News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Sometime on Tuesday, November 8, 1960, a 66-year-old widower and self-described “moderate Republican” went to his polling place in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to vote for his state’s junior senator for president. Never the most forthcoming of men, Norman Rockwell hadn’t told his family he was backing John F. Kennedy. He’d painted portraits of both candidates for the Saturday Evening Post, and he just didn’t like Richard Nixon’s face.

It was only a short walk down Main Street from the two-story Colonial house supposedly once occupied by Aaron Burr, whose derelict red barn Rockwell had converted into his fastidiously tidy studio. He’d called Stockbridge home since relocating from rural Vermont six years earlier, mainly for proximity to its renowned Austen Riggs psychiatric center. His second wife, Mary, who struggled with alcoholism and depression, had been a chronic patient there.

In those newly cosmopolitan times — the Mad Men era, for shorthand’s sake — the Anytown, USA, that Rockwell had depicted on hundreds of Post covers was becoming a curio at best and an object of derision at worst. Nixon still espoused a mealy-mouthed fealty to those pseudo-Rockwellian virtues. By choosing Kennedy instead, Rockwell might as well have been casting a ballot to hasten his own obsolescence. But nobody could disagree that he’d had a good run.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Most nights, before bed, before it all went wrong, Dominic Van Allen whiled away the last of the evening hours in a pub called The Garden Gate. It was easy to fit in and feel smart there, chatting and drinking with a crowd who passed through in varied states of dishevelment. Dog-walkers brought in sodden dogs. Exhausted junior doctors shambled in after shifts with their sleeves pushed up. There were scarved and suited older men, frail as antique hatstands, and casually dressed professionals with jobs in finance or entertainment who owned expensive homes nearby. “And it’s you rich buggers,” Van Allen marvelled, genially enough, as he eyed the state of their trainers, “who can afford to look the scruffiest.” He wore durable boots, khaki trousers and a leather motorcycle jacket, and could have been mistaken for a bike courier, a builder, maybe a maintenance guy at the hospital next door, where he was known in the staff canteen as someone who would wander in at dawn to buy a discount coffee.

That winter of 2017, Van Allen was 44 years old – tall, with close-cropped blond hair, blue eyes and a faint Yorkshire accent. At the pub, his was an ale. As soon as he judged it was late enough, Van Allen drank up and said his goodnights, bearing north from the pub and walking up a tree-lined road that hugged one side of Hampstead Heath. A vast open space that sits as a sort of green beehive haircut on top of metropolitan central London, the heath is untamed in parts and otherwise mown and managed like any public park. Every day, people visit by the thousand: runners, outdoor swimmers, tourists, bird-lovers on the trail of whitethroats and blackcaps in the bushes or goldfinches and kestrels in the trees. Sometimes a travelling circus unfolds itself on the hard-packed sand of the heath’s carpark. Summer brings sunbathers, picnickers and sixth-formers sat in circles, while in winter, on those rare occasions it snows, people drag in toboggans. On this night, in December 2017, forecasters had predicted flurries overnight. Van Allen moved briskly, eager to get in.

He walked up the heath’s western edge, beside a fringe of scrub where hogweed grew in tangles and brambles rose taller than him. It was known that homeless people sometimes slept rough in this scrub, pitching tents here after dark. Van Allen had done this, too, once upon a time. As a rule, he kept the fact of his homelessness to himself, “because, wouldn’t you?” He knew there were a lot of people just like him, irregularly employed, regulars in pubs, the owners of passports and phones and all the right charger leads, only with nowhere stable to live. He would never plausibly make London rent. Social housing was just out of reach. A mortgage purest fantasy. Van Allen had taught himself, instead, how to borrow a piece of this expensive city, night by night, on unarranged loan. When he reached a row of mansion houses that overlooked the heath, he turned off the road and on to a footpath that cut through the scrub.

Some aspects of Van Allen’s story are extraordinary. Others are nowhere near extraordinary enough. There has never been an accurate count of people like him, the visible-invisible homeless. Although we know there are between 55,000 and 60,000 statutory homeless (that is, those who apply to make use of state services) and although there are efforts towards an annual census of rough sleepers (carried out by head-counters who hit the roads every autumn to ask for a show of hands), there’s a vast population the statisticians cannot account for. “You could be sat next to someone,” Van Allen would say, “and not know it. Chances are the barman who served you tonight is one, sleeping in a shelter, sleeping in a squat, sofa-surfing, spending nights in a car or a van.” Van Allen would say: broaden the definition of homeless to factor those in accommodation so precarious it could be taken away in a month, a week, a snap? That’s millions. Charities regularly try to draw attention to the complicated problem of hidden homelessness, a world of concealed partitions, crowded mattresses, beds-in-sheds, the back seats of nightbuses. It’s a legally grey world – everything that goes on between a fixed address and “the shopping-trolley stage”, as Van Allen would later put it, when he was arrested and interviewed by police. A world of “just-find-somewhere, just-stay-out-the-way”.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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Alcohol isn’t really all that good for you. It certainly wasn’t always good for me. Though I used to joke that without it I wouldn’t have a job, friends, or a hobby, I now teetotal most of the week and drink cocktails, whiskey, and wine infrequently.

Everything about that goes against the way I make my living as a spirits and cocktail expert, author, and bar owner. I don’t think everything we do has to be “good for you.” Neither should everything we do lead us down a fiery path of ruination. Lately, I’m more than content with a few fingers of bourbon followed by a drink without alcohol. And, when I indulge, it’s still with the guardrails on.

These days, my approach may actually be in vogue. We’re steeped in discussions of sober curiosity, soberishness, and hip sobriety, terminology that all spears the same fish: Drink less. This is spawning both a philosophical movement whose adherents have holidays (Dry January and Sober October) and is creating an industry through sober influencers; nonalcoholic beer, wine, and “spirits”; dry bars; dry events; and sophisticated cocktails without alcohol. Let’s call it mindful drinking.

“Mindful drinking is a nice catchall term for anyone who might be thinking about their drinking in some way,” argues Laura Willoughby, co-author of How to Be a Mindful Drinker: Cut Down, Stop for a Bit, or Quit. “They either don’t drink for religious reasons, they’re not drinking because they’re pregnant, they’re cutting down, they never drank very much, they’ve never drunk, … any of those things.”

Willoughby doesn’t drink, but Jussi Tolvi, with whom she co-founded Club Soda in the UK, is a moderate mindful drinker. Both fit within the model. Willoughby describes the term mindful drinking in the way the LGBTQ movement uses “queer”: as an umbrella term for a range of sexual orientations and gender identities. “I don’t see changing your drinking as linear, I don’t see it as binary,” says Willoughby.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 03.06.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Chad Ellingwood wasn’t really in the market for a home in the summer of 2006. But when his best friend came across an intriguing listing in Woodland Hills — a bedroom community in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley — the two men decided to visit on a whim.

Entering the property beneath the canopy of a grand deodar, Ellingwood, a big man with a gentle presence, felt as if he had been transported to a ranch house in Northern California, much like one he often visited as a child, all old growth and overgrown greenery — olive trees, citrus trees, sycamores and redwoods. He and his friend meandered past a pond to an inviting teal house built in 1958, “a whimsical masterpiece,” Ellingwood told me. Inside there was a “captain’s quarters” — a room designed to look like the hull of a boat with a built-in water bed and drawers — and numerous stained-glass windows that the couple who owned it had made themselves. The pièce de résistance depicted a faerie woman with flowing hair whose fingers turned into peacock feathers. Behind the house were a couple of small buildings, one of which was office-size — a meditation “Zen den,” Ellingwood thought. The other was an A-frame, Swiss-chalet-style granny unit above the garage, where the owner displayed a toy train collection.

“The house was not in amazing shape,” Ellingwood said. “It needed some help. But I loved it. I wanted it immediately.”

One of Ellingwood’s goals had always been to buy a house by the time he turned 30 — a birthday that unceremoniously came and went six months earlier. When Ellingwood began speaking to lenders, he realized he could easily get a loan, even two; this was the height of the bubble, when mortgage brokers were keen to generate mortgages, even risky ones, because the debt was being bundled together, securitized and spun into a dizzying array of bonds for a hefty profit. The house was $840,000. He put down $15,000 and sank the rest of his savings into a $250,000 bedroom addition and kitchen remodel, reasoning that this would increase the home’s value.

Suddenly adulthood was upon him. He married on New Year’s Eve, and his wife gave birth to their first child, a son, in April. When his 88-year-old grandfather, an emeritus professor of electrical engineering at the University of Houston, had a bad fall, Ellingwood urged him to move into the house for sale just across his backyard. The grandfather bought the house with his daughter, Ellingwood’s mother, and the first thing they did was tear down the fence between the two properties, creating one big family compound. In 2009, Ellingwood’s older sister bought a house around the corner.

But shortly after the birth of Ellingwood’s second son, in June 2010, his marriage fell apart. He and his wife each sued for sole custody. To pay his lawyer, he planned to refinance his house, and his grandfather advanced him his inheritance. By 2012, Ellingwood had paid his lawyer more than $80,000, and in the chaos of fighting for his children, he stopped making his mortgage payments. He consulted with several professionals, who urged him to file for bankruptcy protection so that he could get an automatic stay preventing the sale of his house.

In May 2012, Ellingwood was driving his two boys to the beach, desperate to make the most of his limited time with them, when he got a call. He pulled over and, with cars whizzing by and his boys babbling excitedly in the back seat, learned that he had lost his house. He had dispatched a friend to stop the auction with a check for $27,000 — the amount he was behind on his mortgage — but there was nothing to be done. Because Ellingwood began to file for bankruptcy and then didn’t go through with it, a lien was put on his house, his “vortex of love” as he called it, that precluded him from settling his debt. The house sold within a couple of minutes for $486,000, which was $325,000 less than what he owed on it.

In the months after, though, Ellingwood was graced with what seemed like a bit of luck. The company that bought his home offered to sell it back to him for $100,000 more than it paid to acquire it. He told the company, Strategic Acquisitions, that he just needed a little time to get together a down payment. In the meantime, the company asked him to sign a two-page rental agreement with a two-page addendum.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

“We think democracy is better,” said the jet-fuel salesperson. “But is it? In terms of outcomes?”

In a conference room overlooking the gray Thames, a group of young corporate types tried to imagine how the world could save itself, how the international community could balance the need for growth with our precarious ecological situation. For the purposes of our speculative scenarios, everything except for carbon was supposed to be up in the air, and democracy’s track record is mixed.

A graph from Chinese social media showing how many trees the country is planting — a patriotic retort to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg — had a real effect on the room. Combine that with the Chinese state-led investment in clean-energy technology and infrastructure and everyone admired how the world’s largest source of fossil-fuel emissions was going about transition. That’s what the salesperson meant by “outcomes”: decarbonization.

Regional experts from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East–North Africa also entertained the democracy question, pointing to Iraqi disillusionment with voting and economic growth in Rwanda under Paul Kagame (“He’s technically a dictator, but it’s working”). The China expert said the average regional Communist Party official is probably more accountable for his or her performance than the average U.K. member of Parliament, a claim no one in the room full of Brits seemed to find objectionable. The moderator didn’t pose the question to me, the American expert, presumably because our national sense of democratic entitlement is inviolable.

Actually, the moderator didn’t ask me any questions during the plenary that followed our regional-perspectives panel, either. That might have had something to do with my talk, which included bullet points like “Green growth is a myth” and “Your corporate existence is incompatible with a livable future for cohorts that are already born.” But I didn’t get that impression, not really. I was repeatedly asked to be honest, and everyone was really nice about it. Everyone was really nice in general.

Since 2017, when I published a book about American millennials, I’ve had the occasional cold call from corporations to come talk about my work, all but one of which I’ve turned down. But last fall, the Shell Scenarios team — as in Royal Dutch Shell, one of the biggest oil companies in the world — offered me £2,000 in exchange for a 15-minute talk and my participation in a group exercise. Its internal corporate think tank was holding a daylong conference about how generational change would affect the hopefulness projected in what the company calls the “Sky Scenario,” which it describes as “a technically possible but challenging pathway for society to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.” I’m not a climate expert, but apparently I qualify as a generational whisperer, at least to Shell, and to talk to me about global warming, the giant energy conglomerate wanted to fly me to London from Philadelphia, business class. I warned them that I couldn’t keep their money and asked if I’d need to sign an NDA. When they said no, I saw an opportunity to report on the oil company, undercover while in plain sight, without technically lying to anyone. It was too good to pass up. I said yes, then I emailed my editor.

The October 2019 workshop, it turned out, was timely. Fossil-fuel divestment used to be a fringe, college-campus concern, but over the past year, it has become increasingly in vogue in the world’s financial centers, including Davos, where it recently dominated conversation at the World Economic Forum. In December, a couple of months after the Shell workshop, the Bank of England proposed a new climate stress test to measure the resiliency of its banks in the face of warming — a move echoing that of Christine Lagarde of the European Central Bank and reportedly being considered by the chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell. Germany announced major coal phaseouts in January with coal-fired power generation scheduled to halt by 2038 at the latest. In a much-celebrated letter the same month, Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, declared an about-face on fossil fuels, saying climate change was now a “defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.” The entire country of Finland proclaimed it would go carbon neutral by 2035. Even the investor cartoon Jim Cramer, of Mad Money, got in on divestment, tweeting, “I am taking a hard pass on anything fossil.” Now ExxonMobil is down $184 billion-with-a-b since its 2014 peak.

From a certain vantage, the momentum looks almost definitive, as though nothing could stand in the way of a renewable future. But unlike coal, oil and gas companies are still definitely profitable, even investable, and more oil and gas are being produced, and used, every year — which helps explain why carbon emissions keep rising too. There’s little doubt that fossil-fuels are, culturally speaking, on the wrong side of history. But there is still a lot more money to extract from those wells, and the fossil-fuel businesses are intent on extracting as much as they can. It’s not necessarily such a bad time to be an oil and gas company, in other words, but it is a bad time to look like one. These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution. In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

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