amount of damage.
Lawyers for the dead and injured and for the states are fighting the carmakers’ push for power; it’s for the bankruptcy judge to decide the extent of their control over the case.
Where does this all leave those future victims? It’s certain the judge will name an advocate to speak on their behalf. There may even be a separate fund created for them. But for how much? For how many? History suggests that future victims never get compensated as well as known victims.
“The dynamics are: When you have actual breathing people with actual breathing claims, they tend to get compensated today,” Rasmussen said. The others get less, “because they’re not there.”
And now, those unknowns could also be bargaining against another living, breathing group—the carmakers, imbued with bankruptcy superpowers.
by ibh @ Indian Beauty Hub
Sun Sep 17 21:55:36 PDT 2017
Hello everyone, in today’s post I am going to share the products that I have received in my September Fab Bag. It is their 5th anniversary special Bag with “The Object of Desire” theme. This month the products came inside an off white color pouch with shiny finish. September fab bag consists of 6 products […]
The post The Object of Desire September 2017 Fab Bag Review appeared first on Indian Beauty Hub.
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by Jeff Friedrich @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:56:39 PDT 2017
Nobody wants to be a pilot anymore. As the airlines tell it, a so-called pilot shortage has made it impossible to staff their fleets, forcing them to cancel flights and park hundreds of airworthy planes in the desert. One airline ventured to blame its 2016 bankruptcy on its inability to hire enough pilots, and even at always-profitable and carefree Southwest Airlines, the challenge of recruiting millennial aviators keeps middle management awake at night. “The biggest problem,” a Southwest executive told Bloomberg, “is a general lack of interest in folks pursuing this as a career anymore.”
Airline execs tend to make the shortage seem more mysterious than it is, as if something in the contrails is fueling this “general lack of interest” in the profession. That’s evasive. Rather, the shortage is best understood as an obvious manifestation—and perhaps the nadir—of a long-term deprofessionalization of what was once a solidly middle-class career: We made the pilot occupation so unattractive, so tenuous and poorly paid, that people stopped wanting to do it.
Flying, meanwhile, has also become unbearable for passengers. The airlines that survived the volatile decade following 9/11 have since consolidated themselves into a lucrative oligopoly, prompting questions about why smaller cities continue to lose service, why seats keep getting smaller, why fares have remained stubbornly high even as fuel prices dropped and profits soared, and why paying passengers are being quasi-defenestrated from overbooked flights.
The degenerating passenger and pilot experiences aren’t separate phenomena but in fact are intimately related, both resulting from policy choices that have propelled a decadeslong, ongoing makeover of the national air-transit system. The difference, perhaps, is that we are more conscious that we, the passengers, are getting a raw deal.
So are aviation workers, but there is more to the pilot shortage than just pay. Industry representatives are pushing Congress to address the rising cost of pilot training, which can exceed $100,000 after requirements became more stringent in response to a 2009 crash. Competition for pilots has also gone global, causing many young pilots to leave the U.S. to chase more exotic opportunities with Emirates and other Middle Eastern carriers. And there are class-conscious obstacles to recruitment—flying has become less glamorous.
But at the regional airlines where the effects of the pilot shortage are most acute, even management seems to have finally acknowledged that pay matters, as evidenced by their recent efforts to raise starting salaries that paid first-year pilots as little as $15,000 to $20,000. And although many jobs have gotten worse in the past few decades, pilot wage stagnation distinguishes itself in several respects.
First, airline jobs appear to be caught in a steeper free fall. Before President Carter and a Democratic Congress deregulated the airlines in 1978, few industries paid higher wages. In the 1990s, a number of studies reviewed deregulation’s impact on airline wages, attributing decreases in the range of 10 to 20 percent for pilots, and more for flight attendants. While many observers hypothesized that wages would stabilize as the shakeout from deregulation attenuated, wages never managed to find a floor in the decade after 9/11. According to a Government Accountability Office analysis, pilots’ median weekly earnings fell another 9.5 percent from 2000 through 2012—lower wage growth than 74 percent of the other professions included in the GAO’s review.
Nor has this wage erosion been limited to pilots. Today, many flight attendants begin their careers making less than minimum wage—as I did as a flight attendant for Pinnacle Airlines, where I was employed from 2011 to 2013. It’s even worse for those who work outside the aircraft. Average weekly wages for airport operations workers, a category that includes baggage handlers and other support staff, fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011—a growth rate that was lower even than the low-wage retail and food service industries, according to a 2013 study. Airline workers also work much harder than they did in the past; the industry had the second highest multifactor productivity growth from 1997 through 2014, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Declining wages and inequality are sometimes described as an inevitable, deterministic outcome of abstract economic forces, but none of the usual suspects seem to adequately explain what’s happening to airline jobs in the U.S.—not immigration (pilots and flight attendants must speak English), globalization (so-called cabotage laws have limited the scope of international outsourcing), automation (robots haven’t yet displaced pilots), or the decline of unions (union density remains high). How, then, could the airline industry have fared worse than most other industries?
* * *
In the recent history of pilot wages, two related trends have tipped the balance of power between the airlines and their labor force: the proliferation of outsourcing strategies after 9/11 and the consolidation of the country’s major air carriers.
Regional airlines are having the hardest time hiring pilots. These companies, where most pilots now begin their careers, operate almost half of all domestic flights on behalf of major carriers like Delta, United, and American. David Dao was actually kicked off a United flight that was operated by Republic Airways. Though the employees on the plane wore United uniforms, their paycheck came from Republic.
The regional industry grew as a strategic response to the downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks. The airlines’ losses were unprecedented. Through 2005, the airlines lost more than $50 billion and received more than $5 billion in direct government aid. Four major carriers went bankrupt, and the industry shed more than 100,000 jobs, around 15 percent of its entire workforce.
The 50-seat regional jet played a key role in the industry’s recovery. Until about 1998, smaller airports were served either by larger jets, which were oversized for these markets, or turboprops, which flew slow and not as far. As the airlines attempted to stave off bankruptcy, they began buying a repurposed corporate jet manufactured by Bombardier, the CRJ200. The plane allowed the airlines to better match their smaller markets with demand, which in turn allowed them to redeploy larger planes to more lucrative international routes. The jets could also reach markets that were beyond the reach of the turboprops, allowing airport hubs to expand their customer base.
At first these planes were operated in house or through wholly owned subsidiaries, but after a time the flying was outsourced to independent companies. That strategy was initially constrained by the pilot unions, because collective-bargaining agreements typically limited how much flying could be outsourced.
A standard response emerged: If the unions refused to renegotiate their contracts, the airlines threatened to declare bankruptcy, where they might be judicially absolved from the commitments they had promised to workers. Forced to make concessions, the unions allowed more outsourcing to avoid options that would hurt their current members more, like additional layoffs or pay cuts. Because of these dynamics, every major airline had secured permission to fly more regional jets by the mid-2000s. As a result, regional jet capacity grew by 97 percent between 2000 and 2003, suddenly making these planes an integral part of the system.
Regional airline pilots and flight attendants have always made less than their mainline counterparts, but before 2000, the regional airline workforce was much smaller. In 1978, regional aircraft flew approximately 5 percent of all domestic departures; in 2000, 16 percent; in 2015, 45 percent.
Through outsourcing, the major carriers effectively introduced a permanent secondary scale. The result is that today’s young pilots are embarking on careers that look markedly different from the ones their senior colleagues began a generation ago. Though it’s still possible to make $200,000 flying international routes at a top airline, new pilots must now progress through a regional pay scale before they begin their ascent of a major’s scale, meaning it will take them longer to get to top pay, and their lifetime earnings will ultimately be lower. This helps explain why more than $100,000 in income now separates the top-earning 10 percent of pilots from the lowest-earning decile, a wage differential matched by few occupations.
* * *
Toward the latter half of the 2000s, consolidation played an equally important role in forcing down the pay of entry-level pilots. Though Congress intended for the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 to promote competition, the four largest airlines now find themselves in control of 80 percent of the market. When the reform passed, five airlines controlled 70 percent of the market. This has helped awaken political interest in consumer rights, but less attention has been paid to how airlines could wield market power to depress wages.
In the midaughts, regionals often earned substantial profits, but as the majors struggled through bankruptcies and the 2008 recession, they sought to renegotiate the amount they were paying to the regional carriers, ultimately securing new agreements on much less generous terms. Several concurrent trends also caused the airlines to re-evaluate their reliance on 50-seat regional jets. Most significantly, jet fuel prices rose almost 500 percent between 2002 and 2008. When Bombardier released a larger, 76-seat version of the CRJ200 that had far superior fuel economy, there were suddenly powerful incentives for the airlines to find ways to get rid of their 50-seaters.
Market power made it easier for the airlines to achieve this goal. After the mergers between Delta and Northwest in 2008, United and Continental in 2010, and American and US Airways in 2013, each combined carrier found itself in control of a large fleet of undesirable 50-seat jets. The regionals, on the other hand, had fewer customers to whom they could sell their flying. The majors used their leverage, which resembles what economists call “monopsony power,” to continually bid down the price they paid to regionals.
Delta took an especially aggressive tack, suing three of its regional partners for what it alleged were performance issues, in each case withholding millions of dollars in payments it would have ordinarily owed. This helped force Mesa Airlines into bankruptcy, and all three carriers eventually consented to reworking their agreements with Delta. In the new agreements, Delta sought to pay less for its flying and to retire 50-seat aircraft.
Even as they continued to put downward pressure on regional airline wages, Delta and the other majors began to earn record profits. Under such conditions in an ordinary market, economists would have expected the majors to face pressure to raise wages (the majors have raised the pay of direct employees, to Wall Street’s occasional chagrin), but outsourcing and market power have positioned the companies to exclude certain workers from their gains.
Certainly, a case can be made that the government should have more closely scrutinized some of the mergers of the past decade. But current antitrust law prioritizes a consumer focus. Prior to deregulation, merger review would have concerned itself with employee welfare, but as currently practiced, questions about monopsony—when there is only one buyer, in this case of labor—still might have escaped the attention of a more vigilant merger review.
In the “hipster antitrust” corner of Twitter, some are arguing for a more expansive form of trustbusting, one that could mitigate the effects corporate concentration appears to be having on wages in certain parts of the economy, and as appears to be happening in the airline industry. It’s a policy solution that deserves more consideration, but for reasons made clear to me by my own experience as a flight attendant, one that might not be enough to arrest the fall of airline wages.
* * *
The airline industry has no formal minimum wage because the Fair Labor Standards Act exempts transportation workers. Because of that, unions are it—the de facto wage floor. The problem is that America’s uniquely permissive bankruptcy laws have undermined the strength of unions.
When I interviewed for my flight attendant position at Pinnacle Airlines in 2010, the hiring manager slid a piece of paper across the table and told me, as if issuing challenge, “That’s how much you’ll make in your first year”—a fairly cinematic way of telling someone their salary is $15,500, though at least she was candid. It compelled me to justify myself, to explain to my interrogators how I planned to live in New York City on so little—less than minimum wage after accounting for the cost of my uniform and unpaid training time.
After I convinced them, I was soon working with pilots who were making about $20,000. Some of them had worked for one or even two failed regional airlines before landing at Pinnacle, where they’d once again found themselves at the bottom of the pay scale.
Nonetheless, when Pinnacle went bankrupt in 2012, a victim of what my CEO termed “a race to the bottom” among the regional carriers, labor became the focus of attention, just as it does in all airline bankruptcies. A judge agreed that the company’s pilots were paid “substantially over market,” granting approval of a reorganization plan that included a 9 percent reduction in pilot pay, plus smaller cuts to flight attendant pay and employee benefits.
As an academic matter, bankruptcy law strives to treat all creditors as equals. But in its actual practice, the law has evolved to allow certain creditors to skip to the front of the line. When that allows one party to successfully evade its fair share of the losses, other parties, including labor, stand to lose more.
Plane financiers, in particular, enjoy special treatment through Section 1110 of the bankruptcy law, a provision that essentially bankruptcy-proofs an airplane, allowing lenders to reclaim an asset that might otherwise be sold in order to pay off other creditors. This protection is unique to the perennially insolvent airline industry and helps explain why the financial industry remains willing to lend it money.
This is a notable intervention into a supposedly “deregulated” industry, and without it the airline industry might require more direct forms of public subsidy. In the case of the regional airline industry, 1110 made it much easier for airlines to make consequence-free escapes from their leases after rising fuel costs made their 50-seat jets less economical.
Labor, conversely, cannot cut the creditor line, and the courts can discharge collective bargaining contracts and employee pensions just like any contractual obligation that isn’t an aircraft. The Supreme Court’s Bildisco decision required the airlines jump through some additional hoops before a judge can allow them to rip up a union contract, but the mere fact of its possibility weakens the bargaining power of unions by making companies less accountable to what they’ve promised workers. Accordingly, the rejection of labor contracts “has not been the mechanism of last resort to save a failing business,” the Air Line Pilots Association told Congress in 2010, “but instead has often been used by employers as a business model to gain long-term economic advantage by unfairly gutting the wages and working conditions of airline and other employees.”
Most other countries’ bankruptcy courts do not work this way. Canada does not let bankrupt companies tear up labor contracts. Some countries jail the executives of bankrupt companies while the boards of insolvent American operators often award “retention bonuses” to their executives. U.S. laws don’t even require bankrupt companies to prove they’re bankrupt, allowing a number of U.S. airlines to enter the process with healthy stores of cash. Of late, as the U.S. airlines have sought to prevent Middle Eastern carriers from securing permissions to serve more U.S. airports, they have pointed out various subsidies these airlines receive from their governments. In response, the Middle Eastern carriers have inventoried the ways in which Chapter 11 shelters U.S. airlines from the free market.
* * *
Even as the airlines have earned record profits in recent years, they’ve canceled or reduced service to cities across the country, quietly rendering a dramatic remapping of the national air transit system. Twenty-three percent of U.S. airports lost more than 20 percent of their flights between 2013 and 2016, and at least 18 airports lost service altogether, according to numbers provided by the Regional Airline Association. The airlines say this is simply the pilot shortage in action, but it’s more accurately understood as the ongoing legacy of the decision to deregulate the industry.
It’s always been tough to make a buck running an airline. In general, the fixed costs of operating any airplane are high, but bigger planes tend to have lower costs per passenger. We have airline hubs because very few pairs of cities are large enough to sustain a high frequency of service using large airplanes. The hubs allow airlines to assemble enough passengers to fill a larger plane, allowing them to profitably increase service between two cities. The academic and former airline executive Michael Levine, one of intellectual forefathers of deregulation, has described hubs as “factories [that] manufacture route density.”
Southwest and other low-cost airlines have famously scorned hubs. They operate as point-to-point operations, mostly flying lucrative routes between major cities, and only as often as they can fill an airplane. By comparison, operating hubs is considerably more expensive and complex. Hub operators—these days Delta, United, and American—have historically recouped these costs by operating as “everywhere to anywhere” airlines. Through the cross-subsidization of routes, consumers paid a premium to access a comprehensive network that could get them from Bemidji to Bamako.
In the first two decades after deregulation, there was enough competition and industry turmoil to inhibit the expansion of low-cost airlines like Southwest. But in the mid-’90s government regulators began to regard Southwest as a positive competitive influence on the hubbed airlines—whenever Southwest managed to enter a new market, fares fell. To promote the expansion of what became known as the “Southwest effect,” the government helped ensure that low-cost airlines were getting opportunities to service major airports.
As more low-cost airlines began competing on the lucrative routes between major cities, it was harder for the hubbed operators to charge the premium they required to recoup their higher operating costs. In short, the point-to-point business model was compromising the sustainability of the network model. That competitive pressure motivated the hubbed carriers to use outsourcing and the market power they acquired from consolidation to continue pushing regional wages down, even while they earned huge profits.
The pilot shortage is the limit of that strategy—pay got too low, so people stopped wanting to do the job. The airlines could try to charge more money to the passengers flying from smaller airports, but that has its own drawback—at some point those passengers will opt to begin their trip by driving to a larger city. Consolidation has also made it less essential for the hubbed airlines to worry about smaller markets. As the airlines consolidated, more traffic is being handled by the largest hubs. This means airlines don’t need to reach as deep into the country to fill a large plane that’s bound for Paris or New York. In some ways the hubbed airlines have become more like Southwest.
Essentially, we have made a consumer-welfare trade-off, swapping a more comprehensive system with somewhat higher fares for a more limited one that can deliver the best value on the country’s most popular flights. The winners of the trade-off are people who make frequent trips between New York and L.A. The losers live two hours outside of Memphis, or work entry-level jobs on the flights that would serve those communities.
This is a defensible policy trade-off. But as has often been the case in the years since deregulation, the changes we made to the air transit system didn’t happen after a vigorous public debate. We have continued to allow the market to sort it out, even as it becomes clearer that the market’s imperfections might prevent it from delivering a system that can satisfy all parts of the country. It’s also an approach that has continued to pass the expense of policy transformation on to employees. We should bear such costs in mind as we continue to demand lower and lower fares.
by Jacob Brogan @ Slate Articles
Thu Sep 07 13:53:47 PDT 2017
We’ve all lived through the necessary indignity of passing through airport security. Especially when the queue moves slowly, the process leaves you replaying familiar worries. Do I still have to take off my shoes? Should I pull out my laptop? Are my toiletries small enough to escape notice? When you pass through with a medical device, however, the list of questions is longer and the answers more frustratingly predictable. Yes, you’ll waste still more time as the agents scrutinize every aspect of your equipment. Yes, before the experience is done, one of them will touch your groin. Yes, you are being singled out for something that already makes you feel terrible—physically and emotionally—almost every day. If you’re lucky, you still make it to your gate in time.
In my case, the trouble starts with two medical devices that are always attached to my body to treat my diabetes: a wireless insulin pump, which I typically wear on my upper arm, and a constant glucose monitor that adheres to my stomach. Removing either would require me to apply a new module, which is both expensive and time-consuming. And though neither device is especially large, they announce themselves loudly on full-body scans: bright blots of light against the murky gray of my digitally rendered frame.
Each time they show up—and they always do—the next steps are the same. Officers pull me aside and pat me down. Somewhere along the way, they test my fingers for explosives. Inevitably, I’m all but compelled to explain my condition, telling the agents what I’m wearing and why, even as other travelers stream by.
Where devices like mine are designed to make my life easier, allowing me to live without fear of my disease, here they become objects of near-performative skepticism. For a few minutes, I become a sort of showpiece, a dramaturgical prop in the Transportation Security Administration’s ongoing work of security theater. In the moment, it’s hard not to feel that the TSA counts on such screening opportunities, if only because they allow the agents to show everyone else in line just how thorough they are.
Perhaps that’s unfair to officers who are, after all, simply doing an important job. While the agency does a great deal to accommodate those with medical conditions (individuals with disabilities don’t need to remove their shoes, for example), its information pages also clarify that any and all medical equipment may receive further screening. In other words, they’ll do their best to ensure you make it through safely, but they’re almost always going to look at you more closely than they would at another passenger.
This can be frustrating in the moment, but it’s not just those of us who repeatedly receive extra scrutiny who have concerns. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, which researches civil liberties and privacy issues, has argued that that the full-body scanning technology currently in use across the United States is unnecessarily invasive in ways that go beyond the basic imaging process. As the organization put it in a recent petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, that’s partly because that system “heighten[s] the burden of disclosure for persons who rely on certain life-sustaining medical devices.”
In May, the court brushed off EPIC’s petition, writing that the issues “do not warrant a published opinion.” Jeramie Scott, director of EPIC’s Domestic Surveillance Project, told me that conclusion was frustrating. In particular, he told me, the court seems to have overlooked or otherwise discounted the pressures that the screening process can put on people with medical conditions to reveal information about their well-being.
Do TSA agents know how to sensitively move travelers like me through security? According to Supriya Raman, a manager in the TSA’s disability office, security screening officers undergo training that addresses both disabilities and medical conditions and devices associated with them. Raman’s office also circulates updates when it learns about new medical technologies as they make their way to the market, attempting to help the agency’s officers recognize devices that might pass through their checkpoints. In my own experience, at least, that training doesn’t seem to have stuck: Though my pump and monitor are both relatively common, few security officers recognize them.
TSA representatives also stress that passengers have the right to request a private screening. The agency even makes cards that travelers can hand to an officer, an approach that can, at least in theory, spare them the uncomfortable experience of declaring a medical condition aloud. But even that process requires that the traveler be publicly taken aside, which may amplify shame or other unpleasant feelings associated with a medical condition. And merely making the request still entails conveying potentially sensitive information to strangers about the private particulars of one’s health, something I, for one, am often loathe to do, even when the circumstances are stress-free.
For all that, these protocols do evince a real desire to ease the burden on travelers. The agency even advertises a passenger support helpline through which concerned travelers can prearrange to have a specialist meet them at a checkpoint, leading them through the process in a way that better accommodates individual needs. While this service is likely critical for many—especially those with mobility impairments—it still requires substantial effort on the traveler’s own part, effort that can only distract from the constant work of medical self-care. And as with other forms of enhanced screening, this process also still leaves the TSA dedicating considerable time and energy to the investigation of innocuous conditions.
TSA spokesman Mike England proposes that the situation is largely unavoidable, at least for now. “The technology we have can tell that something is there, but it can’t tell the difference between, say, a hip replacement or something dangerous,” he says. “We have no choice but to conduct further screening.”
As England and Raman told me, the TSA is working with “industry partners” to allay that situation. To that end, Raman said, the agency hopes to develop a process that would allow “a broader range of individuals to be screened without having to go through secondary screening.” What such a process might entail, and how it might work, remains unclear. It also seems entirely possible that a system capable of clearly distinguishing between medical devices and more threatening objects would raise new privacy concerns.
EPIC suggests that such innovations might not even be warranted. In its brief to the appeals court, the organization writes that a combination of metal detectors and already-available explosive trace detection devices could effectively assess threats without singling out travelers with medical conditions or disabilities. “All things being equal, TSA should have chosen the less privacy-invasive route. The bomb trace equipment is designed to detect the threat for which we have screening in the first place,” Scott told me.
Ultimately, England may be right about the inevitability of additional screenings targeting individuals with medical devices—an inevitability that speaks to the paradox that devices like mine present. When I first received my diagnosis, I did what I could with the options that were available, carrying around fragile insulin vials and sheaths of needles with me everywhere I went. Later, I upgraded to self-contained pens and eventually to the cybernetic attachments I now wear.
While each of those upgrades has made it a little easier to manage my disease, they also bring complications of their own, forcing me to reshape my days around their particulars. New technologies—medical and otherwise—never enhance our lives without transforming them. On occasion, I’ve had to rush home from the office because my pump failed and I didn’t have a replacement in my bag—something that never happened with the old needle method. In other circumstances, I’ve been woken in the middle of the night because my phone was shrieking about a mis-calibrated blood sugar reading. These devices keep me healthy, but they also do as much to manage me as I do to manage them.
It’s hard to grasp the burden of such experiences until you’ve lived with them. And though I spend a great deal of my time trying to forget it, passing through the already liminal space of a security checkpoint only serves to drive the experience home. Much as I appreciate the TSA’s efforts, I worry that its attempt to develop new screening methodologies will bring new irritations, redirecting our time with the agency in as yet unthought ways. For now, at least, I will have to continue resigning myself to the frustrations of enhanced screening every time I fly, as will others who live with chronic conditions.
All soap bottles—I mean, women—are beautiful as they are.
Dove Purely Pampering Shea Butter Soap 4 x 100
Hindustan Unilever Limited website
Dove grew from a moisturising Beauty Bar into a global brand with a range of products: body washes, hand and body lotions, facial cleansers, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners and hair styling.
by Jonathan M. Katz @ Slate Articles
Mon Aug 28 14:56:20 PDT 2017
In 2004, I was just starting my first full-time job in a Washington newsroom when disaster struck. It was on the other side of the world: an extraordinarily powerful earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, that triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean. But thanks to CNN it felt like the anguish and terror were happening in the next cubicle. I still remember the fear on the fishermen’s faces and watching mothers cry as they searched for their children in the waves. Powerless, eager to help, I did the only thing I could think of: I went online and sent $20 to the American Red Cross.
Thirteen years later, we’re watching another disaster, this time much closer to home. Tropical Storm Harvey, supercharged by a freakishly warm Gulf of Mexico, has slammed into the Texas coast and is now running a dayslong conveyor belt carrying trillions of gallons of water from the ocean to the sky to the bayous and streets of Houston. Highways have become rivers in America’s fourth-largest city. Apartment complexes are filling up like bathtubs. Dams are nearing failure. Thousands have had to be rescued from the still-rising floodwaters in the overbuilt, improperly drained city. The scariest part is that, with the water still rising, no one can really know how bad the damage has been so far or what is to come. Once again, most of us outside the zone feel powerless but want to help. Once again, leaders and noble souls are telling us the best way to do so is to turn to the best known, most bipartisanly loved brand in humanitarian relief.
But I won’t be donating to the Red Cross this time. And after years of reporting on and inside some of the biggest disasters of the decade and change, I know what a costly mistake the focus on donating anywhere can be.
Part of the problem is the American Red Cross’ track record when it comes to disasters. It isn’t great. I learned this best in Haiti, where I survived the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake and ran the Associated Press bureau from 2007 until 2011. When the earthquake struck, killing an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern’s staff swung into action doing what it does best: raising money. Their appeal to “save lives,” aided by endorsements from President Obama and celebrities, and fueled by a pioneering text message campaign, raised a staggering $488 million.
It quickly became clear that the organization’s biggest problem would be figuring out what to do with all that cash. The U.S. chapter had just three full-time staff in Haiti at the time of the disaster. Though it soon sent more, and subcontracted staff from the local Haitian Red Cross, the truth was that there wasn’t all that much they could do: ARC isn’t a medical aid group à la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn’t do development work or specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. What it does best is provide immediate assistance—often in the form of blankets, hygiene kits, or temporary shelter—and as incredibly destructive as the earthquake was, there wasn’t half a billion dollars of tarps and hygiene kits to hand out. Staffers came up with all kinds of creative ways to unload the money, including handing it off to other aid groups that could use it better (after ARC had taken its customary 9 percent administrative cut). As it became increasingly clear that the entire earthquake response, from the lowliest neighborhood to the top floor of the United Nations Secretariat—had been a failure, ARC found itself scrambling to explain why the half a billion dollars it took hadn’t made a substantive difference in survivors’ lives. “There’s only so much money that can be forced through the emergency phase,” an ARC spokeswoman told me when I asked how it was possible that just a third of the money it had raised had even been committed, much less spent, two years later.
What no one at the organization bothered to do was explain to the public—in Haiti or back in the States—that it had never needed anywhere near that much money in the first place. (In contrast, some NGOs state their fundraising goals in advance and cap or redirect donations once they have exceeded those amounts.)
ARC was roundly blasted in the U.S. for its shambolic response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, with international observers warning that elements were so bad that they verged on criminal wrongdoing. Seven years later, despite an internal retooling effort, it failed again in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. (The response was “worse than the storm,” one Red Cross driver told ProPublica during its jaw-dropping investigation.) Typically, the organization has had more success responding to small-scale disasters; it’s common to hear stories people tell of the blankets and compassion they got from Red Cross volunteers after house fires. But even there, they’ve been getting into trouble: ARC’s 2015 response to a string of northern California wildfires was so bad—showing up unequipped and unprepared, shutting down other volunteer operations, and then failing to provide promised food or shelter on its own—that locals shunned the organization to focus on their own relief efforts.
Worse than what we know is what we don’t. The ARC, which boasts annual revenues of more than $2.6 billion, is notoriously opaque when it comes to what it does with the money it raises for disasters. It has never produced a meaningful breakdown of its spending after the Haiti earthquake. If you look at RedCross.org right now, you’ll see a prominent link inviting you to “make a difference” by donating to its Harvey effort. But nowhere does it say what it will do with the money. A tiny video shows empty cots in a shelter.
When I emailed and called the organization’s full-time media relations department Sunday and Monday asking how much it had raised so far, how much it thought the group might need, and what Red Cross volunteers and staff were doing in the response to Hurricane Harvey, I eventually got back this reply: “At this point in our active disaster response, we are unable to answer your questions by your deadline. Thank you for understanding.” I followed up again. A few hours later, the organization sent a second note saying it was providing food, cots, blankets, and other support to 6,000 people in various shelters across the region—again with no information about the cost or money raised so far.
It isn’t just journalists who get the shaft. ARC’s leaders have misled Congress. In a scathing 2015 report, the federal Government Accountability Office noted that “no regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services.”
As ProPublica’s Justin Elliott has reported, many of these issues are the result of a team of former AT&T executives taking over a complex organization—one that manages tasks as critical and disparate as blood-banking and providing resources to military families, while operating in a blurred, neither-fish-nor-fowl zone with some of the privileges of a government agency (such as free rent for its D.C. headquarters) but the moneymaking latitude and lack of oversight of a private corporation.
ARC and its defenders sometimes protest that there’s too much focus on them; that scores of other actors have also failed in their responses to the same disasters. In part, that’s just the other side of the double-edged sword that comes with having a higher profile than others and raising far more money than anyone else—for being, as McGovern likes to say, “a brand to die for.”
But in another way, they are entirely right. There is too much focus on the ARC in disasters such as Harvey, in a way that goes beyond any one organization. The way our society handles disasters—first the calamity; then the outpouring of sympathy and donations; then the long, slow rebuild—is wrong. As humans have long known, it is easier, cheaper, and better to mitigate or prevent disasters from happening than to rescue victims and rebuild after them. We’ve known for centuries about the threat of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts have warned for years that the Texas coast needed to make serious investments to prepare for nigh-inevitable storms, including preparing mitigation specifically for intense, unprecedented floods worsened in part by climate change. It seems that some, including many of Houston’s hospitals, heeded those warnings and are benefiting from the preparation. Other sectors did not. At a systemic level, instead of taking those threats seriously, Texans elected a governor who distorts facts about climate change. Americans picked a president who—days before this disaster and moments before rushing to the defense of rampaging neo-Nazis—announced in front of his gilded elevator that he was scrapping federal construction standards that had required new projects to account for climate change’s effect on storms like Harvey.
Local news organizations in Texas are maintaining lists of organizations, both local and run by the Red Cross, where those affected by the storm can get help and those inclined can send donations. Experts and experience say that, if you are going to donate to anyone from outside the disaster zone, send cash, not stuff. Boxes full of food, clothes, or other stuff will clog up supply lines and as likely as not go unused.
Yet the hard reality is that we still don’t know what the needs in Houston and other parts of Texas or Louisiana are going to be or who will be best to respond to them. Millions of people are still in the middle of the storm, with the National Hurricane Center warning that some areas could get double the already awe-inducing amounts of rain they’ve already received. Survivors, in other words, haven’t even gotten past the emergency to take stock of the damage and really begin the difficult relief phase; if this was an earthquake, the ground would still be shaking.
It is difficult for rescuers to get in. There is nowhere for most people to go. While there are heroic efforts going on right now by locals and neighbors to save as many as they can from the floods—efforts that authorities should encourage and help coordinate—the hard, frustrating reality is that there is not very much an untrained outsider can do to help once a complex disaster has begun. And with, at a bare minimum, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage expected and future storms on the way, the costs in cleaning up this mess and getting people back into their old lives again are going to be astronomical, on the level that only wealthy and powerful governments, and the combined power of their citizenry, will be able to address.
Some people get personally offended by talk like this. They are seeing pain, they are being generous, and they hope it might help—just like I did watching the pictures from Indonesia from my cubicle years ago. The people suffering in this storm deserve all of that and more. But what you learn when you really dive into these situations is that momentary intentions, no matter how kind, are not enough—not on this scale. Those past, ineffective, and opaque disaster responses, from Haiti to New Jersey to the Gulf Coast, have created a legacy of mistrust, not only of the Red Cross but of the entire humanitarian aid apparatus its iconic brand represents. We can’t afford to do that again.
If we really care about the people of Houston and the rest of the Gulf Coast, we have to commit fully to a combined, sustained, serious response to recover and rebuild—meaning lots of money, lots of attention to helping those areas adapt for the future, and lots of concern for the people who we know are most vulnerable. We all need to come together to prevent future disasters, whether the growing risk of a major Oklahoma earthquake, a Caribbean tsunami, and especially the many threats we face from climate change. The sooner we acknowledge and act on that and stop debating the best place to send $20, the better off all of us will be.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Tue Sep 19 12:30:47 PDT 2017
Of course Toys R Us has filed for bankruptcy protection. We’re in the midst of a retail apocalypse. Brick-and-mortar chains are losing market share to e-commerce. Big box and mall-based stores are suffering from declines in foot traffic. Kids—even little kids—prefer tablets, phones, and screens to toys and games. Live births have fallen since the onset of the Great Recession, so there are fewer toddlers for which to buy stuffed animals. How would you expect Toys R Us to survive in the Amazon age?
And yet, in some ways, this was not inevitable—or it was not inevitable that Toys R Us would meet its end as a viable company so soon. In the New York Times, Kevin Roose writes this week about how Best Buy, another big-box retailer beset by competition from e-commerce whose products are subject to massive deflation, is actually doing quite well. “Revenue figures have beaten Wall Street’s expectations in six of the last seven quarters,” Roose writes. “The company’s stock price has risen more than 50 percent in the past year. Workers are happy.”
What accounts for the difference? In two words, the balance sheet. And in one word, management. Toys R Us was owned and run by financial engineers when what it needed most was some business re-engineering.
In 2005, Toys R Us was taken private by a consortium of private equity investors—KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado Realty Trust—for $6.6 billion. In recent years private equity investors have talked a good game about how they improve businesses. But the reality is they use a blunt instrument to impose discipline on the managers they hire to run their companies: debt.
Leverage can be a powerful motivating tool—unless you stay current on your debt, you go bust and surrender ownership. Businesses with large debt loads often act with great urgency to restructure, to cut costs, and to rationalize so they can be sure they have the cash to survive. This exercise often makes companies stronger and more valuable. The tactic works particularly well in industries where managers can rely on steady growth and don’t have to fret too much about fundamentally reinventing the business.
But this modus operandi has its limits if you’re in a deflationary environment and have a tough time maintaining positive margins. And it especially has its limits if your industry is facing fundamental, life-threatening disruption, like, say, Amazon. In these instances, the necessity to pay interest first crowds out other investment. Every penny you spend making bondholders and banks whole is a penny not spent on building new payment systems, constructing whiz-bang superefficient distribution centers, acquiring labor-saving robots, sprucing up stores so that they are more appealing to customers, or raising wages so you can attract and retain the best salespeople and managers in an increasingly competitive labor market.
There’s no guarantee that retailers who successfully make such investments will thrive. But if you’re not trying that hard, there’s no way to keep up with better capitalized competitors. Unfortunately, for the past decade, while it should have been aggressively reinventing itself, Toys R Us has been laboring under $5 billion in debt used to finance the acquisition. In 2016, a year in which Toys R Us sales fell 2.2 percent to $11.5 billion, the company spent $457 million on interest payments on its $4.6 billion in long-term debt. By comparison, the company’s operating income for the whole year was $460 million. Put another way, after paying interest, Toys R Us had only a few million dollars to invest.
Best Buy provides a good example of how to turn around a company in the same position as Toys R Us. The companies were suffering from all the same macro woes. And electronics is a brutal business. But Best Buy’s CEO is a professional business engineer, not a financial engineer. As Roose notes, since taking over in 2012, Hubert Joly, a former McKinsey consultant, has managed a turnaround by focusing on low prices, investing in customer service (so that people could have consultations on products before buying), revamping stores so they have dedicated kiosks for popular manufacturers like Apple, and quietly cutting costs.
In the most recent fiscal years, Best Buy’s sales were essentially flat at $39.4 billion. But the chain, whose sales are nearly four times larger than those of Toys R Us, has only $1.4 billion in debt—about one-third the total Toys R Us has. In all of fiscal 2017, Best Buy spent only $72 million on interest—just .2 percent of its revenues, compared with 4 percent of revenues for Toys R Us. The sharply different financial profile means that Best Buy, for the past several years, has had a far greater ability to use the cash flow it generates to pay for investments that bolster its competitive standing instead of simply channeling it all to interest payments.
Toys R Us could have borrowed from Best Buy’s playbook and added some wrinkles: strengthen its logistics systems so it could compete on price with Amazon, create party and play spaces for kids, spend more to hire employees who will engage children, offer toy and gadget repair. Ultimately, Toys R Us was undone by the lack of the precise attribute that it aims to appeal to in its core customers: imagination.
Write Like No One's Watching
When I was younger, there were a few things that we always had in the house growing up. Just little things that you don’t appreciate at the time, but they make up that feeling of ‘home’. One of those things was a little bar of Dove soap. We had a cabinet under the sink and you’d always find a spare in there. I don’t know who liked it – whether my mum or my dad – but I know they both prefer to use soap, and always have done, and I have always been a shower gel/body wash girl myself. It always smelt the same though, always a a little indentation of a dove. And sometimes my parents would stick the old skinny slip of a bar, to the new, one, as not to waste it. Now, aged 29 with two children of my own, I use the Dove body washes all the time. My favourite is the Nourishing Care & Oil one – I like how moisturising it is and buy it often. But when it comes to my babies, I have used many different brands, I’ll admit. Most of the time I will get what is on offer, …
by Jordan Weissmann @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 15 14:55:00 PDT 2017
If Donald Trump tries to go nuclear on Obamacare, the effort might just fizzle.
For what feels like eons now, the president has been publicly hinting that he might cut off important subsidies to insurers that keep the Affordable Care Act's exchanges up and running as intended. These funds, known as cost-sharing reduction payments, are worth billions to carriers, and it's been widely assumed that halting them would have a disastrous impact on the market, forcing insurers to either bail or drastically hike premiums (which is why health wonks dubbed it the “nuclear option”). Trump has tended to lash out and threaten the subsidies whenever he's felt frustrated with his inability to repeal Obamacare. Last month, after the Republican health push sputtered to an inglorious late-night end in the Senate, he tweeted that “BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies” would “end very soon” if Congress couldn't pass a bill.
After today, however, it might be time to stop worrying and learn to love Trump's bomb threats. According to the new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, ending the cost-sharing subsidies would likely backfire badly for the administration, costing the federal government $194 billion over a decade without fatally undermining Obamacare's exchanges. In fact, the move could even allow some Americans to obtain insurance coverage for free while modestly reducing the number of uninsured by 1 million.
Let me repeat that. Trump's plot to critically sabotage the Affordable Care Act could actually lower the uninsured rate while blowing nearly $200 billion.
Now, before we get into the findings, here's a brief refresher on how the cost-sharing subsidies work, and why they're vulnerable. Under Obamacare, insurance companies are required to reduce out-of-pocket costs like co-pays and deductibles for low-income customers who buy silver plans through the law's online exchanges. (ACA plans come in three color tiers: gold, silver, and bronze.) In return, the government pays carriers money directly to cover the expense. However, last year a federal judge ruled that the payments were illegal, because Congress had never properly appropriated funding for them. The Trump administration is now debating whether to appeal that ruling.
Insurance companies are required to offer the reduced-cost silver plans whether or not the government compensates them, so if the subsidy money suddenly vanishes, they'll be on the hook for the difference. Of course, carriers could and would raise their premiums to make up the losses. But many analysts fear health plans would simply choose to exit the market, rather than deal with the additional chaos brought on by Trump's move.
The CBO thinks that, indeed, some insurers would decide to flee in that scenario. But it believes the damage to the market would be limited and temporary. In 2018, about 5 percent of Americans wouldn't have any insurers to buy individual coverage from. But within a couple years, carriers would figure out how to operate in the strange, new, subsidy-free landscape, and “people in almost all areas would be able to buy nongroup insurance.”
Killing the subsidies would also cause insurance premiums to rise. According to the CBO, the cost of a silver plan purchased through the exchange would likely jump 20 percent in 2018 compared with current law (the Kaiser Family Foundation came to the same conclusion back in April). The happy catch is that almost nobody, except for the government, would actualy have to pay much of the extra cost. Americans who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line would still receive tax credits that cap their premium payments as a percentage of their income. So, a single person making $18,900 a year would end up paying $500 total for a silver plan, up from $450.
Meanwhile, the federal deficit would swell by $194 billion over a decade, since the government would be stuck subsidizing more expensive insurance.
What about the people who don't get subsidies? Many analysts and health care writers, myself included, have assumed that those upper-middle-class families would be the real victims in Trump's plot. However, the CBO thinks they might come out financially unscathed as well, because insurers are unlikely to raise prices on the health plans they sell to consumers outside of Obamacare's online marketplaces, which aren't affected by the cost sharing subsidies. Millions of Americans already buy their coverage either directly from an insurer or through a broker. If the prices on the exchanges shoot up as predicted, more of the unsubsidized population will likely foresake healthcare.gov and just call their carrier instead.
Now, here's where things get extra weird. If Trump kills the subsidies, it's possible that same insurance shoppers could actually end up with cheaper, or even free, coverage. The theory goes like this: With the subsidy payments gone, insurers won't hike premiums on all of their insurance offerings. Instead, they'll pile the cost onto the silver plans, in order to cover the cost of offering discounts on them to their low-income customers. Because Obamacare's tax credits are all pegged to the cost of silver coverage, their value will shoot up. In some cases, subsidies will more than cover the cost of a bronze plan. (The CBO isn't alone on this prediction, by the way; the consultants at Oliver Wyman made the same prediction in May.) And even people who aren't lucky enough to get insurance for nothing may be able to buy a gold plan for less than before. With subsidies shooting up, the CBO finally concludes that about a million more Americans will end up insured than if Trump hadn't tried to bring the market crashing down.
If the CBO is right, what it means is that Trump really does not have a nuclear option on Obamacare. He can try to gradually undermine it by choosing not to enforce the individual mandate, or scaling back the government's efforts to sign people up during open enrollment. But there isn't a button he can simply press to send the whole law into oblivion. This should come as a relief to Republicans and Democrats alike who feared Trump might attempt to sabotage the American health care system for political gain. Instead, they just have to worry he'll light $200 billion on fire out of spite.
by ibh @ Indian Beauty Hub
Wed Aug 30 23:23:46 PDT 2017
Hello everyone, today I am reviewing the new Maybelline Baby Lips Candy Rush lip balm in the shade Watermelon Pop. Maybelline New York beauty brand has recently launched their Candy Rush lip balm range in 4 fruity flavours – Orange Jujube, Cotton Candy, Gummy Grape and Watermelon Pop. The lip balms come in regular Baby Lips packaging […]
The post Maybelline Baby Lips Candy Rush Lip Balm Review – Watermelon Pop appeared first on Indian Beauty Hub.
by Adam Tanaka @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 08 06:00:00 PDT 2017
Once a year on Memorial Day weekend the Movement Electronic Music Festival transforms downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza into an eardrum-splitting playground for tens of thousands of techno fans from around the globe. A windswept concrete expanse for much of the year, the riverfront park is tailor-made for a music festival, with Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi’s Space Age sculptures providing a suitably cosmic backdrop to three days of booming electronica. This year, the festival was accompanied by more than 70 spinoff parties, bringing foot traffic and visitor spending to neighborhoods far beyond the downtown core.
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Detroit may seem an unlikely choice for a 72-hour dance-floor spectacular, but it’s far from random: Much as the gay clubs of 1970s Chicago gave birth to house music, so 1980s Detroit gave birth to techno—house’s sinister, synth-driven cousin—when artsy black teenagers began soldering the clinical electronica of Kraftwerk and other German experimentalists with the alien funk of Prince and Parliament. Meanwhile, aspiring DJs and wily party promoters capitalized on the city’s surfeit of industrial spaces, repurposing the relics of the auto age for the city’s first postindustrial generation. Motown became Techno City.
The genre never really hit the mainstream in the United States, and today Americans are more likely to cite Eminem as Detroit’s most substantial musical export since Motown. (See: Chrysler’s 2011 Super Bowl commercial.) But abroad, techno became a multibillion-dollar industry, providing the drug-fueled soundtrack to post–Cold War European integration. Berlin and Ibiza continue to draw cultural and economic vitality from club-driven tourism, sped along by cheap airfares and liberal after-hours regulations. Amsterdam, Paris, and London recently appointed nighttime mayors charged with keeping their clubs competitive and their dance floors open into the early hours (or, as in the case of Berlin, for all 24).
Today, some Detroiters are wondering whether they too might monetize this strain of the city’s cultural heritage. Music is already a big part of the city’s DNA: The Motown Museum, which draws about 70,000 visitors a year, is currently undergoing expansion, while the city’s jazz festival in August is marketed as the largest free jazz festival in the world. Both are small change compared to Movement, which is touted as the Motor City’s biggest tourist draw after the annual auto show. Although numbers are hazy in the absence of a formal economic impact study, city officials told me that “festival weekend” was Airbnb’s busiest of the year in the area. For a city still reeling from 2013 bankruptcy proceedings, techno tourism has brought a spillover economic boost. (The San Francisco–based short-term rental company also recently agreed to pay a use tax in Michigan.)
In the longer term, Movement’s effects are as much psychological as financial. “When people understand that this kind of creativity is homegrown in Detroit, it helps them reimagine Detroit in their mind,” said Mark Denson, chief business attraction officer at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (and a college classmate of techno innovator Derrick May). “I’ve lived downtown for a very long time, and I’ve run into many people who will say that their first really great experience in Detroit was the techno festival.”
“For people who know their techno, they know that Detroit is the birthplace,” said Helen Stevens, a 44-year-old Australian who was visiting the United States for the first time. (At Movement this year, I also met Japanese tourists who chose Movement for their inaugural stateside visit). Sporting a “Detroit Techno City” badge on her head-to-toe black outfit—the standard for techno enthusiasts—Stevens said that the Motor City has long been on her “travel bucket list.”
Dance floor–driven urban policy may sound like a parody of economic development guru Richard Florida’s “creative class” mantra. But the city has not been blind to the potential of techno to draw young people back to town. In its early years, the electronic music festival was free, with the city largely footing the bill. By the time Movement shifted to a paid model in 2003, the event was hailed as one of the largest free music festivals in the world. That same year, the Detroit Historical Museum mounted “Techno: Detroit’s Gift to the World,” a large-scale retrospective that paired memorabilia with reminiscences from some of the genre’s founding fathers. More recently, Mayor Mike Duggan officially declared “Techno Week” to coincide with the Movement festival.
Still, many in the music business here feel that the city has not done enough to capitalize on its cultural assets. That includes small, symbolic changes, like officially recognizing “Techno Boulevard,” a block in the city’s Eastern Market neighborhood that housed many of the genre’s earliest record labels. And more substantial issues, like lobbying to change the state-regulated 2 a.m. closing time that bar-owners and city reps say stymies the growth of a full-fledged nighttime economy.
Part of the problem is that while techno has a large international following, it has a relatively limited audience here at home. “Detroit exported nightlife culture,” said Adriel Thornton, a veteran of the ’90s rave scene who was involved in organizing an early iteration of Movement and today leads techno-themed tours of the city through Airbnb. “You go to Europe and ‘Detroit Techno’ is a genre of music. But here at home, the idea that it is actually generating real dollars and creating reasons for people to move here hasn’t been sufficiently recognized.”
Instead the festival draws mostly suburbanites and out-of-towners, who depart loaded up with Detroit swag. International visitors make up 1 in 5 attendees, organizers estimate; indeed, one of the festival’s biggest scheduling concerns is not to clash with the opening weekend at Ibiza, the clubbing hotspot off the coast of Spain.
The place most often invoked in discussions of Detroit’s trans-Atlantic cachet is Berlin, another city noted for its techno culture and wealth of underutilized spaces. Crystallizing this dialogue is the Detroit-Berlin Connection, a nonprofit founded in 2013 by German club entrepreneur Dimitri Hegemann. The owner of Tresor, one of Berlin’s landmark techno venues, and a frequent visitor to the Motor City, Hegemann is convinced that Detroit’s comeback hinges on its countercultural appeal. “One of our jobs is to keep Detroit weird,” he told me.
Following the Berlin model, Hegemann’s dream is to renovate some of Detroit’s most iconic industrial ruins into “lighthouses” for art and culture, blurring the lines between historical monuments, youth hostels, nightclubs, art galleries, and incubators. But in the face of political inertia and financial skittishness, getting such fanciful schemes off the ground is easier said than done. Hegemann’s particular bête noire is the curfew. “If we had a 2 a.m. curfew, Berlin’s nightlife would collapse,” Hegemann said. “My advice for the city council is to cancel the curfew. Don’t build shopping malls and casinos. Just cancel the curfew, and discover the nighttime economy.” Critics contend that would require the city to expand strapped municipal services like police, and in a city with America’s worst transit network, lead to more drunk driving.
Closer to home, cities like Nashville and New Orleans have also succeeded in trading off their own musical legacies. As recently as the 1990s, Nashville was on the fence about making country music the centerpiece of its tourism strategy, but last year the “Music City” brought in a record-breaking 13.9 million tourists, with upward of 150,000 visitors coming for the city’s free, open-air New Year’s Eve concert alone. The numbers are almost as impressive in New Orleans, where culture industry jobs accounted for 15 percent of local employment in 2015, up from 9 percent in 2006. Those reputations become economic assets: Music is Nashville’s second-largest employment sector after health care. Half of all entertainment businesses in New Orleans are live music venues. Beyond the musicians, music tourism helps fill municipal coffers through tax receipts.
But even if there’s a model to be emulated somewhere between Berlin and the Big Easy, Detroit has another problem: There isn’t a huge homegrown techno scene waiting to be discovered. In a list of the country’s top clubbing destinations compiled by Thump, an online dance music publication, Detroit didn’t even make the top 10. Legendary venues like the Music Institute and Cheeks, which did much to set the template for nightclubs worldwide, are long gone.
Even Motor City boosters like Sam Fotias, the Detroit-born-and-bred director of operations at Movement, concedes that getting a year-round scene going in the city is easier said than done. “Detroit has drawn a lot of comparison to other cities like Berlin,” he told me. “I think that there are some similarities: post-wall Berlin, post-bankruptcy Detroit. But in Berlin you have huge population saturation, you have a regional thing, you have a city that is centrally located in Europe that has always been a very significant cultural hub. In Detroit, you have a burgeoning cultural scene, but as a whole the region is still very blue-collar.”
Fotias and others worry that as the scene grows, it may become increasingly associated with outsiders—both tourists and out-of-town promoters—and dovetail with growing anxieties about gentrification. The genre’s largely white audience doesn’t help the image problem. In an 83 percent black city, attendance at Movement is predominantly white. (Ticket prices may be a factor: Longtime attendees recall a more substantial black audience in the festival’s early years.) The question troubling the city’s techno boosters is how to attract the jet-setting crowd while staying true to the genre’s roots and ensuring that the city serves as more than just a gritty postindustrial backdrop.
A clue to this conundrum may lie at the northern Detroit headquarters of Submerge, a DJ collective and techno label with deep roots in the city’s underground scene. Lining the company’s foyer is “Exhibit 3000,” a modest but mesmerizing overview of Detroit’s dance music history that is billed as the world’s “first permanent techno museum.” With no formal opening hours and limited information online, Submerge is a destination for aficionados only. When I dropped by in the run-up to Movement, the place was buzzing with techno geeks from across the globe.
But when I met with Cornelius Harris, label manager for Submerge, he was ambivalent about the genre’s global appeal. “People come here and do all these documentaries that are being shown to big crowds in Europe, but no one here has seen them,” he told me. “All we’re doing is enriching what’s over there, and none of it comes back this way.”
Harris is eager to reach another audience: local schoolchildren. Although techno’s popularity with Detroit youth pales next to hip-hop, Harris hopes students will come away with a deeper appreciation for the homegrown history of a genre that upended the global music industry.
“What we’re hoping is that these kids can see how people just like them refused to fit stereotypes and made their own future,” Harris said. “That’s what we’ve used the museum for: to offer an alternative view of what you can do. If I want to innovate in medicine, maybe I can learn from techno. The music is a tool. It leads to other things.”
by ibh @ Indian Beauty Hub
Mon Sep 11 09:59:00 PDT 2017
Hello everyone, my today’s review is about the second product from Lakme’s newly launched Argan Oil Radiance products range. I’ve already reviewed the Argan Oil Radiance Oil-in-Creme and this time I’ll be reviewing Lakme Absolute Argan Oil Radiance Overnight Oil-in-Serum. It claims to be infused with Moroccon Argan oil and combines the power of a serum […]
The post Lakme Absolute Argan Oil Radiance Overnight Oil-in-Serum Review appeared first on Indian Beauty Hub.
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Fri Sep 22 22:41:02 PDT 2017
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Jeff Sessions Says Dreamers Are Stealing American Jobs. The Government’s Own Numbers Show That’s Absurd.
by Daniel Gross @ Slate Articles
Wed Sep 13 05:30:29 PDT 2017
On Tuesday, the labor department came out with its latest figures on job openings in the U.S. At the end of July, there were a record 6.17 million open positions, up from 5.97 million at the end of July 2016. It is ironic that this measure of employers’ inability to fill posts came out exactly a week after Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the alleged scarcity of jobs to justify rescinding the protection afforded to the 800,000 Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who arrived here as small children, who the government has allowed to remain and work here. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was bad, he said, because “it also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.”
Sessions betrayed not only a cruel, zero-sum view of the economy but a shocking misunderstanding of the current job market. Today, in the 99th month of the current expansion, at a time when the unemployment rate is 4.4 percent and the economy has added payroll jobs for 83 straight months, there are a bunch of reasons why you might be unemployed. DACA is almost certainly not one of them.
It’s possible that a worker overseas took your job because your company decided your position could be done more cheaply somewhere else—say, in Mexico or China.
It’s possible that a robot or a string of code operating in the U.S. took your job, as is happening at some warehouses and fast-food restaurants.
It’s possible that norms, laws, and regulations stand in the way of you getting a job. For example, most companies ask prospective applicants whether they have been convicted of crimes—and many have formal or informal policies of not offering positions to ex-cons. In addition, per the Council of State Governments, “The American Bar Association has documented 27,254 state occupational licensing restrictions nationwide for people with a criminal record.” For a host of reasons, many companies ask prospective employees to take drug tests. Due to the continuing opioid crisis, a rising number of people are effectively excluded from the labor force. The CEO of a manufacturer in Ohio in July told Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times that a quarter of applicants fail drug tests—and hence are ineligible to be hired.
It’s possible that you are what might be called geographically unemployed—i.e., you live in a place where there aren’t many opportunities (like Rome, Georgia, where the unemployment rate is 6.3 percent) but don’t have the means, ability, or desire to move to a place where jobs are more plentiful (like Fort Collins, Colorado, where the unemployment rate is 2.1 percent).
It’s possible you might not have the skills or training to find a job. To hear industry tell it, America is suffering from shortages in a range of disciplines that require specialized training or education. There’s a shortage of nurses, qualified insurance inspectors, truck drivers, and teachers, for example.
It’s possible that you might be unemployed because employers lack the ability or desire to employ you—that is to say, they’re unwilling to offer wages, conditions, or working hours that make it sufficiently attractive or compelling enough for you to accept an offer.
Each of the phenomena I’ve described is real. Each contributes to the problem of unemployment and underemployment in the U.S. Do immigrants (documented and undocumented), new labor force entrants, college graduates, mothers returning to work, old people unretiring, people leaving the military and entering civilian life compete for you to get a specific job? For sure. Is it possible that you are not working at a particular position today because someone—possibly a Dreamer—was hired for a particular position instead of you? Yes.
But their presence alone isn’t denying you a job. The 800,000 Dreamers are a tiny drop in the overall labor bucket in the United States. Every large company that has hired Dreamers has dozens, if not hundreds, of openings it is trying to fill. It is mathematically and physically impossible for the 800,000 Dreamers to displace a large number of American workers at a time when unemployment is 4.3 percent and companies are seeking to fill 6.2 million jobs.
So if Dreamers aren’t stealing jobs, Sessions must have some other reason to want them gone from this country. What ever could it be?
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by Sloane Hunter @ 2oceansvibe.com
Thu Sep 14 00:33:19 PDT 2017
Last year, Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle website that offers New Age advice and products was given a boatload of money from a venture capitalist. But why?
by Joseph Coughlin @ Slate Articles
Tue Aug 22 07:42:00 PDT 2017
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Earlier this summer, Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican congressman from Arizona, delivered some hard truths to a session of the House of Representatives. “We have a math problem, and it is based on demographics,” Schweikert said on June 28. “I am a baby boomer. There are 76 million of us who are baby boomers, who are heading towards retirement. That demographic curve is changing the cost structure of government.”
This was back during that precarious period when Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts had succeeded in the House but hadn’t yet floundered in the Senate, and Schweikert was lending voice to an aspect of the legislative push that had gone more or less unsaid, at least in public. To austerity-minded policymakers, the Better Care Reconciliation Act represented an exceedingly rare opportunity—“once in a lifetime,” wrote Grover Norquist—to rein in Medicaid spending before the U.S. population grew significantly older and more reliant on public funds. “It is time for almost revolutionary thoughts,” Schweikert said. “We need to look at the budget holistically.”
Between Schweikert’s take on the future solvency of Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security and the ongoing efforts of President Trump and congressional Republicans to push the BCRA into law, Republican policymakers have demonstrated real concern about the economic dependency of the old and sick on the young and gainfully employed. Which is, from a certain point of view, fair enough: The Republican Party, at least in its platonic form, exists to limit government’s reach, and our aging population, it could be argued, may force that reach to extend. It would be strange if no Republicans pushed back.
And perhaps that was why it was so peculiar when, a little more than a month after Schweikert’s demographics lesson, President Trump announced he would embrace the RAISE Act, a legislative one-two punch co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, also staunch supporters of the Republican health care effort. RAISE, if signed into law, would change the admissions criteria for legal immigrants and, more concerning from a demographics perspective, reduce their numbers by half within a decade. To the limited extent that the American working-age population continues to grow, immigrants are responsible. And so, for leaders of a party with clear apprehensions regarding the ongoing ability of the country’s workers to support its older adults, slashing legal immigration would seem, to put it gently, inconsistent.
President Trump has weathered charges of inconsistency before, but this time may be different. His campaign promise to make America great is in a category of its own—the ur-promise from which all his other promises descend. And the passage of RAISE will likely violate it in a very tangible way.
It’s not just that the legislation’s legal-immigration cuts would damage the economy, a fact most economists affirm. It’s that RAISE would hurt the American economy relative to the economies of other countries. And for those who want America to be first in all things, that outcome may prove difficult to stomach.
The cuts entailed by RAISE aren’t extreme—at least, not by international standards. They would not put us in the hermetic company of Japan, which admits very few new permanent residents, or lump us in with Switzerland and Denmark, where new immigrants must pay a high ticket price for admission, sometimes out of future wages. Even under this new proposed policy, the U.S. would still accept more newcomers, in raw terms, than any other country except perhaps Germany. (On a per-capita basis, however, the U.S. is nowhere near the top of the list of immigration-friendly countries.)
But even if such a policy wouldn’t make the U.S. an immigration outlier, it would still be a spectacularly regrettable unforced error. In fact, it’s such a bad move precisely because it would put the U.S. on a level footing with more restrictive countries. As it stands, immigration is granting America an underappreciated edge that it would be a mistake to blunt.
Populations around the world are aging—in some cases, with alarming speed—for three reasons. Birthrates in the vast majority of the world’s nations have fallen since the middle of the 20th century. (In some countries, such as India, Mexico, and Brazil, birthrates have outright plummeted.) That means fewer younger people. At the same time, life expectancy has risen, and despite recent, well-publicized downticks in the U.S., the overall trend continues to point north. Finally, in some of the countries that were heavily involved in World War II, an enormous cohort of baby boomers is just now crossing into retirement age.
As a result, by 2030, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older, a demographic breakdown slightly older than that of today’s Florida. Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and many other wealthy countries have already achieved Floridian status, and Japan is ranging far ahead with a quarter of its population aged 65-plus. On the balance, societywide aging is a good thing—in our opinion, every extra year of life is a gift—but it still poses serious challenges beyond even the monumental-yet-crucial task of maintaining a safety net for older adults. One inevitable consequence of global aging is the shrinking of labor pools and even, in select countries, the waning of entire populations. China, Japan, Russia, much of Eastern Europe, and many other countries are now either experiencing population decline or will begin it soon.
The very real possibility of such trends manifesting in either the raw or working-age populations of the U.S. should alarm anyone who claims an interest in American greatness. Consider, for instance, yet another stated priority of President Trump: infrastructure construction. Baby boomer retirement is hitting the construction industry hard, and taking with it able bodies and institutional knowledge. Positions in the skilled trades, such as machinists, welders, electricians, and HVAC technicians, were ranked the hardest for employers to fill in 2016 according to a survey conducted by staffing company Manpower. Such shortages will only worsen in the coming years as retirements accrue. Adecco, another staffing company, estimates that retirements in the aforementioned fields as well as general construction; mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineering; plumbers and pipefitters; and others will mean that 31 million skilled-trade positions will be left unfilled by 2020, almost a tenth of the population of the United States. As a result, contractors will have to either turn down jobs, slowing growth, or else raise their wages and therefore their rates, an expense that would likely be passed along to taxpayers in the event of a major infrastructure push.
And that’s just the construction-related industries. Others facing mass retirement include the petrochemical, defense, transit, agriculture, financial advisory, and railroad industries. Air-traffic controllers, hired en masse after Ronald Reagan fired their predecessors in 1981, are now retiring en masse. The ranks of doctors and nurses—especially internists and, in an unfortunate twist, geriatricians—are also thinning. Even the Hoover Dam, perhaps the country’s most quintessentially American piece of infrastructure, is now running short of workers qualified to operate its machinery.
Despite ongoing, frenzied discussions of the potential for advanced automation to take American jobs, these crucial shortfalls continue to go overlooked. U.S. companies are already finding it difficult to entice the staff they need, as Slate’s Daniel Gross has written. Who, in the next two decades, will run our economy and grow our food? It’s not just a matter of retraining those currently unable to find work. The economy is already at or near full employment, and at a certain point, the U.S., like other aging nations, will simply need more warm bodies.
Japan is quietly addressing its labor shortage by admitting foreign workers as temporary “trainees.” Germany is attempting to stall an incipient population decline by increasing its acceptance of immigrants and refugees. (Both countries are also finding ways of keeping older workers happy in their longtime jobs, from adopting exotic exoskeletons to making workplace ergonomic adjustments—a strategy that would also benefit the U.S.) Meanwhile, China, poised to experience the largest demographic swing of any nation, is losing millions of people from its workforce every year. The resulting spike in wages is one possible explanation for why President Xi Jinping recently laid off 300,000 troops from the country’s armed forces.
In the United States, the birthrate is 1.9 children per woman, slightly below the replacement rate of roughly 2.1. Thanks only to the twin inputs of immigration and the relatively large size of new immigrant families, the U.S. population is still growing slowly and stably. Without immigration, however, the population would begin to fall as soon as 2040, according to unpublished data supplied to us by Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center. (The projection, originally made in 2015, assumes that immigration would have been cut off starting that year.)
Thanks to its current inflow of immigrants, the U.S. has, and will continue to have, one of the youngest populations among wealthy nations. That relative youth equates to a better-than-average (though still troubling) ratio of workers to nonworkers and, at least in theory, a good crop of workforce replacements for baby boomer retirees. Without immigrants, however, we would be staring cross-eyed down the barrel of a far more threatening demographic future, filled with economic malaise, higher taxes, and even disastrous cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.
Legal immigration has become a partisan issue, but it shouldn’t be. Economists might disagree about whether to adopt a system that prioritizes highly skilled immigrants, as the RAISE Act proposes. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that the RAISE Act’s salary rules would keep out home-health aides, which the aging United States will soon need in droves, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff recently pointed out.) But there is broad agreement that slashing the raw number of immigrants to the U.S. would be an economic mistake. Immigration has been shown to have little to no effect on wages for native-born workers, and has even been called an “economic boost” by the George W. Bush Foundation.
Congress understands the stakes involved in cutting off America’s youth supply. Schweikert even mentioned it in his June 28 speech: “You do understand, as a nation, we functionally have zero population growth without immigration?” Though population aging may not be news to our political leaders, the question of whether they will prioritize the economic competitiveness of the nation over nativism remains open. We get it: There are people in this country who just don’t like immigration. But presumably a lot of those same people would feel more comfortable living in a world where America, bolstered by a healthy economy and a workforce strengthened by legal immigration, retains its geopolitical clout. As it stands, the world at large is sending the United States a precious resource—young people—free of charge. You can want an America with far fewer of these immigrants, or you can want America to be great. In this era of population aging, however, you can’t have both.
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by Heather Schwedel @ Slate Articles
Sun Aug 13 16:04:00 PDT 2017
This has been the summer of Wonder Woman, of “Despacito,” of rosé and brosé and frosé, of Game of Thrones spoilers, and of near-weekly red weddings at the White House. But more than all of those things, it’s been the summer of Halo Top. The low-calorie ice cream–maker, which didn’t exist before 2012, has given the ice-cream industry a brain freeze, forcing its competitors to remake their strategies in the mold of its success.
Between 2015 and 2016, Halo Top’s sales soared by 2,500 percent, and in 2017 the brand gained a foothold in major chains like Walmart and launched its first national advertising campaign. Taste reported last month that after Walmart started carrying seven flavors of Halo Top in April, it quickly started outselling every other ice cream the megastore carried. Just within the past few weeks, Halo Top passed legacy brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs to take the title of America’s best-selling pint. And now Reuters reports that Halo Top is exploring a sale and that it’s already been valued at as much as $2 billion. On top of all that, more flavors are on the way.
That we are all now living in Halo Top’s world is reason to celebrate if you, like me, have picked up on the brand’s particular compulsion-scratching attraction and decided you love the stuff anyway. But Halo Top’s ascent also reflects some of the more fraught trends in diet-adjacent dining these days: It speaks the language of “healthy” food—but draws its power from the unhealthiest of eating habits.
Halo Top’s main selling point is that an entire pint of the stuff contains about as many calories (240 to 350) as other ice creams might contain in a single serving or serving and a half. But unlike other “healthy” ice creams that came before it, Halo Top doesn’t taste like expired yogurt. It tastes pretty good, in fact, at least once you get used to its mousselike texture, a constant reminder that what you’re eating isn’t exactly regular ice cream. It varies from flavor to flavor, sure, and not everyone likes it, but still: A whole pint of ice cream that’s only 240 calories—that’s living the dream.
How does Halo Top do it? The ice cream’s secret weapons are stevia and prebiotic fiber (which replace the sugar and fat of typical ice cream) and … air. Yup, air. Halo Top has more air whipped into it than other ice creams, meaning it weighs just 256 grams to the 428 grams of a Ben & Jerry’s pint, as Time has pointed out. Much of the brand’s success can be attributed to good timing: When founder and CEO Justin Woolverton began messing around with his personal ice-cream maker circa 2010–11, he told Taste, so-called natural sweeteners like stevia were relatively new, so there weren’t many manufacturers experimenting with them on a large scale. He got in early.
If you look at the nutrition label on each pint of Halo Top, the serving size is still the typical half-cup, but the brand plays up the “go ahead and eat a whole pint” idea. Each pint’s label lists its total calorie count in big, central type—bigger type than even is used for the flavor’s name or the Halo Top logo. Marketing and packaging materials encourage customers to eat the whole thing. Seals say things like, “Stop when you hit the bottom” and “No bowl, no regrets.”
The more times a person decides to eat a whole pint instead of stretching one out into several servings, the more pints Halo Top sells. The brand is well aware of this phenomenon: Early wholesale customers had trouble keeping the stuff in stock because “it became very apparent on our end that people were eating Halo Top five times a week, or 10 times a week, which is far more than any supermarket expects customers to eat ice cream,” the company’s president told Taste.
If you’re a calorie counter, you get this. If not, well, it’s hard to explain what a life-changer this product feels like for people who routinely log their meals in MyFitnessPal. It’s magic, a hall pass, a get-out-of-jail-free card. All any dieting person really wants—and I am extrapolating from personal experience here—is to eat a whole container of something. Preferably that thing will taste good or at least not bad, but what’s crucial, in the end, is getting to eat all of it. What Halo Top does so brilliantly is tap into Americans’ love of bingeing. And if the thinking behind Halo Top seems like the thinking of disordered eating, I don’t blame the company for that: The warped mindset of disordered eating seems to underlie pretty much all conversations about food and weight and dieting these days.
Halo Top would never use the word fat in its branding, but that’s what you see when you imagine someone eating a whole pint of ice cream, right? Fat, sad, alone, female. In addition to the stevia, the prebiotic fiber, and the air, a great deal of Halo Top’s success surely comes from the company’s branding, which decouples an ugly, unfair association from a self-indulgent habit. With its poppy, millennial-targeting packaging, Halo Top just doesn’t look like a diet ice cream. It’s managed to brand itself the “healthy” ice cream and recontextualize the pathetic act of eating a pint of ice cream in one go. As Taffy Brodesser-Akner argued recently in the New York Times Magazine, “dieting” has become tacky in the popular culture, so the makers of “diet” products have had to find a new script. Halo Top’s Instagram-friendly aesthetic announces it as something cool, not a diet-diet product and certainly not for fat people. (Though the word fat itself is also fraught, and whether it’s OK to say it or not is constantly in flux.) Because “losing weight” is now tacky, too, Halo Top’s promise of extra protein is perfect for getting “strong.” If you squint, its “natural” ingredients aren’t so far from “eating clean,” another favorite code phrase of modern health foods. When you dig into a Halo Top pint, you imagine you’re part of a legion of fitness models indulging in a guilty pleasure, not one of countless Americans who struggle with weight.
As Brodesser-Akner argued in her piece, our culture continues to talk around the reality that, wellness trend and body-acceptance movements be damned, actually losing weight and keeping it off can be nearly impossible. We receive the mixed messages that we shouldn’t want to lose weight and should accept our bodies as they are, but also that we would be healthier if we took up less space, which is why we should find a diet and stay on it forever. It all adds up to a lot of cross-talk, wasted energy, and precious little progress, in terms of both pounds lost and happiness gained.
In this light, eating “healthy” ice cream doesn’t make sense, but nothing about bingeing or America’s culture of dieting really does. Why don’t Halo Top’s fans just eat a little bit of real ice cream that tastes good and has a normal mouthfeel? Asking that is like asking why I don’t just start eating a plant-based diet or start exercising for 30 minutes a day, five times per week, like Michael Pollan and the American Heart Association have been telling me to do for years. If it were that easy, wouldn’t we be doing it already? Halo Top’s reputation as the “healthy” ice cream has inspired more than a few publications to ask questions like, “Is Halo Top Ice Cream Good for You?” or explain that, actually, “Low-Cal Ice Cream Like Halo Top Could Be Making You Fat.” Time went so far as to write, “Unlike fruits and vegetables that are naturally full of nutrients, Halo Top is a processed dairy product with sugar and sweeteners.” Shocker: This ice cream is not a thing that grows on organic farms. Of course Halo Top isn’t good for you. It may get called “healthy” ice cream, but at this point healthy has almost lost all meaning. Halo Top is healthier than traditional ice cream, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy, that there’s anything healthy about eating an entire pint of ice cream, or that ice cream in general is getting healthier. But it’s how a lot of people eat, and Halo Top has realized that and capitalized on it.
Other brands are joining the fray. In recent weeks, Breyers rolled out its Halo Top competitor, Breyers Delights, pints of ice cream that give the most prime real estate on their labels over to advertising their sub-350 calorie counts. More are sure to follow.
That’s fine—I’m eager for more companies to embrace stevia. Maybe Häagen-Dazs will iterate and fix Halo Top’s texture problem. Maybe the food industry will figure out how to remove three-fourths of the calories from every type of food. No matter what, we can cheer America’s ice cream aisles becoming healthier, if not exactly healthy.
But when they do, it will also be a troubling outgrowth of our twisted relationship with dieting. And that’s a problem even stevia can’t solve.
by ibh @ Indian Beauty Hub
Thu Sep 14 10:56:12 PDT 2017
Hello everyone, today I am sharing the review of the Soul Sanctuary Apricot Walnut face scrub. I received this scrub along with some other stuff from the brand a few months back. I have already shared the reviews of face cleanser and bathing soap. Exfoliating becomes a breeze with this heavenly apricot walnut scrub. Remove […]