The New Way to Shave: With a Laser

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Have you ever stopped to consider how much money and waste is involved in that daily depilatory ritual we call shaving? It’s insane. In 2014, the EPA estimated that 2 billion cartridges head to landfills in the United States alone every year. Our planet deserves better. 

A company in Irvine, Calif., is offering up an eco-friendly and futuristic solution: the world’s first laser razor. That’s right: a razor … that uses a frickin’ laser. Called a Skarp (the Swedish word for “sharp”), it looks like a pint-size carbon-fiber golf putter and claims that it can cut any hair on your body closer than a blade — and without the usual, sometimes painful side effects of shaving: razor burn, bumps, nicks, cuts, irritation or infection. It’s also water-resistant and can be used in the shower and with some shaving gels, though as CEO Dr. Morgan Gustavsson tells OZY, this isn’t necessary in order to get a good shave. Plus: It’s powered by a single AAA battery, disposable or rechargeable (for even greater eco-friendliness).

When the side of the fiber comes into contact with a hair, all the power from the laser is directed at that spot, cutting the hair. 

It works by producing a specially tuned laser light, which is guided down a short optical fiber that runs the width of the “blade.” Ordinarily, light can’t escape the sides of an optical fiber. But in 2009, the team at Skarp Technologies found a way to make that happen. Gustavsson discovered a previously unknown “chromophore” in all hair that absorbs a specific wavelength of laser light. When the side of the fiber comes into contact with a hair, all the power from the laser is directed at that spot, cutting the hair. Using lasers this way, especially at the root, isn’t new. What’s unique about Skarp is that it uses a single beam. 

But the Skarp has had a rocky start in the funding department. After an initial launch on Kickstarter, the project was suspended because the company failed to show a sufficiently polished prototype. Gustavsson believes that the crowdsourcing site “caved in to special interests” — in other words, the traditional razor industry. The Skarp is now on Indiegogo, which has different prototype rules. There are also some theoretical risks when it comes to usage, says Dr. Stanley Poulos, a Marin County plastic surgeon, including “problems with burns or potential pigmentation changes in the skin.” Which sounds a little more worrisome than razor burn. Dr. Gustavsson acknowledges these concerns but explains that the laser light is never aimed at the skin — only at the hairs. Even if it did contact the skin directly, the laser’s power level is “well below the safety limits for a Class 1 laser,” he says. More tech specs will be released after the Skarp’s official launch next year.

Also, $189 isn’t cheap for a razor, even one that sounds like having your own personal version of a light saber. And it’s set to become more expensive when it hits retail stores in 2016. But when you consider the cost of conventional blades to the planet, it doesn’t take a razor-sharp intellect to realize it’s time we took an enlightened approach to shaving.

The C-Suite Groomers of Silicon Valley

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Approximately 1000 hours: I arrive at the San Francisco headquarters of one Maureen Taylor. 1002 hours: I’m offered a glass of water. 1003 hours: I decline the greeter’s offer of a glass of water. 1004 hours: Taylor sweeps in. She is intimidatingly elegant, with Susan Sarandon looks. 1005 hours: We enter what Taylor calls the Situation Room. 

The Situation Room: At 1006 hours, Taylor gives me the rundown on her squadrons, parked outside, clacking away serenely on MacBooks. By approximately 1020 hours, she has begun to diagnose a casual problem I have mentioned at work. Easy, she says. She could coach me through it in a snap, making it a “win-win.” You believe her: She speaks rapidly, exudes confidence. If you are lucky enough to work with her, you will leave her presence with some of that confidence. Maureen Taylor is, in trade parlance, an executive coach, but her work so eludes titles that when you look up her company, SNP Communications, you find only this tagline on the homepage: “Search the world for the good people and help them make their truth persuasive.” To know just how good Maureen Taylor is, you have to already know who Maureen Taylor is. And if you know who Maureen Taylor is, you might just be on your way to Being Somebody.

The Somebodies who enter the Situation Room or seek guidance from Taylor (who charges around $750 an hour but slacks up on that for promising young founders) — some startuppers, others seasoned executives — bring a bevy of troubles that probably seem distant for most workers of the world. Perhaps their knees quiver during presentations, or they’ve got a version of The King’s Speech. Novice founders holding huge sums of cash may not know what to do with it all. A disagreement with a co-founder, an inability to command a room at an all-hands team meeting.

These company leaders must seem chill, must be “crushin’ it” to colleagues and investors (who could replace them), must seem accessible to their employees, must sustain a level of true, pure belief in their cause at all times. So long to the man in the gray flannel suit; we have arrived at the CEO in the gray American Apparel hoodie, who is supposed to look like our cool, successful older sibling. Founders walk a “very lonely road” at the top, says Rob Bailey, partner at the investment firm Akkadian Ventures and a big proponent of coaches.

SNP Communication

Welcome to the Situation Room, where the business world’s elite bring their woes.

Source Stephen Lam for OZY

And so the unlikely winner in this game is the HR world. Once, getting packaged off to a coach was a remedial measure, a sign you needed serious “help” managing anger or the like. Today, lacking a coach is like playing president without a security adviser. In the Valley, in particular, the practice is so popular that investors keep a Rolodex of about eight to 10 rubber-stamped coaches to recommend to promising founders in their portfolios. They want to provide “every possible advantage,” says Katie Hughes, talent partner at DFJ Venture, which has invested in billion-dollar companies such as Skype, SpaceX, Tesla and Box. The gospel of this new generation of HR is Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman’s 2012 book, The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. Those pitfalls, Wasserman concluded, after studying 10,000 founders of 4,000 startups, can be described in two deceptively simple words: people problems.


People problems are not only the troubles of the ruling class. Just consider the ongoing debate about the plight of the American white-collar worker. From The New York Times’ explosive story critiquing Amazon’s tough work environment to perks wars at Silicon Valley startups, management has never been such a hot topic. Throw in the Lean In–ers, the question of whether women should want it all and catchphrases like “toxic work culture,” and you might understand a CEO’s need for a guru. 

Coaches can help ambitious but stretched founders stay sane and be their best selves. They can help them set priorities. They can speak the lingo. They can and do become close advisers and friends. But they have their limits. Taylor is adamant about her get-it-done style — she’s no shrink. But what of other limitations? An old narrative about coaches, soft-skilled types, is that they should be treated with skepticism, a few steps above Internet self-help charlatans. The more updated question, though, is this: How much can anyone, even the world’s smartest coach, do for the nonstop work cultures that create so much agita? Coaches are, after all, soothsayers residing within the system. They must become insiders to court the insiders. They are themselves entrepreneurs. And they are not merely doing good deeds: They take their recompense not just in cash and credit, but also equity. 

Indeed, hearing how coaches make it is much like hearing how startuppers themselves make it. The industry is largely informal and unaccredited. The coaches I met for this piece all emphasized that they didn’t need press. They are the ones who come preapproved by the YCombinators and the Andreessen Horowitzes, the tastemakers of the Valley. Such industry legitimacy is as crucial to getting customers as it is to founders raising money: “The wrong kind of coach, without the relevant experience — someone who hasn’t successfully scaled a technology company — can make things much worse,” warns Akkadian’s Bailey.

Two weeks after meeting Maureen Taylor, I head to the Battery, San Francisco’s tony social club, to meet another gold-starred coach. Talking to Bryan Neuberg is like scrolling through the front page of TechCrunch: He drops company and investor names like spare change (Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker’s CEO, is among them), speeds through shop talk and, weirdly, makes me somewhat anxious to prove myself. This, of course, must be one of his star traits: No CEO would want an easy lay for a coach. Dark-haired, bright-eyed Neuberg, trained in psychology but far from touchy-feely, is sharp and hungry. He fits in at the Battery.

Bryan Neuberg

Bryan Neuberg, near his office in San Francisco’s Financial District, is an executive coach for the 1 percent.

Source Alex Washburn/OZY

And yet Neuberg began life far from these wood-paneled walls. He is a former radical activist who was once shot (with a nonlethal rifle) in the face at an anti-WTO protest. Today, his firm works on “hard-core management skills,” he says, with young founders like Ethan Bloch. Bloch, CEO and founder of financial services startup Digit, met Neuberg at the Woodstock of the startup age, Summit Series Basecamp. Bloch wasn’t shopping for a coach, but serendipity and chemistry proved compelling. Converging with Neuberg at an insider event provided, Bloch says, an “initial level of social proof.”

Toward the end of my meeting with Neuberg, he social-media stalks me to see who we have in common. “I’m a total yenta,” he quips. “I love connecting everyone.” We are sure to overlap. After a pregnant beat, the LTE beams down the verdict. I return zero shared LinkedIn connections and just one mutual Facebook friend. “You know what this tells me?” he grins, not unkindly. “That you’re not well-connected.”


The industry takes all kinds: There are mindful yogi types and knuckle-rapping practical folks and ones deep in organizational psychology and strategy. There are those with five certificates on their walls and others who draw mostly on individual experience — after all, they are running their own businesses at the moment. Some who will push you and some who will love you and most will promise to do all those things in just the right dosage. There are even the actual shrinks, like Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist at UCSF who also, inevitably, has founded his own company. (I think of the scene in the pilot of HBO’s Silicon Valley in which a stressed founder has a panic attack; the doctor, after treating him, starts pitching his own app.) Freeman studied the connection between entrepreneurs and mental-health conditions. Nearly three quarters of entrepreneurs in his study self-reported mental-health troubles, particularly with depression, ADHD, bipolar illness and substance abuse. 

Which adds yet another layer to a seemingly simple story. A quick Googling of “founders depression” reveals blips on blogs like YCombinator’s Sam Altman’s or a short post in TechCrunch: It’s a thing, people get it, you should deal with it. But ultimately, if you want to win, talking about your feelings isn’t seen as the best way. Besides, you’re supposed to dip into your venture funding to build a billion-dollar company, not go to therapy.

There are some in-betweens. The unique Bay Area palimpsest — technology overlaid atop a legacy of mindfulness — has created a “growing acceptance of therapy and spirituality,” even in the workplace, says Stanford business school organizational psychologist Larissa Tiedens. A case study of this warm style is well-regarded coach Khalid Halim, co-founder of I meet him in his office just a hair away from San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. 

Stepping over the threshold to Halim’s turf is like jumping straight into the savasana finale of a yoga class. There’s a small Buddha statue in the corner, and the furniture is all calm gray. Halim sports an impeccably trimmed beard and positively nirvanic smile. A former founder and CEO of his own company — a private-jet food-catering business — Halim, whose M.O. is like a blend of the experienced and the mindful, gets a bit more personal than Neuberg or Taylor. He tells me of some interventions — like the time he says he called up a CEO’s executive assistant to explain that the boss would not be coming back to work that day. The founder didn’t need a strategy reboot or a deep dive or a 360 eval; he just needed a long walk by the water, Halim decided. After that, the next day, he would go back to face the troubles.

But what sticks with me when I leave Halim’s office, a bit sad to reenter the fray of the outside world, is the reason he said he chose to start a softer kind of business, one powered by Zen. It was fatherhood. He says he wanted to be a great dad, an available, calm dad. And this world of coaching, which requires him to sit on the inside and still lets him weigh in with peaceful wisdom from the outside, this was the real entrepreneurial dream: contented success.


Let ‘Em Sink

Islands of Kuna Yala, Panama

Far away from everything, in the middle of the ocean, a row of sandbags fights against the future: It’s a matter of survival on the tiny island nation of Kiribati, its gambit aimed at staving off the rising Pacific. Over on Tuvalu, another small island country, the government is considering filling in the lagoon in the center of an atoll to boost soil levels. And around the world, in 20 particularly waterlogged spots, tiny governments and big investors alike are pulling out the stops — and the bucks — in hopes of avoiding submersion.

But isn’t this all wasted effort? Crumbling seawalls, swept away sandbags and roads that bubble up with saltwater would suggest — yes. Climate change shows no sign of reversing and the ocean shows no sign of subsiding. If we’re brutally honest, aren’t the efforts to save these islands in vain? 

Shouldn’t we let them sink?

Create a legal status for environmental refugees, and place responsibility for sheltering them on the rich, polluting states.

“You can get the impression that the best solution would be to start the flight process now rather than the fight process,” concedes Dr. Scott Leckie, founder of Displacement Solutions, which focuses on those displaced by climate change in more than 20 countries. He doesn’t quite buy it, but some do. Like James Russell, a University of Auckland ecologist who led a study on invasive species that, daringly, considers island biology not just over the next 10 years but the next 100. When you use that timeline, Russell tells OZY, saving species on sinking islands could be a “low-value” proposition, and “we might want to rejig the balance of where we invest.”

It’s not as callous as it might sound. Were we to write off the small island states, the international community would have to come to terms, instead, with the millions of people who live there. We might at last create a legal status for environmental refugees, and apportion responsibility for sheltering them among the rich, polluting states that made their homes precarious in the first place. Indeed, in Panama, the Kuna (or Guna) people plan to join their mainland cousins in the near future. This summer, the Kiribati government purchased land in Fiji; though it has stated that the land is for agriculture only, many observers believe it is the future settlement once the island sinks.


Of course, finding high ground may not be the perfect solution. Leckie says that after relocation, one can expect that the standard of living may dramatically decline unless the process is community-led. “The likely scenario, in Fiji, for example, is not a vibrant, well-functioning, prosperous settlement, but an impoverished, unstable place that could even provide foundations for ethnic conflicts that aren’t present now.”

But if that’s the fear, maybe that’s just another reason to invest those international development dollars in settlements rather than sandbags.


Is Monogamy a Myth?

Bride figure on wedding cake with a choice of four grooms.

Houston, we have a monogamy problem. And it’s not just Kristen Stewart and Tiger Woods. Countless extramarital dating websites have cropped up (Ashley Madison, anyone?), and 19 percent of women and 23 percent of men admit to having cheated on their partners, according to a recent Archives of Sexual Behavior study. Roughly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and many couples who do stay together hit dry spells — 12 percent of married individuals said they hadn’t gotten it on for at least three months before responding to the Austin Institute’s Relationships in America Survey.

There may be a scientific reason behind these bleak statistics: Monogamy might simply go against our nature. Social monogamy is the exclusive pairing of males and females who live and mate with each other, raising their offspring as a unit. But it’s extremely rare among mammals. According to a recent Science paper:

only 9%

of mammal species are classified as monogamous

What’s more, a mere 17 percent of today’s human societies are strictly monogamous. The majority practice a mix of relationship types, such as polygyny — one man having sex with multiple women. (But most couples live monogamously, since some of the cultures counted have small populations.)

Monogamy has long puzzled biologists. According to evolutionary theory, males compete for females so that they can spread their genes more widely; mating with multiple partners makes this much easier. And although females may choose to live with a mate who is a good provider, why not seek other males in the meantime who have “better” genes that will produce better offspring?

“The name of the game is evolution,” said Cornell University animal behavior scientist Danielle Lee. “You have to survive, and you have to make babies. If you can get out and make more babies because you know your partner can handle raising your young, it’s in your best interest, evolutionarily speaking, to do so.”

We can trace our promiscuous lineage to other animal behaviors too.

As animals ourselves, let’s examine other members of our family tree for clues. It turns out that scientists have detected cracks in the monogamous images of many species. Genetic analyses have revealed that songbird couples — once considered extremely loyal — stay together for only a season. And when University of Memphis and University of Florida researchers released several single prairie voles into an enclosure, some formed pairs, some stayed single “and a lot of animals, relatively speaking, were cheating on each other” — about 25 percent, said Alexander Ophir, now a research faculty member at Cornell University’s psychology department.

Lion pair walking through a park in South Africa.

Source James Hager/Getty

We can trace our promiscuous lineage to other animal behaviors too, like how males that hold resource-rich territory attract more females. (Does the name Hugh Hefner ring a bell?) Or how many species defend their partners from others who want to mate with them. In 2009, Ophir and his team reported that philandering prairie voles were more likely to have partners that also strayed, no longer under their watchful eye. “We’re not as different as we sometimes wish we were,” Lee said.

But why would we evolve to be monogamous? Dieter Lukas, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge, concluded in 2013 that monogamy evolves when females spread out to establish their own territory, perhaps to secure food for themselves and their offspring. This makes it hard for males to wander and to fend off competing males. But a team led by Kit Opie, a biological anthropologist at University College London, inferred that males evolved to stay with one female to protect other males from killing her young.

Scientists aren’t entirely sure when humans first began practicing monogamy once they split off from the ancestors of chimpanzees 7 million years ago. Opie notes that hunter-gatherer populations — the way humans lived for most of their evolutionary history — are predominantly monogamous. Then the advent of agriculture in the last 10,000 years allowed resource-rich farmers to have multiple wives. Yet most developed nations today are monogamous, and monogamy makes it easier for breadwinners to pass on their wealth to the next generation.

“It’s difficult to say why in humans monogamy evolved,” Lukas said. “I don’t think there is a conclusive answer.” Case in point: In November 2014, Lukas and his colleagues published a study in Science that challenged Opie’s findings, concluding that male infanticide had little influence on the evolution of monogamy in mammals.

The fossil record has only further muddied matters. For example, male members of species that practice polygyny engage in fierce competition for females, with the biggest male often emerging as the victor. The males of those species tend to be much taller than the females. But in monogamous species, males and females are about the same height. Human skeletal remains fall somewhere in between, suggesting that humans didn’t evolve to be strictly monogamous.

So instead of wagging our fingers at people who stray from their partners, let’s first consider whether we’re really hardwired for monogamy. Maybe it’s simply a cultural ideal — a lofty, unattainable one at that.


A Very Refugee Thanksgiving


It’s a bright, crisp day in Oakland, Calif., and inside a sunlit classroom in the English Center, Jackie McNabb has a question for her charges: “Who knows what Thanksgiving is?”

Her 15 adult students — a close-knit and usually boisterous group of recent arrivals from El Salvador, Yemen and practically everywhere in between — are stumped. A tiny Chinese woman in the back thrusts her hand in the air and shouts, “Black Friday!”

McNabb laughs but moves quickly. She pulls down her projector screen, Googles “Thanksgiving” and starts on a host of holiday-related images. The Norman Rockwell painting of the feast-laden table. Photos of turkeys — here, McNabb notes that the butcher down the street sells a halal version. And, of course, images of the original Pilgrims, in their tall black hats and buckled shoes, who feasted to express thankfulness for new lives in a new land. Later, when the students go to the whiteboard to write down what they’re thankful for, many will cite their families or their teacher. One of them, from Colombia, will write: “For living in the beautiful world full of possibilities.”

For many of McNabb’s students, life in America does seem full of possibilities. They’ve fled wars, gang violence, poverty, persecution, even slavery. The nearly 70,000 refugees that made it to the United States last year are among the lucky few. But adjusting to their new homes, not surprisingly, can be a struggle too. In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, American attitudes toward immigration and refugees have become even more polarized, and many of the new arrivals have walked, unwittingly, into a political minefield, a nation that is not sure it wants them. Even if the newcomers were checking into the Ritz-Carlton instead, they’d still have to learn English, find jobs, make new friends and cope with homesickness and absent loved ones.

And yes, they have to figure out what to do for Thanksgiving dinner. Indeed while 88 percent of Americans are celebrating with the usual — a carefully basted turkey, pumpkin pie and let’s not forget the gluten-free stuffing and non-GMO green beans over in Berkeley — just down the street in Oakland, refugees from around the world will gather for their first taste of what is arguably the most uniquely American holiday of them all. Some will be welcomed into the homes of new friends, while others will attend community Thanksgiving dinners hosted by resettlement agencies, like the International Rescue Committee. But wherever they land, the repast will come complete with tryptophan, pies and a side of complications, past and future.


Many Americans are feeling queasy about immigrants these days. The reasons run the gamut, including worries that outsiders will steal their jobs and depress wages and fears that suicide bombers and other terrorists will sneak through borders in sheep’s clothing. In the wake of the Islamic State attacks on Paris, less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, a White House plan to up the number of Syrian refugees in the United States — to 10,000 next year and 85,000 after — may be derailed. Some 31 governors have refused to admit Syrian refugees to their state, while polls last week showed most Americans oppose taking in refugees. With a “failed state like Syria,” there’s “absolutely no way of vetting people who come in,” argues Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Mehlman’s organization is one of many players, including nearly the entire Republican presidential slate, urging the United States to at least rethink Syrian resettlement here, if not completely halt it. 

As of now, fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States since 2013. Among them is Hanan Rawoas, a 21-year-old who came to California in the spring. Self-possessed and eager, she sits in the front row of her advanced writing class and is often the first to hazard an answer to the teacher’s question. Dressed in black ballet flats, a fuzzy gray sweater and a bubblegum-pink hijab, or headscarf, Rawoas is undeniably chic.

But it hasn’t been an easy time for her. A few weeks ago, thieves broke into her family’s wooden bungalow, in a rough-and-tumble East Oakland neighborhood, smashing the window. They carted off her laptop and $1,000 in cash, which her father had earned as a CVS deliveryman — a far cry from the CEO title he held at a factory back home. And last weekend, her fiancé, Anas, still in Syria, was plucked off the street by the police and conscripted into the army of dictator Bashar al-Assad — at least that is what Rawoas has heard from his family. If that’s true, he’ll be helping fight a civil war that began in 2011 and, with the entry of the Islamic State, has only become more gruesome. Rawoas holds up her iPhone and scrolls through pages and pages of WhatsApp messages in Arabic she’s written to him. None are marked “read.”

All of which will make Rawoas’s first Thanksgiving dinner a kind of reprieve. She plans to go to the house of an American Muslim friend — who’s married to an Egyptian Christian — and enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving potluck, including drumsticks and pumpkin pie. Her contribution will be one of her favorite foods: Syrian kubba, fried patties of spiced mincemeat.

Many of Rawoas’s classmates have harrowing tales too. Mauricio Acosta, a lanky, emotional El Salvadoran with a precisely gelled fauxhawk, tells of fleeing MS-13, a dangerous gang, in the middle of the night. He left behind his family and a job making piñatas. Acosta now lives in Oakland with his brother but hasn’t found a job yet; unlike Rawoas and others with refugee status, he does not benefit from employment counseling or stipends for food and housing. Acosta is on his own.

Except for Bill Torbor, a short, round-faced Liberian whom Acosta calls “brother.” Torbor is popular at the English Center, with a kind of preacher swagger: new looking Nikes, a button-down, white cordless headphones. His memories are not lighthearted. During the Liberian civil war, Torbor says, he was separated from his mother — he was 10 years old at the time — and wound up as a “slave” on a rubber and coffee plantation in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire. At times, he says, “I was suffering, and thought, “It’s better to kill myself.”

Finally reunited with his mom in Oakland — as of last year — Torbor says they’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with a big turkey. Also? Liberian side dishes like hot pepper soup, cassava leaves and cabbage.

Even if Thanksgiving is the most “American” of holidays, it is, at its heart, a pretty universal idea: Gather for a feast with your loved ones and be grateful for it. “It’s the holiday we have that’s the closest to the holidays they have,” says Stephen Rodgers of Chicago’s Heartland Alliance, a resettlement organization. “It reminds them of when they were back home.” Last week, the organization hosted a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 130 refugees in the area — from places like Myanmar, Congo and Iraq — complete with crepe-paper turkey centerpieces, streamers, cornucopias and pumpkins.


About half a century ago, John F. Kennedy famously called the United States a nation of immigrants. The moment we’re living in seems to be testing the proposition. How many refugees should the United States accept? Where should they come from? Should we deport the 11.3 million illegal immigrants estimated to live in the United States? The debate will only heat up in the coming months, perhaps with a curious reminder: Resistance to newcomers is as American a tradition as Thanksgiving itself. Back in the early 1960s President Kennedy wrote of them: “The same things are said today of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans that were once said of Irish, Italians, Germans and Jews: ‘They’ll never adjust; they can’t learn the language; they won’t be absorbed.’ ”

Back at the English Center, though, America’s newest immigrants are anything but outsiders; they’re here for a Thanksgiving meal. “This is the first time I’ve tasted delicious food in America,” says Sarah Dammag, a 24-year-old from Yemen — she was especially keen on the turkey and pumpkin pie. Bill Torbor is eating turkey next to a Ukrainian man and a young Peruvian couple. A Colombian woman takes a selfie with an Afghan guy from Jackie McNabb’s class.

And since no party is complete without karaoke, there’s also an enthusiastic, if awkward, rendition of the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” Bill seizes the moment, and the mic, and the room loses it. “Bill! Bill! Bill” All the newcomers are clapping their hands and shouting; for a minute, Bill is utterly transported. Today, he says, he “gets to forget about my problems.” It’s a very happy Thanksgiving indeed.

Video By Charlotte Buchen

Designing a Better Death

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Cold, antiseptic hospitals; rooms filled with beeping machines; warehouses of people nearing their ends. Why on earth must we die in such ugly places? That’s the big question that Rotterdam-based architect Alison Killing asked at TED Global in Rio de Janeiro last year. Plugging into a big, timely conversation about what it means to approach death, Killing threw her discipline’s hat into the ring: Architects, she says, can help people die better. She talked to OZY about the birth, growth and future of her big idea.

Killing tells us she didn’t have a single guiding idea telescoping her work in the beginning. “I liked to make things,” she says — apt enough for an architect. Most of her colleagues, Killing says, aspire to build gleaming galleries or gorgeous libraries, but they don’t “generally graduate wanting to build hospitals,” she concedes. So she was doing her project-by-project thing, making Europe prettier, thinking about cities and built environments. But budding all around her was a conversation about death across all fields. Pew Research Center tells us the number of people older than 65 will triple by around 2050. And while people in some disciplines — like urban design and health policy — have been thinking about our aging population for a while, architects like Killing were just starting to figure out their place in things.

Take, for instance, Maggie’s Centres, designed with the motto “People with cancer need places like these.” Maggie’s Centres was founded 20 years ago in memory of Maggie Keswick Jencks, a landscape designer whose husband was an architecture critic. The U.K. buildings are sweet, warm and designed by fancy architects like Frank Gehry. What of hospices and hospitals — where more and more patients are dying? Some 1.5 million Americans entered hospice in 2013 in the U.S., according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Those aren’t as nice as they could be. Christopher Shaw, director of the U.K.-based firm Medical Architecture, calls them, in fact, “fairly ignominious” places to pass away. 

Death in Venice

“Death in Venice” showed the evolution of the relationship between modern architecture and our understanding of, and approach to, death over the last century.

Source Killing Architecture

But it wasn’t always like that. This is what Killing discovered when two friends called her up to suggest entering a contest in the Venice Biennale, the every-other-year arts-and-design extravaganza. One of the friends had just finished designing a crematorium, and the other had studied public mourning after Princess Diana’s death. Together, they gathered a team and began some serious research — desk and primary, including interviewing undertakers and hospice workers. What they uncovered: a long, nuanced history of death rituals, many of which were not cold and antiseptic affairs. For one, in 1960s Britain, funeral services were often collective, with the same sermon applied to six coffins at once. Hardly anyone attended, because they weren’t allowed time off during the week, she recounts. Shaw had some notes to add: During the Victorian era, people lived in closer proximity to death, which meant it received greater consideration. Today, ironically enough, thanks to medical advances, we talk about it less. 

Digging through archives, Killing and Co. discovered some gorgeous images of hospitals with intricate trimmings around arches and colorful paint and courtyards and gardens. Studies had been done on these topics for a few decades — architect Robert Ulrich had a landmark finding in 1984, showing that over nine years, patients in a Pennsylvania hospital recovered from surgery faster when they had a lovely view out the window; and a small community of architects like Shaw had built on that legacy. But Killing saw a gap — an area that was “massively understudied” — in architects tackling the rather gloomy specialty of death.


The team kicked into high gear before Venice. The themes for the 2014 Architecture Biennale were “The Fundamentals” and “Absorbing Modernity” — and they discovered the research was exactly on track to tell a story of a uniquely modern problem. With sweaty, start-uppy brows, they pulled off the entry, and landed in Italy with the appropriately-titled “Death in Venice.”

Killing’s big idea is out in the world — but what now? It needs some legs, to start, and Killing figures Europe, particularly the Netherlands and the U.K., surprise, are the best places to get some traction. It’s tough — docs and other medical professionals “need to be onboard,” she says. It’s difficult to convince hospitals that “there’s any value in spending money on bigger windows and daylighting and stuff like that, rather than on medicine. There’s still a discussion about whether that’s worthwhile.” 

And the actual designs? They’ll change as the rapidly growing and massive mortality economy keeps evolving. For now, there are hospital paint jobs and quiet places for palliative care. And of course, it’s not all about the space, but the people too; Shaw points out that with death comes, sadly, all the drama of Tolstoy’s unhappy families, “coercive groups” who want to talk inheritance or, on the softer side, parents and children who’d like to be around at the end. That last part? It’s uncontroversial enough, just like a garden.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Celebration

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Fall’s upon us, and soon winter wonderlands will abound.  But while considering which hat and scarf combo to rock in colder climes it dawned on us: Most of our holidays – explosions of some kind of joy, commercial and otherwise – are slaved to the so-called seven deadly sins. From Thanksgiving’s gluttony and Christmas greed to Valentine’s lust and Labor Day’s sloth we were left to wonder what the hell happened to the remaining three.

Sure, while you can’t spell APE without Anger, Pride and Envy, and we’re not sure what the hell this means either, the reality of it is our holiday tableau will not be complete without an OZY-esque rendering of the remaining remembrances. So, for a healthy heaping dose of philosophically significant celebrations, welcome to OZY’s celebration of each and every one of the seven-so-deadly sins. You won’t be mad you did. Unless it’s Ragember. In which case all bets are off.


Better Boozy Parties … Just Add Foam

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The holiday season approaches, and we’re already thinking about parties with fancy food and yummy drinks. Here’s an idea to amp up your cocktails — and their punch: topping them off with booze-infused foam. 

Pixilix is a new alcoholic vodka foam that dresses up cocktails and lets you double your liquor in one gulp. It comes in five different flavors: Cherry Lips, Lime and Lemon, White Chocoholic, Totally Tropical and Berrylicious. Each 200 ml bottle ($16) produces around 1.8 liters of foam — that’s 37 martini-glass toppings, FYI. And it’s 40-proof vodka. A light pump press dispenses the colorful foam straight onto your drink for instant merriment.

The idea for the foamer, which was “inspired by the theater and magic of mixology,” says CEO Tim Staniland, had a curious start: in the health-care industry. Staniland, who has worked in product development for years, was inspired to create Pixilix after developing alcoholic foam for hand sanitizers in hospitals. “It occurred to me we could make vodka foam,” says Staniland, who is based in Lincolnshire, England. After some research, the self-confessed casual drinker discovered that the cocktail-foam toppings available had a very short shelf life as they often used perishable ingredients like egg whites. He also discovered that his target market — 18- to 25-year-old women (18 is the legal drinking age in Britain) in the U.K. drinking scene — tend to be strong imbibers of candy-flavored cocktails. So Staniland created the foam with fruit and sweet flavors. Pixilix was then launched in July 2015. There are no U.S. distributors yet, but it can be shipped internationally via Drinkfinder.

Staniland suggests using the White Chocoholic foam to top hot chocolate drinks.

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Pixilix is an alcoholic foam that adds aesthetics — and buzz — to cocktails.

Source Courtesy Pixilix

There are other sweet uses for Pixilix beyond complementing cocktails. For example, Staniland suggests using the White Chocoholic foam to top hot chocolate drinks. Currently, the focus is on vodka foam, but he’s looking at expanding into rum in the future — an idea that a Caribbean-holiday company has expressed interest in for their vacation packages.

And while we’re always looking to put more fun into our boozing, it’s important to do so in moderation. Novelty drinks can lead to binge drinking, where people might end up in physical or social danger, warns Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But Staniland says that Pixilix is not designed to get you drunk; it’s meant to enhance your drinks. You wouldn’t want to drink a whole bottle, he adds: “Because it’s a foam combining liquid with air, it has a potent effect, but not a lasting effect.” 

As of now, Pixilix sales can be measured in the tens, not hundreds, of bottles sold. Staniland’s hopeful about growth during the party season. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “foaming at the mouth,” right?


The Original Cat Cafe Is a Country

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Pet Love: A global look at cozy relationships between people and animals

From a ledge way up high, there’s a quiet mewing. Oh, no — a tiny kitten has fallen and can’t get up! No worries, and no need to call the fire department, either. There’s no better place on earth for this feline to have a crisis.

In Turkey, people crowdsource cat care.

Cats here don’t really have owners. Rather, Turkish citizens leave out bowls of water, pieces of bread with milk and even beds for felines around town. People welcome them for hangouts into offices, cafes and homes. According to Juergen Horn, who runs a Tumblr about Turkish cats — and who rescued that kitten stuck on a ledge — every area has what amounts to a neighborhood watch for felines. Two quirky native breeds even enjoy legal protection due to their rarity: A “true” Van cat has an amber eye and a blue eye, while the Angora variety is the only known breed that likes swimming.

Though Istanbul’s cats can credit a certain degree of new fame to blogs and Instagram accounts, the love affair predates the Internet. Cats have a special place in Muslim society, explains Abdullah Ali, senior faculty of Islamic law at Zaytuna College. In fact, these “ritually pure” animals are considered to bring “divine grace and favor” to their caretakers, says Asad Ahmed, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of California Berkeley. The Prophet Muhammad’s love of cats is well documented; he reportedly had a favorite pet kitty named Muezza. The “most prolific narrator” of the Prophet’s messages went by the nickname Abu Hurayra, which means “father of cats,” notes Ali. 

But it’s not a complete free-for-all (thank goodness — does no one in Turkey have cat allergies?). Turkey has passed laws about feral felines, including an official policy to trap, neuter and release animals. A number of animal nonprofits care for sick street kitties. And not all animals receive the same Turkish warm embrace: In certain Muslim legal schools, dogs are considered unclean, explains Ali. Plus, packs of wild dogs might be a bit more intimidating than street gangs that meow and sip saucers of milk.

So forget the famed cat cafes of Japan — where you can share a table with a feline — and consider Turkey, where petting cats is as easy as walking down the street. 


Let’s Fine Countries That Overuse Antibiotics

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French veterinarians are oh-so-French: They tell you to feed your cat cheese and help guard him against ennui. But they’re different from U.S. vets in less innocuous ways, too: Last visit, my vet inspected my kitten, announced that any number of things could be wrong and then handed over an antibiotic — 400 percent of the required dose, with careless instructions to give le chaton more whenever I thought it appropriate. 

France is just one country that’s struggling in the fight against antibiotics overuse. According to a new report, India, China, Korea and the U.S. are all popping the pills with unnecessary regularity, shoving animals, humans and livestock so full of drugs that your average bacterium has lots of chances to evolve its own resistance and render that antibiotic essentially useless. The World Health Organization, which did not respond to requests for comment, and a myriad of others agree: We need to cut back on the antibiotics. But how?

Let’s make countries put their money where their medicine is — with fines for overuse.

“Anywhere we use antibiotics, we’re creating resistance,” says Steve Roach, a spokesman for Keep Antibiotics Working. The good news is that the solution is simple: Reduce use. The bad news is that’s pretty much the only solution, and it’s a very tough pill for some nations to swallow. Regulation varies wildly by country — some European nations keep antibiotics from being sold over the counter, while others have reduced antibiotic use through education.But some countries aren’t even at the planning stage to restrict sales of antibiotics — in France, antibiotics are a routine part of medical visits, and public expectation can trump things like the fact that they don’t do squat for the common cold. Meanwhile, countries like India, Vietnam and Romania already exhibit high rates of resistance to antibiotics from overuse.

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Meet Smitty. The author’s cheese-eating French kitten. He is adorable. You’re welcome. 

Source Fiona Zublin / OZY

The World Health Assembly, part of the WHO, has made a resolution and even an action plan to fight antibiotic resistance. But telling countries what they ought to do and actually getting them to do it are two different things. Even countries committed to reducing antibiotic use internally just kind of have to hope that everyone else is on the same page. Hope is all fine and good and often futile. Monetary penalties tend to work better. 

There are reasons not to do it — for one thing, some nations that overuse antibiotics don’t have the infrastructure to use them properly. And enforcement, which would likely require oversight of doctors, would be difficult: With incentives as they are, prescribing a medication is easier than explaining to a patient why she doesn’t need it, says Dr. Henry Chambers, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at San Francisco General Hospital. “The default is that because antibiotics are nontoxic and easy to give, you err on the side of giving the antibiotic.”

Money from the fines could go toward campaigns educating both doctors and the general public about the dangers of their actions, and toward developing low-cost tests to check for bacterial infections, like the rapid strep test. Who knows, soon enough we could be tackling ancillary problems, like how to get antibiotics to those who actually need them and have no access. All of which is to say: Let’s give the world’s antibiotics overusers a dose of reality.