These Are the Dirtiest Places in the Airport

These Are the Dirtiest Places in the Airport

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Hand sanitizing, SARS mask wearing, squat-hovering over the airplane toilet seat. You may think you have your airport hygiene hacks down pat, but this recent study by InsuranceQuotes.com may force you to think again.

Turns out self-service check-in kiosks are by far the dirtiest places in any airport — which, after that initial wince of disgust, makes a lot of sense when you think about the sheer number of individuals handling the ubiquitous touch screens every day.

Researchers conducted 18 tests across six surfaces at three major US airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), the busiest airport in America since 1998. Each surface was swabbed several times to establish a consistent sample, then the numbers were averaged to find the amount of colony-forming units (CFU) — a.k.a. viable bacteria and fungal cells — per square inch.

The average self check-in screen contained 253,857 CFU according to the findings, while one particularly potent kiosk hosted over one million CFU/sq. in. In comparison, the average household toilet averages just 172 CFU.

While self-service kiosks were the germiest spots by a very wide margin, the report also called out second- and third-place contamination culprits. Gate bench armrests averaged 21,630 CFU/sq. in., while water fountain buttons averaged 19,181 CFU/sq. in. — comparable to the bacteria levels in the average household kitchen sink.

Gate bench armrests are the second dirtiest place at the airport, with an average of 21,630 CFU/sq. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Gate bench armrests are the second-dirtiest place in the airport, with an average of 21,630 CFU/sq. in. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Of course, the microbial onslaught doesn’t end with the airport. The researchers also swabbed a number of surfaces onboard several major commercial carrier flights, revealing that lavatory flush buttons average 95,145 CFU/sq. in., followed by tray tables averaging 11,595 CFU/sq. in., and seatbelt buckles 1,116 CFU/sq. in.

Cleanliness standards are up to the individual airline, as the FAA doesn’t regulate how often or how thoroughly airlines are required to sanitize aircraft according to a 2017 Thrillist report.

Cleaning crews typically just remove trash and wipe down lavatories between flights according to InsuranceQuotes.com, while deep cleaning only takes place every month or so at best.

You can read the full report here — which will make you want to wash your hands immediately.

Feature image by Scott Olson/Getty Images

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February 3, 2018 at 12:35AM

Southwest’s 50K Offers (and How to Maximize Them)

Southwest’s 50K Offers (and How to Maximize Them)

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Happy days are here once again. Especially if you are a Southwest Airlines flyer.

To open the year, both of Southwest Airlines’ consumer credit cards – The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card – increased their new account bonus offerings to 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. Once again, the Southwest Companion Pass – often considered one of the best elite benefits in all of aviation – is available to those who can manage the required minimum spend on both cards and a little more.

If you are ambitious enough and haven’t already taken advantage of other targeted promotions to earn the covered Companion Pass, the return of the 50,000-point offers may be your best bet to fly with a friend for a low overall price. How can you take advantage of these great promotions? Here are three ways you can work your way towards flying a friend for just taxes and fees.

Interested in learning more about these and other offers? Check out our rewards card list here and here.

Apply for both Southwest Airlines personal cards and the Southwest Airlines Business Card

Of course, the fastest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is to maximize the credit card offers. With both The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offering 50,000 points each after meeting spending requirements in the first three months, the 60,000 point sign-up bonus from the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card (after spending $3,000 in the first three months your account is open) would not only top-off your Rapid Rewards account, but also give you 160,000 points to burn towards travel.

As we previously discussed, you don’t necessarily have to be a small business in the traditional sense to qualify for a business card. If you engage in some sort of profit-earning side engagement, you may already be a business without even knowing it.

The biggest bonus of this method is that it is the overall cheapest way to get the Companion Pass. Your total cost to meet minimum spending by holding all three cards is $7,267: $7,000 in minimum spending requirements across all three cards, and $267 in annual fees applied to the first billing statement of each card.

Apply for both Southwest Airlines personal cards and spend $5,000 on each card

If getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card isn’t in your budget at this time, it doesn’t mean you can’t still earn the Companion pass with points. You can still apply for both versions of the Southwest Airlines credit card, and earn the buy-one, get-one card by spending $5,000 on each card.

One of the key blocks in going this route is the Chase 5/24 rule for new cards, as well as their limitations on earning bonuses for new accounts. If you have applied for five or more cards in the last two years, or held either of the Southwest Airlines personal cards in the last 24 months, you may not qualify for both cards.

Apply for a Southwest Airlines personal card and use programs to earn towards the Companion Pass

Yes, there is even a third option available towards earning the Companion Pass, but it will take the most time and discipline before you can get it. Even with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and its lower annual fee of $69, flyers can earn the companion pass through using the card through shopping portals and careful spending.

By utilizing shopping portals like Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping and Southwest Hotels, travelers can earn bonus points on top of those they are earning with the cards that count towards the Companion Pass. Other bonus programs that count include points earned from rental car companies, those earned with Southwest Dining and other promotional offers from Southwest partners. While this may take longer, ultimately giving you less time to fly with a friend for a low price, it still provides a viable way to earn the Companion Pass.

No matter how you achieve it, the goal is still the same: spend smart to earn big discounts on your next trip. Through these three strategies, you too can see the world for a low price – and take a friend along for the ride!

Do you plan on earning the Companion Pass with these credit card offers this year? Let us know your ideas in the comments below!

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February 3, 2018 at 12:04AM

“Winchester” Confronts the American Curse of Firearms

“Winchester” Confronts the American Curse of Firearms

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The Spierig brothers’ new film, “Winchester,” which opens today, is a
historical drama of sorts, a loose adaptation of the true story of Sarah
Winchester, heiress to the firearms fortune, who was born around 1840
and died in 1922. It’s also a historical throwback in itself, a horror
film in the way that horror films were likely to horrify in the
inhibited time before the late sixties, with jumps and jolts of
grotesquerie but without torture or gore or really anything that would
cause squeamish viewers to cover their eyes. That’s doubtless due to a
business decision: “Winchester” is rated PG-13, which sharply limits
what can be shown and which leads to a rendering of violence that’s
merely allusive, such as gunshots that don’t spatter blood and tissue
but merely make people fall dead.

The constraints imposed by the desired rating seem to have helped the
film. The directors, Peter and Michael Spierig (who made “Predestination” and “Jigsaw”), wrote the script with Tom Vaughan. They take an old-fashioned haunted-house tale and, without recourse to
visually or sonically disgusting elements, build and unfold a story
that’s largely centered on dialogue and that runs, above all, on an
element of moral and political disgust. The action is set in 1906. Helen
Mirren stars as Sarah Winchester, a colossally wealthy woman who
maintains her mansion in San Jose, California, in a constant (literally) state of
construction. She had bought it as a place of moderate size, and she
keeps adding rooms and stories to it, based not on the designs of
architects but on her own designs, resulting in a crazy quilt of styles
as well as in practical conundrums, such as hidden passageways and blind
corridors and staircases.

That part of the tale is true; the Winchester house exists to this day
as a tourist attraction (and the year in which the movie is set invokes
another true story that’s involved: the San Francisco earthquake). The
drama that unfolds from there is based on an enduring myth. In real
life, Sarah Winchester’s daughter died in infancy, and her husband died
young; the myth holds that she considered herself to be cursed—by the
spirits of those who died by gunshots from Winchester products—and that
her obsessive renovation of the house was a form of expiation, on
command from the spirits who demanded that she shelter them. The
Spierigs—identical twins born in Germany, raised and working in
Australia (where “Winchester” was made)—take this tale literally, with
some metaphysical effects depicting the realization of that curse.

The setup is classical and creaky. A youngish San Francisco doctor, Eric
Price (Jason Clarke), a laudanum addict who is himself in mourning for
his late wife, Ruby (Laura Brent), is summoned by an unscrupulous
businessman named Gates (Tyler Coppin) for an odd job. Gates represents
the owners of a half-interest in the Winchester firm; Price is to be
dispatched to Sarah Winchester’s mansion to become acquainted with her,
and then to issue a report as to her mental fitness to run the firm.
(Price is, of course, meant to judge her unsound, so that Gates’s
employers can lay hold of her shares.)

Arriving at the mansion, Eric finds it to be run on rigid rules—and also
finds it to be in a state of torment. Sarah’s niece, Marian (Sarah
Snook), and Marian’s young son, Henry (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey), are
staying with her, and Henry seems to have fallen prey to the house’s
curse—he’s possessed of impulses that range from mean to
self-destructive (and the Spierigs devise an eerie if conventional trope
to signify their onset). So far, unfortunately, so dull. But, as Eric
insinuates himself into the troubled life of the household (and comes up
against some mysterious thumps and bumps and flash-frame apparitions),
he also becomes acquainted with the grimly witty and intelligent Sarah
herself, and their dialectical confrontations in her home office have a
flair that owes much to Mirren’s sharply focussed, quiet grandeur.

It’s when Eric prowls around, late at night, in parts of the house that
he’s told are off-limits, that the movie gets its one pure visual
inspiration, one that’s based in Mirren’s gestural ingenuity: he spies
on Sarah as she’s doing some architectural drawing in a state of
visionary ecstasy akin to automatic writing. That moment unlocks the
film’s sociopolitical inspiration: Sarah’s connection with the spirits
of the victims of Winchester firearms has a practical basis in
documentary research. She keeps voluminous and ever-growing files of
newspaper clippings about gun killings (though how she knows of the Winchester
connection isn’t made clear), and it’s the spirits of those victims who
are guiding her hand in the drawings. Under their counsel and command,
she’s reconstructing the rooms in which they were killed.

But of all these spirits, one is the angriest, the least reconciled, and
the most violent: the spirit of a man named Benjamin Block (Eamon
Farren), a Southerner whose two brothers, serving in the Confederate
Army, were killed in the Civil War by Union soldiers armed with
Winchester rifles. (The Spierigs also depict, briefly, other victims of Winchesters, including Native
Americans and black people, one of whom is in chains—and these seemingly
passive spirits are present only as silent sentinels of injustice.)

Benjamin’s rage results in a high pitch of surrealistic doings that the
Spierigs depict with a sly simplicity, which only the blaringly
conventional score (by Peter Spierig) belies; when they depict the
startling and the astonishing, they want it to be seen clearly. In
“Winchester,” the Spierigs have made a blunt and pissy American
political film about the national curse of firearms and the unslaked,
violent, destructive anger of the defeated Confederacy. It’s good that
“Winchester” is rated PG-13; for all its metaphysical and mythological
fantasy, it’s an educational film—a documentary refracted through the
realm of the phantasmagoric.

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February 2, 2018 at 11:25PM

Smoking on Major Tourist Beaches is Now Banned in Thailand

Smoking on Major Tourist Beaches is Now Banned in Thailand

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On February 1, the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) announced the ban of smoking and littering of cigarette butts and packets on 24 beaches in Thailand. In a push to protect its coastal environment, smoking is now illegal on major beaches including tourist hot-spots like Phuket, Koh Samui and Krabi in Thailand.

The ban started as a trial run last November and with the ban now in effect, those who fail to comply will be subject to a fine of 100,000 baht (over $3,100) and/or a maximum jail sentence of one year. Officials will give warnings during the initial implementation of the ban, however it’s unclear how long the warning phase will last before violators are faced with a fine or jail time. There will be 50 designated smoking areas across nearly 3.5 miles of the beach at Cha-am beach in western Thailand. A representative stated that more smoking zones will be added in the future.

The view from one of my favorite Airbnb rentals ever, the Glass Cottage in Koh Phangan, Thailand.
Koh Phangan, Thailand.

The ban comes after a survey reported that more than 100,000 cigarette butts were found on Cha-am beach alone. A separate survey revealed that 101,058 cigarettes butts were found on a 1.5 mile stretch of Patong; cigarette butts contribute significantly to pollution.

“One cigarette butt in a liter of water can make it toxic enough to kill fish. For these and other reasons, the Thai authorities determined that banning smoking on those beaches was necessary,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), to The Telegraph.

Thailand has over 350 beaches along its coast, and with the country projected to have over 37 million tourists visit in 2018, officials are hoping to the legislation dramatically reduces its beaches pollution and littering problems. In 2017, over one million American tourists visited Thailand; the United States currently has travel advisories to some areas of the country, but most tourist destinations are open to US residents. The US currently has no national legislation against smoking on its beaches — it’s up to state governments to ban smoking in public places.

The following beaches have the smoking ban in effect as of February 1, 2018:

  • Patong Beach, Phuket
  • Bo Phut Beach, Koh Samui
  • Phra Ae Beach, Krabi
  • Khlong Dao Beach, Krabi
  • Khok Wang Beach, Krabi
  • Wasukree Beach, Pattani
  • Hua Hin Beach, Prachuap Khiri Khan
  • Khao Takiab Beach, Prachuap Khiri Khan
  • Ban Cheun Beach, Trat
  • Laem Sade Beach, Chanthaburi
  • Saeng Chan Beach, Rayong
  • Bang Kaen Beach, Chon Buri
  • Tham Pang Beach, Chon Buri
  • Sai Kaeo Beach, Chon Buri
  • Dong Tan Beach, Chon Buri
  • Cha-am Beach, Phetchaburi
  • Hat Said Res Beach, Champhon
  • Chalok Ban Kao Beach, Ko Phangan, Surat Thani
  • Plai Sai Beach, Nakhon Si Thammarat
  • Chalatat Beach, Songkhla
  • Ko Kai Nok Beach, Phang-nga
  • Ko Kai Nai Beach, Phang-nga
  • Khao Lak Beach, Phang-nga
  • Hat Samran Beach, Trang

H/T: The Telegraph

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February 2, 2018 at 11:15PM

Why Were the Democrats So Worried About the Nunes Memo?

Why Were the Democrats So Worried About the Nunes Memo?

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On Friday afternoon, the House Intelligence Committee released what has
become known as the Nunes Memo—named for the committee’s chairman, Devin
Nunes, who has talked up its contents as though they were the key to a great
conspiracy. Some readers will likely see the memo that way, though its
revelations are notably thin, to the point of raising questions about
why, exactly, the Democrats and the F.B.I. objected so passionately to
making it public, adding to the hype along the way. The Democrats might,
more productively, have focussed on what President Trump now seems
likely to do with the memo—namely, trying to cripple the investigation into
possible Russian interference in the 2016 election and what may be his
own efforts to obstruct that effort.

The proper title of the memo is “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation.” FISA allows a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court to approve spying on non-Americans and, in certain cases, on
Americans in connection with foreign intelligence investigations. (The FISC’s approval of the mass collection of data on most Americans was one
of Edward Snowden’s revelations.) The alleged abuses are that Justice
Department and F.B.I. officials, determined to stop the election of
Donald Trump, applied for and got a warrant to conduct surveillance on
Carter Page—a man with vague business interests in Russia who was, for a
time, an adviser to the Trump campaign—using a shoddy dossier, assembled
by a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, which
they knew had been paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic
National Committee. According to the memo, at least some officials also
knew that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected.”

The memo says that the dossier formed an “essential part” of the
application. Democrats on the committee dispute this, suggesting that
there was plenty of other material on Page. In the context of FISA, it
wouldn’t have taken much to get a warrant with or without Steele,
especially given Page’s business relations in Russia. Although the memo
notes that the application was one involving “probable cause,” under
Title I of FISA, rather than the even more lax Section 702 of Title VII,
one problem that the memo does illustrate is how easy it is to get
permission to spy on Americans. (The FISC is non-adversarial and almost
never says no.) And it is worth keeping in mind that, whatever one
thinks of Page, any American with whom he had been might have been drawn
into the surveillance, too. (The government calls this “incidental”
contact.)

Republicans, including Nunes, have not been as interested in abuses of FISA that do not involve their President, recently passing on a chance
to reform the standards of Section 702, in particular. (Many Democrats
have been absent, too.) But critics of Trump should also not fall into
the trap of elevating that process—of claiming that, as a general rule,
the issuance of a FISA warrant alone proves much of anything. Otherwise,
they risk landing in the same territory as Trump, who, in a tweet on
Thursday, claimed that the “investigative process” had once been
“sacred”—until it was directed at him.

Indeed, the purpose of the memo does not seem to be FISA reform; it
looks like a justification for firing people in the Justice Department
whom Trump doesn’t like—or has already pushed out. Applications for the
warrant, its renewals, and related documents were approved, it notes, by
James Comey, the former head of the F.B.I., whom Trump dismissed last
May; Sally Yates, an Obama appointee who clashed with Trump over his
travel-ban executive order when she was briefly acting Attorney General
(he fired her); Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., who,
under pressure from Trump, announced his retirement this week; and Rod
Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who is a Republican but also
the person who has the authority to fire Robert Mueller, the special
counsel looking into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.
(If Trump wants to fire Mueller, the thinking goes, the easiest way
might be to get rid of Rosenstein first.) The memo’s complaint is that
none of them told the FISC about “the political origins of the Steele
dossier.”

Playing politics is a tricky charge. As it happens, at around the time
the application was made, on October 21, 2016, the F.B.I.’s leadership
was also discussing jolting the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s
e-mails back into action. Depending on one’s mind-set, that either
suggests that pro-Clinton forces were desperately looking for dirt to
counter that story, or that the F.B.I. should also have revealed that
the Trump campaign had its own issues—or maybe just that it was a
chaotic time, with accusations and counter-accusations being thrown
around. In partisan hands, human messiness can all too easily be made to
look like conspiracy.

That doesn’t mean that all the mess is particularly inspiring. It is
worth reflecting on just how the F.B.I. got mixed up with opposition
research, and put it in a warrant application, along with, according to
the memo, a Yahoo News story for which Steele was also the source. What
if the target had not been Trump but one of his opponents? (Or a
civil-rights leader? The pursuit of Martin Luther King, Jr., is only one
such example.) In a way, this is also a story about money in politics,and its transparency-obliterating effects. The Clinton campaign and the
D.N.C. paid a law firm, Perkins Coie, millions of dollars for legal
services. Some portion of that money went to Fusion GPS, a consulting
firm, for the production of the dossier. (Earlier, Fusion GPS had taken
money from anti-Trump conservatives for related research.) Fusion GPS
hired Steele. It also, the memo notes—and this part has caused
excitement among Trump supporters—hired the wife of Bruce Ohr, a Justice
Department official. According to the memo, her job was “to assist in
the cultivation of opposition research on Trump,” and Ohr “later
provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research.”

These assertions may, as has been said of much of the memo, be
misleading and lack context. The Times, in its report, cited sources
who said that the role of Ohr’s wife, whose name is Nellie Ohr, was
minor and her knowledge limited. But the whole subplot has the
dispiriting look of a Washingtonian revolving door. It’s worth
reassuring the public of any rules limiting the ability of a consulting
firm, or any private entity, to effectively pay, indirectly or not, to
get someone’s name in the F.B.I.’s files. Perhaps that information is
included in the counter-memo that the Democrats on the Intelligence
Committee have written; the Republicans controlling the committee have
not allowed it to be released.

The Nunes Memo is shoddy and slanted, but it is not explosive. Nothing
in it diminishes, for example, the relevance of the larger Mueller
investigation. Page is not even, to borrow the memo’s word, “essential”
to it. But the memo also does not seem to betray any “sources and
methods”—a phrase used by those who like to keep anything classified
secret—that have not already been revealed. Indeed, the memo is a
reminder that it’s always worth scrutinizing government claims about
what must be kept secret. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the F.B.I.
said that it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that
fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The phrase “grave concerns”
raises worries that national security might be harmed. Or was the
narrative laid out in the memo just, all around, a story that was
incomplete and unfairly causing embarrassment? Sometimes, in those
cases, it helps to make more information public—not less.

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February 2, 2018 at 11:11PM

Remembering Nicanor Parra, the Almost Immortal Chilean Poet

Remembering Nicanor Parra, the Almost Immortal Chilean Poet

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“He’s going to die any minute now,” a college classmate of mine said in
1994, when the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra had just turned eighty and we
were eighteen. I asked if the poet was sick or something. “When people
are eighty, it’s highly probable that they’ll die at any minute,” he
replied. We were on campus in Santiago, doing nothing, pretty high.
Someone said that there was an event at Cine Arte Alameda to celebrate
Parra, and the usual four or five of us headed over—uninvited, of
course, but we managed to sneak in. I remember almost nothing about the
event. The place was packed. Any rock band would love to have half the
fans that Parra did.

Almost a decade later, in 2003, I went to Nicanor’s house in Las Cruces
for the first time. I was pretty much uninvited then, too, but Nicanor
knew that his friends were bringing with them a professor and aspiring
poet, still in his twenties, who was longing to meet him. When people
are almost ninety years old, it’s highly probable that they’ll die at
any moment, but Nicanor was still going strong.

Conversations with him were always an adventure. They began with an
exchange of pennants, followed by a few loose, exploratory phrases that
were really his most recent poems, his thoughts from the week. During
lunch, he’d talk about the joys of wine, the unbeatable pork roll from
Las Cruces, the interesting color of the tomatoes. The best part was the
conversation after the meal, when the script would take off in
unexpected directions and he didn’t seem to be trying to teach anything,
although one always learned a great deal.

The press and the academy demonstrated a persistent, sometimes
insistent, interest in digging around in his life, but the truth is
that, except for the usual enumeration of children and romances, we know
little about Nicanor Parra. His relationship with interviews was
complicated. “Every question is an impertinence, an aggression,” he
declared, with paradoxical warmth. Sometimes he refused interviews
outright; at other times, he would open up with long preambles that led
to nothing. But a skilled observer would always leave Nicanor’s house
with enough material for a good article. Interviewing Parra, in fact,
became a kind of elective but important rite of passage for cultural
journalists in Chile.

I was a more or less involuntary witness to some of his interviews. I
remember, especially, his tug of war with the journalist Matías del Río.
Nicanor had agreed to talk to him on the condition that there be no
questions or recordings, but del Río took two minutes to break the
rules. “You, sir, are a pontificator, and pontiffs belong in Rome,”
Nicanor said, suddenly, and walked out without a word. Del Río didn’t
know whether to go or stay, but, after a while, our host returned,
apologized, and invited him to stay for lunch. While we ate, he answered
the journalist’s questions in extenso. At one point, Parra looked at
me, winked, and pointed with his right index finger at the journalist’s
sleeve: he knew perfectly well that his interlocutor was hiding a
recorder.

Thanks to a series of coincidences, mostly initiated by the editor
Matías Rivas, not long after I met Nicanor I was put in charge of
editing his translation of “King Lear,” called “Lear Rey & Mendingo” (“Lear, King & Beggar”). Nicanor had undertaken the translation in 1990,
for a successful staging at the Teatro Universidad Catolica, but he was
reluctant to publish it because he didn’t consider it finished, and so
it had remained in a state of semi-abandonment.

Para traducir a Shakespeare / y comer pescado / mucho cuidado: / poco
se gana con saber inglés
,” Parra wrote. (“In translating Shakespeare / and eating fish / take care: / little is gained by knowing English.”) He
wanted his translation of “King Lear” to be a transcription, in the
musical sense of the term: the work had been written for one instrument,
the English language, and it had to be transcribed for another one, the
Spanish language—Chilean Spanish.

Parra looked for equivalences, tested out surprising metric
combinations, broke rhythm. He wanted, like Shakespeare, to reconcile
the high and the low, the solemn and the vulgar. Elizabethan blank verse
had to come together with the metric of his own poetry; they had to make
each other more powerful. Shakespeare had to sound like Shakespeare but
also like Parra; Parra had to sound like Shakespeare but also—above
all—like Parra.

The translation was essentially ready. There was a handwritten version
covered in edits, and a typewritten copy also riddled with corrections.
I consolidated them into a single manuscript and printed two copies.
Nicanor marked his up and I tried to record, on mine, every one of his
painstaking decisions. To see that someone I admired so much was capable
of spending a full hour arguing over an adjective, or testing, aloud,
the naturalness of a line, was an unexpected luxury. I was tasked with
extricating the book from him, taking it out of his hands, making him
see that it was ready. But it was hard for me to rush him. We laughed,
we got distracted; he was always extraordinarily generous with me. We
made progress, but, by the time night fell, Nicanor was overcome by
uncertainty. He considered not publishing the book; he seemed truly worried, as if, in that translation of “King Lear,” his literary destiny
hung in the balance.

One afternoon, my method failed: Nicanor made so many changes that it
was impossible to keep up with his corrections. I had to leave on the
last bus, and I asked if I could take his copy with me and get his
changes down once I was home. He looked at me with intimidating
seriousness and flatly refused.

The next day, I returned to transcribe the changes, but he wanted us to
keep progressing. After lunch, he insisted on driving me to Cartagena in
his old gray Beetle so that we could make photocopies. I wasn’t nervous
about Nicanor driving; I had already been his co-pilot a couple of times,
when we’d gone to eat fried fish. At the copy shop, they helped us
quickly. But on the way back we got stuck behind a red truck that was
inexplicably going very slowly. Nicanor tried to pass it, but, halfway
through the maneuver, the truck driver also sped up, and suddenly we
were facing down an enormous bus. Nicanor floored it and the other two
braked. As soon as he caught his breath, he raised an eyebrow and
smiled, like it was nothing. “We almost died,” I said. He looked at me
as if to say, Exaggerate much?

A couple of months later, Nicanor gave the go-ahead on that brilliant
translation. Over the following years, without the excuse of work, I
went back to see him many times. Once, he came to see me. It was 2010,
and I was just starting a seminar at Diego Portales University, talking
about a concept in Parra’s work, when the poet himself, with the
sheepish bearing of a student late for class, knocked at the door. I had
told him over the phone that we were reading one of his books, and he’d
found out the day and time of my class and arranged everything to travel
to Santiago and surprise us.

My students reacted timidly at first to the ninety-year-old living
legend of poetry, but gradually they ventured to ask some questions,
which Nicanor answered generously and at length. Later, in the
cafeteria, one of my students told me that he’d been startled to see
Parra, because he’d thought the poet was dead. “He is dead, and so am
I,” I replied, but my student didn’t get it. I had to explain that I was
joking. Some months later, in a speech to celebrate International Book
Day, President Sebastián Piñera made the same mistake, including Parra
among the Chilean authors who “have left us.” I don’t know what the poet
thought of that lapse. Most likely, he burst out laughing.

A few days ago, when Piñera found out that, eight years later, Parra had
indeed died, he tried to fix things with this pretty ridiculous
sentence: “All that remained for him to achieve immortality was to leave
this earthly world.”

If I were in the Santiago Cathedral today, holding vigil over Nicanor
Parra with my friends, instead of writing in my house in Mexico City, we
would speak in low voices about the last time we’d seen the deceased.
That’s what you talk about at wakes.

I would tell them about December 5, 2014. I was thirty-nine; he was a
hundred. I went to see him with Joana Barossi, a Brazilian friend who
translated his poems for fun, and who dreamed of meeting him. When I
introduced them, he barely greeted her. For the first ten or twenty
minutes, Nicanor spoke exclusively to me.

Then he put on a couple of piano cuecas on the stereo, and, after we
commented on them, he got up and did a little dance. Only then did he
speak to Joana, and with a certain solemnity; she was enchanted. He
asked her to read us one of her translations, and she agreed. She
started—I think—with the Portuguese version of his famous poem “Advertencia al Lector,”
or “Warning to the Reader.” Nicanor looked at her as if she were the
girl from Ipanema herself.

We ate lunch, and then I thought we should get going; it was time for
his siesta. On the coffee table there was a copy of “Parra a la Vista”
(“Parra in Sight”), a book compiled from a bunch of Nicanor’s
photographs that his grandson Cristóbal Ugarte found in a suitcase. The
poet began to explain the photos, in detail, one by one. I went out to
smoke and when I came back he was still telling Joana about the photos;
I went with his daughter Colombina to buy some ice cream and when we
came back he was still going; I went to the front yard, talked for maybe
two more hours with Colombina and Rosita, his caretaker, and then we had
to leave, but Nicanor still had enough material for forever and a day.

It was dark when we finally left. As we were saying goodbye, Joana
handed him a copy of his “Complete Works” and asked him to sign it.
Nicanor hesitated a second before replying, “No, better do it next time,
Joana, next time.” Resigned but still happy, she kissed his right hand.
“This is the most important day of my life,” she told me later, in the
car. I looked at her as if to say, Exaggerate much?

When people are more than a hundred years old, it’s highly probable that
they’ll die at any moment, but, as several friends have said, we were
used to Nicanor’s presumed immortality. He lived three more full years.
I could have visited him many times, but I didn’t. All I can do is say
goodbye to him like this, writing, speaking in a low voice, to no one.

Translated, from the Spanish, by Megan McDowell.

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February 2, 2018 at 10:57PM

Corporate Goes Country: A Review of Holston House Nashville

Corporate Goes Country: A Review of Holston House Nashville

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On my trip to Nashville at the start of the year, I had a chance to fulfill one of my New Year’s resolutions: explore new hotel brands. I’ve rarely strayed outside of Marriott properties for the past two years, and Music City gave me an opportunity to experience one of the city’s newest hotels, the Holston House.

Part of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection, the Holston House opened at at the end of 2017. The 88-year-old, 191-room Art Deco building originally operated as the James Robertson Hotel before serving as an apartment building. Now the renovation is ready to welcome out-of-towners once again.

In This Post

Booking

When I browsed rates for my one-night stay, most nearby hotels — Hyatt Place, Omni and Renaissance— clocked in at $225 or above. The Holston House was only $150, and the Music for Your Ears rate included a $40 credit for food. This felt like a steal, and it was probably because the property was trying to climb up the hotel rankings for the city. With only two Google reviews, it was under the radar all right. I got a king room.

I had no World of Hyatt status, so my points potential was limited to five points per dollar spent. I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred for the booking, for 2x points for travel. (I’m planning to compare properties throughout the year to help determine what new credit card to add to my wallet by the end of 2018.)

Location

Nashville lacked a convenient public-transit option from the airport, but the trip in a taxi was quick and cheap (about 15 minutes and $25).

Across the street from Bridgestone Arena and three blocks from the convention center, it was a convenient tourist location. The Holston House was at the western end of the action on Broadway, the heart of the city’s tourist scene. The nearby honky-tonk bars all ran together except Robert’s Western World, the top spot on Broadway. It was three blocks from the hotel, and I knew I could count on seeing some of the city’s best pickers there.

Check-in

I received a notification that my room was ready at 11:30am, so I headed straight to the hotel after my flight. The lobby had an 1920s elegance, and a split-level design with a restaurant downstairs, bar upstairs and sitting area in the middle.

The lobby of the Holston House feels like a place where Sinatra would feel right at home.

The check-in agent was friendly, and she told me that the hotel was still in a soft-opening stage. That meant there were still construction workers putting the finishing touches on the lobby bar. While that didn’t bother me, I was disappointed to learn that the rooftop pool and bar — which were both advertised in the hotel’s description — would not open until March.

Room

The fifth floor greeted me with a massive photo of the action in a bar somewhere on Broadway. My king room was tucked around the corner from the elevator. At 246 square feet, the loft-like room was not massive, but there was plenty of living space.

The hallway featured a concert poster from the nearby Ryman Auditorium, a legendary concert venue well worth visiting if you’re in Nashville. The bathroom was immediately on my left with a farmhouse door, and the design delivered the upscale charm of many boutique hotels.

The bathroom

The marble shower was quite spacious, and a bathrobe was available for use. C.O. Bigelow amenities reinforced the boutique vibe of the property.

The bedroom included a closet with additional exposed storage space for hanging clothes. The hanging lamps beside the bed delivered an extra design flourish, and outlets with USB ports provided ample power support for an arsenal of devices. The bed was super comfy.

My only complaint about the bedroom was that the lighting was a bit complicated. Switches by the door controlled some of the power, and an overly confusing system of bedside dimming switches made nighttime reading a bit of pain.

The bed was great. The lighting was hip but confusing, as you can tell from this photograph.

A desk-cabinet combination lined most of the wall opposite the bed, with a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. A Keurig machine with Starbucks pods was a nice perk. The in-room bottles of water, priced at $5 per bottle, seemed like a bit of a price gouge, though.

Food and Beverage

When Holston House is completely operational, the rooftop bar will be called TENN on Top. For my stay, the dining options included TENN, which is the first-floor restaurant, and Bar TENN, the bar overlooking the lobby with menu options from restaurant below. The construction workers were gone by the time I came back down, and the $9 macaroni and cheese, listed as a starter, filled me up for lunch.

The $7 granola was a fresh and light start to my morning. Heartier options were a bit on the expensive side (for Nashville), including a $17 avocado toast and poached egg for breakfast, and a $17 burger with bacon.

TENN’s ambience strayed from the vintage feel of the rest of the hotel (the restaurant concept was developed by New York-based APICII restaurant group.)

I also recommend venturing outside the hotel to Tin Cup Coffee, around the corner from the hotel. I had breakfast tacos there after I checked out, and they were insanely tasty.

Amenities

The fitness center, in the basement, had an industrial vibe with its exposed piping and brick walls. All the machines and free weights any traveler could ask for were included, but I could imagine it getting fairly crowded once the word is out about the Holston House. With just three treadmills and three bikes, there could be competition for early-morning workouts.

The big amenity will eventually be the rooftop pool, which the staff all apologized for the delay in opening.

Bottom Line

My stay felt like a sneak peek of what Holston House will become: one of the best small hotels in Nashville. Over the next three years, the city will welcome a new JW Marriott, a new Hyatt Regency, a new property from Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels and a number of other properties, and the area around the hotel was booming with construction. When I’m back, though, I plan to return to Holston House to experience the rooftop and see the hotel in its fully functioning form.

I’ve usually rolled my eyes at most hotel brands’ efforts to launch brands that compete with boutiques and Airbnb, and the corporate speak of brands that “tell stories,” “appeal to millennials,” and are “familiar, yet unexpected” all feels hollow, but Holston House proved my skepticism wrong. The property offered the best of a big brand — the ability to earn loyalty points and standards of top-notch service — while establishing a real sense of authenticity for my night in Nashville.

Images courtesy of the author.

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February 2, 2018 at 10:15PM

Have a Look Inside the Airbus A321LR Test Aircraft

Have a Look Inside the Airbus A321LR Test Aircraft

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The A321LR, Airbus’ newest single-aisle jet, has just made its first flight. Before entering service, it’s going to go through a cycle of rigorous tests to explore how it fares in any conceivable flight situation. Airbus tells us that the jet will visit the US in the coming weeks in the course of its flight tests.

The new jet has one big selling point: as its LR moniker indicates, it’s a long range plane, meant to take up to 240 people on routes up to 4,000 miles. This used to be the province of twin-aisle, heavy jets only, but the A321LR can go far without the added costs of a much bigger airplane.

But before doing any of that in commercial service, it needs to be deemed safe, after a campaign of tests. The A321LR is fundamentally an A321, but with a different door layout and an extra fuel tank, plus several improvements to extend its range.

TPG got a chance to board the first and so far only LR flying in Hamburg, at the Finkenwerder airport (XFW) where Airbus has one of its two European assembly plants. Here it is, sitting on the ramp by an enormous A380 from the latest batch about to be delivered to Singapore Airlines.

 

The first sign that this is not an A321 like the others is on the flight-attendant panel by the forward galley. The second diagram from the left will strike any crew member (and passengers) used to A321s as weird. There’s a door missing! A321s generally have four exit doors forward of the wing and two behind, and no emergency exits over the wing. Not this one. The LR has only one door in front of the wing (it’s the one we came through, in red in the diagram to show it’s open) but compensates by adding two small overwing emergency exits. That way, it can seat more people than the standard A321 within the same fuselage, and can still evacuate them all safely.

 

The cabin looks like Airbus is installing some kind of new seat with a weird back, but these are normal seats — with water tanks and wired test equipment strapped to them. The equipment measures and records data in different phases of the flight.

The tanks allow increases or decreases in weight as well as different weight distributions.

The center of gravity is an important aspect of the flight test, and Airbus uses the water tanks to ensure the plane is tested on its ability to cope with potential situations that may see the cabin structure move around, for example in severe turbulence.

The twin emergency exits are now automatic, the first for an Airbus single-aisle aircraft. It means that in the event of an evacuation, a door will pop up, rather than become totally detached and require the passenger to throw it out.

Towards the rear, not something you see every day: the rear pressure bulkhead is exposed. making the rear seem much, much wider than we’re used to seeing on a single aisle. This bulkhead helps maintain cabin pressure when airborne, when the cabin is kept at a much lower altitude than the atmosphere outside. Ordinarily, a mix of galleys and lavatories will be in front of the rear pressure bulkhead, but this is a test aircraft, and there are no passengers needing those facilities.

Towards the front of the aircraft, there are a few rows of old, second-hand seats, for those onboard test flights to sit when they aren’t busy operating the test equipment. There’s also a small exposed galley with limited equipment, and one lavatory. This definitely isn’t anything like what you will see once the LR is in service.

The flight deck is pretty much the same you’ll see on every other A320 family aircraft…

… but with a difference if you look close, and the center display happens to be turned on and set to show the state of the aircraft’s doors: again, there’s that lone door forward of the wing that gives the LR away.

And finally, a closeup of the other innovation on this plane: a (very wet) “mask” — the elegant black color around the cockpit windows that debuted on the bigger A350.

This A321LR will continue its flight test campaign for most of the year, before entering commercial service in late 2018 with its launch customer, which for now remains a secret. You can use flight tracking sites like FlightRadar24 to check where the aircraft is being tested: just search for the German test-registration D-AVZO. Heads up: it’s headed to the US in the coming weeks!

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February 2, 2018 at 09:35PM

The Nunes Memo Undermines the Right’s Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theory

The Nunes Memo Undermines the Right’s Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theory

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The memo that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released
to Fox News and the Washington Examiner on Friday morning—everyone
else had to wait until noon—is four pages long. Its authors should have
stopped at three pages, though, because the fourth serves only to
undermine the entire theory of the case that Donald Trump and his
supporters have been peddling for weeks now, which is that the Russia
investigation is a partisan hit job engineered by the Hillary Clinton
campaign, the Obama Administration, and anti-Trump elements inside the
F.B.I.

To believe this conspiracy theory, which emanated from the likes of Sean
Hannity, the Fox News host, and Tom Fitton, the head of the right-wing
research group Judicial Watch, you have to believe that the
investigation began with the infamous “Steele dossier,” the document
compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, which claims that
the Russian government had been trying to cultivate Donald Trump for years and
had obtained kompromat on him in the form of a sex tape. The
right-wing argument goes that that Clinton operatives cooked up a
scandalous piece of fiction, got Steele to pass it along to some Trump-haters in the F.B.I., who then persuaded their bosses at the Justice
Department to open an investigation, and here we are, eighteen months
later, with Robert Mueller and his investigators hounding an innocent
President.

The memo that was made public on Friday, whose release was pushed for by
Representative Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee,
directly contradicts this story. Its first three pages are largely
devoted to analyzing the context of the F.B.I.’s electronic surveillance
of Carter Page, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trump. When, on
October 21, 2016, the F.B.I. asked a secret intelligence court for
permission to surveil Page, the memo alleges, the agency omitted
“material and relevant information” from its request—for instance, the
fact that the Steele dossier, which the government submitted in support
of the application, had been commissioned and paid for by the Democratic
National Committee and the Clinton campaign. “Neither the initial
application . . . nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of
the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s
efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were
then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials,” the memo says.

This is an interesting allegation, to be sure, and, as soon as the memo
was released, Trump’s supporters were making much of it on Fox News and
elsewhere. It should be noted, though, that some legal experts have
already pointed out that the F.B.I. and the Justice Department weren’t
under any legal obligation to inform the court about who paid for the
dossier. On top of this, most of the information that the government did give to the court is still classified. FISA applications usually
run to more than sixty pages. Democrats on the House Intelligence
Committee have written a counter-memo, which they
claim
lays out what else the F.B.I. knew about Page when it applied to surveil
him, but so far Republicans have refused to allow the minority party to
release that document to the public. The F.B.I. seems likely to have
pointed out to the court that Page, a frequent visitor to Russia, had
been on the radar of its counterintelligence division for several years,
and that two suspected Russian intelligence agents, one of whom the
Justice Department subsequently charged, had tried to recruit him as a
spy, in 2013.

But, even after reading only the Republicans’ memo, we can say two
things. First, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department didn’t base their
application to monitor Page entirely on Steele’s work. And, second, and
more important, the Trump-Russia investigation didn’t begin with the
Steele dossier. These two facts are there in that lonely paragraph on
the fourth page of the Nunes memo. This is how it begins: “The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign
adviser George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation
or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos
information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence
investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Peter Strzok.” In other
words, the Trump-Russia probe began with an investigation of
Papadopoulos, a young foreign-policy aide to the Trump campaign, who
last year pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. A Times story in
December provided basically the same account, but this isn’t a newspaper report: it
is an official memo written by congressional staff members quoting a
secret F.B.I. court filing. Far from confirming the conspiracy theory
promoted by Trump, Hannity, and Fitton, the Nunes memo contradicts a
central element of it. No wonder that some people in the White House,
including the chief of staff, John Kelly, were reportedly less
enthusiastic about releasing it than Trump was. (“Rising White House
fear: Nunes Memo is a dud,” a headline at Axios read on Thursday.)

Yet, for the conspiracy theorists, the contents of the memo matter less
than the support they’ve received recently from at least some elements
of the Republican Party leadership, including Paul Ryan, the House
Speaker, who earlier this week said the memo should be made public and
talked about the need to “cleanse” the F.B.I. Trump is capable of
anything. We know this from his firing of James Comey, last May, and his
attempted firing of Mueller, last June, which was reportedly only
thwarted when the White House counsel, Don McGahn, threatened to quit.
If Trump uses the memo as a pretext to fire Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy
Attorney General, who oversees Mueller’s investigation, Ryan and other
senior Republicans will be wholly complicit in causing a constitutional
crisis.

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February 2, 2018 at 09:17PM

A Night at Nixon’s, and Laura Kipnis on the State of #MeToo

A Night at Nixon’s, and Laura Kipnis on the State of #MeToo

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A provocative feminist critic of “sexual paranoia” explains why #MeToo has gone too far and not far enough. Plus, a few daiquiris with Richard Nixon.


Laura Kipnis on the State of #MeToo

The provocative feminist critic says that the grassroots power of the #MeToo movement is being hijacked by institutions in a power grab to control the lives of employees and students.


What is a Bitcoin, Again?

Everyone is trying to figure out what bitcoin is. But maybe bitcoin has been inside us all along.


Ryan Zinke’s Deregulation Quest

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a major player in the Trump Administration’s strategy of deregulating the environment. Elizabeth Kolbert takes stock of his actions.


The Impossible Burger

A former vegetarian investigates a new kind of veggie burger that “bleeds” like meat.


A Night at Richard Nixon’s

In 1989, an aging Richard Nixon planned to revisit China, but the Tiananmen Square massacre dampened his plans. He held a dinner party to solve the problem.


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February 2, 2018 at 09:17PM