Jill Abramson left the New York Times’s executive editor position today and was replaced by Dean Baquet, the managing editor at the newspaper. At The New Yorker, Ken Auletta writes about what happened behind the scenes:
As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”
One great problem with financial journalism, especially in the decades leading up to the crash, has been that it’s often written in an argot understandable only to the already highly financially literate. Andrew Ross Sorkin doesn’t usually employ such specialized language. This has led to the mistaken belief that he’s explaining the industry to regular people. In fact, he is a dutiful Wall Street court reporter, telling important people what other important people are thinking and saying. At the same time, he is Wall Street’s most valuable flack. He isn’t explaining finance to the people—you’d be better served reading John Kenneth Galbraith to understand how finance works—he’s justifying it.
The modern finance industry is at a loss when it comes to justifying its own existence. Its finest minds can’t explain why we wouldn’t be better off with a much simpler and more heavily circumscribed model of capital formation. Sorkin likewise can’t make his readers fully grasp why the current system—which turns large amounts of other people’s money and even more people’s debt into huge paper fortunes for a small super-elite, and in such a way as to regularly imperil the entire worldwide economic order—is beneficial or necessary. But the New York Times and Wall Street each need him to try.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Jed S. Rakoff, a United States District Judge, looks into why there were no criminal charges against bank executives, despite clear findings of fraud:
In striking contrast with these past prosecutions, not a single high-level executive has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the recent financial crisis, and given the fact that most of the relevant criminal provisions are governed by a five-year statute of limitations, it appears likely that none will be. It may not be too soon, therefore, to ask why.
One possibility, already mentioned, is that no fraud was committed. This possibility should not be discounted. Every case is different, and I, for one, have no opinion about whether criminal fraud was committed in any given instance.
But the stated opinion of those government entities asked to examine the financial crisis overall is not that no fraud was committed. Quite the contrary. For example, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, in its final report, uses variants of the word “fraud” no fewer than 157 times in describing what led to the crisis, concluding that there was a “systemic breakdown,” not just in accountability, but also in ethical behavior.
On the past, present and future of Manny Pacquiao, who was knocked out in December and now is returning to the ring. And despite earning more than $200 million, Pacquiao doesn’t have much of it left:
In the Times article, Michael Koncz, singled out Pacquiao’s Achilles’ heel: “The downfall of Pacquiao, if there is one, will be his kindness and generosity. At some point, I fear that’s going to catch up to him.” Beyond Pacquiao’s generosity, he reportedly squandered millions from gambling. That doesn’t even account for his fleet of cars and extensive property holdings, including houses, condos, apartments and such an intense desire to give his money away to the poor he had to hire people simply charged with the responsibility to apologize and prevent him from throwing money at all the open hands spread out before him.
Why was New York Times CEO Janet Robinson fired? A look inside the political battles and financial troubles that led Arthur Sulzberger to let Robinson go (with a $24 million exit package):
“Interviews with more than 30 people who are intimately familiar with different aspects of the Times’ business (none but a spokesperson would speak for attribution—this is the paper of record, after all) have made it clear that Gonzalez’s rise and Robinson’s fall, and the ensuing leadership vacuum inside the paper, were symptomatic of larger forces at work. Even as a new pay wall was erected on the Times’ website last spring to charge customers for access, the company’s performance, including an alarming dive in print advertising when other media companies were beginning to recover, was faltering, and Sulzberger was under pressure both financial and familial to throw Robinson overboard.
“As the paper’s stock price has declined in recent years, there has been increasing unease among the Ochs-Sulzberger clan, who control the paper through a special class of shares. Three years ago, facing huge debt problems, the company suspended the lucrative stock dividend that once flowed quarterly to the family’s 40-plus members, intensifying the need to solve the intractable advertising problems of the newspaper in the digital age and figure out a way to turn the family’s cash spigot back on. Janet Robinson, the company’s advertising brains, found herself caught between her increasingly remote boss and a frustrated family worried over the future of its 116-year-old fortune.”
Profile of The New York Times’ Gretchen Morgenson
“On psychedelics,” Dr. John Halpern, head of the Laboratory for Integrative Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, told The New York Times Magazine, “you have an experience in which you feel there is something you are a part of, something else is out there that’s bigger than you, that there is a dazzling unity you belong to, that love is possible and all these realizations are imbued with deep meaning. I’m telling you that you’re not going to forget that six months from now.” That rings true to me.
For the record, I’m not encouraging anyone to take psychedelics. Powerful substances such as LSD, D.M.T., and psilocybin are not for everyone, and they are illegal. That said, these substances behave in the body very different than opioids, alcohol, and cocaine, and they offer what many people view as the possibility for enlightenment, for constructive personal revelations, and insight into the cosmos. The stories collected here offer insight into this idea.
Not long ago, residents of affluent Western countries began traveling to the jungles of South America to have profound psychedelic experiences with the hallucinogen ayahuasca. And workers in Silicon Valley started taking small doses of psilocybin and LSD, called microdoses, to enhance their work and creativity in tech. Tripping got trendy. It also received more scientific attention. As Lauren Slater wrote in her New York Times piece, a new generation of researchers are studying the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances and their potential for treating everything from depression, alcoholism, and PTSD, to confronting our own mortality. These researchers have differentiated themselves from the questionable, Timothy Leary-style drug studies of the ’60s. It’s exciting to live in a time when scientists are taking a serious, objective look at the way psychedelics work on not only the human body, but the human experience. After the legalization of cannabis in many US states, activists are now working to legalize psilocybin mushrooms. Like all outlawed psychoactive substances, psychedelics come with a lot of cultural baggage. As governor of California, Ronald Reagan stated that “anyone that would engage or indulge in [LSD] is just a plain fool.”
For those who haven’t tripped and want to understand the experience, or those who want to relive past trips without having to fit new six-to-ten-hour journeys into their adult work and parenting schedules, this reading list is for you. For those who prefer to never to ingest psychedelic substances, these stories will take that trip so you don’t have to. It’s nice to travel into another dimension from the comfort of your own couch, especially now that COVID-19 keeps most of us indoors at home. Anyway, shelter-in-place isn’t the best time to trip. Psychedelics are better suited to nature, if not a camping trip then at least a city park. Apartments are too small. They smother the cosmic consciousness we’re trying to expand. Also, things get weird in familiar environments, especially familiar environments where family portraits hang above piles of dirty laundry that need washing. (Hi Mom, my face is melting!) Maybe the best trip now is one others have already taken. Either way, safe travels my friends. See you on the other side.
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“The Drug of Choice for the Age of Kale” (Ariel Levy, The New Yorker, September 5, 2016)
The ancient South American hallucinogen ayahuasca has become America’s psychedelic drug du jour, with everyone from Baby Boomers and Millennials to the Silicon Valley set seeking its potent revelations about harmony and interspecies unity. To hear the plants speak, all you need is money and some strength of mind.
One at a time, we went into the front room to be smudged with sage on the wrestling mats by a woman in her sixties with the silver hair and beatific smile of a Latina Mrs. Claus. When she finished waving her smoking sage at me and said, “I hope you have a beautiful journey,” I was so moved by her radiant good will that I nearly burst into tears.
Once we were all smudged and back in our circle, Little Owl dimmed the lights. “You are the real shaman,” she said. “I am just your servant.”
When it was my turn to drink the little Dixie cup of muck she presented, I was stunned that divine consciousness—or really anything—could smell quite so foul: as if it had already been vomited up, by someone who’d been on a steady dieta of tar, bile, and fermented wood pulp. But I forced it down, and I was stoked. I was going to visit the swampland of my soul, make peace with death, and become one with the universe.
“Tourists of Consciousness” (Jeff Warren, Maisonneuve, April 29, 2011)
Before The New Yorker spotted ayahuasca as a subject, the Canadian quarterly Maisonneuve covered the increasing popularity of hallucinogen tourisism. Jeff Warren’s reporting makes a fascinating companion to Ariel Levy’s above.
As if on cue, the Estonian psychologist, Alar, vomited into his bucket, setting off a domino effect of throaty purges around the room. Susan began humping the air. The Mountie groaned and raised his arm, as if to ward off an assailant. Someone else started barking. The Finnish professor—also in his sixties—came spinning in from the sidelines, hair shocked upwards in an Elvis-style pompadour, and pranced around Susan’s undulating body.
It was all too much. I struggled to my feet, teetered, and fell sideways over a chair. On my hands and knees I managed to crawl to the bathroom, where I was noisily ill. I spent the next two hours slumped next to the toilet, disappointed by my lack of visions, but also giggling at the whole bizarre circus. Behavioural reality, at least, was beginning to shift.
“How Psychedelic Drugs Can Help Patients Face Death” (Lauren Slater, The New York Times Magazine, April 20, 2012)
Researchers are exploring whether certain drugs can help patients cope with fear of death. Pam Sakuda, who was given six to 14 months to live, was administered psilocybin — an active component of magic mushrooms.
Norbert Litzingerremembers picking up his wife from the medical center after her first session and seeing that this deeply distressed woman was now “glowing from the inside out.” Before Pam Sakuda died, she described her psilocybin experience on video: “I felt this lump of emotions welling up . . . almost like an entity,” Sakuda said, as she spoke straight into the camera. “I started to cry. . . . Everything was concentrated and came welling up and then . . . it started to dissipate, and I started to look at it differently. . . . I began to realize that all of this negative fear and guilt was such a hindrance . . . to making the most of and enjoying the healthy time that I’m having.” Sakuda went on to explain that, under the influence of the psilocybin, she came to a very visceral understanding that there was a present, a now, and that it was hers to have.
“Turn On, Tune In, Drop by the Office” (Emma Hogan, 1843, August 31, 2017)
Emma Hogan reports that in Silicon Valley, microdosing LSD is the new “body-hacking” tool everyone from engineers to CEOs are using to boost productivity and creativity. Interestingly, while apparently everyone is doing it, users are reluctant to have their real names appear in print.
San Francisco appears to be at the epicentre of the new trend, just as it was during the original craze five decades ago. Tim Ferriss, an angel investor and author, claimed in 2015 in an interview with CNN that “the billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis.” Few billionaires are as open about their usage as Ferriss suggests. Steve Jobs was an exception: he spoke frequently about how “taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life”. In Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography, the Apple CEO is quoted as joking that Microsoft would be a more original company if Bill Gates, its founder, had experienced psychedelics.
As Silicon Valley is a place full of people whose most fervent desire is to be Steve Jobs, individuals are gradually opening up about their usage – or talking about trying LSD for the first time. According to Chris Kantrowitz, the CEO of Gobbler, a cloud-storage company, and the head of a new fund investing in psychedelic research, people were refusing to talk about psychedelics as recently as three years ago. “It was very hush hush, even if they did it.” Now, in some circles, it seems hard to find someone who has never tried it.
“The Trip Treatment” (Michael Pollan, The New Yorker, February 2, 2015)
Research into psychedelics has been demonized and shut down for decades. But recent psilocybin trials from Johns Hopkins and New York University are helping researchers reconsider the therapeutic potential of the drugs.
“The Trippy Science of Psychedelic Studies” (Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, Elemental, August 22, 2019)
Psychedelic substances show great promise treating everything from cancer to depression, anxiety to alcoholism. To help understand this burgeoning field of inquiry, one writer participates in a study. Tripping taught her as much about the promises as the dangers of medical psychedelics.
The brain on psychedelics is not only susceptible to cues, but it also exaggerates their meanings. And here’s the problem with that: We can debate what’s real and what is an illusion, but we can’t ignore the power of the drugs, or the power of the people who administer them to us, and we can’t ignore our own vulnerability to both. This is what chills me.
“The Plot to Turn On the World: The Leary/Ginsberg Acid Conspiracy” (Steve Silberman, PLoS/Maps.org, April 21, 2011)
As the public faces of the psychedelic revolution, Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg made a dynamic duo. The charming, boyish, Irish Harvard professor and the ecstatic, boldly gay, bearded Jersey bard became the de facto gurus of the movement they’d helped create — father figures for a generation of lysergic pilgrims who temporarily jettisoned their own fathers in their quest for renewable revelation. (Note that this piece, originally published at PLoS, is no longer available there. Some digging discovered it online at maps.org.)
“A Psychedelic Murder Story” (John Paul Rathbone, Financial Times, June 19, 2015)
Ayahuasca tea has long played a religious role in Brazil, but did it also contribute to the brutal death of a celebrated Brazilian artist? A dark twist on the question for enlightenment.
There have been many other reports of mental and physical healing following ayahuasca ceremonies, as well as occasional stories of delusion, cultism and worse. Early last year, Henry Miller, a 19-year-old Briton, died after apparently taking part in a shamanic ayahuasca ritual in Colombia — a terrible accident which played in the British press as a cautionary tale of a gap-year adventure that went horribly wrong. And then there is Glauco’s story, largely unreported outside Brazil, although it is one of the most curious cases of them all.
“Riding the Highs and Lows with My Mom” (Valentina Valentini, Longreads, August 21, 2019)
Valentina Valentini’s life-long role-reversal with her mother gets up-ended one psychedelic night in the Hollywood Hills, giving her the chance to become the daughter, once again.
She handed me the pipe. I politely refused. We went back to listening to the girl croon.
Not many minutes later I began to feel lightheaded. And warm. I knew it would get hot in that tiny room. My first thought was that I might be inhaling some second-hand smoke, therefore creating a bit of a contact high. I wasn’t altogether opposed to that, so I sat still a little while longer. Then my eyes started to feel heavy. Very heavy. I whispered to my mother that I was going to take a step outside and get some air. She seemed concerned, but only mildly. I assured her I’d be fine, snuck through the haphazard chairs with swaying wannabe hippies in them, and stepped out the shop door.
“The Trip of a Lifetime” (Laura Miller, Slate, May 14, 2018)
In the context of some reads on psychedelic drugs, Laura Miller looks at Michael Pollan’s book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. In it, Pollan says that drugs such as psilocybin and LSD got a bad rap after some flawed scientific experimentation and images of burned-out, ’60s counter-culture hippies soured Americans on exploring the medical benefits these drugs might offer, suggesting that their mind-altering abilities might help free us from cognitive patterns that are holding us back.
If How to Change Your Mind furthers the popular acceptance of psychedelics as much as I suspect it will, it will be by capsizing the long association, dating from Leary’s time, between the drugs and young people. Pollan observes that the young have had less time to establish the cognitive patterns that psychedelics temporarily overturn. But “by middle age,” he writes, “the sway of habitual thinking over the operations of the mind is nearly absolute.” What he sought in his own trips was not communion with a higher consciousness so much as the opportunity to “renovate my everyday mental life.” He felt that the experience made him more emotionally open and appreciative of his relationships. Both Waldman and Lin report similar effects, even though Waldman never actually tripped. The promise of hyperlight travel, revolution, and spiritual transcendence be damned: If psychedelics can help cure the midlife crises of disaffected baby boomers and Gen Xers, then it’s only a matter of time until we’ll be able to pick them up with a prescription at our local pharmacy.
In spring, when the cherry blossoms start to open on Japan’s island chain, tourists begin arriving and locals start planning their visits. Sakura season is an important cultural tradition. People plan spring vacations around it. Entire websites are devoted to tracking the blooms across Japan’s five islands, and predicting exactly when the first blooms will begin. “Sakura means everything in Japan,” writes John Gapper in The Financial Times. It’s big business. In 20018, cherry blossoms generated $5.8 billion dollars in related revenue. Gapper writes about how the usual crowds didn’t show up this year. President Abe encouraged people to stay at home, and people didn’t want to risk infection. Popular sakura sites like Tokyo’s Ueno Park and Kinuta Park were colored with anxiety as much as a pink hue, and crowds were thin. Naturally, businesses that rely on the annual traffic suffered from crowds’ absence.
But nature sprung a surprise this year, with the coronavirus pandemic curbing the picnics and frustrating people who had looked forward throughout winter to the usual party. Nature also changed the season: after an unusually mild January, the famously co-ordinated somei-yoshinos started to bloom in Tokyo in mid-March, two weeks ahead of schedule. This allowed some celebrations before the coronavirus clampdown, but climate change is a worry.
As he points out, sakura’s symobolism was also fitting for a time of death and change:
Coronavirus intruded this year, but the shadow it cast is not entirely alien to the season. Sakura does not just mean love and renewal, but also evanescence and the fleeting nature of existence. “The Japanese are implanted with sakura as a symbol not only of the season but of ourselves,” says Mariko Bando, author and chancellor of Showa Women’s University in Tokyo. “The blossom is beautiful but it goes away. Our lives are not eternal.”
Soraya Roberts | Longreads | September 2019 | 8 minutes (2,168 words)
There’s a scene not quite midway through Mermaids, the ’60s-set coming-of-age drama starring Cher and Winona Ryder in which the mom acts like a kid and the kid acts like a mom, where Ryder is walking through her small town just after JFK has been assassinated. She passes adult after adult, each of them staring at the ground, shell-shocked, mourning. Then she comes across a bunch of children playing in some dead leaves and her voiceover breaks the silence: “It feels like there isn’t a single adult left on the entire planet.”
No kidding. I’m an adult but that is exactly how I feel right now, and it must be worse for kids: For Mari Copeny, now 11, as she sits cross-legged, alone, holding up a sign: flint mi has been without clean water since april 24th, 2014. For Autumn Peltier, now 14, the First Nations Canadian who confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 about his continued support of oil pipelines: “People my age are starting to notice how adults are treating the planet.” For the tens of thousands of students in Hong Kong who attended demonstrations instead of their first day of school in order to stand up for democracy amid violent protests. With no future, there’s no need to go to class, one sign read. For the sea of kids who took part in the March For Our Lives to call for U.S. gun legislation in the wake of a cascading number of school shootings. For all the children who continue to strike alongside Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist initially inspired not by the adults finally taking action, but by the kids calling out their inaction.
Most of these people can’t vote, remember. Imagine how that must feel. Imagine knowing what to do but not being able to do it. Imagine how frustrating that must be, how powerless. Now imagine being the person who can do it. And imagine laughing instead. Asked for her message to world leaders at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York earlier this week, Thunberg said, “My message is that we’ll be watching you.” Delighted, the audience laughed and clapped. How adorable! But Thunberg remained stone-faced. Then her eyes reddened, then she started to cry. “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean,” she seethed. “Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!” Her anger came from knowing that, despite sounding scientists’ climate alarm for the millionth time, there would be no solution, because, “you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.” And this is where it’s at right now as we face the end: The children, who have no power, are the only ones who know what to do with it. Read more…