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In the News 01.08.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In the News 08.01.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.01.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 08.01.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Rockefellers vs. the Company
that Made them Rockefellers

John D. Rockefeller once said that “God gave me my money,” much as He had given human beings dominion over the Earth, and though John D. couldn’t have known it then, the original sin of the Rockefeller family would be committed in 1863, when he opened his first oil refinery in Cleveland. Within a few decades, Standard Oil controlled more than 90 percent of petroleum production in the United States, and by the time of his death in 1937, God had given John D. a fortune that made him the richest man in the world.

As the 20th century wore on and John D.’s descendants converted the family’s oil money into a broader empire — building Rockefeller Center, becoming governors, senators, vice-presidents — the world began its fossil-fuel-induced march, with increasing speed, toward environmental disaster. Climate change wasn’t directly the Rockefellers’ fault, of course: The family more or less got out of the oil business in 1911, when the Supreme Court deemed Standard Oil too big to exist, splitting it into 34 companies, including two that became ExxonMobil. And if John D. hadn’t dug the wells, someone else would have. But as the 21st century dawned, it became impossible for younger Rockefellers to spend time at the family’s island estate in Maine without recognizing that the waves lapping closer and closer to their home were the result, at least in part, of their good fortune.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

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How I Let Drinking Take Over My Life

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I had my last drink five years ago, in the early hours of the morning on 1 January 2013. I think it might have been around 2am. I wouldn’t have described myself as drunk. I would have said I’d had a few drinks. But I was drunk. If I had tried to drive, or write, or give a talk in public, I’d have done these things badly. Feeling neither happy nor sad, I raised the glass and swallowed the booze. It was some kind of fruit punch.

At the time, I didn’t think this would be my last drink. I thought it would be my last drink until my birthday, on 30 April. For 10 years, I’d spent the first four months of every year as a teetotaler. There had been two exceptions. One year I started drinking on 27 April, because I was in a houseboat in a harbour and I was offered a glass of wine. I hated myself for those three days. Another year I did not quit until March, but punished myself for that lapse with eight months of sobriety instead of the usual four.

But maybe, I often thought, sobriety wasn’t exactly a punishment. I liked sobriety. I slept better. I lost weight. My skin became clearer. I definitely felt fitter. My concentration improved; I could buzz through a book in a few hours. My mind was sharper. I felt lighter, happier. I no longer turned up to appointments late, sweaty, reeking of alcohol. I had more time. I remember one conversation after 15 teetotal weeks; the guy I was talking to said he couldn’t believe how young I looked. He really meant it. Sobriety rejuvenates you like nothing else.

Then my birthday, my drinking day, would come around again. I’d have a sense of nervous anticipation, a queasy feeling that I didn’t want to start drinking again, combined with a queasy feeling that I did. In any case, I felt compelled to start drinking again; that was part of the deal I’d made with myself, because I really wanted to drink. I wanted to drink for precisely the same reason that I didn’t want to drink – because I had a drinking problem. Drink seemed to have a strange, brain-sucking power over me. On my birthday, I would wake up feeling the sort of anxiety you feel before a date or a party. I was going to start drinking again. Tonight, I would be in a different world.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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The Struggling
Artist at 86

Like most struggling artists, Harry Bertschmann is hoping to be discovered. Unlike them, he already has a pedigree: he has shown his work alongside Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell while they were still alive and in their prime. In 1958, a large Bertschmann canvas was featured in the Carnegie International exhibition in Pittsburgh, a rarefied achievement for any artist, let alone one in his mid-20s. Since then, Mr. Bertschmann has painted or drawn nearly every day of his adult life, producing a body of work that has been praised by some of the art world’s foremost tastemakers. Yet he has remained virtually unknown.

“I had to make money,” Mr. Bertschmann, 86, said one morning in late November as he sat at the dining table of his light-filled, art-filled apartment-studio near the South Street Seaport. And he did, working as a freelance graphic designer creating logos, packaging and advertising for brands like Pond’s cold cream and Bufferin. His success at his day job ensured that he wasn’t hungry, and while he has produced thousands (he has no idea how many thousands) of fine-art paintings, drawings and collages in wildly varied styles, he never persistently sought gallery representation.

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

The 1968 Book that Tried to
Predict the World of 2018

If you wanted to hear the future in late May, 1968, you might have gone to Abbey Road to hear the Beatles record a new song of John Lennon’s—something called “Revolution.” Or you could have gone to the decidedly less fab midtown Hilton in Manhattan, where a thousand “leaders and future leaders,” ranging from the economist John Kenneth Galbraith to the peace activist Arthur Waskow, were invited to a conference by the Foreign Policy Association. For its fiftieth anniversary, the F.P.A. scheduled a three-day gathering of experts, asking them to gaze fifty years ahead. An accompanying book shared the conference’s far-off title: “Toward the Year 2018.”

The timing was not auspicious. In America, cities were still cleaning up from riots after Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s assassination, in April, and protests were brewing for that summer’s Democratic National Convention. But perhaps the future was the only place left to escape from the present: more than eight hundred attendees arrived at the Hilton. “They met in the grand ballroom,” the reporter Edwin Yoder wrote at the time, “which is not so much futuristic as like a dimly remembered version of the 1920s small-town grand movie house.”

Invitees were carefully split by the F.P.A. between over-thirty-fives and under-thirty-fives—but, less carefully, they didn’t pick any principal speakers from the under-thirty-fives. As their elders mused on a future of plastics and plasma jets, without mention of Vietnam and violence in the streets, there was muttering among the younger attendees. Representatives from Students for a Democratic Society demanded time at the mike and circulated a letter questioning whether the conference was for “discussion or brain washing.” Waskow, today the rabbi of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, was an S.D.S. alumnus attending the conference out of a sincere interest in the future—but he was skeptical of futurism. By 1968, he’d already been working for more than a decade on a never-finished epistolary sci-fi novel, “Notes from 1999.” “But,” Waskow explains, “I was interested in changing the world—not trying to predict the future, but to create the future.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

The Real Future of Work


In 2013, Diana Borland and 129 of her colleagues filed into an auditorium at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Borland had worked there for the past 13 years as a medical transcriptionist, typing up doctors’ audio recordings into written reports. The hospital occasionally held meetings in the auditorium, so it seemed like any other morning.

The news she heard came as a shock: A UPMC representative stood in front of the group and told them their jobs were being outsourced to a contractor in Massachusetts. The representative told them it wouldn’t be a big change, since the contractor, Nuance Communications, would rehire them all for the exact same position and the same hourly pay. There would just be a different name on their paychecks.

Borland soon learned that this wasn’t quite true. Nuance would pay her the same hourly rate—but for only the first three months. After that, she’d be paid according to her production, 6 cents for each line she transcribed. If she and her co-workers passed up the new offer, they couldn’t collect unemployment insurance, so Borland took the deal. But after the three-month transition period, her pay fell off a cliff. As a UPMC employee, she had earned $19 per hour, enough to support a solidly middle-class life. Her first paycheck at the per-line rate worked out to just $6.36 per hour—below the minimum wage.

“I thought they made a mistake,” she said. “But when I asked the company, they said, ‘That’s your paycheck.’”

Borland quit not long after. At the time, she was 48, with four kids ranging in age from 9 to 24. She referred to herself as retired and didn’t hold a job for the next two years. Her husband, a medical technician, told her that “you need to be well for your kids and me.” But early retirement didn’t work out. The family struggled financially. Two years ago, when the rival Allegheny General Hospital recruited her for a transcriptionist position, she took the job. To this day, she remains furious about UPMC’s treatment of her and her colleagues.

“The bottom line was UPMC was going to do what they were going to do,” she said. “They don’t care about what anybody thinks or how it affects any family.” UPMC, reached by email, said the outsourcing was a way to save the transcriptionists’ jobs as the demand for transcriptionists fell.

It worked out for her former employer: In the four years since the outsourcing, UPMC’s net income has more than doubled.

What happened to Borland and her co-workers may not be as dramatic as being replaced by a robot, or having your job exported to a customer service center in Bangalore. But it is part of a shift that may be even more historic and important—and has been largely ignored by lawmakers in Washington. Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.

Read the rest of this article at: Politico

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.