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A man who knows all about struggle and pain celebrates JK Rowling’s genius in perfect tweets

Mon, 2017-06-26 17:17

In a world of Muggles, the best thing you can do to mark the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book is find your inner wizardand create something out of nothing.

And don’t tell American comedian Patton Oswalt that making art is just too hard. He used his Twitter account today (June 26) to proclaim that the best way to salute J.K. Rowling is to embrace her do-it-yourself ethic.

20 years ago today a world that I had lived in alone was suddenly open to others. It's been wonderful. Thank you.#HarryPotter20

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 26, 2017

This, right here, is the reason to pursue a career in the arts. It's the expanding of your life and it's always worth it. https://t.co/4WxRGCINZS

— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 26, 2017

Oswalt’s declarations about the pursuit of art and the artistic life inspired trepidation and fearlessness among his Twitter followers. But he pointed to the 10 years he spent struggling at the start of his career to answer one of the skeptics.

Come on Patton. I'm all for what you're saying but you fail to mention the amount of luck involved. The stars must align.

— Chuck Szachta (@chuckpaint) June 26, 2017

The stars didn't align for me the first DECADE of my career. But I had SO MUCH FUN. I hung out with comedians & creatives 24/7. Bliss. https://t.co/0k2ENNndF5

— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 26, 2017

What Oswalt did not mention in today’s exchanges was this: The pinnacle of his success as a performer and writer has been coupled with the most terrible of personal losses. His wife Michelle McNamara, a true-crime author, died unexpectedly in April 2016. She was 46. Their daughter is now 8.

He will address the aftermath of her death, and life as a widower, father, and artist, in a Netflix standup special scheduled for fall release. (Oswalt told Vanity Fair he will never perform material from the special, taped in Chicago on June 2, live again. But his ardor for tackling difficulties in life, and in subject material, endures. “If something makes you uncomfortable, run for it,” he said. “So now I’m having to really, really do that in the hardest way possible.”)

Does podcasting 80's movies you loved back then and still do love now count???

— Gidgit VonLaRue (@GidgitVonLaRue) June 26, 2017

Why shouldn't it? Do you love doing what you're doing? Then surprise — you've made it. https://t.co/0OkshNRmba

— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) June 26, 2017

Like Oswalt, Rowling has also experienced plenty of difficulty in her life along with success. As a single parent, she was at turns jobless, suicidal, and without any tangible reason to expect literary success. It’s a lesson almost all writers have learned. Another striving writer joined Oswalt in using the day to encourage artists to keep their spirits up:

Every major NYC publishing house of children's & YA literature rejected the first Harry Potter book. Take heart, emerging writers! https://t.co/2X4o5G9WIO

— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) June 26, 2017

I know a former editor who rejected the first Harry Potter book when it crossed his desk. He drinks. A lot.

— Nick Kolakowski (@nkolakowski) June 26, 2017

Oswalt would probably tell that poor editor that drinking is not the best response to disaster. On liquor in particular, he told The New York Times last fall, “I found out the hard way these past few months that alcohol really doesn’t help.”

Instead, he dove back into standup in search of a way to somehow cope with grief. He found that, if you are lucky, the work never ends.

Neil Gorsuch’s early opinions reveal a deeply conservative Supreme Court justice

Mon, 2017-06-26 17:02

During a US presidential debate in October, then candidate Donald Trump said he would be looking to appoint Supreme Court justices “in the mold” of the late Antonin Scalia. Neil Gorsuch, sworn in on April 10, has yet to disappoint.

Gorsuch, 49, is at the very beginning of a lifetime appointment, but his recent stances on the travel ban, LGBT parents’ rights, and gun laws say a lot about what’s to come. In his first few months, Gorsuch has sided four times with justice Clarence Thomas, thought to be the most conservative judge on the bench.

“[Today] we got a very good indication that [Gorsuch] will be most like Justice Scalia, and often voting with Justices Thomas and Alito, making Justice Gorsuch one of the most, or most, conservative Justices,” Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at UC Irvine, wrote at Election Law Blog on June 26.

Travel ban

In a ruling today on Donald J. Trump v International Refugee Assistance Project, also known as the revised version of Trump’s travel ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries, Gorsuch sided with Thomas (pdf) in dissenting from a partial reinstatement. (Gorsuch and Thomas both thought the ban should be reinstated fully until the oral arguments hearing in October.) Now exempted from that reinstatement are visitors with work permits, student visas, and relatives in the US.

In the dissent, Thomas wrote that trying to determine “whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country” would be too difficult.

Gay rights

When Gorsuch was nominated, Lambda Legal, an organization that works to protect the civil rights of the LGBT and HIV-positive communities, issued its first ever opposition to a SCOTUS nomination before a confirmation hearing. “[His] extreme record suggests he could roll back the tremendous progress our country has made towards recognizing the fundamental rights LGBT people and everyone living with HIV,” Lambda Legal CEO Rachel Tiven said at the time.

On June 26, in Marisa N. Pavan v. Nathaniel Smith, the Supreme Court struck down an Arkansas law that does not automatically list the mother’s spouse as co-parent on birth certificates for same-sex parents. Gorsuch dissented (pdf), noting that exclusion from a birth certificate is not a violation of one’s constitutional rights. He writes: “Nothing in Obergefell [the Supreme Court case legalizing gay marriage] indicates that a birth registration regime based on biology… offends the Constitution.”


Also on June 26, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case on whether the Second Amendment includes the right to carry firearms in public. As a result, the Court left in place a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which supported a San Diego, California sheriff’s requirement that gun owners seeking a permit for a concealed weapon must show “good cause” beyond fearing for one’s personal safety.

Gorsuch and Thomas dissented, saying that the state of California should not deny its citizens the right to bear arms in self-defense. “The Court’s decision… reflects a distressing trend,” they wrote. “The treatment of the Second Amendment as a disfavored right.”

Trump proclaimed June the official month of many things—with one glaring omission

Mon, 2017-06-26 16:23

Here’s a list of things that US president Donald Trump has proclaimed June 2017:

  • Great Outdoors Month
  • National Caribbean-American Heritage Month
  • African-American Music Appreciation Month
  • National Ocean Month
  • National Home Ownership Month

You might notice one missing. As June draws to a close—with a weekend of celebrations of sexual diversity and LGBTQ rights across the US—the Trump White House has yet to formally recognize Pride.

That may not seem surprising: The GOP platform has a long history of being anti-gay. But speaking from the floor of the Republican National Convention last July, then candidate Trump made a direct appeal to America’s LGBTQ community.

“As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” Trump said, to applause. “As a Republican, I’m so happy to hear you cheering for what I just said.”

Bill Clinton was the first president to proclaim June as gay pride month in 1999. Since then, the habit has fallen along party lines. George W. Bush avoided any mention of pride, and Barack Obama recognized it each June of his presidency, according to USA Today.

This year, the only Trump who remembered her rainbow flag was Ivanka, who tweeted about it on June 2.

Logging back on after Shavuot, wishing everyone a joyful #Pride2017. This month we celebrate and honor the #LGBTQ community.

— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 2, 2017

(It could have gone better).


— Brad Jenkins (@bradjenkins) June 2, 2017

Meanwhile, in Canada:

Love is love. #PrideTO pic.twitter.com/z2No7rdchZ

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 25, 2017

The US Supreme Court’s ruling on Trump’s travel ban helps neither refugees nor national security

Mon, 2017-06-26 15:23

Donald Trump’s attempt to stop letting citizens from six (originally seven) majority-Muslim countries into the US was one of his first moves as president, and it ran into repeated legal challenges. Today, in a 16-page opinion, the Supreme Court said it would hear the case for the ban later this year. Meanwhile, it’s allowing the government to implement it—but with caveats that have some observers scratching their heads.

The court said only people without a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity” in the US can be barred. But it was somewhat vague about what a bona fide relationship is. It did give some examples: people with relatives in the US or foreign students admitted to a US university are bona fide, while an immigration non-profit can’t add foreigners as clients in order for them to elude the ban. But it’s not clear what it means for, say, asylum seekers who had existing relationships with such organizations.

“I predict chaos at the border and new lawsuits as foreign nationals and refugees argue that they are entitled to enter the United States,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a Cornell University Law School professor, in an emailed statement.

Trump, who last week ordered that the ban be put in place within 72 hours if it was ever unblocked, called the court’s decision “a clear victory for our national security.” In fact it’s anything but clear: Under the court’s terms, for instance, legitimate asylum seekers with no ties in the US can be barred, while potential terrorists who do have ties could get in—assuming they can hide their terrorist connections, something that existing screening already looks for. Indeed, three of the nine justices on the court dissented, arguing that the court should have allowed the ban to proceed in full.

A moot issue?

Finally, there’s the question of why the court has agreed to hear the case at all. The travel ban was originally supposed to be for 90 days only, ostensibly to give the administration time to review vetting policies for travelers. (Why it hasn’t been able to review them in the five months since it first announced the ban is another question.) If the ban is put in place on June 29, those 90 days will be up before the Supreme Court meets in October. At which point the ban will, in theory, no longer be needed anyway.

Why, then, would the justices agree to take the case? One key reason is that it’s so controversial and of such public concern that they couldn’t ignore it, said Jennifer Gordon, a professor at Fordham Law School. Whether the justices decide to definitively answer the complicated legal questions the ban raises is a separate issue.

It’s unclear what the court will ultimately make the case about when it hears it. It could focus on the findings of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which argued that the constitution bars Trump from implementing the ban. Or it could look at the arguments of the Ninth Circuit Court, which found it was US immigration laws that prohibited the policy. Or it could sidestep both by determining the case is moot, says Gordon.

What re-reading my strip-poker Harry Potter fan fiction from 2004 taught me about being a writer

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:59

“One Christmas night, when Hermione and Ron get themselves into a thought-provoking game of cards, they start wagering more than just their Bertie Bott’s.”

This is the synopsis of a piece of Harry Potter fan fiction I wrote in 2004 at the age of 14. I am mortally embarrassed to even be typing this sentence in a public forum.

I usually keep my days as a fan-fiction writer a closely guarded secret, locked in the darkest of Gringotts’ vaults. But as today is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as it was called in my home country of Australia and in J.K. Rowling’s native UK), I decided to peek underneath the internet’s invisibility cloak to see if I could find traces of my previous pen name online. Fourteen years on, I’m now writing and editing for a living—and therefore mortally curious about how much (if anything) I’ve learned since my pimply, pubescent days.

I always dreamed that I would be a writer. Not blessed with any particular affinity for bats and balls, I grew up a bookish type who was better friends with the school librarian than most kids my own age. Mrs. Roach first introduced me to the world of witchcraft and wizardry when I was 12—just a year older than Harry was when he got his first letter from Hogwarts. With no owl on my doorstep and no beckoning from Dumbledore, I decided to send myself to Hogwarts instead.

 With no owl on my doorstep and no beckoning from Dumbledore, I decided to send myself to Hogwarts instead. I’d spend my weekend tapping away on my family’s elephantine desktop computer, imagining up alternate endings to plot lines or rewriting my favorite scenes from other characters’ points of view. Was Cho Chang actually thinking of her late beloved boyfriend, Cedric Diggory, when she first kissed Harry after that Dark Arts meeting? What would Bellatrix Lestrange have been like as a child—a frog torturer, or a Chocolate Frog Card collector? In the long stretches in between book releases, I would hypothesize what the Weasley twins were doing on their vacations and consider the secret lives of the shopkeepers slinging dungbombs at Zonko’s Joke Shop in Hogsmeade.

It took a lot of cajoling from my workmates to work up the courage to go sleuthing for those old stories. For a while, I thought the evidence had been extricated from the internet’s history, safely saving me from having to write this article. But not only is the fan-fiction website still up and running—it’s called The Sugar Quill, naturally—but my author page is still there, complete with my hotmail address, circa 2004.

Being presented with the writing of my teenage self gave me the same visceral, gut-flip reaction as stumbling across the wedding photos of the first kid who gave you a hickey. I wanted to click—Merlin’s beard, did I want to click—but I was also terrified about being forced to confront the genesis of my career in publishing. I was worried I would realize I was just a muggle in this big, scary writing world full of dementor editors and Slytherin-style critics.

Wishing I had a butterbeer to steel my nerves, I clicked on the first link—and was immediately confronted with the fact that my first piece of published writing was actually a strip-poker fluff fantasy.

“Calling the Cards”

The story was set on Christmas Day, set sometime between The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-blood Prince. All the main crew had stayed back at Hogwarts for the holidays, and after Hermione gifts Ron a pack of (non-exploding) muggle cards, she offers to teach them poker.

“Yeah, why not?” said Harry, tearing opening the bag of Bertie Bott’s that had came along with a hand knitted cage cover for Hedgwig that Hermione had given him. He took the top one out (a crimson bean dotted with yellow) and placed it in his mouth. He had chosen correctly; the taste of Strawberry Tart filled his mouth.

It turns out Ron is pretty good at cards—”Well, Dad brought home a pack of misbehaving cards once from the Ministry. Once he had got the queens to stop swapping suits, he taught me a few games…”—so Harry and Ginny get knocked out quickly and slink off with their remaining Bertie Bott’s. Ron and Hermione are left alone. This is where things started to get interesting.

And oh so very, very embarrassing.

After Hermione tries to make an excuse to slip off herself—even though “she would prefer to stay and stare into his hazel eyes, watch him as he chewed his lip in frustration, watch him run his hands through his fiery red hair…”—Ron makes another suggestion to “up the wages.” (Please excuse some truly terrible, barely teenage imagining of coy flirtation and shoddy grammar, lightly edited for length):

“Strip Poker!” yelled Ron.

“What?!” exclaimed Hermione, missing a step because she had snapped around so fast.

“Strip Poker,” Ron said, more quietly this time. “Instead of Bertie Bott’s, we wager… clothes…” Ron said this last word in almost a whisper; in fact, to say that he ‘said’ it would be wrong, ‘squeaked’ it would be a more appropriate word. Hermione’s mouth opened into a devilish grin.

“What?” Ron said, he too now smiling, more nervously than happily.

“You think I don’t know how to play Strip Poker?” she said, slowly walking back down the stairs, “What kind of Muggle do you take me for?”

How my nascently pubescent 14-year-old self knew how to play strip poker is beyond me. In fact, reading through the next few paragraphs, I don’t think my late-20s self could even lay out the rules of a poker game with this much accuracy. After relaying the stakes and moving closer to the fireplace—for body warmth, clearly—Ron dealt the first hand. Hermione lost.

“Oh, shut up Ron!” Hermione said playfully, throwing her mittens at him. Ron laughed, and placed the mittens beside him on the couch.

The game continued as the embers of the fire grew dimmer. More items were discarded, and finally, after a tense penultimate hand, both parties were set to lose their pants on the next round. (Hermione was still modestly wearing a singlet top—it appears I either had a little class, or a lack of imagination.) The cards are dealt, the bets are laid, and as they are nervously about to reveal their cards, they hear a voice coming from the girls’ dormitories—Ginny. Spooked and barely clad, the pair abandon the game, skittering off to their bedrooms.

In other words, I chickened out. I imagined myself at 14, frantically tapping away on the computer in my father’s office, worried I would be caught writing what I considered to be a particularly salacious story. Was there a draft somewhere—probably on a floppy disk—where I hadn’t let my monkish ways get the better of me? Here was a chance for all of my lusty, coital, middle-school dreams to be realized. And I had manufactured my own literary cock block.

But I wasn’t done yet. The next morning, I wrote, Ron woke early and wandered downstairs to the aftermath of the night before: charred wood in the fireplace, Hermione’s overflowing book bag by the velvet wingback chair, discarded containers of Bertie Bott’s. And the cards—Ron never knew who won.

He sat down in Hermione’s seat, for a second hoping that it would still be warm. He grasped her perfectly fanned cards (typical he thought, even when they where risked being caught, she still had enough time to be perfect) and flipped them over.

Ron held two eights to Hermione’s duds. She had bluffed the last hand. He had won! He had won! Which would have meant—

—just as Ron’s mind started mentally undressing Hermione (another scene I didn’t have the gall to write), Ginny stumbles out of her room and down the staircase, awoken by his celebratory hoots. She plops herself on the couch that contained a mound of clothes only hours before. She slowly pulls Hermione’s tie from behind the cushion she’s leaning against.

“Positive you didn’t hear anything last night?” she said, eyes suddenly wide open and staring at a now very red Ron.

Ron just looked fixedly at Ginny’s face.

“Well, all I can say Ronniekins …” she said, getting up of the couch, “Is that you sure can call them!”

Ginny laughed as she threw the tie at a purely horrified Ron as she walked up the staircase, heading straight for Hermione’s room. Ginny just simply had to hear this story!

Re-reading my teenage fan fiction was every bit as cringe-inducing as I had thought it would be—but it was also oddly touching. There were grammatical mistakes and cliches galore, sure—but there were also correctly used semi colons, a lack of dangling participles, and inventive turns of phrase. I’d thought that revisiting my childhood aspirations would only fill me with a mix of discomfort and mirth. Instead, I was reminded of the passion I had to make a go of this whole writing thing as a career. (And clearly a little sexual frustration.)

 J.K. Rowling’s books are a safe space that provide young people with the characters, plot points, motivations, and stakes on which they can create their own fantasies. I have Rowling to thank for that confidence. She created a world in which young writers could play. Her books are a safe space that provide young people with the characters, plot points, motivations, and stakes on which they can create their own fantasies. I didn’t have to try to create a whole world out of the vat of gelatinous gloop that is the teenage mind; instead, Rowling provided me with the blueprint for Hogwarts. Without her books, I’m sure I would have never had the mettle to begin writing as early as I did. And looking back over my fan fiction now, I can see a younger, fierce, unashamed version of myself—a part of me that now, as a professional editor, I need to find the heart to muster on the days when the words don’t willing come forth.

What did I learn, in the end? I encourage everyone to look back on the old diaries, blog posts, and Tumblrs of yore. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find. Life doesn’t give us a Marauder’s Map to help guide the way to adulthood. But sometimes looking back at the aspirations of your younger self can make you feel more confident about the direction you’re taking.

Need a little courage? Here’s the link to the full story. Now you have no excuse.

Expecto patronum!

Follow Georgia on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

The US Supreme Court just sided with religion in one of the most important church and state cases of our time

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:43

Child’s play got very serious indeed at the US Supreme Court today (June 26). The justices decided a major case about separation of church and state arising from a dispute over playground funding in Missouri—with implications for all US taxpayers.

Chief justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Trinity Luther Church v. Comer, Director of Missouri Department of Natural Resources (pdf). Six justices joined him, while justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented and was joined by justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The majority held that states can’t deny religious institutions eligibility for public benefits simply because they are faith based. The dissenters say this decision erodes separation of church and state.

In 2012, Trinity Lutheran Church sought a grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to repave its playground with soft, recycled materials and was denied because the state constitution prohibits use of money “taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.” The church fought the decision in the lower courts, unsuccessfully, and in January 2016 was granted high-court review.

The hearing was delayed, however, and some suspect the justices were waiting for a full court press—for the appointment of a ninth justice to replace Antonin Scalia following the justice’s death. In April, Neil Gorsuch joined the Supreme Court and the case was set for hearing.

But then there was a twist. On April 13, Missouri governor Eric Greitens reversed his position on grants for religious organizations, calling the state’s prohibition a “prejudiced policy” in a statement. The Supreme Court then asked Missouri and the church whether the case was moot or whether it still mattered. Although the church could now apply for the benefit, the court found the issue at stake still called for resolution.

The majority opinion explained that the court went on with the case because it felt it needed to clarify why the state policy offends the constitutional prohibition on religious discrimination. By denying the church eligibility for funding, the state was forcing the institution to choose between receipt of a public benefit and its faith, which violates the constitution, the court stated. Roberts wrote:

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not subjected anyone to chains or torture on account of religion…The consequence is, in all likelihood, a few extra scraped knees. But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

Justice Sotomayor in her dissent disagreed entirely with the majority’s take on the case. She writes:

To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.

The Republicans’ health-care cuts would affect 62% of the Americans in nursing homes

Mon, 2017-06-26 14:00

The Republican attempt to re-write the US health-care system is the main story in Washington this week, and the focus is largely on how the bill cuts spending on Medicaid, the health program for poorer Americans. But the cuts will actually affect a far wider swathe of the country—potentially, anyone elderly who isn’t pretty wealthy, and their families.

The bill hangs in the balance on this issue. Some Republican lawmakers, like Nevada’s senator Dean Heller, say the cuts are too deep, while a band of ultra-conservative senators, including Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee, say they don’t go far enough. (Democrats are universally opposed to the bill, written behind closed doors without any committee hearings or floor debate.)

Medicaid plays a huge role in providing for elderly Americans who have, in effect, outlived their savings. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that in 2015, 62% of the more than 1.3 million Americans in skilled-nursing facilities paid for their stay and care with Medicaid dollars. Medicare, the program for the elderly, covered only 14% of them.

The Republican health-care bill would achieve its proposed cuts to Medicaid by capping the federal funds sent to states. Starting in 2025, the bill would peg growth in per-capita Medicaid spending to the general rate of inflation, not to the much-faster rate at which health-care costs are rising. This amounts to regularly cutting the program. With fewer effective funds and a growing population of seniors, states are likely to resort to paying less to health-care providers, from doctors to nursing facilities.

The prospect has prompted criticism from patient advocacy groups to insurers to state officials. Fewer people will be able to get care, according to the American Association of Retired People.

“We will have less resources to provide coverage for these folks [on Medicaid], which means we’ll have to reduce reimbursement for providers, and at that point we expect to see fallout from participating physicians,” John Baackes, the CEO of a California health insurer, told Modern Healthcare.

States would be “really be forced to make a ‘Sophie’s Choice,’” Paula Hart, leader of a volunteer group that helps provide care to 8,000 seniors in Minnesota, said in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Do you not provide services to people? Do you cut the services they get? Do you cut rates to providers? None of those are good solutions.” And the organization representing the officials who administer Medicaid at the state level, in a statement today (pdf), called the bill “a transfer of risk, responsibility, and cost to the states of historic proportions.”

Those costs may in turn be pushed onto younger family members. Even middle-class Americans with relatively solid savings (paywall) can deplete them if they have to spend years dealing with illness or living in a care facility.

This map shows where elderly Americans are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s not dissimilar from a map we published last week, which depicted the overlap between people eligible for Medicaid and Trump voters. Many of them are in states that were critical to Trump’s election. It’s possible they believed his repeated promises not to cut Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security. But now Medicaid is on the chopping block, and Trump seems quite prepared to sign the bill.

Google will no longer mine your emails for advertising data

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:33

Google announced in a blog post on Friday (June 23) that it will no longer scan emails in personal Gmail accounts to pull out data for targeted ads. Previously, email-mining in Gmail was a requirement of using the free service.

Business email accounts provided through Google’s G Suite service were already exempt from being mined for advertising data, and now personal accounts will get the same treatment, according to the post.

“Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalization after this change,” wrote Google Cloud senior vice president Diane Greene. “This decision brings Gmail ads in line with how we personalize ads for other Google products. Ads shown are based on users’ settings. Users can change those settings at any time, including disabling ads personalization.”

Of course, if you’ve used Gmail for an extended period of time, Google already knows a lot about you. If you’ve remained logged in to your Google account while using its other services like search, it knows even more. And although Google will stop mining new data from your email, the blog post doesn’t say it will stop using the data it already has, or that Google’s other services will stop collecting data in the same way.

Asked when the Gmail change will take effect, and what the company will do with the email data it’s already collected, a Google spokesperson said the company doesn’t have any information to share beyond what Greene wrote in the blog post.

Seattle’s minimum-wage increase made the most vulnerable workers poorer

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:32

The fight for $15 has become the rallying cry of low-wage workers in America. It is nearly impossible to support yourself with a low-paying job. The solution appeared simple: require employers to pay people more. In 2014 The City of Seattle passed a ordinance to increase the minimum wage from from $9.47 to $15 over two to four years (depending on company size and if they pay benefits).

Traditional economics suggested this would be a bad idea, if you charge more for something then people want less of it. But an important study in the 1990s questioned this traditional relationship. Economists Alan Krueger and David Card studied a small wage increase, from $4.25 to $5.05, and estimated it didn’t appear to have a large impact in employment in fast-food restaurants. This study spawned a contentious economic literature. And led politicians, labor advocates, and pundits to conclude that negligible employment effects from small wage increases meant big increases would work, too.

At first glance this experiment appeared to be a resounding success. Employment increased in the Seattle area and pundits declared economics 101 reasoning dead and buried. Then a group of economists took a closer look at the data in a paper published this week. They argue that total employment numbers are not revealing because the number of low-wage workers is too small to show up in the data, especially in Seattle, where an economic boom increased the demand for skilled workers. Even looking at restaurant industry employment isn’t telling because restaurants contains many different types of workers earning more than the minimum wage.

To control for different types of workers in Seattle, the economists looked at employment and hours worked among those who earn less than $19 an hour. They estimate the first wage increase, $9.47 to $11 in 2015, had a small impact on employment and hours. But the increase to $13 one year later had a more dramatic effect. They estimate the $13 increase resulted low-wage employees working 3.5 million fewer hours per quarter and in 5,000 fewer jobs. They argue that, after accounting for hour and job reductions, low-wage employees ended up being paid $120 million less a year (by single location Seattle businesses). This represents a loss of $125 a month for a low-wage worker.

The authors speculate that the work once done by entry-level, low earners is now done by more experienced, high-paid employees. This suggests the higher wage caused most harm to workers with the least experience and skills. It may have longterm effects because, even if it is getting harder, most minimum-wage workers get raises and earn more over time.

The results suggest increasing the minimum wage to large, arbitrary round numbers isn’t costless. But the problem remains that low-wage workers in the US are struggling to get by. A better solution is the federal earned income tax credit, which boosts take-home pay by offering a taxpayer-financed subsidy for low-wage work. Some argue it subsidizes employers who underpay workers. But the Seattle study’s results suggest small-scale employers can’t—or won’t—pay low-skill workers enough to survive. The tax credit can make up the difference, and keeps people employed. It also targets the most needy: low earners who are supporting families, instead of teenagers who live with their parents.

A high minimum wage may sound like a simple way to provide a living wage. But the latest data suggests the costs are ultimately borne by the most needy.

A judge has ordered that Salvador Dali’s body be exhumed for a paternity test

Mon, 2017-06-26 13:01

Trouble has found him again.

When Surrealist artist Salvador Dali died of heart problems in 1989, at age 85, the New York Times obituary said of the master painter and prankster that “at his best Dali wrote out a declaration of independence for the human imagination in a way that is still valid.” It also noted that “to the day he died he was—as he would have wished to be—a subject of controversy.”

Now, 28 years since his passing, Dali’s physical remains are involved in a new flap, this one related to a paternity suit.

Maria Pilar Abel Martínez, a tarot card reader who was born in Girona in 1956, says that her mother, Antonia, had an affair with Dali in 1955, according to the Guardian. At the time, Antonia was a maid who worked for a family that spent time in Cadaqués, a town in Catalonia near one of Dali’s former homes. They became friends, but also developed a romantic relationship.

Abel claims that her late mother, Antonia, would often discuss her paternity as a fact. “The only thing I’m missing is a moustache,” she once said, reports the BBC, quoting the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. In 2015, Abel brought the matter to a Spanish court, and today a judge in Madrid ruled that the artist’s body should be exhumed for a DNA test. The decision could be appealed, or Dali’s body could be exhumed as early as July.

“The DNA study of the painter’s corpse is necessary due to the lack of other biological or personal remains with which to perform the comparative study,” the court papers said.

In 1955, Dali had already been married to Elena Diaranoff, known as Gala, for 20 years. In conversation, he often referred to the marriage as “the ideal union,” according to the Times obituary. However, their marriage was also the subject of controversy. An expose published in 1998 in Vanity Fair, reproduced here, alleged the couple had an unconventional love life that involved other men and women, late into their lives.

Dalí left his estate to the Spanish state. If Abel’s wins her legal claim and is proven to be Dali’s daughter, she’d have the rights to use his name and would be entitled to part of the estate.

The unshakable nostalgia of Harry Potter for a generation of fans

Mon, 2017-06-26 12:50

On July 21, 2007, the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released worldwide.

In New York City, Scholastic—the company that publishes the Harry Potter books in the United States—threw an epic block party to commemorate the occasion. Prince Street was closed for several blocks in lower Manhattan. I know this because I was there, a 17-year-old self-described super fan wearing a heather grey “Hogwarts Tonsil Hockey Team” t-shirt. (Cringe).

The event featured a life-sized Whomping Willow complete with a replica of the enchanted (but ramshackle) Ford Anglia that Mr. Weasley crashed into the violent plant in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. On a giant “Magic Muggleboard,” fans left messages on golden strips of cardboard like: “Does Hogwarts have a grad school?!” and “Sirius black is HOT” and “Thanks for growing up with me, Harry… I’ll miss you.”

Mine was succinct: “RIP Cedric.”

A huge digital clock above the store on Broadway tracked the minutes left until the book was released at midnight. My friends and I tearfully counted down the seconds like it was New Years Eve. We were so excited to get our hands on the final book, and yet, as one of my friends yelled out, “We’re literally counting down to the end of our childhood.”

We laughed off the connection at the time, but the prognosis was apt. We had all just finished our first year of college, separating from the safety of our close-knit high school friend group. Several of us, myself included, had left New York for the first time. Over the years, many of these friendships dwindled or broke completely—but at least in my life, Harry Potter remained a constant.

Through bad breakups and family loss, I followed unlikely hero Neville Longbottom in his search to kill Nagini, the poisonous snake and final horcrux standing between Harry and Lord Voldemort. During periods of stress and anxiety, I relived Harry’s first Potions class with Professor Snape.

Even on inauguration day, as newly-elected president Donald Trump spoke of “American carnage” to a deeply divided public from the steps of the US capitol, one viral tweet caught my eye:

The Ministry has fallen. Obamadore has left Hogwarts. Bellatrix Conway shrieks lies. Elizabeth McGonnowarren is holding back the Dementors.

— Jay Kuo (@nycjayjay) January 20, 2017

I couldn’t help myself. I tweeted that message to the author herself, adding: “Paging @jk_rowling… what happens next?”

Two minutes later, she responded: “Bad stuff happens. Then the good guys win.”

For the first time following a chaotic election, I felt relieved. That night, I picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the first time in years.

Today, for those of us who were close to Harry’s age when the books came out, the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the first book’s release is in many ways a celebration of our own childhoods. It feels somewhat painful, but still comforting to remember the years spent connecting with a world of alchemy and mischief, where life wasn’t at all fair but magic could tip the scales in your favor—and where good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Read next: Hufflepuff is the best house in Harry Potter—and the most misunderstood

Read next: The 10 laziest attempts by JK Rowling to name something in Harry Potter, ranked

Putin is closing in on Stalin as the greatest person in history according to Russians

Mon, 2017-06-26 12:32

Since 2012, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s domestic approval rating has climbed from the 60s to more than 80%, according to the Levada Center, Russia’s last major independent polling firm. His place among the most vaunted people in history—in Russians’ eyes—has similarly leapt.

Five years ago, his people ranked him number five on a list of the “most outstanding” figures in history; 22% of respondents in a Levada poll called him the greatest (link in Russian). This year, another poll by Levada puts the Russian president joint second at 34%, alongside Russia’s national poet, Alexander Pushkin.

Soviet leader Josef Stalin topped both polls, with 42% in 2012 and 38% this year. Although near-unanimously reviled in the West for overseeing a regime that killed millions of its own people, Stalin has a deeply contested legacy in Russia and has slowly been rehabilitated since the end of the Soviet Union; his rating has risen steadily from just 12% in 1989. Lenin, on the other hand, has fallen from 72% in 1989 to just 32% in the latest poll.

The poll, which surveyed 1,600 people in 48 Russian regions, asked for the most outstanding person of any nationality, but Russians favor their own: The top-ranked foreigner was Napoleon, ranked 14th, with 9%. He was followed by Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton in joint 16th place.

Person 1989 ’94 ’99 2003 ’08 ’12 ’17 Josef Stalin 12% 20 35 40 36 42 38 Vladimir Putin – – – 21 32 22 34 Alexander Pushkin 25% 23 42 39 47 29 34 Vladimir Lenin 72% 34 42 43 34 37 32 Peter the Great 38% 41 45 43 37 37 29 Yuri Gagarin (cosmonaut) 15% 8 26 33 25 20 20 Leo Tolstoy 13% 8 12 12 14 24 12 Georgy Zhukov (general) 19% 14 20 22 23 15 12 Catherine the Great – 10 10 11 8 11 11 Mikhail Lermontov (poet) 5% 5 9 10 9 8 11 Mikhail Lomonosov (scientist) 20% 13 18 17 17 15 10 Alexander Suvorov (general) 17% 18 18 16 16 12 10 Dmitry Mendeleev (scientist) 13% 6 12 13 13 12 10 Napoleon Bonaparte 6% 19 19 13 9 13 9 Leonid Brezhnev – 6 8 12 9 12 8 Albert Einstein 9% 5 6 7 7 7 7 Sergei Yesenin (poet) – 2 3 5 6 5 7 Mikhail Kutuzov (general) 10% 11 11 10 11 12 7 Isaac Newton 6% 3 4 6 6 6 7 Mikhail Gorbachev – 10 4 8 6 6 6

The 10 laziest attempts by JK Rowling to name something in Harry Potter, ranked

Mon, 2017-06-26 12:18

Today (June 26) marks 20 years since the publication of the first book in JK Rowling’s momentous Harry Potter series. And it truly is a day to celebrate: Rowling overcame financial difficulty, depression, and a dozen publishing house rejections before her incredible story was introduced to the world.

Readers of all ages have Rowling to thank for their love of books, but I’m not here today to talk about her success. Her hundreds of millions of dollars speak for themselves, thank you very much. Instead, I’m taking a deep literary dive into Rowling’s work in order to discuss a crucial flaw of her prose. I’m talking, of course, about the incredibly lazy names she gave objects and characters in her Harry Potter series.

Sure, Rowling created a world of magic and wonder that has delighted the hearts of literally millions of people. But she also named the Hogwarts House whose mascot is a snake “Slytherin,” as if “Snakey-Snake” was too on-the-nose. For the first time ever, here is a ranked list of the 10 laziest attempts by JK Rowling to name something in Harry Potter:

10. The Sorting Hat

The Sorting Hat is A. sentient and B. responsible for one of the most important moments of a witch/wizard’s life, but apparently it isn’t smart enough to give itself a proper name.

9. The Knight Bus

Get it, like a night bus? Tricky, tricky.

8. Chocoballs

It’s as though they let a child who only knows two words name a candy.

7. The Fat Lady

I guess at Hogwarts it’s cool to just say mean things whenever you want.

6. Sirius Black

Well let’s see, this character will be very serious and wear a lot of black. Perhaps I’ll call him…Gloomy H. Guss.

5. The Hogwarts Express

I guess if a train only has two stops it’d have to be an express, right? Also, what are they using this train for during the majority of the year? It must make like six trips total between September and June. With UK housing prices as high as they are, I’m sure they could make some dank cash by Airbnb-ing sections of the train to squibs.

4. The Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets is a supposedly secret chamber made by Salazar Slytherin just before he bitterly parted from Hogwarts. Here’s the thing: If the existence of the secret underground chamber you created is a known fact, and is also mockingly known as “The Chamber of Secrets,” you fucked something up really bad.

3. Wizard’s Chess

After playing a game of Wizard’s Chess, Harry and Ron walked down the Wizard’s Sidewalk to buy a cup of Wizard’s Coffee from the Wizard’s Barista.

2. The Ministry of Magic

I find this particularly irksome because the Ministry of Magic isn’t just a ministry devoted just to magic—it’s the UK wizarding world’s primary governing body. I’m sure there are things it deals with beyond the technical logistics of magic. It probably manages lots of complicated laws and menial paperwork and criminal matters that have nothing to do with magic, like a wizard just straight-up punching another wizard in the Wizard’s Face.

1. Kreacher

In a children’s series filled with creatures who have fun, magical names, she chose to name one of the creatures Kreacher. Why did Kreacher get the short end of the name stick? Is it because he’s very ugly? In that case, why not just name him Ugly like she did the Fat Lady? Have some consistency, Rowling.

Read next: Hufflepuff is the best house in Harry Potter—and the most misunderstood

Read next: How JK Rowling overcame depression and rejection to sell over 400 million books

UK prisons are housing a record number of elderly offenders

Mon, 2017-06-26 12:02

The makeup of Britain’s incarcerated population is dramatically changing. Prisons are now providing residential care for an increasing number of elderly men in England and Wales.

Since 2002, the number of prisoners over the age of 50 increased proportionately more than any other age group. There were around 13,000 prisoners over 50 at the end of 2016—a 169% increase from 2002. (There’s even one prisoner aged 101.) By 2020, the number of prisoners over the age of 50 is projected to increase to 13,900. To put that number in perspective, there were a total of 67,000 men in care homes in England and Wales.

Meanwhile, there are proportionally less young people in prisons today. Prisoners under the age of 20 decreased from around 13% of the prison population in 2005 to 6% (or just under 5,000) in 2016. The proportion of prisoners aged between 21 and 29 decreased from 36% in 2011 to 31% of the prison population in 2016.

The dramatic rise in elderly prisoners is being largely driven by longer prison sentences (pdf). Though crime rates have gone down in Britain, offenders found guilty of any crime are more likely to get a prison sentence than they were a decade ago, according to a report last week in the Guardian. In 1993, 54% of the prison population was serving sentences of less than four years. By 2016, that figure dropped to 34%. Meanwhile, mandatory life sentences were introduced for those convicted of a second serious sexual assault, and harsher sentences were instituted for drug trafficking.

An upsurge in the imprisonment of sex offenders (pdf), often for long-ago crimes, has also contributed to the rise in the elderly in prison, according to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, an independent body that investigates deaths and complaints in custody.

Prisons are struggling to cope with their elderly inmates. They struggle to move around prisons, many built in the Victorian era with long corridors, stairs, and toilets that aren’t adapted for wheelchair users. Simple tasks such as showering can be dangerous for elderly prisoners, while others aren’t even able to leave their cells. An increasing number of prisoners need end-of-life care, with the number of natural deaths of prisoners increasing.

Prisons have to handle hundreds of prisoners who suffer from dementia. One prison guard spoke to the Guardian of an elderly offender who, every night, would forget he was in prison for committing a serious crime. The guard had to allocate time every morning to tell the prisoner why he was incarcerated and for how long. “I ended up feeling that he was going through something closer to torture than to civilized punishment. It didn’t seem humane and it didn’t seem fair,” the guard said.

The average prison population has increased five-fold since 1990—from just over 17,400 that year, to just over 85,300 in 2016. With the increase in elderly prisoners, charities and prison inspectors are calling on the government to build prisons designed for older inmates and to shift the focus from punishment to rehabilitation.

Put your lighters up for Pandora, the music service that briefly changed the world

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:50

You know the myth. Pandora, a fallible human created by the gods, opens a box without knowing the full consequences, and her actions change the course of civilization. The metaphor is often misapplied—but in the case of Pandora, the internet music company, it may find a dark fit.

The company began in 2000 as Pandora Internet Radio, an online, ad-supported listening service that brought forth a revolutionary idea: giving users automated music recommendations. Massive were the waves it made.

Before Pandora, fans had to seek out new music all on their own on the internet, and large-scale listening platforms like Apple’s iTunes were just starting up. Pandora struck deals with auto companies, worming its way right into car dashboards to compete directly with terrestrial radio. It won the hearts of many listeners who became enamored with its easy, passive music-discovery service that could run in the background as they browsed other webpages or walked away from their computers to do other things.

But music fans are fickle. Pandora has repeatedly cut its workforce amid dwindling revenue reports in the last few years, even as it launched new products, and has sought outside investment from satellite-music company SiriusXM, which grabbed a 19% stake last month in exchange for a $480 million investment. Even amid rumors of a buyout, its stock continued to tumble.

And yesterday, it was revealed that Pandora’s co-founder and CEO Tim Westergren is stepping down—a foreboding-enough sign. Pandora’s stock rose 1.9% today on the news to around $8 a share, though it is now a fifth of where it was at its peak in 2014. Last summer, John Malone’s Liberty Media offered $15 per share to buy Pandora for $3.4 billion, which was rejected by Pandora’s board.

What happened, between 2000 and now? Pandora’s slow death is not an unfamiliar tale in the entertainment industry. A company introduces a novel idea, and then it’s beat out by bigger and better companies that take that idea to the next level. Yet with Pandora, the story is particularly sad. It seemed to sit idly by, unaware of its full potential, as Spotify, Apple Music, and the new wave of on-demand music streaming services took its core ideas of instant delivery and automated recommendations and used them to topple Pandora’s internet radio empire.

In late 2015, Pandora—playing a game of much-too-late catch-up—spent $75 million on streaming service Rdio, and in late 2016, it proudly unveiled Pandora Premium, a subscription service meant to complete with the likes of the streaming giants. Not even a month later, it was forced to lay off 7% of its US workforce. The company still reports around 80 million active users, but only 4 million of those are on the paid tier, with the rest freeloading off the original, ad-supported service. (Compare that to nine-year-old Spotify, which boasts 140 million users, 50 million of them on a paid tier.)

With Westergren’s departure as CEO now, the odds of long-term survival aren’t in Pandora’s favor, and the Greek tragedy will likely continue unfolding before our eyes.

Read this next: The complete guide to getting your money’s worth out of streaming music

These are the highest-grossing films directed by women—of which “Wonder Woman” now sits on top

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:21

Four weekends into its theatrical run, Warner Bros.’s Wonder Woman has become the most successful live-action movie ever helmed by a woman.

The DC superhero movie, from director Patty Jenkins, brought in $653 million at the box office worldwide as of June 25. It surpassed Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Mamma Mia! to become the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a woman, data from comScore shows. (Frozen, which was co-directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, holds the record for a movie overall, with its $1.3 billion box-office haul.)

Wonder Woman’s returns are split pretty evenly between the domestic and international box office.

The film made a decent-but-not-amazing debut in the US on the weekend of June 2 with more than $100 million in domestic returns. But it has continued to draw audiences worldwide. This past weekend, it brought in another $46 million globally, including $25 million in North America. There, it’s poised to overtake Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, which earned $330 and $325 million, respectively, last year.

That’s an impressive feat for Jenkins, as Wonder Woman was her first big-budget project. She made her big-screen debut in 2003 with Monster, which earned Charlize Theron the Oscar for Best Actress. It was made with a minuscule $8 million, compared to Wonder Woman’s super-sized $150 million budget. Jenkins’s other work has been primarily in TV.

Thank you my dear friend and incredible queen. Couldn't have done it without you. Without all of you. Honored to be a part of it. xo❤️ https://t.co/iikUgxUNcX

— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) June 25, 2017

Overall, Nancy Meyers is the most accomplished director on the list of highest grossing female-helmed movies. She made five movies from 2000 to 2015 that each grossed more than $180 million worldwide: What Women Want, It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give, The Intern, and The Holiday.

It’s been nearly a decade since a woman-directed live-action movie crossed the $600 million mark. The only other to do so was Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! in 2008. It was wildly successful internationally, with 75% of its $606 million box-office returns coming from overseas.

Read next: “Wonder Woman” is on track to beat “Iron Man,” which launched the whole Marvel film universe

Nigeria’s first ever diaspora bond has raised $300 million

Mon, 2017-06-26 11:10

Nigeria’s diaspora population sent home $21 billion in remittances in 2015 and the government wants in on some of that cash.

Through its first ever diaspora bond, the Nigerian government is looking to get its citizens living abroad to put some money towards funding part of its $23 billion record deficit budget. Issued last week at 5.625%, the five-year bond raised $300 million.

The bond was pitched to Nigerians living abroad as a chance to contribute to Nigeria’s development as the country looks to fund significant capital projects. It wasn’t initially clear how many Nigerians actually invested in the bond. Reports suggest the retail investment opportunity was only available via private banks and wealth managers, which are typically used by very wealthy individuals, and the investors may or may not be part of the Nigerian diaspora.

With oil prices low and Nigeria’s revenues falling, the government has been left cash-strapped over the past two years. Worse still, for much of that time, Nigeria’s oil production output has dipped with militancy briefly resuming in the oil-rich Niger Delta region last year.

Coupled with its ambitions to spend heavily on capital projects in a bid to stimulate growth and help turn around the economy which has been in recession for the past five quarters, the government is left looking for various avenues to plug holes in its record deficit budget. The diaspora, particularly in the United States, could present the government with an avenue to raise some of that capital. In 2015, diaspora remittance from United States to Nigeria totaled $5.7 billion and, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, Nigeria accounts for more foreign-born Africans living in the US than any other African country.

The government’s efforts to raise funds for the budget is also linked to its anti-corruption campaign. Last year, it introduced a whistle-blowing policy to allow Nigerians report corruption and fraud-related offenses. If tips result in the successful recovery of stolen funds, whistle-blowers stand to receive a cut of up to 5%.

A recent dividend of the policy saw Nigeria’s anti-graft agency discover $43.4 million hidden in an empty apartment in Lagos’ upmarket Ikoyi neighborhood in April. Last week, a presidential aide claimed “about 20%” of Nigeria’s 2017 budget will be funded through recovered loot.

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Finally a perk economy passengers want: ‘Neighbor-free’ seating

Mon, 2017-06-26 10:39

One of the most annoying things a fellow airline passenger can do is sit down next to us. Now Etihad Airways is selling a solution.

Starting July 3, passengers will be able to bid on up to three “neighbor-free” seats when flying the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. Bids are collected at the time of booking and the airline will advise passengers whether they’ve made the winning offer roughly 30 hours before departure. It wasn’t immediately clear the price at which bidding will start.

Airlines already allow economy-class passengers to bid on first-class cabins. And while shelling out money for extra seats in coach may not seem like the savviest purchase, it’s still cheaper than other Etihad cabins. For $25,000 passengers on board the airline’s Airbus A380 can fly in a three-room apartment called the Residence. (Of course, with seating for 500, Airbus A380 passengers can also sometimes find themselves in an empty row free of charge.)

How will Etihad keep roaming passengers from claiming neighbor-free seats? According to CNN, they’ll have special headrests.

The new, post-Kalanick Uber needs to raise fares and focus on the taxi business, or it will fail

Mon, 2017-06-26 10:06

CEO Travis Kalanick’s departure from Uber is not a surprise to those who have been following this company for the last several years. In my book Raw Deal about what I call the “Uber Economy,” I predicted this would happen. With Kalanick gone, does Uber stand a better chance now of turning around its fortunes? Maybe.

To understand the obstacles to its survival, it is necessary to understand why Uber is failing. And it’s not just because of the recent slew of scandals. After all, the last six months was hardly the beginning of Uber’s pirate ways. Previously Kalanick had danced artfully, like a wide receiver skipping along the out of bounds line, around an ongoing “parade of horribles” that dogged the company from its inception. No, at the end of the day, Uber’s biggest problem has been financial—it is yet another Silicon Valley startup company that has failed to figure out a way to earn a profit.

The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that seven out of 10 startups fail, and Uber is on track to becoming one of them. While Uber has become popular as a taxi company for the digital age, and its valuation has gone through the roof to $70 billion—now greater than Ford, GM or Tesla—the company has been losing money at a rate that some tech analysts say is faster than any technology company ever. It lost nearly $3 billions in 2016 (and another billion or two in China), and it has already lost $700 million in the first quarter of 2017.

The core problem is that Travis Kalanick never figured out a way to introduce any new efficiencies into his business model that would allow this company to provide a taxi service in a more competitive, cost-effective way than regular taxi companies. Consequently, Uber has become stuck in a pattern of using its venture capital funding to subsidize at least 50% of every ride in order to cut fares and try to gain a monopoly position that can drive the competition out of business. In short, Uber is charging too little for each passenger ride. In the ultimate irony, the more customers use Uber, the greater into debt it goes.

But you can only subsidize rides for so long. At some point, the VC investors want a return on their money, or they turn off the spigot. Uber is dangerously standing at that precipice. More than anything, that’s what the recent revolt by key Uber board members who forced Kalanick’s ouster was about. Every startup company, including Uber’s ridesharing competitor Lyft which also has been losing money from subsidizing fares in order to compete with Uber, must one day face the laws of gravity. In this case that means the realities of the market which say that a company must turn a profit. Uber has never figured out how to do that.

Uber has also amplified its troubles with its blind pursuit of ideas like self-driving cars (and its latest laugh-out-loud venture, self-flying cars). Most experts, including those previously bullish on self-driving technology such as Economist magazine, have recognized that self driving vehicles are at least 20 years from fruition. They will not be appearing on our streets anytime soon, other than in more experiments. Kalanick himself has said that winning the race for self driving cars is an “existential issue” for his company, so he has gambled Uber’s survival on this outcome. That spells big trouble because, at the rate things are going, Uber will not be able to delete the cost of its drivers’ wages from its bottom line in time to save the company from bankruptcy.

Kalanick, in his bid to uphold his company’s reputation as a cutting edge technology company and keep the venture capital subsidies flowing, has also launched other foolhardy ventures such as attempts at global domination in places like India and China where Uber does not understand the culture. Uber is still trying to find solid footing in Europe, where the company is widely despised as an arrogant serial law breaker.

Uber’s only chance to survive at this point is to focus like a laser on making its taxi business work. Here’s my recommendation for the “new Uber” and its new leadership. Whoever replaces Kalanick should:

1) re-focus Uber on what it’s good at: being a US-based taxi business,

2) follow former Obama attorney general Eric Holder’s recommendations to root out the destructive bro culture,

3) parlay Uber’s popularity among its user base into an increase in its fares,

4) hit ‘reset’ on Uber’s relationship with its drivers, since it looks like it is stuck with them for a good while longer,

5) drop foolhardy futurist ideas like self-driving or self-flying vehicles that have no chance of succeeding in the near-future and are a waste of its resources and attention span

6) cooperate more with local officials to use the company’s tracking technology in an effort to reduce the horrible traffic congestion that is plaguing city after city. That would mean sharing data so its drivers can be tracked, and helping cities to use its technology to track traffic flows and create congestion zones like in London and Stockholm.

If Kalanick’s successor follows that blueprint, the company has a chance of surviving. If the new leadership does not, it will burn through its remaining $7 billion in startup capital within about three years, and then will go out of business. It will be another startup failure, but in this case a colossal collapse in Silicon Valley. If that happens, Uber’s legacy will be that of becoming the Enron of the transportation industry. I predicted this possibility in my book Raw Deal, and now it looks like it is much closer to coming to pass.

Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Nobody wants an electric guitar anymore

Mon, 2017-06-26 10:00

Rock and roll is dead. No, it isn’t! Or is it?

Fewer new rock albums are being made and sold these days than in decades past, with the genre slowly taking on the dreaded label of “the oldies” in the entertainment industry and listeners’ minds alike. And with rock music fading out of relevance, so, too, ends the reign of the electric guitar.

Electric guitar makers are seeing their sales steadily plummet. Leading guitar companies Fender and Gibson are both in debt; Fender was forced to abandon a public offering in 2012, and Gibson’s annual revenue fell from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion over just the last three years. Guitar Center, the largest chain of its kind, is $1.6 billion in the red.

Some fans blame the rise of the internet, streaming services, video games, and record labels’ pivot of interest to faster-paced genres like hip hop and electronic dance music. Others say it’s the frenetic speed of modern society that’s dulled the world’s appreciation for rock music. Bob Dylan blames race relations.

There is a harder-to-stomach answer: Rock music, without fresh faces who show enough potential to usurp or at least rival the greats, may simply be getting stale.

“What we need is guitar heroes,” George Gruhn, a 71-year-old Nashville guitar dealer who’s sold instruments to the likes of Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Neil Young, recently told the Washington Post (paywall). Gruhn and fellow guitar sellers reminisced about the glory days of their trade, when new tracks from Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles were constantly getting people to bolt to their nearest music store for guitars, amps, and pedals to outfit their own basements and garages. Paul McCartney himself also said to the Post:

The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after. So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there. Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently. They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.

Acoustic models began to outsell electric guitars in 2010, and that trend has only continued with every new soft-crooning Ed Sheeran- and John Mayer-like doppelgänger climbing the music charts. And even then, unplugged guitar music has to compete on the charts with the more synthetic sounds of pop and rap.

Guitar makers are sure not giving up without a fight. Fender, for instance, will launch a subscription-based teaching service next month aimed at hooking guitar beginners, and it is also busy designing elaborate new gear such as a line of updatable, Bluetooth-enabled amps. But without enough interest from young music fans—the likes of whom are more obsessed with Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber than Nirvana—the market for shiny new electric guitars may be limited to their parents, who have little reason outside of pure nostalgia to go out and buy them.

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