Sex Tricks for the Sexually Talented

Sex Tricks

You have sexy questions? Eugene has sexy answers. Write. Now: Eugene@ozy.com

Best Practices

EUGENE, SIR:  What’s the best sex trick you’ve ever heard of? —Andreas

Dear Now You See It: That’s like asking what my favorite letter of the alphabet is since the reality of it is there are no such things as sex “tricks”. There’s stuff that works. Stuff that really, really works. And stuff that almost never works. For all but a rare few, for example, poop never works. For most oral sex works. So what you’re asking about is the stuff that really, really works. Like aphrodesiac style. To which I have to say: cash. I find cash is the best sex trick ever. Everybody gets sexier knowing they don’t have to go to work tomorrow. Glad to help!

A Sexual SOS

EUGENE, SIR: My wife seems less excited about sex. We’re married four years. No kids. She seems plenty excited to see our next door neighbor who lifts weights in the backyard. But not so excited about sex with me these days. She also seems interested in his dog and in wearing short shorts and tank tops with no bra. Lots of bending down to pet the dog while leaning over so her breasts are visible. Also lots of walking around with fewer clothes on at night in front of our big glass doors. Should I be concerned and can I bring the magic back?  —Jack

Dear No Doubt: Yes and maybe not. A Private Investigator friend of ours says it best when he says “if there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt.” Which is to say people are confession machines and it’s the rare sociopath that doesn’t leave breadcrumbs from where they are to what they’re doing. But for the rest of them, they’re speaking in a language that’s quiet but not silent. She may be doing nothing, acting on nothing, sometimes crushes are like this. It could just run its course and evaporate, leaving nothing but a bad taste. Or it could blossom into an affair that will ruin your life and teh screwed up part is there’s about a 50-50 chance of either happening.

Under these circumstances it’s very hard to be doing much thinking about “magic” and bringing it back. Most times I have discovered when it’s gone it’s not coming back but you’ve asked for help and I am here to give it. Resist the urge to try to “make her jealous.” This will have the exact opposite effect and will provide her with grounds to do exactly what maybe she hasn’t admitted to herself she wants to do. This is also why you should resist the urge to “act like” you don’t care.

No, your only way out of this is the very next time she lets you get in there that you go full-on amazing. Not in a way that stinks of desperation, not even just erotically competent. But hands down great. Which in this instance means channeling whatever is attracting her outside attentions anyway. Don’t copy them. Embody them. Talk less, listen more. A straight run may not win the day, but easing in by way of massage might work. Then foreplay. Not a little. But not too much. Then sex for as long as she wants and needs and afterward, no turning on the TV, farting or calling your Mother on the phone. 

This may not help, but it probably won’t hurt. Good luck. You’re going to need it.

Must-Read Lit From Cuba

Cuba

As the U.S. and Cuba begin to make amends, what does this mean for Cuban literature? Some hope for a big shift — like “an urgent Manhattanization of Havana,” says Cuban writer and editor Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. On one hand, this sea change may create space in the international arena for Generation Zero: authors writing openly about the effect of Castro government’s policies on private lives since 2000. On the other hand, American publishers are extremely selective when it comes to Cuban fiction, explains Ana Dopico, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese comparative literature at NYU, preferring the “literary noir in Padura’s detective novels or the ‘dirty realism’ of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez.” Whatever the future holds for Cuban literature in the U.S., these new and familiar literary voices from the island and its diaspora have already made it to our bookstores over this past year.

Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba
edited by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo 

These stories hail from Generation Zero authors who came together as a literary group via Cuba’s underground online e-zine world. Set almost exclusively in Havana, they intentionally depart from stereotypical tropical tales — such as a zombie story that folds a critique of the oppressive bureaucracy of Cuban government into an American-style doomsday scenario. The prose flares with the trapped energy of youth remaining on the island after many waves of exodus. For Lazo, this discomfort with isolation will be the key to the integrity of future Cuban works: Cosmopolitanism must replace exceptionalism. “Cuban literature is to survive overt or it will perish provincial,” he says.

The Man Who Loved Dogs
by Leonardo Padura Fuentes 

In a story of the exile from Russia and eventual murder of Leon Trotsky, told with a wash of noir, we get not only Trotsky’s version of the events, but also the viewpoint of the man Stalin tasked with the assassination. Padura is a literary giant known for detective novels that subtly double as cultural criticism of Cuban society under Castro. This nearly 600-page tome meditates on the theme of exile — from your country, political party, history, family, and even (cue the noir) your own identity.   

The Distant Marvels
by Chantel Acevedo 

In Cuban-American author Acevedo’s latest novel, a group of women are trapped inside a crumbling villa to wait out a hurricane, and one of them needs to tell her life story before she dies. This is the frame from which tales of love affairs and maternal sacrifice of Cuban revolutionaries gently flow, spanning from the period of Cuba’s battle for independence in 1895-1898 to the beginning of Castro’s regime. Acevedo’s prose has an endearingly relaxed feel — like she’s sitting across from you and telling the tale. 

Woman in Battle Dress
by Antonio Benítez-Rojo (Forthcoming, September 2015)  

This historical novel elaborates on the true story of Henriette Faber, a woman who assumed a man’s identity in order to practice medicine in Cuba, where her identity was outed with disastrous results. Rojo, who defected from the island in 1980 after running the state-sponsored publishing house Casa de las Américas for years, is best known here for a collection of essays and literary criticism on the Caribbean, The Repeating Island. He gives his protagonist an irrepressible free spirit, which forces her to test the boundaries of sexual practice, identity, and nationalism of her time. Under this first-person adventure story, a somber question lingers: What’s the limit to the freedom you can write into your own life?

 

Can Christopher Howard Teach An Old Boys’ College New Tricks?

Christopher Howard, pesident of Hampden-Sydney College on the campus, May 22, 2015.

On a recent Sunday morning on a rural Virginia college campus — some 170 miles south of D.C. — the gentlemen of Hampden-Sydney College are processing. They are en route to their futures, a mere tassel-swap, handshake and framed diploma away.

It is a Sunday in the South, which means seersucker, bow ties, boat shoes and blazers on the dads; sundresses on the moms. Here, on a campus where the opening (and closing, and mid-ceremony) prayers and biblical readings are anything but incidental, where conservative historical hero Patrick Henry was one of the original trustees, where the commencement speaker is Republican Congressman Robert Hurt, and where even P.R. head honcho Tommy Shomo jokes to me that there are “the Young Republicans and the Young Democrat” — here, impossibly enough, bestowing the degrees upon a roughly 82 percent white student body, is Christopher Howard, president of Hampden-Sydney College, registered Democrat, and, oh yeah, black. In fact, the first black president the college has ever had. 

But let’s not be superficial. At 46, Howard stands out for more than just his race and politics. He’s one of the youngest college presidents in the country, and one of those sorts whose résumé will make you cringe with inadequacy. An All-American Texas high school football player, a veteran and graduate of the Air Force Academy — where he also killed it on the field; he’s worked at General Electric, helped hunt down Osama bin Laden and holds an MBA from Harvard and a doctorate from Oxford … where he was a Rhodes Scholar. In other words, he is a giant steal for this college of just over 1,000 men.

Howard’s life is genuinely multifaceted, making him a mouthwatering prospect for Southern Democrats.

He’s also a more apt choice for the job than he might seem at first glance. He says he’s always wanted to be in the South, whether working at a university or turning to politics (more on that inevitable ambition later); “I like the values,” he says — military, football, God, we’d surmise. “And the weather.” And his relative youth helps with his rather progressive mandate: help this nearly 240-year-old institution, one of only four all-male liberal arts schools in the country, update itself for the modern century. Because its future is a little less accessible than a graduation cap in the air. There’s the rarity of the all-male atmosphere. There’s the “hand-to-hand combat for every dollar,” as Howard tells me, managing the existing endowment while simultaneously courting potential students to keep enrollment steady, not to mention proving the relevance of the liberal arts — especially a curriculum emphasizing the classics, rhetoric, Greek philosophers, etc. — in the STEM-ified age.

The big debate today: Is college even worth it? summarizes Carrie Johnson of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Small non-research colleges have it particularly rough, because they subsist on a diet of steady enrollment rather than a huge prior endowment or grants. This is well on the mind of Howard and others, especially given the haunting presence of Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts college not far from HSC, a kind of sister school, which has recently found itself in a battle over a potential closure. 

Hampden-Sydney College

Half the faculty and staff of the college live on its 1,340-acre campus, as do 95 percent of the students.

Source Hampden-Sydney College

A university prez’s job, he says, is like being “a mayor, a CEO, a pastor, a senator, a VP of sales. … I have the most political job in the world.” The night before commencement sees him playing all these roles, at a dinner for the 30-odd trustees of the college. Wearing a sharp light-gray double-breasted suit — which compounds the military stance in his shoulders — he and his brightly demeanored South African wife, Barbara, are warm hosts as they celebrate a few retiring professors and a few others who’ve just earned tenure. Howard gives a grand speech crescendoing at a deliciously DNC-friendly line — “We are America!” — which he built up to by citing the college’s long history since pre-Revolutionary War days, through the Civil War, in the state of Thomas Jefferson. All of it leading up to a comically blunt punch line: “Thank you for your generosity,” he tells the various rich dudes. “And please, for the love of God, keep on being generous.” 

***

If Howard is a mayor, it’s of a parodically small village. Indeed, about half the college’s faculty and staff live on its 1,340-acre campus, along with about 95 percent of its students — which makes sense, given that the closest “town” is Farmville (not kidding) about 5 miles away. It would seem that Howard enjoys being the big fish on campus. He possesses a Clintonian habit of rattling off full names and attached epithets — so-and-so, ROTC, whatshisface, class of 1979. The young men he mentors treat him as one might a military superior. Like newly named Lt. John Wirges, who is heading to Fort Benning in a matter of weeks. Wirges — like every fella I meet on campus — unsettlingly insists on calling me “ma’am” and speaks in the lexicon that all the students do, at least while speaking to a female reporter. Character, integrity. What it means to be a man. The Hampden-Sydney man. 

Over lunch at “the Birthplace,” the small, ancient building where the college was founded, filled with historical writing desks and musty books titled things like The Code of Virginia, Howard waxes nostalgic about his younger years. The son of an Army man growing up in Plano, Texas, he became “infatuated with service” by seventh grade, when he decided he was headed to West Point. He learned you earned admission by getting nominated by your congressman. So off he went to the library to find his representative’s name and request such a nomination, at the ripe old age of 13 or so. He penned a long letter and waited to hear back. He did, and the letter informed him that he had written to the wrong congressman.

 

A few years later found Howard a freshman running back on the undefeated football team in Friday Night Lights heartland. He was about to quit, to join JROTC. Dad got word, entered his room and delivered what one imagines is a very “Hampden-Sydney Man” speech. “Son,” Howard recalls him saying, “we don’t quit.” He’s got a bucket of stories like this. Another one: Senior year of high school, the Plano football team was 2-2, threatening to have one of the school’s worst-ever seasons. Until a crucial game, when in a Disney-movie ending, Howard got the touchdown that took them to 3-2. They went on to win state that year.

After the Air Force Academy — where his team pulled off a similar upset, this time against Ohio State in the Liberty Bowl — came the Rhodes; he met his wife, a then-nursing student, during those years on a trip to South Africa. After their meeting they proceeded to keep up, in seemingly typical old-fashioned-gentleman fashion, a long distance epistolary relationship before finally locking each other down. Following his first tour, he headed into the Army Reserve and, hoping to “learn how capitalism works,” took a job at General Electric, where he somehow landed a job working on corporate philanthropy. “I went from looking for Osama bin Laden to the corporate life,” he says, with a predictable inch of self-importance. And then, just as he’d begun considering a run for office back in Dallas, “war happened.” He went back to Afghanistan, where his job (at least as much as he’ll disclose) was so-called “overt” intelligence gathering, otherwise known as interviewing locals to gather intel. Hard to wheedle more out of him about those formative years than that.

Christopher Howard, President of Hampden-Sydney College on the campus May 22, 2015.

Christopher Howard, president of Hampden-Sydney College.

Source Justin Ide for OZY

As the war wound down and he considered his next move, he recalls that a friend asked him, “How are you going to go back to GE and ‘sell toilet seats?’” Hence a move to higher ed. Pause to consider the link between higher education and Howard’s larger ambitions; ironically, despite the trope of liberal arts campuses as Ivory Towers or irrelevant backwoods, leaders of universities and colleges often find their way to other, more obvious seats of power — and vice versa. Harvard’s Larry Summers’ time in Washington. Yale’s Rick Levin turned CEO of Coursera. The reverse: Janet Napolitano as the University of California president.

Howard, though, didn’t take the reins at such schmancy places. He began in Oklahoma by way of a Rhodes connection and soon decided to consider leading a liberal arts school. Which he looked for by Googling “top liberal arts colleges” and surveying the hiring landscape. Hampden-Sydney — with its classical education, military tradition, Southern values and his sense that it felt like a “well-worn Brooks Brothers blazer” — won him over. 

***

So far, Howard seems to be doing pretty well. In 2013, HSC appeared on the Washington Post’s list of top 10 endowments-per-student in the region. Today, Hampden-Sydney’s endowment hangs around $150 million, up from $115 million in 2009, the year he took office, thanks to good old-fashioned fundraising, designated gifts and bequests. (One imagines Howard must have quite the knack for the latter; it probably doesn’t hurt to have the Air Force and football credentials when networking over brandy and cigars.) And then, of course, making a college this small run requires scrappy tinkering with quotidian questions of budgets. With little in the way of new revenue streams, says Glenn Culley, vice president for business affairs and finance, the school has turned to basics like not re-hiring some faculty and finding ways to avoid credit card fees. He adds that “tuition discounts” (read: financial aid) at the school that’ll run you $39,272 a year — Hampden-Sydney provides some full-tuition scholarships — are “not sustainable.” 

Howard came on at a rough time financially, in 2009, right after the crash. But for another reason, too. A year before Howard arrived, on the advent of President Barack Obama’s election, a noose was hung outside a freshman residence hall “during a gathering of students disappointed in the election results,” writes David Klein, the dean of students, in an email. The student responsible was suspended for two semesters by judgment of an “honor court” of his peers. But just a few years later, upon Obama’s re-election, some 40 students (almost 20 percent of a given class) gathered near fraternity row, yelling racial slurs; Klein writes that the crowd included both revelers and detractors of the President’s re-election. That time, one student was expelled by a peer court. 

Hamden-Sydney College

The campus was built by slaves three centuries ago.

Source Hampden-Sydney College

Race, of course, is complex in a place like Virginia: Layers of history, much of it dark, mingle with unavoidable etiquette of Southern hospitality. Talking of race means speaking gently — gentlemanly, in fact. Howard, who quotes everyone from Douglas MacArthur to Robert Frost to Cornel West during our conversation, chooses Lincoln for his rhetorical reply when I ask about “the incident”: “The union is not yet perfect.” Clearly, according to students of color I spoke with. But the race stuff “just comes with being at a Southern prep school,” says sophomore Tyler Langhorn, a biracial student. Langhorn, like his president, embodies charisma, even while he handles a thorny question. He’s a damn dandy dresser in a bow-tie and green-checked shirt. He hands out programs while parents file into their commencement rows, and, at one point, turns to me: “Ma’am, you have a little leaf in your hair. If I may” — and then plucks it out with Rhett Butler charm. He adds, introspectively, with the perfect articulation of a Hampden-Sydney man, that he’s got both slave and KKK blood in him. “So I understand.”

This community insists on optimism when it comes to perfecting that union. They can see progress since the first black student arrived in the 1960s. Indeed, much has changed. A poignant example: On a campus built by slaves in the 1700s, one of the descendants of those slaves walked across the commencement stage six years ago, recounts Elizabeth Baker, who wrote her master’s thesis on black history at the college. What it comes down to: a black leader who can handle conversations about race in a mostly white environment is a promising leader. Couple that talent with a military background and a natural personability, and you can easily imagine Howard will soon be well-situated to make the run for office he never did in Dallas. He gets beyond code-switching — Howard’s life is genuinely multifaceted, making him, perhaps, a mouthwatering prospect for Southern Democrats.

It’s nowhere more visible than at that trustee dinner, where the Howards looked to be the only people of color (other than me, and possibly one other guest) in the room. Howard had joked: “When I told my mother I was coming to be the president of Hampden-Sydney College, her response was: ‘In Virginia?’” He laughed. A few minutes later came the quip: “So, I’m black,” he said, offhand. “I don’t know if you guys know. I waited seven years as president to tell y’all — I’m African-American!” The room chortled.

This article has been modified from an earlier version, which erroneously conflated the maximum financial aid available from federal Pell Grants with the amount available from the college. 

Keep Your Whooping Cough to Yourself

A claw machine picks up a syringe.

I knew what was coming when my California Airbnb host started talking about the measles. With knowing winks and the phrase “Big Pharma,” she signaled her conviction that the outbreak was overly hyped by the newspapers, which she said she doesn’t read. Then, sitting in her beautiful garden and pulling weeds with her bare hands, she dropped the bomb: Her son, a seventh-grader in a Waldorf school who also lives in the house where I’m renting a room during my two-week trip, isn’t vaccinated.

“Some things should come with a warning label,” I thought, as she spoke of not being afraid of “childhood diseases” and I contemplated the fact that my otherwise-healthy great-grandfather died of measles in his 40s. But seriously: Why don’t they come with a warning label?       

As the sharing economy infiltrates more facets of our lives — Airbnb, Lyft, Poshmark — we’ve gotten used to sharing space with other people, people who may not have been vetted by any system. The first worry is that they’re murderers; but while murderers have no incentive to identify themselves (“This is the bloody ax room,” they’d say, showing you around your new digs), the anti-vaxx crowd is more than happy to. So why is there no badge on sites like Airbnb to indicate whether your host has had their shots, the same way they’ll tell you if they have a cat or a dog?

It’s vaccination en masse, aka herd immunity, that safeguards against disease.

Airbnb, which didn’t respond to requests for comment, is reputedly rather laissez-faire about things like bedbugs that one can pick up in the homes advertised on the site. It provides built-in secondary insurance for hosts — in case someone starts a meth lab in your apartment, which has happened! — but not for guests; its terms of service indicate that bookings are at one’s own risk. So if you can’t afford a booster shot, or can’t be vaccinated yourself, you may have to broach the awkward subject with potential hosts yourself. Or take your life in your hands every time you stay with strangers. 

Then just get vaccinated yourself, is the rebuttal of the anti-vaxx crowd. Unfortunately, not everyone can be vaccinated — some people are allergic or have illnesses that make vaccination impossible. Besides, self-vaccination isn’t enough, says Daniel Salmon, deputy director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University. He says that vaccines offer anywhere from 50 percent to 95 percent protection from a disease (flu and whooping cough are the worst), and that it’s vaccination en masse, aka herd immunity, that safeguards against disease. I know this. I’ve already had whooping cough — I got it from an unvaccinated child and spent six months coughing before my doctor figured out what was going on — but even my past doesn’t offer lifelong protection against pertussis.

 

There is no herd immunity in Silicon Valley, it seems. According to California Department of Public Health data, only 71.4 percent of seventh-graders at this particular Waldorf school have had their Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus — that’s way below the required level for herd immunity, which varies by disease. For measles, it’s above 90 percent — and only 36.1 percent of kindergartners at Mountain View’s Waldorf school have had their MMR vaccine, which makes it a prime environment for outbreaks.

So Airbnb should just eliminate the uncertainty and give hosts a box to check saying “This is a vaccinated household.” If someone doesn’t want to vaccinate their kids, we travelers should at least be warned before sharing kitchens with them. California’s last pertussis epidemic, which affected more than 12,000 people, is winding down — but not before it killed four infants too young to be vaccinated. I guess they are just childhood diseases.

Go ahead — hit us with your best shot. 

Eugenious: Sitting in the Lap of Luxury

Popcorn spilled on the floor.

Everyone is panicking. Always. About everything. But for the purposes of this discussion, when the recession saw the number of theaters in the United States shrink from 5,928 to 5,697? You could feel industry folks start to lose it a little. Even though people see movies even during recessions, the fact that they can watch them off of their phones or tablets or streaming sweetened the panic and caused theater owners to return to what we’re going to call their “core competencies”: making the experience not suck even if the movies themselves do.

To that end? Coke machines with 100 flavors, ordering tickets online and now, very possibly the giant killer to end all giant killers … huh, what? Oh, you really have no idea, do you? Well, Eugene most certainly does and, boy, does he. Life under the klieg lights, indeed.

The Argentine Mothers Who Defied a Regime

Mothers

It began with a small group of women standing arm in arm outside the presidential palace in the Plaza de Mayo. Each wore a white bandanna to symbolize her missing child’s embrace. These Argentine matriarchs weren’t looking to change the world, but an unforgiving dictatorship forced their hand. 

On April 30, 1977, there were just 14 of them; that number grew to dozens and, eventually, hundreds. Many paid dearly for defying the right-wing military regime, led by Jorge Rafael Videla, that had stolen their loved ones as it purged leftists and dissenters, but they never let it stop them. Decades later, they still march in the plaza every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. sharp.

Today they’re members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo or smaller groups — united in their demand to know what happened to at least 30,000 disappeared people and some 500 of their grandchildren born in captivity.It’s now safe for the women to walk around the country’s historic square, and they have become national heroes, but decades ago, standing up to their loved ones’ murderers was dangerous, and for three of them, deadly. Scores had their homes vandalized or burned, faced multiple arrests and were labeled terrorists.

We are frail, but when we get to the Plaza, it all just goes away. 

Hebe de Bonafini, president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Association

Eighty-six-year-old Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the biggest group, knows she will never find her two missing children. She won’t even talk about them or give their names (Jorge Omar and Raúl Alfredo), because it’s not about them, she says, but about their entire generation. “That’s the way my children would have wanted it,” Bonafini says. The other mothers also know los desaparecidos — the disappeared — aren’t coming back, and that they’re unlikely to ever find their children’s remains; thousands are believed to have been thrown into waterways from planes. Occasionally, a grandchild surfaces — 116 so far — but never because those responsible come forward or confess; they’re discovered after years of tracking buried clues and trails.

Some of the original 14 mothers are still living. Most are in their 80s; the eldest, who still marches every Thursday, is 101, and reflects the award-winning movement’s tireless determination to expose human rights abuses in Argentina and the plight of the disappeared, no matter the cost. “Fear is the worst of prisons,” Bonafini tells OZY from Buenos Aires, just a day after burying yet another mother from the group.

Mothers

A police officer blocks the way of a member of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires in 2002.

Source Daniel Garcia/Getty

The military dictatorship crumbled in 1983; some of the culprits were convicted, but answers remain elusive. The fate of only 20 percent of the disappeared has been revealed, based on recovered remains or located grandchildren, according to Enrique Arrosagaray, a writer and historian who researched the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo for his biography of Azucena Villaflor, the group’s first leader, who was killed by the regime. “The security forces unfortunately keep absolute silence,” he adds.

The mothers didn’t bring down the repressive regime, but they helped. “To come face to face with the dictators was defiance unlike any other,” says Arrosagaray. The peaceful maternal resistance grabbed headlines, especially during the 1978 World Cup soccer matches in Argentina, when foreign journalists picked up the mothers’ stories, prompting a flood of support from Europe.

Relatives of the victims were eventually offered compensation and recognition for the loss of their loved ones, but this bred division in the group. Most accepted the reparations, but those led by Bonafini refused the money (about $220,000) and the plaques. “How can you put a price on your child’s life … without acknowledging why they were killed?” she demands. But some took the money and formed their own groups. The Grandmothers, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times, concentrated on finding their grandchildren, rather than the culprits.

 

The biggest group — under Bonafini — transformed itself into an active social and political force, involved in everything from building schools to providing access to electricity and running its own university to supporting the embattled leftist Peronista government and broadening its media outlets, thanks to national and international donations.

Despite fractures at home, the mothers and grandmothers serve as an international example of the relentless pursuit of truth. “It’s a lesson many countries have assimilated,” says Arrosagaray, especially in Latin America, as well as in Africa, Asia and Europe. But after decades of protest, time has become the women’s biggest threat. Only 15 or so mothers march every Thursday. “We are frail, but when we get to the Plaza, it all just goes away,” says Bonafini. Their future is uncertain, owing to Mother Nature, but Arrosagaray hopes they will keep fighting, “because most of the truth remains hidden.”

Indeed they shall. “We beat death,” Bonafini says proudly. But will they get the truth? “I don’t think so or expect it,” she says. But if she can get governments, and society in general, to recognize the struggle of Latin American revolutionaries, she adds, “that will be more than enough.”

The Shockingly Short Life Spans of Public Firms

A business man laying on the floor dead

From the moment we’re born our biological ticker starts counting down the days until, well, you know. Turns out publicly traded companies are like any other living organism governed by Mother Nature. But not unlike a Great Dane, their average lifespan is a measly 

10 years

Based on a study out of the Santa Fe Institute, organized by a crew of theoretical physicists, an anthropologist and an economic intern, these types of firms die off at roughly the same rate regardless of size, sector or even how well-established they are. That the probability of failure is the same for everyone is “the most surprising thing they found,” says Robert Axtell, who teaches mathematical modeling of social and economic processes at George Mason University. While the causes of death can vary from being bought up (the most common), merging with another company or filing for bankruptcy, in the end the odds of heading to the incinerator are the same for all of ’em.

Considering how much money is on the line — the total worth of companies on the New York Stock Exchange is more than $16 trillion, almost as much as the entire U.S. GDP — it’s surprising how little research has been done on what those in the field call company mortality. And the theories that are floating around are often contradictory or flat out wrong. Some say young, less entrenched companies are most vulnerable, while others say it’s the elderly and less agile that need to watch out. “Like other organisms that have DNA governing their growth, this study suggests there is something very fundamental about the dynamics of public companies and the way they grow and die,” says Marcus Hamilton, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow studying the evolution of human ecology.

 

To arrive at their conclusion, the researchers analyzed figures from Standard and Poor’s Compustat, a database of publicly traded companies on the New York Stock Exchange dating back to 1950, using a statistical technique called survival analysis. But the paper doesn’t answer what exactly leads some squads to survive longer than others. It’s also important to note that the vast majority of firms are privately held. “They’re missing half the story,” Axtell says. And in the private landscape he still suspects that smaller and younger companies are more vulnerable.

In the coming decade this area of research, which looks at how and why corporations do what they do and the consequences of those choices, will only continue to grow. In the meantime, savvy CEOs will use the incoming insights to design their business plans. Or, with a more accurate gauge of just how competitive the markets are, potential entrepreneurs may think twice about testing the waters. “This raises a big question for investors and employees of publicly held firms,” Axtell says.

The Brutal Calling of Kevin Weeks

Kevin Weeks illustration

Kevin Weeks? Boston Irish Mafia Kevin Weeks? The last time we heard or thought about him, he was muscling his way onto the witness stand to testify against his former boss, Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger. For damn near 16 years, Bulger had the world aswirl over sightings and near sightings as he fled roughly 19 murder charges. But finally, in 2013, he was a defendant in a Boston courtroom, and Weeks was testifying against him. Rendering unto Caesar what belonged to Caesar. It wasn’t pretty.

The underworld has an infamous aversion to snitches. But as far as Weeks was concerned, you can’t rat on a rat. In the courtroom, in an exchange that made headlines, Bulger let Weeks know how he felt. Given his earlier life penchant for shooting and strangling his problems, the now-85-year-old Bulger’s reaction was fairly mild: “You suck.” 

A quick and icy response from Weeks: “Fuck you, OK?” 

For those who don’t know, Kevin Weeks is an infamous figure in the Boston Irish mafia, a right hand to Whitey Bulger — the subject of an upcoming movie, Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as Bulger and Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons as Weeks — who did a great deal of dirty work. “I regret some things. It’s human,” said former boxer and lifelong martial artist Weeks as we sat in his car curbside in Jamaica Plain, far from the Southie neighborhood that he had called home and where we had started our day. He was a late-in-the-game addition to a book I wrote on interpersonal conflict called Fight: Or, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking. Weeks and I spent the better part of that day hitting his Boston haunts and for a better part of that day, the leitmotif that returns again and again in his conversation, and possibly his thoughts: how he zigged into the shit and not out of it.

The shit in this instance: the five years he did in prison after having pleaded out to lesser charges and cooperated with authorities in bringing indictments against the then-absent Bulger. “I regret I didn’t spend more time with my kids. And my ex-wife,” Weeks said. And then this, just in case we were waiting for a tabloid TV moment of tears: “You’ll never see me crying on TV for nothing else I did. Fuck that. I can’t change history.” (He declined a more recent request for another interview.)

This history, with body after body and bullet after bullet, proved to be too much of a draw for Hollywood hit-makers, resulting first in Scorsese’s The Departed, a thinly veiled take on Bulger’s reign, with Ray Winstone playing a suspiciously Weeks-esque sidekick to Jack Nicholson, and now again in Black Mass. And with two books to his co-written credit, the 2006 tome Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life in Whitey Bulger’s Irish Mob and 2011’s Where’s Whitey?, Weeks’ big breaks — a certain percentage of the proceeds from book sales goes to the victims’ families — are not so much financial as they are the kind of warming you get from a constant and continual media focus: TV shows, book signings and a certain celebrity that comes from not only being a bad man well-met, but also from the sheer weight of celebrities wanting to hang with him instead of the other way around.

During filming of The Departed, when Weeks wasn’t technically advising Leonardo DiCaprio on how to pistol-whip someone, he was to his character born, being pulled off of DiCaprio. “He started getting into character,” the about 5-foot-10-inch Weeks muttered. (Years of being tailed by the feds have led to his peculiar way of talking: into his chest. Lip readers, directional mics, eavesdroppers be damned.) “And he says some shit like ‘When you were an informant …’ and I lost it. I mean, the regular person, well, it takes them some time to get from zero to 60. It usually took less than that time for Jimmy [Whitey] to get to 600. But I wasn’t as bad as all that, but I was hot. Because I never was an informant. What I told never hurt nobody but me. But the agents who were there were trying to calm me down.” He chuckled. DiCaprio “apologized and said, ‘I’ll never make that mistake again, sir.’” 

And as amusing as it is to imagine a chastened Arnie Grape, Weeks, it should be remembered, is a 59-year-old man. A twice-married, once-divorced ex-con. An ex-con who, despite his no-regrets clause, has given up a lot and emerged with not so much, outside of memories not to be wished on many or on anyone who is trying to live a normal life.

“I remember once pulling the pickax up out of this guy’s sternum and his whole abdominal cavity came with it,” said Weeks. Part of the deal when he pleaded out was showing where the bodies were actually buried. Or rather reburied. He and Bulger had been stowing them in the basement of a house that they sold, and therefore they had to move them. Body after body, dug up. “Now that was disgusting.” He pointed two of his thickly muscled fingers toward his nose. “Took three days to get the smell out of my nose after that.” Then quiet. (Bulger, who was convicted of racketeering and murder charges and is currently serving two life sentences plus five years, has appealed his conviction.) 

A storm has already greeted Johnny Depp’s take on Bulger, a note-by-note piece of perfection for those who actually knew Bulger. A recently released trailer shows Depp as a man whose relationship with his murders had Weeks saying, “They seemed to relax him,” a portrayal that has enraged surviving members of the victims’ families. Steven Davis, whose sister Debra was strangled to death by Bulger back in 1981 after he figured she knew too much, said to The Boston Globe, “A lot of the families are very, very upset about this. It’s too much hurt still going on.”

“Unlike Bulger … Kevin has a conscience,” the Globe’s top crime columnist Kevin Cullen told me. “But in the end, he was a criminal. He just wasn’t a sociopath like Bulger.” Even more significantly, Weeks, atypically, seemed totally fine with going back to real work, even as a laborer — noteworthy when it’s remembered that he is probably just as intelligent as his two older brothers, both of whom went to Harvard.

All of which was not so lost on Weeks, who is now remarried and still living in Boston. Nursing a complicated connection to contrition, Weeks wound up the conversation as we sat amid the sweep of later afternoon Boston traffic: “That’s why you never hear me making a big deal out of only aiding and abetting those murders. If Jimmy had asked me to, I’d have done it. Now it’s not like I didn’t learn anything — I did. But I also know that regret doesn’t do any good.”

An earlier verision of this story incorrectly identified Weeks as Bulger in one reference. 

  

Staying in a Hobbit House for the Night

Wollemi Cabins

Outside of Sydney, the Blue Mountains top many tourists’ bucket lists, and for good reason: The edge of the sandstone cliffs is only an hour from the city by public transit, and the mountains are home to those gorgeous eucalyptus trees that give them their name and cover them in a blue haze. And visitors can take it all in by staying in a cliff-top cave.

The “Enchanted Cave” is a sprawling hobbit-esque room with a view, overlooking a pristine precipice untouched by modern technology. The refurbished cave, with a poured ceiling and an open-air entrance, rests on a natural rock ledge. There’s a full kitchen carved into the rock and a bathroom boasting an eco-friendly (and flushable) compost toiletCreature comforts include kangaroo pelts and a slow-combustion wood heater. And if you find yourself missing modernity? A sliding stone slab reveals a hidden television set. Best of all, the front porch view reveals spectacular rain forest, the magma remains from an ancient volcano and a sky so clear that you can see constellations vividly. 

A romantic weekend of playing Tarzan and Jane will set you back roughly $1,550. 

Lionel Buckett discovered the cave five years ago while walking the bushland his family has owned since the ’50s. Inspired by a childhood of building tree forts and hobbit homes, he committed to the project in late 2014, and lived in the cave while building it, finishing in April. It opened to holiday-seekers only recently. The idea had another draw: With increasing bushfires in the region, it made sense to add a fireproof solution to his mostly timber collection of cabin rentals. “The cave just doesn’t burn,” the 55-year-old says. Buckett’s decades of experience building eco-friendly homes came in handy too. Passive solar energy helps keep the cabin warm and hot water is boiled by the in-house furnace. 

Be warned: Your peaceful escape might be interrupted by some of nature’s playful critters. Like an endangered owl that “makes a noise like the whistling of a bomb in a World War II movie,” Buckett laughs. If you don’t have a car, getting to the heart of the Blue Mountains is possibly the hardest part. Buckett’s secretary, Nikela Stafford, says you can “wrangle a lift with the school bus and then wander a few kilometers to the cabins.” Or try finding a taxi in Australia’s wild high country. Public trains and buses can take you two hours of the way, but that last half-hour is a downhill hike. 

The only other downside? A romantic weekend of playing Tarzan and Jane will set you back roughly $1,550. Which some of the regular cabin renters find too pricy. Tanya Georges from Blackheath, a Sydney suburb, regularly rents out Brantwood Cottage, another high-end Blue Mountains accommodation, for about $640 in peak season. “Some charge $325–$400 a weekend,” Georges notes. 

But where else can you sleep in a cave-cabin, channeling your inner Gandalf, and live on the edge of a cliff that looks over a prehistoric world? “If you looked a million years ago, you would have seen the same thing,” Buckett says.

In Defense of ‘Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster’

Godzilla

To casual viewers, Godzilla films represent the lowest of the lowbrow — stupid kiddie matinee fare consisting of two guys in ridiculous rubber suits wrestling for 90 minutes.

That perception isn’t completely unjustified. By the early 1970s, most of the creative team responsible for making the Godzilla films of the ’50s and ’60s classic, thoughtful, even at times majestic metaphors had left the series, and budgets began dwindling. Monster suits were now being recycled from film to film and started looking pretty ratty. Instead of shooting new special effects scenes, clips from earlier, better entries were edited in. The sets (especially the miniature cities) became cheaper and far less detailed. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka insisted the films be aimed squarely at a prepubescent audience. It was the films made during that shabby period that aired most often on Saturday creature features, helping feed the general perception.

But at the very cusp between the classic Godzilla films and the steep decline, there was Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster (aka Gojira tai Hedorâ). Depending on your perception, the 1971 picture was either the insulting nadir of the series and one of the worst movies ever made, or the film that breathed a final, fleeting bit of strange and surreal life into a (at that time) 17-year-old franchise.

After some experimentation, a marine biologist determines the creature was spawned by pollution.

The Yoshimitsu Banno-directed film was dark, cynical and nasty. Despite its inescapable environmentalist message, it nevertheless called out the hippies as a bunch of useless hypocrites. It’s the only film of the series in which Godzilla can fly, and it contained the only hallucination sequence ever seen in a Godzilla movie. You know you’re in for a different kind of Godzilla picture when it opens with a psychedelic music video, as a nightclub singer performs the outrageously catchy “Save the Earth” over a montage of horrific environmental devastation.

It seems a giant mutated tadpole dubbed “Hedorah” is sinking oil tankers left and right. After some experimentation, a marine biologist (Akira Yamauchi) determines the creature was spawned by pollution. His young son (Hiroyuki Kawase) — the kid with short pants and a baseball cap who would become a fixture of the 70s Godzilla films — insists Godzilla is the only thing that can stop Hedorah.

Although Godzilla started life as a demonic symbol of the nuclear threat and the devastation Japan had experienced, by the mid-’60s he’d had an image makeover, becoming an unstoppable, atomic-powered defender of Japan and a superhero to the kids. It’s a transition I never fully comprehended. Anyway, as a psychedelic freakout is underway at a local disco, Hedorah makes its way ashore and grows a pair of legs. Sure enough, Godzilla arrives to stop it. But since the creature breathes a mist of sulfuric acid, dozens of drug-addled hippies at the disco are killed. It was the first time since the 1954 original that city-stomping shenanigans resulted in any (admitted)  human fatalities.

It isn’t long before the bipedal Hedorah morphs into a lumpy black flying disc with bulbous red eyes, zipping around Japan spreading the acid mist. Thousands more die, and we get shots of skeletal hands, mewling kittens covered in sludge, and wailing infants sitting in piles of garbage. It’s surprisingly harsh material for a dumb kid’s movie.

Seeing this as a youngster during its initial release, it was the film’s end that left the most indelible mark. After Hedorah has been destroyed (am I really giving anything away by saying that?), Godzilla plunges his arms into the gooey corpse, fishes around a bit, pulls out an egg, and smashes it, making this — in a Godzilla film with so many other firsts to its credit — the first Godzilla film to feature an on-screen post-mortem abortion.

That — together with so much other dark, bizarre imagery and an overt political message — may help explain why the film continues to haunt so many who pop it in expecting another goofy cartoon.