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Monthly Archives: September 2016

‘Trump’s promises are empty’: energy experts lay waste to proposals

From making coal great again to cancelling the Paris accord, industry analysts say his ideas are farfetched and his talk of climate change as a hoax is dangerous.

Donald Trump’s energy agenda which includes pledges of complete energy independence, making coal great again and ditching the Paris climate deal is drawing bipartisan fire from industry analysts, former members of Congress, and even one coal mogul.

All of them, to varying degrees, fault the billionaires basic premises and call his promises farfetched and at times contradictory.

They say the Republican presidential candidate uses faulty math to tout his vision of America’s energy independence, fails to understand energy economics in his pledge to revive the coal industry, and is peddling a big myth by claiming that global warming is a hoax.

Some energy analysts also observe that Trump’s energy prescriptions, including big regulatory cutbacks that have long been industry wishes, are politically expedient and unrealistic. In making his promise to save the coal industry, for instance, Trump has backed slashing environmental rules, taking that message to West Virginia earlier this year, when he pledged that the states miners, as well as those in Ohio and Pennsylvania, “are going to start to work again, believe me.”

But Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow at Brookings for energy security and climate issues, told the Guardian that coal jobs arent coming back and for Mr. Trump to say theyre coming back is erroneous and fanciful. Noting that cheap natural gas has been the primary driver behind years of decline for the coal industry, Ebinger added that Trump seems to be pandering to coal miners.

Other analysts concur. Donald Trumps promise to revive the US coal sector can only be realized by reining in hydraulic fracking, said Jerry Taylor, the president of libertarian thinktank the Niskanen Center.

That’s because low-cost natural gas (courtesy of fracking) has done far more to shut down coal-fired power plants and, correspondingly, reduce demand for US coal than has EPA regulations. Given that he promises exactly the opposite moving heaven and earth to increase US natural gas production Trump’s promises are empty.

Even Trump backer and coal mogul Bob Murray, who runs Murray Energy, which has given $100,000 to a pro-Trump Super Pac, says that the coal industry wont ever be great again. I dont think it will be a thriving industry ever again, Murray told an energy publication this year. The coal mines cannot come back to where they were or anywhere near it.

Likewise, Trump used dubious data when he spoke at an energy event in May in North Dakota arranged by fracking billionaire Harold Hamm, a key Trump policy adviser who has been mentioned as a possible energy secretary and recently hosted a big campaign fundraiser.

Echoing some of Hamms priorities, Trump pledged to lift moratoriums on energy production in federal areas, to revoke policies that limit new drilling technologies and to cancel the Paris agreement.

Trump also promised complete energy independence, a bullish commitment since about a quarter of US energy needs are met by imports, and one that relied on flawed projections of proven oil reserves. Trump stated that the US had 1.5 times the oil of all Opec countries combined. But at the end of 2014, the US had proven reserves of just under 40bn barrels, while Saudi Arabia alone had proven reserves of 268bn barrels.

Similarly, Trump claimed that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline which, unlike Hillary Clinton, he backs would create and support 42,000 jobs. But industry projections suggest that building the pipeline would yield about 6,000 jobs directly, and another 7,000 jobs indirectly.

Ex-Conoco Phillips lobbyist Don Duncan compared Trump’s energy proposals to those of an old snake oil salesman, saying: “Trump’s energy cures are based on a lot of numbers that clash with energy industry data and scientific studies.”

Trump’s penchant for ignoring facts and hard evidence is also underscored by his attacks on global warming and the Paris accords.

Trump famously tweeted in 2012 that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive. Taylor called this risible.

Not one scintilla of evidence exists to back the charge up, he said. Its another example of his willingness to say anything at all no matter how ridiculous or dishonest to justify the know-nothingism of his base.

Trump denied during Monday’s presidential debate having said such a thing, but in a speech last December he referred to global warming as a hoax three times in one sentence.

Former US congressman Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who runs a group promoting free enterprise climate change ideas, said Trump’s global warming views were dangerous. People who presume to be leaders by offering false hope and inflaming passions are disqualifying themselves for leadership.

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The economics of a 10 an hour living wage – BBC News

Image copyright PA

John McDonnell promised he would reveal a new “interventionist” underpinning to Labour’s economic policy.

And the shadow chancellor did not disappoint.

New rules on takeovers to guarantee pay and pension payments, a doubling in size of the co-operative sector by giving workers rights to own businesses at the point of change of ownership or closure, bringing back “sectoral” collective bargaining “across the economy”, and a change in tax emphasis from income to “wealth” – which could mean new taxes on assets, possibly homes.

But the biggest intervention was on the minimum wage, or as Mr McDonnell described it, Labour’s plans for a “real Living Wage”.

He suggested that it should be set at above 10 an hour.

That is a major increase – and well above the current government’s plan to hit 9 an hour by 2020.

Mr McDonnell said he wanted to go further, making the bold statement that under a Labour government “everyone will have enough to live on”.

Unions welcomed the move.

“Workers’ difficulties keeping up with the cost of living has become a crisis across the country and it’s up to the UK government to ensure that the lowest paid aren’t left behind by the rising costs of rent, bills and essentials that threaten to overwhelm them,” said David Hamblin of the GMB.

‘Difficult decisions’

I am sure Mr McDonnell was ready for expressions of disapproval from business groups worried about costs.

“If a 10 minimum wage was to be introduced it would mean very difficult decisions for many small businesses – they would have to look at their business models,” Adam Marshall, the acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, told the BBC.

“They may have to reduce their workforce, shift jobs overseas or look to automation.

“We should not be playing politics with these decisions. The rate should be set by the Low Pay Commission and be determined by the state of the economy.

“We criticised the [former] chancellor for his decision on raising the minimum wage to 9 an hour and we will criticise the shadow chancellor for proposing raising it to 10 an hour.”

Higher costs

Image copyright PA

An extra 1 or 2 an hour may not sound like very much.

But for a business, over a year, it can make a considerable difference to the wage bill – often the largest part of any company’s costs.

A 10-plus an hour minimum wage would raise an annual salary for the lowest paid to 19,250, according to the manufacturers’ trade body, the EEF.

That would mean a business paying around 23,000 for each employee given the extra costs faced by employers such as national insurance contributions.

Labour has said that it will expand the Employment Allowance to mitigate the impact on the smallest businesses.

But nevertheless, the EEF fears that could make “entry-level jobs”, often given to younger people and apprentices, far less attractive to businesses.

‘Arms race’

Of course, that is not to argue that most businesses do not want fair wages.

It is just that, in economic terms, many argue that income levels need to be balanced with employment rates and how robustly the economy is growing.

The highly respected Resolution Foundation has done a substantial amount of research on how minimum wage policies best work.

One of their spokespeople said to me immediately after Mr McDonnell sat down: “Our view is that the national living wage should be linked to the strength of the economy; i.e. pegged to typical pay growth, rather than cash targets.”

A little later Conor D’Arcy, Resolution Foundation policy analyst, told me: “The focus should be on tackling wider low pay problems, such as helping people progress off the wage floor and into higher pay roles, rather than engaging in an arms race.”

The danger many businesses highlight is that the living wage is becoming politicised, a battle between two political parties keen to show the effort they are making on low levels of pay.

The Low Pay Commission – which has guided increases in the minimum wage since its inception in 1999 – was mandated to balance income levels with impact on employment and the strength of economic growth.

Many businesses believe it is a mandate that should not be abandoned lightly.

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The government wants more offshore fish farms, but no one is biting

The US imports about 91% of its seafood, half of which is farmed in aquaculture facilities. Should the US do more to kickstart its own industry?

Off the coast of San Diego, Americas eighth largest city, commercial fishermen harvest about 1,100 metric tons of seafood from the Pacific every year.

That sounds like a lot. But it isnt much to Don Kent, who says he can do better with just one fish farm.

If Kent gets his way, he would raise 5,000 metric tons of yellowtail jack and white sea bass in a grid of net pens measuring about a square mile, anchored four miles off San Diego in federal waters. The species are prized in Southern California sushi restaurants, which now serve their customers imported fish almost exclusively, most of it from China, Japan, Greece or Chile.

The US imports about 91% of its seafood. Whether consumers know it or not, about half of that is farmed in aquaculture facilities much like the one Kent wants to build. While the federal government has permitted shellfish farming for years, it didnt allow farming of finfish such as bass and salmon until earlier this year.

Why are we buying all of our yellowtail from farms in Japan when I could grow them four miles off our coast and lower the carbon footprint and the trade deficit at the same time? says Kent, president and CEO of Rose Canyon Fisheries, which aims to build the project. This is done around the world. Its just not done here.

But Kent isnt likely to get approval soon, because the location is all wrong. The government is eager to promote offshore fish farming to alleviate pressure on overfished wild species. But it wants that to happen first in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service adopted its first rules for finfish farming in federal waters for the gulf region in January this year. Next up is the Pacific Islands region around Guam, Hawaii and Samoa, where in August the agency began preparing a report to analyze the environmental impact of aquaculture.

The mismatch between the proposals location and the new rules reflects the governments difficulties in incubating a new industry. Kents proposal, first submitted in October 2014, is the only fish farm proposal that the federal government has received so far. A lawsuit filed in February contends the new rules for the Gulf of Mexico could significantly harm the environment and commercial fishing, and it may be keeping away potential applicants who want to wait for the cases resolution before filing plans.

We shouldnt be doing this on an industrial scale until we have better information, says Marianne Cufone, a professor of environmental law at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. Its very possible the Gulf of Mexico will be altered forever if we move forward.

Raising fish in coastal farms isnt a new phenomenon. It just hasnt happened yet in federal waters, which range from 3-200 miles offshore. Several states allow aquaculture in coastal waters under their control, which extend out three miles from shore, including Maine, Washington and Hawaii.

Aquaculture net pen operated by Blue Ocean Mariculture near Kona, Hawaii. Photograph: NOAA Fisheries

Sales by the US aquaculture industry totaled about $1.3bn in 2013, according to a periodic census by the US Department of Agriculture. Thats a 25% increase over the prior census in 2005. Finfish account for about half the total, with catfish and trout both freshwater species dominating the industry.

Offshore aquaculture works mostly the same everywhere: fish live in an enclosure created with nets that dangle underwater from floating rings or platforms on the surface. The whole apparatus is anchored to the ocean floor.

The fish remain in the nets for as long as two years, from the time they are fingerlings. They are fed a diet that may include other fish waste from canneries and commercial fishing and processed pellets that may include corn, soybeans and other vegetables along with fish byproducts.

The US is currently a small player in running coastal fish farms, though its long coastlines and appetite for seafood could change that. Norway leads the world, followed by China, Chile, Indonesia and the Philippines, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Opening up the far offshore could ease the nations trade imbalance in fish commerce and rebuild waterfront industries that have slipped away as a result of overfishing, says Dianne Windham, aquaculture coordinator for the West Coast region of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I think we actually have a great opportunity here to pursue the responsible and sustainable development of offshore aquaculture, and set the standard for what it ought to look like, Windham says.

The opportunity was slow to materialize, though. The new rules for the Gulf of Mexico took 14 years to complete. Congress repeatedly considered and then failed to pass legislation to legalize offshore fish farming. So the fisheries services stepped in to regulate the industry under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a law passed in 1976 to govern commercial fishing.

Its a wonderful opportunity for the Gulf of Mexico, but its been a long time coming, says Joe Hendrix, president of Seafish Mariculture in Houston, Texas, an aquaculture consulting group. Its difficult to implement these things because of a lot of ignorant people who have misplaced concerns.

Adult yellowtail, one of the species Rose Canyon wants to farm off the San Diego coast. Photograph: Rose Canyon Fisheries

Hendrix is referring to critics who say their concerns are very real. This includes the risk of farmed fish escaping from their nets and breeding with wild fish and competing for food; water contamination hot spots caused by fish excrement leaving the nets; and pharmaceuticals and genetic modifications used in some aquaculture operations. (The US Food and Drug Administration allows 18 different drugs to be used on farmed fish).

For instance, the new federal rules for the Gulf of Mexico require permit holders to report to the government only major escapement events, defined as 10% or more of cultured fish escaping from a pen. Anything less doesnt require reporting but may still disrupt the feeding and breeding of wild species.

Interbreeding is a concern because farmed fish become a weaker genetic line, less able to avoid illness and parasites and to survive the hardships of the open ocean.

To date, weve been unsuccessful in preventing escape from aquaculture facilities, says Cufone, who is also executive director of the Recirculating Farms Coalition, a nonprofit that promotes aquaponics, a type of aquaculture in which fish and food crops are grown together. The group is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit to halt the aquaculture rules for the gulf. Theres no reason to think we would be 100% successful in the Gulf of Mexico, either.

Examples of escapes are plentiful. In January 2015, for example, some 51,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from their pens off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada. In another case, farmed salmon have been found in Canadas Magaguadavic River and the rivers of British Columbia during spawning season.

Hendrix and others in the industry counter that escaped fish are not a problem because, raised in pens and hand-fed, they lack the fitness to survive for long in the open ocean. In other words, theyll be eaten by wild fish before they have a chance to compete for food or interbreed.

The new aquaculture rules for the Gulf of Mexico also have no conditions governing fish welfare or humane treatment of fish. Other nations, including Great Britain, have recognized that fish feel pain and stress, and that aquaculture facilities should be designed and managed to prevent such suffering.

The US federal government should have fish welfare rules in place before opening the sea to aquaculture, says Bernard Rollin, a professor of ethics and animal sciences at Colorado State University.

Its well known by fish biologists that fish are enormously susceptible to stress, noise and crowding, says Rollin, a pioneer in the field of agricultural animal welfare. If you screw it up, theyll all die.

The fight over developing a sustainable industry means a longer wait for fish farm developers like Kent, who grew up in San Diego and remembers the city waterfront was once known as Tuna Town because it served a huge tuna fishing fleet with businesses that built boats, repaired equipment, caught and processed fish. That work mostly left for Asia when regulations and public sentiment arose in the 1970s against the bycatch of dolphins by tuna fishermen.

So youve got a working waterfront where the only work its doing is entertaining people. Its not feeding people, says Kent, who is also CEO of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, a nonprofit arm of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.

Kent says his $50m Rose Canyon project would generate 200 jobs for the region and employ newer cage technology that is submersible, a design that prevents the cages from getting destroyed by tussling waves during storms.

Rose Canyon already faces opposition from environmental groups, and commercial fishermen are concerned that aquaculture could affect the wild fishery.

Peter Halmay, a commercial fisherman based in San Diego and founder of the San Diego Fishermens Working Group, worries that farmed fish could develop viruses during captivity that would be released into the ocean and devastate native fish.

Hed rather see the government continue working to revitalize commercial fishing. For example, catch limits have been in place for years to limit harvest of important species, especially numerous varieties of rockfish. These programs have been successful, he says, and it will soon be time to increase catch limits again, a move that holds a lot of promise for the industry.

Our vision is for a vibrant working waterfront based on the capture of wild fish, Halmay said. Only if this project is a supplement to this vision will it work.

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What the cleaner saw: dirty secrets of the upper crust

The Long Read: When I took a job cleaning expensive Manhattan apartments, I had no idea what I would find out about my clients.

I heard about the cleaning company from a friend’s boyfriend, a musician who had supported himself by cleaning houses for years. I was living in an apartment in Brooklyn, sharing a windowless bedroom with a friend. She worked at a health food store on Sixth Avenue, ringing up sandwiches she brought home the ones that didnt sell and we ate them for dinner. I had an internship at a dance company, which I loved because I could take the dance classes at the studio for free.

The cleaning company was a boutique, environmentally friendly deep clean service owned by a woman who usually paid in cash. The company specialised in expensive one-time detoxes, rather than routine cleanings: shed send you to a different apartment almost every time. You never knew what youd find when you walked through the door, but most clients considered the service to be a special occasion, like a nice haircut or a spa day, and so were polite and often tipped.

I wrote to the owner of the cleaning company the next day. How did one convey ones aptitude for cleanliness over email? I am detail oriented, committed, and capable, I wrote, adept at dish washing and scrubbing of all kinds. I went on to say that I’d often lived in small spaces and knew the satisfaction that can be found in finding ways to maximise space. I also wrote that I had grown up in a house that shunned wastefulness, which had consequently led me to develop a sharp eye. I was always on time, I said. Plus, I was a dancer, and therefore enthusiastic about physical activity.

The cleaning companys website posited an unlikely but appealing correspondence between cleaning and art. The owner wrote that she saw the cleaning business as a creative pursuit and was upfront about her own preference for art over work.

This isn’t going to be like cleaning your own house, she said to me, as we rode the elevator on my first day. She had come to oversee me working on my first apartment: a spotless condo on one of the upper floors of a building in Lower Manhattan. While I worked, the owner of the cleaning company followed on my heels. Good pour, she said when I tipped the bucket of grey water into the toilet. As the day wore on, Id catch sight of her standing at the periphery of whatever giant living space I was crouching in, peering around the door frame while I stacked books. Later, while evacuating Cheerios from between the couch cushions, I saw her pick up the miniature rake in the familys decorative tabletop Zen garden and carefully comb the sand with its tiny teeth.

The owners deep-cleaning technique involved very little soap: the key was to scrub vigorously on hands and knees until the grime had been dissolved by force. The rags we used were microfibre cloths dipped in hot water, fortified with a capful of preapproved cleaning liquid. Vetted supplies were provided at the start of our employment and refilled whenever we asked. The boss also provided an assortment of essential oils, which came in small, pretty bottles and looked like perfume. I learned to make a performance out of adding a few drops to my bucket if a client was within eyeshot, holding the glass bottle aloft and squinting as though taking precise measurements.

She advertised us as consultants who would be able to advise on energy consumption and feng shui, but I was never asked to impart any of this wisdom except for one woman who asked me what lavender oil did. (It was good for wood, I told her.) The boss priced the jobs based on a telephone call, in which she performed some kind of calculus that factored in a prospective clients reported square footage, number of pets, and frequency of other (presumably less thorough) professional cleans. Shed jot their answers in an email and forward it to me. This email would be followed promptly by a Google Calendar invite, which bore an address and the start time of the clean.

It wasnt practical to carry vacuums from house to house on the subway, so we used them only if the clients had them already. In old houses, where the shower caulk had aged into grey ridges, it was nearly impossible to do a satisfactory job without resorting to the chemical-laden supplies under the clients sink. After dousing a tub in Ajax, Id sprinkle tea-tree oil on top to mask the scent.

I’d usually start my day at 8am and spend most of the morning sneaking sips of the iced coffee I hid in the sink. Most people didnt want to talk to me, which was fine. Sometimes clients would offer me water, tea, or soda, which I rarely accepted. Even the smallest gestures of goodwill would eventually turn grudging, as they searched with exasperation for a place to set the cup down while I vacuumed.

The important details of my clients lives emerged unbidden, without warning, like smells. Or, once, in the form of a sound clip that wafted from my clients laptop. The client had announced herself as a friend of the owner, then led me through a long-unoccupied apartment. Windows had been left open all winter: the books were warped with rainwater; the base of the sofa was scattered with leaves. While I swept, the friend of the owner sat cross-legged on the couch and fiddled with her computer. Suddenly, I heard an audio recording of her own voice through the tinny laptop speaker: This is the first time I have shown my life-altering birthmark to anyone. The oddness of this moment was not just its awkwardness my client moved swiftly to mute her laptop, and neither of us looked up but the fact that I had already seen the life-altering birthmark myself, which was mottled and raised like someone had slung a handful of wet sand at the flesh above her knee.

People left their most important documents face-up on hall tables for me to see. Receipts for abortions and letters announcing academic probation were pinned to the fridge. The plot points of their lives connected in an instant: sometimes my clients were almost too easy to caricature. There was the young man with a pile of womens underwear by his bed, whose Google history (discovered when I opened his laptop to stream a podcast) revealed a single search for rash from too much sex penis. Or the woman who had converted her lavish living room into a meditation area and reading room filled exclusively with divorce literature. I imagined her as a tremulous, breakable person, with the same shade of tawny hair as her dog.

Because I learned so much without trying, I never wanted to spy. The one time I flipped through a clients diary, it turned out to contain a series of cheery, colourless entries written by a father-to-be. Each was addressed to his unborn child. Mommy is so excited to meet you! one entry began, a sonogram taped to the facing page.

My favourite client lived in the West Village. His office was covered in Broadway playbills, tacked to the wall and strung across the mantelpiece like holiday greeting cards. When I dusted his bookshelves, I found that his books were not real: they came away in discrete sections, hollow volumes fused together at the spine. I could tell he had big feet from his clown-size shoes, which were lined up neatly by the door. I imagined a big, slow, clean-fingernailed man bending over with considerable effort to place his loafers toe to toe. His bedroom had a very large walk-in closet: XXL sweatpants, gym shorts, and complimentary T-shirts from conferences and car washes and diners hung delicately on individual clothes hangers like formal wear. The desk in his study was empty, except for the manuscript I found in one of the drawers. It was a novel that opened with a deathbed scene, in which family members gathered at the protagonists bedside and took turns making tearful expressions of guilt.

Once, while vacuuming the base of a corner shelf that held a collection of commemorative snow globes, I found a wallet-size photo of a woman clipped to a death certificate. She wore pearl earrings and had light brown hair and nice eyes. The cause of death was listed as murder. Upstairs, on the mantle in the main living space, where one might have placed a wedding photograph, I found a letter from Mayor Giuliani expressing his condolences to the families of September 11 victims.

I was gently wiping a porcelain Bo Peep figurine on the mantelpiece near the death certificate when my elbow knocked a glass candlestick. It fell to the floor and shattered. I was supposed to call the boss if anything like this ever happened, but I panicked and swept the pieces into a miniature dustpan I found leaning against the fireplace. The candlestick had been small and forgettable, about the size and colour of a juice glass. The dustpan, however, was curiously clean so clean that I suddenly realised that it, too, was probably decorative.

I called the musician friend who had got me the job. I broke something, I said. What do I do?

Ah, he said. You absolutely have to call her right now.

I broke something, I blurted when the owner of the cleaning company picked up her mobile phone.

“Don’t move, I’ll be there in 10,” she said. Like a superhero, she was already in the neighbourhood. When she arrived she slid noiselessly inside and scanned the room with wild eyes, as if expecting to see a dead body. When she saw the candlestick, she relaxed.

“Eh,” she said, nudging a shard. This is probably the least expensive thing he owns.

Illustration courtesy of Emiliano Ponzi, Sunrise Hotel exhibition, Wunderkammer, Rome 2012 Illustration: Emiliano Ponzi

The boss had worked on Wall Street and left to give herself more time to work on her art. But I got the feeling that the cleaning business, originally intended as a lucrative side gig, had consumed her life accidentally. She didnt like leaving her apartment in Harlem, and so communicated mainly by all-caps text message. WHERE ARE YOU, CLIENT FURIOUS, shed write.

Despite her background in finance, her way with money was strange. She had me collect cash payments from my clients, which Id tote around for weeks in an envelope before shed meet me to collect her share. Shed retrieve the money at irregular intervals, arranging to meet in various Borders bookstores. She called it doing money. MEET ME TO DO MONEY, she would text. I’M IN THE CHILDREN’S SECTION.

When I arrived at the specified Borders, she would be sitting in a child-size chair. I’d squat beside her while she recited my jobs by neighbourhood tallying the fees as she went. She divided the bills into shaky towers, one for me and one for her, which she balanced on either knee.

One day I planned to meet her to DO MONEY, but at the last minute she texted to ask if we could meet somewhere else. She was at a garden-level apartment near Central Park, she told me. “I hardly ever do this,” she confessed, “But Im cleaning it.”

When I arrived, she was giving the place some finishing touches. A friend of mine who works for me was supposed to do this, but she couldnt finish, she offered as we ascended to the street. Shes a painter too. Another painter-slash-maid? As we rounded the corner on the way to the train, she stopped and asked me pointedly if I was still dancing. I told her yes, I was taking classes in my spare time.

“And are you going to dance right now?” she asked.

“Not now,” I said, indicating my large bucket of cleaning supplies.

“But you are going soon?”

I told her I would be going later, maybe tomorrow.

“Oh, good,” she said, as though shed been afraid I might stop.

It was hard not to be jealous of my clients, especially those who pursued casual artistic careers from the soundproof comfort of their carpeted Manhattan apartments. One of my clients was a flautist who stored bins of catalogued sheet music in transparent containers. The second time I cleaned for her, she offered me pancakes. When I told her, between bites, that I wanted to be a dancer she nodded slowly, weighing my words without surprise.

I didn’t have a maid’s uniform, but we were supposed to wear green (an environmental colour), so I wore a bowling shirt my boyfriend had once favoured for barmitzvahs. When I wasnt cleaning, I sported the white-shirt-and-jeans ensemble favoured by young women who don’t have very much money but aspire to some kind of recognisable style. My clients wardrobe excesses made me giddy with desire, especially the mounds of expensive purchases they left on the floor to collect cat hair and dust.

I knew dimly that I might gain advantages by befriending my wealthier clients, but I wasnt sure what kind and I was nervous about seeming phony. I’d occasionally sense that a strange door was open to me: not to friendship, exactly, but to some sort of benevolent leeching, or simply the opportunity to be liked. But when one of my clients offhandedly complimented my shoes, I could barely say thank you.

My clients other employees seemed confident and sassy, unapologetic about their opportunism. They belonged to another rank of professional service work comprising somehow essential people who wore beautiful clothes and moved confidently in and out of their own bedrooms, which were adjacent to those of their bosss kids. Very wealthy people were rarely home, and often Id interact solely with this kind of staff. Many affected warm proxy personalities that were chummy and distant, like teachers. Theyd appear suddenly, brushing by to snap a bureau door shut, bearing a credit card and pen, and flash me a knowing, toothy smile, as though my presence in the house had been arranged for my benefit and was somehow fun for me. They’d disappear just as quickly. Once, while cleaning a three-storey brownstone with shellacked black walls, like the sides of a limousine, I accidentally leaned against the glass of a fish tank behind a cocktail bar and pushed open a secret door. Inside was a cramped office where three or four manicured women, all talking on BlackBerrys, turned to look at me.

Later, one of them materialised beside me with her business card. It was printed on heavy cardstock and embossed with the shape of her eyeglasses. Her title was Organiser. I was a waitress around the corner, and we used to see each other a lot, she told me of her relationship with the owner. We got to talking, and I realised it would be great for me to just come and be here full-time! I had just cleaned her living quarters, which were decorated with the same woven grass rugs and scented candles used in the master bathroom. Just a tip! she said.

I felt a different kind of envy when cleaning houses of girls my age. They never seemed to notice that we were peers, or if they did, the information didnt seem to embarrass them the way it did me. In their homes I felt the way I did in college, only more intensely: deeply curious about the nice things my wealthier friends owned, which manifested as a kind of hunger for tactile access. I took my shoes off so I could feel the calfskin of their rugs; I pressed my fingernails into the creamy leather of their boots.

Inevitably, when I was alone or unseen, I slacked off. I didnt do more than I was paid to do, and I didnt go overboard for clients who didnt tip. Whenever suspicious customers double-checked my work at the end of the day, instead of passively trailing them through the apartment I would argue convincingly against their complaints, maintaining that the stench we could both smell in the freezer had indeed been eliminated by my baking soda rinse.

“Was that scratch there before?” a client might ask, fingering the stovetop.

“Yes,” I’d say, and look her right in the eye until she started talking about something else.

I learned to confront filth with an unblinking expression. I treated all surfaces the same, as though the detachable seat of a bedpan covered in an unidentifiable spatter was no different from the front door of a new fridge.

One day a client answered the door in a pantsuit, midconference call, and waved me into the bathroom. She’d asked for special attention there, and this was why: all the bathrooms surfaces bath, sink, and floor were obscured by several inches of soiled cat litter. She must have been dumping new bags of it straight on to the floor. I spent several hours loosening urine-soaked clods of litter from the tub and matted tufts of hair from the sink drain. As I vacuumed away the last bits of clay, I found an elegant dangling earring hugging the back of the toilet bowl.

Under her bed, beside a nest of strappy sandals, I found a small island of petrified little cat nuggets. Another nugget tumbled off the end of the bed when I adjusted the covers. I picked it up in my hand and began a pile in the corner of the apartment, taking the turd pile with me to the trash compactor on my way out.

People with appalling habits were interesting, at least. And being around them made me feel observant, as though their eccentricity made them readable, although of course it did not it just made them easier to reduce to type. When I first encountered characters, I was delighted: the anti-anxiety prescriptions poking out of the pockets of fur coats were like movies Id seen coming to life. But on the whole, of course , my clients were more complicated than that, and more ordinary.

After I had finished cleaning, I’d hurry to the evening dance class, wedging my arm through the hard plastic handle so my cleaning bucket sat against my side like a giant handbag. At the studio, I stowed it under one of the church pews that lined the dressing room.

The studio was large, beautiful, and more than a little run-down. Often Id find myself casing it like a new clean, squinting down at the grey rubber flooring and wondering whether a wet or dry mop would be best. The studio walls were lined on both sides with fickle windows, which would either stick open, unbudgeable, or fly shut with a nasty bang at the slightest touch. The views Greenwich Village on one side, the Hudson on the other were as beautiful as the ones from my clients apartments.

On my last job, I didn’t even clean. The client lived in the basement level of a pet-friendly apartment complex. The smell of dog grew stronger as I approached her doorway: sweet and stinky, like microwaved peas. When I knocked, several dogs threw their large bodies in a rhythmic, anxious way against the door, making it shudder. No one came. I banged on the door again; the dogs banged back. Finally, I heard the sounds of unlocking, and the door opened. A womans face peeked out over the security chain. She looked bleary, as though I’d woken her. Her body jolted back and forth as the dogs bumped her legs, but she didnt seem to notice. She wouldnt let me in. I stood in the sunshine outside, not knowing what to say. “I’m sorry,” I wrote to my boss in a text message. The dogs were making it impossible for me to communicate.

During the spring, my dance studio held a week-long workshop. It involved learning a piece of choreography from one of the companys former dancers and performing it at a recital. If I attended the workshop, which I wanted badly to do, I wouldnt be able to clean for a week.

I met the boss in person to ask for the time off.

You want to do a workshop, she echoed dully.

I nodded. She gave me a cool look. I realised that I had no idea how many other employees she had. For all I knew, shed end up doing my cleans herself.

“Well,” she said, “I guess you’d better go.”

The week of the workshop, the Eyjafjallajkull volcano erupted in Iceland. A plume of ash blew across the continent, grounding flights for days. The instructor, who was on tour with the dance company, couldnt leave the south of France. The company sent pictures of themselves to the studios administrative offices, smiling and sunbathing on the beach, raising frosty drinks to the camera. Were stranded, ha ha, the email said. I wrote the boss my own email, begging for my cleaning days to be rescheduled, but she never replied.

Illustrations courtesy of Emiliano Ponzi, Sunrise Hotel exhibition, Wunderkammer, Rome 2012

This is an adapted version of an essay from the new issue of n+1. To find out more, visit

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, or sign up to the long read weekly email here.

  • This piece was amended on 28 September to remove an inconsistency. An earlier version of the piece stated that the author never accepted food or drink from clients. This has been amended to rarely.

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Ig Nobel prizes: trousers for rats and the truthfulness of liars

Nobel winning scientists gather for 26th straight year to award the most absurd, strange and curious research of the year

Investigations into rats wearing pants, the personalities of rocks and the truthfulness of 1,000 liars won Ig Nobel prizes on Thursday night at Harvard, where Nobel-winning scientists gathered to honor the strangest research of the year.

The ceremony, now in its 26th year, delivered a $10tn Zimbabwean bill (about 40 cents in US money) to winners. Those who traveled to Boston received their prizes from Nobel laureates: chemist Dudley Herschbach, economist Eric Maskin, Dr Rich Roberts and physicist Roy Glauber.

As in past years, the tone of the awards show vacillated from gleeful absurdism to satire to genuine wonder at the lengths to which scientists will let their curiosity lead them.

Egyptian urologist Ahmed Shafik, for instance, wanted to know the toll that trousers might take on male rats. He made murine trousers covering the animals hind legs with a hole for the tail in various cloths: 100% polyester, 50/50% polyester/cotton, all cotton and all wool.

Rats that wore polyester showed significantly lower rates of sexual activity, Shafik found, perhaps because of the electrostatic charges created by the material. Cotton- and wool-wearing rats were relatively normal.

Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes and Shelagh Ferguson, a team from New Zealand and the UK, won the prize in economics for a study of the personalities of rocks. The trio studied a concept called brand personality, or the set of human characteristics associated with the brand for example wholesomeness, youth, intelligence and sophistication by putting pictures of rocks in front of 225 Kiwi students.

The students then decided which of 42 traits, 15 facets and five factors to apply to the rocks in question. One, Rock G, was variously described as a big New York type businessman, rich, smooth, maybe a little shady and carries a black brief case, slick hair, quick thinker and quicker talker. Not a good dude though.

Rock I was described by one student as a gypsy or a traveller, a hippie and by another as liberal, attractive and female, I saw a young person, maybe mid-30s, who was very attractive when she was younger/possibly a model. Has her own way of thinking, with a somewhat grounded confidence, enjoys organic food.

The third rock, Rock H, was called modest, farm mechanic and down-to-earth.

The biology award went to two Britons: Thomas Thwaites, who created prosthetic limbs that let him move like and among goats, and Charles Foster, who has tried to live as a badger, an otter, a fox and a stag.

As a badger, Foster ate worms, dug a hillside den and tried to sniff out voles. Living as an urban fox, he scavenged through trash and slept in gardens. As a goat, Thwaites infiltrated a herd in the Swiss Alps and spent three days eating grass, bleating and stumbling over rocks.

Foster and Thwaites wrote books about their experiments, respectively Being a Beast and GoatMan.

A coalition from the US, Canada, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands won the psychology award, for asking 1,000 liars how often they had lied over the course of their life, and rating how well they lied.

People gradually lied more as they aged out of childhood, the study found, peaking during adolescence, and as adults lied on average twice a day. Lying decreased with age, although some prolific liars may have skewed results. The researchers also acknowledged that the liars might have been lying to them all along.

The peace prize went to a gang of philosophers from Canada and the US who published a paper titled On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit.

The researchers studied how people understand gibberish that has been framed as if it means something, by creating random but grammatical sentences of buzzwords that sounded like vaguely meditative posters meant to inspire office drones or distract dental patients from the drill. Examples included wholeness quiets infinite phenomena and hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.

There is little question that bullshit is a real and consequential phenomenon, the scientists wrote, warning that given advances in communication, bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before.

They noted, for example, that Dr Deepak Chopra, an author and MD followed by millions on Twitter, once wrote: Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.

Their mission: Are people able to detect blatant bullshit? Who is most likely to fall prey to bullshit and why?

The philosophers asked 280 students at the University of Waterloo to rate the profoundness of real and invented statements on a scale of one to five, and to search for meaning in those statements. Those students most receptive to bullshit, they found, were less reflective, lower in cognitive ability and more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs.

The researchers admitted their study had limitations, writing: Although this manuscript may not be truly profound, it is indeed meaningful.

A medicine prize was given to German scientists who found that if you have an itch on your left side, you can look into a mirror and scratch your right to relieve it. A perception prize was handed to two Japanese researchers who tried to learn whether bending over and looking at things between your legs changes how things appear.

Physics awards were given to researchers from Hungary, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, who found that white horses attract fewer horseflies and that dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones. The award for literature went to a Swedish author, Fredrik Sjoberg, who wrote a trilogy about collecting flies.

The most surprising winner was for chemistry: the automaker Volkswagen, caught for violating US emissions law, was granted a nearly worthless Zimbabwean bill to help pay for its massive legal costs. The Ig Nobel committee said the award was for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electro-mechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.

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Who won the debate? A round-by-round analysis of Clinton v Trump

The first debate of the 2016 campaign was divided by NBC into three sections. Sabrina Siddiqui and Ben Jacobs investigate who won each of them.

Round one: Achieving Prosperity


Hillary Clinton focused early on policy, laying out an economic agenda that called for reducing income inequality by raising the minimum wage, closing the gender pay gap and eliminating corporate tax loopholes. But she did not miss the opportunity to go after Donald Trump for being the first major-party nominee in more than 40 years to refuse to release his tax returns.

The Republican candidate managed to put his Democratic rival on the defensive on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, forcing her to explain why she came out against the landmark 12-nation trade agreement last year after previously supporting it. But Clinton was able to overcome the question in part because Trump repeatedly shouted over her attempts to answer it placing the focus instead on his aggressive posture. SS


Donald Trump was strongest early in the debate, when he hit familiar talking points on trade and put Clinton on the back foot, having to defend her flip-flop on TPP and the controversial legacy of Nafta, the free trade agreement signed by her husband that many in the industrial midwest feel has cost manufacturing jobs. An off-key rehearsed line from a stilted Clinton about Trumped-up trickle down economics represented a brief window into what the debate might have been like if Trump had been able to act like a normal candidate for more than 10 minutes.

But the Republican nominee took Clintons bait and played defense on personal attacks almost immediately. After Clinton said: He started his business with $14m, borrowed from his father, Trump immediately responded, rather than turn the focus back on to trade, perhaps his strongest issue. BJ

Round two: Americas Direction

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Baby lobsters in hot water as ocean temperatures rise

A new study by scientists in Maine found that if global warming trends continue, lobsters will struggle to survive by the year 2100.

Baby lobsters might not be able to survive in the oceans waters if the ocean continues to warm at the expected rate.

That is the key finding of a study performed by scientists in Maine, the state most closely associated with lobster. The scientists, who are affiliated with the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, said the discovery could mean bad news for the future of one of Americas most beloved seafood treats, as well as the industry lobsters support.

The scientists found that lobster larvae struggled to survive when they were reared in water five degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the temperatures that are currently typical of the western Gulf of Maine, a key lobster fishing area off of New England. Five degrees is how much the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects the Gulf of Maines temperature to warm by the year 2100.

The paper appears this month in the scientific journal ICES Journal of Marine Science. It could serve as a wake-up call that the lobster fishery faces a looming climate crisis that is already visible in southern New England, said Jesica Waller, one of the studys authors.

There has been a near total collapse in Rhode Island, the southern end of the fishery, and we know our waters are getting warmer, Waller said. We are hoping this research can be a jumping-off point for more research into how lobsters might do over the next century.

Right now, the countrys lobster catch is strong, prices are high and steady and the industry is opening up new markets in Asia, where a growing middle class is hungry for one of Americas seafood status symbols.

US fishermen have topped 100m lbs of lobster for seven years in a row after having never previously reached that mark, and their catch topped a half billion dollars in value at the docks for the first time in 2014.

But signs of the toll warming waters can take on the fishery are noticeable in its southern reaches, where scientists have said rising temperatures are contributing to the lobsters decline. The lobster catch south of Cape Cod fell to about 3.3m pounds in 2013, 16 years after it peaked at about 22mn in 1997.

The study’s authors found higher temperatures caused baby lobsters to develop faster something that could help them avoid predators in the wild but few survived. They performed the work by raising more than 3,000 baby lobsters from the moment they hatched.

The authors said the study was the first of its kind to focus on how American lobsters would be affected by warming waters and the increasing acidification of the ocean in tandem. “The study found that acidification had almost no effect on young lobsters survival,” Waller said.

Michael Tlusty, an ocean scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center at the New England Aquarium, said the study was especially important because it considered both warming and changing ocean chemistry.

This is the type of work that really needs to be done, said Tlusty, who was not affiliated with the study. The oceans are not changing one parameter at a time.

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Who said it: tech CEO or communist leader? Take our quiz

This week Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to advance human potential and promote equality. But hes not the only tech billionaire in a Che Guevara shirt.

Capitalism is catechism in Silicon Valley. The civic religion is entrepreneurism and evangelism is a marketing tool. But for an industry that worships at the altars of the marketplace, the rhetoric of billionaires has gotten a bit confusing.

Just this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his latest plans to invest $3bn from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, an organization whose mission statement Our hopes for the future center on two ideas: advancing human potential and promoting equality would not sound out of place coming out of the mouth of a die-hard communist.

Zuckerberg is not the only billionaire who sounds like he has a Che Guevara shirt in his closet. Take our quiz and see if you can tell the source of the quote: techie or communist?

We have a duty to maintain the light of consciousness to make sure it continues into the future.
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.
In every struggle for human dignity and social justice in every struggle for better wages and working conditions, against racism and patriarchy, for protecting our living environment, and for our rights to adequate health, education, and housing (among our other needs), the concept of human development is implicit.
Workers rights are human rights.
Childhood should not be spent in a factory.
Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.
Working too many hours isnt just unfair, its unsafe.
We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.
The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
The system is that there is no system.
If we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeonhole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance.
Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution!
The most fundamental issue is economic equality.
If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.
You got

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Chuk Iwuji: ‘My Hamlet is an ugly beast about to be unleashed’

A stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Iwuji is finally playing Hamlet, in a production inspired by Black Lives Matter and which is being performed in homeless shelters and prisons.

For the Nigerian-born British actor Chuk Iwuji, to be or not to be wasnt remotely the question when it came to playing Hamlet. He has pursued the role ever since his days as a glorified spear carrier at the Royal Shakespeare Company, watching from the wings as celebrated actors spoke the famous soliloquies. As the ambassador Cornelius, Iwuji had one line, shared with another character.

Hes since gone on to lengthier Shakespeare parts: Henry VI in the history plays (a role he toured with for more than two years), Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra, Buckingham in Richard III, Edgar in King Lear. But Hamlet had always eluded him until New Yorks Public Theater asked if hed star in a Mobile Unit production. This bus and truck version, directed by Patricia McGregor, cuts the tragedy to under two hours and tours it to prisons, homeless shelters and senior centers before it returns to the Public for a three-week run.

Iwuji, who will soon return to England to star in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre opposite Ruth Wilson, spoke about how playing Hamlet has changed his craft and maybe his life.

How did you become interested in theater?

I did theater as a kid in Nigeria. But I didnt think anything of it. When I moved to boarding school in England, you have the athletes and the non-athletes. And I love sports, I did my rugby and my track, so theater went out the window. But when I found myself heading for law and economics, there was a side of me that quietly panicked. At Yale, I decided to start experimenting with theater again.

Do you have a particular affinity for Shakespeare?

Yes, I do. As soon as I became an actor and started accidentally doing Shakespeare, it became something that I loved. People seem to believe I know what Im doing! I have never been worried about who Im up against when I go in for a Shakespeare audition. I dont feel intimidated by it, I feel excited by it.

Something Ill never experience again: Chuk Iwuji as Henry VI at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006. Photograph: Publicity image

How did it feel to live with Shakespeare so long when you spent years playing Henry VI for the Royal Shakespeare Company?

Unbelievable. It was hard. It was non-stop. We would rehearse something, open it, start rehearsal while were running. We had dozens of roles in our head. One Guardian article started by saying shed interviewed us at the beginning and the end and the first line was, They look much older. Regardless of how tired we were, we knew the immense responsibility that was on our shoulders. We were going to deliver. It was exhilarating, something Ill never experience again.

Does it feel different to play Shakespeare in America?

I do feel there is a real reverence for Shakespeare and reverence is a good thing, but it can also be a very dangerous thing. There is sometimes a very thin veil of intimidation that has to be broken through when Shakespeare is being done in this country. And I think Americans like to applaud more. They like to give a standing ovation.

Have you always wanted to play Hamlet?

Yes, for a very long time. And I was pretty certain it wasnt going to happen. Ive always wanted to understand what the big deal is.

So they approached me to do it and I was like, of course! Yes! I started working through the speeches the five great speeches and I realized that every speech takes you through the whole emotional canon. Every speech, you have to go through it all. Theres anger, theres remorse, theres fear, theres passion. Its not only the greatest role Ive played but also the most exhaustive role Ive played.

Christopher Ryan Grant, left, and Iwuji: Were holding a mirror up to nature for the audience and theyre also holding it up for us. Photograph: Joan Marcus/2016 Joan Marcus

What sets your Hamlet apart?

Patricia McGregors vision is to reflect the Black Lives Matter question. I actually phoned Patricia and I was like, Look, are you sure Im the guy you want to play this Hamlet? I know where youre going with this, the anger on the streets of America, the disappointment. Am I the right guy? Because Im not sure I embody that. Im not African American. I went to boarding school.

She said to me, The very fact that were having this conversation is exactly why youre the right guy for it. That guy who finally throws a brick at the police, he doesnt want to be that. Hes not born that way. That is Hamlet. He doesnt want to be a revenger. Hes saying, Dont make me have to do this.

I hope this Hamlet shows that. Hamlet has become this status performance, this cerebral thing. People have forgotten that at the core of it often is this thriller, this ugly, relentless beast thats about to be unleashed. Thats my Hamlet.

Does the play feel different when youre performing in a prison or a homeless shelter?

Being on the road has made me realize the true difference between being a storyteller and being an actor. Often we want to be actors when actually our job is to be storytellers. The audiences, theyre listening. Theyre cheering when Claudius gets killed, theyre crying for Ophelia.

On this tour the nature of performing has changed for me. When I go on to do the next play and the next play, its all going to be about trying to find that sense of storytelling. Inasmuch as my art is my life, it has changed my life.

Youre told every performance should be fresh, it should always feel new, all that stuff. Youre told it theoretically. But to be in the Mobile Unit is to experience that happening organically. Every room is different. Sometimes the conditions are different. Sometimes the inmates dont want to be there and you have to win them over. Sometimes theyre so there with you. It changes your delivery. It changes why youre saying it.

Were holding a mirror up to nature for these guys and theyre also holding it up for us we see the humanity thats in front of us. Were giving them this gift, but Id argue that theyre giving just as much back.

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Kevin Can Wait: Is Kevin James an acting genius or a one-trick pony?

His new show Kevin Can Wait is about to hit screens this week and his everyman schtick has divided opinion. Two Guardian writers argue the case.

The case for: He gives a masterclass in screen acting

Before I begin, let me say this. The trailer for Kevin Can Wait, Jamess new sitcom for CBS, looks awful. The script is lazy, and the chemistry between him and Erinn Hayes is nonexistent. Equally, if you detest him on the big screen, I can sympathize. Whether hes playing the irritating Paul Blart in Mall Cop or Adam Sandlers aw shucks sidekick, I get it. Hes not your cup of tea. But hear me out: Kevin James is hilarious, you just need to dig a little deeper.

Jamess career began in improv and standup, when after making appearances in Star Search and Jay Leno; his big break came in 1996 at the Just for Laughs Montreal comedy festival. It was then when Ray Romano gave him a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, which led him to create his greatest character, Doug Heffernan. The King Of Queens, to this day, remains my favorite network sitcom of all time and I watch it every single day. When the pilot was aired in 1998, Variety was less than kind: Fat guys with big mouths are back in primetime, said TV critic Ray Richmond. He called it The Honeymooners minus the charm of Jackie Gleason, but once the season grew in confidence so did the writing. The show had a ridiculously talented cast that included Jerry Stiller, Patton Oswalt and Victor Williams, but its success (it lasted for nine seasons) lived and died on the chemistry between James and Leah Remini. Theres a great moment in season one where Doug and Carrie are arguing in the middle of a cello performance, and no lines are spoken and the scene is performed in complete silence. Its a masterclass in screen acting.

James is a fantastic physical performer, unbelievably athletic for a man of his size, and this is something we see throughout the show. Another great scene is when Doug shows Carrie how to pole dance and James effortlessly hangs in the air from the pole as if he was a Cirque du Soleil performer. Its one of the funniest scenes in the entire show. James, to me, remains a great comedian, blessed with great timing and screen presence. His achilles heel, however just like Chris Rock has always been catastrophic movie decisions. In King Of Queens, he had the freedom to be charmingly mischievous minus the arrogance, but once he appears on a movie screen, all that goes away as he plays 2D flatpack roles. I dont think we should blame James for that. I just wish he would fire his manager. LME

The case against: The cinematic works of Kevin James are strictly for the big boy go fall down set

Onward, to mediocrity! Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Shutterstock

All right, Luis. I also watched the trailer for Kevin Can Wait in preparation for this rhetorical exercise. It didnt just make my hair stand on end. It caused my hair to fall out from the nuclearly unfunny blast of crap writing. I do not argue that Kevin James isnt a talented performer. Few people ascend to his level of fame without acting chops. What I take issue with is his choice in projects.

Whatever you might say about his uncanny ability to contort his face in amusing ways or his comedic timing in the context of a multi-camera sitcom is blunted by his insistence in starring in such woefully misguided films as Grown-Ups, Grown-Ups 2, Here Comes the Boom, Zookeeper, Pixels, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (a movie that aims to be progressive, but achieves the nifty trick of offending people anyway), Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and Paul Blart Mall Cop: 2. Achieving fame seems like it must be a lovely thing. What one does with that fame is something of a test. James has done crap film after crap film, even going as far as making sequels to two of his worst movies. That there isnt a Zookeeper 2 is one of Gods greatest miracles, right up there with the parting of the Red Sea.

I realize these films are not for me. To expect nuance, cleverness, cultural significance or jokes would be asking too much. The cinematic works of Kevin James are strictly for the big boy go fall down set who cackle anytime James tries to cram his hefty frame into a tiny golf cart. Whereas the late Chris Farley had a knack for wringing pathos and affection out of his weight in SNL sketches like the Chippendales tryout with Patrick Swayze or the movie Tommy Boy, Kevin James uses it as a dumb crutch.

I cannot be blamed for pointing out his weight here either, as he does so himself multiple times in the risible Kevin Can Wait commercial. He ate four hamburgers! What a cad. When James eats four fake hamburgers off-screen in a sitcom, its hilarious. When I do it at 2am, its sad. Even his good friend, the notoriously slothful Adam Sandler, has stretched his ability on numerous occasions. Sandler was fantastic in Funny People and Punch Drunk Love. Even though they were failed experiments, Spanglish, The Cobbler, and Men, Women and Children were at least experiments.

What is abundantly clear from all the promotional materials for Kevin Can Wait is that it is yet another iteration of the tired formula of wacky dad who learns valuable lessons from his patient family each and every week. Instead of a grand social trend or some bellwether of renewed interest in the traditional sitcom protagonist, its just another instance of Kevin James showcasing his lack of either confidence or interest in escaping the comfortable box he has built for himself. Im not saying that Kevin James is uninterested in stretching. Im saying that he doesnt care. DS

Kevin Can Wait starts on 19 Sep on CBS

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