Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How Manhattan Became a Rich Ghost Town

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

These days, walking through parts of Manhattan feels like occupying two worlds at the same time. In a theoretical universe, you are standing in the nation’s capital of business, commerce, and culture. In the physical universe, the stores are closed, the lights are off, and the windows are plastered with for-lease signs. Long stretches of famous thoroughfares—like Bleecker Street in the West Village and Fifth Avenue in the East 40s—are filled with vacant storefronts. Their dark windows serve as daytime mirrors for rich pedestrians. It’s like the actualization of a Yogi Berra joke: Nobody shops there anymore—it’s too desirable.

A rich ghost town sounds like a capitalist paradox. So what the heck is going on? Behind the darkened windows, there’s a deeper story about money and land, with implications for the future of cities and the rest of the United States.

Let’s start with the data. Separate surveys by Douglas Elliman, a real-estate company, and Morgan Stanley determined that at least 20 percent of Manhattan’s street retail is vacant or about to become vacant. (The city government’s estimate is lower.) The number of retail workers in Manhattan has fallen for three straight years by more than 10,000. That sector has lost more jobs since 2014, during a period of strong and steady economic growth, than during the Great Recession.

There are at least three interlinked causes. First, the rent, as you may have heard, is too damn high. It’s no coincidence that retail vacancies are highest in some of the most expensive parts of the city, like the West Village and near Times Square. From 2010 to 2014, commercial rents in the most-trafficked Manhattan shopping corridors soared by 89 percent, according to ­CBRE Group, a large real-estate and investment firm. But retail sales rose by just 32 percent. In other words, commercial rents have ascended to an altitude where small businesses cannot breathe. Some of the city’s richest zip codes have become victims of their own affluence.

Second, the pain of soaring rents is exacerbated by the growth of online shopping. It’s typically simplistic to point at a problem in the U.S. and say, “Well, because Amazon.” But it is no coincidence that New York storefront vacancy is climbing just as warehousing vacancy in the U.S. has officially reached an all-century low: A lot of goods are moving from storefronts to warehouses, where they are placed in little brown boxes rather than big brown bags.

Walking around the Upper East Side, where I live, I find it striking how many of the establishments still standing among the many darkened windows are hair salons, nail salons, facial salons, eyebrow places, and restaurants. What’s the one thing they have in common? You won’t find their services on Amazon. The internet won’t cut my hair, and not even the most homesick midwesterner goes online to order a deep dish to be delivered from Chicago to New York. Online shopping has digitized a particular kind of business—mostly durable, nonperishable, and tradable goods—that one used to seek out in department stores or similar establishments. Their disappearance has opened up huge swaths of real estate.

One might expect that new companies would fill the vacuum, particularly given the evidence that e-commerce companies can boost online sales by opening physical locations. But that brings us to the third problem: Many landlords don’t want to offer short-term leases to pop-up stores if they think a richer, longer-term deal is forthcoming from a national brand with money to burn, like a bank branch or retail chain. The upshot is a stubborn market imbalance: The fastest-growing online retailers are looking to experiment with short-term leases, but the landlords are holding out for long-term tenants.

New York’s problems today are an omen for the future of cities. Most people don’t live downtown because they love drifting off to the endearing sounds of honking cars and hollering investment bankers. Rather, they want access to urban activity, diversity, and charm—the quirky bars, the curious antique shops, the family restaurant that’s been there for generations—and the best way to buy that access is to own a bedroom in the heart of the city.

What happens when cities become too expensive to afford any semblance of that boisterous diversity? The author E. B. White called New York an assembly of “tiny neighborhood units.” But the 2018 landlord waiting game is denuding New York of its particularity and turning the city into a high-density simulacrum of the American suburb. The West Village landlords hoping to lease their spaces to national chains are turning one of America’s most famous neighborhoods into a labyrinthine strip mall. Their strategy bodes the disappearance of those quirky restaurants, curious antique shops, and any coffee shops that aren’t publicly traded on the NYSE.

In Jane Jacobs’s famous vision of New York, the city ideally served as a playful laboratory, which nursed new firms and ideas and exported its blessedly strange culture to the world. Today’s New York is the opposite: a net importer of the un-weird, so desperate to bring in national chains to pay exorbitant leases that landlords are willing to sit on barren blocks.

Economics assures us that, in the long run, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2018 at 1:20 pm

What is a novelty shave-soap fragrance? and is Waterlyptus an example?

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I would say that a novelty shaving soap fragrance is one that has immediate appeal, but doesn’t wear well as a daily shave soap, so that it is used less frequently. Obviously, whether a given shaving soap’s fragrance falls into the “novelty” category will vary somewhat from person to person.

I shaved today with Waterlyptus, which I expected to be a novelty fragrance, but now that I’ve used it I’m less sure. It’s a watermelon+eucalyptus+peppermint combination, and while plain watermelon would, I feel fairly certain, be a novelty fragrance, the addition of eucalyptus changes the fragrance in a good direction and the peppermint helps as well. I’m reminded of how the use of euclayptus in addition to pink grapefruit in Meißner Tremonia’s Pink Grapefruit worked to diminish sweetness and toughen up the citrus fragrance, resulting in a shaving soap that is definitely not just a novelty fragrance.

A novelty fragrance is fun for a few shaves, but soon you want a break from it. But it’s hard to know in advance how a fragrance will fit. Phoenix Artisan’s Dark Chocolate (a limited run one or two Valentine Days ago) is fun, but definitely not something I want to use daily.

Chiseled Face’s Summer Storm is not for me a novelty fragrance—I could easily use it daily—but I imagine Fresh Cut Grass would almost certainly be a novelty fragrance, as would Bacon or Pink Bubblegum. Stirling’s Texas on Fire is a notable example of a smoke fragrance. Ultimately, it turned out for me to be a novelty fragrance.

I bought Waterlyptus because of Mantic59’s review, which he linked to in his “criteria reset” of shaving soaps. The “criteria reset” article focused on the exceptional lather one now gets from Catie’s Bubbles soaps, but he did mention Waterlyptus as an interesting fragrance.

And the lather really is excellent. I used my Omega Mixed Midget and really enjoyed all aspects of the lather. My RazoRock Stealth did an exceptionally good job. Based on the feel of my skin—totally smooth and soft—the soap and razor worked together to deliver a first-rate shave.

A good splash of TOBS No. 74 Original aftershave finished the job. This aftershave has an old-time barbershop fragrance: “notes of orange, lime and bergamot with undertones of rose, lilac and a sweet musk.”

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2018 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

Aaron Hernandez’s story is a morality tale about how a corporation put profits over all, regardless of damage to employees

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Just so long as the money came in. Read the 6-part series in the Boston Globe.

It does have more than a passing resemblance to the lives (and deaths) of gladiators. If you’re on Netflix, watch just the first episode of season one of Empire Games, and think about today.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2018 at 4:43 pm

Trump may be a Saudi patsy, but these people aren’t

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Jennifer Rubin has a strong column:

The Post reports:

The growing number of Western companies distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia over the alleged killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi is undermining the kingdom’s push to diversify its economy beyond oil and provide more opportunities for its young and often restive population.

By Friday afternoon, nearly a dozen tech, media and entertainment companies had backed out of a Saudi investment conference to be held this month, as dismay over Saudi agents’ alleged murder of Khashoggi spread to companies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to woo. . . .

Tech investor Steve Case said he was suspending plans to attend the conference and a meeting for a Saudi tourism project. Bob Bakish, chief executive of Viacom Inc., owner of MTV and movie studio Paramount Pictures, also said through a spokesman Thursday he would no longer be attending the conference. . . .

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was one of the first non-journalism executives to break with the Saudis. “I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea,” Branson said in a blog post Thursday.

Good for them. The next step should be for think tanks, universities and press outlets to disclose their Saudi funding, if any, and disentangle themselves from the repressive regime that does not value intellectual or press freedom. In fact, Congress should hold hearings to determine the extent of Saudi influence-buying in the United States — including their dealings with President Trump and his family.

Trump is promising to talk to King Salman — though there is no set date for their chat, and no looming threat of U.S. retaliation. It was not until Saturday that we heard anything emphatic on the subject. (“We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment,” he said in a 60 Minutes interview, clips of which were released on Saturday.) We can surmise that his generally mild reaction to the apparent killing of a journalist might have had to do with Trump’s business interests. He may simply have too much to lose to take on the Saudi regime. If Democrats take control of the House, they should end Trump’s free ride on foreign emoluments, vote to disallow them, and then proceed to investigate his holdings and pursue divestiture. (Trump’s lack of urgency also might be nothing more than Trump’s gullibility in the face of the Saudis’ charm campaign. He is a sucker for repressive regimes that fawn over him.)

Whatever the reason for Trump’s belated reaction, Congress can and should proceed to reexamine our arm sales (while the administration professes satisfaction with the Saudis’ efforts to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen, human rights groups cite mass casualties). We must signal in a meaningful way that we will no longer tolerate Saudi Arabia’s repression at home and excesses in the region.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) has it absolutely right: If appropriate, we should apply Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to any Saudi  official involved in what appears to be an abhorrent human rights atrocity. Cardin also urged:

Congress could consider the outcome of ongoing investigations when debating future U.S. arms sales to the kingdom, future International Military Education and Training assistance, and future U.S. support to the Saudi coalition’s role in the Yemen conflict — one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. We should also weigh the kingdom’s support for a truly transparent investigation when considering potential U.S.-Saudi nuclear power cooperation.

Meanwhile, during an interview this past week with Hugh Hewitt, national security adviser John Bolton sounded less than alarmed about the Saudis conduct. “Well, I don’t think we, we’ve known enough. I spoke with the crown prince [Thursday] along with Jared Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, spoke to the crown prince as well. The president has spoken to this issue,” he said. “It is something we need to get resolved. And we need to do it as soon as possible.” Resolved? Does he think there has been some mix-up the Saudis can clarify in a phone call? Bolton’s utter disinterest in human rights — with the exception of Iran — is among his many disconcerting attributes.

In sum, Trump’s slow-motion reaction . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2018 at 1:38 pm

We have another Sea Cider winner: Rumrunner

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2018 at 1:31 pm

Posted in Drinks

No Wonder It Works So Well: There May Be Viagra In That Herbal Supplement

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Ronnie Cohen reports at NPR:

They claim to help you sleep, make your hair grow, speed weight loss, improve your sex life and ward off the nasty cold going around the office. Though it’s often impossible to tell if dietary supplements work, consumers generally feel certain they can’t hurt.

But they can.

The Food and Drug Administration has identified hundreds of supplements tainted with pharmaceuticals — from antidepressants and erectile dysfunction remedies to weight-loss drugs — since 2007, a study published Friday shows. Even after FDA tests proved the supplements contained unapproved or recalled medications, many of the products continued to be marketed and sold, the analysis finds.

The report in JAMA Network Open calls into question the FDA’s ability to effectively police the $35-billion-a-year supplements industry.

“The FDA didn’t even bother to recall more than half of the potentially hazardous supplements,” says Dr. Pieter Cohen, a Harvard Medical School professorand an internist with Cambridge Health Alliance in Boston, who wrote an accompanying commentary in the journal.

“How could it be that our premier public health agency spends the time and money to detect these hidden ingredients and then doesn’t take the next obvious step, which is to ensure that they are removed from the marketplace?” he asks.

The FDA does not comment on specific studies “but evaluates them as part of the body of evidence to further our understanding about a particular issue and assist in our mission to protect public health,” says Lindsay Haake, a press officer for the regulatory agency.

For the study, researchers from the California Department of Public Health and other state agencies examined an FDA database containing supplements that the FDA has purchased, tested and found to be adulterated. The FDA identified 746 supplement products that were pharmaceutically adulterated from 2007 through 2016.

Adulterants included unapproved antidepressants and designer steroids, the prescription erectile-dysfunction drug sildenafil, and a prescription appetite suppressant its manufacturer withdrew from the market after a study linked it to heightened risk of stroke and heart attack.

Although the FDA has the power to recall tainted supplements, the federal agency failed to require any of the 146 companies that manufactured the adulterated products to remove them from the market.

In 360 cases, manufacturers announced a voluntarily recall of the tainted supplements, though there is no way of knowing if the products actually were recalled, Cohen says. In 342 cases, the agency posted a notice on its website warning the public about the tainted supplements.

Only in seven cases did the FDA issue a warning letter nudging the manufacturer to remove the adulterated products. Before the FDA could seize a supplement and destroy it, it would have to send a warning letter to the manufacturer, Cohen says.

The study’s authors write that they find it “alarming” that the adulterated supplements continue to be sold.

“This report shines a harsh light on the problem of adulteration,” says Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. Lurie was not involved in the research. “It’s a very disturbing picture. You’ve got hundreds of these products that contain active pharmaceuticals, many of which pose a real threat to human health.”

Some of the drugs slipped into supplements without appearing on the label can have dangerous interactions with other medications people may be taking. For instance, drugs such as sildenafil may interact with other drugs to lower or raise blood pressure to dangerous levels. Others, including anabolic steroids present in some muscle-building products, have been associated with liver and kidney damage, heart attacks and strokes.

“The study lays a foundation for ongoing enforcement work in this area, by the FDA and other partner agencies, to curb the illegal manufacture, importation, distribution and sales of adulterated dietary supplements,” the California Department of Public Health said in a written statement.

More than half of American adults take supplements such as vitamins, minerals, protein powders, botanicals, fish oils, glandular extracts and probiotics. Under a 1994 law, the U.S. government reclassified supplements as food rather than food additives. The law exempts supplements from any of the premarket safety and effectiveness testing the FDA requires for drugs.

In the 24 years since the law took effect, the supplements industry has boomed.

“The underlying problem is this is a huge industry with fly-by-night actors, and it’s completely impossible for the agency to keep up with them,” says Lurie, who worked at the FDA for eight years. “We’d all like to see the agency doing more. In some cases it has limited authority. In other cases it has limited resources.” . . .

Continue reading.

The obvious answer: a stiff Federal tax on supplements with the proceeds directed toward beefing up the part of the FDA that monitors supplements, plus very stiff fines for manufacturers who have adulterated supplements with unsafe ingredients, the fines likewise going to the FDA. A Democratic Congress might do this; a Republican Congress, never.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2018 at 8:37 am

“Empire Games” (on Netflix) has a certain contemporaneous aspect

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Watch the first half hour and see whether you don’t find some resonance with today.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 October 2018 at 4:44 pm

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