Pop Goes the Cork Couture

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Ever thought of … wait. We are nearly positive it’s never occurred to you to don a layer of tree as a dress — and one that perfectly sticks to your body as a second skin, no less. But “Forest Queen” is, in fact, a look, and one that any fashion-conscious woman would be proud to rock. 

Archimedes once said something grandiose about lifting up the world. Well, Italian stylist Anna Grindi is on her own Superwoman trip. If she had a motto, it might be: “Gimme a tree trunk and I’ll make you a wedding dress.

Tempio Pausania, in the heart of Sardinia, is a cozy town where cork trees flourish and local firms have made a fortune extracting this precious material from bark. Grindi is an innovator whose big idea has proved profitable and has generated no small love among fashionistas. So if you think cork is good only for stopping up bottles or, at the most, as soles for comfy platform sandals, think again. Try one of Grindi’s creations and you might just consider a wardrobe makeover.

The designer took her land’s premium natural fiber and transformed it into a superlight, superthin soft textile to make haute couture dresses, bags — and, yes, even wedding dresses. She invented a unique (patented) technique to make the cork wearable. You can now find cork on catwalks.

The blouses and ballroom skirts drape in a wonderful way … All of it has a delicate, slightly woody scent.

And it’s not cheap. Prepare to spend a small fortune as soon as you walk into her boutique, right in the center of Tempio Pausania. You can find stylish embroidered cocktail dresses with tiny holes in them, pumps, sandals, jackets, shirts, boleros, long- and short-sleeve blouses, scarfs and even bikinis that are worn underneath suits. Hats, belts, kimonos and nightgowns made of cork are also on display. Prices range from about $65 for a hat and $85 for a belt, all the way to $1,275 for a cocktail dress and in the $1,800 range for a wedding gown. The material’s natural beige hue lends itself to endless occasions: Never too classy or dressy, it strikes a beautiful note of casual and chic. And that’s what real Italian style is all about.

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Designer Holly Fulton shows her cork fashions during London Fashion Week SS14 at BFC Courtyard Showspace on September 14, 2013 in London, England.

Source Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage/Getty

Cloth made from cork looks a little bit like deer leather. But it’s not, and once you feel it, it will be love at first sight. Especially since nothing cute has to die for these garments (even the trees — they regenerate new layers of cork after it’s harvested). Cork fabric is silkier than silk and softer than baby rabbit skin. The blouses and ballroom skirts drape in a wonderful way, clinging to the body and accentuating curves. All of it has a delicate, slightly woody scent.

Grindi has always had a knack for stitching and sewing. Ever since she was a teenager, she just couldn’t keep away from a mannequin, pins, needles and paper-cut models. “I used to skip school to go work at the atelier of this little town seamstress near my house. My mom once called the police to look for me!” she says.

It was a tough job at the beginning, trying to come up with a special wearable cork material. She spent sleepless nights working at her atelier, carrying out an infinite number of experiments until she got what she wanted: a thin, impermeable and ultralight sheet of paper cloth. “Imagine how I felt when fashion designers were all of a sudden telling me: ‘Lady, this material rocks!’” says Grindi. She has sold her cork dresses to major designers and at haute couture events across the world. There is just the one boutique, in Tempio Pausania, which is Grindi’s hometown; she is working to create an online shop.

My own name derives from the Latin word silva, meaning “woods,” so maybe I’m biased here. But if you don’t like it, that just means more comfortable, lightweight gorgeousness all for me.
 

How Golf Is Changing Korea’s Culture — and Closets

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Between herky-jerky swings with a 7-iron, Min Lee listens earnestly to tips from her instructor on the third floor of a five-tier driving range atop a parking garage in downtown Seoul. As a robotic arm drops nicked and scuffed golf balls onto a fat rubber tee, Lee swings away with varying degrees of success: Some shots flare out onto the range, but many more nosedive into the netting that protects cars in the garage below.

Lee can take solace from the fact that in golf-crazy South Korea, sometimes it’s better to look marvelous than to play marvelous. Her outfit du jour for this Saturday-morning session: light green Adidas pants, white Adidas golf shoes, a green golf glove on her left hand and a long-sleeved white shirt with the iconic rainbow-hued umbrella logo that Arnold Palmer made into one of the world’s most recognizable brands. Even though the 28-year-old Lee isn’t familiar with the late, great Hall of Famer, she is a dedicated foot soldier in Arnie’s fashion army.

In many ways, the demand for “golf casual” in South Korea is comparable to the popularity of NFL-licensed apparel in the U.S. The numbers don’t lie: South Korea shells out an estimated $13 billion annually on golf, trailing only far more populous Japan and the U.S. as a market for the sport. The Korea Golf Association estimates that golf fans make up about 10 percent of the population, a figure that could double in the next decade or so. “There’s lots of money spent on very good brand names,” says David Fisher, an American expat who is vice president of international business at the Whistling Rock Golf Club. “It’s a heck of a market.” The exclusive retreat, which is about 90 minutes northeast of Seoul, has a $1.2 million initiation fee and mountain vistas that are equally eye-popping. “In America we seem to like subtle brands and subtle colors,” Fisher says. “Here it’s bright colors and big brands.” 

 

Lee and her fellow duffers get plenty of inspiration for their golfing togs from homegrown pros. Five of the top 10 players on the LPGA Tour are from South Korea and 25 of the top 50. And reigning overall is Seoul native Inbee Park, who was a runaway gold medal winner at the Summer Olympics in Rio. On the men’s side, three South Koreans are among the top 60 golfers. To tap into all this overachieving on the links, last month the PGA Tour announced its first tournament in South Korea, which will debut in 2017 with $9.25 million in prize money, almost as much as the overall 2016 purse at the Masters Tournament at Augusta National. The event will be part of what’s essentially becoming the tour’s autumn Asian swing, joining events in Malaysia and China.

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Amy Yang of South Korea during the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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In South Korea, those high-profile pro events are expected to drive revenue where it counts — in retail sales. The LPGA Tour recently launched six stores in Seoul through a partnership with MK Trend and plans to open 100 more stores by the end of 2018. “Our stars are among the most popular athletes in South Korea,” says Jon Podany, the LPGA’s chief commercial officer. “Baseball, from what I hear, is the only sport that’s more popular on a week-to-week basis.” In an unexpected gender-bending twist, the LPGA-branded apparel also is fashionable with South Korean men, who were furious when it was proposed that LPGA markings be made smaller in the men’s line. Feedback was that the brand needed to be as visible as possible.

By contrast, in the U.S. market, it’s trendy for avid golfers to wear logoed apparel from courses, whether a home course, an exclusive club or a posh resort. There’s surprisingly little desire for that in South Korea, where it’s customary to bring a separate apparel bag (preferably brand name) to the course and change into a stylish golf outfit in the locker room. Even a premium course like the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon — site of the 2015 Presidents Cup — doesn’t stock shirts with logos in the clubhouse. “So much of daily business life is white shirt and black suit and regimented that people love to celebrate their golf round and express that happiness with their personal fashion style,” says Chris Hahn, the director of marketing, Asia region, for TaylorMade-Adidas Golf. The company, which counts world No. 1 Jason Day, U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson and men’s gold medal winner Justin Rose among its tour pros, has about 40 locations in South Korea.

Surging interest in the sport is evident throughout South Korea at amateur and professional levels, from hugely popular indoor hitting simulators to massive multilevel driving ranges where Koreans get in early-morning swings before work. “Golf here is a major event,” says TaylorMade’s Hahn. “It’s expensive and time-consuming, so most golfers don’t get the opportunity to play as many times as U.S. or European golfers. As such, you really dress for the occasion here.” So while access to on-course golf might be limited in South Korea, access to golf brands most certainly is not.

At the driving range above the parking garage, Lee finishes her Saturday-morning practice session. Waiting to take her place in the hitting bay is a middle-aged man decked out in Adidas apparel, including a bright yellow shirt and yellow shoes that match his leather TaylorMade golf bag. Regardless of how well he swings a club, he’s certainly dressed to tee off.

Want a Wife? Grow a Beard

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Want to keep the fire burning in your relationship? Or eager to up your Tinder ratios? This story is part of OZY’s series on the Science of Dating — check out the rest here. Because numbers don’t play games.

When it comes to facial hair, the men-loving among us all have our preferences. A subtle five-o’clock shadow might make some swipe right. And that lustrous, Zach Galifianakis-esque beard that some fantasize of caressing is the same stinky king-size Brillo pad that triggers in others a gag reflex. Naturally, science has investigated the beard. And recent research suggests that, at least for the ladies, it all depends on what you’re looking for: a fun fling or something more serious.

A team led by Barnaby Dixson of the University of Queensland concluded that women find men with scruff attractive as short-term partners, but gravitate to 

full-on beards for long-term relationships

Although it’s not clear why women view a bearded man as a keeper, earlier research suggests that beards make men look more mature and socially dominant — in other words, more likely to take the lead, whether it’s overseeing a project or rounding everyone up for happy hour. The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, propose that a full beard does double duty, masking extremely masculine features — which signal a potential Mr. Hit and Quit — while also advertising husband qualities.

Research has shown time and again that women are attracted to typically masculine features (such as a prominent brow ridge and thick jawline) for casual hookups. Yet studies have also shown that people perceive men with beards — also a typically masculine feature — as mature and socially dominant, qualities of someone more likely to secure resources and invest in raising children. What gives?

Across the board, women preferred any type of facial hair to a clean shave.

To find out, the study authors photographed men when clean-shaven; with light, five-day-old stubble; with heavy, 10-day-old stubble; and with an at least four-week-old beard. They used imaging software to manipulate the photos to make them appear more masculine or feminine, altering the men’s jawline, face length and other features. The researchers then randomly assigned women to three groups. They asked the first group simply to rate the photos on a scale from 0 to 6, from least to most attractive. The second group rated the attractiveness of the photos for a short-term relationship, while the third group rated their attractiveness for a long-term relationship.

The researchers analyzed the responses of 8,520 women, who rated the photos in an online survey. Across the board, women preferred any type of facial hair to a clean shave. For short-term relationships, they rated stubble as more attractive than beards, which they rated higher for long-term relationships. Overall, they rated extremely masculine and extremely feminine faces as the least attractive, regardless of relationship length. Facial hair lessened the effects of feminizing or masculinizing the photos on attractiveness, suggesting that it nudges a man’s appearance toward the attractiveness “sweet spot” between feminine and masculine. For instance, a beard might balance out softer, more effeminate features, or mask the chiseled, masculine features that signal a man appropriate for taking to bed — but maybe not home to meet Mom.

Ask yourself: Do you want to hook up or settle down?

To be sure, the study doesn’t explain how beards attract women. Research has shown that face shape conveys information about immune function and testosterone levels — but we still don’t know what beards say about a man’s biology. Even if we did, it’s not clear to what extent women’s preferences reflect fashion tastes versus evaluation of a man’s long-term potential, says Lynda Boothroyd of Durham University, who wasn’t involved in the study. (Does she find his beard alluring because it makes him look responsible, or because she’s a Portland barista who digs the lumbersexual look?) Plus, most of the participants were of European descent, which means the findings might not reflect the preferences of women outside this demographic. Investigating beardedness across cultures could help disentangle fashion trends from biology, Boothroyd says. Still, the study “is a really nice first step.” 

Adding another layer of complexity: “What people say they find attractive is not necessarily what they end up choosing,” says Danielle Sulikowski of Charles Sturt University, a co-author of the study. “We have yet to measure women’s actual pairing-up behavior.” Nonetheless, we can still glean some advice from her team’s findings. “No. 1 is grow something,” she says. “No. 2 … if you’re a guy, make sure what your goals are.” Ask yourself: Do you want to hook up or settle down? And think of facial hair like makeup or high heels — as a way to modify your natural appearance, Boothroyd adds. Now get out there and work.

Meet Tinder’s In-House Sociologist

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One day, as I swiped my way through Tinder, a pithy line on someone’s profile gave me pause: “If I was looking for a relationship, I would be on OkCupid.” Every dating app has its own reputation: eHarmony for the older generation, Raya for celebrities, Bumble for women wanting to make the first move. For Tinder, now nearing release in 200 countries worldwide, “hookup app” persists as the unshakable reputation. But Jessica Carbino would like to add a bit of nuance to that perception.

The 30-year-old UCLA Ph.D. grad — Tinder’s in-house sociologist — is responsible for discovering what Tinder users want from the app by conducting research through surveys and focus groups. Chief data officer Dan Gould calls her work “critical” in informing the product team about new features. But her work has also turned outward, as she spins an Olivia Pope-worthy narrative meant to counteract Tinder’s cheap-hookup stereotype. Among her most widely circulated projects was a 2015 Tinder-generated survey reporting that out of more than 300,000 Tinder users, 80 percent are looking for “more than just a casual hookup.” The research was done via an opt-in survey in the app so Tinder users could provide their feedback, experiences, and perceptions of it.

While polls like that can help scrub up the reputation of the company, they also offer a fascinating glimpse into the minds of modern millennial daters, and provide at least the first set of handholds to those of us trying to puzzle through the story of today’s dating landscape. Some of her findings might even help you up your swipe game. Recently, she found that users dressed in neutral colors fare worse than those in brighter colors. She also advises to avoid covering your face with a hat or sunglasses, even glasses you would normally wear. Tinder’s own social media channels have touted the tips along with numerous other media outlets. 

Carbino, an articulate, petite brunette, began working at Tinder in October 2013 after she matched with Tinder founder and CEO Sean Rad on the app, which, yes, she was using for dating. But after a visit to Tinder HQ, Rad reportedly told her, “You know, Jess, you seem nice, but I’d really rather hire you.” (Neither Carbino nor Rad would confirm this quote with us, though Carbino shared it with California Sunday Magazine.) The Philadelphia native’s addition to the team couldn’t have come at a better time. By 2014, the app was growing at breakneck speed with more than 1 billion swipes per day and an average daily user session of an hour and a half. 

But then things took a sharp turn, and not because of the technology. Allegations surfaced of sexual harassment by Rad’s co-founder, Justin Mateen, against Whitney Wolfe, the former vice president of marketing, who later founded Bumble. Wolfe sued Tinder and its parent company IAC, later settling. Rad was caught in a PR firestorm after screenshots of texts surfaced showing him asking for Wolfe to resign; he was removed as CEO but reinstated five months later. (Tinder’s VP of communications and branding, Rosette Pambakian, notes that he remained at the company as president and led all product initiatives during the interim, and the lawsuit was settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Tinder. Wolfe has not replied to requests for comment.) Against that seediness, Carbino stood out as a fresh face for the company, hailed as the “Dr. Ruth of the Swipe Right Generation” in a recent LA Weekly profile. And, of course, she’s a damn good spokesperson, notes online dating expert Julie Spira. For a company trading in such seeming frivolity, Carbino adds a level of credibility. 

And yet the very thing that gives Tinder a shallow reputation among daters might give it a shallow reputation in the data world, too: Its users do not upload full-blown profiles in the vein of OkCupid, giving the company less information than traditional dating sites, says Eli J. Finkel, a psychology professor at Northwestern University. When asked, Carbino breezes by the question, asserting that Tinder’s information is “rich, if not richer” than other sources. The other experts aren’t entirely disparaging: Finkel, who penned an op-ed in the New York Times called “In Defense of Tinder,” says he’s not sure what Carbino’s finding on bright versus neutral colors would tell us about the human psyche, but he counts it as potentially interesting. He reminds us, however, to be “wary” of research paid for and published by for-profit companies, especially when used to substantiate a marketing claim. And nothing counts as scientific research unless it’s possible in principle for other scientists to conduct independent replications.

Of course, it’s less data and more reputation that impacts the bottom line of dating apps. Amid all the noise, dating startups are relying on branding to be their signal. A competitor, Hinge, recently rebranded, calling itself “The Relationship App” — which Carbino describes as a “clever marketing stunt” — something that perhaps indicates an unmet need in the market. (OZY reached out to all of the dating companies mentioned here; none replied to request for comment.)

Carbino’s not quite trying to make Tinder G-rated, however. It’s probably because Tinder’s popularity lies in one of its most controversial elements — it’s a game! Spira recalls that when Tinder was first released, the app would prompt “Keep playing?” each time a match appeared — a feature that was removed only recently. NYU Stern professor Vasant Dhar points out that “gamification is a positive thing; it leads to more engagement and more people playing games.” Carbino’s defense is a familiar one: Swiping right or left is just an app-embodied example of how we judge others in real life. And you don’t need a huge sample size to know that’s true.

How to Get a 100-Day Vacation, Every Year

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Tired of the 9-to-5? Had enough of your stuffy cubicle? Microsoft Office got you down? Then check out Our Dream Workplace, a series of immodest solutions to workplace problems, from the ever-productive minds at OZY.

Happy, er, hump day, and hands up if you can’t wait for the weekend. But come Sunday evening, you know you’ll feel like you do every week — where the hell did the weekend go?!

Chances are, you work five days a week, 9 to 5 (or maybe 8 to 6, seeing as the average American employee clocks nearly 50 hours a week). Despite recent trends toward flexible working hours and the so-called “gig economy,” most of us still log a predictable, regular, boring workweek. The 5-2 pattern is arbitrary when you boil it down: The seven-day week seemed to originate with the Babylonians, and the two-day weekend started because English factory workers would often skip work with a hangover on Mondays when given just the Sabbath off. So here’s an idea: Let’s let workers trade those weekend days to spend whenever they want.

Since five-sevenths — or 71.4% — of the year is a workday, the rest are days off, so why shouldn’t we choose when they fall? To wit: If you choose to work through Saturday and Sunday one week, you could take a four-day break the next. Or, for those of you with hard-core endurance, you could work the first 261 days of the year straight through, from New Year’s Day until September 18, and then take the rest of the year off.

As it happens, the practice of being on for concentrated periods of time and then having extended time off “has been around forever” in certain industries, says professor Stewart D. Friedman from the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, such as on oil rigs and in the military. It turns out, he says, that when companies allow employees to fit work around their personal lives, without a rigid requirement to be in the office at a certain time each morning, workers still get the job done, and in fact do so more productively, and live happier, healthier lives. What’s not to love? Research suggests that even when companies trust their employees with unlimited paid vacation, they tend to end up taking about the same amount of time off as they would have otherwise, says Friedman. Banking up your weekends to later spend on longer breaks isn’t too far of a stretch.

Of course, excessive flexibility can prove costly to small businesses, says Molly Day from the National Small Business Association: “If you have one accountant and that person is gone for seven days without warning, somebody else in the office is gonna have to figure out how to do the payroll.” In small doses, this could be more amenable to employers. “If you wanted to bank up all your weekends for one month to take a vacation, I think that’s something that most employers could work with,” says Day, but if we’re talking 100 straight days off per year, “you get into a work-continuity issue.” Many of the companies pioneering flexible work policies have the profit margins and staffing levels to afford it: Those offering paid time off include the LinkedIns and Netflixes of the world. This can pose another challenge for small businesses: competing for employees (especially millennials, who prioritize work-life balance) against big companies able to offer more favorable benefits.

Besides that, increasingly flexible hours can make it more difficult for workers to switch off, warns Friedman. “The danger is you risk erasing the boundary between work and life, and work becomes all-consuming,” he says. More to the point from an employee’s point of view, any implementation of this sort of weekend-banking policy would have to ensure that extra time off in the form of public holidays and existing vacation time was given in addition to the 104 days of weekend per year, to avoid it actually resulting in less time off than would otherwise have been the case.

Despite the drawbacks of taking this proposal to the extremes, a little flexibility could still go a long way, when it might make more sense to work intensively on a project through the weekend and delay your time off so you can properly enjoy it. Food for thought the next time you find yourself working on a Sunday.

The Cocaine Addict Who Invented Radical Cancer Surgery

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Young Dr. William Halsted’s life was unraveling. To help, a friend took him on a weeks-long sailing trip — no cocaine allowed. But Halsted smuggled a two-week supply aboard anyway, and when he ran out, he broke into the crew’s cabinet in search of another high.

It was just another low point for one of the most influential men in modern medicine. A latecomer to the profession — he didn’t pick up Gray’s Anatomy until his senior year of college — Halsted scalpeled his way past the competition, invented two groundbreaking surgeries and became one of Johns Hopkins medical school’s founding members. Halsted changed the way surgery was performed, according to plastic surgeon and medical author Gerald Imber, and Halsted’s surgical descendants, generations later, are the heads of surgery all over the country. “A barbaric profession was turned into a heroic discipline by one man in America,” Imber says, referring to Halsted’s scientific study of surgery, complete with proper care of tissues and note-taking during procedures.

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Halsted’s version of the surgery excavated more and more tissue — digging out the muscles of the breast cavity, the lymph nodes and so on.

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The inventive doctor saved and prolonged lives. But he also was plagued by addiction and poor health. Born in 1852, Halsted enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York City, later attending Andover and Yale. At a meager 5 feet, 6 inches, he wasn’t the most athletic boy. He also wasn’t the most popular — he abstained from drinking and going to parties. He also dressed like a dandy and later would send his shirts to Paris to be laundered. 

Once Halsted became a doctor, he joined the New York Hospital. There he’s credited with making his first lasting innovation: the hospital chart. He ingratiated himself with the young medical upstarts of his time, among them William Welch, who would become the first dean of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Ever committed to improvement, Halsted decided to continue his studies in Europe, where he worked with several surgical heavyweights. Upon his return, he brought back unconventional wisdom about surgery and sanitation.

Three years into practicing, he requested a modern operating room for his own use because he was appalled by the poor, unsanitary conditions of the others. He was denied. Undeterred, Halsted raised $10,000 from family and friends and built a fully enclosed tent. For 1885, it was perhaps “the most modern operating room in the country,” Imber says.

 

On paper, Halsted — aka “The Professor” — worked his way to the top. He was the only person at Johns Hopkins who was both a senior surgeon and a professor of surgery. His technique was impeccable, most doctors at the time noted. He tied off every blood vessel, tried not to damage tissue he could avoid and was adamant about cleanliness.

Trouble was, he also skipped out on surgeries and missed lectures owing to cocaine, the same drug that ensnared Dr. Sigmund Freud. Early in life, Halsted tried the experimental painkiller and became what Imber calls “an accidental addict.” When it comes to medicine, “the first person you experiment on is yourself,” he explains. Medicine was the Wild West back then, and little was known about the addictive drug. 

Halsted got hooked on cocaine but kept pushing himself professionally. Despite breaking rules, he would hold his colleagues to a high standard in the operating room. “Act like a surgeon,” he’d reprimand. In 1890, he released word of his new hernia operation. A couple of years later, he published the results of 82 cases. The surgery was a hit and became a relatively safe and effective option for patients. Then he topped himself, writing up 50 cases of a radical operation for breast cancer.

Halsted’s version of the surgery excavated more and more tissue — digging out the muscles of the breast cavity, the lymph nodes and glands above and underneath the collarbone. Halsted became a star. The upside? Women’s lives were often prolonged from their initial prognosis. The downside was that the need for such invasive surgery most likely meant the cancer had already spread. But Halsted was working within “an ingrained culture of surgical showmanship,” Imber says, which read the absence of local recurrence as the ultimate success. Some, like Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, have painted Halsted in a negative light, while others like Imber reckon Halsted’s motives were more pure and his execution more responsible than he’s given credit for. Halsted’s surgery stood for decades, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that doctors began denouncing the use of mastectomies when it became clear that other less-invasive treatments worked just as well on smaller tumors.

Sicker and sicker, Halsted finally crashed due to gallstone complications. By 1922, at the age of 69, he was admitted to Johns Hopkins, this time as a patient. Suffering from jaundice, pain, vomiting and lack of appetite, his condition worsened and he developed lobar pneumonia and died. By then, Halsted had become a veritable recluse, spending evenings alone at his home, trying his best to hide the demons of addiction that haunted him. His friend, Dr. Welch, wrote about Halsted’s lifelong addiction. “As long as he lived, he would occasionally have a relapse and go back to the drug.” 

Fooling With Fentanyl: Don’t

Photo courtesy of OXBOW

In 2002, my band OXBOW was touring the U.K. With a raft of records, six full-length albums at last count with the seventh scheduled for March 2017, no fewer than three documentaries made about the band, and bows with everyone from The Melvins and King Diamond to Neurosis and Dälek, Vice has pegged us “the greatest art-rock band of all time.” And our tours have taken us to Japan, all over the U.S. and all over Europe since we formed back in the hinterland of the late ’80s.

Which means, yes, if you’re doing the math: We’ve been doing this close to 30 years. Thirty years of jumping off of PA stacks, jumping around on stages scattered with broken glass, hitting, getting hit and in general, living life dangerously. All while maintaining a parallel professional editorial existence. While the music and the stage shows have refined themselves and evolved into a more sophisticated mélange of mixed instrumentation and dark theater and less frantic freak-out, the reality remains: Getting on and off the stage takes a toll, both emotional and physical. Especially physical.

“Here. You can have these. They made me violently ill, but I’d been awake for three days and hadn’t eaten when I had taken them.” The speaker was a friend, who was not a doctor. A friend who weighed about 100 pounds. In a box where I kept my physician-prescribed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antinausea, antidiarrhea pills and tablets — the so-called Magic Box for the Aging Musician — I tossed in the two fentanyl patches. “They’re supposed to be 10 more times more powerful than morphine.”

She was almost right. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, they’re about 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Morphine got us through World War II. But somehow, getting through a two-week OXBOW tour, I figured I needed something a little more stringent in the painkilling department than aspirin. And apparently I needed it right before we played our first show in London in seven years. 

I mean it was a little patch, this fentanyl, which also comes as pills and gas. And I was achin’ and painin’. So I peeled it off and slapped it on under my underwear. The tour van careened along and I lounged in the backseat for the remaining hour before we pulled into the club, the New Cross Amersham Arms, and sound checked. I mean that’s how things were supposed to go. But 45 minutes later I was no longer in a van. I was in a ship on roiling seas. With waves and waves of nausea rushing in and over the gunwales. 

So: not your father’s ibuprofen. And while waiting for it to plateau and ease off with 15 minutes to go until club time, it was clear to me that that might never happen. In the meantime? The worst high in the world. For a painkiller, while physical pain was absent, every move of my body kicked off fresh waves of nausea. Nausea now so bad I couldn’t really see, and despite the now-quieting murmur of an inner voice that said “Ride it out,” I knew that with a couple more upticks in nausea, I might not actually be able to make it. The show, for certain. Life, possibly. So, as we pull up to the club, I yank off the patch, toss it in the garbage and grab some orange juice from the greenroom where I sit to gather what few wits I had that were still functioning and wait to return to some version of reality.

Except this didn’t happen. Not at all. The nausea continued and my friend’s voice returned to me. The part about being violently ill. For three days.

“I need to walk around a bit.” Our tour manager Manuel snaps a picture of me and says, “Come back soon.”

I’m stumbling through the streets of London. Being given wide berth by passersby. I don’t know how sick I am until the store clerk where I am trying to buy a Red Bull — to “take the edge off” — refuses to take the money from my hand. He tells me to put it on the counter first. I’m too wobbly to complain and so I comply. I drink the Red Bull on the way back. When I get back, it’s time to play. I had not been gone for a five-minute walk. I had been gone for hours.

I made it through the show and now had shivers and a generalized fear of trying to sleep. I weighed 240 at the time and in the face of what can comfortably be called the worst high in the world, I remained baffled: Who would make something so horrible and why?

Not too long after that, in the midst of a Chechen siege of a theater, Russian special forces guys pumped the theater full of fentanyl, killing the bad guys and a bunch of theatergoers. A bunch of years after that, Prince succumbed to the effects of some possibly mislabeled fentanyl. Then, 71 percent of the drug deaths in New Hampshire? Attributable to fentanyl. On account of heroin dealers crystallizing it and using it to cut heroin with. So while I’m still playing shows with OXBOW and I still have failed to find a clock at home that runs backward (so they’re not getting any easier), if I can’t stand up after an hour-plus of getting down? Aspirin will do me just fine.

 

How Bernie Sanders Will Stick It to Trump

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Nine days after the election, labor leaders and environmentalists held a rally in a park barely a football field’s distance from the U.S. Capitol, convinced that their fight was just beginning. And their leader, Bernie Sanders, agreed. “Please do not forget — Donald Trump goes into the White House having lost the popular vote by 2 million votes,” the junior senator from Vermont said, adding: “One of the reasons that he won is, in my view, a failure in the Democratic Party” — namely, an inability to speak to the working class — “that must be rectified.”

Rather than go quietly into the night, the white-haired septuagenarian continues to rage in defiance of the right — without sparing his caucus colleagues either. But now that Republicans control the presidency and a majority in both chambers of Congress, Sanders will face steep opposition to the agenda he hammered on throughout the campaign. How can Sanders continue to exert influence as a member of the opposition minority? The answer: He’ll need to bare his quills. “The key is to be a porcupine — have a reputation for being difficult,” Chris Matthews, then spokesman for House Speaker Tip O’Neill, told Hedrick Smith in Smith’s legendary book The Power Game: How Washington Works. “Most people are generally utilitarian: They try to achieve the greater happiness,” Matthews said. “So why spend your day being miserable?”

Sanders does possess one, ahem, “Trump card” in his battle for Senate relevancy: the similarity between his supporters and Trump’s.

It’s time for Sanders to get prickly. In fact, he may have started back in May, when he encouraged fellow liberals to reject bipartisan bills to address the Puerto Rican budget crisis (“legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism”) and to rewrite the nation’s chemical-safety laws (“federal chemical regulations should be a floor, not a ceiling”). These contrarian positions spurred Politico to describe Sanders as “the next Dr. No.” Hedrick Smith noted in his 1988 best-seller, however, that the ability to say nay is an underrated power, and since comparisons to Ronald Reagan are en vogue today, it’s worth mentioning the porcupines who ruled during that era: Edmund Muskie, a Maine Democrat who would “smoke a god-awful cigar” and just be “difficult, cantankerous,” as Matthews put it, and Howard Metzenbaum, a liberal senator from Ohio who was known for attacking bills that gave tax breaks to special business interests — the “millionaihs and billionaihs” Bernie raves against.

These days the senator most likely to brandish quills is Ted Cruz, who in 2013 famously filibustered a government spending bill over his opposition to Obamacare and added a poison-pill amendment designed to kill comprehensive immigration reform. Similarly, Sanders could filibuster controversial appointments to the Supreme Court while adding bill-slaying amendments to measures like building the Trump wall or gutting the Affordable Care Act.

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A Bernie supporter on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Nov. 17.

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Another powerful pinprick at Sanders’ disposal: the “hold.” This legislative procedure lets any single senator delay a motion from reaching a floor vote and do so anonymously, although Sanders would likely make his holds public in order to rally his legions of followers as additional pressure points. The hold was originally established to give senators additional time to study bills that may affect their constituents. During the ’60s, it became a common tactic for pissing off foes and killing legislation since it takes a cloture vote of 60 senators to break. The risk: Will Democrats reward leftists like Sanders for their opposition the way Republicans rewarded conservatives this election? “Republican voters like the fact that the party holds these ideological bright lines regardless of circumstances,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist, “but Democrats are more group-based; they need to see wins and like to see progress.”

 

Boston University political scientist Thomas Whalen believes Democrats need to “make the populist argument” that Sanders continues to champion, but he has less faith in the Vermont senator’s ability to guide his own bills through the legislative labyrinth and into law. “He doesn’t have a soft touch where it matters,” Whalen says. What gives the porcupine strength — the sharpness of his opposition — makes it difficult to build coalitions. It’s a problem that dogs Sanders — except for a VA reform bill, his legislative record is scant — the way it did Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, who inspired a generation of Reagan Republicans, including current House Speaker Paul Ryan. “There was a lot of resentment toward Jack Kemp, because they thought he was a kind of showhorse; he didn’t possess the substance,” says Whalen. “Somebody like a Lyndon B. Johnson — he was a master of the Senate, he knew all the ins and outs. But those are rare.” 

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Senator Bernie Sanders speaks out against President-elect Donald Trump on Nov. 17.

Source Samuel Corum/Getty

Still, Sanders does possess one, ahem, “Trump card” in his battle for Senate relevancy: the similarity between his supporters and Trump’s. Should Trump falter in his promise to revive manufacturing in the Midwest or end unfair trade deals, nobody will cut such an attractive opposition figure as Sanders. While the 75-year-old is likely too old to launch a serious run in the next election cycle, he could spend his golden years scuttling the president-elect. After all, Trump may have had his mega-rallies, but Sanders did too, and his loyalists are willing to write, call and generally pester lawmakers, even those on their side of the ideological spectrum, as they did by petitioning President Obama to move against the Dakota Access Pipeline. That energy could easily be turned against Trump. According to former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, who is a board member of the political organization Our Revolution and a Sanders supporter, “If Trump plans to usher in a new fleet of robber barons or implement his agenda in regards to Muslims and Mexico, people of color, we will make his life hell.”

Spells for the Modern-Day Sorceress

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Weary from a long day of gray skies, I began my magic ritual while huddling away from the rain. Grains of salt tickled my fingers; cool water washed over my hands. Then a quick pass over a warm candle flame and incense to cap things off. Earth, water, fire and air — so the cleansing process goes. My spirits are lifted already — just like magic.

But this is not a hex. These mystical practices, drawn from centuries — and probably dusty tomes — of witchcraft today arrive in my inbox via a digital newsletter called “My Feminism Involves Witchcraft.” It’s courtesy of 23-year-old Haylin Belay, a modern-day witch in New York. Her diary-like writings each revolve around a spell or ritual, all made fuss-free with ingredients you can find in your home, including mint, salt, oils and spices. Belay, who works with healing crystals and frequents apothecaries, calls her brand of magic “a place to reclaim your personal power” when things are falling apart, times are tough or you’re in a rut. Even if you think magic is hogwash, her musings are a short and sweet respite from the heavy humdrum of work, life and even love.

The sorcery is spreading fast.

To be clear, her witchcraft involves no necromancy, dark arts or Vodou. Rather, feast your eyes on a poetic ritual for “love in loveless times” when you’re feeling cold, alone and lost: Soak in a bath with a potion of vanilla, cinnamon oil and rose petals. Don’t forget to “add your gratitude” and let a teaspoon of fresh honey “melt on your tongue as you sink into the hot water.” Or cast this special spell to attract more money: First, bake discs of baking soda, sea salt, thyme, basil and mint and then allow them to slowly dissolve in your shower — a “serious cleanser for those stressed by rent checks and unexpected bills,” says Belay. Other suggestions revolve around banishing winter woes, forming feminist covens of witches and harnessing the moon’s energy.

The sorcery is spreading fast. The newsletter already boasts 1,000 subscribers. And beyond that, others are rushing to meet the growing demand from an oft-ignored community inside the world of modern magic. Mainstream conceptions of witchcraft usually conjure up images of white witches in Western Europe and New England “dancing around naked in moonlight and pouring potions into cauldrons,” says Belay, who credits her first forays in kitchen magic to her Ethiopian upbringing. But a more inclusive movement is afoot: Blogs and forums are humming with novice witches of color trading tips while Black Witch University prepares to open its doors in 2017.

Granted, if you’re looking for truly mind-bending hocus-pocus, you may come up empty-handed. This witchcraft is no cure-all for your money problems or magic bullet for your dating life, and it likely won’t work like the fancy wands at Hogwarts. But if these rituals help banish your feelings of powerlessness and give you agency in your life, then Belay believes the spell has worked. Apparently, that’s where the real magic happens.

Video by Nat Roe

The No. 1 Reason Not to Live in Italy

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Who wouldn’t love to own a summer home in gorgeous sunny Italy? Picture it: a serene patio overlooking the beach or the green rolling hills. Maybe your European pied-à-terre would be nestled in a maze of winding, cobbled alleys or near one of the medieval arches that are renowned in scenic hilltop towns.

Just make sure you also have a thorough escape plan. Not because of any Mafia clichés or spikes in home invasion, although a high-end deadbolt and a good Rottweiler are never a bad idea. But your biggest potential foe in Italy is Mother Nature. Believe it or not, roughly

77 percent of its towns are at risk of natural disaster

Specifically, mudslides, landslides, floods and earthquakes, That’s according to Italian environmental-advocacy group Legambiente. Luckily, we don’t have tsunamis and tornadoes over here. Even so, this gloomy picture means that when disaster strikes — and quakes are both frequent and violent — you’d better be in that other 23 percent of the country. 

Old is beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. Nearly all cities and villages in Italy date back centuries. “Trouble is, most have never been given a thorough makeover,” says Giorgio Zampetti of Legambiente, “and many buildings are crumbling to the ground.” At the same time, he says, new dwellings suffer from poor construction and a lack of safety regulations. “Above all, Italy needs a sound reconstruction plan” to prepare for natural disasters, says Zampetti.

 

The outlook darkens when new neighborhoods crop up in high-risk, red-zone areas previously struck by a flood or quake. It’s not that residents and local authorities don’t know about the dangers there. Some experts say that Italians willfully disregard the risks. Alfio La Rosa of consumer lobby Federconsumatori says the majority of Italian territory has been mapped in recent years to clearly depict levels of risk, “but guess what, nobody takes this into account when planning a new town or dwelling.” In Sicily, which is among Italy’s riskiest zones, La Rosa says awareness is widespread, yet few have moved to solve the problem. “Of 390 towns on our island, only 145 have put in place a quake-emergency plan,” he says.

Public funds have always been allocated to reduce the risks associated with natural calamity — bringing buildings up to earthquake code, for instance — but experts say that the money isn’t always used appropriately. Moreover, state and local bodies struggle to keep track of where such investments end up, thanks to the labyrinth of bureaucracy. Then there are criminal construction operations that essentially pilfer public funds allotted to maintenance work by bidding low and then delivering cheap building materials that fold at the first serious gust of wind.

So, to give you a helpful hint: Before purchasing a holiday retreat in Italy, it might be worth taking a look at this official risk-assessment map from the government. It’s pretty easy to read, but just in case you need pointers: Steer clear of the freaky orange-red parts. It’ll up your chances of long, happy years with that lovely cottage you just bought.