At the edge of my high school football field in Homewood, Illinois, lived a nice woman named Gina Mensone. Fed up by her Homeowner Association’s (HOA) lawn maintenance fees, she decided to fight back. Gina replaced her lawn with low-maintenance native grasses and plants and had the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) certify her yard as a wildlife habitat. This gave her a property tax exemption that meant HOA couldn’t touch her.
Soon, foxes denned under her deck, and her yard became home to songbirds and owls. This worried some neighbors, especially the ones who had never seen foxes in the area before. After generations of subscribing to America’s fanatic devotion to culturing a barren green carpet of non-native grasses, they had no idea that foxes were native to the area.
The idea of a healthy lawn is nothing more than creative marketing. Grasses, when cut, signal to their roots to grow outward, rather than down. It’s a desperate gambit: Anchored more shallowly, the grass receives less water and fewer nutrients, making it less resistant to drought or fire. With more blades, however, some might survive long enough to reseed. But we, the mowing public, spend between $47.8 billion and $82 billion a year, according to market research hub IbisWorld, to ensure they don’t. We lock turf grass in prepubescent sterility, wondering why our sod never takes root, and force it to depend on life support: a three-part cocktail of water, fertilizer and pesticides. And for what?
Because lawns across America mix chemicals, it’s hard to gauge what exact health and ecological dangers our cocktail poses.
Our fertilizer-saturated soils release nitrous oxide, a gas 300 times more potent than CO2. Short-rooted turf grasses typically have less potential to sequester carbon underground than native deep-rooted grasses. And to sever all their expensive growth, we pour gas into lawn mowers that emit CO2.
Companies tout lawns as carbon-capturing, but as Diane Pataki, a biology professor at the University of Utah, says, “You can’t really talk about soil [carbon] sequestration without doing full greenhouse gas accounting. Once you do that, lawns don’t pencil out very well.” Conservative estimates peg U.S. lawns as exhaling 25 million tons of CO2, according to Chuanhui Gu, an assistant geology professor at Appalachian State University.
American landscaping consumes more pesticides, herbicides and fungicides than agriculture, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and with none of the regulation. Some of these pesticides, such as Chlorpyrifos, can pose health risks to humans and are extremely dangerous to fish, birds and beneficial insects. Because lawns across America mix chemicals, it’s hard to gauge what exact health and ecological dangers these cocktails pose. We know many pesticides are noted endocrine disrupters or can become disrupters when mixed, which threatens invertebrates, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals. Studies have also shown that lawn pesticides (“organic” ones included) harm pollinators. The herbicides we use to kill weeds such as clover, which actually adds nitrogen to soil, kills the best food that pollinators like bees and butterflies could find amid our barren lawns. And the granular pesticides often recommended to avoid harming pollinators are instead ingested by birds.
In fact, many of our turf grasses are also weeds, says Pataki. “[Because these] weedy grasses tend to be warm season … it’s likely that climate change will bring us more of these weeds.” So while keeping up with the Joneses, we’re unknowingly ruining the food and shelter needed for groundhogs, cottontails, moles, skunks and geese, while also starving the birds and butterflies. And when we overwater? We create nasty breeding pools for mosquitoes.
More importantly, says Mark Hostetler, an ecology professor at the University of Florida, lawn care — by prioritizing quick, often chemical fixes to pests over ecological ones — teaches us to abandon our connection to the ecology of gardening.
The good news? There is a simple solution: You can start over by growing native plants. Several states offer programs that pay people to replace lawns with more water-conscious landscapes. Others have made it illegal for HOAs to fine people for not neutering their barren carpets. You could even pull a Gina and have the DNR certify your yard as a wildlife habitat and potentially even get a tax exemption.
And next Saturday, while your neighbors are firing up their Lawnboys or writing checks to expensive landscaping services, you can relax and enjoy your new, native, low-maintenance lawn.
In the corridors of power in Seoul, among the policymakers, economists and businesspeople who drive Asia’s fourth-largest economy, conversation is dominated by one unlikely topic: crisis. From the outside this may seem odd, given the South Korean economy appears in robust shape. Growth this year is forecast to be just under 3 percent, while exports remain buoyant and unemployment less than 4 percent.
But these indicators mask a stark reality for the onetime Asian tiger economy. Looming on the horizon sits a confluence of factors that economists believe could dramatically affect the country’s growth trajectory, unless the government begins serious structural reforms immediately.
From the growing and potentially existential threat from Chinese competitors to a rapidly aging population, the South Korean economy must quickly transition to a new growth model, experts say, or risk a long-term slowdown akin to neighboring Japan.
“We are at a watershed moment,” says Yoon Jong-won, an economic adviser to South Korean president Moon Jae-in. “If we don’t address past economic problems and if we go ahead as is, uncertainties over our growth trajectory will increase further.”
South Korea can no longer be competitive using second-mover advantages.
Oh Se-jung, member, National Assembly of South Korea
The issue is one close to the heart of the president, who swept to power last year on the back of economic pledges to improve people’s livelihoods and make South Korea a more equitable nation.
But more than one year into his five-year term, Moon’s economic plans have yet to gain traction and amid sliding approval numbers the 65-year-old is beginning to show signs of anxiety. “We must at least be able to give hope to the people that our economy will recover,” he said recently.
Critics argue a more fundamental approach is required. “We need total structural changes on every level — the societal level, the government level, the corporate level,” says Eom Chi-sung, deputy secretary-general of the Federation of Korean Industries. “We need a kind of spiritual revolution.”
At the crux of the issue is the notion that South Korea’s economic model is no longer competitive. For decades, the economy boomed — and citizens prospered — on the back of a handful of industrial conglomerates, which proved adept at “fast following” the manufacturing output of Western and Japanese companies, typically at more competitive prices.
Bolstered by government support, the likes of Hyundai and Samsung threw themselves into sectors such as shipbuilding, automobiles and electronics, and proved tremendously successful around the world. At one point exports accounted for more than 55 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product. Today exports remain solid and are worth more than 40 percent of GDP. But South Korea’s competitive edge now risks being eroded and the culprit sits next door: China.
“South Korea’s manufacturing sector is in crisis,” says Oh Se-jung, a member of the National Assembly, pointing to the nation’s declining global share of shipbuilding, automobiles, steel and even mobile phones. In shipbuilding, for instance, South Korea has seen its market share decline in the past decade from 35 percent to 24 percent, while China’s has almost doubled, according to Clarksons Research.
“South Korea can no longer be competitive using second-mover advantages … due to the competitive threats from China and India. South Korea does not have its own accumulated know-how either,” says Oh.
The bleak outlook is borne out across the country as industrial hubs shed tens of thousands of jobs. Ulsan, home to Hyundai’s heavy and automobile industries, was once South Korea’s fastest-growing and wealthiest city. Today, it represents the nation’s rust belt, the human toll of economic decline evident in the increasing spate of suicide attempts (nearly 200 so far this year). Young people are also fleeing: Having quadrupled since the 1970s, the population of Ulsan began to decline in 2016. Ulsan is just one of nine regions the government has dubbed “industrial crisis zones” and earmarked for almost $1 billion in support. Seoul is also in the process of implementing a $3.5 billion supplementary budget to create jobs and tackle youth unemployment, which remains intractable at about 10 percent.
Critics, however, have derided such measures as merely a stopgap approach, aimed at propping up industries that are fundamentally unsustainable, rather than addressing the underlying structural problems. “Korea needs to focus on research and development and securing cutting-edge technologies. China is rapidly gaining on South Korean companies with massive investments,” says Yang Joon-mo, an economics professor at Yonsei University.
Lee Soo-hyun, a research associate at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, echoes the sentiment, saying that the core issue not being addressed is the country’s dependence “on exports that are being driven by big conglomerates.”
“Ultimately it is the conglomerates that decide the strategic industries of Korea, as opposed to Korea deciding those industries,” says Lee.
The perception that the country is dependent on its biggest companies was reinforced this month when Samsung — by far South Korea’s largest and richest conglomerate — unveiled a $160 billion investment plan aimed at securing growth amid the rising threat from Chinese competitors. Almost $100 billion of the funds was allocated to capital expenditure, with the bulk of that directed toward a single business: semiconductors.
In hot demand from global technology companies that require ever-greater data storage, memory chips have underpinned Samsung’s soaring profits for the past year. They have also propped up the nation’s exports. According to the Hyundai Research Institute, semiconductors have accounted for as much as 20 percent of exports so far this year, up from 12 percent in 2016.
But Chinese groups are eagerly eyeing the sector — and they have government backing. Under the Made in China 2025 blueprint, Beijing has made clear it wants to dominate high-tech industry. “On the export side, we have a problem: Our biggest customer [China] has become our competitor,” says Peter Kim, an investment strategist at Mirae Asset Daewoo in Seoul. “The only thing holding up right now is semiconductors.”
For its part, the Moon administration has crafted a dual-pronged economic strategy. The first is “income-led growth.” Moon has pushed policies to improve working conditions and increase wages in the hope that rising consumption will trigger a virtuous cycle of employment and growth.
“In the past, our economic growth was mostly export-driven, but we are now seeing more balanced growth with private consumption picking up and solid wage growth,” says Yoon, the economic adviser to the president.
The policy, however, has already run into resistance from the legions of largely unprofitable small and medium-size enterprises, which cannot afford to pay increased wages. Soaring levels of household debt — about $1.15 trillion — have also acted as a damper on consumption.
The other prong of Moon’s economic agenda is to nurture what his administration is calling “innovative growth.” Aware of the threat posed by China, Seoul has indicated it will pursue vast deregulation to encourage “value added” high-tech industries and boost productivity, which by some metrics is only half the rate of the U.S.
Central to this is creating what Yoon calls a “level playing field” for startups and small businesses, which have long been stymied by the market dominance of South Korea’s sprawling conglomerates — the chaebol. “The chaebol have made many contributions to our economic development by paying taxes and creating jobs. But they are now … taking unfair gains through unfair intragroup deals. This hinders fair competition,” says Yoon.
Kwon Goo-hoon, an economist with Goldman Sachs, says he is optimistic the South Korean economy could move up the value chain, given its strong technology sector as well as its well-educated population. The key, however, would be whether it could embrace “more, not less” globalization.
“What we should watch is not whether a particular route [South Korean companies] are taking is right or wrong, but rather how they execute and change and whether they are open to a new way of doing business, especially with globalization,” Kwon says, alluding to the prevalent idea that few of South Korea’s companies are truly global in outlook and operations.
“A lot of people now have a negative view of globalization, but in the case of Korea, which has demographic headwinds, globalization will be crucial,” he adds.
Demographics remain one of South Korea’s biggest challenges and one that successive governments have failed to address. The nation of 50 million has one of the world’s most rapidly aging populations. By 2060, more than 40 percent of citizens will be over the age of 65, up from about 13 percent now.
The percentage of the population that is of working age — defined between 15 and 65 — peaked in 2016 at 73 percent and is projected to drop to 50 percent by 2060.
“The Korean economy faces a number of structural challenges that hamper its long-term growth prospects. The main one is the unfavorable demographics,” says Edda Zoli, an economist with the International Monetary Fund. The demographic crunch, combined with the threat to industry from China, has prompted many to believe South Korea is destined for a prolonged period of reduced growth and inflation — a situation that Japan has experienced for the past two decades.
“We cannot avoid what Japan has gone through,” says Park Chong-hoon, head of research at Standard Chartered in Seoul. “The key now is how we can minimize the impact of Japanization and how we can delay Japanization.”
Zoli acknowledges the parallels between South Korea and Japan, but points out Japan’s “so-called lost decades were … the consequence of a series of exogenous shocks.” South Korea also has several policy tools available to reinvigorate growth, she says, arguing that Seoul should use its “substantial fiscal space” to support labor and product market reforms. “[South] Korea has one of the soundest fiscal positions among advanced economies,” she says.
It is a reality that South Korean officials finally appear ready to acknowledge. Last week, Kim Dong-yeon, the finance minister, pledged to increase the rate of budget spending by 7.7 percent next year, up from 5.7 percent this year.
“The positive in all this is when Korea gets cornered into a crisis, it brings out the best [in people],” says Kim, the investment strategist, pointing to the country’s experience during the 1997 Asian financial crisis when thousands of citizens donated gold possessions to the government to help weather the storm. “We’ve always had to fight.”
A peace dividend? Seoul sees potential economic boost from North Korea
Amid the challenges facing the South Korean economy, there are also opportunities. In Seoul, there is growing excitement that the potential opening of the North Korean economy could prove a boon for the South.
“Our new growth engine can be found in inter-Korean economic cooperation, combining the South’s capital and technology with the North’s inexpensive labor as well as its land,” said Cho Bong-hyun, vice director of the IBK Economic Research Institute.
It is a prospect of which the Moon Jae-in administration in Seoul appears to be keenly aware. As geopolitical tensions cooled this summer, the South Korean leader has pushed for deeper economic cooperation with Pyongyang, a move that could incur the ire of the U.S.
Moon announced last week that Seoul would establish road and rail links with the North by the end of the year and would work toward setting up an “Asian railroad community,” which he hopes can serve as a precursor to a regional trading bloc.
The plans could add more than 1 percentage point to South Korea’s annual gross domestic product and would create more than 700,000 jobs in the next five years, according to a study by the IBK institute.
The road map would also effectively end South Korea’s “island” status by integrating it into regional energy and transport networks in Russia and China.
In the longer term, a unified peninsula “could overtake France, Germany and possibly Japan in terms of GDP in U.S. dollar terms, should the growth potential of North Korea be realized,” according to a report by Goldman Sachs.
While Chinese companies appear best placed to tap the North Korean market, South Korea’s conglomerates are also eagerly awaiting the opportunity. Steel and cement groups that could build new infrastructure have seen their stock prices soar.
“Economic collaboration with North Korea is our big hope,” said Lee Won-il, CEO of Zebra Investment Management in Seoul. “Other than that, the outlook looks gloomy.”
Additional reporting by Kang Buseong and Song Jung-a.
When Bulgarian Tatyana Mitkova co-founded her business — ClaimCompass, which helps dissatisfied airline passengers get compensation — she found exactly what you’d expect from the startup sector: Most of the industry’s other founders and investors were male. As the tech industry worldwide attempts to shake off its hoodie-wearing White man image, Bulgaria has become one of the world’s bright spots.
According to Eurostat, the statistics agency of the European Union:
Despite being the poorest country in the 28-member bloc, Bulgaria has the highest percentage of women in information and communication technology (ICT) positions at 26.5 percent.
Bulgaria’s number has actually slipped slightly, even as the nation works to establish itself as a rising tech and software hub in Eastern Europe, but is doing very well compared to the 17.2 percent average across the EU as a whole. American women, in comparison, hold about 26 percent of math- and computer-related jobs, which is lower than in 1960. And Bulgaria is also one of just three countries in the EU that has a higher percentage of female scientists and engineers than male: 54 percent, second only to Lithuania, compared with a regional average of 40 percent.
“If you look back in history, first during the communist times, there were no separations between men and women, and everyone had to work,” says Anna Radulovski, a 26-year-old Bulgarian entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Coding Girls, an award-winning platform dedicated to closing the tech gender gap. Bulgaria is also first in the EU when it comes to the number of female students enrolled in ICT-related courses, at 33 percent, more than double the bloc’s average.
“In Bulgaria there are many female role models that are encouraging the next generation of women to choose careers in the computer industries — in a way, the prejudices that exist in the majority of countries are less in Bulgaria,” says Sasha Bezuhanova, a 20-year industry veteran who worked at Hewlett-Packard’s Bulgarian operation before leaving to set up Move.bg, a platform for social innovation, in 2013.
As of last year, only 2 percent of venture capital funds worldwide went to female-led businesses — even though female-led firms saw a higher return on equity and better results. “Obviously we need to mobilize the leadership, both men and women,” Bezuhanova says, “To present good examples and also set the stage for equal and neutral treatment of business initiatives led by men or women.”
But even in Bulgaria, there are three men in the industry for every woman, and many feel the disparity is worse in the more powerful, better-paying jobs.
“While I’m happy to see the statistics when it comes to the percentage of women in the sector, female founders and leaders are still rare,” says Mitkova. “I didn’t have many female role models to look up to when starting up.” She says investors are also mostly male, and that inspiring examples of women in startups aren’t necessarily well-known or promoted to encourage new talent.
Still, it could be worse. “After spending some time in Silicon Valley, I definitely see a difference,” she says. “Bro culture is not that common [in Bulgaria].”
You graduate from Bulgaria’s National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts with a degree or maybe with a degree and a pantomime specialty, and you end up being an actress, director or theater teacher for kids. Plus lots of postgrad work involving clowning. And then you discover that this pays more poorly than expected. Moreover, have you ever tried getting people to take a clown seriously?
Visiting children’s wards as medical clowns convinced Lapatova and Kirova that laughter can be one of the better medicines.
Iva Lapatova, 25, and Yanita Kirova, 31, tried, but beyond this was the eureka moment when the two friends were watching the treacly Robin Williams flick Patch Adams: They would affix themselves to Bulgaria’s underfunded hospitals to make staying in those hospitals a little more pleasant for the youngest occupants. A move that officially made Lapatova and Kirova the first Bulgarian medical clowns in a hospital system sorely in need of it.
Visiting children’s wards as both medical clowns and “mumbo-therapy doctors” convinced Lapatova and Kirova that laughter can be one of the better medicines. They goof, joke and clown their way across an experience that for many kids lacks a comforting face. With fluorescent fright wigs, rubber noses, striped stockings and a bag full of mock medical devices, they work a job that not only now pays but has also given them cause to imagine that setting up a medical clown school, where they can train those who want to dedicate themselves to their mission, is not that silly of an idea.
Even better than that, while teaching kids pantomime and doing art and theater therapy for schizophrenics, Lapatova and Kirova — aka Dr. Kuku and Dr. Pipi — have an evolving laboratory where they can workshop what works and what doesn’t, creating a situation where they’re actually making a positive difference. And if the proof of the pudding is in Lapatova and Kirova and the pratfalls they pull, well beyond proof of concept-style dreaming are the several other clinics that have signed on for their services.
Which is to say: The best kind of laughing matter possible.
Video by George Mihaylov.
Three decades ago, two liberal arts colleges — Bates College and Bowdoin College — zigged where so many others had zagged, becoming essentially the only major colleges to not require SAT or ACT scores from potential applicants. On their backs, a Boston-based organization called FairTest began advocating in 1985 for de-emphasizing test scores in American universities. Together, they launched one of the most galvanizing debates in higher education, one that rages still today.
Now, there are more than 1,000 colleges that no longer require testing results, FairTest announced earlier this year. That includes more than a third of American nonprofit four-year universities, with recent additions including such prestigious institutions as George Washington University and University of Chicago. Test abolitionists have long argued that high school grades, not testing, are the best predictor of collegiate performance. But even as many colleges jump on the bandwagon, one of their key arguments — that eliminating testing would improve student body diversity — has come under fire.
Three professors at the University of Georgia conducted a study entitled, “The Test-Optional Movement at America’s Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: A Boon for Equity, or Something Else?” They found:
No changes in low-income and underrepresented student enrollment after the colleges went test-optional.
In fact, being test-optional actually made colleges more selective, as they received a surge in applications, says Kelly Ochs Rosinger, one of the researchers of the 2014 study examining college admissions data from 1992 to 2010. That increase in applicants allowed the colleges to tout themselves as pickier, thus improving their standings in college-ranking algorithms. The schools also saw applicants’ average SAT and ACT scores skyrocket, likely because anyone with poor scores could choose not to submit them.
Meanwhile, the actual minority representation on college campuses remained stagnant. Eliminating testing “can remove one barrier,” says Ochs Rosinger, who is now a professor at Penn State University. But other barriers remain. Jack Buckley, editor of a compendium of higher education studies, Measuring Success, published in December, says most researchers found making tests optional had little broad effect. “Simply removing a testing requirement by itself is not sufficient,” Buckley says, although he argues that it can’t be dismissed as a way to inflate school rankings, since most ranking systems have adjusted for the change.
Fans of test-optional say researchers are fighting straw men. “Nobody has said it is sufficient by itself to address longstanding issues of inequality,” says Bob Schaeffer, the public education director for FairTest, which advocates for equitable testing policies. He notes, though, that test scores often influence merit-based scholarship offers, so requiring tests that have been proven to be biased against disadvantaged students also exacerbates the financial problem minorities face. Test-optional colleges have been proven to boost the number of diverse applicants, and the average high school GPA of those applicants rises, too. “There are continued potshots at test-optional, particularly from the testing industry,” Schaeffer says.
He complains the data used by Ochs Rosinger and the study’s co-authors was “crappy,” saying some of the 32 test-optional colleges (of 180 total schools studied) were in their first year or two of the new policy. And some recent studies provide a more nuanced view. The 2018 National Association for College Admission Counseling report, for example, found that more than two-thirds of 28 institutions studied were seen to have increased the number and percentage of minorities enrolled from 2015-2016.
“There’s a mixed picture here,” says the NACAC study’s author, Bill Hiss. Those who don’t submit test scores are admitted at a slightly lower rate. But of those who are accepted, the “yield,” or how many students actually choose to enroll at that school, is much higher. “Are those kids more likely to be first-generation, minority, low-income or female students? The answer is yes,” Hiss adds.
Both sides agree that testing isn’t the only issue that must be addressed in order to eliminate bias in the admissions process. From economic barriers to a lack of education around college applications, financial aid and accessibility, minority high schoolers often start behind the eight ball. While some universities, such as Franklin and Marshall, have built out aid services to cover the cost between Pell Grants and tuition, Buckley says others should work harder to build talent pipelines from high schools in underappreciated communities of color — real steps toward addressing the problem that test-optional purports to solve.
Strange things happen when the sun sets in Arizona. As the temperature drops, cacti turn into specters, coyotes wail like shipwrecked lovers and the stars look down like a thousand eerie eyes. The desert night is perfect for spookiness and haunted talk.
But there are some places where ghosts don’t need darkness to dance. Where, in the middle of the day, the wind whistles through wood slats and gusts from abandoned mine shafts sweep down to swat bar doors open and shut. Where dusty lanterns hang in a ranchy replica town square, replete with an antique playhouse, saloon, doctor’s office and coffinmaker’s shop. Where the quiet is filled by tingles of overactive imaginations. This is the scene in the city of Chloride, in the somewhere-in-the-middle-of-nowhere highway expanse between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Once home to some 75 (mostly) silver mines and a few thousand residents, Chloride boomed in 1862 and then went bust by 1940, shifting from a place to strike it rich to a place to race from the past: a ghost town. The difference in Chloride, though, is that its 20-odd households have leaned in, turning nostalgia into curiosity and, as such, attraction.
Mock gunfights break out at the Cyanide Springs town square every Saturday at “high noon.”
The residents, mostly retired folks enjoying their islands of misfit toys, fill their yards with quirky junk art and maintain ancient buildings, from the old jail to the post office — which has run continuously since 1893, making it one of the oldest active post offices statewide. Mock gunfights break out at the Cyanide Springs town square every Saturday at “high noon,” to the hoots and hollers of children. And other kitschy attractions await.
Chloridians know that their Wild West reverie isn’t high-end entertainment — they just choose to pretend otherwise. Their confidence works — the end result is a slightly creepy, and cheap, tourist trap hoping to enthrall lovers of roadside noir. “Everyone in this town works to make it what it is,” says Jake Turner, a 33-year-old former health care worker who recently moved to the area from North Carolina. His family owns the downtown restaurant, and they recently added a karaoke night to drum up business.
For some, these small pleasures may not be worth the three-and-a-half-hour trek from Phoenix, or even the 90-minute route down from Las Vegas. And, sure, the gas-tank flamingos, blue-hatted tin men and telephone-topped cemeteries are certainly not high art.
But there are some rewards. Driving a mile and a half up the surrounding foothills reveals another treasure: the murals of Roy Purcell, a local prospector who, in the ’60s, spent four months painting the canyon walls. The exercise emerged from his “subconscious,” the now octogenarian says today. He insists he wasn’t on drugs while creating The Journey, his 2,000-square-foot amateur opus that includes a yin-yang symbol, a fertility goddess and a giant red snake — drawing obvious inspiration from hippie culture, Native American lore and Buddhist symbolism. After four decades Purcell returned to repaint the fading work of art, and it now remains a vibrant craigy spectacle.
As darkness approaches from these painted rocks, you can jump back into your car and head off into the glorious sunset, knowing that sometimes the best ghost stories can be experienced in broad daylight.
How to get there: Chloride Ghost Town
From Kingman, Arizona, travel northwest on U.S. Route 93 for approximately 20 miles. Between mile markers 52 and 53, follow the signs to turn toward Chloride, which is three miles east. For the murals, follow the town markers up a dirt path that’s probably best traversed in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
WHAT TO LISTEN TO
Blood Orange — Cosmic Alt Hip-hop. Dev Hynes has been in the music industry for more than a decade, releasing two albums under the pseudonym Lightspeed Champion before he started going by Blood Orange. But Negro Swan, the fourth Blood Orange album, is a great way to start: It sounds like a future life-form came across the recordings of Frank Ocean, Elliott Smith and Carl Sagan and decided to splice them all up using only an ’80s boombox. Cue up “Saint,” a song that somehow works whether you’re on a long commute home, washing the dishes or having a late-night talk about the cosmos. (Recommended by Rob Culos, Audio Scientist)
Tash Sultana — A Band Unto Herself. Still in her early 20s, this Australian singer-songwriter recorded an original track, “Jungle,” in her bedroom in 2016 and put it on YouTube. Within five days she had more than 1 million views (now 23 million and counting), and her musical career Down Under had been launched. Her sound melds folk, reggae and an extraordinary voice, which on ballads seems to flow over you like liquid. If that sounds weird, listen to “Harvest Love” and you’ll completely get it. Or just buy her new album, Flow State, which comes out this week. (Recommended by Elle Choi, Queen of the Office)
Daughters — Post-Punk You’ll Dance To. Noise aficionados will remember Daughters, a Providence-based group that’s been around since 2002 and broke up on the quiet around 2009. Since then, they’ve been slowly getting the band back together — a secret show here, a buzzy Facebook photo from a recording studio there. And now they’ve announced an actual new album, You Won’t Get What You Want, due in October. Their music is probably going to piss off post-punk traditionalists by being something you can dance to — that is, if you can snag tickets for their tour, which have already sold out for some dates. (Recommended by Eugene Robinson, Loose Cannon)
WHAT TO DOWNLOAD
Co-Star — Really Detailed Horoscopes. Have you heard that astrology is cool again? And this app goes far beyond your astrological sign, accounting for the entire layout of the sky at the very moment you were born. So if you’re wondering why August sucks so much, it turns out Mercury was in retrograde, meaning it travels from east to west instead of west to east and — according to astrology anyway — that’s when everything goes haywire. Luckily we’re moving on from August, so everything will go back to normal in terms of global politics and climate change. Right? According to some psychologists, the trend toward embracing astrology and other forms of mysticism like tarot readings is a sign that millennials are stressed and searching for answers. No doubt, but sometimes we just want to feel connected to whichever Brooklyn 99 character has our star sign. Warning: Astrology is still not real. (Recommended by Viviane Feldman, Video Star)
Hopper — Cheap Window Seats. Hopper, available on iOs and Android, tells you when a particular flight route will be cheapest and notifies you when the price drops for flights you’ve flagged. The app encourages customers to be patient and wait for just the right conditions before buying, with forecasts that predict whether flight prices on a particular route will rise or fall. It’s one of a number of apps that uses artificial intelligence to drive sales, particularly when it comes to convincing users to consider different dates or destinations, so hold on to your convictions and your determination to see Venice. (Ha, joke, don’t fly to Venice; within 10 minutes you will get completely lost.) With 30 million users, the app — a Canadian import — has the clout to offer “secret fares” in partnership with airlines, which contravenes its good-things-come-to-those-who-wait-and-wait-and-wait vibe but, hey, cheap flights! (Recommended by Anne Muscarella, Professional Long Weekender)
WHAT TO COOK
Olive Oil Zucchini Cake — A Dinner Party Trick. With the end of summer comes the end of peak zucchini season, which, let’s be honest, is a relief. No more mountains of just-picked zucchini taunting you because you never figured out what to make with them! Or you could just … make something with them. This recipe is originally from Renee Erikson’s A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus cookbook, but you can also find it here.
Cakes that use olive oil instead of butter are always less fiddly, mostly because you don’t need an electric mixer to get the right consistency, and the result is an insanely moist cake that’s sweet but not too sweet. And don’t worry, it’s not like there’s NO butter — it makes an appearance at the end, along with the crème fraîche. crème fraîche, you ask? Yes, the final serving suggestion is what puts this recipe in next-level land: Cut the baked bread into slices, toast them in a buttered skillet, and serve with a little crème fraîche and sea salt. It’s more work than just plopping the loaf on the table, but for a party of people you’re hoping to impress, it’s the perfect bit of culinary wizardry.
In the veg-as-dessert space, it’s high time the mighty carrot meets its match. And besides, unless everyone pitches in and eats some summer squash, the zucchini might take over the world. Do it for the human race. (Recommended by Molly Fosco, Tech Investigator)
AND WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T DO THIS …
Steal 800 pounds of lemons. Authorities in Riverside County, California, arrested a senior citizen on Friday after they found about 800 pounds of fresh lemons in his car. They suspect Dionicio Fierros, 69, stole the lemons from a nearby farm. It is not clear whether he planned to make lemonade. (NY Post)
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On the gray cobblestones outside the National Congress of the Dominican Republic in Santo Domingo, women of all ages sang, clapped and stomped their feet. They held signs reading “El Futuro Es Feminista!” (The Future Is Feminist) and “Por riesgo de vida y salud de las mujeres, yo appoyo las tres causales,” (For women’s life and health risk, I support the three causes). Their voices chanted in unison, calling for Congress to legalize abortion if the mother’s life is in danger, if the life of the fetus is in danger, or in cases of rape and incest.
Their demands — at a July 2018 protest — might sound modest in many countries that have long allowed abortion. But the Dominican Republic is one of six Central American and Caribbean countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Suriname, and among 26 nations globally, with a total ban on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Women who get an abortion face up to three years in prison and health professionals who perform or assist in abortions could receive between four and 10 years of jail time. Now, the Dominican Republic is taking steps to break with its neighbors, emerging as the latest test for abortion rights in a notoriously conservative region.
The country’s Congress will vote on a bill in January that could determine whether the Dominican Republic can decriminalize abortion in select cases. The country’s president, Danilo Medina, has argued since 2014 for allowing abortions in cases of a malformed fetus, when a woman’s life is at risk or when the pregnancy is the result of rape. A majority of the Dominican Republic now appears to support what has come to be called the Tres Causales (three reasons) movement. A poll conducted by Untold Research in June found that 79 percent of Dominicans agree that the country’s current laws should allow abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, 76 percent when the life of the fetus is at risk and 67 percent when it’s a case of rape or incest. Calls for change are growing increasingly public, through street protests like the one in July. And the first cracks are appearing even within the Catholic Church, where one priest has supported the movement despite staunch opposition from the institution.
We must decriminalize abortion in January.
Natalia Mármol, Dominican women’s rights activist
These winds of change come amid a broader shift in Latin America. Chile ended a total ban on abortions in 2017, to allow cases where a woman’s life is at risk. Colombia now allows abortions to save a woman’s life and preserve her physical and mental health. Uruguay permits abortion in similar situations, or if it places undue economic burden on the mother. But neither the region nor the Dominican Republic is immune from setbacks. In August, Argentina voted against legalizing abortions in a referendum. The Dominican Republic’s Congress had briefly lifted the abortion ban in all three circumstances in 2014, following Medina’s appeal, but two conservative organizations quickly filed a constitutional claim against the changed law. The lift on the ban was ruled unconstitutional and the original penal code, in place since 1884, went back into effect. Congress will again vote on whether to revise the abortion ban in January.
“We must decriminalize abortion in January,” says Natalia Mármol, a women’s rights activist in the Dominican Republic. “This could be the last chance to change the penal code.”
It was the death of 16-year-old Dominican girl Rosaura Almonte in 2012 that first stirred the Tres Causales movement. Almonte was refused chemotherapy for leukemia for three weeks as doctors debated how the treatment would impact the fetus inside her and possibly violate the country’s abortion law. Treated too late, Almonte died from complications related to her disease, rattling the country. “When society says the life of a fetus is more important than the life of a woman, it sends a message that women’s lives are not valuable,” says Paula Avila-Guillen, a human rights expert and director of Latin America Initiatives for the Women’s Equality Center in New York, who’s been tracking Tres Causales.
In 2015, the maternal mortality rate in the Dominican Republic was 92 per 100,000 live births — more than six times the rate of 14 in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization. The Dominican Republic Medical Association and the Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics estimates that nearly 20 percent of the country’s total maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions. The country also has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America.
Tres Causales is also about recognizing the disparity in access to safe abortions, says Avila-Guillen. “Privileged women know where to get [safe] abortions,” she says. “They survive, while women in dire situations — poor women and rape victims — do not.” The movement to legalize abortions in at least three scenarios still faces challenges in a country where 69 percent of the population identifies as Catholic — practicing or not.
The country’s Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to abortion under any circumstances. One Jesuit priest, Father Mario Serrano Marte of Dajabón, broke ranks on July 12, when he said on Twitter that he views Tres Causales as “a just cause that I support and promote.” But other Catholic leaders have criticized him. “The science is clear that life begins at conception,” Bishop Jesús Castro Marte, auxiliary bishop of Santo Domingo Norte, told Dominican newspaper Diario Libre.
These sharpening differences are why the coming weeks and months before the January vote are critical for the abortion rights movement, says Cinthya Amanecer Velasco Botello, executive director of the Collective for Women and Health in the Dominican Republic. But the country as a whole, she says, is increasingly clear about what it wants. “Dominican society is pushing for the decriminalization [of abortion],” says Botello. “Conservatives and religious politicians are the only people in the way of achieving these human rights.”
That’s why most activists in the country believe their cause will prevail, despite the resistance among Catholics. “I don’t think [lawmakers] would risk the political implications [of not decriminalizing abortion],” says Mármol. There are lives at stake — lives that matter to most Dominicans.
China has more than 800 million internet users, according to government figures published earlier this week, cementing the country’s status as the world’s biggest market for tech companies — larger than the U.S. and India combined — and enabling the birth of Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and a raft of other online giants.
Of China’s 802 million internet users, 788 million access the web via mobile devices such as smartphones, according to the China Internet Network Information Center, a government agency. As a result, the country generates the biggest mobile app sales in the world. According to market research company App Annie:
In 2017, Chinese users spent $1 out of every $4 generated globally through app stores, in-app purchases and mobile commerce.
That means China’s mobile market remains particularly attractive for foreign tech groups, despite its stringent censorship requirements. Over the past year, Facebook and Google have launched new apps to try to re-enter the mobile market.
Google has also been developing a censored search engine to re-enter the market — a project that led to staff protests at the search company. The Silicon Valley group has been shut out of China’s app revenues because its Google Play store remains blocked in the country. Its potential revenues from breaking back in are vast: One-third of the world’s users of Google’s Android smartphone operating system are in China.
Here are four charts showing how Chinese people access the internet and what they use it for.
Internet data in China is provided by the big three state-owned telecom companies — China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom — meaning the government retains ultimate control over the pricing of data. This year, Beijing ordered them to slash the cost of mobile data by 30 percent, as well as cancel data roaming charges for users when they travel between China’s provinces.
The measures are part of a push to advance the digital economy, which the government sees as the major driver of growth. China’s traditional heavy industries are in deep decline and Beijing wants to stimulate domestic consumption of high-tech services rather than relying on export-driven manufacturing.
As mobile internet access has become ever more affordable, data-intensive services such as online music, video streaming and livestreaming have become popular forms of entertainment.
Most Chinese internet users access the web through mobile devices. Xiaomi, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, the country’s biggest smartphone companies, accounted for roughly two-thirds of domestic sales last year. Those brands are now looking to take on foreign competitors to lure high spending consumers, but it was their lower cost devices, selling for less than $100, that enabled the country’s mass take-up of smartphones.
Many consumers, especially those in rural China, leapfrogged the fixed-line era of desktop computers and went straight to surfing the internet on their phones. This phenomenon kickstarted China’s mobile payments and e-commerce revolution.
The payments infrastructure for mobile e-commerce is more developed and pervasive in China than elsewhere. That has spurred Ant Financial and Tencent, the country’s leading mobile payments providers, to seek growth in foreign markets.
Millennials dominate the Chinese internet. Three-quarters of users are under the age of 40, with a heavy concentration of 20-something consumers.
Internet companies are increasingly shifting their focus to serving the tastes of the generation born after the 1990s. Tech investors often praise Chinese customers for rapidly adopting new online consumption habits, from using their phones to unlock shared bicycles to scanning QR codes for payment. China’s millennials epitomize this behavior.
Millennials led China’s mobile payment revolution by switching from cash to mobile wallets earlier than most, and are also taking up online financial technology services. Although Chinese households traditionally have a very high savings rate, younger consumers are more willing to take out loans online.
It may be unsurprising that instant messaging and internet search are the most popular online activities, but there are also some country-specific habits.
Chinese users spend the most time in their apps, both as a country and per capita, according to App Annie. In the last quarter of 2017, they spent 200 billion hours doing it — more than 4.5 times longer than India, the next largest country.
The largest chunk of time was spent in Tencent’s WeChat, an all-in-one platform that combines social messaging, mobile payments and in-app mini-programs that are portals for shopping, gaming and more. Half of WeChat’s 750 million users last year used the app for more than 90 minutes each day.
No wonder, then, that 70 percent of mobile internet users in China make mobile payments and go shopping on their smartphones when they can do so much within one app.
Video streaming is also popular. The rise of internet video platforms has led to the fragmentation of China’s television-watching audience, which used to be concentrated in the rigidly censored state-owned television broadcasting platforms.
As many as 74 percent of people online also watch short videos, a format spearheaded by Douyin, which allows users to upload 10-second bursts of video that have proved addictive for Chinese consumers.