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Anti-Castro Militant Luis Posada Carriles Dies At 90

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The Thistle & Shamrock: A Gentle Revolution

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Crowdfunders Left Hanging By 3D Headphone Startup's Abrupt Closure

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Crowdfunders Left Hanging By 3D Headphone Startup's Abrupt Closure

Headphone company Ossic announced Saturday it was shutting down, having delivered just 250 of the 10,000 pairs of virtual reality headphones that its backers had crowdfunded.

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A California startup that sought revolutionize audio headphones, promising personalized devices that would produce sound “indistinguishable from reality,” has found that raising interest among investors was easier than delivering the goods.

Ossic raised more than $3.2 million in crowdfunding for its Ossic X, which it touted as the “first 3D audio headphones calibrated to you.”

But after delivering devices to only about 80 investors who’d paid at least $999 to for the “Developer/Innovator” rewards level on Kickstarter, Ossic announced Saturday it had run out of money — leaving the more than 10,000 other backers with nothing but lighter wallets.

“This was obviously not our desired outcome,” the company said in a statement. “To fail at the five-yard line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.”

Ossic, which The San Diego Union-Tribune notes was founded by former Logitech engineers Jason Riggs and Joy Lyons, had excited gamers, audiophiles and other sound consumers by creating headphones that used advanced 3D audio algorithms, head-tracking technology and individual anatomy calibration to “deliver incredibly accurate 3D sound to your ears,” according to its funding campaign on Kickstarter.

In less than two months in 2016, it was able to raise $2.7 million from more than 10,000 backers on Kickstarter. It raised another $515,970 on Indiegogo.

Aside from the amount of money lost, Ossic’s collapse is unusual in another regard, Engadget reports:

“Crowdfunding project failures like this aren’t unheard of, but it’s frequently due to a lack of significant outside funding. That wasn’t the case here. Rather, the shutdown reflects another common problem with crowdfunded startups: many of them don’t anticipate all the costs of bringing their product to market.”

The company said the crowdfunding represented about half its total funding, with seed investment accounting for the rest. The headphones also garnered a number of honors, including a CES Best of Innovations award, and rave reviews.

“Plop the Ossic X on your head and it instantly calibrates to the size of your head and ears, tracking your head position relative to the objects you’re hearing and dynamically aligning eight drivers that work together to play sounds in a way that’s tailored to your individual ear shapes. Adios, one-size-fits-all audio,” wrote a PCWorld editor in January 2017. “It’s hard to accurately convey on paper. But in person, it’s amazing.”

A year later, the San Diego-based firm posted a triumphant note to its backers.

“Today we’re excited to announce we’ve hit a major milestone — the shipment of the initial Kickstarter units. All of the Developer/Innovator backers ($999 tier) will be receiving their Developer Units soon, if they haven’t already.”

In filings with the SEC in February 2018, Ossic estimated that the company was worth $20 million. An independent accountant’s report included in the filing said Ossic’s ability to continue was uncertain, noting it had yet to generate revenue and sustained net losses of nearly $4 million in 2016. In late April, Ossic withdrew the offering statement.

Supporters, who’d paid at least $199 for the headphones, grew anxious.

“I’m starting to think I wasted my money on Ossic X,” wrote one last month. “Please Ossic, prove me wrong. At least post an update. 4 months now and no update? What have you guys been doing for the last 4 months?? I’d love to hear about it.”

Ossic said the cutting-edge features that drew investors turned out to be the same things that made the headphones prohibitively expensive to produce, requiring development of hardware, software, and an audio ecosystem. “What made this project so exciting, and ultimately ended up being its Achilles heel, was the complexity and scope,” the company statement said.

NPR was unable to reach anyone at Ossic for comment Monday.

The failure of Ossic to deliver highlights the risks involved in backing an innovative tech product on a crowdfunding platform.

On its website, Kickstarter says it “does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.” Kickstarter keeps 5 percent of the funds raised for successful projects — about $135,000 on the Ossic campaign.

Indiegogo, which hosted an Ossic X campaign after the success of the Kickstarter one, takes an 8 percent fee on such encore projects – about $41,000 in this case.

A spokesman for Indiegogo said the crowdfunding platform was “reviewing” the Ossic campaign, and that while Indiegogo offers support services to entrepreneurs in areas like manufacturing and product design, “sometimes it’s not enough.”

Some disappointed backers have formed a Facebook group to discuss lodging a possible class action lawsuit against Ossic.

Indiegogo said another option is to send the campaign’s owners to a third-party collection agency to try to recoup some of the funds – a process Indiegogo said it could facilitate.

“Well, there it is. 0/2 on kickstarter projects,” wrote one apparent backer on Ossic’s website. “I am disappointed, but not distraught (but also never kickstarting anything again). … Either way, not a good look. I will always wonder if it was mismanagement of finances, scope creep, technical debt, or (insert startup failure buzzword here) that killed it.”

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Crowdfunders Left Hanging By 3D Headphone Startup's Abrupt Closure

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Crowdfunders Left Hanging By 3D Headphone Startup's Abrupt Closure

Headphone company Ossic announced Saturday it was shutting down, having delivered just 250 of the 10,000 pairs of virtual reality headphones that its backers had crowdfunded.

David Becker/Getty Images


hide caption

toggle caption

David Becker/Getty Images

A California startup that sought revolutionize audio headphones, promising personalized devices that would produce sound “indistinguishable from reality,” has found that raising interest among investors was easier than delivering the goods.

Ossic raised more than $3.2 million in crowdfunding for its Ossic X, which it touted as the “first 3D audio headphones calibrated to you.”

But after delivering devices to only about 80 investors who’d paid at least $999 to for the “Developer/Innovator” rewards level on Kickstarter, Ossic announced Saturday it had run out of money — leaving the more than 10,000 other backers with nothing but lighter wallets.

“This was obviously not our desired outcome,” the company said in a statement. “To fail at the five-yard line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities.”

Ossic, which The San Diego Union-Tribune notes was founded by former Logitech engineers Jason Riggs and Joy Lyons, had excited gamers, audiophiles and other sound consumers by creating headphones that used advanced 3D audio algorithms, head-tracking technology and individual anatomy calibration to “deliver incredibly accurate 3D sound to your ears,” according to its funding campaign on Kickstarter.

In less than two months in 2016, it was able to raise $2.7 million from more than 10,000 backers on Kickstarter. It raised another $515,970 on Indiegogo.

Aside from the amount of money lost, Ossic’s collapse is unusual in another regard, Engadget reports:

“Crowdfunding project failures like this aren’t unheard of, but it’s frequently due to a lack of significant outside funding. That wasn’t the case here. Rather, the shutdown reflects another common problem with crowdfunded startups: many of them don’t anticipate all the costs of bringing their product to market.”

The company said the crowdfunding represented about half its total funding, with seed investment accounting for the rest. The headphones also garnered a number of honors, including a CES Best of Innovations award, and rave reviews.

“Plop the Ossic X on your head and it instantly calibrates to the size of your head and ears, tracking your head position relative to the objects you’re hearing and dynamically aligning eight drivers that work together to play sounds in a way that’s tailored to your individual ear shapes. Adios, one-size-fits-all audio,” wrote a PCWorld editor in January 2017. “It’s hard to accurately convey on paper. But in person, it’s amazing.”

A year later, the San Diego-based firm posted a triumphant note to its backers.

“Today we’re excited to announce we’ve hit a major milestone — the shipment of the initial Kickstarter units. All of the Developer/Innovator backers ($999 tier) will be receiving their Developer Units soon, if they haven’t already.”

In filings with the SEC in February 2018, Ossic estimated that the company was worth $20 million. An independent accountant’s report included in the filing said Ossic’s ability to continue was uncertain, noting it had yet to generate revenue and sustained net losses of nearly $4 million in 2016. In late April, Ossic withdrew the offering statement.

Supporters, who’d paid at least $199 for the headphones, grew anxious.

“I’m starting to think I wasted my money on Ossic X,” wrote one last month. “Please Ossic, prove me wrong. At least post an update. 4 months now and no update? What have you guys been doing for the last 4 months?? I’d love to hear about it.”

Ossic said the cutting-edge features that drew investors turned out to be the same things that made the headphones prohibitively expensive to produce, requiring development of hardware, software, and an audio ecosystem. “What made this project so exciting, and ultimately ended up being its Achilles heel, was the complexity and scope,” the company statement said.

NPR was unable to reach anyone at Ossic for comment Monday.

The failure of Ossic to deliver highlights the risks involved in backing an innovative tech product on a crowdfunding platform.

On its website, Kickstarter says it “does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project. On Kickstarter, backers ultimately decide the validity and worthiness of a project by whether they decide to fund it.” Kickstarter keeps 5 percent of the funds raised for successful projects — about $135,000 on the Ossic campaign.

Indiegogo, which hosted an Ossic X campaign after the success of the Kickstarter one, takes an 8 percent fee on such encore projects – about $41,000 in this case.

A spokesman for Indiegogo said the crowdfunding platform was “reviewing” the Ossic campaign, and that while Indiegogo offers support services to entrepreneurs in areas like manufacturing and product design, “sometimes it’s not enough.”

Some disappointed backers have formed a Facebook group to discuss lodging a possible class action lawsuit against Ossic.

Indiegogo said another option is to send the campaign’s owners to a third-party collection agency to try to recoup some of the funds – a process Indiegogo said it could facilitate.

“Well, there it is. 0/2 on kickstarter projects,” wrote one apparent backer on Ossic’s website. “I am disappointed, but not distraught (but also never kickstarting anything again). … Either way, not a good look. I will always wonder if it was mismanagement of finances, scope creep, technical debt, or (insert startup failure buzzword here) that killed it.”

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German Families Playing Hooky Stopped By Police At Airports, May Be Fined

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German Families Playing Hooky Stopped By Police At Airports, May Be Fined

Police on patrol in three German airports have launched investigations into 20 families who pulled their children out of school to go on vacation.

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German parents are getting busted for taking their kids on vacation when they should be in school.

Police have launched investigations into more than 20 families who were caught playing hooky ahead of a three-day weekend that started on May 19, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported.

It is part of a larger effort to crack down on unexcused absences in the days leading up to school-sanctioned holidays, a practice the news outlet described as a widespread problem among families seeking to save money by avoiding travel on peak days. It is illegal to keep students between the ages of 6 and 16 out of school in Germany.

The recent sting involved officers stationed at Memmingen, Nuremberg and Munich airports in the state of Bavaria. They were instructed to be on the lookout for families traveling with school-aged children.

According to the paper, 11 families who opted for an early holiday departure were caught in Nuremberg while 10 were interrogated in Memmingen. Apparently, no one was caught skipping school in Munich.

A German police spokesman told the BBC that, though the parents were questioned by authorities, Memmingen families were not prohibited from going on vacation. “It would have been disproportionate to take the children back to school, as the families had paid for their holidays,” the spokesman said.

Der Spiegel reported all parents have been given two weeks to explain to school officials why they pulled their children out of class. If they fail to persuade educators that it was for a worthy cause, each family could be fined up to €1,000, about $1,177.

It is not uncommon for parents in the U.S. to be fined — and, in some instances, they are even jailed — for their children’s truancy, said Deborah Fowler, executive director of the public service law center Texas Appleseed.

“It’s not an allowable absence for a child to miss class just so that family can go on a longer vacation, even if the parents do give their permission,” she told NPR, adding that school administrators are more likely to target parents whose children are chronically absent.

Data from 2015 showed Texas had one of the highest truancy rates in the country: More than 70,000 students faced truancy charges that year.

Fowler said there was a time when it wasn’t just parents who could get tickets — a Class C misdemeanor in Texas. “It used to be that parents and children were both fined for truancies and children were prosecuted in adult traffic courts,” she said. But a 2015 law put an end to truancy tickets, court appearances and jail time for students.

In California, students with persistent attendance problems can be fined up to $100 and parents can be required to enroll in parenting classes. In cases of habitual truancy, a student’s driving permit or license can be suspended.

Pennsylvania is among the states in which parents can be jailed for failing to get their kids to school. As The New Republic reported, “more than 1,600 parents — most of them mothers” were jailed in Berks County between 2000 and 2015 for failure to pay truancy fines.

A number of studies have found that truants processed through a court system are more likely to experience academic failure and continue to cut school, whereas chronically absent students who manage to stay out of the legal system have better chances of graduating.

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VA's Caregiver Program Still Dropping Veterans With Disabilities

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VA's Caregiver Program Still Dropping Veterans With Disabilities

George Wilmot gets lost easily, forgets things — like a pot on the stove — and sometimes falls down without warning. His wife Jenn hasn’t been able to work outside the home because taking care of George is a full-time job.

Eva Verbeeck for NPR


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Eva Verbeeck for NPR

In the early days of the Iraq war troops were riding around in Humvees with almost no armor on them. There was a scandal about it, and within a few years the trucks got up-armored with thick steel plates. Which solved one problem but created another.

“Some genius thought about up-armoring. Good! But they didn’t do anything with the brake systems,” says George Wilmot, who was riding an armored Humvee in 2009, leaving a hill-top base in Mosul.

“We took some small arms fire … my driver took us off a cliff,” says Wilmot.

Jenn Wilmot shows a picture of George after his accident. He was thrown free from the gunner’s turret as his Humvee tumbled off a cliff in Iraq. He survived, but with a brain injury, PTSD and a left arm that still looks sewn-on.

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Eva Verbeeck for NPR

Wilmot was thrown free from the gunner’s turret as the Humvee tumbled. He survived, but with a brain injury, PTSD and a left arm that still looks sewn-on. The VA rates him 100 percent disabled. George gets lost easily, forgets things — like a pot on the stove — and he falls down hard sometimes, without warning. His wife Jenn hasn’t been able to work outside the home becuase care of George is a full-time job.

After two years in the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Program, the Wilmots were dropped even though they say George’s condition hasn’t improved. Jenn Wilmot says the Charleston, S.C. VA encouraged her to re-apply, and then rejected her.

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Eva Verbeeck for NPR

“If he knows I’m going somewhere and I’m not going to be here, he’ll hang out in the bedroom because it’s a short distance right to the bathroom,” she says. “That’s not how you should live, though.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Program seemed a perfect fit for the Wilmots. It pays a stipend to family members or friends of a post-9/11 veteran – often a wife or mother – who provide care. But after two years on the program, the Wilmots were dropped even though they say George’s condition hasn’t improved.

NPR spoke with the Wilmots last year for a report that found some VAs across the country were dropping caregivers off the program while most other VAs were adding. After that report the VA reviewed the program and made several changes to improve and standardize it. But a year later, most of those VAs are still shedding caregivers. And many who were dropped before the improvements are say they can’t get back on, even though they say their veterans still badly need assistance.

The stipend ranges from a a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars a month depending on the severity of the disability and the market rate for caregivers.

Vets love the program not only for the stipend, but also for the recognition of the care their families provide. One study estimated the care to be worth billions of dollars.

The numbers looked arbitrary from city to city, which was bad luck for the Wilmots — they go to the Charleston, S.C., VA, which dropped 94 percent of its caregivers in three years.

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After the NPR report last year, VA briefly paused all revocations — that is, it stopped kicking people off the program — and carried out a strategic review. Meg Kabat, who directs the program, says the pause allowed the VA to better oversee and standardize it.

“We were able to issue a directive – it’s on the VA website so it’s there for caregivers, veterans, advocates, one policy that is followed by every medical center across the country,” says Kabat.

Continuing disappointment

After the pause, veteran families like the Wilmots thought the program would be fixed. Jenn Wilmot says the Charleston VA encouraged her to re-apply, and then rejected her.

Current VA statistics suggest the Wilmots aren’t alone — the Charleston, S.C. VA is still down 93 percent from 2014. There are only 13 approved caregivers on the program there. The South Texas VA had 342 in 2014. Last year they were down to 177. Now there are only 40. Northern Arizona kept cutting; so did Puget Sound. Fayetteville, N.C., had 570 caregivers in 2014; 350 have been cut, including Ashley Sitorius and her husband William.

Ashley Sitorius says she knew during William’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan that he could come home injured.

“I thought he’s serving our country, he’ll most definitely be taken care of,” says Ashley. She was kicked off the program in 2015.

“They just said he wasn’t clinically eligible anymore and he didn’t need a caregiver. And honestly, he’s gotten worse. I wish he was better,” she says.

Last year, after the program pause, Sitorius applied again and got rejected. She appealed to the regional office and got rejected again in March of this year.

VA works to set things right

The program’s director, Meg Kabat, says some VAs are still correcting the error of letting way too many people in at the beginning. And she says the demographics vary from state to state, and that the number of new disabled vets has dropped as the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East have wound down.

“It’s not surprising to me that there’s a group of veterans who are participating in the program for a period of time and then are discharged,” says Kabat.

Once caregivers get in the program they start using a lot of other VA services, too. Many vets improve and graduate out — which is the goal, says Kabat.

But for some veterans that goal may be out of reach.

(Top) Britnee Kinard’s husband Hamilton has a brain injury and PTSD. She got kicked off the program by the Charleston VA in 2014. (Left) Hamilton’s daily medication. (Right) His uniform in the closet at their home in Richmond Hill, Va.

Eva Verbeeck


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Eva Verbeeck

Britnee Kinard takes care of her husband Hamilton. He has a brain injury and PTSD, among other things. She got kicked off the program by the Charleston VA in 2014. She sees her husband deteriorating. He needs help with bathing and toileting. She’s dreading the day when she’ll have to take away his car keys.

“I try my hardest not to pull his, quote, man-card,” says Kinard , “I want him to be as independent as possible. But the reality of it is, the more his health progresses, the less independent he is and I’m trying not to take it from him.”

The VA says it’s still standardizing the boards that evaluate applications, and last year audited hundreds of the cases of people removed.

Hamilton can’t use his legs somedays and needs help with bathing and toileting.

Eva Verbeeck for NPR


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Eva Verbeeck for NPR

But some of those caregivers have been on the phone with their senators — last month Republican Dean Heller of Nevada and Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania sent a letter to the VA asking that all the caregivers kicked off before the program was revised last year get a second look.

“The veterans and their caregivers deserve to have their cases reviewed and use the same improved procedures,” says Casey. “Caregivers should not be treated differently because their case happened to come up for review a week before or a week after the time when the VA froze discharges.”

The VA’s Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie responded that the VA is working to improve the clinical appeals process so vets and their caregivers can get back in.

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Sitting with her disabled husband George, Jenn Wilmot says her last appeal was exhausting.

“Does he need it?” she says. “Oh yeah, I know he does. But it’s just too tiring to fight.”

She might be up to it, Wilmot says, if she weren’t working full time taking care of her veteran.

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This Season's 'SNL' Musical Guests, Cruelly Ranked

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This Season's 'SNL' Musical Guests, Cruelly Ranked

Donald Glover, performing as Childish Gambino on Saturday Night Live May 5, 2018.

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Its quality has varied in its 43-year history, but Saturday Night Live has never lost its luster as a showcase for star musicians. The series’ 2017-18 season wrapped this weekend with a performance by Nicki Minaj, closing out a 21-episode run that spotlighted major players in hip-hop (Jay-Z, Minaj, Eminem, Cardi B), pop (Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Pink), R&B (SZA), rock (U2, Jack White, Foo Fighters), country (Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves) and whatever earth-shattering genre hybrid we’re using to describe Childish Gambino now.

The SNL stage isn’t always kind to musicians: As with other late-night shows, the energy and sound mix often aren’t quite right, and the singers are attempting to win over a crowd that’s been watching comedy all evening. But every season, many of the musical guests do something extra with the SNL space and find a way to make something riveting, visually arresting or at least interesting — of course, attempting to subjectively rank such a broad assortment of apples and oranges is a truly cruel and stupid endeavor.

So here goes.


21. James Bay

“Pink Lemonade,” “Wild Love

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It’s hard to figure out what to make of James Bay, whose name, voice and physical presence all seem to represent a composite sketch of every singer you’ve ever heard and thought, “Wait, who is this again?”

Bay gives it a go in the peppy “Pink Lemonade,” but by the time he gets to “Wild Love,” well… let’s just agree that nothing says “I wanna give you wild love” quite like standing stock-still in leather pants while performing what might be the most bloodless song ever written.

20. Sam Smith

Too Good At Goodbyes,” “Pray

Sam Smith knows how to write ballads that convey longing and loss, but if his TV appearances are any indication, those just don’t translate into onstage dynamism. In “Too Good At Goodbyes,” Smith shows up clad in a short-sleeved, tucked-in red blazer, a look that suggests he’s not only working hard for your love, but also toiling at a second job as an assistant manager at Hardee’s. Smith pours every ounce of his expended energy into his vocals — which means, in turn, that he sounds nice, while leaving the charisma to his busy backing choir.

19. Troye Sivan

My My My!,” “The Good Side

Troye Sivan’s springy dance-pop concoctions play better in the studio than on the stage: It’s nice to see a live band kicking up a bit of dust during “My My My!,” but Sivan’s vocals — especially during the breathier bits in between choruses — are so listless that at times he sounds like he’s humming along to himself in the car. As for “The Good Side,” it’s a ballad that keeps threatening to build to something grand, only to wobble back to a standstill.

18. Dua Lipa

“New Rules,” “Homesick”

Just by reading the words “New Rules,” you have doomed yourself to another three days in which those seven little words — “I’ve got new rules, I count ’em” — are lodged hopelessly in your brain, stuck in an eternal loop from which your battered psyche can find no respite. So, you know, apologies for that. As for Dua Lipa’s performance on SNL, it feels a little rote: Her vocals remain on point throughout “New Rules” and the ballad “Homesick,” but she seems strangely detached from the material.

17. Arcade Fire

“Creature Comfort,” “Put Your Money On Me”

Arcade Fire’s Everything Now is an album-length commentary on the numbing excess of modern life, so you can’t get too bent out of shape when its songs and live performances feel… well, numbingly excessive. But these two performances — especially the strobe-lit seizure factory “Creature Comfort” — can border on being migraine-inducing. The band gets points for the ambition of its stagecraft, but more isn’t always more.

16. Nicki Minaj

“Chun-Li,” “Poke It Out”

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Hoo boy, where to begin? As performed this past Saturday, Minaj’s lively and impeccably choreographed “Chun-Li” is basically a tutorial in cultural appropriation, making it both exciting to hear and infuriating to watch; it was widely condemned (and defended, and condemned again) as the minutes and hours unwound, to the point where the song’s actual quality hasn’t ended up mattering much. Then, instead of showcasing more of her own material — say, another single from the album she’s got coming out next month — Minaj turned her second slot over to Playboi Carti and his song “Poke It Out.” She guests on the track, both here and on his album, but doesn’t even hit the stage until 90 seconds in.

15. Jack White

“Over and Over and Over,” “Connected By Love”

This year’s Boarding House Reach sounds like the work of a fussy studio wizard who’s decided to prioritize technical skill over coherent songcraft. As such, the singles Jack White trots out here only occasionally hang together in any meaningful way, most often in the guitar solos. White, who always surrounds himself with top-notch talent, brings on The McCrary Sisters to sing backup. But the songs themselves feel even more undercooked than they do on the album.

14. Halsey

“Bad At Love,” “Him & I”

Halsey broke through via guest appearances on others’ songs, so it’s nice to hear the pop singer grab a headlining spot. She struts and soars through “Bad At Love” while wearing what appears to be Big Bird’s pelt. But “Him & I” once again finds her spotlight diminished, in this case by slick-haired rapper G-Eazy, who’s given roughly equal time both here and in the single itself. We were promised Halsey!

13. Migos

Stir Fry,” “Narcos

Trap music rarely gets an SNL showcase, so Migos decided to go big, from a bright red-and-gold set to a live backing band to a whole bunch of lackadaisical (but fully committed!) old-school dancing. The energy is somehow strangely muted, with copious Auto-Tune and a slurred sound mix that doesn’t do Migos many favors, but the overall spectacle wins out in the end.

12. U2

American Soul,” “Get Out Of Your Own Way

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Say what you will about U2, but the band knows how to work a room. Still, “American Soul” feels like a tiny bit of a letdown coming out of its gripping animated intro, which features Kendrick Lamar; the rapper’s absence is felt throughout an otherwise workmanlike song and performance. Of course, Bono can’t help but trot out the ol’ megaphone again in “Get Out of Your Own Way,” which never quite soars the way it’s supposed to.

11. Kacey Musgraves

“High Horse,” “Slow Burn”

For “High Horse,” Kacey Musgraves piles up the flash: Her huge band is decked out in matching outfits, and everyone on stage does their thing in the small shadow of… is that a saddle made of jewels, dangling from the ceiling? It looks like a cross between a disco ball and the tiny Stonehenge in This Is Spinal Tap. Anyway, the song’s energy is muted and midtempo — even more so here than in the original version. The appropriately titled “Slow Burn” fares better, as the band stays in the shadows, the bejeweled saddle gets mothballed and Musgraves lets her softly radiant voice carry the day.

10. Miley Cyrus

“Bad Mood,” “I Would Die For You”

Miley Cyrus’ awards-show performances have caused some to question her judgment — twerking is one thing, but twerking alongside Robin Thicke?! Still, her vocal talent remains undeniable. Last year’s Younger Now was all about reclaiming Cyrus’ polished pop sound while maintaining a broad stylistic range, so it’s no surprise that her SNL set is a picture of weaponized confidence and poise. Still, while “Bad Mood” pops as a gritty vocal showcase, the ballad “I Would Die For You” sands her personality down to a nub.

9. Eminem

Walk On Water/Stan/Love The Way You Lie

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Hand it to Eminem: He opted for an ambitious and unusual arrangement that allows his limitations to be tested. “Walk on Water” sets the rapper’s paranoid self-pity against a stately arrangement that features singer Skylar Grey and a small orchestra; from there, instead of fading to commercial, the assembled players launch into lengthy excerpts from a pair of Eminem’s biggest hits. (You won’t hear the words “Once again, Eminem” in this telecast.) As for the rapper himself, he gains more focus and intensity as he goes along, as if he knows a train wreck has been narrowly but decisively averted.

8. Foo Fighters

“The Sky Is A Neighborhood,” “Everlong/Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)/Linus And Lucy”

SNL performances often bear the burden of promotional obligation: When there’s a new album to flog, most artists stick to the latest singles at the expense of the songs casual fans would be most excited to hear. But Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, the affable incumbent mayor of rock and roll, is nothing if not eager to please, which means a decent new track (“The Sky Is a Neighborhood”) gives way to a fun and incredibly ingratiating medley of one fan favorite (“Everlong,” performed mostly solo) and two holiday staples: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and the Peanuts classic “Linus and Lucy.”

7. Taylor Swift

“…Ready For It?,” “Call It What You Want”

Dragging Taylor Swift online has become a pastime, if not an art form, and her live performances on TV have gotten mixed reviews for years. But these two songs from Reputation, which had come out just a day earlier, are rendered with considerable skill: “…Ready For It?” gives every dancer onstage a workout, including Swift herself, while “Call It What You Want” gets a muted acoustic arrangement — it’s just her, her acoustic guitar, a cellist, and her backup singers — that spotlights her clear, confident vocals.

6. Chris Stapleton

Midnight Train to Memphis,” “Hard Livin’

Some superstars seem constrained by the relatively modest size of SNL‘s stage — especially the ones whose live shows are known to sprawl across stadiums. But Chris Stapleton has played enough bars and theaters to make the transition seamlessly, aided by a killer band and the prominent contributions of another decorated Kentuckian: Sturgill Simpson. Together, they make a meat-and-potatoes meal of Stapleton’s hard-churning roots music.

5. Cardi B

“Bodak Yellow/Bartier Cardi,” “Be Careful”

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The headlines coming out of Cardi B’s set were all about the big reveal — the way the camera panned down late in “Be Careful” to show the baby bump she’d kept hidden earlier in the evening (and in the months preceding her appearance). But as lovely as that news is, it needn’t overshadow the Swiss-watch precision and explosive charisma on display in her medley of “Bodak Yellow” and “Bartier Cardi.” In the past few months, Cardi B has proved herself a star capable of truly enduring: a funny and ingratiating multimedia presence with a boundless capacity for commanding attention.

4. Pink

“What About Us,” “Beautiful Trauma”

Remember the 2010 Grammys, when Pink blew every other performer off the stage by singing a song — beautifully — while spinning in midair on some sort of trapeze? She could have shown up at SNL in a trucker cap and bathrobe and sung these songs while lolling in a beanbag chair, and we’d all be like, “Sure, but remember the 2010 Grammys?” Here, Pink seems to be having the time of her life as she belts her face off (at one point wearing what looks like a tablecloth, a shiny pink lifejacket and… a banner of some kind?), which is more than any of us deserve after the 2010 Grammys.

3. Jay-Z

“Bam,” “4:44”

Jay-Z’s performance opened SNL‘s 43rd season by making news, mostly for his pointed display of a Colin Kaepernick jersey during “Bam,” on which he teams up with singer Damien Marley. But the title track from last year’s 4:44 proves more powerful still, as Jay performs the song — a bracing and vulnerable apology to his family for his much-documented infidelity — alone with his eyes closed, the mic pressed tightly to his face. It’s a remarkably inward-facing performance, raw and exposed.

2. SZA

“The Weekend,” “Love Galore”

Ctrl was one of 2017’s best albums, so SZA came into this SNL showcase with a significant advantage in raw material. But her performance takes a huge swing anyway, as she trots out two album highlights with the aid of a choir, a tiny orchestra and vivid, ambitious set design. SZA’s vocals are tight throughout, but what really jumps out is the boldness of the arrangements: “Love Galore” subtracts Travis Scott (while adding a new verse!) and incorporates every unlikely ingredient on the stage, yet still evokes the mood of the original.

1. Childish Gambino

“Saturday,” “This Is America”

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Donald Glover might have claimed this spot purely on the strength of his “This Is America” video, a chart-topping conversation-starter he dropped the night of his SNL appearance. He might have claimed it on versatility alone: on his ability to host a 90-minute comedy show, appear in every sketch and perform two songs as the musical guest. (Of course, then there’s his groundbreaking work on Atlanta, his star-making comic turn on Community and his role in the forthcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story, to say nothing of Magic Mike XXL.) But both of the night’s brand-new Childish Gambino songs are also terrific: “Saturday” is a funky-but-slight slice of summer fun, while “This Is America” functions as an actual, honest-to-goodness showstopper. To introduce the world to that song in the legendarily uneven final half-hour of SNL, knowing that it’ll still resonate for weeks — and probably years — to come? That is boldness personified, and fully justified.

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Video Campaign Aims To Unify Poland Through The Power Of Bread

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Video Campaign Aims To Unify Poland Through The Power Of Bread

Hate crimes are on the rise in Poland. In response, a new YouTube video aspires to foster tolerance by having people from marginalized groups bake and sell bread to customers at a Warsaw bakery. Above, some of the loaves baked and handed out as part of the campaign. Each loaf is wrapped in a black ribbon with a photo and information about the person who baked it.

Anna Bińczyk


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Anna Bińczyk

“Does this bread taste the same as it would taste as if a Pole had baked it?” asks Salam Salti. He is wearing a white apron and a baker’s cap with his name on it.

Salti is participating in a new Polish campaign called Nasz Chleb Powszedni, or “Our Daily Bread,” which aims to inspire tolerance and understanding in Poland by having people from five marginalized groups — gays, Jews, Muslims, refugees and black people — bake and sell bread to customers at the Putka Bakery in Warsaw. The experience is encapsulated in a three-minute video released on YouTube. The next part of the campaign includes selling bread baked by minorities in various cities around the country.

The campaign is headed by two women, Anna Bińczyk and Magdalena Korzyńska. “We were looking for something that would connect people instead of dividing them,” says Bińczyk.

The video jumps between shots of the participants preparing, kneading and dusting bread among snippets from events in Poland containing nationalist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-Muslim messages. Although Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak claims that xenophobia is a rare occurrence, the numbers tell a different story.

The Stefan Batory Foundation, a non-governmental organization that supports democracy in Poland, issued a report that analyzed the use and consequences of hate speech among Polish adults and young people (16-18 years old) first in 2014, and again in 2016, times surrounding the parliamentary elections of 2015. It found that incidents of hate speech aimed at minority groups (refugees, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBT+ community, Jews, Roma, and people of color) increased during that period, and that more Polish people were exposed to hate speech in public spaces, the media and online. The report said that repeated exposure to hate speech was associated with a higher tolerance for it.

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The National Public Prosecutor’s Office reports that the number of cases against racist, xenophobic or homophobic crimes has been rising steadily since 2012, when there were 473 cases reported. In the first part of 2017 alone, that number was 947.

“Hate speech and violence motivated by prejudice are not rare in Poland. They are poisoning the public sphere. The amount of hate based on someone’s ethnic origins, race, nationality or sexual orientation is huge in Poland,” says Damian Wutke, secretary of the Association Against Racism and Xenophobia, one of the two organizations involved in making the video. The other is Chlebem i Solą (With Bread and Salt), which is devoted to helping refugees.

Salti has been living in Warsaw since 1991, and he says he feels both Syrian and Polish. He is now a well-respected gynecologist, but claims that he still occasionally hears racial slurs, such as “dirty Arab.” He says he replies to them with humor: “Thank you for letting me know. I’m now going home to take a shower.”

To counteract these trends, Bińczyk and Korzyńska decided to dig deep into the symbolic importance of food, and most specifically, bread. “In Poland, bread has a place on every table, regardless of our opinions and prejudices,” Bińczyk explains.

“Shared meals are moments that should bring people together — and bread is a symbol that is almost sacred. We share it. We pray for it. No one should lack for bread and you should never throw it away,” says Wutke.

Traditionally, if a piece of bread falls on the floor, it is picked up, blessed with the sign of the cross and sometimes even kissed.

Polish poet Cyprian Kamil Norwid wrote,

For that land where a scrap of bread is picked up

From the ground out of reverence

For Heaven’s gifts …

I am homesick, Lord!

Like many Polish intellectuals, writers and artists of the late 19th century, Norwid himself spent a lot of time living abroad, including New York, Berlin, London and finally Paris where he died. This was motivated both by his desire to study painting in Germany and Italy, and the fact that at that time, Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and didn’t exist as an independent country. Many intellectuals were forced into exile.

Throughout history, Poles also moved abroad in search of better opportunities, especially after Poland joined the European Union in 2004 and getting a job in Western Europe became easier. This type of emigration is called za chlebem, or “after the bread.”

But can food — and especially bread — help foster tolerance and understanding? Salti believes so.

“Food is not just food. It’s one of life’s basic pleasures. Not everyone likes drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, but a common meal can bring people together. You can eat my food. I can eat your food. And the gap between us has decreased,” he says.

Although the makers of Nasz Chleb Powszedni had problems convincing bakeries to participate (many owners were worried about how business would be affected by such a campaign), the video was hugely popular in Poland, and gained the attention of several major media outlets, including Gazeta Wyborcza, the country’s most prominent newspaper. The video attracted more than one million views on the first day.

“It was so popular because it left the viewer with a feeling of reassurance, it’s very positive. And that’s what we’re missing in Poland the most,” says Bińczyk. And despite some rather frightening events in Poland — a 14-year old Turkish girl was violently beaten in Warsaw in January — there is some hope that “hate will never become our daily bread. I believe that Poland can be a country where everyone feels safe,” says Wutke.

When Salti asks his customers whether they could detect a difference in the taste of the bread now that they knew who made it, one woman says, “No.” Another man adds, “It’s normal.”

And a third person says: “There is no difference. A human being is a human being, always.”

Olga Mecking is a writer, journalist, and translator based in the Netherlands.

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Venezuela's Maduro Wins Boycotted Elections Amid Charges Of Fraud

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Venezuela's Maduro Wins Boycotted Elections Amid Charges Of Fraud

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores wave to supporters at the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday after election officials declared his victory.

Ariana Cubillos/AP


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Ariana Cubillos/AP

Venezuela’s leftist President Nicholas Maduro has easy won a second term, but his main rivals have refused to accept the results, calling the polling fraudulent — a view shared by the United States and many independent observers.

Venezuela’s National Election Council, run by Maduro loyalists, said that with nearly 93 percent of polling stations reporting, Maduro had won almost 68 percent of the vote, beating his nearest challenger, Henri Falcon, by almost 40 points.

“They underestimated me,” said a triumphant Maduro to cheers from his supporters as fireworks sounded and confetti fell at the presidential palace in Caracas.

Maduro, 55, replaced Hugo Chavez when the longtime Venezuelan socialist died of cancer in 2013. Since then, Maduro has presided over a collapsing economy, hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a mass of refugees trying to escape the desperate conditions. The country has been further hit by falling oil exports and U.S. imposed sanctions.

Fewer than half of registered voters turned up at the polls, but the opposition, which has boycotted the election, said even that figure was inflated.

Those opposed to Maduro have long maintained that the election is fraudulent, not least because the opposition’s most popular leaders — the ones with the best chance of unseating the president — were barred from running.

As NPR’s Philip Reeves reports from Caracas, “Throughout the day voting stations appeared almost empty around the capital.” Despite that, election officials claim turnout of nearly 50 percent.

“The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it,” said Falcon, a 56-year-old former state governor.

According to The Associated Press, “Falcon was joined in his call for a new election by third-place finisher Javier Bertucci, who got around 11 percent of the vote. Bertucci, a TV evangelist, stopped short of challenging the results, saying what he called a mistaken opposition boycott also boosted Maduro.”

Reuters writes:

“Falcon, a former member of the Socialist Party who went over to the opposition in 2010, said he was outraged at the government’s placing of nearly 13,000 pro-government stands called “red spots” close to polling stations nationwide.

Mainly poor Venezuelans were asked to scan state-issued “fatherland cards” at red tents after voting in hope of receiving a “prize” promised by Maduro, which opponents said was akin to vote-buying.

The “fatherland cards” are required to receive benefits including food boxes and money transfers.”

In the run-up to the election, Freedom House issued a statement calling it “clearly unconstitutional” and called Maduro a “dictator” who has crushed all opposition.

As voting took place on Sunday, a senior State Department official warned that the U.S. might press ahead on threats of imposing crippling oil sanctions, according to the AP.

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Venezuela's Maduro Wins Boycotted Elections Amid Charges Of Fraud

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Venezuela's Maduro Wins Boycotted Elections Amid Charges Of Fraud

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores wave to supporters at the presidential palace in Caracas on Sunday after election officials declared his victory.

Ariana Cubillos/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Ariana Cubillos/AP

Venezuela’s leftist President Nicholas Maduro has easy won a second term, but his main rivals have refused to accept the results, calling the polling fraudulent — a view shared by the United States and many independent observers.

Venezuela’s National Election Council, run by Maduro loyalists, said that with nearly 93 percent of polling stations reporting, Maduro had won almost 68 percent of the vote, beating his nearest challenger, Henri Falcon, by almost 40 points.

“They underestimated me,” said a triumphant Maduro to cheers from his supporters as fireworks sounded and confetti fell at the presidential palace in Caracas.

Maduro, 55, replaced Hugo Chavez when the longtime Venezuelan socialist died of cancer in 2013. Since then, Maduro has presided over a collapsing economy, hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a mass of refugees trying to escape the desperate conditions. The country has been further hit by falling oil exports and U.S. imposed sanctions.

Fewer than half of registered voters turned up at the polls, but the opposition, which has boycotted the election, said even that figure was inflated.

Those opposed to Maduro have long maintained that the election is fraudulent, not least because the opposition’s most popular leaders — the ones with the best chance of unseating the president — were barred from running.

As NPR’s Philip Reeves reports from Caracas, “Throughout the day voting stations appeared almost empty around the capital.” Despite that, election officials claim turnout of nearly 50 percent.

“The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it,” said Falcon, a 56-year-old former state governor.

According to The Associated Press, “Falcon was joined in his call for a new election by third-place finisher Javier Bertucci, who got around 11 percent of the vote. Bertucci, a TV evangelist, stopped short of challenging the results, saying what he called a mistaken opposition boycott also boosted Maduro.”

Reuters writes:

“Falcon, a former member of the Socialist Party who went over to the opposition in 2010, said he was outraged at the government’s placing of nearly 13,000 pro-government stands called “red spots” close to polling stations nationwide.

Mainly poor Venezuelans were asked to scan state-issued “fatherland cards” at red tents after voting in hope of receiving a “prize” promised by Maduro, which opponents said was akin to vote-buying.

The “fatherland cards” are required to receive benefits including food boxes and money transfers.”

In the run-up to the election, Freedom House issued a statement calling it “clearly unconstitutional” and called Maduro a “dictator” who has crushed all opposition.

As voting took place on Sunday, a senior State Department official warned that the U.S. might press ahead on threats of imposing crippling oil sanctions, according to the AP.

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