TIME States

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Grocers Lobby To Make California First State To Ban Plastic Bags
A single-use plastic bag floats along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. California grocers, who could realize $1 billion in new revenue from selling paper bags for a dime each, teamed up with environmentalists on a new push to make California the first state to ban plastic shopping bags. The retail and environmental lobbies, which backed many of 13 failed California bills since 2007 to curb or ban single-use plastic shopping bags, lost the face off against manufacturers of both plastic and paper bags who oppose restrictions on the sacks. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ban will go into effect in 2015 for some businesses and 2016 for others

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes the state the first in the country to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban will go into effect in July 2015, prohibiting large grocery stores from using the material that often ends up as litter in the state’s waterways. Smaller businesses, like liquor and convenience stores, will need to follow suit in 2016. More than 100 municipalities in the state already have similar laws, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new law will allow the stores nixing plastic bags to charge 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag instead. The law also provides funds to plastic-bag manufacturers, an attempt to soften the blow as lawmakers push the shift toward producing reusable bags.

San Francisco became the first major American city to ban plastic bags in 2007, but the statewide ban may be a more powerful precedent as advocates in other states look to follow suit. The law’s enactment Tuesday marked an end to a long battle between lobbyists for the plastic bag industry and those worried about the bags’ effect on the environment.

California State Senator Kevin de Leόn, a co-author of the bill, called the new law “a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

“We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining—and growing—California jobs,” he said.

TIME 2014 Election

The Marijuana Legalization Votes That Will Matter in 2014

First Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado
Strains of marijuana at Denver Kush Club in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014. Seth McConnell—Denver Post/Getty Images

Referendums across the country set the stage for an even bigger fight in 2016

Election Day this year will be big on pot.

The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.

Here are the races to watch in November.

Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with support long hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.

Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation

Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects for Measure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.

Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.

Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”

Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market. Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.

The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.

Florida: Medical marijuana

At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Florida joins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2 has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least $98 million in the 2012 elections.

Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2016

There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.

Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.

In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona and Massachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.

“This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

TIME Art

@Large: Inside Ai Weiwei’s Unprecedented Exhibit on Alcatraz

As part of his new exhibition, @Large, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei oversaw the construction of 176 Lego portraits of political prisoners, most still incarcerated as of June 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

The Chinese artist's seven installations on America's most notorious island champion human rights and recall America's dark past

Inside the hospital wing of Alcatraz, which is typically closed to the public, there are two adjacent rooms the size of closets. Together they make up the entire space officials dedicated to treating mentally ill prisoners before the notorious penitentiary was shuttered in 1963. And thanks to the Chinese artist and rights activist Ai Weiwei, for the next seven months those rooms will be very loud.

This paltry psych ward now holds one of seven site-specific installations in four locations around the island that Ai – everyone calls him Weiwei – has taken over for a new exhibit opening Sept. 27. Cheekily titled “@Large”, the installations, which remain on view through April 26, are designed to use the setting of an infamous prison to explore issues of human rights, punishment and the loss of freedom.

In one of the two spartan rooms plays a loop of Tibetan chants, in the other an American Indian song intoned by the Hopi tribe—thumping tracks that resonate in one’s ears like voices might in one’s head. Both are meant to remind visitors of how confined and oppressed those peoples have been at times throughout history. The latter is also reminding America, in particular, about the imprisonment of Hopi men at Alcatraz who refused to send their children away to government boarding schools in the late 19th century. “That was the darkest time,” the National Park Service’s Michele Gee says about jailing the island’s earliest prisoners of conscience. Weiwei calls that particular piece “Illumination.”

There are plenty of impressive things to note about this unprecedented exhibition. One is that the 57-year-old Weiwei designed and built his elaborate pieces without ever setting foot on the island. A vocal critic of the Chinese government, Weiwei has not been permitted to leave the country since being detained for 81 days in 2011 on tax evasion charges that were brought against him after he had conducted a lengthy investigation of government culpability in the shoddy construction of schools that collapsed in China’s 2008 earthquake, killing thousands of children. Another is the installations themselves, like “Trace,” which consists of 176 portraits of political prisoners fashioned out of 1.2 million Legos; or “With Wind,” an intricate dragon that fills an entire room in the form of some 100 hand-painted kites that hang like dominoes from the ceiling.

This installation, “With Wind,” hangs in the New Industries Building, a place where privileged prisoners were allowed to work, pictured Sept. 24, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

Less obvious is how logistically complex the project was, which not only involved getting architectural plans and videos and photographs to the artist but also seeking the approval of government agencies going all the way up to the State Department. Though the project was first conceived in 2012, the actual assembly of @Large took just nine months. And the person who should be credited for putting all the works together so quickly (sometimes literally putting them together, after carrying them across San Francisco Bay by rented barge at night) is curator Cheryl Haines. Haines is a fixture in the San Francisco art world and executive director of a non-profit called For-Site, which exists to install ambitious art in unexpected places. And she is the person who suggested to Weiwei the idea of doing an exhibition in Alcatraz while visiting him in Beijing. “Of course it’s difficult for him that he doesn’t have personal freedom and that he’s not able to come,” she says, currently sporting blue hair in an attempt to keep her calm through the storm. “But Ai Weiwei is incredibly adept at understanding the built environment … and he welcomed the challenge.”

Less obvious still may be the fact that agencies of the U.S. government, which to some extent is lumped in with more egregious human-rights violators in the exhibit, would work so hard to highlight the dark underbelly of American history, from the treatment of American Indians to the dire conditions of Alcatraz in its days as a prison. Because of the not-always-great relations between the U.S. and China, the National Park Service, which oversees Alcatraz Island and its facilities, made the choice to seek permission from the State Department before giving a Chinese political dissident one of the nation’s most popular visitor sites to use as a stage. “We knew from the get go that his belief in self-expression and his values are part of his art,” says Greg Moore, CEO of the non-profit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy that staffs Alcatraz. “Ai Weiwei takes us beyond the gangster years into something that’s not only part of our history but part of our present.”

In “Blossom,” Weiwei fills hospital wing amenities like sinks and bathtubs with intricate porcelain flower sculptures, pictured on Sept. 24, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

Also in the hospital wing is “Blossom,” which consists of porcelain flower sculptures snugly fit into existing amenities like bathtubs and sinks. The work, the curator says, might be interpreted as an offering of sympathy to those who are imprisoned or an allusion to China’s Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom Campaign in 1956, a time when free expression was briefly tolerated among citizens, before being abruptly and ruthlessly suppressed again. In the Dining Hall, the single exhibition space that is normally open to the public, Weiwei offers visitors the chance to send an actual token of sympathy to political prisoners who are still incarcerated in various parts of the world—via postcards that are covered in symbols and birds of the prisoners’ respective countries and are pre-addressed. Aides working on the “Yours Truly” installation — some of the 47 trained to guide visitors through the exhibition — will put the cards in the mail once they’ve been written.

“Yours Truly” is an installation of postcards that visitors can write to political prisoners, pictured on Sept. 24, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

Weiwei plays with sound again in Cell Block A, where songs and speeches of the oppressed or imprisoned play out of each cell. Inside is a spare stool for a listener to sit, and outside is the name of the prisoner. Installing the speakers required using a hallway behind the block, as Haines and her team were not allowed to remove so much as a screw on the vents from which the sounds of “Stay Tuned” emanate.

One of the most uncomfortable and eerie no-go zones that visitors will be let into for the exhibition is the gun gallery, a narrow hallway where armed guards once walked above rooms of prisoners, ready to shoot if necessary at a signal from an unarmed guard keeping watch on the ground. This is the walkway from which viewers will see “Refraction,” a sculpture that looks like a metal bird stuck in mid-flap, unable to fly under a suffocating ceiling.

Visitors to @Large will be let into the Gun Gallery of the New Industries Building, which is normally off limits, pictured on Sept. 24, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

Much of the challenge in getting @Large off the ground, Haines says, was making sure not to disturb even the broken glass in window frames of the historic buildings as the team installed Weiwei’s pieces. (The park did, however, install Plexiglass to protect people from the shards.) Part of the reason the exhibition is opening in September, after the height of tourist season, is that marine birds like cormorants nest there during the summer, and “ecological resources” were not to be disturbed either. Still, the exhibition has led to change on Alcatraz; for the first time there will be WiFi on the island, which the artist wanted so that people could share experiences of @Large on social media. And Moore says that letting people into the specially opened spaces may prove a “pilot” for permanently opening them in the future. There is also hope, Haines says, that the exhibit will lure more locals to join the roughly 1.5 million visitors who boat to the island each year, Bay Area residents who might have some money burning in their pockets that could go to the National Park Service or local arts programs.

The bright colors and delicate shapes of @Large somehow highlight the drab, sad conditions of the prison, like a child holding a bright balloon in the middle of a blackened, post-apocalyptic landscape. “If you look at the actual objects, they’re layered but beautiful,” says Haines, who previously worked with Weiwei on an exhibition in which various artists crafted abstract homes for native animals of the Golden Gate area. Ai chose sweet, cylindrical blue-and-white porcelain houses, and For-Site hung them temporarily in the forest for screech owls.

For this project, Haines spearheaded the fundraising of more than $3.5 million dollars, so that it would not cost taxpayers or the overburdened Parks Service a dime. It won’t cost visitors anything either; access is free for people who book regular tours to Alcatraz through April. If there’s demand, Haines says, they may also organize a special boat just for Weiwei pilgrims.

“With @Large, the conversation has broadened to encompass more types of human rights around the world,” she says. “We keep upping the ante, clearly.”

TIME justice

Surfers Beat Billionaire in Landmark California Beach Case

A surfer hops the gate at the top of Martins Beach Road, crossing property owned by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in order to get to Martins Beach on August 7, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

The latest ruling in the ongoing battle over a northern California surf spot is a blow to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla

A California court issued a milestone ruling Sept. 24 that may restore public access to a beach that requires traveling across privately owned land, the latest turn in a multi-year legal frenzy that has pitted the surfers who cross the property against the billionaire who owns it.

Judge Barbara Mallach of San Mateo Superior Court ruled against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who was sued by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation after his property manager blocked the public from accessing a beloved seaside spot known as Martins Beach.

At the center of the controversy is a low-slung metal gate that sits at the top of Martins Beach Road, an offshoot of the Pacific Coast Highway that is the only way to access Martins Beach from dry land. The road snakes across 53 acres that Khosla bought for $32.5 million in 2008. For two years, his property manager allowed the public to occasionally visit a stretch of sand where locals have gone smelt-fishing and surfing and picnicking for decades. But Khosla allowed the gate to be closed permanently in 2010 after his property manager received a letter from the county demanding that it stay open every day.

The conflict comes at a time when an influx of tech wealth has sharpened class tension in northern California. “[Kholsa] believes that he can find a way to use his wealth and power to strong-arm the situation,” says Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation.

Khosla doesn’t own a home on the land and says he has no plans to build one. The decision to shut off access to the road was a way to take a stand about what he felt were his basic rights. “This is a case about private property,” Khosla told TIME in an email. “We need to assert our rights and get the courts to clarify them.”

Khosla’s lawyers say they are considering appealing the verdict. “We will continue to seek protection of the constitutional rights of private property owners that are guaranteed by the U.S. and California Constitutions and that have long been upheld by the United States and California Supreme Courts,” his attorneys said in a statement.

Surfrider’s argument rested on a seemingly bureaucratic detail. The organization claimed that under the 1976 Coastal Act, which gave a statewide Coastal Commission jurisdiction over beachfront land, Khosla needed to apply for a development permit in order to close the gate. The commission will often only grant development permits, typically to build a home or another structure, if the public gets an established right of way in return.

“Because they’re in charge of beach development, they’re allowed to do this quid pro quo,” says Arthur McEvoy, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. “They can ask you in trade to dedicate a little easement, if the development threatens to impede public access.”

The tricky matter is that while beaches are widely considered public, people don’t necessarily have a right to cross private property to get there. Cases such as this one set precedents that resonate up and down California’s 840 miles of coastline.

The view of Martins Beach from the bottom of Martins Beach Road includes a rock formation known as the “shark’s tooth.” Katy Steinmetz for TIME

It’s easy to see why Martins Beach is beloved. Its sands wrap around a cove with cliffs jutting out on either end, creating a rare surfing spot protected from the wind and also preventing people from walking to the beach from the north or south. Secluded and full of wildlife, its dramatic rock formations are often blanketed by birds. Seals pop their heads up between surfers and the beach.

For decades, cars that wound their way down the road from Highway 1 paid a small fee to the landowners for parking and frequented a snack shop that has fallen into disrepair. A now-defunct sign advertising $15 parking, the amount Khosla’s employees charged when visitors were allowed, still lays on the ground.

Steve Baugher, Khosla’s property manager, testified at the trial that it was his decision to close the gate. He also testified that he hired security guards to “deter trespassers”; their presence prompted five surfers to defiantly march past them last October to proclaim their right to be on the beach. Known as the “Martin’s 5″ the surfers were arrested by the county sheriff but the District Attorney declined to prosecute–inspiring more surfers to take advantage of this legal limbo and hop the fence with abandon.

In California, public access to the beach is protected by the public trust doctrine, a common law that can be traced back to the English crown proclaiming rights to all submerged lands, in order to let the public use the water above them for fishing and navigation.

“Our culture abhors private beaches, and generally speaking our law abhors private beaches as well,” McEvoy said. “And any landowner is going to want to keep people away from their beach.”

In an earlier case that went Khosla’s way, a group called the Friends of Martins Beach used a different angle to sue, testing a clause in the state constitution that declares that no entity shall “exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose.” In a 2013 ruling, another San Mateo Superior Court judge said that because Martins Beach had been part of a land grant that settled the Mexican-American war in 1848, a year before the constitution was adopted, the intentions of that document were immaterial.

Beyond the ongoing court cases, two other avenues may force the drama to a close. One is a bill sponsored by State Senator Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, that would require the State Lands Commission to consider purchasing the road if negotiations with Khosla for public access fail. Meanwhile, the Coastal Commission, which has been fielding the public’s complaints about the closure of Martins Beach, is asking people to write in about how they’ve used the area in the past. That testimony may prove there’s a historic right of access that Attorney General Kamala Harris can sue to restore on the Commission’s behalf. “The Commission is trying very hard to bring it to a close,” says Nancy Cave, a commission manager who was part of negotiations with Khosla’s team that went nowhere. “We are frustrated, too.”

Khosla notes that he is not the first owner of the property to limit access, pointing out that previous owners closed the gate during certain hours and seasons and even inconvenient days. In court, property manager Baugher testified that he received a letter from the county demanding that the gates be open year round and parking be charged at the rate of $2, what beachgoers paid in 1973. Khosla has also accused Surfrider and the Coastal Commission of attempting to “blackmail and coerce him,” charges both deny. Surfrider emphasizes that Khosla has allowed changes that are far from what his predecessors did—like painting over a billboard that used to welcome people to come down from Highway 1 to the beach, turning it into a dark green slab.

Surfrider had hoped that the court would also fine Khosla for failing to apply for a permit but Mallach declined, saying that those who closed the gate had acted in good faith that they had the legal right to do so. Nonetheless, Surfrider championed the decision as a “huge victory.”

“Today’s court decision upholding the Coastal Act is an important victory for Martin’s Beach and ultimately strengthens the public’s right to beach access in California,” Angela Howe, Surfrider’s legal director, said in a statement. “The Surfrider Foundation remains vigilant to protect beach access rights, not only in this case, but also in other cases where the beach is wrongfully cut off from the public.”

TIME Culture

“Happy National Punctuation Day!” ;)

Neustockimages; Getty Images

To celebrate this annual recognition of commas and periods, TIME explores some ways that punctuation just "aint" the same as it used to be

This Sept. 24, like the previous 10, is National Punctuation Day. ’Tis a time for merrily gargling our hyphens and luxuriating in bathtubs full of em dashes, for braiding parentheses in our hair and giving our suitors octothorpes as love tokens after we dance on clouds of ampersands.

But while we can count on this semiotic orgy coming around every year, we cannot be so sure that the way we use punctuation will be the same from one to the next—even if the ostensible reason for this holiday is to celebrate “the importance of proper punctuation.” After all, the proper among us once wrote today as to-day; they once referred to the 1920s as the 1920’s; and they once marked quotations with diples (>) rather than these guys: (“”).

Here are five modern examples of how punctuation is evolving, with no certain conclusion and whether the traditionalists like it or not.

Emoji are being wielded as punctuation.

Especially on platforms like Twitter, emoji are being used to serve the same key purpose of punctuation: aiding understanding by providing clues to how the surrounding words should be interpreted. Take the text of this real tweet, randomly selected from emojitracker.com:

“Who tf put cheese in my bag today Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 6.00.07 PM

Just as exclamation points can convey excitement or question marks can suggest a lack of certainty, the angry face helps the reader understand that writer was angry about discovering their bag contained cheese of uncertain origin.

There is more freedom from conventions.

Look back at the above tweet. While an English teacher might whip out her red pen and put a question mark at the end of the sentence, we can easily discern the writer’s uncertainty about the cheese-smuggler’s identity by the word who. We don’t need the mark, and space-constrained platforms like Twitter and text messages have made us more apt to drop unnecessary characters—as well as less likely to make the assumption that character-dropping equals ignorance.

Meanwhile, the same marks missing from the ends of sentences or middle of words are settling into non-traditional roles. “Now you have Twitter and email taking older marks and giving them new life as emoticons,” says Keith Houston, blogger and author of Shady Characters, a history of punctuation marks. “People are punctuating in unstandard ways, and they are freed from convention because these messages are ephemeral.”

The apostrophe is losing steam in some circles.

Social media analytics firm Brandwatch scoured Twitter for trends in 2013 and found that the top five “grammatical errors” were: im, wont, cant, dont and id. Meanwhile, corporations like British super-bookstore Waterstones (neé Waterstone’s) have seen fit to erase those marks from their names. Cities are dropping them from street signs. And while some grammarians may cry most foul, others are calling for the apostrophe’s dumb round head.

The advocates behind the “Kill the Apostrophe” website have been joined by author James Harbeck in asserting that, in most cases, rules about apostrophe usage only serve to irritate those people who know the rules and confuse those who do not. “The great question with a lot of punctuation is, Do you really need it?” says Ammon Shea, author of hilarious grammar-police-takedown Bad English. And, he says, there’s often little risk of confusion when theyre absent.

Exclamation marks are becoming harder to avoid, for those who would like to avoid them.

As many have noted, the period that used to innocuously signal the end of a thought—like an orchestra conductor pinching his hand—has taken on a brusque aura these days, leaving the reader of any declarative sentence open to detect apathy or annoyance. This has led to a rise in exclamation marks, because people need something to fill the gaps left by informative cues we get only in face-to-face communication—the raised brows, the wide eyes, the smile. Fearing that we could come across as unfriendly, we tack on an exclamation mark (“Thanks!”) to make sure our fine disposition comes across.

The data supporting this shift is largely anecdotal, but the anecdotes are abundant. “The exclamation mark, once reserved for expressing joy or excitement, now simply marks baseline politeness,” writes New York Magazine’s Melissa Dahl, who goes on to quote a grammarian who describes them as nearly “mandatory” in email. “Dealing with such bare bones language,” says Shea, “you use whatever help you can get.” (If you don’t want this kind of help, there is a handy TIME guide on alternatives.)

Hyphens are being retired, perhaps faster than ever.

Hyphens have, of course, been chucked for centuries, as in the previous example of to-day becoming today. But that shift, Houston says, took about a century and wasn’t finalized until the 1900s. Today, at least some of the hyphen-tossing is happening faster. Take electronic mail, which started as the crazy notion of “E-mail” in the 1970s and became the un-hyphenated, ho-hum “email” among prevailing American media outlets in about 40 years.“The migration to ebook, ecommerce and email is not unexpected,” Merriam-Webster President John Morse previously told TIME. “This transition may come more readily in today’s technological environment.”

We can only wonder what tricksy technology is going to do to punctuation between now and next year’s National Punctuation Day. In the meantime, I need to get back to my em-dash bath.

TIME technology

In Praise of Emoticons :-)

The smiley face is all grown up — but just as vital as ever

There are certain things so ubiquitous—things we all have used and enjoyed like we share equal ownership over them—that it is hard to imagine any single mortal person creating them. Things like this:

: – )

But the emoticon, that display of feeling crafted from punctuation, does have a birth story, and it unfolded exactly 32 years ago today, on Sept. 19, 1982.

Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, noticed that conversations were going awry on electronic message boards the staff was using to communicate in the early 1980s. Jokes were being lost, tones were being misconstrued and unnecessary tirades were eclipsing the intended discussions. So Fahlman, then in his early 30s, made a simple, legendary suggestion: if you’re being humorous or ironic, label your comment with a smiley face made of a colon, dash and parenthesis.

Soon emoticons were spreading to other universities, then seeping into emails and eventually text messages across the world, filling the giant hole left by all the visual cues present only in face-to-face communication. The tone of one’s voice, the furrowing of one’s brow, the erect middle finger. “One of the main problems with text communication is that it’s just different from how we’ve talked to each other for most of the existence of language,” says computational linguist Tyler Schnoebelen, who wrote his thesis on emoticons at Stanford. “There they are, these words, sort of flat. We’re depleted, we’re dry in terms of the cues we get to use to signal exactly what we mean.”

And that is where emoticons have come in so terribly handy. The twist is that 32 years into this wild ride, emoticons are giving way to more colorful, more elaborate Japanese-born cousins: emoji. Those little images—invented in the ’90s by telecommunications planner Shigetaka Kurita—are much more versatile than punctuation will ever be. They’re easier to use and more efficient; three clicks can give you all this instead of just this: [ : - ( ]. They can be even be animated like this Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 12.17.47 PM.

From Facebook's Finch collection of emoji, which the company calls "stickers."
From Facebook’s Finch collection of emoji, which the company calls “stickers.”

But on this momentous occasion of the emoticon entering its 33rd year, let us take a moment to appreciate the qualities it has that emoji do not. For one, developers and designers are flooding our operating systems with their own versions of emoji (like Facebook’s) — which, unlike uniform colons and dashes, are all different. Though most people are familiar with the emoji Apple designed (like those in the above paragraph), there is no standard set. So some only work on this browser or that phone and often what we get, instead of that important, clear visual cue of a person’s meaning, is this unhelpful thing signifying that an icon should be there, but is not: Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.41.37 AM.

In an attempt to one up each other, emoji developers have also started making symbols that can actually confuse situations as much as clarify them. Take this adorable yet semantically unhelpful emoji from social app Line:

You know, for those times when you’re expressing something that really won’t come across quite right without a half-peeled banana with a milk mustache.

It is, of course, lovely that texters have the option to add this to their epistle, but there is a simplicity it lacks that an old-fashioned, primitive emoticon like ; ) does not.

Emoji are indisputably the cool kids to the emoticon’s awkward yet lovable science teacher. But they’re not dead yet! Until there is a standardized set of emoji—or software capable of translating all images onto all electronic devices as senders intended them—people will be relying on these 32-year-old standbys. So happy birthday to you, you little symbolic gems, and thank you for all your fine work so far = ).

TIME

My Glorious Evening With a ManServant

Photo by Abbie Mueller

A TIME correspondent tries out San Francisco's latest startup for her bachelorette party and finds answers to the male stripper problem

The last bachelorette party I went to was just great, full of lighthearted reminiscing and champagne-guzzling—until the strippers arrived. We only ordered one and two showed up, insisting on being paid in cash. The sight of them “getting ready” in the bathroom traumatized one poor lady. And then the two of them proceeded to get so naked and so up in our faces that one attendee started yelling, “I’m Catholic! I’m Catholic!” Visions of their gyrations and motorboating lingered in the house after they left, like a really inappropriate poltergeist.

So when my maid of honor started asking about what I wanted for my own bachelorette party a few months ago, I immediately said “No strippers,” and not in the coy way someone insists that you really shouldn’t get them anything for their birthday. I did not want to see a penis on so much as a straw, let alone a human. And yet, there seemed to be some element missing, an equalizer for the strippers my fiancé would be “forced” to ogle by his groomsmen, and some tangible symbol of the some 3.5 billion men I would be forsaking from this day forward.

Enter ManServants.

Within a certain diameter of Silicon Valley, there really is a startup for everything. This one, founded by former advertising copywriters Josephine Wai Lin and Dalal Khajah, promises a bespoke experience wherein a handsome gentleman waits on you, adores you, and responds gratefully to your every whim. With his pants on. I contacted the ladies behind the venture and they agreed to provide me with a sample ahead of their September launch. (Ordinarily they cost between about $90 and $125 per hour.)

The first step was to build him, kind of like those nerds in Weird Science. You get to pick his name, his wardrobe and his “special skills,” as well as outline tasks he should be prepared to complete with aplomb. My fiancé jokingly said we should call him Spartacus (after Hank Azaria’s character in The Birdcage), and much to his chagrin, the name stuck. I then canvassed the seven ladies attending about what they would like Spartacus to wear and what his special skills should be. It was generally agreed that Spartacus should be of the dapper “tall, dark and handsome” ilk with “soul-penetrating eyes” and “big hands.” Much more interesting, and much harder for the service to fulfill, was the skill set that resulted from everyone’s input. Here is just a selection of their requests:

ABILITIES

  • Mixology/ the ability to order just the right drink when girls say, “Oh, I don’t know. Just make me something good”
  • Funny, but never at the expense of one of the ladies
  • Foot massaging
  • Juggling
  • Can and will lift heavy things from time to time
  • Enormous flirt but only with approved ladies
  • Will point out flaws of ladies who are not in group
  • Articulate, able to quote apt poetry
  • Parkour
  • Good knowledge of Texas Hold ‘Em

TASKS

  • Carry a giant leaf over the bride as we walk around San Francisco and tell people “No photos please” when they stare
  • Serenade the bride in a public place, loudly, even though she will act humiliated
  • Propose to the bride so she can politely refuse him
  • Surprise us with feats of derring-do

Based on our requests we were sent three “casting options,” which included descriptions and headshots of the ManServants. My betrothed, lying in bed with me when the menu arrived, was none too thrilled with how thrilled I was to be picking and choosing. Afterward I asked him what he was thinking: “When a ‘catalogue’ of servants appeared I wondered what criteria the choice would be made by. I was hoping that singing ability and not pecs would win out. On the other hand, what would that say about me?”

The idea of a stripper, it seemed, was in some ways more comfortable, because it was a million miles away from how I interact with him. Being a stripper, he says, is more “emasculating.” It also invites no comparisons, or at least none that aren’t entirely superficial. And I get it. I wouldn’t be worried about him eloping with Sprinkles the stripper. But if he custom-ordered a woman who could bake and do ballet, a beautiful model with perfect breasts and rapier wit, I’d lose my marbles a bit.

Turns out, despite all the special skills they requested, the ladies didn’t care about his skills very much at all. Without exception, the ladies ignored biographies and instead said they wanted the guy in the blue shirt:

4696995_orig

The big day rolled around and suit-clad Spartacus arrived at my apartment, with just the face and 20140829_205341
five o’clock shadow we had ordered. He offered a bottle of bubbly as a gift and I introduced him around. Our first question, of course, was about what he wasn’t allowed to do. Spartacus, who, wonderfully, referred to himself in the third person all night, explained that Spartacus could not strip, nor could Spartacus drink. (My inquisitive friend Betty later tried to see if there was a way to get his clothes off without breaking this rule. “What if you had red wine spilled all over your suit?” she asked, holding a glass of wine. “I mean, it’s a nice suit. You’d probably want to clean it.”)

We also asked what instructions he had been given before the evening started and Spartacus answered: “To anticipate your every need.” To that end, he had been outfitted with a tote that included: Ibuprofen, Band-Aids, a Tide stain stick, wine opener, tissues, a lint roller, Evian face spray, two handheld fans, a nail file, Chapstick and Altoids. As we waited for some stragglers to arrive, he dealt us a poker game. In one hand, he misdealt, and his immediate reaction was to hold out his hand for a disciplinary tap. He made us drinks, gave us “apartment pours” and remembered to fill the ice trays, showered us with compliments at every opportunity and never asked for anything.

IMG_8520Spartacus clearly had the task list memorized, at least the ones he was capable of doing in the stretch of one evening. He recited an E.E. Cummings poem to me: “I will take the sun in my mouth / and leap into the ripe air …” We did indeed walk the streets, where he held a paper umbrella over my head at the front of the entourage and told all passersby, “No photos, please.” When some people tried to photobomb us, he politely showed them the error of their ways. Though he didn’t juggle or parkour, Spartacus did come with a dragon tattooed on his neck, because we had told the service we liked this number on George Clooney. He even told us a tale of how he slay the beast by ripping its heart out with his bare hands, his “weapon of choice” it turns out. He took photos of us whenever we wanted. He sang with abandon, sometimes to me.

The novelty and role reversal of the ManServant situation was far better than with male strippers, who may ostensibly be undressing at the ladies’ pleasure but are still controlling what happens and when. I’m sure there are women out there who truly love themselves some Chippendales, but many would also probably agree that they’re one-dimensional and predictable. Spartacus was like a handsome canvas who would paint itself with whatever we could imagine.

At times, it was almost hard to know quite what to do with him. We made Spartacus hop like a 20140829_213038bunny and we used his hands as coasters. We made him assign us spirit animals and say that Betty’s was a wildebeest. We asked for and received back massages and hand massages. At bars, he held our bags and pushed to the front to order our drinks. And it was all great. But the funny part is that my fellow ladies, given a man to do whatever they wanted with, weren’t that interested in objectifying or demeaning him or pushing boundaries.

I mean, what would you imagine that a group of men would do with a WomanServant? Probably not much that would bear repeating in mixed company. Given the same chance, my friends chose not to slap his behind or make him dance on them sexily but instead asked him to reveal who he was, how he got the gig, whether he ever had braces, if he had siblings. After getting my permission to break character, which had included an elaborate backstory about his time spent as a gladiator and an avowal that he was a virgin, Spartacus answered everything.

At a bar toward the end of the night, Spartacus bent down on one knee to complete one of his tasks. “Katy, my lady, will you marry me?” he asked, sporting a freshly unwrapped Ring Pop. “I’m sorry, Spartacus,” I said. “It’s not you, it’s me.” He took it well, and at the end of our time together it almost felt like we all parted as friends, even if the ManServants are paid handsomely for their troubles.

Granted, every experience with a ManServant will be different, and it’s really up to the group who orders him to make him as good as he can be. But at the very least, you shouldn’t need therapy when the night is over, even if you might need a hug.

IMG_8580

TIME Travel

Advocates for the Blind Accuse Uber of Civil Rights Violations

In this photo illustration, a woman uses the Uber app on an Samsung smartphone on September 2, 2014. Adam Berry—Getty Images

A complaint filed by the National Federation of the Blind in San Francisco federal court alleges that UberX drivers refused service, harassed blind passengers and mishandled dogs

Updated, 6:11 p.m. ET

A chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) claims that Uber drivers have subjected blind customers to “systemic civil rights violations” by repeatedly refusing to transport passengers who use service animals.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court by the NFB’s California chapter focuses on drivers of the company’s UberX service, a travel option that is lower priced than the company’s signature black car service, through which drivers can use their own cars to transport app users. The suit alleges that blind travelers have been refused service by UberX drivers on a total of at least 30 occasions because they had service animals with them.

The complaint also alleges that such riders were sometimes charged cancellation fees or abandoned in the midst of “extreme weather.”

Uber said in a statement to TIME that their practice is to ban such drivers from using their app:

The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities. It is Uber’s policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform.

When asked for additional comment about the specific allegations and their policies, an Uber spokesperson responded that “in general, it’s our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

President of the NFB’s California chapter Mary Willows said that she and counsel met with representatives of Uber months ago in an attempt to avoid litigation, but were unable to work out an agreement for how the company would address the situation. The lawsuit claims that complaints from blind travelers have gone largely unaddressed by the company and that Uber has sometimes responded by simply denying responsibility for the drivers’ behavior.

“The problem is that drivers are independent contractors, so Uber says they have no control over what they do,” Willows tells TIME. “And our argument is, if they’re working for you, you do have control over what they do.”

Willows says that blind people have encountered similar problems with taxis in the past, but that cab companies have been more expedient in remedying the problem.

Uber’s competitors are also taking note of the rift. After the NFB initiated contact with Uber about the issue, Willows says that the car service Lyft reached out to “make sure they develop a good relationship with us.”

In some cases, according to the lawsuit, UberX drivers who did not outright refuse service to riders with guide dogs nonetheless mishandled the animals or harassed the riders, in one case forcing a guide dog into a closed trunk of a sedan without the rider’s knowledge. When the owner of the dog figured out what had happened and asked the driver to pull over, according to the complaint, he refused.

The suit was also filed on behalf of Michael Hingson, a blind author who uses a guide dog and says he has been deterred from using the service because of its reputation among similarly situated travelers.

“Independence is critical in having equal opportunity in life,” Willows says. “And being able to travel independently is key to it. And any transportation system that inhibits equal travel is a problem.” The complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The document can be read in full below.

NFB of California vs. Uber

TIME Drugs

Colorado Retail Marijuana Sales Finally Beat Medical

Marijuana Banking
A customer pays cash for retail marijuana at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Brennan Linsley—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Retail sales have lagged medical sales since pot shops opened on Jan. 1, fueling concern that projected tax revenues would fall short

Sales of legal retail marijuana have topped sales of medical marijuana in Colorado for the first time since the state’s recreational pot shops opened their doors on Jan. 1, according to tax figures released by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

During the month of July, the state received $838,711 from a 2.9% tax on medical marijuana, meaning that patients spent an estimated $28.9 million at dispensaries. The state meanwhile raked in $2.97 million from a 10% sales tax on retail marijuana, putting those sales at about $29.7 million, according to calculations by the Cannabist.

Though that amounts to a less than $1 million gap between retail and medical sales, this is a small victory for champions of legalization who have argued that the experiment will be profitable for the state, as revenues have lagged behind some expectations.

“Most adults use marijuana for the same reasons they use alcohol. Now that it’s a legal product, they are choosing to access it in a similar fashion,” Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “For most Coloradans, buying marijuana in a retail store will just become the norm. It appears that shift in behavior is already taking place.”

In July, the Denver Post Editorial Board voiced its concerns about the medical market outpacing the legal recreational pot shops up to that point in 2014:

And if that trend holds for the entire year, it will present state officials with a challenge: How to prod a portion of those medical marijuana users into the retail market where they almost certainly belong. Medical marijuana privileges should be confined to genuine patients, particularly now that the retail option exists, and not to those merely seeking a break on price because the taxes are lower.

For the legalization experiment to be a success, it needs to be profitable for the state and lure buyers from the black market, a migration that should be reflected in sales figures. Tvert says that prices of retail marijuana, currently around $35 for 1/8 ounce, are far from finalized. Retail shops depend mostly on word of mouth for advertising; they have had only part of a year for competition to kick in; and they are just now recouping big costs associated with starting their businesses, he says.

Because there is only data about the first six months of sales in an unprecedented market, conclusions about success or failure are impossible to draw. But if retail sales continue to increase, while medical marijuana sales hold steady, expectations of a windfall from legal pot are less likely to go up in smoke.

TIME

Kill Switches on Smartphones Now Mandatory in California

Smart Phone Kill Switch
State Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, uses his smart phone at the Capitol Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. Cannella joined fellow lawmakers in approving a measure, SB962 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requiring all new smart phones come equipped with a "kill switch," that disables the device if lost or stolen. The bill was signed on Aug. 25 by Governor Jerry Brown. Rich Pedroncelli — AP

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that is the first of its kind in the nation

Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET

California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation Monday, mandating that every smartphone sold in California after July 1, 2015, be equipped by default with a kill switch, a feature that can render the device useless if stolen.

Proposed by state senator Mark Leno and endorsed by a bevy of law-enforcement officials, the new law — the first of its kind in the nation — is designed to curb cell-phone theft in cities like San Francisco, where more than 65% of all robberies involve stolen phones, or Oakland, where it’s 75%.

“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” Leno said in a statement. “Starting next year, all smartphones sold in California, and most likely every other state in the union, will come equipped with theft deterrent technology when they purchase new phones. Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”

Leno, a San Francisco–area Democrat, and other proponents of the kill switch have argued that if manufacturers are obliged to make these changes for the most populous state in the nation, they’re more likely to alter all devices, in anticipation of similar legislation in other states.

Many of the biggest telecommunication companies, such as Apple, Google and Samsung, agreed earlier this year to voluntarily add kill-switch capability on phones after July 1 of next year. However, the companies did not agree to enable the kill switch by default, so much as make it available as a feature. “The bill requires theft-deterrent technology to come standard on all smartphones sold in California, a departure from the status quo where consumers are required to seek out and enable the technology,” Leno’s office said.

The law will apply to all phones sold to consumers online or in physical stores in California, regardless of where the phones are manufactured. The law does not specify exactly how manufacturers must implement the kill switch, though it must allow a phone owner to remotely “brick” their phone and erase data, as well as turn the phone back on if it should be misplaced instead of stolen.

Officials like Leno have said they’re more interested in seeing the system implemented than dictating precisely how it works.

San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, also a proponent of the bill, previously asserted that carriers and manufacturers were reluctant to install the switches because it could encroach on the lucrative $7 billion phone-insurance market. A wireless association that represents major carriers like AT&T and Sprint, known as CTIA, has said hesitance was due to security concerns, like the potential for phones to be killed by hackers.

On Monday, CTIA said in a statement that their members have already gone to great lengths to protect smartphone users, citing actions like the voluntary agreement made earlier this year, as well as education campaigns. And the association insinuated that such mandated changes may yield costs that are passed onto wireless consumers.

“Today’s action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken,” said CTIA vice president Jamie Hastings. “Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation. State-by-state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

Advocates like Gascón, however, believe that this is a first step toward a new kind of uniformity. “This epidemic has impacted millions across the nation and millions more around the globe,” he said. “But today we turn the page,” he said in a statement. “Seldom can a public safety crisis be addressed by a technological solution, but today wireless consumers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.”

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