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Facebook is turning to an antiquated technology to foil foreign interference in US elections.
Starting this year, Facebook will send postcards to anyone who purchases an ad about a political candidate on their platform, said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, speaking at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Washington DC.
Facebook’s announcement comes a day after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian groups for conspiring to interfere in the 2016 US election, with operations designed to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign. Facebook and and its subsidiary Instagram were two of the primary tools used by the Kremlin-linked Internet Research Agency (IRA).
The mailed postcards will contain special numeric codes, presumably to be entered online, to serve as as a kind of two-factor ID verification system. This would attempt to ensure that political ad buyers have a US address.
“If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States,” she said.
It’s far from clear how the system would work: Will the postcards be sent before or after the ads run? Wouldn’t it be better to transmit secret codes inside an envelope? The IRA deployed a sophisticated campaign ahead of the 2016 elections, including the use of US-based servers and operatives who physically traveled to the United States for reconnaissance.
“It won’t solve everything,” Harbath admitted to Reuters.
By law, only US citizens are allowed to contribute to a political candidate’s campaign. The system is expected to be in place by November’s midterm congressional elections.
Even as Harbath was speaking, Donald Trump was retweeting comments by another Facebook executive, Rob Goldman, who is the company’s vice president of ads.
The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Tump and the election. https://t.co/2dL8Kh0hof
— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
The main goal of the Russian propaganda and misinformation effort is to divide America by using our institutions, like free speech and social media, against us. It has stoked fear and hatred amongst Americans. It is working incredibly well. We are quite divided as a nation.
— Rob Goldman (@robjective) February 17, 2018
The Fake News Media never fails. Hard to ignore this fact from the Vice President of Facebook Ads, Rob Goldman! https://t.co/XGC7ynZwYJ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2018
In subsequent tweets, Goldman added that “the Russian campaign was certainly in favor of Trump,” and noted that Facebook is “taking aggressive steps to prevent this sort of meddling in the future by requiring verification of political advertisers.” He didn’t mention that the verification method was a postcard.
He wrote a memo and lost his job. Now, the National Labor Relations Board has found that Google was within its right to fire engineer James Damore, author of an infamous diatribe titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”
Damore, among other claims, argued that women aren’t cut out to be engineers due to biological differences. Upon its July 2017 release, Google’s HR department received multiple complaints, and the memo was eventually leaked to the media. Damore filed a complaint with the NLRB after being fired a month later.
NLRB attorney Jayme Sophir recommended in a January 16 advice memo that the labor board dismiss Damore’s complaint, which was withdrawn a week later. He is now suing the company in a separate lawsuit. Sophir cited Google’s carefully crafted talking points, which were read over the phone to Damore upon his termination.
The company explicitly stated that discrimination was the issue, not Damore’s political beliefs or opinions. “Our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men,” one of the talking points notes. “This is not about you expressing yourself on political issues or having political views that are different than others at the company. Having a different political view is absolutely fine. Advancing gender stereotypes is not.”
Damore’s ongoing lawsuit alleges that Google is the one being discriminatory, with a bias against white male conservatives. He’s joined by one co-defendant, a former employee named David Gudeman. Though filed as a class action suit, it’s far from certain Damore and Gudeman will receive class certification.
When Heather Booth was in high school, seven of her classmates were killed and 24 injured in the Fox River Grove bus-train collision. Following the 1995 disaster, transportation regulators investigated what went wrong and made dozens of changes at 16 different local, state, and federal agencies.
After this week’s horrific shooting spree at a high school in Parkland, Florida—the latest in a slew of school massacres—Booth wrote an impassioned plea calling for action:
“What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy?” she wrote. “Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair.”
Here is her Twitter thread in full:
I have a thing to say about growing up after tragedy. When I was a senior in high school, 7 of my classmates were killed & 24 injured. It was an awful day full of fear, confusion, & pain. Press swarmed. News helicopters hovered overhead all day filming footage of the carnage. 1/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
Nothing made sense. Over the days and weeks that followed, we went to vigils, wakes, and funerals. We openly wept in the hallways. People who had never spoken before embraced, clinging to each other. We felt broken. 2/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
People said the things that are being said now. “I put him on the bus and sent him to school. He was supposed to be safe.” Classrooms were rearranged so the empty desks weren’t a constant reminder. 3/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
Time passed. We started living with loss, but we still startled at the noises that reminded us of that day. We were now people that THIS had happened to. 4/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
More time passed. I did the memorial layout in the yearbook. By then, our shock and raw pain had changed to anger and questioning. Why did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Investigations, we learned, were ongoing. 5/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
A federal official said, "The thing that upsets me most–we teach our kids to learn the importance of accountability. In this, there was a failure of accountability by a number of organizations.” https://t.co/FjQ8yauuh4 6/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
And then, things changed. 7/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
29 recommendations were made by the NTSB and implemented from the local to federal level. Because this wasn’t a shooting. It was a train hitting a school bus. One train. One bus. Seven deaths. 24 injured. One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations. 8/ https://t.co/OxIjsyryQ0
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
And as kids, here’s what this meant: we saw something awful happen, then we saw adults support us, then we saw them make change happen to keep that awful thing from ever happening again. Now, I’m an adult who grew up having seen adults fix things. 9/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair. Thoughts and prayers. When a tragedy hits that’s far more deadly & far less accidental than what CGHS experienced in 1995 & *nothing* changes? 10/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy? What kind of foundation do we lay when their world breaks and no one fixes it? 11/
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
I don’t care which avenue you pursue to change the scourge of gun violence against youth. There are plenty. Pick one. Do something. Call your reps. Donate. March. Volunteer. Vote. Force the issue. Empower teens. Don’t let them down. Make change happen. 12/12
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
Adults – there are so many of us whose school days were rocked by tragedy. Remember how it felt? We can do better.
— Heather Booth (@boothheather) February 16, 2018
Update: In an interview with Quartz, Booth added,
“I believe firmly that we need to listen to and support youth in their emotional and social development. That’s something completely apolitical that anyone can do, whether by direct action or by funding education and mental health initiatives.
I’d rather not comment on specific gun legislation because that seems to divide people when right now, what we need to do is acknowledge that as a society, we find it unacceptable to do nothing when children die. If we start with that basic foundation, we can build solutions.”
This post has been corrected. An earlier version of this post listed the date of the Fox River Grove crash as 1997; it took place in 1995.
Harvey Weinstein’s former production company has fired David Glasser, president and chief operating officer of the Weinstein Company, after he was named by the New York state attorney general in a damning indictment.
Glasser was a longtime executive for the film company run by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob, which is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy after recent horrific accusations sexual assault and harassment against Harvey. When Glasser signed a three-year contract extension in 2015, Bob Weinstein said that ”should he want it” he “has become the third brother” at the studio.
New York AG Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit last week accusing the company of violating laws against gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The suit referred to Glasser by his title, and said employees “would be reporting to some of the same managers” who failed to adequately protect them from Harvey Weinstein.
A group of investors led by Maria Contreras-Sweet and Ron Burkle had planned to buy the company and name Glasser as the new CEO, but the deal is now in doubt. The remaining Weinstein Co. board members are Bob Weinstein, Lance Maerov and Tarak Ben Ammar.
In a genius stroke of real estate marketing, the owners of the sprawling mansion featured in the Academy Award-nominated film Call Me By Your Name have put the property on the market for $3 million (€1.7m).
The Lombardian mansion in Moscazzano called Villa Albergoni provided a lush and “sexy” milieu for director Luca Guadagnino’s film about about a love affair between a precocious teenage boy, played by Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet, and a 24-year old scholar, played by Armie Hammer.
For the film, Guadagnino and set designer Violante Visconti di Modrone decorated the 1,400 sq. m. property’s 14 rooms with well-chosen antiques, period props and bric-a-brac to recreate the the aura of “livable dilapidation,” as Guadagnino described it to Architecture Digest.
Guadagnino once dreamed of buying the rough luxe villa for himself, along with its lush gardens that lead to a two-hectare park.
The house has since been emptied of the prop furniture, though the listing implies that some antique furnishings will remain. Some dreamy architectural features are original to property, including an ornate entrance door carved with roses, and a 16th century frescoed ceiling by the Renaissance painterAurelio Busso, a pupil of Raphael.
The bathrooms may need a little updating, depending on your taste.
Visconti di Modrone tells online architecture magazine Spaces that that house is full of hidden gems that were not shown in Call Me By Your Name. If you’ve got $3 million to spare, maybe you can share them with the rest of us.
Philippine fast-food chain Jollibee—known for superb fried chicken, tasty fruit pies and quirky noodle dishes—is getting ready to open a branch in Milan, a stone’s throw away from the historic Duomo.
Starting as an ice cream parlor 40 years ago, Jollibee has become one of Asia’s largest and most valuable restaurant groups, with over 3,200 branches worldwide. Represented by a spritely bee mascot dressed in a blazer and chef’s hat, Jollibee is a veritable global ambassador for the country’s fun-loving spirit and adventurous palette. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and foodie idol Anthony Bourdain have eaten there.
There’s one item on Jollibee’s menu that will surely raise eyebrows in Italy: the spaghetti. A homey concoction of extra-soft noodles smothered with a sweet red sauce made with banana ketchup, liver spread, and red hot dogs will confound purists in the birthplace of pasta. Esquire Philippines even suggests that the recipe includes canned condensed milk. Yikes.
Origins of sweet spaghetti
Of course there are various adaptations of Italian cuisine around the world, but how did Filipinos stray so far, even with a culture that mashes up diverse influences from Asia, Europe, and the Americas?
Food critic and sociologist Clinton Palanca explains that Jollibee’s spaghetti is actually more Chinese than Italian. He suggests that Jollibee’s bestselling pasta is closer to egg noodles that Fujianese grandmothers would make. “Think pancit noodles with a mapo tofu sauce on top for a quick lunch or snack,” says Palanca, who writes a food column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. This taste would also have been appealing to Jollibee’s founder Tony Tan Caktiong, whose parents immigrated from Fujian to Manila.
Palanca says that the sugary sauce—a very rough approximation of bolognese—caters to the Asian preference for sweet foods. “The southeast Asian region in general uses sugar in their savory dishes to various extents, mainly because it’s an area where sugar cane grows. This includes the coastal areas of China such as Fujian, whose cuisine is disparaged by the northern Chinese as being excessively sweet,” he explains.
The Filipino spaghetti recipe is also peppered with ingredients from the American pantry, explains Palanca. “The addition of hotdogs is more likely due to our love of US military surplus canned goods…”[It’s] a mashup of things that we Filipinos grew to love because of the war and the American bases: Banana ketchup was invented during the war years, as was the soft cheese that travelled well.”
So how will Jollibee’s sweet spaghetti fare with Italians? “I think the Italians would be horrified,” says Palanca. “Our spaghetti is soft and meant to be eaten with a spoon and fork, rather than al dente and twirled around a fork…I don’t think you could sell this to Italians as spaghetti so much as an oriental snack that happens to have the same ingredients as spaghetti.”
Jollibee Milano, which has yet to confirm its opening date, is the first European outpost for Jollibee. It also announced plans to open a restaurant in London next year.
Just 18% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a positive review—and none of them were among the site’s top critics. Contrary to other Netflix movies like Bright where fans vehemently disagreed with reviewers, audiences didn’t even care for it. Many were lukewarm—with half on Rotten Tomatoes saying they enjoyed it.
But they still tuned in. Five million people watched during an average minute in the first seven days the show was available, audience-measurement firm Nielsen found. Three million people watched on average in the first three days of the Sunday night release. By comparison, Bright, which cost Netflix more to produce and had a larger rollout, averaged 11 million viewers a minute in its first three days, which started on a Friday night.
Netflix had pretty much no marketing for The Cloverfield Paradox other than a Super Bowl commercial, in which it announced the movie’s existence on Netflix and that it would hit the service immediately after the game ended. The price of a 30-second ad in this year’s game was estimated at $5 million—that’s about $1 per viewer for a movie that otherwise could have been a total waste of time and money. The platform itself has been pushing the film heavily to its users—it’s the first thing some people see when they sign onto the service.
With subscription services like Netflix, there’s little downside in pressing play on a title you know nothing about. Worse comes to worse, you stop it midway through. The cost is baked into the platform, unlike with theatrical releases where audiences have real decisions to make on what is worth their hard-earned dollars.
Had Paramount, the studio that made the movie along with J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot Productions, released it in theaters as planned, it could have been a trainwreck. Netflix reportedly acquired the project from the studio for $50 million. And its reward, in spite of the negative critical consensus, was lots of buzz and attention to establish it as a home for movies—even if they’re not all winners.
It’s Black Panther week, and fans across the world have been flocking to screenings to watch the latest Marvel superhero movie.
The film has especially struck a chord with African American and African filmgoers, who are eager to see a true representation of themselves on the big screen. Set in the fictional and technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda, the country was never colonized and was largely hidden from the rest of the world. The movie’s afro-futuristic elements also challenge on-screen racial and gender representation and embrace a cinematic experience where blackness and Africanness are equated with advancement, cybernetics, and sci-fi fantasy.
For award-winning Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia, Black Panther couldn’t have come at a better time. Before the movie’s launch in cinemas in London this week, he was commissioned by Marvel to create an “exclusive art piece” and given the creative license to experiment. Macharia is known for his composite photographs, in which he employs elements of history, science fiction, and digital photo editing to comment on historical narratives and social issues.
The Leader was the wisest of all elders.
In the past, he has produced photos of the Kipipiri women, four brave warriors who undermined and help end British rule in Kenya. Other projects have also focused on persons with albinism, discrimination against street children and the elderly, and he also introduced a whole new cast of hip-hop grandfathers, extravagant grannies, and freedom-fighting opticians into the Kenyan art scene.
The Manly was the bravest among the three elders.
For Black Panther, Macharia created a project titled Ilgelunot, which translates to “The Chosen Ones” in the Maasai language. The piece tells the story of three elders of Maasai origin who were Black Panther’s most trusted advisors—played in the movie by Chadwick Boseman. The elders were saved during World War 2 by the old king of Wakanda T’Chaka after they strayed across North Africa in search of refuge. And even though exposure to the fictional metal Vibranium had made them blind, the woman and two men gained supernatural abilities and acumen. Macharia also created a custom typography inspired by geometric tribal patterns for the photo project.
In a Facebook post, Macharia said the project was for him “A proud moment to be part of the most important Afrofuturistic movie in my generation.”
The Tall One was the protector and most caring elder.
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According to the FBI’s statement.
On January 5, 2018, a person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to report concerns about him. The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.
Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.
We have determined that these protocols were not followed for the information received by the PAL on January 5. The information was not provided to the Miami Field Office, and no further investigation was conducted at that time.
Florida governor Rick Scott responded today by calling for FBI director Christopher Wray to resign. Senator Marco Rubio slammed the FBI’s failure as “inexcusable.” Far-right pundits reportedly blamed the agency’s Russia probe for distracting its attention.
The lapse gives further ammunition to critics of the beleaguered agency. The FBI has been under fire for months by Republicans displeased with its probe into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. In December, Trump tweeted that the agency’s reputation was “in tatters.” More recently, Trump and Wray were involved in a public spat over the much-disputed “Nunes memo,” which suggested that the FBI had violated an American’s civil liberties.
Wray has reportedly threatened to resign over attempts to oust his deputy Andrew McCabe. After repeated public attacks by Trump, McCabe himself resigned in January. Their predecessor, former FBI director James Comey, was fired by Trump less than a year ago.
Currently, Wray and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein—another thorn in the Trumpian side—are still overseeing the Russia investigation. While it would be politically toxic for Trump to fire Wray over Russia-related issues, the Florida screw-up could provide an alternative reason.
Attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has come under sustained fire from the president for not protecting him from the investigation, has already called for a review of Department of Justice and FBI processes. Sessions is recused from the Russia investigation, but there’s nothing to stop him from acting in response to the Florida review.
For months—years, even—the stock market was unusually calm. It rose steadily and predictably, which made some people antsy. To boost returns, they figured out that you could bet on the boringness of stocks. Billions of dollars poured into two popular investments that tracked the inverse of the VIX volatility index—that is, their returns rose as volatility fell.
This bet made quite a lot of money for quite a long time. Ordinary investors crowded in on the trade after hearing about it from a friend (or Uber driver), while others were told to buy the exotic exchange-traded products by their financial advisors.
You can guess what happened next. This month, the market’s worst week in years was followed by one of its best, with share prices whipping around wildly from one day to the next. Inverse-volatility funds lost nearly everything. Credit Suisse liquidated its suddenly near-worthless security, which had $1.9 billion under management before the mayhem, much of it held by retail investors.
These securities are designed for the pros, often as a way to hedge derivatives portfolios. They shouldn’t be held for more than a day or two, and certainly not in retirement accounts. For anyone who reads the prospectus, this was made clear: Credit Suisse said the “long term expected value” of its exchange-traded note was “zero.” (It pays to read the fine print, after all.)
Despite the carnage, this week investors came back for more, with net inflows to volatility-linked investments worth millions.
If people keep piling into funds they don’t understand, or rely on advisors without doing background checks, then maybe it’s time to let robots take over. Robo-advisory service Scalable Capital, for example, says volatility-linked products wouldn’t even qualify for their automated portfolios because they aren’t “investment assets.” Algorithms don’t exaggerate potential returns to win a new client, and they aren’t ashamed to rely on boring but effective financial strategies. And they don’t take investment advice from Uber drivers.
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Kevin Korenthal was once a registered Democrat, living in a California suburb. After struggling to keep his small public relations firm afloat for years, he decided to pack up his family and two dogs. Last year, Korenthal moved to McKinney, a conservative community in the outskirts of Dallas, Texas. By that point, he was a self-described Trump supporter.
“California is a lost cause now. I tell people ‘Abandon ship. Go to Texas,’” he says.
Korenthal is part of a wave of Californians fleeing the Golden State’s high cost of living, and more recently, the increasingly liberal agenda of its Democratic-dominated state government. Some California residents have proposed seceding from the state, to start “New California.” Others, like Korenthal, are simply leaving.
Politically, the Lone Star state is the antithesis of California.It’s solidly Republican. Its state leaders are aggressively pro-business, anti-tax, anti-immigration, anti-abortion and pro-guns. And they like to point out the differences between the two states every chance they get, furthering Texas’s reputation as a bastion of conservatism.
But conservatives fleeing California will find that, despite its right-wing bent, the Lone Star State is increasingly plagued with the same problems they are trying to leave behind. That’s because many of their pet peeves, from ballooning home prices to overstretched schools, have more to do with exuberant urban growth than politics.
Gone to Texas
California’s exodus is not new. Since the early 2000s, tens of thousands of Californians have been lured east by the “Texas Miracle,” an oil-fueled economic boom that propelled Texas to the top job creator spot in the country. But even after collapsing oil prices slowed down the Texas economy, Californians kept coming.
From 2010 to 2016, Texas took in the biggest number of domestic migrants of any state, adding 867,000 new residents. California, in contrast, was among the five biggest net losers; it hemorrhaged more than 380,000 residents. On average, nearly 60,000 Californians left their home for Texas every year from 2011 to 2015. The vast majority hailed from the state’s most heavily populated areas, in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nine out of ten Californians who defected to Texas landed in a metropolitan area, according to our analysis of US census data from that period. And whether they intended it or not, most ended up in a more conservative place than the one they left.
About half of the California transplants concentrated in the counties where Texas’s top five cities are located: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth. These places are hubs for well-paying jobs in technology, healthcare, and business, and all but Fort Worth tend to vote Democrat in local and federal elections (though none are as left-leaning as, say, San Francisco). The other half of California transplants settled in counties where Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
The data doesn’t show whether the migration is politically-driven. Some California liberals likely ended up in conservative areas, and vice versa. But we do know that for at least some of the transplants, the move was ideological.
For Californians frustrated with their state’s liberal politics, the suburbs are the place to head to in Texas. They offer the affordable housing and access to well-paying jobs that Korenthal says have been stamped out by overregulation and high taxes in California.
With the money he made from selling his California home, Korenthal was nearly able to pay cash for a bigger house in Texas. He found a job doing public relations for the American Fire Sprinkler Association, a Dallas-based trade group. Despite taking a pay cut, he says he lives better.
The city has also been a political refuge. In McKinney, no one would berate Korenthal’s wife for sporting a sticker promoting a Republican presidential candidate on her car’s bumper, as she was in California. Here, the family can proudly hang, as they have, a door sign reading “We don’t call 911” decorated with a pair of crisscrossed guns.
He has no plans of ever moving back to California. “That state needs to fail. They drove us out,” he said. “I want that government to fall flat on its face.”
Korenthal and his family at their McKinney home.
Paul Chabot is another native Californian who fled his state’s politics. Chabot decided to relocate to McKinney after he lost his race to represent San Bernardino County in the US House as a Republican in 2016. He picked the city as his destination based on a magazine article that called it the best place to live in the US.
The move was like traveling back to the California of the 1980s, he says. Everything is clean, he adds. He can send his four kids to public schools, which he rates as excellent. People’s lives are rooted in faith.
Paul Chabot started a business to help conservative Californians move to Texas.
McKinney’s numerous church spires and neat subdivisions appear to bolster his points. Though the city is one of the fastest-growing in the country, its quaint central square, with an old-school candy store and Celtic pub, gives it a small-town feel.
Chabot’s transition to Texas was so successful, he says, that he’s built a business around the concept: A relocation agency for other frustrated residents of liberal areas, appropriately called “Conservative Move.” He says his network of real estate agents are currently helping dozens of families find homes in communities such as McKinney around the country.
On a recent Friday, he was preparing to receive a group of would-be-migrants at his office, which is tucked in a development made to look like an Italian village. He laid out brochures touting the area’s public schools, and the housing and business offerings of Collin County, where McKinney sits. Here’s a passage from one:
“In Collin County, you can put in an exciting day at your high-tech job, drive 15 minutes to pick the kids up from their award-winning school, and wave to the neighbors (whom you know well) as you drive up to your new, beautiful home. It’s all possible here.”
Paul Chabot’s office is in a development called Adriatic Village in McKinney, Texas.
But California and Texas are changing in the same ways
For Chabot, his new hometown is a huge upgrade from San Bernardino County, which he describes as a “third-world country.” Crime was rampant and public schools failing, he says. Middle class families like his struggled to keep up with high taxes and rents. It was barely recognizable from the community he grew up in as a kid, he adds.
Census data shows that San Bernardino has indeed changed. From 2000 to 2016, its population surged by 25%. It also became poorer, more diverse, less affordable, and more Democratic.
|Foreign born (%)||19||21|
|Median household income||$42,066||$56,337|
|Poverty rate (%)||15.8||17.7|
|Owner occupied units (%)||65||58|
|Median value of owner-occupied units||$131,500||$302,600|
|Bachelor’s degree or higher (%)||16||20|
|Vote for Republican presidential candidate (%)||49||42|
But the data also show Collin County is evolving along similar lines as San Bernardino. Its population has also swelled—at a much faster rate than in the California county. Over the past decade and a half, Collin, too, has grown poorer, less affordable and less Republican.
Cultural norms are changing, too. Just a few years ago, no one gave a second thought to opening a school function in McKinney with a Christian prayer asking God for a second presidential term for George W. Bush, as The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan reported. These days, that kind of behavior is bound to get pushback.
McKinney Independent School District received complaints last year after its superintendent led a prayer at an all-staff meeting. (In a sign of the changing times, the superintendent acknowledged that it might make some in the audience uncomfortable—though he went ahead with it anyway.) A few weeks ago, two district teachers had to step down over tweets in which they called Islam “a satanic death cult” and said transgender people were mentally ill.
|Foreign born (%)||13||20|
|Median household income||$70,835||$89,638|
|Poverty rate (%)||4.9||6.4|
|Owner occupied units (%)||69||67|
|Median value of owner-occupied units||$155,500||$288,100|
|Bachelor’s degree or higher (%)||47||52|
|Vote for Republican presidential candidate||73||56|
The Californization of Texas?
Areas neighboring Collins County seem even closer to Korenthal and Chabot’s dark picture of California.
Just 30 miles away, Dallas County’s poverty rate is above 15%, just like in San Bernardino, California. Dallas County’s white population has been halved, to about 30%, since 2000—just like in San Bernardino. And Trump supporters in Dallas County accounted for an even smaller share of the voting public than in San Bernardino during the last presidential election: 35% vs 42%.
Korenthal blames the Democratic politics of cities such as Dallas for making parts of Texas look more like California. His theory is that over the long term, areas that embrace liberal policies will collapse under the weight of their own failure. Eventually places like Dallas—and California— will come around to the Texas-style low-tax, light-regulation approach that generates economic prosperity for all sectors of society, he says.
But despite Texas’s stellar job creation and economic growth over the past decade and a half, the state’s poverty rate inched up slightly—to 15.7% in 2016 from 15.4% in 2000—just like in California, where it rose from 14.2% to 14.4%.
Meanwhile, Texas’s economic star has dimmed. The state’s economy shrank by 0.3% in 2016 vs. California’s 3.3% growth rate. (Data for the first three quarters of 2017 show Texas grew much faster than the previous year, and outpaced California.) As in California, the state’s population became less white and its voters less Republican than in 2000.
Home prices across the state have also climbed dramatically. Texas is experiencing a housing crunch, even though its land use regulations are among the least restrictive in the country and developers have more space to build than in California. Incomes, however, have not kept pace. Here’s what that imbalance looks like in the Dallas metro area, which includes Collin County:
There’s also evidence that the pressures from a rapidly expanding and more diverse population have led to at least some of the more socially-minded policies adopted by Texas cities, not the other way around. In Houston, for example, local authorities had to pass new rules to avoid conflicts between existing homeowners and the wave of new developments spurred by its growing number of residents.
Those new Texans are also weighing on public services, such as roads, schools and hospitals. Some of them, the undocumented immigrants who help underpin the Texas dream of affordable housing through their cheap labor, are particularly dependent on those services because they tend to be poorer.
Economists have been telling state politicians they have to cover those needs in order to keep the economy chugging. Even in the midst of the Texas Miracle, in 2013, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas underscored the importance of this:
“Sustaining prosperity requires making public and private investments in education, English fluency, health care and infrastructure. While costly, such investments will help the state continue to attract the businesses and workers that have been central to its growth and transformation.”
Local officials at the front lines of the population bulge—including some Republicans—are now calling for more public spending.
To be sure, Texas is far from becoming a liberal stronghold. The state government is sticking to its tight-fisted approach to budgeting, and remains allergic to regulation. Gov. Greg Abbott just launched a crusade to limit local taxes.
So, California refugees such as Korenthal and Chabot can rest assured that suburbs such as McKinney will remain conservative havens for years. Still, both men say, Texans shouldn’t become complacent about their conservatism. California, too, was once solidly red, they warn.
It’s become something of a cliché to say a film (or television series) has good “world-building.” Often, it’s actually a backhanded compliment, meant to imply that while the setting a film’s characters and story inhabit may be unique and convincingly realized, those characters and story fail to populate it with anything interesting.
Black Panther doesn’t have that problem. Unlike many other fantasy worlds, Wakanda, the fictional African kingdom where the Marvel film takes place, can’t be separated from the narrative. Wakanda—what it represents to different characters, what it is to outsiders, and what it should or shouldn’t be to the rest of the world—is the story of Black Panther. And it’s a great one.
An elaborate, mythic prologue—not unlike the one that introduces Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, sets the stage: Hundreds of years ago, a meteorite carrying the fictional alien metal vibranium crashed in Africa. Several tribes waged war over the powerful resource before they were eventually united under one banner by the first Black Panther, a man who had found a mysterious herb that granted him superhuman abilities. Using the metal, Wakanda became the most technologically advanced country in the world. But out of fear that they’d be colonized and exploited like much of the rest of the continent, the Wakandans shut themselves off from the world and use their technology to make the nation appear as though it’s destitute—thereby creating a hidden black oasis.
It’s an utterly fascinating mythology upon which to build a superhero story. Based on the comic book superhero of the same name, Black Panther follows T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) ascendancy to the Wakandan throne following the death of his father, T’Chaka, who previously assumed the ceremonial mantle of the Black Panther. Like his father, T’Challa believes that Wakanda should remain isolated out of self-preservation, but there’s a growing sentiment within the Wakandan ranks that the country should open itself up to the world and share its technology and tradition.
The film really comes into its own when it introduces the villain: an American, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) with a dark history and ties to Wakanda. Killmonger is by every measure the most interesting villain Marvel’s cinematic universe has ever offered. In fact, he’s only a “villain” insofar as his philosophy directly challenges that of our hero, the Black Panther. In large part due to a hugely committed performance by Jordan, Killmonger is a genuinely thrilling on-screen presence.
More than thrills, though, Killmonger inserts a profound moral dilemma into the heart of Black Panther, one steeped in racial history and identity that’s deeply personal to a large segment of the film’s audience. Killmonger—an Oakland, California native with special ops experience and a lifetime of righteous anger—advances a very different vision for Wakanda’s future from T’Challa’s. He wants to use the country’s massive vibranium reserves to arm black communities around the world so they can revolt against their oppressors. He wants a new world where he, and people who look like him, are finally in control of their destinies after centuries of subjugation.
If this doesn’t sound like an ordinary Marvel superhero film, that’s because it decidedly is not. It’s a testament to director Ryan Coogler’s vision that Black Panther is a wholly unique, self-sufficient film that still manages to fit snugly into the wider Marvel ecosystem. Marvel needs Black Panther much more than Black Panther needs Marvel, a set-up that is in some ways mirrored by the story. Does the world need Wakanda? Does the African diaspora need Wakanda? Or should Wakanda remain in defensive camouflage?
Coogler has created something original and vital out of a Disney-fied superhero universe that, for the most part, has operated at the same worn out wavelength for a decade. That’s a huge feat unto itself. Black Panther doesn’t “transcend” the superhero genre so much as it elevates the entire thing alongside it. It’s the most formidable Marvel film to date; a cinematic artifact that feels like it shouldn’t belong to the corporate superhero apparatus. But it’s really exciting to know that it does.
Four Spanish islands are aiming to go to 100% renewable electricity by 2050, under a climate law proposed on Thursday.
Mallorca, Ibiza, Menorca, and Fomentera currently depend on a coal plant for nearly half of their power supplies and get only 2% from renewable sources. The Balearic government wants to change all that, making the popular Mediterranean holiday destination into a beacon of sustainable tourism.
“With this law we want to make what’s often our biggest challenge—our nature as islands—into an opportunity,” said Joan Groizard, energy director in the regional government. “Moving to 100% clean energy and mobility should be easier here than on the continent, so it’s our responsibility to get working on that head start.”
There is a majority in favor of a transition to clean energy in the Balearic parliament, Groizard told Climate Home News, including some members of the opposition. But expansion of wind and solar power so far has been held up by local objections to the visual impact. And the region is on a collision course with Madrid, where the energy ministry has rejected a key element of the plan: closure of the Es Murterar coal power station by 2025.
Their disagreement centers on the projected costs of the transition. In the short term, more expensive gas is expected to plug the gap left by taking coal offline. Existing gas plants have the capacity to increase output. There are also costs associated with keeping Es Murterar open. Two of the plant’s four units would require upgrades to stay open beyond 2020, under EU pollution rules, at an estimated €100m.
Central energy minister Daniel Davila has claimed the transition would cost €200 million ($250 million), while Palma’s Marc Pons said it would be €10m ($12 million) at most. A spokesperson for Spain’s energy ministry said they were waiting to see the specifics of the Balearic proposal, but it would need to align with national policy.
“In the Balearics, the difference in the cost of energy production is subsidized and included in the electricity bill of all the Spanish citizens,” the spokesperson said. “Therefore, the different Spanish administrations have to reach a consensus regarding the energy policy.”
Pons and Groizard are set to meet EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete on Feb. 20 to appeal for support. Cañete is a member of Spain’s ruling Partido Popular (People’s Party) and was instrumental in negotiating the Paris Agreement on climate change.
If unresolved, the dispute may go to the constitutional court, the fate of parts of Catalonia’s regional climate law.
“It is infuriating and hard to understand why Madrid is blocking the aim of the Balearic Islands to switch to clean energy,” said Sarah Oppenheimer, a campaigner who moved to Mallorca recently with her Spanish partner and children.
“It seems so obvious that a place so abundant in sunshine should take advantage of its resources and reap the benefits of cleaner air, more local employment, and reduced emissions, especially now that solar energy is so competitive and often cheaper than fossil fuels.”
Key points of the draft climate law include:
- Interim renewable electricity targets of 10% of supply by 2020 and 35% by 2030
- Requirements for new large buildings and car parks to include solar panels
- Progressive targets for the car hire industry towards a 100% electric fleet by 2035
- Rights for people to invest in renewable energy projects in their community
- Rules for businesses to measure their carbon footprints and bring in sectoral emissions reduction targets
- A framework to update the regional climate plan every five years, overseen by an independent committee
It takes inspiration from Denmark and Germany on community ownership of renewables, which can boost local support, and the UK on governance arrangements to lock in action over the long term.
Spain is expected to publish a long-awaited national draft climate law in the coming weeks. The government spokesperson said it had an “ambitious policy” on renewable energy and would meet its commitments to the Paris Agreement.
This article originally appeared on Climate Home News.
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At the height of the 2016 American presidential campaign, Russian propagandists used Twitter accounts to spread conspiracy theories, misinformation, and political division. That and other shady online activity led Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating foreign interference in the election, to indict 13 Russian nationals.
Before the campaign though, these fake accounts eased into their digital personas by tweeting stereotypically “American” content: Nirvana lyrics, Bible verses, uplifting platitudes, comments about pizza.
This transition in tone from vapid to vociferously political is common across the universe of Russian troll tweets, according to our survey of 200,000 tweets released this week by NBC. The banal early tweets could be part of an effort to make the accounts seem like they belong to real people.
A good example is the Twitter user “evagreen69,” now known to be part of the network of Russian accounts. In July 2014, it tweeted, “I am in Love with LOVE!” A few months later, the user announced, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!”—chapter 55, verse 6 of the Book of Psalms. The next month there was a quote from the Stoic philosopher Seneca: “The most onerous slavery is to be a slave to oneself.” In the same month it tweeted, “What I tend to do when it comes to you,” a line from a song by Shakira (feat. Rihanna).
None of the quotes were attributed.
Then, in 2015, evagreen69 started to get political. “It’s not a secret that Obama grew up in a Muslim family,” it claimed in February of that year. In March, “All of those protesters in Ferguson, your hand [sic] are covered with blood!” Later in the year, “#GOPDebate Together we can make America great again.” Much later, in August 2016: “Please sign and share my petition #WakeUpAmerica #NeverHillary #ImNotWithHer.” That one was retweeted over 800 times.
“Eva Green’s” initial penchant for song lyrics, scripture, and inspirational quotes is shared across the troll network.
In 2014, the user “heyits_toby” had a Benjamin Franklin quote, a line from a song by the Finnish rock band Rasmus, and an English translation of a Russian proverb. The account “patriotraphael,” delivered yet another Seneca quote, yet another Russian proverb, and this line from the rap-rock band Hollywood Undead: “I got the speakers pumpin’ straight bangin’ the thong song #RAPCORE.”
Let’s look at another example. Why not. Twitter user “judelambertusa” had these three quotes:
- “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein
- “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” —Ruth Bell Graham
- “Know that I don’t make music for niggas who don’t get pussy so those are the ones I count on to diss me or overlook me.” —Drake (this one was attributed)
There is much more like this.
From the 200,000 tweets collected by NBC, the pattern looks like this: A new troll account is set up. It populates its feed with non-political tweets, presumably drawing from databases of quotes, song lyrics, platitudes, and, it seems, Russian proverbs. Then the account gets going with political messages. Those messages lean pro-Trump, but they can go the other way, too.
The goal here seems to be to make the accounts look like those of regular Americans. If they only tweeted controversial political messages, it would be more obvious that they were not genuine. That’s also probably why they have names like “patriotraphael” and “judelambertusa.” In his indictment, Mueller accused the Russian propagandists of impersonating Americans on social media.
The Russian trolls seem to have a sense of humor. There is some irony in turning a Benjamin Franklin quote into a weapon aimed at the United States. But Lil’ Wayne (yes, he’s in there) just seems sloppy. Perhaps they were taking the advice of Steven Tyler, via the troll user “micparrish”: “If it is worth doing, it is worth overdoing.”
Russian trolls used Paypal to sow chaos in the 2016 US election, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment today of 13 Russian nationals.
The indictment accuses members of the St Petersburg “troll factory” Internet Research Agency of paying for online ads using Paypal. The ads were used to spread inflammatory statements about the presidential candidates and social issues.
They created and verified their accounts with the digital payment company by stealing real Americans’ social security numbers and dates of birth, according to the filing:
This would in part explain why Facebook and Twitter failed to realize they were being paid for advertising by Russians.
US citizen Richard Pinedo’s guilty plea to Mueller gives insight into how foreign citizens similarly tricked an unnamed company (“Company 1”) into letting them use its services. It charges Pinedo with selling US citizens’ bank account numbers to various foreign individuals, which they then used to verify their separate accounts at “Company 1.”
The unspecified “Company 1” then asked them to verify that these were their real bank accounts by depositing a tiny amount of money into them, which Pinedo checked for the foreign users. This allowed them “to circumvent verification processes” by that company. Pinedo’s website has been taken down, but it reportedly advertised help in getting access to Paypal, Amazon, and Ebay.
Paypal declined to comment on whether it is the company in the Pinedo plea and did not say whether it is re-examining its anti-money laundering or due diligence practices. It confirmed in a statement that it cooperated with law enforcement on Mueller’s case.
Russians seeking to influence the US 2016 elections also paid for online advertisements by registering Russian bank accounts and credit card numbers in the names of US citizens, the report says.
The White House is refusing to release images from Feb. 28, 2017 of Donald Trump signing HJ Resolution 40, a piece of legislation that repealed Obama-era regulations that would have kept tens of thousands of mentally ill Americans from purchasing firearms.
The bill Trump signed into law came under renewed scrutiny after it was reported that the gunman charged in the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida had a history of mental illness and was still able to buy a gun.
CBS News said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to its repeated requests on April 19, 2017, writing only, “We don’t plan to release the picture at this time.” Yesterday (Feb. 15), CBS News said it “asked the White House again if it would release the photo of the signing, but received no response.”
The president, then just over a month into his administration, was hardly camera shy that February 2017 day. He hosted three separate signing ceremonies that were were open to the press.
As for the fourth? No media was present for the signing, but CBS reports that a White House photographer confirmed that pictures were taken.
President Donald Trump holds up the Historically Black Colleges and Universities HBCU Executive Order after signing it, on Feb. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office.
Trump speaks as he signs the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) executive order, Feb. 28, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room. The executive order directs the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which expanded the number of waterways that are federally protected under the Clean Water Act.
Trump shows one of two executive orders aimed at supporting women in STEM fields on Feb. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office.
Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency, a day after prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned.
On Friday, the ruling coalition’s council announced the move was meant to uphold the rule of law and to stem a wave of anti-government protests. The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said the council “came to the conclusion that imposing emergency rule would be vital to safeguarding the constitutional order of our country.” It was not immediately clear when the measure would be effective or for how long it will last.
The directive comes at a tipping point for the Horn of Africa nation, which has experienced increasing violence and internal political problems for more than two years now. The Oromos and the Amharas, the country’s two largest ethnic groups, have been agitating for more political inclusion, economic equality, and social justice. The minority Tigray community dominates the ruling coalition and opposition complain they enjoy disproportionate influence and representation in government.
The government crackdown had turned fatal, with more than 1,000 people dead and tens of thousands put behind bars, according to advocacy groups. From Oct. 2016 to Aug. 2017, authorities also imposed an emergency rule following deadly protests.
A spate of violence has also ensued between the Oromos and the ethnic Somalis recently, showcasing the governance troubles facing the Tigray-led ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party. In early December, when a crackdown on protests in villages in Oromia led to more killings and demonstrations, the government also blocked the internet.
Desalegn resigned amidst all this, but not before he oversaw the release of more than 6,000 political prisoners and journalists since early January. The 52-year-old took these steps, he said, in a bid to foster national consensus, open up political dialogue, and widen the democratic space.
Hours after his resignation, opposition officials and critics abroad started calling for the Ethiopian system of governance to be overhauled. Mulatu Gemechu, deputy secretary of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress told Reuters that EPRDF had lost its authority, and that “Ethiopians now need a government that respects their rights, not one that keeps beating and killing them.”
And even though the council of ministers has the power to decree an emergency state under the constitution, it still wasn’t known what this meant for the country’s future. Mohammed Ademo, the editor of the OPride, a website that reports on the Oromo diaspora and advocates for social justice in Ethiopia, wrote on Twitter that the command seemed to be “an outcome of a succession struggle gone awry” and “bodes ill for the country’s future. It will hinder the promised reform efforts.”
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One of the overarching questions about Russia’s online campaign to destabilize the US election is just how effective those social media efforts really were.
Well, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment (pdf) of 13 Russian citizens and three entities, Russian trolls were persuasive enough to get at least one US citizen to stand up and wish their boss a very special happy birthday.
The indictment says they used a social media account to arrange “for a real US person to stand in front of the White House…under false pretenses to hold a sign that read ‘Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss.'” They reportedly told the American that it was for someone who “is a leader here and our boss…our funder.”
Their leader is Russian oligarch Egveny Prigozhin, who paid for the disinformation campaign. The event apparently took place around May 29, 2016, just days before Prigozhin’s 55th birthday on June 1. Prigozhin is closely tied to the Russian president and is known as “Putin’s chef,” with his companies catering Kremlin meals.
Read the full indictment here.
The excitement around Black Panther, Marvel’s first black superhero movie, is deafening. The film, released today, is poised to bring home $180 million this weekend. According to the movie tickets site Fandango, it has pre-sold more tickets than any other superhero movie. The buzz seems justified: Movie critics are calling it “incredible, kinetic, purposeful” and “as touching as it is thrilling.”
To many, Black Panther is more than a movie. It’s a cultural phenomenon, a necessary and joyous tribute to being black—not just in America, but in the global African diaspora. Celebrities are buying out theaters in underserved neighborhoods so black children can see faces like their own onscreen. Nigerians, Kenyans, and Ghanaians are sporting traditional garb to see the movie.
Many non-black people are also eager to share in this worldwide celebration. But it’s easy to feel nervous about how to engage in and respectfully support the identity-focused wave of elation. The answer is clearly not to mute that excitement. But know this: If you’re white, this is one time that you won’t see someone who looks like you onscreen fighting villains, commanding power, or saving innocent people. And that’s precisely why you should go see this film.
The power of (not) seeing yourself onscreen
White people are very used to seeing themselves onscreen. A study from the University of Southern California examined 800 movies that came out between 2007 and 2015, and found that of 32,205 characters, just a quarter were non-white. The lack of representation is even more stark behind the camera: Just 5.5% of the directors were black, for example.
Black Panther has an almost entirely black cast and a black director. That’s a gift for black girls and boys everywhere who aren’t used to seeing themselves onscreen—and it’s a gift for non-black people, too. Fictional storytelling offers a unique opportunity for empathy, says Jennifer Barnes, a professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma.
“Fiction offers us front-row access to other people’s minds,” she explains. “It lets us see how emotions, and relationships, and other people’s beliefs are playing out in these complicated social situations.” That’s why it’s crucial to seek out stories that don’t mirror your own life and identity.
This might be even more important for non-black children. As Black Panther costumes hit the shelves, nervous parents are agonizing (paywall) over whether to encourage their non-black children to dress up as the King of Wakanda.
In short, they should. Children today will hopefully be able to look up to many more black and brown heroes as they grow up—just as kids of all races and genders have long played out their childhood superhero fantasies as white males such as Superman and Batman.
And don’t feel inhibited from discussing Black Panther’s race. Children develop a sense of race early on, and can have subconscious associations with certain races by the time they enter primary school—so avoiding the topic in the hope that race never becomes “an issue” is not particularly effective, experts say. Instead, actively encouraging children’s admiration for a person of a different race or identity group, in a respectful way, helps them to thoughtfully respond to and empathize with others.
Taking them to see Black Panther, and talking openly about why it’s an inspiring milestone, is a great first step.
The power of an alternative story
It’s worth remembering that, as Karen Attiah, an editor at the Washington Post says, “In 2018, we live in a world where white fantasies about black inferiority still rage.” Black Panther combats those persistent and pernicious fantasies with a new and inspiring story.
It’s one that straddles reality and fantasy. Wakanda may be fictional, but its inhabitants speak a real African language. There’s “Okavango triangular, ancient, sacred geometry from Africa” all over Black Panther’s suit, Ruth E. Carter, who designed the film’s costumes, told The Ringer. The female fighting force have Masai beading, South African leatherwork, and hand-tooled jewelry armor.
Meanwhile Wakanda, rendered as a kind of Afro-futurist utopia, is high-tech, covered in the rich mineral Vibranium, and wealthy beyond measure—a place that doesn’t exist, but asks the important and provocative question, “what if?” It’s important that black and non-black people take this imaginative trip, and explore how a culture’s heroism, power, and technological prowess could have played out in the absence of colonialism and oppression.
Of course, the film likely won’t get everything right. Worries about cultural appropriation and African caricaturing have been cropping up since details about the movie first began leaking out. But participating in this moment, as a non-black person, is a useful thought experiment, and offers a glimpse of a tantalizing alternate reality.
The power of your money
Black Panther follows the first black-led film to make $100 million in the US, Girls Trip. It follows Get Out, which stared down the discomfort of being black in America, while grossing 40 times its production budget. And it follows Moonlight, the story of a gay, black American’s coming of age, which won the best picture Oscar in 2017.
Black Panther is no sleeper hit or low-budget art movie. “I hope you can tell from watching the movie, but the resources devoted to this movie are equal to and in fact surpass our last couple of movies,” Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, told Vulture. It’s true. The studio spent $200 million bringing Wakanda and its characters to life.
Nevertheless, Hollywood remains so very white. That’s despite huge box office potential among black audiences. African Americans, on average, visit theaters 13.4 times a year, compared to the 11 visits made by the average American. With movies such as Selma and Top Five, Hollywood has learned that black people will support a story that centers black characters. What’s important now is that the industry learns that people of other races can identify and engage with—and be entertained by—a story with strong black characters too.
There’s a lot riding on Black Panther. So go see it. Buy a ticket for yourself, for your friends, for your lover, for your neighbor. Then talk about it, chew on it—enjoy it. And go see it again.
The special counsel investigating foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election has accused 13 Russian nationals and several related organizations with committing fraud to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and sabotage his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The indictment below was issued today. It is unlikely to result in extradition of the individuals from Russia, but the document could lay the groundwork for charges against Americans for aiding and abetting their work, though no Americans are implicated in this document.
Its charges also provide new evidence for claims by US intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to manipulate US voters in 2016. Though it does not weigh in on how much the Russian propaganda effort altered the election, it says the messages reached “significant numbers of Americans.” The Internet Research Agency, the organization at the heart of the indictment, has been connected for years to internet security breaches on behalf of the Russian government.
The individuals named in the document stole US identities and created false online presences to spread political propaganda, even hosting their own rallies. One Twitter handle impersonating Tennessee’s Republican party attracted more than 100,000 followers. An internal message instructed the operators to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them).”
Read the entire indictment here:
Men are finally beginning to be held accountable for sexual harassment. And (surprise, surprise) many of them aren’t reacting so well.
Surely, if you’re a man, watching other men lose their power can be scary. Maybe you didn’t masturbate in front of her, or use a secret button to trap her in your office, but did you stare too long? Did that compliment come off too strong? Contemplating these questions is necessary and, most women will tell you, perfectly okay.
What’s not necessary, or remotely okay? Reacting to #MeToo by isolating yourself from the women you work with—an inclination which has become all too common, according to a new study conducted by the Sheryl Sandberg-founded women’s empowerment nonprofit LeanIn.Org and Survey Monkey.
“In the aftermath of #MeToo, as several powerful men have lost their jobs (good!) for harassing women, some men have chosen to react by adopting what’s called the Mike Pence rule – never having dinner alone with a woman other than your wife,” Sandberg wrote in a recent post on Facebook, where she is COO. “If men think that the way to address workplace sexual harassment is to avoid one-on-one time with female colleagues – including meetings, coffee breaks, and all the interactions that help us work together effectively – it will be a huge setback for women.”
Countless studies have shown that white men are more likely to receive mentorship than women, people of color, and gay men—a pattern that clearly predates #MeToo. They’ve also been more successful in finding mentors with more organizational clout, as this article in Harvard Business Review noted back in 2010. But the backlash to #MeToo threatens to make the playing field more uneven still.
LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey investigated the impact of #MeToo in the workplace by polling a nationally representative sample of nearly 9,000 adults employed in the US, via two online surveys.
The results were alarming: According to the surveys, nearly 50% of male managers across industries say they’re now uncomfortable participating in one or more common work activities with women, like working together one-on-one or socializing together. And the percentage of male managers who say they’re uncomfortable mentoring women has risen from 5% to 16%—meaning one in six male managers is uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague.
What’s more, senior men—those who typically have the most power to sponsor and promote junior employees—said they are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior woman than a junior man, and five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior woman.
“The last thing women need right now is even more isolation,” Sandberg wrote in response to the findings. “Men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders, so when they avoid, ice out, or exclude women, we pay the price.”
LeanIn.org has launched a new campaign in response called #MentorHer, to encourage executives to publicly promise to mentor women and foster female leadership talent. Among those to make the commitment thus far: Oath CEO Tim Armstrong, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and more. The roster also includes several female executives, such as GM CEO Mary Barra and Hearst chief content officer Joanna Coles.
Some of the best advice I received was from male mentors who encouraged me to speak up in meetings and to take leadership roles. I commit to #MentorHer and encourage my team to do the same. Learn more: https://t.co/EdFDolwaFQ
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) February 6, 2018
The #MentorHer campaign could perhaps be viewed as a form of mentorship itself, for executives who feel wary now about their working relationships with women. Sandberg’s advice? “Men who want to be on the right side of this issue shouldn’t avoid women. They should mentor them.”
As for the men who still don’t feel comfortable dining alone with a female colleague, Sandberg says, “Fine. But make access equal: no dinners alone with anyone. Breakfast or lunches for all. Or group dinners only, nothing one-on-one. Whatever you choose, treat women and men equally.”
Say what you will about the value of lists like Fortune magazine’s Best Companies To Work For. The ranking of 100 top companies has been an annual tradition for two decades. It’s also the showpiece product of the magazine’s longtime research partner, Great Place to Work, a consulting and research firm.
But there’s something different about this year’s list, which was based on responses from more than 300,000 employees at large companies that opted into the survey. A change in methodology this year put greater emphasis on feedback from survey respondents who self-identified as women, minorities, or LGBTQ. It is the first time, says Michael Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, that the list reflects what he has dubbed a “Great Places to Work For All” mindset.
That may sound like a no-brainer in today’s corporate culture. Diversity recruiting and inclusion efforts have become so critical to big companies that IBM is suing its former chief diversity officer for taking the same job at Microsoft, on the concern that she might spill secrets about her former employer’s approach to cultivating a more diverse workforce. But a few years ago, when Bush started talking about the need for a new approach, it was a much tougher sell.
Human resources executives were aware that minority groups were not having a great experience at some of the top-rated companies—something Bush, too, had detected in the data when he took over as Great Place to Work’s CEO in 2015. But when he explained his proposal to other CEOs for changing up the methodology, they were frightened by it.
For the first time in its history, the company wanted to add new categories to its audit that would measure how consistently different groups found the company a great place to work, and whether they felt the company lived up to its stated values.
“I said, ‘We’re looking at the disparity between one group and another,’ and that hit every alarm bell they have. All of them knew they had a problem, because that’s America,” Bush says. He says he could see the executives felt caught, thinking to themselves, “If I don’t apply [to be included on the list], it will look like I’m afraid. If I do apply, I don’t think we’ll do well.” Some multinational firms said they weren’t sure they’d continue.
Worried he had made “the record-setting mistake of my career,” Bush, who served on former US president Barack Obama’s White House Business Council, says he wondered how he had not factored fear of exposure into his roll-out. He thought he may have destroyed his firm.
But stumbling through those conversations, he says, he was able to reframe his project in ways that made sense to CEOs. The wording needed tweaking, essentially.
His clients could see that a “for all” commitment would mean the firm was “maximizing the potential of all employees.” Business leaders were also excited to talk about innovation, and the well-established connection between including diverse voices within a company and being a more dynamic, more profitable company. In an article outlining the methodological change, Bush reports that organizations scoring highest under the new “For All” methodology “grew their revenue about 10 percent faster over the same period than the companies that scored best according to [Great Place to Work’s] old methodology.”
What really sealed the deal though, Bush says, was the election of Donald Trump. The new president’s rhetoric was polarizing on so many issues—immigration and diversity, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights—that many CEOs felt compelled to take a stand. They saw that their employees, and especially millennials, would not accept indifference from their workplace representatives. One head of a multinational firm that initially told Bush he might not participate in the modified survey eventually came back to say that it’s the only list he wanted to be on.
This year’s list includes several new names at the front of the pack, indicating, says Bush, that they are purpose-driven, inclusive firms. They include Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Hyatt, and Workday. At the very top of the list is the software company Salesforce, replacing multi-year champion Google, which mysteriously doesn’t appear in the 2018 ranking. (Great Place to Work doesn’t comment on companies that are not on the list. Quartz has contacted Google and Fortune requesting comment, and will update this post if we receive a response.)
Here’s a look at the top 10 Best Companies champions for 2018:
2. Wegmans Food Markets
3. Ultimate Software
4. The Boston Consulting Group
5. Edward Jones
6. Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
A team at Google is using everyday humans to shape the decisions that machines make, no coding required.
Researchers built a web app that showed people Google’s previously reported AI-generated drawings of things like cats and rhinos, and recorded their reactions through a webcam. When people smiled after seeing the doodle, it registered as a positive signal. When they frowned or looked confused, it registered as a negative reaction.
After gathering all the drawings that people reacted positively to, the Googlers retrained the AI system with a focus on the “good” examples. The results were better drawings of cats and dogs.
Top: Original sketches generated by AI. Bottom: Sketches generated after human feedback.
While this experiment might seem simple, the Google team writes that it could make AI safer in the long term. If AI has the ability to adapt to social cues from humans, and can learn from facial expressions and body language what makes humans happy, it can learn which actions make people happy.
It’s also reasonable to assume the opposite is possible, and AI could learn to instill fear or disgust, which has actually been explored by MIT. But Google is focusing on the sunny side, and it’s not alone. Companies like Affectiva have explored artificial emotional intelligence, or the science of getting computers to understand facial expressions and social cues from humans, so that machines can better suit our needs. For instance, Affectiva is working on how self-driving cars understand that its driver is switching to an autonomous mode.
“An AI agent motivated by satisfaction expressed by humans will be less likely to take actions against human interest,” the Google researchers write. “Imagine if a home assistant could sense when a user responds with an angry or frustrated tone and this acted as a negative incentive, training the algorithm not to repeat the action that led to the user’s frustration?”
“Nobody gives a sh— about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”
That was the sentiment among the leadership at Sony Pictures in 1998, recalled then-Sony executive Yair Landau, in Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz’s upcoming book, The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies. An excerpt was published (paywall) in the Journal this week.
The studio was then offered the film rights for almost every Marvel character, from the Avengers to the Black Panther and more, for $25 million from a rather desperate Marvel Entertainment, which had just emerged from bankruptcy. Landau’s bosses reportedly turned it down and instead bought the rights to Spider-Man for $10 million, plus 5% of any movies’ gross revenue, and half the revenue from consumer products.
In the late 1990s, before Marvel captured Hollywood by bringing its comic-book world of interwoven story lines, superheroes, and villains to the big screen, Spider-Man was all the masses cared about. Sony wasn’t wrong to snap him up. The web slinger went on to star in half of the top 10 grossing movies featuring Marvel characters (including his supporting role in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War). And his six self-titled feature films have brought in $4.8 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo estimates.
But the studio missed that similar affinities could be established for characters like the X-Men, Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The 32 live-action Marvel movies released after 1998—sans Spidey in the lead—have grossed roughly $20.3 billion worldwide.
Disney and 20th Century Fox ultimately saw a future that Sony didn’t. Fox made a pretty penny from its X-Men movies, and is exercising more of its Marvel movie rights with films around characters like Deadpool and Gambit. Disney picked up the movie rights that were left on the table when it acquired Marvel in 2009. It paid quite a bit more than Sony would have, however—$4 billion. It could soon reunite Marvel with its mutants if its bid to buy Fox’s assets goes through.
Waymo is preparing to launch a ride-hailing service akin to Uber’s, but with driverless cars.
The self-driving carmaker spun out of Google was approved on Jan. 24 to operate as a transportation network company (TNC) in Arizona, the state department of transportation told Quartz. Waymo applied for the permit on Jan. 12. Its application, which was reviewed by Quartz, contained images of the autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans the company is testing in five US states.
The application realizes a long-held fear of Uber’s: that Waymo intends not just to build driverless cars, but to operate its own ride-hailing business. Waymo has been testing a self-driving car service in the Phoenix area since last April that lets passengers hail cars through an app, similar to Uber. TNC status would allow it to charge for these rides, which are currently free. Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick has long believed that to compete, Uber must develop self-driving cars, too.
“The minute it was clear that Google was getting into the ride-sharing space, we realized we needed to make sure there was an alternative, because if there is not, we will be out of business,” Kalanick told Bloomberg in a July 2016 interview, as Uber accelerated its own driverless technology efforts.
Images from Waymo’s TNC application in Arizona.
Arizona granted the TNC permit a week and a half before Waymo commenced its trade secrets trial against Uber in San Francisco, alleging Uber stole Waymo’s knowledge on how to build self-driving cars. The two companies reached a settlement on Feb. 9, five days into the trial, which includes Uber paying Waymo a 0.34% equity stake and agreeing not to incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into its software or hardware. But nothing prevents Waymo from competing in the ride-hailing arena.
Waymo confirmed to Quartz that the TNC permit moves it a step closer to the commercial, on-demand ride service it plans to launch in Phoenix this year. “As we continue to test drive our fleet of vehicles in greater Phoenix, we’re taking all the steps necessary to launch our commercial service this year,” a Waymo spokesman said in an emailed statement. The company said it hasn’t announced rates yet for those rides. Waymo plans to operate commercially in other cities in the future, but declined to provide specifics.
Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat said on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call on Feb. 1 that Waymo was excited about its progress in Phoenix, and working toward a public ride-hailing program. “Riders will be able to use a Waymo app to hail one of our fully driving, self-driving cars without a driver at the wheel,” she said.
Uber declined to comment.
Waymo sued Uber in February 2017, alleging that Uber stole trade secrets through its acquisition of Otto, a small, little-known driverless trucking company started by former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski. Waymo alleged that Levandowski downloaded 14,000 confidential files, including trade secrets, shortly before he quit to start Otto, which he quickly sold to Uber.
Google was an early backer of Uber, investing $258 million in 2013 through its venture-capital arm. But the relationship between the two soured after Uber realized that Google wanted to get into the ride-hailing business itself. It worsened further when Uber hired several top Waymo engineers to build its own self-driving program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“Larry made it very clear that he was very upset with us and not happy that we were doing autonomy,” Kalanick said during court testimony on Feb. 7, referring to Larry Page, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet. “Everything we would get in terms of a signal from other people who knew him or knew people around him was that generally Google was super not happy, unpumped, about us doing this.”
Driverless cars are widely believed to be the silver bullet that will make ride-hailing profitable by eliminating the main cost: wages paid to human drivers. In the fourth quarter of 2017, Uber paid about $8 billion to drivers in earnings and bonuses, or about 72% of its gross revenue for the quarter. Uber lost $4.5 billion last year on $37 billion in gross revenue.
Waymo’s vehicles in the Phoenix area have driven more than 4 million miles on public roads. In November, the company said a portion of its cars in the Phoenix area were operating in fully autonomous mode, what’s known in industry parlance as level four autonomy. “A fully self-driving fleet can offer new and improved forms of sharing,” Waymo said at the time, adding that in coming months it would invite members of the public to ride in the fully autonomous vehicles, beginning with those already in the early rider program.
This is the stock of the Ruger AR-556, an AR-15 type gun made by Sturm Ruger. The stock is one of many customizable components that make AR-style weapons popular. Ruger isn’t the only company that manufactures this type of gun, but its corporate discussions with shareholders and analysts provide insight into just what it is that gun buyers are looking for.
The ability to customize makes the AR-15 an option for a variety of markets. This gun has a telescoping stock, pistol grip, and flash suppressor, all of which can run afoul of gun laws in certain jurisdictions.
We have very kind of obscure and obtuse regulations relating to certain stock configurations. This one here, [is] produced with the Hera stock, designed to make it legal and compliant in the State of California.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
May 9, 2017
Annual shareholder meeting
The ability to customize and personalize an AR-15 has more than regulatory appeal.
There’s a lot of cool things that you can add onto an AR.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Aug. 3, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
The rear sight on this model collapses, allowing it to remain connected to the gun while other aiming devices are being used.
When you’re looking to choosing optics, for example, you have to be careful you don’t over-niche the product and pick – make a choice for your consumer that they might prefer to make on their own.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Nov. 1, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
The use of components with standardized attachment slots allows for further accessorizing.
A lot of these, again, mix-and-match combinations, calibers, scopes, stocks, things that…get the consumer excited to get off the couch, come into the gun store and look at his next Ruger purchase.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
May 9, 2017
Annual shareholder meeting
Price is important, too. AR-15-type guns are often described as “affordable.”
With the AR-556 program. Where, based on the promotion we had there, we netted the price down from the kind of the average street price from $599 down to $499, and that had a very measurable impact at retail.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Aug 3, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
The price is a reason Ruger says it is able to win sales to police departments.
We have done some law enforcement sales on the AR-556 because it hits a very attractive price point as great quality product.
Chris Killoy, as COO
Nov. 2, 2016
Quarterly earnings call
Last year, Ruger was even worried that deals in the marketplace had reached too far, as smaller manufacturers dropped their prices to near-cost levels.
There was a lot of discounting. You saw prices out there for some of the off-brand ARs going down to $399, and it was some very, very heavy discounting.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Nov 1, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
Primarily though, Killoy says sales are driven by making things that customers can get excited about.
As long as you come out with something new and that excites consumers, even in a category like the [AR-15], you can still get their attention and you can get some of those discretionary dollars.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Nov. 1, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
For instance, a gun with beige components found a welcome market.
We did one of our AR-556s made down in Mayodan, we call it FDE, it’s flat dark earth, that’s just a color, very popular with the military.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
May 9, 2017
Annual shareholder meeting
Of course, there’s another factor: politics.
We just have to encourage our customer base to get back up in the range, burn up some ammo, enjoy the sport, and get back into the store and you remember how much fun it is to start buying a few more guns for fun, not just because you think they might be banned in the future.
Chris Killoy, as CEO
Aug. 3, 2017
Quarterly earnings call
You’ll find that those products that are most at risk from political fix are the ones that have the greatest volatility. When the volume level of the politics increases, their sales skyrocket. And when it tapers off, those sales plummet.
Michael Fifer, as then CEO
Nov. 2, 2016
Quarterly earnings call
Images provided by Ruger
The hardest jump in figure skating is a remarkable achievement on the edge of what’s physically possible.
Over the past few decades, the quadruple jump—consisting of four revolutions in the air—has become a dominant force in men’s figure skating. Quadruple jumps have effectively been a requirement for any male figure skater who wants to actually compete ever since the International Skating Union raised the point value of a quad in 2010 (after American Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold that year without attempting a single quad, even though the skater who won silver, Russian Evgeni Plushenko, actually landed one).
The jump requires subverting basic survival instincts to spin faster than 400 rotations per minute (the wheels on a car going 60 miles per hour rotate about 800 times per minute) without losing control. “Some kids are a little more amenable to doing that than others—maybe they have less of a sense of self-preservation,” says Jim Richards, a kinesiology professor at the University of Delaware, who uses motion-capture technology to help skaters refine their jumps.
Jim Richards’ software uses computer models to show a figure skater’s current form attempting a quadruple Salchow (gold), and how he should alter it to land successfully (silver). A coach would use this information to tell the athlete to tuck his arms better, to achieve higher rotational velocity.
The physics of a quadruple jump are fairly straightforward: skaters need to jump with the right combination of lift and spin, orient their bodies properly in the air, and then land gracefully despite impact forces equal to several times their body weight. When working with figure skaters, Richards concentrates on the portion of the jump that happens in the air: how high they jump (ideally, around 20 inches) and how efficiently they contract their bodies to maximize spin rate. More time in the air obviously means more time to spin the necessary 1440°, and body contraction helps thanks to conservation of angular momentum—stuff spins faster when it’s less spread out.
There are different types of quadruple jumps, categorized based on their unique takeoffs, but the rotation in the air is basically the same for each. The techniques for the different types vary in difficulty, and are awarded points (pdf) accordingly in all figure-skating competitions. A quadruple toe loop (base score of 10.3 points, though points can be added for extraordinary technique or deducted for bad form) is worth less than a quadruple Salchow (10.5), and a quadruple flip jump (12.3) is worth a full point less than a quadruple Lutz (13.6). For perspective, Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu won the 2014 Olympic gold by a margin of less than five points. Between his short and long program, technical-element scores accounted for 145 of Hanyu’s 280 total points.
Here’s an interactive visual of the quadruple Lutz, the hardest individual jump that’s ever been landed (American Vincent Zhou just became the first skater to land one at the Olympics).
Even the world’s best skaters can’t properly land most of their quads—almost two-thirds of jumping passes including quads (a “pass” is comprised of either an individual jump or a combination/sequence of jumps) get point reductions for sloppiness. But losing points is far from the worst possible outcome. Many skaters end up hurt, with anything from sprained ankles to fractured foot bones, shattered knees, and dislocated shoulders. Even American skater Nathan Chen, notorious for doing five quads in his free-skate program, messes up about one-third of his quad passes, according to data collected by SkatingScores. (He dashed his 2018 Olympic aspirations by falling on two quadruple jumps in his short program.)
That’s not to mention more chronic issues that result from repeatedly practicing these jumps. Richards has long been concerned that young kids are practicing quads too many times as they work to master them, inflicting incredible stress on their bodies. Richards is particularly troubled by the stiff skates that the athletes use; figure skaters could mitigate the impact of their landings if they could bend their ankles, which would stop all the force of the landing hitting them at once. But, Richards says, manufacturers have no financial incentive to make safer skates.
With so many injuries, the current backlash to quads has been unsurprising. Nothing undermines a performance like a nasty fall—especially when it leaves your hero injured and unable to compete—as when Hanyu, the Japanese skater, fell practicing a quadruple Lutz last November and then couldn’t compete for months.
That said, there’s no indication that quadruple jumps are going away, even if many people wish they would. There are clear benefits to a scoring system that prioritizes technical aspects like jumps: it makes competitions more transparent, so skaters know what’s required to win. Figure-skating judges are notoriously biased when it comes to evaluating subjective performance, but technical scores are fairly objective.
Female skaters may be headed for their own quad revolution. Figure-skating coach Tom Zakrajsek says women are fully capable of quadruple jumps. He should know, as the coach for both Zhou, who just landed the first Olympic quad Lutz, and Mirai Nagasu, the American skater who just became the first woman to land a triple axel at Olympic competition. A triple axel is a jump with three and a half rotations, made especially tricky because skaters enter facing forwards. Zakrajsek said Nagasu is close to landing a quad—she’s done one on a pole harness, a training tool that lets coaches guide their athletes through new jumps.
It may be a while before women start attempting quadruple jumps at the Olympic level, though. One challenge is that many women have hips that prevent them from contracting their bodies tightly enough to reach the necessary spin rate. But it may also just be a matter of time: Canadian Kurt Browning landed the first officially ratified quadruple jump in 1988. It took 14 years for a woman, Japanese skater Miki Ando, to do the same. Though Nagasu likely won’t compete at the Olympics (or elsewhere) with a quad jump anytime soon, Zakrajsek says “there are no limits for women.”
As for men, some spectators are already starting to speculate about a future where top male figure skaters are competing with quadruple axels, jumps that would involve four and a half rotations, or even quintuple jumps. But that would require even-faster rotation speeds, with even more risk for athletes to lose all control. And given how many fans wish figure skaters would simply go back to triple jumps, it’s not a future many people actually want.
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther embraced Africa in set, costume, language and post-colonial narrative. Now African audiences are rewarding these efforts by contributing to the global hype and box office sales.
For the first time a black superhero, surrounded by a cast of black warriors, will save his own world on the big screen. Long before it premiered the film became a celebration of filmic representation for African American audiences. For African audiences, the film represents a fantasy and a reality at the same time: where Africa could have been without interference and contemporary real-world references recognizable to Africans but usually ignored by mainstream Hollywood.
The futuristic world of Wakanda shatters negative stereotypes that Hollywood has relied on for so long. It helps further that costume deisgner Ruth Carter drew heavily on Afrofuturism to dress Wakandans from everyday attire to battle gear. And when T’Challa speaks to his father, it is in the South African langauge Xhosa.
African audiences will also get the chance to see themselves on screen, literally, with the film’s cast including a large number of known and unknown African actors. Arguably the most famous name is that of Lupita Nyong’o and to celebrate Kenya held the earliest premiere of Black Panther in Kisumu state on Feb.13, where the actress’ father is a senator because Nyong’o is “a girl from that soil,” as Kenya’s Imax marketing manager said. The Feb. 15 premiere in Nairobi was already sold out weeks before.
“I was happy and proud to attend premier screening of #BlackPanther in which one of our very own, Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyongo’s daughter Lupita Nyongo starred in” https://t.co/6CPmd0q8st pic.twitter.com/Z9KiyWI80k
— Rogers Atukunda (@rarrigz) February 16, 2018
Ppl showed out for the Nairobi premier of Black Panther LOL pic.twitter.com/jEKfULwsIa
— Mackandal (@206Dyalect) February 14, 2018
There’s no word on whether Daniel Kaluuya and Florence Kasumba’s roles in the film led to early screenings, but British-born Kaluuya’s recent success has forced Ugandans to ask tough questions on how they could better support the arts so future Kaluuya’s and Kasumba’s are born and bred at home at superheroes.
In Zimbabwe, the few cinemas Harare still has have already sold out the Feb. 16 premiere, even at $12 a ticket—pricey considering the country’s economic woes. Zimbabweans are likely keen to see actress Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, the strongest of the Black Panther’s all-women guard Dora Milaje. Months before the film’s release, Gurira was in Zimbabwe where she greeted fans wearing Marvel T-Shirts for an event that had nothing to do with the Black Panther. Gurira tweeted that she and Nyong’o were headed to South Africa this weekend to attent the premiere.
— Danai Gurira (@DanaiGurira) February 15, 2018
The film tries to embrace Africa.
“It means a lot, to see Africa put on this platform, and it meant a lot to me to play a character who speaks in an African language,” said Gurira, who spent her childhood in Zimbabwe. “You just never see these things, so it’s very special to those of us who grew up on the continent, and those of us who knew how distorted or very misrepresented Africans can be.”
In South Africa, anticiaption was heightened even more when rapper Kendrick Lamar tweeted the track list for the official soundtrack that featured several South African performers, including the queen Durban house music Babes Wodumo.
T’Challa’s father T’Chaka is played by Tony-Award winning South African actor John Kani, while veteran actress Connie Chiume plays a Wakanda elder. It was Kani, who introduced isiXhosa to the film as the official language of Wakanda.
— African Voice (@AfricanVoice2) February 2, 2018
Ahhhh. Black Panther!!! I cannot guarantee that I won't see it again before this week is out. For the culture! #BlackPanther
— Deric Kincaid (@iDeric) February 16, 2018
On social media, Africans around the continent are planning to join in on what is becoming a global event for black culture by dressing up in their best traditional attire for the film. The excitement around the film, and the box-office sales it will likely translate to, show that a positive representation of Africa and the diaspora pays off.
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In case you missed it, this year’s flu season is a doozy. According to the CDC’s director, the conditions are “extremely challenging and intense” and US officials estimated in December that as many as 646,000 people will die globally from the condition over the course of the year.
While it may be an effective deterrent, barricading yourself indoors until winter fades is not an option. But if you embark on air travel before flu season is over, you are essentially walking into a enclosed space where you’re at the mercy of other people’s germs, subpar cleaning, and the overall toll that flying takes on your body—all of which up your chances of contracting the flu or a bad cold.
So what can be done? And if you do get sick on board, whose fault is it? Is it the guy in seat 32A for repeatedly coughing infectious respiratory droplets into the ether; the airline, some of whom only allot 10 to 15 minutes of cleaning time between flights; or you, for staying up until 3am doing karaoke on Wednesday when you could have been getting a good night’s sleep before your important business trip.
According to Dr. Eric Milefchik, Chairman of Infection Prevention at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in southern California, the real culprit is a bit of all three.
“Airplane circulation is actually pretty good—that’s not the weakness of air travel,” Dr. Milefchik said in an interview. “But the density of people in a closed space is a notorious environment for respiratory viruses to spread. If you have someone in that respiratory droplet range of three to six feet [one to two meters], and they’re coughing, that’s very hard to control. Airplanes also aren’t cleaned very well, and those surfaces accumulate over the course of the day.”
Ick. It’s easy to feel like the answer to this state of affairs is to embark on an aggressive personal airplane cleaning campaign, armed with wet wipes and hand sanitizer—and if possible, a hazmat suit. But Dr. Milefchik says those lines of defense only go so far.
“Sanitizing wipes probably do help in terms of reducing any gross contamination of your area. But it terms of the fabric of your seat, it would be very difficult to properly sanitize your little micro environment, and of course it’s the degree you’re willing to go to if you want to carry all this equipment with you.”
So is it all just the luck of the draw? Not quite. There are several things you can do to lower you chances of getting sick from an airplane, with the most important of those steps, Dr. Milefchik says, happening long before you travel.
- Get a flu shot. No, really get a flu shot—even if you haven’t yet. “There are so few downsides to getting the flu shot, and only upsides,” Dr. Milefchik says. While the ideal time to get one is December, there will still be a benefit of getting one up until about mid-March, after which there is not much point.
- Your immune system matters. “If you were exposed to a virus during air travel, your chances of getting sick will depend a lot on what your level of rest and ability to fight that virus are,” Dr. Milefchik says. So, make sure you get plenty of rest, lots of sleep, and eat healthy meals in advance of travel—and don’t think you can mask bad habits by taking supplements. In other words: Regularly eating leafy greens is better than downing vitamin C tablets for 48 hours before takeoff.
- Wash and sanitize your hands obsessively. One of the only things you have total control over when you travel is what you touch, says Dr. Milefchik, so be diligent about washing your hands and even disinfecting them again with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you return to your seat (especially after you’ve touched that bathroom door handle) and throughout the flight.
- Leave your face alone. Also crucial, Dr. Milefchik says, is not touching your face, which is a great way to transmit germs into your system but is “a surprisingly hard thing to train yourself to do.” (One study found the average rate of 15.7 hand-to-face contacts per hour). While face masks, which are common in Asia, can be helpful in preventing exposure to respiratory droplets, the one downside is they often cause people to touch their face more through frequent adjustments.
- If someone sick is in the respiratory range, ask to move. If your seat mate is coughing and sputtering, it will be very hard to avoid being exposed to their germs, which can travel up to six feet. While it’s not always possible to move seats, it is worth asking to reduce your exposure to their range. (Or, if you want to be very direct, provide them with a face mask and ask them to wear it).
- Get out those wet wipes. Though it’s by no means a foolproof line of defense, it is worth traveling with some disinfectant wipes to wipe down the tray table, screen, arm rest, and other hard surfaces surrounding your seat.
In what is probably one of the world’s most watched non-sports live broadcasts, Chinese state television thought blackface was a fitting tribute to Sino-African relations.
As part of CCTV’s New Year’s Gala on Thursday (Feb. 15), producers included a skit about Africa that had a Chinese actress in blackface and prosthetics meant to be protruding buttocks and large breasts. The annual variety show forms part of Lunar New Year celebrations, and has an estimated 800 million viewers.
The skit opens with Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”—produced for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa—and a group of African dancers in generic costumes that were meant to be traditional gear on a stage with a jungle backdrop and animal puppets.
The plot of the 13-minute skit sees the presenter’s African friend ask him to pose as her date to avoid a blind date her mother has set up for her. Enter actress, playwright and producer Lou Naiming in blackface with a basket of fruit on her head. She’s accompanied by a monkey, played by a black actor.
At the end of the skit, when the presenter’s Chinese bride exposes the lie, the mother character apparently says she can’t be angry “because China has done so much for Africa…I love Chinese people! I love China!,” according to What’s on Weibo, a site that monitors China’s social media network.
A still from the skit.
The skit was meant to highlight China’s relationship with Africa and the success of China’s One Belt One Road policy that has seen numerous infrastructure programs and Chinese investment in Africa surpass the US and UK. Instead it betrayed just how skewed that relationship has been, exposing an uncomfortable truth with the African characters in the skit portrayed as ingratiatingly grateful to the Chinese characters.
“Awareness of blackface and its dubious connotations in the West are low in China and other Asian countries,” wrote the South China Morning Post. That’s been the excuse several times over the last few years as Chinese advertisers and artists face accusations of racism over their portrayal of black people.
The film Wolf Warriors 2 is set in a generic African country where the hero must save Chinese nationals from African mercenaries, all while peddling China’s own version of the White Savior trope at the expense of hapless Africans. Last year, a gallery in Wuhan hosted an exhibition titled “This is Africa” showing side-by-side comparisons of Africans and monkeys. There was also the laundry detergent advertisement that saw a black man have his skin color scrubbed off, causing outrage within and outside China.
The advertisement and the exhibition were taken down, but the film went on to become China’s highest grossing film yet. As a relatively new, yet influential, player in geopolitics claiming ignorance about an international understanding of race relations just isn’t good enough anymore. Especially as an increasing number of Africans live and study in China.
Those defending the skit point to the fact that China never colonized Africa or that there were African performers on stage. Neither selective history, nor the complicity of people of color make racism acceptable—just ask Dove, Nivea, H&M, the Netherlands and others.
And it seems that some Chinese audiences immediately recognizied how problematic the skit was. What’s on Weibo tracked a surge in the use of the words “awkward” and “racist” in messages related to the skit. It’s an acknowledgement that there is a conversation happening in China on understanding racism and prejudice.
SpaceX aims to launch two satellites of a new constellation on Feb. 18, the start of a network it expects to one day include more than 4,000 orbiting spacecraft beaming the internet to customers below—and generating billions of dollars in new revenue for the rocket maker.
Ajit Pai, chair of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates satellite broadcasts in the US, endorsed the plan to “to unleash the power of satellite constellations to provide high-speed Internet to rural Americans.”
But SpaceX’s chief rival, a satellite company called OneWeb, says CEO Elon Musk’s latest plans are downright dangerous to humans on the ground and spacecraft in orbit, potentially created “for the purposes of delaying and frustrating a competitor.”
Welcome to the friendly race to sell the world satellite internet.
Both companies plan to invest billions in an unproven communications architecture: Rather than a dozen large, powerful satellites broadcasting to Earth from tens of thousands of kilometers away, they will utilize thousands of comparatively small satellites, less than 1,500 kilometers above the planet. The swarming satellites will be able to provide constant, low-latency internet connections to users—if their designers can handle the tricky task of managing the satellites and the signals passed between them and with ground stations below.
This idea had been tried in the 1990s, to resounding failure. Now a new generation of space entrepreneurs thinks that increasingly small and powerful electronics, lower launch costs and growing demand for internet access make a better business case.
Greg Wyler, a telecom entrepreneur who founded another successful satellite company called O3b, is the executive behind OneWeb, which owns key spectrum rights and has the backing of such diverse figures as Richard Branson, Masayoshi Son and Airbus. Wyler and Musk once contemplated working together, but their partnership fell apart and they became competitors.
Wyler’s team argues that it is advantaged by spectrum rights granted by the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body that coordinates telecom regulation around the world. It has already won approval from the FCC to offer its service in the US, but it has yet to launch any satellites and reportedly will do so by the end of this year.
Launching the first demonstration satellites is a win for Musk, especially if it allows his company to bring its full constellation, known as Starlink, online earlier. One of the many challenges with these proposals is mass producing the number of satellites required. Wyler had contemplated launching this constellation with Google, but left over concerns about its manufacturing prowess. OneWeb is currently building a satellite factory in Florida, outside of Kennedy Space Center. In putting two satellites into space, albeit for testing purposes, SpaceX is showing off its production chops. (Neither SpaceX nor OneWeb responded to questions about their plans.)
OneWeb’s depiction of its own hypothetical satellite constellation and that of SpaceX subsidiary Space Exploration Holdings.
But there’s more than just billions at risk in these projects—debris in orbit already threaten spacecraft, and adding thousands of new satellites could exacerbate the problem if not done carefully. That’s especially true as multiple companies prepare mega-constellations; beyond OneWeb, Boeing, Telesat and Space Norway are considering such schemes.
OneWeb in particular has complained to regulators about the “dramatically increased risk of collision” presented by SpaceX’s plans. In one November 2017 meeting with FCC officials, they portrayed SpaceX as refusing to answer questions about their constellation’s safety, saying it was “most troubled by [SpaceX’s] puzzling proposal to place its constellation in dangerously close proximity to (and interwoven with) OneWeb’s pre-existing constellation.”
Of course, in this case OneWeb means “pre-existing” as approved on paper, not actually in the sky—which underlines why SpaceX’s engineers are so eager to get their satellites up first. The company is counting on its reusable rockets to help it deploy satellites faster than competitors.
In an FCC filing, SpaceX said OneWeb’s concerns were “unfounded” and accused OneWeb of “once again seek[ing] to establish new and unwarranted orbital debris and casualty risk requirements that would also apply to SpaceX—and SpaceX alone.” Ultimately, SpaceX’s filings claim that its system “demonstrated that it will meet or exceed all existing US and international requirements for safety of operations in space and upon de-orbit of satellites.” Given the enthusiastic endorsement of the FCC’s head, it appears the company has at least satisfied the light-touch regulators of the Trump administration.
The move into operating its own constellation is a potentially lucrative one for SpaceX; leaked financials suggest it is counting on the project to generate the enormous amounts of money needed to realize Musk’s dreams of a multi-planetary human civilization.
After the deadly shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Instagram users started creating fake accounts for the alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, some containing disturbing photos that he had posted before his own account was suspended.
This phenomenon is dangerous for several reasons, violence researchers told Quartz. For one, it helps spread disinformation, and there is a possibility it could lead to more violence.
The accounts are under the shooter’s name or variations. Many are private, some are public. The profile photos are often the shooter’s likeness. Some of the accounts just reproduce the photos, some pretend to be his personal account, some call for punishing the suspect. Others are scams, purporting to want to raise awareness about mental health issues or guns, and linking to crowdsourcing sites to collect funds.
Jennifer Johnston, a psychology professor at Western New Mexico University whose research has shown that media coverage of a mass shooting can contribute to an increase in violence, said that a similar “contagion effect” is suspected for social media. She cited 2015 work by a group of researchers from the University of Vermont that found an association between Twitter chatter about a school shooting and the probability of a copycat attack in the following days. The study did not establish a causal link, just a correlation.
“Suicidal individuals who have access to guns, and tend to blame others for their problems, are very susceptible to the lure of instant fame that mass media and social media provide them,” she told Quartz in an email, imploring both journalists and social media users to refrain from identifying mass shooters.
Sherry Towers, professor at Arizona State University who has studied contagion in mass shootings from an epidemiological perspective, says that, beyond potential copycat effects, there is a broader danger in the misinformation that these fake accounts breed. “They are trying to push a particular narrative that might feed into someone’s political agenda or conspiracy theories.” When people are conned into believing a suspect perpetrated his act for certain reasons, their views on how to fix the problem of mass shootings will be fundamentally misinformed.
Towers recalled a situation where she, who studies these topics, was nearly fooled by a fake social media account. After the deadly Las Vegas shooting, Google News surfaced for her a fake news story claiming the suspect, Stephen Paddock, was a radical Islamic terrorist, linking to a social media account that was ostensibly his. The Google algorithm failed to show her credible information. “I can see how the average person can be fooled,” she said.
After one editor at Quartz reported one fake account for the alleged shooter, with what appeared to be an image of a corpse, Instagram swiftly removed it, but myriads of others are still online. Both Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, have struggled with curbing violent content, but have devoted significant resources to hiring an army of content moderators, and investing in AI technology to weed it out.
“There is absolutely no place on our platforms for people who commit such horrendous acts,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement sent to Quartz. “We have found and immediately deleted the shooter’s accounts on Facebook and Instagram.” A combination of technology, user reports, and human review is used to remove content that violates its rules, the spokesperson said.
For a time in the late 20th century, a Successories poster was an essential feature of office décor. The format never varied: a black border, a bold-type word, and a forgettable platitude, like “Take the initiative and lead the way” or “The strength of the team is in each individual member.” The posters evoked a particular strain of management culture: earnest, a little out of touch, and resolutely unremarkable.
They hung in conference rooms and reception areas, as innocuous as the office fern, ideally engineered (as organizational psychologists later would find) to be almost instantly forgotten by the conscious mind. But the story behind the posters is far more dramatic than the placid scenes on their fronts. It’s a tale that includes a splashy public offering, rapid global expansion, and a precipitous fall. Successories played an unlikely, accidental role in the birth of meme culture, and in a specific brand of office humor that targets both workplaces and the hope of success within their confines.
The boom, bust, and rebirth of Successories mirrors the tumultuous changes in the offices it decorated, and in the stories workers tell themselves to get through the day.
The quotation quotient
Successories started in 1985 with a man named Mac Anderson, a serial entrepreneur with a solid portfolio of wholesome American enterprises: a travel company focused on the US Midwest, and a food distributor that Anderson’s website describes as “the country’s largest manufacturer of prepared salads.”
Anderson’s true passion, though, was quotations. Usually people like a quotation because of its content or lyricism, or because they admire its author. Anderson loved quotations for themselves: short, beautiful aphorisms that plucked just the right internal chord.
“All my life I’ve loved quotations. I’ve probably heard every quotation out there,” Anderson told Entrepreneur in 2013. “It’s like looking through the lens of a camera. Sometimes things are blurry, but then you tweak the lens and it becomes crystal clear. You see the quote and say, ‘That’s how I feel!’” (Anderson did not respond to requests for comment.)
For his next venture, Anderson envisioned a product that could fill blank offices walls and empower all those the walls might hold. Working with a small in-house team of designers, he launched in 1985 a mail order catalogue selling posters, T-shirts, mugs, and desk accessories with the company’s proprietary designs. Successories bought the rights to freelance or stock images, chose a phrase, then tied the two together with a quote, often one pulled from Anderson’s vast personal library of inspirational texts.
The connection between the word and the image wasn’t always clear. “SERVICE,” one read, under a photograph of a waterfall. “VISION,” said another, with a photograph of an Outer Banks-type beach scene because . . . well, maybe because without vision, you can’t see a beach?
One of the few early posters that broke the non-sequitur rule featured an image of an eight-person shell rowing across a placid river at sunrise above the word “TEAMWORK.” The shadows and the mist on the water obscure the rowers’ faces; they could be any gender, or any race, or any group of people in the world (at least, any group with access to a boat).
Teamwork, the copy read, “is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” The empty text, the faceless figures, the utter forgettability of the photograph itself—together, it added up to bland magic, a poster that could hang on virtually any wall in the world without offense, controversy, or distraction. It was the company’s bestseller, and remains so to this day.
Anderson did not invent the motivational poster. Collections of quotable quotes date back as far as ancient Egypt. Victorians embroidered inspiring aphorisms onto samplers. Governments for generations have used motivational posters to nudge ordinary people toward hard things, like stoicism during the Blitz (Britain’s “Keep Calm and Carry On”) or factory jobs in wartime (the US “We Can Do It!” poster, often dubbed Rosie the Riveter.)
But the genre’s big breakthrough—its Gutenberg Bible, if you will—arrived in 1971, when Los Angeles-based photographer Victor Baldwin published a photograph of his Siamese cat Sammy clinging by its paws to a bamboo pole, above the caption “Hang In There, Baby.” The poster sold 350,000 copies in two years.
Hang in there, baby.
Baldwin was flooded with letters from people claiming that the sight of the plucky kitten (who in Baldwin’s original photograph looks utterly terrified) gave them the courage they needed recover from illness, accidents, and other setbacks. The poster inspired countless knockoffs, and identified a vast and previously untapped market of people who liked their pep talks in poster form.
The precise mechanism by which a motivational poster motivates is not well understood. Being exposed to a stimulus, even one as seemingly benign as an image on a wall, can have a powerful unconscious effect on later behavior, a concept known as priming. Researchers have found that an “honesty box” for coffee and tea in an office break room gets three times more contributions when a picture of eyes is posted next to the box instead of a picture of flowers. In another experiment, people picked up twice as much litter in a cafeteria when a picture of human eyes was on the wall.
Gary P. Latham, an organizational psychologist at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has conducted several experiments on the power of motivational posters. In one, 54 call center employees were randomly assigned to work in either a bare room, a room decorated with a photo of a victorious runner crossing a finish line, or one featuring a poster of smiling call-center employees. The workers who saw the runner raised more money than those in the empty room, and those who saw the work-related poster raised the most of all.
Posters “absolutely” have an effect on behavior, Latham told Quartz At Work—just not at the conscious level. Most people in Latham’s experiments don’t actually realize that they’ve seen a poster in the room, he said. Motivational posters are practically made to be discarded by the conscious mind.
Latham said he was once asked during a phone interview if he had any such images in his office. As he looked around the room, he was surprised to realize that it was in fact full of decades-old motivational posters that he, a scholar of motivational posters, no longer consciously registered.
“They’ve been on my wall for 30 some odd years,” Latham said with a laugh. “I’d stopped seeing them.”
Dare to soar
In the 1990s, Successories achieved the kind of heights suggested in its DARE TO SOAR poster (a bald eagle gliding over treetops; “Your attitude almost always determines your altitude in life.”).
Be the bridge.
The company listed on Nasdaq in 1990, the same year as Cisco Systems. The first brick-and-mortar store opened in a Naperville, Illinois, mall in 1991. According to a company legend repeated in the Chicago Tribune, a businessman en route to New Zealand read about Successories in an in-flight magazine on the first leg of his trip, rented a car during a layover in Chicago, and drove the 60 miles roundtrip to buy some posters to take abroad.
By 1995, according to one company profile, the company had 51 stores and 41 franchise locations in 17 states, plus retail outlets in Australia, Bermuda, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, South Africa, and the UK.
The stores stocked lapel pins, paperweights, and motivational tapes, but posters were its lifeblood. At its peak in 1996 Successories sold some 3,000 framed images a day, enough for 60 miles of black framing each month—and $56 million in annual sales.
Anderson’s brand of motivation had met the perfect moment. The company debuted the year after Ronald Reagan’s wildly successful “Morning in America” campaign ad proved that unabashed earnestness could be an effective marketing tool. The bestselling nonfiction book of 1984 and 1985 was businessman Lee Iacocca’s Iacocca: An Autobiography, a tome filled with pat motivational phrases—”all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits”—that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Successories poster.
As the hard-charging ’80s gave way to the prosperous ’90s, Successories’ inspirational pablum spoke to a public seeking an easily digestible spiritual supplement to its material success. The company’s heyday coincided with the debut of Deepak Chopra’s first books, and a phase on the Oprah Winfrey Show where the talk show host started lighting a lot of candles and schooling viewers in her bespoke brand of spirituality. Profiles of Anderson during this era note that he sometimes played a soothing tape of nature sounds in the background during interviews, like a living, non-ironic embodiment of Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character on Saturday Night Live.
Successories echoed a message pinging around the culture: You could indeed be good enough, and smart enough, if you just tried hard enough.
“We’re really selling motivation. This is critical to business success in the 1990s,” Anderson told the Chicago Tribune in 1992.
Make it happen.
Successories was booming, and so were many of the businesses on whose walls its products hung. The company’s rise coincided with the longest period of economic growth in US history.
And then we came to the end
Then the Internet ruined everything. That, plus some bad business decisions.
In the late 1990s, the nascent dot-com boom kicked an already-productive economy into a frenzy. The posters’ gentle platitudes came as small comfort to overworked offices.
“I finally hung them, but not until our hours went down from 14 to 10 a day,” an office manager for a San Francisco-based logistics company told the Chicago Tribune in 1997, after her employer bought $20,000 worth of Successories posters. “These posters came as a shock to us. When you’re already working 12-hour, 14-hour days, and then you get posters telling you that attitude is everything and to do it right the first time, it doesn’t go over real well.”
There was chaos inside Successories, too. Anderson brought in James Beltrame as COO to restructure after a string of unsuccessful internal promotions and management snafus that Anderson described in his folksy way as “trying to change the oil while driving the car down the road.”
What Beltrame discovered was a business in shambles. The company believed it had turned a profit for the previous year; a closer look at the books revealed that it had in fact lost $7 million. A new automated ordering system collapsed at the start of the holiday rush, leading to millions in lost sales.
“There really wasn’t much that wasn’t broken,” Beltrame told the Chicago Tribune in 1996. “One of the things I said was, ‘Well, you people preach this [motivational] stuff, but it doesn’t look like you’re using it very well in your own business because you’re going down the tubes.’”
The company downsized, restructured, and got back on its feet. But it was too late to capture the innocence of the earlier days, both for Successories and its customers.
The tech bubble burst. And then 9/11 happened. And then the Enron scandal came to light. And by that time, the cheery simplicity of a Successories poster just seemed like a cruel joke, or at the very least an easy one.
As the dot-com bubble was nearing its peak, three overworked tech industry friends spent an evening rewriting a Successories catalogue with captions of their own. Within a few years they launched Despair Inc., a direct parody of Successories. Despair Inc. also sold a TEAMWORK poster, but theirs had a photo of a snowball and the words “A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.”
The parodies’ grim resolve resonated with post-recession workers. Successories posters by that point were so ubiquitous that Despair Inc.’s “demotivational” posters were easy to pass off on people who had long ago stopped paying attention to the frames on the office wall.
In the early 2000s, a colleague at the suburban newspaper where I worked snuck into the office one night and quietly swapped the Successories poster in the conference room for a Despair Inc. one that read “Motivation: If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.” If any boss noticed, they never said anything, and the team held meetings under the poster until the office shuttered in 2007.
As if to prove Despair Inc.’s point, the real Successories was collapsing. The company was never swift to adapt to change—that switch to automated ordering nearly kneecapped it in the mid-1990s. Despite the lessons imparted in the company’s CHALLENGE poster (“It is not always the strongest people who win, it is the people who never back down from a challenge”), adapting its analog retail business to a digital age was one obstacle too many.
In August 2002, Nasdaq delisted the stock. Anderson sold the company to a private investor for an undisclosed amount in 2004. It changed hands several times and was sold in 2009 to Teddy and Warren Struhl, a pair of brothers and entrepreneurs who relocated the company from Illinois to Boca Raton, Florida.
Successories’ new owners believed in the motivational mission and wanted to return the company to its original identity as a vendor of motivational office decor, adapted to the digital age. But the Struhl brothers had a bigger problem than a competing parody poster company: an Internet full of free parody posters.
Unbeknownst to them, their most iconic product had become a template for one of the earliest and most popular internet memes. Unlike physical poster sellers, meme makers didn’t have to worry about buying image rights. Photoshopped parodies of Successories posters proliferated much faster than the real thing, glomming up searches for actual motivational posters with pages of goofy, filthy, or otherwise offensive knockoffs.
“Google was not as sophisticated at the time and would pair us next to ‘demotivational’ posters. Our product was nothing when compared to what the whole wide world could create in over a year,” said Vincent Nero, the company’s vice president and general manager. “Unfortunately that’s not very good for one’s brand.”
A new era
Fortunately for Successories, the Internet’s sense of humor changes a lot faster than trends in office décor. Demotivational poster-style memes are an ancient relic of a pre-gif era. The internet moved on, and Successories re-established itself as a purveyor of inspiration for a tech-savvy world.
Successories now employs 26 people and counts 84% of the Fortune 500 among its clients, Nero said. It sells the kind of personalized awards that companies give out in-house for performance and customer service, plus motivational swag: clocks, stress balls, a leather tote bag that says “Thanks for all you do.”
And, of course, it still sells posters. Some have a slightly refreshed design, but the bestsellers are the classic original images, untouched since the glory days of the 1990s: An eagle soaring over the word “EXCELLENCE”; those rowers and their Teamwork; the words “Customer service is not a department . . . it’s an attitude” under, for some reason, a picture of a waterfall.
In the company’s early days, the people placing orders for Successories posters were mostly female, Nero said: secretaries and administrative assistants tasked with decorating the office. Buyers are still mostly women, he said. But now they are managing those offices, and looking for something that will inspire employees to do their best.
“Our typical Successories customer, the buyer is a female in a management position, over the age of 35, with a salary over $75,000, trying to manage an office and motivate people,” Nero said.
The company is smaller than it was in its heyday, but its ethos is everywhere. The same woman who orders a Successories poster for her office is also seeing motivational quotes as she scrolls through Instagram or Facebook, or hearing them read aloud by the teacher in the YouTube yoga class she does after work. Motivation has become just another form of media, one that can be accessed through ways more private and personalized than the shared experience of a poster on a wall.
And yet, this might be an ideal time for a Successories comeback. The posters aren’t interesting, but they are immune to division, offense, or controversy. Like Muzak or pretzels in the breakroom, nobody loves them, but for the most part everybody can live with them. At a time when many people aren’t sure what to say in their workplace, there may be no more unifying choice than something that says, essentially, nothing at all.
Backpage.com is the world’s second-biggest classified advertising website. It is also the world’s “top online brothel” and a hotbed of human trafficking, according to US law enforcement.
In the US, the website is involved in seven out of ten reported child trafficking cases. In California alone, 2,900 suspected cases of child-trafficking were linked to the site between 2012 and 2016. There are several open lawsuits against Backpage.com, including one by the California attorney general’s office for 26 counts including money laundering, but US law law enforcement officials have so far failed to shut it down.
Backpage doesn’t deny (pdf, p.4) that people use its site to traffic children for sex, but it is protected by court rulings that say a site isn’t responsible for what users post on it. It also cites first amendment defenses of free speech. The firm operates in 97 countries and 943 locations, but in the US it is formally registered in the tiny state of Delaware, where authorities said last week that it is a company “in good standing,” and that they don’t have the power to shut down because it doesn’t have a physical presence in the state.
Delaware, which has 1.3 million businesses and less than one million people, is beloved of nefarious businesses. While a lot of firms flock to the state for its low corporate tax rates, a Senate investigation found that Backpage picked Delaware for another reason: secrecy. Delaware law allows companies’ owners to hide their true identity. This makes it very difficult to crack down on criminals who launder money through them.
In Backpage’s case, company founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin apparently tried to make it seem like they’d sold the firm by setting up a complex web of international and American shell companies, starting in Delaware. In reality, they loaned $600 million to the company’s CEO Carl Ferrer to make it seem as if he had bought it from them, while they continued to control the company and receive large bonuses from it.
Lacey and Larkin were still the company’s beneficial owners, alongside Ferrer, the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations revealed after subpoenaing company information for its 2017 report. It’s unclear exactly why Lacey and Larkin wanted to distance themselves from the company, but people often do so to avoid criminal liability.
This is far from an isolated case. A report by anti-slavery NGO Polaris published last month found that (pdf, p.10) anonymous shell companies were a “staple” of firms trafficking women through US massage parlors, a $2.5 billion industry. It named Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming as the three most notorious states for corporate secrecy.
Tackling crime means forcing such companies to reveal their ownership, says Shruti Shah, vice president of the Coalition for Integrity (formerly the US branch of Transparency International). “If you really want to crack down on human trafficking, you want to find out who’s profiting from it—and that means ending the anonymity, because you want to know owns them, who benefits from the activities,” she says. Backpage’s owners have been revealed by the Senate and the site has so far stayed open using other legal defenses, but ending corporate secrecy would make it far easier to track down other criminals, Shah says.
Secrecy laws mean that even law enforcement can’t readily find out who actually owns many US companies. To unearth the owner of one company, investigators have to go through a lengthy subpoena application process, which will often then lead to another anonymous company, and so on.
Bipartisan bills in the House and Senate aim to tackle the issue by forcing companies to add their owners’ names to a registry accessible to law enforcement, but are currently sitting ignored in Congress. Only one hearing on the bills has been held since their introduction last summer.
As a leader, one of the most empowering moments is when you’re reminded that you don’t know everything.
This happens to me all the time. There was the time, for example, when I was determined to launch an internal newsletter to connect with my employees. But during a random coffee, a new training consultant on our team pointed out that, in all likelihood, no one would read it. Instead, a short weekly video from me, posted on our internal company Facebook, would be a far better way to go. She was absolutely right, of course, and I’ve been making weekly CEO update videos ever since.
The takeaway for me from many experiences like this: Instead of teaching your employees what you’ve learned over the years, consider letting them teach you instead. This is called “reverse mentoring.”
The concept of reverse mentoring was popularized in the late 1990s by former GE chief Jack Welch. He saw the way that the internet was transforming business, and he recognized that GE’s youngest employees had a lot to teach its executives. So he flipped the normal mentoring relationship on its head, pairing 500 senior leaders with new hires to meet regularly and learn about emerging tools and technologies.
This proved to be a two-way street. Not only did seasoned leaders benefit from fresh eyes, new perspectives, and direct insights into new technology, but younger employees also got to work alongside senior executives, forge relationships, and navigate their way up the company hierarchy.
The pace of technological change has only accelerated since then. With the advent of blockchain, open-source coding, and machine learning, it’s easy to find yourself out of touch with the tools that your employees, customers, and competitors are embracing—no matter your age.Younger employees are a lot more valuable (and eager to teach) than they’re given credit for.
Reverse mentoring can help bridge that gap. Inside my company, I’ve come to rely on meetings and conversations with new hires and younger employees to stay up to date on nascent trends—the ones that don’t have a playbook quite yet, and where the only experts are hardcore users with a couple years’ experience. Younger employees are a lot more valuable (and eager to teach) than they’re given credit for, and the potential for a symbiotic relationship—for senior leaders to help junior employees find their footing and career path—makes this management technique a true no-brainer.
Reverse mentoring can be formal with a set, regular schedule, or it can be more casual. I’ll meet new employees through “random coffee” matchups, or I’ll take the time to chat at weekly company socials, where everyone gets together over snacks and drinks in real life and without a computer in front of them. Employee lightning talks (five-minute, informal presentations on hobbies and interests) and company-wide hackathons (where teams dedicate a day or two to solving passion projects) also tend to surface new and exciting tech—the kind of stuff that upends whole sectors and changes the way we do business.
Here are four areas where leaders can benefit from the understanding and passion of younger colleagues, regardless of what sector you work in:
There’s little debate that AI will prove to be the most transformative technology since the internet itself. From cars and manufacturing to banking and advertising, progressive companies are already making massive investments. But many CEOs have little idea what it can (or can’t) do for them. In many cases, having unrealistic expectations for AI is just as bad as dismissing the technology itself outright.
That’s why a little reverse mentoring here is critical. This year, commit to learning more from your developers and engineers about how AI is transforming your field—not in a hypothetical way, but in a right-here, right-now way. At the same time, support them in understanding the broader business applications for this new technology.
Diversity and inclusion
2017 was a year when issues around diversity and inclusion, especially in media and technology, leapt into the headlines and demanded attention. Younger employees and HR professionals bring a powerful awareness around these issues, and they’re often equipped with a critical-theory toolkit older leaders lack.
Take, for example, sensitivity around the impact of unconscious bias—a term that wasn’t even part of the corporate vocabulary until a few years ago. I’ve benefited enormously from talking with individuals in my organization who are passionate about diversity and eager to share their knowledge. My company is now stronger for it, and the chance for younger employees to be heard and shape policy creates a real sense of ownership and unity.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain
Why is cryptocurrency causing such a stir? And should ordinary businesses care? At its root, much of the excitement centers around blockchain, the tech behind bitcoin: It’s a digital, decentralized ledger for transactions made across a peer-to-peer network. While some critics dismiss blockchain as hype, boosters insist that the applications are virtually endless, enabling companies to cheaply and safely do everything from manage healthcare records to verify voters, negotiate contracts, and certify supply chains.
So could blockchain change the course of your business? Receiving some reverse mentoring from early adopters among your employees—hardcore enthusiasts who’ve been mining and following crypto for years—could offer business leaders a leg up in the years ahead.
Apps (yes, apps)
Do you know what apps your straight-out-of-university employees open up every day? Chances are that there’s a glimpse of the future to be gleaned there. Case in point: HQ Trivia. I started noticing younger employees playing the live game show-like app in the fall, back when it only had a few thousand users. Now it engages over a million in a single round. Understanding what the masses are interested in allows you to see what the future of social media and gaming might look like.
Getting reverse mentoring in apps might seem trivial, but before Uber, WhatsApp, or Instagram were multibillion-dollar, industry-changing behemoths, they were apps on some 20-something’s phone that no one over the age of 30 had ever heard of.
* * *
The accelerating pace of technological change means that brand new tools and techniques are now emerging every few months, not just every few decades. Managers of all ages looking to stay relevant would therefore be wise to schedule a little reverse mentoring time into their calendar this year.
Your employees represent a powerful a guide to tomorrow’s customers—and tomorrow’s leaders. Learning from them and giving them a chance to learn from you is a win-win worth prioritizing.
The Bronx’s jury shortage has a relatively simple fix. If New York courts are brave enough to try it, the solution would speed up trials, make verdicts more accurate, and save taxpayers more than $4 million a year. So what is it? Trials in Spanish.
Jodi Morales, an attorney with The Bronx Defenders—a public defense organization, says there’s no legal reason why court proceedings are restricted to English. Unlike other countries, the United States does not have an official language. English is what’s most spoken nationwide, so the courts and other government institutions use it by default. But Spanish is gaining:
In communities like The Bronx, Spanish is already lingua franca: Less than half of those who live there speak English. As a result, the borough has a linguistically-broken judicial system that no longer mirrors the population it was designed to serve.
The Bronx’s current jury shortage is evidence of the break. New York Judiciary Law 510 requires jurors “be able to understand and communicate in the English language.” This fluency is required even when no one involved with the case speaks it. “Everybody spoke Spanish,” an anonymous juror told Quartz, referencing a trial he sat in June: “The defendant, the witnesses, all of us on the jury.” But because of §510, taxpayers paid an interpreter $300 a day to interpret proceedings into English—incorrectly, he adds: “At one point [the interpreter] said something and we all just looked at each other because we knew that wasn’t what the [witness] said.”
Bilingual herself, Morales says errors are rare but when they happen, “The judge will tell the jury, ‘Even if you have an understanding of the language, whatever the interpreter says is the evidence’”–even if the mistake completely changes the case.
And for Angel Gonzalez, it did. In Waukegan, Illinois, Vanessa Potkin, Director of Post-Conviction Litigation for The Innocence Project, says translation error lead to Gonzalez’s wrongful conviction. He spent over 20 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit: His statement professing innocence was mistranslated as a confession.
In The Bronx, Morales says limited-English defendants often take a plea “because they don’t feel comfortable communicating.” Take someone accused of jumping the turnstile, for example—the term used for hopping over a subway gate to avoid paying fare. In English, Morales says this is called “a violation. And in Spanish the word violación means rape…[I]t scares people because they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not charged with rape!’” She explains many limited-English defendants eventually give up, saying, “I don’t want to deal with this anymore.”
When Spanish-speakers don’t plea out, their trials are delayed for multiple reasons—first, the jury shortage. During selection for a December trial, Morales says “more than half of the prospective jurors had to be released because they did not speak the language… It makes our jury selection take a lot longer, it makes cases drag out, and it’s just overall very difficult to find qualified jurors.” This is also the case in Queens, where six different burglary and murder verdicts were appealed last March after presiding judges said the jurors didn’t speak English well enough.
Then there are the other delays: Hearings postponed until an interpreter can be scheduled, ones that start late because the interpreter’s stuck on another case. Once the trial begins, interpreters have to repeat everything that’s said, so proceedings take twice as long.
This extra time gives witnesses a chance to change their story. When someone bilingual takes the stand, Morales says, “[T]hey’re hearing the questions twice, so it gives them an opportunity to change their answer.” Typically, she explains, “the more witnesses you call, the more inconsistencies there are,” but at one recent trial, the prosecutor’s witnesses were all bilingual, giving them time “to connect their answers to one another.”
Simply put, Spanish-speaking Americans rarely receive their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial. “If we’re trying to have a fair justice system, then we need to make the justice system accessible to the constituents and make it reflect the community,” Morales says.
If a sense of justice isn’t enough to persuade the courts that trials in Spanish are a good idea, maybe money will be. This fiscal year, New York State Unified Court System plans to spend $4,031,755 on contract interpreters. Millions more will go toward salaries and benefits for 300+ employed interpreters and additional staff in the courts’ Office of Language Access, which manages interpreting. Then there’s the expense of overly-lengthy trials: Court reporter overtime, defendants left in holding at $325 a day, and other ancillary costs budgeted up to $7.5 million this year. At a certain point, Spanish-language trials aren’t a question of social justice. They’re a matter of cold, hard cash.
Money aside, Morales says, “It’s just so interesting that the system doesn’t reflect the community at this stage…We have to make our justice system more accessible to the people who keep finding themselves engulfed by it.”
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Amazon’s size and reach—not to mention its willingness to sacrifice profits for market share—make it a company that every other business is scared to go up against.Among them are America’s fashion retailers, who have had to face off with Amazon ever since it started an aggressive push into selling clothes.
Coresight Research, an independent firm focused on retail and technology (formerly Fung Global Retail & Technology), surveyed 1,699 demographically representative, internet-using Americans about what clothing they’re buying on Amazon, as well as the stores they’ve shifted away from. Nobody can yet say with certainty how much business Amazon is siphoning from other fashion retailers, and other than Amazon, nobody knows exactly what customers are buying on the site. But the results offer a hint about which companies should be most concerned about Amazon’s fashion ambitions, and in what areas they’re losing out.
Amazon’s clothing business is getting bigger
Various sources estimate that Amazon is now the biggest clothing retailer in the country based on merchandise volume, thanks in large part to its massive third-party marketplace. In Coresight’s survey, of the 1,564 respondents who said they bought clothes or footwear in the last year, more had actually done their shopping at Walmart than at any other retailer. But Amazon came in second, just edging out Target and Kohl’s.
The companies losing clothing dollars to Amazon
That rapid growth comes at the expense of competitors. Coresight identified 446 people who said they spend more of their clothing and footwear budget at Amazon than they did about three years ago, and asked them which retailers they switched their spending away from. The top answers were Target and Walmart, two of America’s big-box giants.
Department stores including Kohl’s, Macy’s, and JCPenney weren’t far behind. Further down the list were inexpensive and off-price retailers, from Old Navy and Gap to TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack.
The clothing categories Amazon shoppers are buying
Coresight also asked the 719 people in the survey who said they had bought clothing or shoes from Amazon in the last year about what items they were buying. Contrary to the idea that people are just stocking up on socks and underwear, footwear was by far the top category. Women’s and men’s casual clothing took the next spots on the list. It’s still a safe bet that people tend to buy basics on Amazon more than trendy fashion, as other research has found. But the results show that Amazon is finding shoppers who aren’t just loading up on white tube socks.
The clothing and footwear brands people buy on Amazon
Coresight asked people who had bought clothes or footwear on Amazon in the last year what brands they’d purchased. The results show that another Amazon strategy—private fashion labels—is working well. When combined, its own private labels, including Amazon Essentials, Lark+Ro, Goodthreads, Rebel Canyon, and more, came in ahead of well-known labels like Adidas and Calvin Klein. (The private labels wouldn’t have fared as well individually, of course.) Only Nike, Under Armour, and Hanes beat out Amazon’s private labels.
One other notable finding was that survey respondents who were Amazon Prime members were much more likely to have purchased clothing or footwear from Amazon than non-Prime members. In fact, among Prime members, Amazon was the clothing retailer most had shopped at, while among non-Prime members, Amazon was just the seventh most-popular retailer.
For Amazon, that’s an advantage, as opposed to a problem. Prime membership keeps growing rapidly; by one estimate, more than half of US households now have a Prime account. As Prime continues its spread, the indication is that more of those households will start buying their clothes on Amazon, likely to the detriment of stores such as Target and Walmart. Some companies, such as Nike and Hanes, might benefit. But the one that stands to gain most of all, of course, is Amazon itself.
The old adage “No two snowflakes are alike,” is wrong. At least in the laboratory.
So says a scientist at the California Institute of Technology who has been making twin, and even triplet and quadruplet snowflakes in controlled conditions inside a homemade snowflake creation chamber.
Kenneth Libbrecht is part physicist, part artist, with eight books about snowflakes to his name, each of which contains some of the most lovely photos of snowflakes you will ever see.
Libbrecht works out of a cramped, dimly-lit lab on the Caltech campus—one that is strewn with the equipment he uses to make minute, intricately complex snowflakes. The process is relatively simple, he says.
Inside of boxy snowflake chambers, he cools the air to below freezing, and slowly adds water vapor until crystals form on a flat substrate. By carefully controlling temperature and humidity (the amount of water he adds), he is able to construct a wide array of different snowflake types—some with long needle-like spikes, and others with gem-like facets.
His favorites are strange, columnar crystals that look more like pencils than the star-shaped snowflakes we know from Christmas cards (those, by the way, are known as “stellar dendrites”).
How many types of snowflakes are there? Well, Libbrecht says that there really is no agreed upon number. Researchers in Japan suggest there are 39 different types, but Libbrecht says it all depends on what you mean by “type”. He likens categorizing snowflakes to determining types of bread: is sourdough its own type or is it merely white bread? White pita, wheat pita or just pita?
“You can have lots and lots of typical breads, and you can go on for hundreds of kinds of breads if you want,” he says. “But maybe that’s too many, and same with snowflakes.”
In other words, we just can’t be sure.
But if there’s one thing we can be sure about it’s this: ALL snowflakes have six sides. This is due to the way that water molecules connect with one another when they freeze, creating a hexagon. It’s a law of physics.
Which brings us to one of Ken’s proudest contributions to snowflake science.
Hanging on the wall of his office is a poster for Frozen, the Academy Award-winning film for which he was hired by The Walt Disney Company as a “snowflake consultant”.
“I went and just told them all about how snowflakes always had six sides. They never have eight, they never have seven,” he says. “And then the movie came out and they were all six-sided. It was the first time I was really excited about the Oscars, and, you know, my movie won.”
Although he grew up around a lot of snow in North Dakota, Libbrecht says his interest in snowflakes wasn’t sparked until he started making them in the lab. After decades of work, he’s now made thousands of them, performing numerous experiments in shape and form. One of his most recent experiments is making what he calls “identical twin” snowflakes.
“I realized that if you grow two snowflakes very close to one another, you could sort of subject them to the same growth conditions at the same time,” he says. The result are two (or even three and four) snowflakes that do look exactly the same. He says that may not be the case on the molecular level, but to the novice’s eye, they look the same.
All of this begs the question whether there is a practical purpose for all this work. Is there a billion dollar start-up in his future to make designer snowflakes for celebrities? Is the department of defense knocking on his door to learn the secrets of snowflake creation?
For now, Ken is satisfied with growing snowflakes in his lab and taking pictures of them.
“I just kind of like the artistic side of it,” he says.
Bacteria are like biology’s glitter; they get absolutely everywhere.
Scientists still don’t understand how bacteria can make their way into seemingly every nook and cranny on Earth. Most recently, researchers at the University of Connecticut discovered (pdf) that bacterial spores they had been growing in labs somehow wound up in the air of 36 bathrooms, some in the same building wing as the lab and some in two other wings connected to it. Subsequently they found that air dryers in these bathrooms played a large part in circulating these bacteria—meaning the machines are probably coating the newly-washed hands of anyone using them with bacteria.
To be clear, this work doesn’t necessarily mean air dryers pose a health risk for hand-washers. It does, however, suggest in some cases paper towels may be superior to air dryers. In areas where there are pathogens known to cause people harm (like certain labs), or where a large portion of potential air-dryer users have compromised immune systems (like a retirement home or perhaps certain wings of a hospital), it’s best not to spread around microbes any more than necessary.
Peter Setlow, a microbiologist and one of the lead authors of the paper, frequently studies spores of the benign bacterial species Bacillus subtilis, and so needs to produce huge quantities of them for his work. He and his team were curious to see if these spores, which should be unique to his lab, were capable of making their way into other parts of the building he worked in—namely the bathrooms, which are communal space accessed at some point by everyone in the facility.
They took samples from inside bathroom air dryers, from air blown by both dryers, and from air blown slower fans they brought in specifically for the study. Nothing much grew in the petri dishes hosting samples from the air dryer itself, but the petri dishes with samples taken from the air blown on them grew up to 60 colonies of live bacteria in addition to B. subtilis spores. Researchers also left petri dishes out in the ambient air and found just a few colonies growing in them. This suggests that there are always bacteria floating around bathroom air, including some from different parts of the building, and that although air dryers don’t necessarily cultivate these microbes, they do circulate them.
Setlow also doesn’t consider these findings particularly worrisome. Microbes, after all, are everywhere, and hand dryers aren’t making anyone sick as far as science can tell. And this work supports conclusions from researcher at the Mayo Clinic from 2012: After reviewing 12 studies, they found that paper towels are probably better from a hygiene perspective.
But they may not be better overall—they’re more expensive, cause more waste, and, if used insufficiently, don’t actually get hands all the way dry—which is a key step to preventing bacterial spread from person to person.
Thomas Murray, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and co-author of the paper, says that in general, the findings don’t present enough of a concern for everyone to switch to using paper towels. Although there may be more bacteria floating around the air, most of these potential pathogens are no match for a healthy human immune system, he says.
Is it starting to seem like Marvel is everywhere? Marvel Comics has a massive library of more than 7,000 characters—maybe more than 50,000 if you count one-off and ancillary superheroes, villains, and other mutants—and it seems keen to feature as many of them as possible on the big screen.
There are six live-action films slated for this year, and seven in 2019, from three different studios—Disney’s Marvel Studios, Sony, and 20th Century Fox. The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Avengers: Infinity War, which will debut in May, may feature more than 70 characters. Marvel Studios is also looking beyond the Avengers in movies like Black Panther, which hits theaters this week. Sony, meanwhile, is delving deeper into the Spider-Man universe with its first Venom film, and Fox has franchises based on characters like Deadpool and Jean Grey.
Last year, live-action features based on Marvel Comics characters comprised roughly 12% of returns for all movies released in the US and Canada, based on an analysis of Box Office Mojo data by Quartz. That’s not including animated features like the Sony’s upcoming Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, or movies tied to Marvel imprints like the Kingsman franchise. And there’s also numerous Marvel series on TV and streaming video services.
To get an idea for how much Marvel is poised to monopolize the movies, Quartz’s data scientists collected data on the rise of Marvel-based movies since 2000, and using finely tuned statistical models, gamma rays, and psionic powers they projected the group’s annual theatrical footprint over the next 20 years.
Based on current trends, our forecast suggests that there will be one Marvel movie hitting theaters every month in 2023, and one per week in the year 2036. There are only so many X-Men reboots that audiences can take. So what might future Marvel titles include?
- Namor the Sub-Mariner: The Prince of Tides 2
- Dazzler: Bedazzled
- Skrulls and Bones
- Uatu the Watcher: A New Prescription
- Pip the Troll: Well, Actually
- Captain Britain and the Brexiteers
- The Punisher: Time Out
- Lockjaw vs. the Anti-Vaxxers
- Buggin’: Agents of F.I.E.L.D. (starring Ant-Man, Black Widow, Mantis, Spider-Man, and Wasp)
- Introducing the A-, B- and C-Men: The Great Cash Grab
These days, it’s not particularly novel or interesting to say “I’m obsessed with podcasts” but nevertheless, I am.
I listen to them so obsessively, I sometimes wonder if I should occasionally allow the moments where I am putting away my laundry, commuting to work, chopping vegetables, or running in the park to be filled with my own thoughts rather than someone else’s. But most of the time, I don’t. There are just too many good podcasts to get through.
So vast is the number and variety of podcasts in the mediascape, there is always something to listen to. But unlike a lot of the bite-sized content on the internet, most podcasts are enough of a time investment that a level of discernment goes into deciding which episodes to hit play on. My similarly podcast-obsessed sister’s criteria is particularly exacting: “I have to be so emotionally invested that I’m either laughing out loud or sobbing.”
When it comes to my own lineup, I recently noticed a trait that makes me cut a given episode automatically: if it was recorded in front of a live audience. While there are several popular podcasts series that have always been recorded as such—The Moth and 2 Dope Queens, for example—my particular gripe is for podcasts normally recorded in studio, but every now and then record in front of a live audience and upload the result as a regular episode. The popular political podcast Pod Save America, which recently announced a series of hour-long specials with HBO, is a regular offender. I happily listen to their studio episodes, which can go well over an hour long, but I can’t for the life of me make it through one of their now-frequent live audience episodes.
It’s true this format is not particularly new, but, anecdotally at least, it seems to be becoming more common. And given the industry is grasping for a viable business model despite its burgeoning popularity (Casper, SquareSpace, and MeUndies ad spots cannot sustain them all) it’s easy to see why podcasts are treating live shows like musicians treat live gigs: as a cash cow. And with prestige media companies like HBO making a play in the podcast space, we’re likely to see more overlap between podcasting and other forms of entertainment in the future. In fact just this week it was announced that the New York Times‘ podcast The Daily has become so popular that a longer version will be syndicated by American Public Media starting in April.
And yet, I utterly loathe live recordings. They go against everything I love about the medium of podcasting itself: that it is calming to listen to, not audibly jarring or interruptive, and I feel like the hosts or guests are talking to just me. Whereas public radio greats have an air of authority by mere virtue of being on NPR, the connection I build up with certain podcast hosts I listened to “before they were cool” feels genuine. The fact that it’s not reciprocal doesn’t matter much—until they invite an audience of people into my ears to shatter the illusion. They begin making jokes for the audience, not for me. The grating sound of applause or laughter fills the pauses that usually give me space to ponder. The echo of a theater sounds like the opposite of the uncommon silence of a studio I usually cherish.
Now, before you @ me, some caveats: I get that not all live podcast recordings are created equal, both in terms of sound quality and content. And I’m also not suggesting podcasters shouldn’t find a way to make money off of their growing fanbases—I just have no interest in listening to them do that as a downloaded episode.
When I asked Nick Quah, a podcast critic for Vulture who also writes the popular Hot Pod newsletter, if he thought the growth of recorded-live podcasts risks alienating loyal listeners, he said it depends on how heavily you weigh what he calls “the intimacy thesis.”
“The intimacy thesis is the notion that podcasting’s fundamental value as a media experience lies in its capacity to create a uniquely intimate relationship between the show and the listener. I think that’s true, but I think it’s overly interpreted to be something that mostly exists between the talent and the listener,” Quah said. “I happen to think that you can create really good podcast experiences around live shows. You just have to be thoughtful and cognizant about sound quality, editing, the balance of sound between the performers and the audiences.”
The intimacy thesis definitely explains why I listen to podcasts with such devotion. I am so reliant on the moment each day when I leave the office and allow The Daily host Michael Barbaro’s earnest questions and just-so diction to flood my ears as I navigate the chaos of Oxford Circus station, that it’s no exaggeration to say I am thoroughly emotionally attached to the entire experience. I’m hyper-alert for the moments Russel Brand goes on profound and breathless five-minute thought-tangents on his surprisingly spiritual Under the Skin podcast, and I don’t want an audience there that might distract him.
Am I being precious? You bet. But in roughly a decade of listening to podcasts, I’ve come to prize my experience of the medium as creating a lot of space for something that most other forms of modern entertainment seem to crowd out: deep thought. While Quah contends that this intimacy can, with the right approach, be extended beyond a connection between the listener and talent to one between a listener and the “show experience,” I remain steadfastly unconvinced.
I want to pretend my my podcasts are recorded just for me.
The t-shirt was originally designed to be a basic undergarment. But over the years, the world’s most ubiquitous fashion item has become a powerful political weapon.
This radical history of the t-shirt is the subject of the newest exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, UK. The exhibition—titled T-shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion—showcases over 100 of the most influential t-shirts of the 20th century, including originals by British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the former Sex Pistols manager and influential figurehead of the punk movement.
“It’s a great barometer of social change,” says Dennis Nothdruft, the museum’s curator. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that the t-shirt was used as a popular outer-garment, particularly among teenagers. This shift has largely been attributed to Marlon Brando’s searing performance as Stanley Kowalski in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando tight-fitted t-shirt turned him into a sex symbol. James Dean’s 1955 Rebel Without A Cause further cemented the idea that the t-shirt was the rebellious garment of choice. By the 1970s, the punk movement took t-shirts in a radically different direction. It was then “about shocking and outraging people and challenging the status quo,” says Nothdruft.
The protest t-shirt really came of age during the 1980s—thanks in large part to Katharine Hamnett. The English fashion designer reached cult-like status after she was photographed shaking hands with then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 in a “58% Don’t Want Pershing” t-shirt. (The t-shirt highlighted public opposition to putting US Pershing missiles in the UK). The image made the front page of a number of major newspapers, putting a spotlight on the nuclear disarmament campaign. Hamnett’s bold gestures inspired copycats across the world.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher greets fashion designer Katharine Hamnett, wearing a t-shirt with a nuclear missile protest message.
The protest t-shirt hasn’t always been universally embraced. In 2016, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Dior debut featured a simple t-shirt that read: “We Should All Be Feminists.” The famous quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the most notable moment of the show. But while many praised Grazia, the fashion designer was also criticized for commodifying an important message (the shirt cost $710 each). Dior later announced a percentage of proceeds from t-shirts will go to The Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna’s non-profit organization.
The t-shirt is featured in the exhibition. “That photograph was on every newspaper and the cover of every magazine,” says Nothdruft. “All of a sudden you’ve got a message that is being disseminated worldwide. So whether you disagree with the commodification, you can’t deny the fact that its actually is spreading the message.”
The Fashion and Textile Museum says the exhibit has been popular with the public. “Most of us will never wear couture gowns, but we know what its like to wear a t-shirt. We can relate to it,” Nothdruft explains. “I think people get that immediacy when they see it at the exhibitions.”
It’s a tranquil day at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club. Golf may not have caught fire in the country, but around these parts, it is of utmost importance.
The surrounding regions are also named accordingly, “Golf Greens” and “Golf Garden,” in a testament to the course’s pride of place in the city’s colonial past. The ‘Royal’ as it is known, was started in 1829, and is widely considered as the first golf club outside the British Isles.
Heading towards the entrance of the course, some men wearing “Titleist” caps, play cards on the side of the road. They have their own colourful vocabulary, using words such as puro (pro), ballin (hole) and chipput (chipping).
These men know the course better than most players. They’ve spent a majority of their waking lives on the course and some were even born on it.
This is the extraordinary story of Caddiebasti, where the enthusiasm for golf exists in abundance. But it is gradually winding down.
Caddies gather around for a game of cards.
Caddies turned golfers reduce
It’s not just about the golfing culture; their sporting pedigree is reflected in the number of trophies that caddies-turned-golfers from the area have won for themselves. This might seem implausible given the current perception and state of the game in India, but back when golf courses weren’t as heavily restricted, caddies ruled the roost in Indian golf.
In 1991, 115 out of 126 professionals playing on the Indian circuit, had started their careers off as caddies. At present, less than a quarter of the 600-plus pros playing in the country started off as caddies or other golf course employees.
Back in Caddiebasti, a man who wishes to be referred to only as “John,” agrees to help us understand the area better. The veteran caddie is ubiquitous in Caddiebasti; everyone knows John and refers to him as such. Local residents estimate that John has been caddying at RCGC since 1983 and knows virtually every inch of the course and the neighbouring areas.
The Royal Calcutta Golf Course.
Originally located at the site of many paddy fields, the course is wave-like across its outline and consists of long fairways, sequestered by water bodies.
The course is a favourite haunt for non-golfing sportspersons who visit the city for a short while. Before John can help us figure out Caddiebasti, he must serve as caddie for ATK player-manager Robbie Keane and other members of the team. For him, one round fetches him anywhere between Rs300 ($4.68) and Rs750.
John shows a lack of interest in the “footballers” nor does he show an inclination to find out more about Keane and Co. For him, this is just part of the job and piques no interest. Instead, we head to the ninth green, passing myriad bunkers and a few huts built on the course.
He points to a clump of trees and a clearing beside them, “That is where Ganesh Prasad’s (Chawrasia) quarters used to be. SSP lived with his family here; his father used to work on the course as a greens-keeper.”
Young Chawrasia used to gather huge branches that would fall off trees and use them to work on his swing practise. Peering over a nearby water body, John recollects, “Some balls would land here and he would promptly retrieve those.”
Out here, SSP is known as Chipputsia—because his main strength, according to John is his “chipping” and “putting.”
The Ali house
The course is a sight to behold, yet the curious engine that drives the daily operations and supply the bulk of the manpower lies a short walk away. As we pass by the members’ lounge, the caddie’s shed is at the club’s entrance; we follow the Golf Club Road to a maze of serpentine alleys housing many tiny, patched-up, tiled settlements.
This day is one of mourning for those in the area; and as a funeral procession crosses our path, John reminds himself that he must visit the deceased’s family later and offer his commiserations.
Caddy Shed at the Royal.
Continuing down the cobbled passageways past a narrow assembly of tin-foiled single room bivouacs, we head towards the Ali household, home to four golfing greats, Rizwan, Firoze, Chini and Rafique Ali.
We encounter Aruna Das sitting near the Ali household, chatting with some old friends. Her son, the 34-year-old Shankar Das, is one of the last to have broken out of Caddiebasti and is currently ranked third on the PGTI Order of Merit. “He doesn’t live here anymore but he started off playing with them (local residents),” says Aruna.
At the Ali household, Chini’s son Akbar dusts off an old cupboard full of trophies. Old clippings of Chini’s picture at the Indian Open, from the popular magazine Sportstar are neatly arranged kept in a file.
Clippings of Chini Ali are kept at home.
Akbar recalls that Rizwan and Chini were the earliest to start out, as Feroze, who won the Asian Tour Championships and the Indian Open followed. Today, Rafique coaches at the Royal. This is the house that boasts the highest number of medals in the locality, also known as Madartala, but there are many with their golfing origins here. Madartala was once home to a spiritual leader Mother Baba and hence the name.
Jamshed Ali (unrelated to the afore-mentioned Ali brothers) became the country’s first Arjuna Awardee for golf and also became the first Indian to play on the PGA Tour and many followed in his footsteps. Raju Ali and Shankar Das are two of the more contemporary golfers on the circuit. Prior to them, Yusuf Ali, Asghar Ali, Mohammad Khokon and Mohammad Sanju had made their way to the upper rungs of the PGTI circuit.
Caddie Invitational stopped
As we leave the Ali household, John reveals that he was a player on the domestic circuit for about four years before returning home. “I played in Delhi and other places outside Kolkata. I earned enough outside and decided to come back. I was happy to.”
Growing up, John had easier access to the course as an alternate entrance near Madartala meant that dozens of young caddies would play, often given clubs by members who saw them as promising golfers.
Rafique Ali also points that the caddie tournaments have shut down. “There used to be a Caddie Invitational open previously. The best three caddies used to be rewarded and they would be given wildcards and monetary support to play a few tournaments. They haven’t held one since 2006.”
Admitting that not as many golfers come from the area as they used to, John tries his best to explain this peculiar phenomenon. Could this provide deeper insights into the esoteric yet powerful force that drives the love of the sport here?
John has been caddying for more than 30 years at the RCGC.
In conversation with John
How is golf such a big part of life here?
“Why didn’t your parents put you into sports?”
Perhaps they weren’t sure of my sporting abilities and didn’t think I could make it big.
“Wrong. Your parents are office-goers themselves. They envision the same future for you. Here, these kids are born and bred golf. Not so long ago, when houses were closer to the course, they could tell that a ball had landed on the roofs by the noise. They would collect the balls to re-sell it to the members.”
But, do as many still take up the game?
“Now, we give them the option to study. Some choose to but others stay back at home. Then they see us work at the course and they start doing odd jobs. We tell them to keep the money. They can use it to go play tournaments. Once you start winning, the pay-offs are really high. Look at sportspersons around the world. They don’t have to worry about their finances. How much are [Lionel] Messi’s feet worth?”
What if they feel that they don’t like the sport?
“For them, the golf course becomes a second home, spending so much time there. They eventually fall in love with it, start playing after the members leave. They play, despite putting in long shifts during the day.”
At this point, a 15-year-old carrying a set of clubs stops by. John’s son is leaving for Chandigarh to play in a domestic tournament.
“When he told he wanted to come back home and discontinue his studies, I was furious. Then he told me he had a plan to play golf. Here, if one is into golf, the others know that this boy is serious. As a parent, I know that most aspiring, serious golfers stay clean and away from bad company. This season, he’s borrowed a set of clubs and will play a few tournaments. Initially, he told me he would give it two years to see if he could play at an acceptable level. I told him, take five, it takes time for the game to develop.”
Life on the greens
Back at the course, the card games go on as caddies prepare to head off for the day. Rafique Ali reminisces modest beginnings while walking on the course, “The first golfer was a caddie called Lalchand, sometime in the British era. In those days, if they broke a club, they would have to use a steel coil to repair it. I bought my first set of clubs after my first tournament win.”
“Back in the day, it was like a theme park, children used to play a lot of sports inside the course. Now, access for caddies playing after-hours is restricted. The course fee, Rs7,400 per round, is too steep. The club does still support promising golfers.”
Rafique Ali, the youngest of the golfing Ali brothers.
As it goes dark over the course, the young caddies state that ‘SSP’ still comes back and hangs out every time he is in town. For them, he is a pro player, their latest benchmark, a goal to look up to. Fathers and grandfathers also narrate tales of Jamshed, Feroze and Basat Ali.
They head back, their rounds for the day finished. In between those 18 holes of the Royal, amidst all that green yardage, lies the shrinking anomaly that is Caddiebasti, filled with masters of making the cut.
This post first appeared on Scroll.in. We welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roared on by a home crowd, South Korea’s Yun Sung-bin made history today. In an event that until now had been dominated by Western athletes, he became the first Asian to win gold in skeleton at the Winter Olympics.
In fact, he became the first athlete outside of Europe or North America to medal at all in the sliding events—skeleton, luge, bobsleigh—at the Olympics.
What’s more, he won with a comfortable margin, finishing 1.63 seconds ahead of the silver medalist Nikita Tregubov from Russia. Nobody has won by such a wide margin in an Olympic sliding event in more than four decades. Britain’s Dom Parsons took the bronze in the daredevil event, which involves barreling head first and belly down along an icy chute.
The 23-year-old Yun earned the nickname “Iron Man” for his helmet, reminiscent of the comic book character’s, and red racing suit.
“Iron man” in action.
By the fourth and final heat today (Feb. 16), it was clear he would win a gold medal barring any major mistakes. Instead of choking under pressure, he recorded the fastest run, zipping past spectators at over 125 km/h (78 mph). After he finished, he removed his helmet and bowed on his knees.
He attracted a strong following of fans, who flocked to watch him compete. Because it’s a national holiday in South Korea, Yun had wondered how much support he would receive. “But so many people came to watch, and I know many more watched on TV,” he later told reporters. “That support really helped push me to win the gold medal.”
The alleged $1.8 billion (over Rs11,000 crore) fraud unearthed at Punjab National Bank (PNB) has opened up a can of worms.
With more banks, agencies such as Enforcement Directorate, and even the government getting involved, it has snowballed into a banking industry crisis.
PNB is likely to feel the heat in terms of a weaker balance sheet and lower stock price. If it is held liable, then profits made between April 2012 and March 2017 could be hit, a report by international brokerage Macquarie says. This raises difficult questions around the poor risk-management practices at India’s state-run banks.
In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha last July, minister of state for finance Santosh Kumar Gangwar had revealed the quantum of fraud at various public sector banks in 2016-17. PNB topped the list with Rs2,808 crore ($439.4 million).
Now, with the alleged Nirav Modi fraud coming to light, PNB needs to probe if it was a standalone or systemic problem, suggests R Gandhi, former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Gandhi spoke to Quartz about what steps PNB should take next.
What questions does this fiasco raise about corporate governance at banks?
The investigation needs to ascertain when it (the transactions) became fraudulent and if the relationship with the customer was fraudulent right from the start or it turned so during the course of time. Right now, what the banks involved, especially PNB, need to determine is if this was a systemic issue or not. If the systems were in place but individuals failed, then those individuals need to be brought (to book). But if it is a problem with the system, then the risk-based practices need an overhaul.
What steps should be taken if they determine that this is indeed a systemic problem?
If they find out that there is systemic lacuna…I believe they will ask a special audit to be conducted in this case to determine why it went unnoticed. Rs11,400 crore is a big amount and, therefore, I hope the bank board will directly monitor the audit. Even the government of India and the RBI would be looking at it very closely.
Why do you think the fraud went unnoticed for seven years?
Most of the times when fraud takes place in a long-standing relationship like this, it is always a mystery as to how and when it started. It can be resolved only after a detailed investigation.
There has been some debate about who should bear the brunt—PNB or other banks as well.
It depends on the validity of the document (letters of credit). If the document is valid, then PNB will be entirely responsible. If it was forged or invalid, then the sanctioning party (other banks) will become the bearer of liability. And if the sanctioning bank had asked for confirmation and if PNB had confirmed it, then again the responsibility shifts to PNB. Therefore, the validity and confirmation asked and given are going to be key in this case.
Road accidents kill 17 people every hour in India and, yet, drivers fail to give up risky habits.
Around 30% of Indians under the age of 45 said that at least sometimes while riding a motorbike, they would send text messages—via SMS, WhatsApp, Twitter, or Facebook—from their phones, a survey by Samsung India found. The oldest age group (55+) was the safest, with 80% of the respondents saying they’d focus fully on the road.
The study’s results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted with 1,341 respondents aged between 15 and 60 across 12 Indian cities.
Car drivers are more careless, the results showed.
Respondents were as negligent about receiving calls while riding two-wheelers. Large segments of those aged between 15 and 20 and between 20 and 25, were the least prudent, saying they’d instinctively answer incoming calls. Once again, the 55 years+ category was the most cautious, with 77% of them never mixing phone calls and traffic.
Women, too, were less likely to take risks in general with only around 8% of them saying they’d always pick up calls while riding, compared to over 14% of men. With texting, the disparity was less but it still existed.
“Pedestrians’ attitude to safety is no different from drivers,” the survey said, adding “64% (of them)…regularly answer the phone while crossing a road.” In the country with purportedly the most number of selfie deaths in the world, over half the respondents under 20 years admitted to talking selfies while crossing the road, too.
According to Samsung’s survey, at least seven in 10 people across all age groups expressed concern over the number of children crossing the road while using their mobile devices. When asked if phones should come with built-in settings to deter their on-road use, the replies were a mixed bag.
I am a human being with eyes and a beating heart, and so I love the Olympics. What is better than the Olympics? Well, nothing. The opening ceremony. The pleasure derived from watching godlike men and women perform incredible feats of skill and endurance. Feuds. Athletes crying from joy/disappointment. Athletes being nervous. Athletes being so beautiful, all of them. The knowledge that, as we speak, many amazingly sexy activities are taking place in the Olympic Village.
I am a South African though, and so the Winter Olympics present a higher barrier of entry to enjoyment than the Summer Olympics do. I grew up in Durban, a coastal city where the commencement of winter means carrying a light jumper around, “just in case,” and wearing jeans without fear of being overcome by heat-based claustrophobia. The last time I saw snow was on holiday in Croatia, and I got so excited, I cried. I have never so much as touched a pair of skis, or been in the same room as a snowboard.
There are a few solid reasons to be personally invested. There is a single South African competitor (Connor Wilson, Alpine Skiing), who I am obviously obliged to root for. Africa is not a country, and I would never contribute to any discussion that encourages this perception, but I will be supporting all 13 African athletes competing this year. Still. It is difficult for me to naturally relate to what is currently underway in Pyeongchang. It seems very snowy and intense there, and I don’t know what Alpine Skiing is.
Nevertheless, I am committed to extracting maximum entertainment value from these Winter Olympics, and have developed some strategies by which this can be achieved. Even if I don’t understand why luge and skeleton and bobsleigh have to be three separate events, or why no satisfactory explanation has been provided for the fact that “skeleton” is just pronounced in the ordinary way, with no effort to indicate to the naïve that this is not a sport where skeletons compete against each other, or how all the ski jumpers remain alive after participating in an event that seems designed with a view to killing everyone involved, I can still have a good time. You don’t need to know anything about winter sports to enjoy ice skating, for instance. I love how in curling they are constantly screaming at each other, and how those screams get increasingly desperate and indecipherable as the game progresses. Athletes are, as already mentioned, attractive and fun to look at.
Below are some further suggestions regarding how those of us in the Southern Hemisphere might participate in the joyful viewing experience that is the 2018 Winter Olympics:
Systemic doping is an ever-refreshing source of fascination—see Kei Sato, the Japanese speed skater who was just given the first doping ban of the games. There is always something new to be interested in, even if you don’t know anything about winter sports. The opening ceremony offered the opportunity to imagine the tortured decision-making process that resulted in the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” compromise, which seems like such a cop out, but which was obviously reached only after protracted and intense negotiation. The feebleness of the compromise, and the official insistence on referring to Russian headquarters as “Sports House” (paywall), is sharply contrasted by the Russian fans’ ferociously patriotic refusal to admit any wrongdoing on the part of their athletes. They don’t care at all. They are here to be Russian, and to win, and to scream the national anthem at max vol whenever they can. More hotly-disputed bans and doping dramas will surely follow.
As if it weren’t interesting enough.
Recent Developments in Ice Skating Music
The decision to allow music with lyrics in all four ice skating disciplines was apparently made in order to make ice skating seem cool again. “Cool.” “Again.” People don’t love ice skating because it’s cool—we love it because it’s beautiful princes and princesses swirling magically around and reminding us that dreams can come true, as long as you have money, devoted parents, and a manner of comporting yourself that meets the standards of the snotty judges. Anyway. There’s music with lyrics in ice skating now, and that means we all get to listen to an indefensible big-band cover of Wonderwall, as well as enjoy the fact that three separate teams have chosen to ice skate to Despacito. You don’t need to be from the Northern Hemisphere to think for a long time about why someone would want to ice-skate to Ed Sheeran. Why would they? So many songs exist, and there are so many ways in which music can enhance an ice-skating routine and make the audience fall in love with the performers, and still: Ed Sheeran.
It’s Very Very Hot At The Moment
It is 33°C (91°F) in Cape Town right now. It’s hot, and we are running out of water. One side of my face got sunburned yesterday when I was sitting in traffic.In Australia, the brains of little baby bats are literally boiling in their skulls. (Australia in general seems too hot for human life, and it is difficult to imagine how anyone gets anything done.) Summer is only good if you’re on holiday, and we are not on holiday now. We are dry and arid and distressed. Watching people enjoy themselves in the snow is not the same as actually being in the snow oneself, but it’s still pleasing to the eye. Think of it as the visual equivalent of lying in a bath full of ice cubes, which is what I wish I was doing right now.
Happy watching, Southern hemisphere pals!
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India is currently dealing with what likely is its biggest bank fraud so far.
Companies owned by diamond merchants Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi are alleged to have swindled Punjab National Bank (PNB) of over Rs11,000 crore ($1.77 billion). Amid speculation and a flurry of reports on the nature and magnitude of the scandal, here’s a basic list of questions and answers on the alleged crime.
When did the fraud take place?
Between 2011 and at least 2017. It was detected in the third week of January 2018, according to the PNB management which approached the Central Bureau of Investigation onJan. 29.
How was it carried out?
In 2011, it began with a a much smaller amount with a single letter of undertaking (LoU) worth around Rs800 crore.
What is a letter of undertaking?
It is a guarantee that a bank is obliged to repay the loan if the actual borrower—Nirav Modi in this case—fails.
So, were the loans approved by PNB?
The first LoU was issued by two PNB employees on behalf of the bank via SWIFT, sanctioning loans to be disbursed abroad.
What is SWIFT?
Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, is a system to send instant messages. Once a foreign bank or a foreign branch of a bank gets the LoU via the SWIFT message, it disburses the loan to the borrower.
Where did it go wrong?
When the credit due was not paid in time, more LoUs were issued on behalf of PNB to offset the payment.
What is “offsetting the payment”?
When the borrower did not repay the first Rs800 crore, the bank ought to have stepped in and booked a default by the group company. Instead, the two PNB employees, who were allegedly party to the fraud, issued more LoUs on behalf of PNB, asking other banks to give out fresh loans to the firms. This continued until two weeks before the whole operation came to light after some of Modi’s employees visited the bank on Jan. 05. The management was caught napping and the overdue loans exceeded Rs11,000 crore.
Are we sure the fraud did not exceed Rs11,000 crore?
“I don’t think so, but we will know after the investigation,” PNB managing director and CEO Sunil Mehta said on Feb. 15. If the probe reveals that the amount exceeded the current estimate, the bank’s liability may increase. “Gross exposure is significantly higher at $1.8 billion, though, at this juncture, it will be difficult to ascertain the financial impact across the banking system as investigations are on,” Edelweiss Research said in a note on Feb.15.
How did the management miss a colossal fraud like this for so many years?
PNB sources say the bank isn’t fully integrated on a Core Banking System (CBS) which could have immediately detected the discrepancy.
What is a CBS?
Gartner defines CBS as a back-end system that processes daily banking transactions, posting updates to accounts and other financial records. It is a centralised software that keeps all records across branches and is capable of generating alerts over any undue activity.
So, India’s second-largest government bank didn’t buy good software?
According to sources, PNB’s integration to a CBS was initiated in 2002. The technology took a decade to become developed. It should have been upgraded by 2012, but wasn’t. It is getting updated now.
Is PNB the only bank without proper CBS?
“Public sector banks continue to grapple with weak systems, raising questions on why the processes are not centralised, unlike most private banks where bypassing CBS is not easy,” Edelweiss said. It added that “the liability on respective banks depends on the investigation’s outcome. Even Bank of India, in the third quarter of financial year 2018, reported stress of Rs9,400 crore pertaining to stand-by letter of credits discounted by its overseas branches.”
So, without good software, the two employees were able to game the system?
Yes, the two individuals apparently colluded with the borrower to wrongfully sanction fresh loans via SWIFT.
Shouldn’t banks have other ways of keeping track?
SWIFT transactions are supposed to be regularly reviewed. PNB sources say there is a system to check SWIFT transactions daily by the manager and a concurrent auditor within the branch, a norm that was not followed. “We have an internal rule wherein officials are rotated within departments, ideally every few months. But the two accused were in the same role in the same branch for seven years. The moot point is, we are at a loss to find out now. So many managers changed, so many auditors and inspectors came and went. How did they bypass everybody?” a PNB official said, requesting anonymity.
Is it the first time that such a fraud had occurred?
No. A bunch of Indian banks faced massive losses due to unpaid loans from Winsome Diamonds, which defaulted for the first time in 2013. The loans given to Winsome, and its associate entity Forever Diamonds, were through similar SWIFT route. However, both Winsome and Forever failed to repay, citing default by customers. The Serious Fraud Investigation Office is probing the case.
Is it possible there were more PNB employees involved?
It is too soon to say. The management has assured investors that it will undertake a forensic audit and look into loans approved under earlier managements, if needed.
Which are the other banks that lent money to Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi’s firms?
According to sources, Allahabad Bank has the largest exposure—of over Rs4,000 crore. Union Bank has anywhere between Rs1,000 crore and Rs2,000 crore, and the State Bank of India about Rs1,000 crore. Axis Bank has over Rs2,000 crore, though it has already sold off those loans.
What will be the impact of the Rs11,000 crore (or bigger) fraud?
Loss of public faith in PNB and other state-owned banks will be the biggest risk. According to RBI regulations, PNB will have to repay other banks the money owed by the firms. PNB sharesholders may see their wealth eroding further as the Rs11,300 crore liability is more than a third of the bank’s market value. The pain will only increase if the probe reveals a bigger scam. This is besides the taxpayer money that will be lost in litigation and getting Modi and Choksi extradited.
Who will pay for the losses?
Reports say that RBI has instructed PNB to pay other banks for the loans disbursed to Modi and Choksi. Other banks will have to set aside money from their profits till the time PNB coughs up the money, and when it does pay up, PNB’s books will then have to show the amount as loss.
Have Modi and Choksi offered to repay?
The PNB CEO said Modi sent an email seeking time to repay, and the management, in turn, has sought a detailed repayment plan.
Where are Modi and Choksi?
We don’t know for certain but reports suggest that Modi may be in New York.
Correction: This post earlier mentioned that the alleged fraud had taken place between 2011 and 2014. In fact, it went on till at least 2017.
Like many from the post-Partition generation of the Indian subcontinent, the Punjab National Bank (PNB) has been a survivor. Seventy years after independence, the bank is just about afloat, weighed down by its bad loans and buoyed by a string of bailouts.
Born of India’s freedom struggle, PNB was established in modern-day Lahore, Pakistan, in 1895, and has coursed through several crests and troughs over its 120-year existence.
However, the bank’s rich history has been besmirched by the $1.77 billion (over Rs11,000 crore) fraud it reported on Feb. 14, besides its gigantic pile of toxic loans, has come as a rude shock. Diamond trader Nirav Modi andhis maternal uncle Mehul Choksi, also the chairman of jewellery retailer Gitanjali Group, are alleged to have duped the lender over a period of seven years in connivance with at least two of the bank’s employees.
While the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate probe the fiasco, here’s a look at how PNB came to be India’s second largest state-owned bank.
A stellar history
Lala Lajpat Rai, a stalwart of the Indian struggle for independence, played a key role in PNB’s birth. After a fellow member of the Hindu revivalist movement, Arya Samaj, mooted the idea, Rai took it upon himself to spread the word on establishing an organisation run by Indian money and men.
In May 1894, the bank’s founding board was set up and included the who’s who of the day, like Lala Harkishan Lal, one of Punjab’s earliest industrialists, and Dayal Singh Majithia, founder of the English-language daily, The Tribune. When the first branch opened a year later, with a capital of Rs2 lakh and working capital of Rs20,000, Rai was also its first account holder.
PNB’s other customers over the years included India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Like other banks around the time, PNB faced its share of hardships. From tiding over the global economic crisis of 1929 to shutting down 92 offices, accounting for over 40% of its total deposits, following Partition in 1947, the bank always came through. In its first 60 years, PNB set up over 270 branches, with deposits totalling over Rs60 crore.
Months before Partition, PNB’s registered office was shifted from Lahore to New Delhi.
In the 1950s and 1960s, it consolidated its position further by merging with others lenders, including Bharat Bank and Indo-Commercial Bank—it has merged with seven other institutions over its lifetime. In 1969, under Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership, PNB, along with 13 other banks, was nationalised. Together, these banks controlled around 70% of India’s deposits at the time.
Today, PNB has nearly 7,000 branches in India alone, and is among Forbes’s list of world’s biggest public companies.
Dismal state of affairs
The past decade has not been very encouraging, though. In recent years, India’s public sector banks have been bogged down by inefficiency, indiscriminate lending, and corruption.
Between 2010 and 2015, state-owned banks, including PNB, resorted to masking their bad loans by hiding about half (pdf) of their stressed assets. So, in December 2015, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced more stringent norms for banks’ asset evaluation.
Following this directive, PNB’s gross non-performing assets (NPAs) more than doubled (pdf) to over Rs55,800 crore ($8.7 billion) for fiscal 2016. It was one of the 25 state-owned banks to report losses that year at Rs3,974 crore. For the quarter ended March 2016, PNB’s losses were the highest ever reported by any Indian bank in history. The bank has also written off loans worth over Rs9000 crore in the financial year 2017.
The government, of course, had to step in. Apart from the funds already infused into PNB so far since 2015, the government will add another Rs5,473 crore by March 2018.
Just when PNB’s fortunes seemed set to to turn around, the $1.77 billion fraud hit the bank like a ton of bricks—a figure that accounts for nearly a third of the lender’s market value.
Having survived many such crises in the past, can PNB can wriggle its way out this time?
Watching Marvel’s highly anticipated comic-book film adaptation, Black Panther, was no ordinary tried and tested cinematic experience. Much like the unapologetic showmanship, flamboyance and atmospheric idiosyncrasies of Sunday service black congregational worship, the cinema metamorphosed beyond its remnants of unswept popcorn kernels and sticky milkshake residue into an augmented space. It became a “mega-church” sanctuary of spiritual catharsis –with all the impassioned and melodic trimmings of Afro-Pentecostalism.
But, make no mistake, this was not the time nor place for solemn contemplation or confessing past transgressions – but an opportunity for continental Africans and diaspora to offload socially sanctioned climactic expressions of individual and collective excitement and expectations, as well as lip-bitten anxieties about a fictionalized Africa.
If this was an Afro-baptism in filmic spirit, I sought—and submitted to—full-bodied immersion.
Let’s be clear, the fervor over Black Panther among the Ankara-wearing, close-cropped Afro-crowned cinema-goers is incredibly warranted for several reasons. Not least for its reimagining, its re-presentation of Africa and communities therein—with magical realism—that makes it an intriguing anomaly among the slew of other questionable Western cinematic attempts to deliver “Africa” on screen.
Black Panther is stunning in its redefining of Africa’s aesthetic within the cultural zeitgeist of cinematic consciousness. Die-hard Marvel fans and those newly christened have waited with baited breath to secure a one-way ticket to Wakanda—the wondrous Afro-futuristic utopia and homeland of the titular character Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman). But this is by no means Hollywood’s first foray into fictionalized African kingdoms. Before Wakanda, there was the similarly named and seemingly “African-sounding” Zamunda in Eddie Murphy’s 1998 blockbuster Coming to America.
But Zamunda presented as nothing more than a visual repository of African clichés and normative assumptions, where wild animals, as domesticated pets, cohabit “as they do” nonchalantly with humans. So too, where royalty enrobe in lion’s fur. As the Nigerian literary darling Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it:
If all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, animals and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and Aids, unable to speak for themselves.
If only I could speculate on what may have informed such a proclamation … dare I venture towards films such as The African Queen, Out of Africa, Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond, Beasts of No Nation – to name a handful.
Those cinematic offerings were the colonial-era mythmakers and extenders whose white lensed romanticisms have determined the space within which Africa is defined and knowable. It is also within this space that the complexities and pluralities of African representation have been lost in simplification and concealment.
Surely these films must have affixed the “Afro” in the unmistaken and riotous Afro-futurism of Black Panther. But its the “futurism” aspect that makes Black Panther stand head and shoulders above the rest. Showcasing an iteration of Africa that is more imaginatively radical than merely culturally palatable for audiences who are used to being spoon-fed—better yet, force-fed—microwavable doses of an Africa that is melancholic, benighted and savage, to satisfy their visually myopic cravings.
Unlike its predecessors, Black Panther’s Afro-futuristic elements challenge stereotypes by readjusting the barometer of African imagination. Where Africa and black-Africanness is equated with discourses of futurism, cybernetics, sci-fi fantasy and mysticism.
New African century
This is a far cry from previous film interpretations of Africa, and especially of Africa’s future – or lack thereof. It has too often been represented as provisional and ephemeral—or arbitrated by the technocratic and philanthropic efforts of white do-gooders. Instead, Black Panther provides a prophetic reimagining of Africa with its postmodern gravity-defying vehicles and supersonic technology that far exceed human comprehension.
This has important implications for how we see Africa, through films which have long anchored it in a “forever-more” state that is seemingly unenlightened, backward-leaning and perceived as a prolongation of the past.
So, too, the film speaks volumes about how young and old black African “selves” can infiltrate otherworldly spheres. Its Afrofuturism allows black folk to apply self-iterations and augment alternate realities that transcend the limitations of the “here and now” towards the “what ifs” and “could bes”, through their own melanin-infused, ethno-cultural lens.
Equally, with its vestiges of the past and nods to the future, Black Panther presents a certain “contemporary ordinariness” within Africa that is discernible in all its parts. Where streets of African cities, for example, are littered with mother-tongue speaking, iPhone-clutching youth, dressed in dashiki-patterned bomber jackets, skinny jeans and with basket-woven braided hairstyles.
Moreover, the portrayal of Wakanda as resource-rich, unsoiled by European colonialism and the paraphernalia of international development, challenges cinematic presumptions of an Africa that is deficient, agentless and lacking internal diplomacies for sovereignty.
This is further reinforced by the central staging and representation of steely-eyed, intelligent African women – as Beyoncé avows in her feminist-imbued record Upgrade U, if the men are “the block” the women are “the lights that the keep streets on”. We see this in the female Wakandans, the unyielding pillars of the film, who demystify allusions and illusions of Africa – through its female proxies – as infantilised, subordinate and devoid of individual articulation of unique intent.
As a Marvel trailblazer, Black Panther is stunning in its redefining of Africa’s aesthetic within the cultural zeitgeist of cinematic consciousness. It trades cinema’s historical blueprint for Africa, for its own set of black paws. Suffice to say, representation (in all its shades) matters.