Syrian child refugees making clothes for British companies in Turkish sweatshops, BBC investigation found


Syrian children stand behind a fence at a refugee camp in the Kilis district of Gaziantep, Turkey (Credit: Getty/Ozan Kose)

Syrian child refugees are making clothes for British companies in Turkish sweatshops, according to an investigation by the BBC.

The refugees work in harsh conditions and often make just over $1.25 per hour, in violation of Turkish minimum wage laws.

“If anything happens to a Syrian, they will throw him away like a piece of cloth,” one refugee told reporters from the BBC program “Panorama.”

A 15-year-old refugee said he worked more than 12 hours a day ironing clothes, which were then shipped to the U.K.

Some of the refugees are exposed to hazardous chemicals that are sprayed to bleach the jeans, yet do not have face masks to protect them.

Middlemen reportedly employ the refugees and pay them in cash on the street.

The BBC reported that the clothing made by child refugees is going to the retail company Marks & Spencer and the online fashion dealer ASOS.

Adult refugees are also working in the sweatshops, making jeans for the companies Zara and Mango.

The BBC captured photos and video of the brands’ logos. These are featured in the new “Panorama” documentary “Undercover: The Refugees Who Make Our Clothes.”

The brands said they do not tolerate the exploitation of children in their supply chains. Marks & Spencer said it inspected and did not find any child refugees. Yet the BBC said it found seven Syrians working in one of the main factories supplying Marks & Spencer.

ASOS inspected and found 11 Syrian adults and three Syrian children under age 16 working on clothing in a factory it uses.

In a factory in Istanbul, the BBC’s Panorama found adult Syrian refugees working alongside Turkish children as young as 10.

The world is enduring the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Syria has been particularly hard hit: More than half of its population has been displaced in a five-year war — a conflict fueled by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Russia, Qatar and more.

Of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered with the U.N., 2.7 million are living in Turkey. Many do not have work permits and face grueling poverty.

The U.S. has only pledged to take 10,000 Syrian refugees out of the nearly 5 million, despite playing a large role in the war, spending many billions of dollars arming and training rebels. An investigation found that 63 percent of Americans think the U.S. government should do more to help refugees.

Refugees have often been subjected to extreme forms of exploitation. Traffickers have taken advantage of their desperation by even selling Syrian refugees’ organs for large sums of money.

A black market for refugees’ organs has long flourished in the Middle East. Lebanese smugglers told Der Spiegel in 2013 that because of the enormous refugee crisis there are “more sellers than buyers.”

Source: New feed

Dakota Access pipeline protests grow: 127 arrested over weekend in police crackdown

Attendees stand together during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California

Attendees stand together during a climate change rally in solidarity with protests of the pipeline in North Dakota at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, California October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon (Credit: Reuters)

Protests against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline continue to grow. At least 127 activists were arrested in demonstrations over the weekend, the largest group yet.

Police detained activists on an array of serious charges, including reckless endangerment, engaging in a riot, assault on a peace officer and resisting arrest, CNN reported.

For months, indigenous groups have led protests against the enormous, nearly 1,200-mile pipeline. If constructed, it would transfer roughly 470,000 barrels of crude oil per day across several states, from North Dakota to Illinois.

Indigenous leaders warn the oil pipeline could pollute their water and land. They call themselves not protesters, but “protectors.”

Environmental justice activists have also joined the demonstrations in solidarity, stressing that the massive oil pipeline would further fuel catastrophic climate change.

Local authorities in North Dakota, particularly the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, have harshly clamped down on the protests. Activists said authorities sprayed them with mace and violently threw them to the ground over the weekend.

Indigenous activists also said that, when they were asked to disperse, they tried to do so but were surrounded by police. Their group, which included elders and children, was then attacked. A young woman was hit with a police baton, they said.

On Sunday, self-described water protectors reclaimed unceded territory that they said was “affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land under the control of the Oceti Sakowin,” the indigenous name for the Sioux. This camp is on the proposed path of the Dakota Access pipeline.

Activists put up road blocks on a highway and county road on Sunday, closing them for several hours. The indigenous rights group Honor the Earth said in a statement that the blockades were set up to protect their “camp from overtly militarized law enforcement.”

Mekasi Camp-Horinek, an Oceti Sakowin camp coordinator, added in the statement: “We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped. We need bodies and we need people who are trained in non-violent direct action. We are still staying non-violent and we are still staying peaceful.”

Indigenous leaders stressed the environmental destruction the $3.8 billion oil pipeline could bring. “I’m also taking this action to protect the water and for the future generations in alliance with and an accomplice to the first people of this nation,” activist Michael Bowersox said in a statement. “I hope other people will step up to stop this pipeline from being built; we can’t be dependent on fossil fuels if we expect the children seven generations from now to have a healthy earth, environment, and clean water to drink.”

At past protests, private security forces hired by the pipeline company have used mace and even attack dogs to intimidate peaceful protesters. One of the dogs seen in video footage captured by the independent news outlet Democracy Now had blood in its teeth and mouth.

Over the weekend, authorities also shot down a camera drone activists were using in order to document police brutality. Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier claimed the drone was “threatening” and said it violated Federal Aviation Administration rules. Police continued to use a helicopter to surveil the activists.

In an interview with NBC on Sunday night, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe called on the Department of Justice to intervene.

“The DOJ should be enlisted and expected to investigate the overwhelming reports and videos demonstrating clear strong-arm tactics, abuses and unlawful arrests by law enforcement,” tribe chairman Dave Archambault II said.

Archambault emphasized that the “intimidation by militarized police in riot gear and unlawful arrests” violated activists’ First Amendment rights.

“Police are also routinely strip-searching protesters, even when they have only been charged with a misdemeanor offense. Like days of old, this is a thinly veiled attempt to dehumanize and degrade Native people,” he said, CNN reported.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota has previously told Salon that the harsh police crackdown could violate First Amendment rights.

“It seems that there is a specific intent by the state of North Dakota and the Morton County sheriff’s office to identify journalists or others that are bringing light to the police response and the state response to the protests, which we, the ACLU, would consider heavy-handed and highly militarized,” Jennifer Cook, policy director for the group, said.

“It is absolutely concerning that private security would use such excessive force against protesters that are nonviolent,” Cook added, noting that accusations of trespassing does not justify “using attack dogs and pepper spray against individuals that are expressing their dismay with the activities that are ongoing.”

Amnesty International has also criticized authorities for repressing peaceful protesters. The organization sent human rights observers to monitor the police crackdown on the protests.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe filed a lawsuit in July arguing that the Army Corps of Engineers did not follow proper procedures when authorizing the Texas-based fossil fuel company Energy Transfer Partners to build the pipeline. In September, a federal judge ruled in favor of the pipeline.

Immediately after the judge’s decision, nevertheless, the Department of Justice, Army and the Department of the Interior made a surprising call for a temporary delay in pipeline construction on lands within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, which traverses the border of North and South Dakota.

Hundreds of activists from around the country have joined indigenous groups in solidarity demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline, including those from Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian solidarity movement.

Actress Shailene Woodley has been particularly outspoken in support of the protests. She was arrested among a group of 20 activists on Oct. 10.

Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, the presidential and vice presidential nominees for the Green Party, have also faced misdemeanor charges for participating in protests against the pipeline. Award-winning journalist Amy Goodman faced potential felony riot charges as well, although they were dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier, whose office has overseen the clampdown, condemned the protests. He claimed they were “intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

LaDonna Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribal member who founded what they call the Sacred Stone Camp, stressed in a statement that indigenous cultural and historic sites are being threatened with destruction by the pipeline.

She said authorities are breaking the law and violating the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s Executive Order No. 13007, on Indian sacred sites. She also argued that the Dakota Access pipeline violates the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Allard told the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office, “Just because you accepted the money from the oil company does not mean you have the right to violate our rights.”

Source: New feed

Yes, feminists can laugh at themselves: “But don’t be lazy with your rape joke”

How to Win at Feminism

Cover detail of “How to Win at Feminism” (Credit: HarperOne)

The satirical women’s magazine Reductress emerged online in 2013, and since then has been at the forefront of smart feminist comedy. Sharp, hilarious and easily sharable, Reductress garnered a huge audience of millennial women eager to pour through articles with titles like “Woman Announces Completion of her PhD Thesis with “So I Wrote a Thing…” and “How To Make Sure He Isn’t Just Into You for Your Nuanced Takes on Current Events”

Salon had the opportunity to speak with Reductress founders Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo on their forthcoming book, “How to Win at Feminism: The Definitive Guide to Having It All — And Then Some!,” and the translation of their distinctive brand of online humor to a more traditional book format, as well as the serious, and seriously funny, matter of inspiring woman to embrace women’s rights, while pushing back against commodification.

I thought I’d start by asking about where your idea to write a full-length book came from. Is this something you’ve always thought about doing? Or an idea that came up after you’d been writing for the site for a while?

Beth Newell: We’d thought about doing a book for a while but the idea for a book about feminism specifically didn’t come until a year or two in.

‪Sarah Pappalardo: There was a point when mainstream women’s media “discovered” feminism and were interested in the way they were bringing it into the conversation sometimes in a good way, sometimes not as good.

‪Newell: And we’ve always kind of been obsessed with media that’s meant to “empower” women by selling them things. And that’s kind of where pop culture went with feminism.

It’s interesting because that mainstreaming of feminism is seen by some as a real mark of progress, but it sounds like you see it as a little more complicated than that.

Pappalardo: It definitely is progress! But with anything progressive that hits the mainstream, there is a lot that can get watered down along the way.

Newell: We are happy feminism is going mainstream. We just don’t always love the way it’s done.

‪‪Pappalardo: And commodified. When it’s packaged in order to sell things or in such a reductive way that only serves women who are relatively privileged, it waters down the message and the aims of even the most fundamental idea of feminism. This is why we addressed “white feminism” in the book, the idea that there is a certain brand of feminism that only serves white women or women with a degree of economic privilege. What advertisers might call [cynically] a “lucrative target demographic.”

It sounds like you’ve noticed a shift in how feminism has been commodified since the start of Reductress. Has this been a gradual trend? Or do you think there was a specific trigger that led to this idea that feminism, and especially white feminism, could be a way to sell things?

Newell: It’s hard to point to one thing. Maybe as we recycle everything from the ’90s, girl power got dusted off and rebranded for the youth. Social media has done a lot for letting different groups express themselves in a good way, so conversations like #yesallwomen have had a chance to catch on.

‪Pappalardo: And a few celebrities sort of warmed up to the term more in the past couple of years: We’re looking at you,Tay Tay.

One of the things I love about Reductress is the way it satirizes sexism, as well as elements of the mainstream feminist movement.

‪Pappalardo: Yes! We have a lot of fun with that on the site.

Do you feel like it’s ever risky to point out places where feminism might not be successful or where the commodification is sending mixed messages?

‪Newell: If it’s done in the right way, I think most people get it. The hard thing with anything that’s meant for women is that any movement starts setting up new standards for us to live up to, in addition to all the other existing reasons we are made to feel inadequate. So when we make jokes about how impossible that is, I think people relate.

I was thinking about Portlandia’s feminist bookstore skits in preparation for our conversation today. They always cracked me up, but it seems as though there were some real tensions about who was actually the butt of the jokes. What are your thoughts on this idea about “punching up” rather than “punching down” ‪and how can comedians satirize effectively?

Newell: As feminists, we like to laugh at ourselves sometimes. It’s not that certain topics should be off-limits; it’s that when you talk about certain things, you better have a decent point to make and you better make that point clear.

Pappalardo: Yeah, and it helps to have been part of the thing you are tackling. You have to love the thing in order to poke fun at it.

‪Newell: If you want to be lazy with your poop joke, fine, but don’t be lazy with your rape joke.

Pappalardo: You can feel when there’s a lot of distance between the subject and their target. It feels hurtful. With some comedy, you have to think of it like an homage to the thing.

‪Newell: And you have to know your audience.

Were there any sections of “How to Win at Feminism” where you felt you had to do outside research or go outside your wheelhouse in order to effectively joke about it?

Pappalardo: We didn’t have to do a ton of research, mostly just a bit of fact-checking on a few things that we haven’t read since college. These were topics we were very familiar with, right down to the breast pumps.

You brought up ’90s “girl power” at the start of our conversation. Do you feel like feminism has changed from that era? Or that a lot of today’s discussion feels like a throwback? I know for a lot of my students, they feel that feminism literally began with Beyoncé.

Pappalardo: That iconic moment, where she had the “FEMINIST” sign behind her, was a huge turning point for sure.

‪Newell: I think it has changed a lot since the ’90s. The women of that era were trying to get their foot in the door in a lot of fields, and now we’re commenting on what it’s like to be one of two women in the room.‪ We’ve made strides, but now there are new challenges to deal with. And not everyone’s made strides obviously.

Tell me a little about what it means to collaborate on a project like this. Do the three of you [including Anna Drezen] each bring different things to the table? Do you have to negotiate a lot?

‪Pappalardo: The way we wrote the book was kind of like a larger-scale version of how we put together content for the site. What we typically did was agree on the headline, the chapter title first, someone would then write that up, then we’d each punch it up from there.

Newell: And I bring the mom vibes hard.

Were there differences in writing for the site and the book?

Newell: Yeah, knowing this will live on in print for a while and hopefully stay relevant influenced what we’d write about and how we’d write it.

Could you tell me a little more about that? I always think of things online as “living forever.” Is that not true? Does this feel like it will live on in a more permanent way?

Pappalardo: We hope so. We tried to tackle as many major issues of feminism happening right now that hopefully, when someone pulls it out of a time capsule in 2050, will make women say, “THIS is the shit they had to deal with in 2016?”

Newell: Well part of the challenge is that we wrote this a year ago, so we couldn’t be like “Taylor Swift is dating [blank].”

Pappalardo: And we wanted to make sure we tackled all angles of a topic, like women at work, in a way that we probably wouldn’t do on the site. Our pieces on the site have to stand alone and be strong ideas on their own, but we were thinking about how these chapters all tied together in a narrative.

As a side note, I love the art!

‪Newell: Thanks. The illustrations are mostly Steve Dressler and Carly Monardo.

‪Pappalardo: A bit from Tom Pappalardo, too.

Who do you see as your primary audience? Millennial women? Reductress followers?

‪Pappalardo: Perhaps they are one in the same! Definitely millennial women and a few woke men. Maybe a Gen X mom or two.

‪Newell: It would be nice to find out younger millennials picked up a copy and got an intro to feminism from this — the same way I might’ve gotten into politics through Jon Stewart or The Onion.

I’ll confess, I was constantly wanting to click “share” or “tweet” at different moments when reading!

Pappalardo: That’s what we forgot! Should have put a giant “like” button on every page.

Who are your biggest feminist inspirations? 

‪Pappalardo: I love Lindy West and Roxane Gay.

‪Newell: Anyone who stays composed after they’ve been trolled on the internet.

Have either of you personally faced harassment [since] starting Reductress?

Pappalardo: Not a ton . . . but Reductress as an entity has seen its fair share of Twitter trolls.

‪Newell: Mostly around the rape culture home page takeover we did.

Pappalardo: There are some trolls that seem to treat Reductress as some kind of insolent woman they want to talk down to. And it’s, like, you know, this is a faceless digital brand, right guys? She’s not going to cry over this. She is an LLC.

I’ve noticed that from articles I’ve written, too. Why do you think there is so much vitriol? 

‪Pappalardo: I think there are some men out there that need a female target for their rage because they can’t do it in real life without facing real repercussions.

‪Newell: A lot of people have a really twisted idea of the meaning of feminism. And a lot of people are just babies.

Pappalardo: Like, you know how The Onion will do “Local Man does X?” If we do “Woman Does Y,” to some men, they seem to take it as “SEE, ALL WOMEN SUCK! THIS WOMAN IS THE WORST” as if we wrote a headline to specifically shit on women. Where if The Onion did that about the man, they’d just laugh and take it as a joke about “everyone!” And it’s, like, oh, why is it when a woman is the subject, this fictional person suddenly represents all of womankind?

You must be very proud of the work you do at Reductress, which has really come alive during a time when we have a renaissance of feminist comedy.

‪Pappalardo: We are! Sometimes we have our heads down in the work too much to think, but we are proud. We always say whatever Oprah has done in women’s media, we want to do in women’s media satire.

Newell: Yeah, I think that again is the beauty of social media. Anything can find its audience. So we no longer need white male approval to laugh about being women.

Pappalardo: Although some white men do approve of us.

Are there any last points that you wanted to make about your book? Your process? Feminism in general?

‪Newell: We actually love capitalism and I take back everything I said earlier. Buy our book!

Pappalardo: All profits will go toward women giving themselves a big hug.

Source: New feed

Americans think their own families are great but like judging other people’s, a new report suggests


(Credit: Getty/Geber86)

Americans think their families are doing pretty well, but they think other people are screwing things up. That’s a major takeaway from this year’s American Family Survey, an annual nationwide poll created by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy to track trends in people’s family lives and attitudes about relationships and families.

As was the case with last year’s survey, researchers found that while most people think their marriages and families are stable or even getting stronger, when asked about other people, they think those fools are falling apart.

Graph from the American Family Survey 2016

Graph from the American Family Survey 2016

Researchers found a similar discrepancy when respondents were asked about their families. A whopping 87 percent of respondents felt their families were stable or getting stronger but 34 percent of those surveyed felt that other people’s families were weakening.

Americans “feel good about their marriages and families, for the most part,” Christopher Karpowitz, the co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, explained in a phone interview. “It’s the disparity between how they feel about their own relationships and families and how they see everyone else’s relationships and families that’s interesting.”

“It just points to the way people can be quite judgmental about a number of things,” agreed Jeremy Pope, the center’s other co-director. 

Pope pointed out another question in the survey had asked respondents about what they think are the most important issues facing Americans today. Even though researchers found that 4 in 10 of the Americans in the study have faced serious economic challenges in the past year, respondents were still more likely to rate poor discipline for children as a more serious problem for families than economic problems.

Table from the American Family Survey 2016

Table from the American Family Survey 2016

What they mean by that is that other people are not disciplining their children,” Pope cracked. 

But while this widespread tendency to judge others may be amusing, there are serious reasons to care about this disparity between how people are feeling about their own lives and how they feel about others’. The blunt truth, as this survey shows, is that American practices around marriage and childbearing are changing dramatically, and this lack of empathy and swiftness to judge is getting in the way of helping people understand the changes and adapt to them

The most headline-worthy change the researchers found was about the timing of marriage and childbearing.

“Over 90 percent of parents over age 65 were married when they first had children, but only 30 percent of those younger than 30 were married when their first child was born,” the researchers wrote. “In addition, younger people tend to have different attitudes about the meaning and value of marriage. Though they do not oppose the idea of marriage, they are more likely than their older counterparts to believe that personal commitment to a partner is more important than the legal fact of marriage.”

Karpowitz and Pope hastened to note that there’s not a lot of information out there about what this shift means for Americans and getting a handle on the impact of this shift will require more research. But the ugly fact of the matter is that, for years now, Republicans have been arguing that non-marital childbearing is the cause of every social problem you can imagine, from poverty to gun violence.

Republicans have grown increasingly attached to the notion that marriage is a cure-all for all that ails you. In June, House Speaker Paul Ryan and a Republican-led task force on poverty released a report called “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” that purported to offer a superior alternative to the social safety net. Rather than receiving food, shelter and health care, Ryan argued that lower-income people need to keep their knickers on and get married as quickly as they can.

The report observed:

Marriage is one component of what has been called the “success sequence”: three key achievements that are associated with low poverty rates. People who graduate high school, work full-time, and delay having children until they are married are much less likely to live in poverty. Only 2 percent of people who do these three things are in poverty, compared to almost 80 percent of people who have done none of them. Unfortunately, our current welfare system may be exacerbating this problem, as many means-tested welfare programs penalize marriage — because when low-income fathers and mothers marry, their combined income from welfare and wages will almost certainly be lower than the amount they had separately.

This sort of rhetoric has a clear electoral appeal because it justifies cutting spending and appeals to the older Republican demographic. As the American Family Survey has found, older Americans are more likely than younger Americans to think there’s something wrong with having children outside of marriage. But this overly simplistic attitude about marriage is not justified by the evidence.

The American Family Survey did find that married people were less likely to have had an economic crisis in the past year than people in a relationship or cohabiting. As Pope explained, however, “You should not attribute much causality to anything in the study because causality in the area of family life is extremely difficult to measure.” 

Pope also pointed out that the differences between different groups were not as significant as conservative rhetoric might lead you to believe, as shown by this chart.

Chart from the American Family Survey 2016

Chart from the American Family Survey 2016

There’s probably a bit of the chicken-and-egg dynamic when it comes to the relationship between marriage and financial stability. Marriage may make people more stable, but people might wait until they’re financially stable to get married.

“Young people have a sense that they should wait until they’re more financially stable,” Karpowitz said. “Older generations didn’t necessarily do that. They were more willing to jump right in.”

He noted that this tendency to wait might also explain why people in their 20s who have children are so much less likely to be married than in previous generations.

“The ages at which people are getting married are increasing,” he explained. “It’s possible that there’s a group of people out there who have not had children and are waiting to get married to have children.”

In other words, if you do have a kid in your 20s, you are more likely to not be married. But it’s also quite possible that more people are putting off childbearing until their 30s, after they have established themselves in a career and married.

One thing’s certain is that younger generations are not shunning marriage, as conservative rhetoric often implies.

The millennial generation cares a lot about having strong relationships and they don’t feel marriage is out-of-date or old-fashioned necessarily,” Karpowitz explained. “In fact, young people and liberal respondents to our survey are the most optimistic about the health of marriages and families more generally in the United States, relative to conservatives.”

It’s possible that this great respect for marriage is why people are marrying later in life, even if that sometimes means having kids before they make the leap. Young people take marriage seriously and want to make it work. Taking your time and making sure you have the right person and right financial setup make it likelier that your marriage will be a strong one.

“Though an important goal of this report has been to describe the objective public opinion about family and family policy,” the report concluded, “we do believe that American families of all types would be normatively better off if they understood one another better.”

Source: New feed

On Halloween, nothing is sacred: A field guide to the election year’s hottest costumes

Ken Bone Costume

(Credit: montage by Salon)

It was October of 1993. My boyfriend and I were on a downtown A train in New York, returning home from a party. He wore boxer shorts splattered with blood. I believe I had on lingerie, carried a knife and held a severed piece of male genitalia. Some young African-American men, spotting us, looked concerned. They approached, with one of them saying, “Oh, bro. We gotta get you to a hospital!” They thought he was truly injured.

Their kindness didn’t go unnoticed, but the only emergency was our lost sense of propriety. We were wearing John and Lorena Bobbitt costumes. It was Halloween night, the one evening in America where year upon year, nothing is sacred or too inappropriate.

Halloween, a holiday with pagan origins, invites all sorts of mischief. The year I dressed up as Mrs. Bobbitt, the story of husband John Bobbitt and his wife Lorena — who had not taken kindly to his philandering and had hacked off his penis with a knife, some will recall — was big news, played for broad late-night laughs before becoming a cautionary tale about domestic violence. It was also a different era, pre-9/11, when you could actually board a New York subway train with an unconcealed steak knife.

Annually, Americans take cues from current and recent events to inform their costume choices. Besides the traditional scary and cute costumes, there will always be a Bobbitt or three, inspired by the biggest news stories. This year expect to see Bill Cosby again, dragging a drugged women; dead gorilla Harambes holding babies; sexy Hamiltons, sexy Hillary Clintons, and now “Sexy Undecided Voter,” also known as Sexy Ken Bone. You might also see Baby Donald Trump, a costume Spirit Halloween is advertising.

Sometimes, manufacturers try to go with the times and it falls flat. Last year, listed a Dr. Walter Palmer costume for $59.99, complete with the head of Cecil the Lion, spattered blood, and dental instruments. Not one sold, according to TMZ. More recently, Costumish pulled this year’s Kim Kardashian gagged-and-bound robbery costume after public outcry.

There are also those costumes that are downright dangerous and demented, which can cause legitimate fear and anger because they exploit terrorism or violent events from the news. Masks of any violent nature, along with weapons (naturally), are banned from my daughter’s school Halloween parade. Now that people in clown costumes are running around engaging in mischief or worse apart from on Halloween, some communities are on edge and might not distinguish between harmless fun and fearmongering.

Every year, there’s a new round of the usual tastelessness, too, often in the form of culturally insensitive costumes. Remember back in 2007, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secretary Julie Myers was trashed for giving a “best costume” award at the ICE Halloween party to an “escaped Jamaican prisoner” who wore dreadlocks and appeared in blackface? No words for that one.

Why do so many people go to extremes on Halloween? Because it’s the one night a year you can be anyone you want, even if it’s inappropriate. At least, no one will fault you for wearing underwear on the subway. (Blackface costumes are another story.) For as long as Halloween has been celebrated, it has given people the excuse to don something they could never wear or to be someone they normally couldn’t be without judgment.

Halloween also swings with the times: In election years, political costumes are the rage. They are on trend, and large retailers like Spirit Halloween, the biggest seller of Halloween costumes in the United States, stock many more of those garish, sneering rubber Trump and Clinton masks than others. In the ’70s, it was “Dead Presidents”-style Nixon masks.

The ’80s twice over saw thousands of Reagans on Halloween, and in ’92 there were more Bill Clintons than you could shake a stick at. This year we might revisit Bill Clinton, along with the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct in the past, who are back in the spotlight after meeting with Donald Trump before the second presidential debate.

In 2013, Walmart and other retailers were selling a demented-looking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford rubber mask, made to resemble his face high on crack. The mask is like a train wreck; you can’t look away. The Huffington Post reported in August 2014 that Ford masks were outselling those of Sarah Palin and President Barack Obama. Two years later, they are having a renaissance, likely because Ford recently died, making the costume even more tasteless.

Looking for some creative ideas outside of the usual Hillarys and Donalds? The Washington Post came up with an exhaustive list, some of which are downright genius. My favorite? A “basket of deplorables.”

Sometimes, a mask is just a mask. Other times, it’s an exaggerated way to express our political opinions. Hate Hillary? Wear a costume that demeans her. Tired of Trump? Wear him, like Melania Trump look-alike British journalist Jemima Khan recently did at an event, when she showed up wearing a Trump doll over her shoulder that groped her. Kirk also carried a Trump-Pence sign that reminded people to vote on Nov. 28, a dig at Donald Trump’s misidentification of Election Day.

Will you wear your opinions this year on Halloween?

Source: New feed

How to pave the way for more women engineers

Close up of a female university student holding books and a lapt

Close up of a female university student holding books and a laptop
[url=][img][/img][/url] (Credit: Eric Hood)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As millions of students of all ages return to school this fall, they are making important choices that have a strong influence on their eventual career path – which college majors to pursue, which high school classes to take, even which elementary school extracurricular activities to join. Many of them – especially women, girls and members of minority groups – make choices that lead them away from professions in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Women are just 13 percent of mechanical engineering undergraduate students. And women earn only 14.2 percent of doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering. More broadly, women make up 49 percent of the college-educated workforce, but only 14 percent of practicing engineers nationwide.

When these disparities persist, everyone suffers. Women miss out on opportunities in growing and highly paid occupations that require science and engineering skills. Furthermore, diverse design teams are more innovative and often avoid key flaws when designing products and systems with which we interact on a daily basis. Early airbags designed by primarily male design teams worked for adult male bodies, but resulted in avoidable deaths of female and child passengers. Early voice recognition systems failed to recognize female voices because they were calibrated for standard male voices.

How can we get more women into engineering fields, and help them stay for their whole careers? We need their insight and creativity to help solve the problems facing our world.

Options for action

Experts tell us that there are a variety of things that will help. For example, we need to encourage young girls to develop their spatial skills, laying the foundation for further scientific exploration as they grow.

We also need to find ways to help women feel less alone as they help us build a more inclusive engineering community. This includes hosting female-focused engineering interest groups on campuses and in workplaces, and highlighting engineering role models who reflect the true diversity of our population.

All of these things are important, but one of the simplest and most effective things we can do differently is something as simple as richer storytelling. Most people have a very limited understanding of what engineers do – and we engineers don’t do a good job of expanding that view.

We need more women engineering graduates like these.
Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, CC BY-ND

In my mechanical engineering department, we have used the power of richer storytelling to strengthen our outreach and recruitment efforts, and it is working. Since 2013, we have raised the proportion of women in our undergraduate mechanical engineering program from 17 percent to more than 22 percent – nearly double the national average – representing an increase of almost 70 women in a large undergraduate program.

The importance of a story

In a very famous TED talk, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie explains how our lives are a beautiful tapestry of overlapping stories. She warns of the danger of summarizing any one person or any one group of people in a single story.

In her case, when Westerners learn she is African, they automatically call to mind the one-dimensional story propagated in the Western media of warring African ethnic groups with children living and dying in abject poverty. That conflicts starkly with her identity as a talented writer who emerged from a comfortable middle-class childhood in Nigeria. She doesn’t fit the stereotype that many people envision. Single stories, she warns, often result in crucial misunderstandings. Richer stories are needed to capture the true essence of any group of people.

But engineers propagate a single story of ourselves all the time. Engineers solve problems using math and science. That’s our single story. But many young people, women and men alike, hear that story and can’t relate to it. They may be quite skilled in math and science, and they may enjoy solving problems, but they want to do much more than that.

They want to be creative and collaborative. They want to design systems that make people healthier and safer and preserve the environment and make the world a better place. What they don’t hear is that engineers do all of these things. Engineers design everything – absolutely everything – in our built environment. Engineers are much more than a single story.

What do engineers do?

In a highly influential publication called Changing the Conversation, the National Academy of Engineering found that most K-12 teachers and students (and their parents) have a very limited understanding of engineering and what engineers do. They tell students that the prerequisite for success is a strong aptitude for math and science, which is reinforced by engineering outreach programs that emphasize almost exclusively the importance of math and science and focus on building interest in those subjects.

Rather than focusing exclusively on that single story, the National Academy recommends focusing on how engineers make an impact on the world and the need for creativity, communication and teamwork in the engineering profession. It’s a much more multifaceted story.

In my mechanical engineering department alone, we have no shortage of rich stories to tell. Our mechanical engineers are designing prosthetics that empower amputees to walk and run again, robots that rehabilitate stroke victims, batteries that power all of our portable devices and new materials that could protect our athletes from damaging hits. We develop techniques to perform minimally invasive surgery with ultrafast lasers, and we study the intensive demands of the energy industry on limited water resources.

Finding students

Simply telling the right stories is not effective, however, unless the right audiences are listening. Over the past few years, in collaboration with our Women in Engineering Program, we have engaged in a focused effort to connect with the K-12 community across Texas.

Engineering is much more than just math.
Cockrell School of Engineering, University of Texas at Austin, CC BY-ND

Prospective engineering undergraduate students attend open houses across the state with young alumni, current students and faculty. Young alumni visit school district college days. Current students call prospective students and host them when they visit the campus. Study abroad programs are geared especially for engineering students.

In response to requests from incoming students, especially female students, we also developed a new first-year research program in which incoming students participate in engineering projects during their very first semester on campus – such as designing a customized prosthetic device for an accident victim. They see firsthand how their efforts affect the lives of real people and expand our knowledge of how to create next-generation designs.

These efforts, together with richer storytelling about our profession, have contributed immensely to our diversity gains over the past few years.

Keeping women involved

An important aspect of our improved statistics is not just recruiting but retention. More than 80 first-year mechanical engineering students (more than half of whom are female) have participated in the first-year research program over the past three years. Our most recent surveys indicate that half of the inaugural class continued to participate in undergraduate research after the program ended.

Other retention efforts supported by our Women in Engineering Program include women’s groups in specific engineering departments and research projects for second-year students, as well as the first-years. More than 95 percent of incoming female mechanical engineering students in the fall of 2014 continued to study mechanical engineering in the fall of 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.

We also need to revisit our curriculum frequently to remove as many barriers to student progress as possible. For example, experts tell us that these early classes need to incorporate as many real-life and everyday engineering examples as possible to continue to encourage students to stick with challenging introductory classes as they work toward broader and more compelling engineering lessons.

Engineering is not the only profession that benefits from a nuanced story. The value of a medical degree is as much about saved lives and improved health as about the organic chemistry class along the way. The value of an education degree is as much about the young lives transformed by excellent teaching as the impossibly difficult history class along the way. And the value of an engineering degree is as much about empowering a young engineer to make our engineered world a better place as the calculus class that kept her up late every night.

We need to support and encourage students to build the math, science and engineering skills they need to be successful engineers, but we also need to help them develop a broader understanding of those skills as tools for building a better engineered world. When we begin to tell multifaceted stories like these, then we find that a much larger and more diverse set of students identify themselves as engineers.

The Conversation

Carolyn Conner Seepersad, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin

Source: New feed

Purity culture slut-shame blues: Everything I know about sex I learned from Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan 1966

(Credit: Getty)

I was 10 years old when I sat through my first abstinence series at church. My parents had discussed its age-appropriateness, but had decided that my relative youth was a good thing. It meant my first introduction to sex would come within the safe, godly confines of our church. So I sat in the church sanctuary dutifully every week as various pastors took turns stressing the dangers of things like necking. I didn’t have any idea what necking was, but I made a mental note to avoid it.

Those first lessons in abstinence were downright confusing. I wondered why the French apparently kissed differently than Americans, and why their methods would be so much more provocative and potentially sin-inducing. To a 10-year-old, or at least to a 10-year-old who hadn’t even been allowed to watch kissing scenes in movies, kissing just seemed like slamming your face against someone else’s mouth; I couldn’t imagine there was a whole lot of technique involved.

Once I hit middle school, as others preteens were taking sex ed, beginning to learn about their developing bodies and eventually how to stick a condom on a banana, my mother assigned me to read books with titles like “The Bride Wore White,” “Passion and Purity” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” My home school sex ed curriculum sounded like one of the D.A.R.E. commercials I’d seen while watching Saturday morning cartoons: Just say no.

Even masturbation could lead to your virginity (AKA your worth as a person) being devalued. So when I was much older than I care to admit, I asked my mother: “How do women even have orgasms? How is that possible? What’s happening?” and “Why do people move around so much when they have sex? Can people have sex without all that moving?” Her reply: “You’ll find out when you’re married.” Even learning about my own anatomy was off limits, apparently, until I’d signed my name on a marriage license.

Meanwhile in church, my youth pastor, after pulling a slimy pink glob of bubble gum out of his mouth, asked: “Does anyone want this piece of gum?” The teens all gagged. “That’s what it’s like to marry someone who has already had sex,” he warned.

Other classy youth group metaphors involved comparing teens who’d already cashed in their V-cards to soiled snow, a licked candy bar, a white sheet dropped in mud, duct tape that could no longer stick, and a glass of water a bunch of boys had spit in that no one in their right mind would drink. Eventually, I would learn to recognize this kind of talk as slut-shaming, but at that point I just called it “God’s design for sex.”

Sex outside of marriage was dirty, depraved and sinful. Words like “perversion” were applied to sex out of wedlock. But what was worst of all was the attitude that if you went to bed before you were legally wed you’d become dirty, unwanted, a disgrace. As my youth pastor and the purity books my mother gave me liked to say, “There’s nothing more valuable than a girl’s virginity.” Sex was a dangerous force; it had the life-ruining power to snatch your very worth as a person right out from under your nose.

The message was clear: No Nice Christian Boy would want to marry a girl who had already done the nasty.

Throughout high school I wore a purity ring my mother had bought for me at the local Christian bookstore. I did this partly out of a desire to fit in (everyone else at youth group was doing it) and partly with the hopes that it might scare away any ill-intended men. Losing my virginity was one of my biggest fears, so I wanted to keep anyone who might pose a threat to it at bay.

However, once I graduated from high school all the silver band reading “True love waits” really did was bring up my lack of a sex life in awkward settings with strangers. “Are you married?” a guy would ask. Or, “What does your ring say?” I felt like with that neon I’ve-Never-Had-Sex sign strapped to my hand I was announcing that I was really just a child.

“I’ve decided not to wear my purity ring anymore,” I told my mother one day when I was 18. I’d gone swing dancing and in the course of one night had had two guys ask what my ring said, and I’d had enough. I didn’t want to talk about my lack of a sex life anymore. I didn’t want it on display. I took my ring off and shoved it in a box in my closet.

Mom tried to talk me out of it. “Maybe you could get a different ring if you don’t like that one anymore,” she’d suggested. She was worried. Maybe she feared this marked the beginning of a change. But taking off my purity ring wasn’t the beginning of my sexual revolution.

That started with Bob Dylan.

The same year I took off my purity ring I discovered Jack Johnson. But the fact that I’d mostly traded in my Christian praise-pop for “secular music” was no sign that I was now the wild tart I’d been warned against becoming. I mean, I still deleted all of the more blatantly sex-themed songs by Johnson so that they wouldn’t even accidentally show up if I was listening to my music on shuffle.

Jack Johnson was a gateway. I began to investigate more singer-songwriters, working backwards through music history until finally, luckily, I found my way to Bob Dylan. “Lay, Lady Lay” was one of his first Dylan songs I heard, and the sensuality of the song was far from subtle: “Lay, lady lay / lay across my big brass bed.” But I didn’t delete this one. Instead, I hit repeat.

In church and at home, sex outside of marriage had always been chalked up to rampant hormones, a lack of self-control, and lust. “Don’t be friends with non-Christian boys,” my youth pastor had once informed the girls at church. “All they want out of you is sex.” Unless a guy offered a ring and his last name, his desire for you was deplorable. But even if marriage was part of the package, sex wasn’t seen as all that important. “People put too much emphasis on attraction. Just don’t marry anyone who makes you go ‘ew,’” had been my mother’s advice.

One line in particular from “Lay, Lady Lay” I wanted to hear again and again, until it began to echo in my brain: “I long to see you in the morning light / I long to reach for you in the night.” It took my breath away. I’d always imagined a guy expressing his desire to sleep with me sounding more like: “Hey, baby, I want in your pants,” like random strangers rolling down their car windows to call me a bitch or a whore and yell that they wanted to fuck me as I walked down the sidewalk.

But Dylan inviting a woman to come lie down next to him so that he could see her in the morning light wasn’t harassment and it wasn’t crass; it was art.

To my surprise, I realized that if a significant other ever said something similar, I’d be flattered.

I privately continued to listen to Dylan in college, keeping my ear buds in to prevent my mother from hearing. I created a special playlist called “sexy songs.” It was the first time in my life I’d written the word “sexy” and meant it positively.

Every time I listened to “I’ll be Your Baby Tonight” I’d close my eyes, imagining the scene and taking in every word.

Close your eyes, close the door
You don’t have to worry anymore
I’ll be your baby tonight
Shut your eyes, shut the shade
You don’t have to be afraid
I’ll be your baby tonight

One by one Dylan’s songs taught me about sex. While he might not have given me IKEA-style instructions, complete with stick figure illustrations regarding the mechanics of sex or how to properly use a condom or when to apply lube, Dylan taught me the thing I needed to know more than anything else about sex. He showed me sex was something I’d never known it could be before: beautiful.

In “Tangled Up in Blue,” Dylan sings about how a woman opened up a book of poems “And handed it to me / Written by an Italian poet / From the thirteenth century / And every one of them words rang true / And glowed like burnin’ coal / Pourin’ off of every page / Like it was written in my soul.” Every time I replayed my scandalous, secret playlist I felt like every word Dylan sang was being written in my soul, healing the broken parts of me and slowly eroding the negative, shaming things that I’d internalized about my sexuality.

I was 23 when I finally got the chance to see Dylan perform live at Seattle’s Bumbershoot music festival. It was originally going to be a date, but my mother had invited herself along because as she’d put it, “Seeing Dylan is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” And I hadn’t had the heart to deprive her of such an opportunity by pushing back.

At one point during the show I leaned against my boyfriend Ian and he slid his arm around my waist, pulling me in closer as we watched what looked like a miniature Bob Dylan performing up on stage. In response, my mother stood up dramatically to go watch the show from somewhere else. She was clearly angry — the dagger eyes were a dead giveaway — and the next day she locked herself in her bedroom for hours to sob about how her daughter had gone astray. “I don’t even want to think about what you’re doing when I’m not around!”

Seeing Dylan live was one of the most romantic moments of my life. After my mother stormed off, Ian wrapped his other arm around me and we swayed together among a sea of humanity and the glare of stage lights. The guy I’d fallen in love with was holding me close as I sang along with every word of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Eventually Ian would tell me in his own way that he longed to see me in the morning light, to reach for me in the night. And eventually he would. Dylan may have won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for having created new poetic expressions,” but I would give it to him for showing me the beauty in one of the oldest poetic expressions of all.

Source: New feed

Futuresex and the single girl: Will sextech help or hurt your love life?

Surprised man looking at his phone

(Credit: Getty/grinvalds)

There’s been a giant surge of interest lately in sex-focused technology, appropriately dubbed “sextech.” Virtual reality porn is officially buzzworthy, overtly sex-focused dating apps are ubiquitous, and Londoners can expect a new sex robot cafe soon. But another side of sextech — one that caters to real-life human sex and feminine pleasure — was the focus of a recent panel held at the New York co-working space, Knotel, recently. A mostly-female audience of approximately 75 people squeezed into a meeting room at Knotel’s Flatiron location to listen to three prominent entrepreneurs discuss the opportunities in sextech, and how women are transforming an industry that is estimated to be worth more than $30 billion.

But what are the implications of an exponentially increasing rate of innovation for one of humankind’s most fundamental needs?

Like most sectors of the tech industry, where disruption is the holy grail, sextech entrepreneurs aim to create ripples of change throughout a valuable market. But sextech is not your typical Silicon Valley subset. The nuanced industry is unique in that its “disruption” is actually dependent on overturning psychological constructs, centuries of cultural conditioning, and addictive behaviors.

Some experts believe that the way we currently think about, and approach, intimacy is largely affected by how the sex industry taps into these constructs.

Helmed by Cindy Gallop, founder & CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn; Polly Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Unbound; and Janet Lieberman, co-founder and CTO of Dame Products, the panelists at Knotel’s sextech discussion are hoping their ventures will be a positive force in this movement.

Gallop, a former advertising executive and influential voice for gender equality, champions the idea that women will lead the charge in crafting a breed of sextech that encourages human connection. Gallop says she’s hoping to raise $10 million for a sextech incubator that exclusively works with female founders, as well as to scale MakeLoveNotPorn.

“The most innovative and disruptive things in sextech today are coming from women. We’re finally owning our sexuality and finding ways to leverage it,” she says.

MakeLoveNotPorn is Gallop’s response to a male-centric porn industry by celebrating real-world sex through what she calls “social sex videos.” Gallop says she founded the user-generated sex video platform by accident. Through her experiences dating younger men, she realized that in the face of society’s reluctance to be open about sex, porn often becomes the primary — if not only — source of sex education for younger generations.

“The problem is not porn, it’s that we don’t talk about sex,” she says.

And as feminine sexuality expert and author Pamela Madsen points out, women are especially confronted with taboos around sex and pleasure.

With Unbound, Rodriguez is hoping to remove some of that stigma by presenting women’s sexual lifestyle products in a similar light as beauty or fashion brands. Her company offers a subscription box for feminine sex products, as well as an online retail store and blog.

“We exist to make sex better for women,” Rodriguez says, who founded Unbound after a round of radiation and chemotherapy treatments resulted in early-onset menopause when she was 21 years old. Through that experience, she became acutely aware of the shame around female sexuality. Eventually, she realized that the awkward buying experience for female sex products is reflective of that societal shame.

By taking a high-fashion approach to selling Unbound products, Rodriguez says she’s “giving women permission” to buy these products.

Similarly, Lieberman co-founded Dame Products as a response to the low-quality, high-price gap for vibrators and female sex toys. “I never questioned why it was ok that I would spend $150 on a vibrator, and I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use it,” she says.

Dame Products’ 2014 Indiegogo campaign for their flagship product, “Eva,” became the highest-grossing adult product campaign on any crowdfunding platform. And according to Lieberman, the company has shipped 38,000 units since their initial launch.

“Eva” is described as “the first hands-free, strap-free, non-intrusive couples’ vibrator,” and is specifically designed for intimacy and connection.

“Sex toys can be useful tools in making things more equal, but most aren’t designed with intimacy in mind. They put space between partners, reduce physical contact, and require active thought to use,” Lieberman says.

Virtual reality porn, perhaps the most publicized character in sextech, aims to make porn a more realistic experience. VR porn star and entrepreneur Ela Darling, who is also the head of VR porn company Cam4VR, says that VR porn is so realistic that it’s often called “the empathy machine.”

“You’re in my home with me. You’re not watching me on a casting couch on your laptop. People feel so immersed they’ve criticized my housekeeping,” she says.

But more realistic porn might just become a more realistic vice. According to some researchers, porn is more like crack than real sex. Studies also show that consistent porn use ultimately leads to the need for increased stimulation for the same amount of reward. So a more highly stimulating porn experience, like VR, could mean a deeper addiction.

Regardless of its psychological imprint, this side of sextech is at the forefront of mainstream media, which Gallop attributes to the Silicon Valley boy’s club.

“Just like the tech industry, tech media is male-dominated. So coverage of sextech tends to focus on the side that’s a lot easier to talk about — the hardware, the teledildonics, sextoys, sex robots, and VR porn,” Gallop says. “It’s a lot more uncomfortable to focus on the side that’s about people actually having sex with each other.”

Gallop, Rodriguez and Lieberman believe their brand of sextech counterbalances the potentially isolating world of hardcore porn and fancy sex toys, by instead encouraging human-to-human, or self-pleasure, intimacy.

Intimacy is a complicated subject, in itself, lacking an objective definition. However, there seems to be a common agreement that intimacy is connected with vulnerability.

Male sexuality expert, empowerment coach and certified sexoligist Destin Gerek describes intimacy as “that place of true connection,” “a dropping of masks” and a place of “being vulnerable.”

Rodriguez’s definition is similar. “Intimacy is synonymous with vulnerability,” she says. “To be vulnerable is to be honest with a partner, or with yourself, about who you are and how you feel.” Many of Unbound’s products are focused on a woman’s self pleasure, which she believes is the first step in the exploration of intimacy.

But perhaps intimacy doesn’t have to be fulfilled by physical touch. Darling says her VR porn performances are “20 percent sex, 80 percent therapy.” She adds that many of her fans are people who have physical disabilities, social awkwardness, extremely busy schedules or other barriers to real-life intimacy. “It offers them that fulfillment,” she says.

In Gerek’s line of work, teaching men how to be vulnerable is a crucial element for healthy sexuality. And with many of his clients coming to him as heavy porn users, he says that the current state of the industry is often a barrier. “Porn stimuli is not designed to help you be a great lover,” he says.

One male user of MakeLoveNotPorn, who approached Gallop in person, mirrors this statement: “Watching porn makes me want to jerk off; watching your videos makes me want to have sex,” he told her.

Many studies show the consequences of porn proliferation — a snowballing population of boys and men dealing with premature ejaculation and erectile disfunction.

Meanwhile, women might be more sexually liberated than ever before. And as more and more women shed the “slut shame” barriers and step into their sexual power, Gerek says many men are left behind, digging deeper into a hole of porn and isolated sex. “As things are shifting, they have no idea how to adapt to this shift,” he says.

Darling doesn’t think that’s the porn industry’s responsibility. “Entertainment is not responsible for education,” she says. “The change needs to come from the classroom. We need to talk about it candidly with young people.”

But, like Gallop, Gerek believes that the solution is not to get rid of the porn industry, but to evolve it.

“Observing other people in sexual experiences can be a very positive force. Where do we get to witness couples deeply in love with intense passion and deep intimacy experiencing total mind-body-spirit sexual union? Now that is an imprint we could all use,” he says.

Intimacy and deep connection ultimately seems to be the goal of MakeLoveNotPorn. And Lieberman says she wants her products to enhance intimacy with sex toys, rather than replace it.

“If you can really be alone with yourself or your partner, without inequalities, insecurities, old fights, or pieces of plastic riding shotgun, you can be a lot more deeply and authentically intimate,” Lieberman says.

But could sex robots, VR porn experiences and even traditional porn have the potential to deepen intimacy, rather than smother or isolate it?

Again, women may be the answer. In an op-ed for Fortune, adult filmmaker Erika Lust pledged to create VR porn that inspires real-life “pleasure and desire.” This is in stark contrast to the “mechanical sex made by men, for men,” she says in the article.

Gerek is also optimistic that the more techie side of sextech could be a positive influence with the right approach. “We have the capacity with erotic media or sex robots for them to be empowering technologies that can help us understand ourselves better and connect with one another better,” Gerek says.

For instance, sex robots could be programmed with a woman’s natural sexual desires and response to pleasure, which could actually help a partner learn how to engage with women. However, given the complex nature of female sexuality, programming a sex robot to reflect a real woman’s pleasure would likely result in a mechanical generalization.

Regardless of how, or by whom, they’re programmed, at least one futurist, Ian Pearson, predicts sex robots will start replacing human-to-human intercourse by 2050.

But, a sextech entrepreneur herself, Lieberman disagrees. Citing the success of Dame Products’ Indiegogo campaign for “Eva” despite more gadgety, censor-heavy competitors, Lieberman doesn’t think we’re in danger of a robotic sex apocalypse.

“Human touch is really important,” she says. “No one is trying to replace that. That’s human and universal and it’s not going away anytime soon.”







Source: New feed

Mad hops: The rise of farm-to-bottle brewing is a great thing for beer enthusiasts and the environment

Hops; Beer

(Credit: Getty/Salon)

Some would say it’s pretty crazy that the founders of Jester King — only six years old and already one of the most respected and revered breweries in the world — now plan to build a working farm on 58 acres of land a mere 18 miles from downtown Austin, Texas. But perhaps what’s truly crazy is that they’re not the only ones with such a vision. Brewers across the country have begun integrating beer production into larger, self-sufficient ecosystems on working farms, and by doing so, are taking greater control of the brewing process from start to finish. This wave of farm-to-bottle brewing isn’t just great for the environment — it’s great for beer connoisseurs, too.

Jester King co-founders and siblings Jeff Stuffings and Michael Steffing (the latter uses the historical spelling of his family’s name) had been brewing on four acres of leased farmland for nearly five years when their rancher landlord made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. They purchased 58 of his 200 acres and began thinking about beer production in a whole new light. “That gave us the dirt we needed to start breathing more life into how we define a farmhouse ale,” Stuffings explains. “Which, for me, is a beer that’s tied to a place and time and a people — it has a lot of unique attributes based on those factors.”

While the brothers had always planned on using local materials such as raw well water and native microflora, the opportunity to grow ingredients themselves was only made possible by their acquisition. “We bought the land around us because we were afraid it would become a subdivision; we thought it would really kill the charm of the brewery,” Stuffings confesses. But once the property was under their control, they quickly began taking full advantage of what it had to offer, with a one-acre peach orchard and a quarter-acre vegetable patch (their “brewer’s garden,” as they call it, which includes herbs and spices). Eventually, they hope to harvest additional fruits such as peaches, plums and blackberries, and raise livestock to support a farm-to-table restaurant. More immediately, they plan to grow hops in the spring of 2017, and will plant grains as soon as this winter.

With no professional farmers on staff, Jester King must rely on advice from friends and farming consultants — but some entrepreneurs are establishing farm breweries with experienced agronomists on hand to integrate agriculture from the start. Barry Labendz, for example, co-founded Kent Falls Brewing Co. on a retired 250-year-old dairy farm in Kent, Connecticut, with this concept in mind. “There was always this idea of using a farm to close loops: using the brewery to help the farm and the farm to help the brewery,” explains Labendz. “It was always part of the equation.”

On the same property as the brewing facility, Labendz and five partners built a brand-new infrastructure for Camps Road Farm, which now includes a hop yard, two greenhouses, an apple orchard and mobile chicken coops. The farm also provides a home for an increasing number of pasture-fed pigs, which are slaughtered and sold — like its chickens — to a CSA and in their farm store during brewery retail hours.

Simultaneously, the founders of Kent Falls built a distillery in Port Chester, New York, called Neversink Spirits (distillery laws are far more lax in New York than in Connecticut). Not only does Neversink benefit from a more direct sourcing of apples for brandy, but Camps Road benefits, too. “We don’t need a massive apple storage facility: we can pick the apples and take them down there, and [Neversink] can crush, juice, ferment and distill right on the mash,” says Labendz. The farm can also use spent apple and bourbon mash as compost, and the brewery can age beer in Neversink’s used bourbon barrels. All three businesses will ideally help compound overall revenue.

A farm brewery is more than simply pragmatic, though: Whereas a typical mass-produced saison or “farmhouse ale” containing commercially manufactured yeast, hops and malt can be produced identically anywhere in the world, authentic farmhouse beer is unique in that indigenous ingredients create an inimitable profile that reflects the true “terroir” of the brewery — just like wine from a specific vineyard. Both Kent Falls and Jester King strive to use local ingredients, and even spontaneously ferment some of their beer during colder months. Using a coolship — a broad, open-top vessel — they permit wild “bugs” (yeast and bacteria) in the air to settle on the wort to eat and convert its sugar into alcohol and CO2. Like Stuffings, Labendz claims that this natural process gives the beers “a sense of place” when consumed.

These brewers are mimicking an older, more natural style of brewing based on seasonable availability. “People want their strawberries or blueberries year round, and the grocery stores are pressured to [provide] that,” Stuffings analogizes, “but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.” Instead, he implores consumers to consider what’s being naturally provided at each time of year. “Let’s try to make something that reflects the ever changing landscape. I think it’s more authentic,” he says.

With that said, Stuffings is the first to admit he’s no environmental purist: about 25 percent of Jester King’s beer is distributed or delivered to festivals throughout the world, which requires burning plenty of fossil fuels. But Jester King is far more environmentally conscious than most breweries — and certainly more than the vast majority of businesses. For example, the brewery buys malt from Leander, Texas, a mere 40 miles away. And it only uses two barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer, while many other breweries may go through two or three times that amount. “Engaging mixed culture fermentation, we don’t have to do a 45-minute CIP (clean in place) loop on our tank,” Stuffings explains. “We just basically get our equipment visibly clean, and that’s good enough for us. We’re embracing ambient microbes.”

As Barry Labendz acknowledges, no brewery is without any carbon footprint. “There’s a difference between helping the environment, and doing something in an environmentally conscious way,” he clarifies. “As efficient as breweries want to be, I don’t know that any brewery is really helping the environment. It’s a very energy intensive process.” Fortunately, farm breweries can save more energy than typical commercial outfits by harnessing the power of the sun. “We got a grant from the USDA to put solar panels on the brewery, and I can log into a website and see how much energy we’ve saved,” says Labendz. “Energy is extremely expensive out here, so to be able to use solar means for what we’re doing is a huge savings that might be tougher in the city.”

And, while all breweries must deal with cumbersome amounts of spent grain (with some required to get especially creative), a farm brewery can compost its own used malt and utilize it on site, or sell it to other farms. As Labendz points out, spent grain is better off as compost than as feed for cattle, which are ruminants meant to eat grass, not barley.

Neither Stuffings nor Labendz is under any illusion that their farms will ever be fully self-sufficient, though. Both are entirely comfortable with working with other, more specialized farmers for supplemental and adjunct ingredients. “It’s extremely intensive and hard to grow 300 pounds of strawberries — on top of which, we don’t have that area of expertise,” Labendz concedes. “I’d rather work with [strawberry] farmers to be able to learn more about the fruit, which varieties we want, and when the peak harvest time is.” Despite any romantic notions most people might have of closed-circuit estate farms, historically, most have always had a limited focus, and simply brewed beer for consumption in the fields when water was less potable.

Of course, while agriculture-supported brewing has the undeniable potential to revolutionize brewery and brewpub models as we know them, it does present a wide set of challenges. “Our brewing schedule is very driven by season and the time of year,” laments Stuffings. “Not just in terms of the ingredients that we use, but the microflora that’s available to us and the impact temperature has on fermentation.” And even beyond the initial cost of installing infrastructure, planting crops and caring for livestock can be incredibly expensive. “The financial aspect is by far the biggest drawback,” Stuffings says.

Despite the difficulties that come with starting a farm brewery, the movement is catching on around the country. Fonta Flora of Morganton, North Carolina, for example, secured eight acres of a 49-acre dairy farm earlier this year in order to plant its own beer ingredients. Scratch Brewing Company in Ava, Illinois, has already been farming a smaller parcel and foraging for a few years, integrating found goods such as chanterelle mushrooms, sassafras, and vanilla into their beers. And since founding their brewery in 2013, the owners of Plan Bee, set on a 25-acre farm in in Poughkeepsie, New York, have only used products grown or manufactured in New York – including their bottle labels and cleaning supplies.

Plan Bee is one of a growing number of farm breweries to benefit from recent updates to New York legislation. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo passed the Farm Brewing Law, which permits farm breweries to serve beer by the glass to customers – something that was, surprisingly, previously only possible via an additional permit. To qualify, at least 20 percent of all beer ingredients must be grown in New York State until the end of 2018; from 2019 to 2023, this number bumps up to 60 percent, and to 90 percent beyond that. The law creates a much easier path for farm brewers, and generates revenue more quickly. Within two years of the law going into effect, 43 new breweries had opened in New York, with many more launching since.

Labendz admits, “There’s an argument to have been made that we’re idiots for opening a farm brewery in Connecticut when there’s a really nice farm brewery law in New York State, five miles west. But we were tied to this property — we wanted to do it here.” With all of the trouble that comes with opening a farm brewery in the first place, Labendz is walking proof that no one invests in one to make an easy buck. As he confirms, “If you only looked at farm breweries from balance sheets, you probably wouldn’t open up a farm brewery.” Fortunately, the true value of farm-to-bottle brewing goes beyond dollars and cents — it’s much more apparent in the ground and in the glass.

Source: New feed

Income inequality will be the biggest test for the next president

Wall Street Protests Fort Lauderdale

(Credit: AP/J Pat Carter)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In a recent issue of The Economist, President Barack Obama set out four major economic issues that his successor must tackle. As he put it:

“… restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.”

It’s hard to quibble with the items on the president’s list. Slow productivity growth, rising inequality, inadequate employment and the lack of sustainable economic growth all are important problems that a President Clinton or Trump will have to face.

But just how important are these issues? Does one, above all, deserve to be at the top of the next president’s economic to-do list?

Rather than rank these items, it is probably better to follow the advice of American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer: We should courageously change what we can while accepting what we cannot.

And inequality is the only item on that list that a president can influence in a significant way. It also happens to be, in my mind, the most important one – critical for solving the other three problems as well as preventing the disappearance of the middle class.

The problem of inequality

A glimpse of the latest data shows clearly why reducing the gap between the richest and poorest Americans should be presidential priority number one. It’s been widening for decades.

For example, research by the French economist Thomas Piketty showed that the top 1 percent of U.S. households received more than a fifth of all U.S. income in 2013, compared with less than a tenth in the late 1970s and early ‘80’s. Back then, trickle-down economics was coming into vogue. But as it turns out, the extra income going to the top 1 percent did not trickle down to the other 99 percent; all the gains went to the top of the distributional pyramid – and then some.

My own work on inequality has focused on the size of the middle class in nine developed nations. According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, a thriving middle class is critical for a democratic society. It also provides a buffer between the rich and the poor, thus mitigating the class struggle that Karl Marx predicted would destroy capitalism.

Besides having the smallest middle class of the nine countries I study, the U.S. also experienced the sharpest decline in its size over the past several decades. The U.S. middle class shrank from 58.3 percent of all households in the ’70s to only 50 percent in 2013.

Why does it matter if the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer? Not only is greater inequality a threat to our democratic capitalist society, it’s bad for the economy and causes a whole host of other problems – including other items on the president’s list.

Since the rich save more, whenever they receive more income, total consumer spending tends to fall and unemployment rises. This lowers economic growth, reduces government tax revenues and makes it harder to solve other economic and social problems.

And as the wealthy earn more and need to find a place to invest or park their excess cash, financial institutions tend to take more aggressive risks to boost returns for their investors in order to avoid losing those savings to a competitor. Increased risk-taking is what led to the global economic meltdown in 2008.

Furthermore, households have many fixed expenses. When their income falls, people must borrow in order to pay their monthly bills. This process, however, is not sustainable; at some point debt repayments will exceed the ability of people to repay, causing credit to dry up. As a result, people risk losing their homes and their ability to pay for basic necessities.

Too much inequality also has negative consequences for our health. As British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett document in their book, “The Spirit Level,” a great deal of evidence shows that inequality is associated with health problems (such as obesity, infant mortality and lower life expectancy) as well as social problems like crime and addiction.

Finally, inequality makes it easier for the very rich to affect political outcomes through campaign contributions and lobbying. Coming full circle, this makes it more difficult to solve the inequality problem through government tax and spending policies.

The challenge of our time

The good news is that the next president can do things that would directly help solve the inequality problem. Some solutions he or she can pursue alone; others will require the cooperation of Congress.

First some direct actions. The U.S. government purchases goods and services from many businesses and must decide whom to hire for this. If government policy favors companies that provide better pay to average workers – or that have lower ratios of CEO pay to average pay – the president can help increase the income of many Americans.

To take one recent example of this, in September the president signed an executive order that increased the minimum wage to US$10.20 for workers who are getting paid under a federal contract. The next president can increase this even more and can require greater employment benefits for contract workers. These income and benefit gains will be replicated elsewhere in the workforce.

Support from Congress, however, would be necessary to raise the minimum wage for all workers, which has been stuck at $7.25 since 2009 and has been falling (in real inflation-adjusted terms) ever since.

Also with the help of Congress, the next president could employ both tax and spending policies to reduce income inequality. As my study shows, such policies are major determinants of the size of the middle class across nations.

And cross-national data show that top tax rates and income inequality are highly correlated. Sharp cuts in the top rates in the 1980s explains why inequality has gotten so much worse since then.

Evidence from our own country and from other countries shows that good policies and programs do make a difference. Inequality reached a low point in the U.S. after World War II when taxes were high, labor unions were strong and the New Deal provided a strong safety net to average Americans. And other developed nations, such as France and Norway, with more programs and stronger programs to support middle-class and lower-income workers have not experienced the same surge in inequality that we’ve had in the U.S. Some of these programs include paid family leave, more robust unemployment compensation, health care for all and higher minimum wages.

The president can’t control everything, as President Obama would be the first to admit.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Beyond a president’s control

While President Obama’s other concerns are important, unfortunately they are beyond the control of the Oval Office.

Improving productivity is a lofty goal. Productivity is the most important determinant of future living standards on average. Unfortunately, economists don’t understand the key forces causing productivity to grow, and some of what economists do understand does not provide much reason for hope.

William Baumol has argued that productivity inevitably grows more slowly in a service economy. His famous example concerns a Mozart horn quintet. Unlike manufacturing, you can’t improve productivity here by using capital equipment to reduce the number of musicians, for then it is no longer a horn quintet. Playing the piece faster won’t help either – the piece was written to be performed at a certain pace.

In “The Rise and Fall of American Growth,” Northwestern’s Robert Gordon contends that we have reached the end of the Industrial Revolution. All the big discoveries and innovations that can improve productivity growth have already been made. Therefore, we must expect slower productivity growth in the future.

Increasing the number of good jobs is likewise difficult. Other than government employment, most jobs are created by the private sector, and the government cannot mandate that firms hire more workers. The federal government can only spend money to create jobs, but this does not mean that those jobs will be good jobs.

In addition, promoting jobs conflicts with another challenge facing the next president: ensuring sustainable growth while dealing with climate change. More jobs require more production, more commuting and more pollution. Mitigating climate change will require slower economic growth given the trade-off between growth and pollution.

The bottom line

The biggest economic challenge facing the winner of the Nov. 8 election will be to grapple with the scourge of rising inequality in the face of great resistance from some of the richest and most powerful citizens.

Few economic issues are as important as inequality is the source of so many other problems the U.S. faces – and thus essential to their solution.

This is more than just an economic issue. Less income polarization could reduce some of the political polarization that has increased along with rising income inequality since the 1980s, and has led to a degenerative presidential campaign this year. As focus has shifted to the moral failings of both candidates, the real issues at stake are being ignored – especially inequality, which also happens to be the cause of so many of the anxieties being expressed by voters.

Dealing with the problem of inequality will actually make America great, rather than simply irate.

The Conversation

Steven Pressman, Professor of Economics, Colorado State University

Source: New feed