Because the objects had a standardized weight, scientists suggest they were a form of currency used some 3,500 years ago.
The modern world runs on a constant flow of money that has its roots in simpler proto-currencies pioneered on regional levels by ancient peoples.
A pair of archaeologists believe they have identified a very early example of commodity money in Europe, used some 3,500 years ago during the Bronze Age, with denominations that took the form of bronze rings, ribs and ax blades. People at this time frequently buried collections of these ubiquitous items, leaving a wealth of scattered “hoards” across the European continent.
In a study published on Wednesday in PLOS ONE, Maikel Kuijpers, an assistant professor in European prehistory at Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Catalin N. Popa, who was a postdoctoral researcher there, compared the weights of more than 5,000 Bronze Age rings, ribs and blades, sourced from over 100 hoards that contained five or more items.
The results revealed that 70 percent of the rings were so close in mass — averaging about 7 ounces — that they would have been indistinguishable if weighed by hand. While the ribs and ax blades are not quite as uniform, the study concludes that the artifacts are similar enough to collectively demonstrate “the earliest development of commodity money in prehistoric Central Europe.”
“It is a very clear standardization,” Dr. Kuijpers said.
While other researchers questioned some of their conclusions, they agreed that the study added to our knowledge of the economic activities of ancient peoples.
As bronze smithing spread through Europe, these rings, ribs and ax blades were cast for functional purposes — such as jewelry and tools — that might have been unrelated to money. Some of the items in the data set probably maintained strictly utilitarian or ornamental roles because their weights were well beyond the calculated average.
But the comparable weights of a large portion of the artifacts leaves “no doubt that at least the rings and ribs conform to the definition of commodity money,” the authors wrote. The bronze items mirror forms of currency based on tools, known as utensil money, discovered elsewhere, such as knife and spade money found in China and Aztec hoe and ax money found in Mesoamerica.
“We do have examples in other areas of the world where you seem to have this sort of similar development” in which “a practical tool turns into this utensil money, and then into this commodity money,” Dr. Kuijpers said.
A central innovation of bronze is the ability to make duplicates by casting the metal in molds. The study speculates that these near-identical copies gave rise, over time, to an abstract concept of weight, which laid the mental groundwork for the invention of weighing tools and technologies that emerged in Europe centuries later in the Bronze and Iron Ages.
Nicola Ialongo, a prehistoric archaeologist at Georg August University of Göttingen in Germany, said that the study offered “an important contribution to understanding how early monies work,” but that there was a less complicated explanation for how these standardized objects emerged.
“As the authors acknowledge, the regularity of their samples might simply be explained by imagining that the objects in their data sets were cast with a limited number of molds, or that the molds themselves had a standardized shape,” Dr. Ialongo said.
Furthermore, he added, ancient peoples might have counted this currency the way we count coins today, rather than focusing on weight.
“Simply put, you don’t need a weight system to be able to use metals — or any other commodity — as money,” he said, adding that many other less durable things may have been used as money before these bronze items.
The authors counter that “weight mattered” because “there are indications that for some types of objects a deliberate effort was made to achieve a specific weight interval.”
Barry Molloy, an associate professor of archaeology at University College Dublin who was not involved in the study, noted that there “has long been a suspicion that systems of weights and measures were in use in Bronze Age Europe.”
“The quest was for a precise metric, as found in Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean,” Dr. Molloy said. “While this paper does not demonstrate that there was such a coherent system, it provides important insights into how ancient people in Europe themselves may have approached these issues pragmatically before formal weight systems were developed in the Iron Age.”
While Dr. Ialongo disagreed with some of the researchers’ methods, he also praised the study as “a remarkable attempt to break one of the oldest and most persistent taboos in prehistoric archaeology, that ‘primitive’ societies do not have a proper commercial economy.”
Without Backpackers to Pick Them, Crops Rot by the Ton in Australia
The pandemic has exposed the shaky labor foundation of the country’s agriculture industry, spurring calls for an immigration overhaul.
SHEPPARTON, Australia — Peter Hall ran a hand over the Gala apples sitting in a wooden crate on his orchard in southeastern Australia, lamenting the yellow tinge of fruit that would ideally be crisp red and green.
With the borders closed to the backpackers who do much of the country’s farm labor, Mr. Hall was short 15 workers. That had left him racing against the clock. Just a couple of extra days on the tree, and apples can be relegated to low-profit juice.
“We’ve never faced a worker shortage like this in my 40 years,” Mr. Hall said. “I suspect for each lot of crop, we’ll just not get there in time.”
“It’s extraordinarily frustrating,” he added.
The pandemic has disrupted the rhythms of labor and migration worldwide. In Western Europe, for example, borders were tightened early last year, keeping out seasonal workers from Eastern Europe.
But in isolated Australia, the pandemic has delivered a particularly sharp blow, exposing the unstable foundation of its agriculture industry, a growing $54-billion-a-year goliath that for years has been underpinned by the work of young, transient foreigners.
Measures to keep the coronavirus out of the country have left Australia with a deficit of 26,000 farmworkers, according to the nation’s top agriculture association. As a result, tens of millions of dollars in crops have gone to waste from coast to coast.
In the state of Victoria, rows of baby spinach and rocket, also known as arugula, have been plowed back into the earth, and peaches have been sent to the shredder. In Queensland, citrus growers have bulldozed acres of trees and left blueberries to rot. And in Western Australia, watermelons have been slashed and dug under.
This enormous destruction has fueled rising calls for Australia to rethink how it secures farm labor, with many pushing for an immigration overhaul that would give agricultural workers a pathway to permanent residency.
The current system was never intended to be a permanent solution to farmers’ decades-long labor struggles. But as the industry expanded and fewer Australians were willing to pick crops, the so-called backpacker program offered a lifeline.
Since 2005, the government has steered young travelers to farms by offering extensions of working holiday visas from one year to two for those who have completed three months of work in agriculture. Backpackers can earn extensions by working in other industries like construction or mining, but 90 percent do so through farm work.
In a normal year, more than 200,000 backpackers would come to Australia, making up 80 percent of the country’s harvest work force, according to industry groups. Now, there are just 45,000 in the country, according to government data.
Attempts to fill the labor shortage with unemployed Australians have been largely unsuccessful. Only 350 applicants signed up for a federal government program that offers subsidies of 6,000 Australian dollars, or about $4,600, to work in rural areas. A last-ditch proposal by one state government to use prison labor was shelved after an uproar by farmers.
So the federal government has flown in workers from nearby Pacific islands, which have largely avoided the pandemic. It’s part of an existing program that is one of Australia’s main sources of aid to the Pacific.
With border restrictions in place, the arrangements have sometimes been convoluted.
In January, after months of urging from the federal government and industry groups, Victoria agreed to take 1,500 Pacific island workers. They must first quarantine for two weeks on the island of Tasmania before being flown to Victoria. In exchange, 330 Tasmanians stranded overseas will be able to return through Victoria’s quarantine hotels.
Nationwide, only about 2,400 workers have been flown into the country since the borders were shut, according to the National Farmers’ Federation.
For years, industry groups have been pushing for a dedicated agriculture visa, but the idea has repeatedly run into obstacles.
The last time it was seriously raised, in 2018, it caused alarm in Pacific island nations that said it could divert money away from their workers. Some academics said such a move could diminish Australia’s influence in the region, allowing China to make greater inroads.
The idea was quietly shelved.
A dedicated, stable work force would benefit not just farmers. It could also reduce abuses that have become rampant under the temporary labor system, according to researchers and unions.
“The work force was easily exploitable, and there were no protections,” Joanna Howe, an expert on temporary labor migration at the University of Adelaide, said of the working holiday visa. “It pulled down wages and conditions in the industry. Noncompliance became the norm, and as a result, locals left the industry.”
The abuses, exposed in a string of media reports in recent years, have run the gamut.
“We’ve seen cases of sexual abuse, physical violence, passports taken against people’s wills,” said Dan Walton, secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union. “We’ve seen every form of dodgy labor practice, from ripping off wages, withholding pay, false deductions taken out of people’s pay.”
Kiah Fowler, 23, a backpacker from Pennsylvania, arrived in Bundaberg, Queensland, in March 2020 to pick strawberries after having lost her hospitality job elsewhere in Queensland.
“There are some wonderful farmers, but I happened to land myself in a region that’s known for some backpacker exploitation,” she said. “I was desperate for money, and thought it couldn’t be as bad as people said it was. It was.”
The contractor she worked for paid her 19 Australian dollars an hour, or $14.75 — below the minimum casual wage of 24 Australian dollars — and offered only two to four hours of work a day, she said. The same contractor charged her 210 Australian dollars a week to stay in a cramped house with nine other backpackers.
She and the other backpackers, she said, were aware that they were being taken advantage of, “but during Covid, a lot of us were like, ‘What choice do we have?’” Eventually, she left the job.
Ben Rogers, the general manager for workplace relations and legal affairs at the National Farmers’ Federation, acknowledged that the industry’s reputation for underpayment and mistreatment of workers was not completely unearned.
But he added that the organization was doing what it could through quality assurance programs and calls for new hiring regulations.
There are hopes that addressing these problems could help bring some Australians back into the industry. Farmers talk about changing how the industry is viewed, starting in school, and about technological advancements that would make it less labor intensive.
The Australian Workers’ Union has lodged a challenge with the Fair Work Commission to mandate an industry minimum wage. It believes that a wage floor would reduce the likelihood of underpayment and encourage a more local work force.
But these potential solutions, as well as changes in immigration rules, are years off, if they ever happen. Right now, farmers are contending with national borders that were closed in March 2020 and are unlikely to reopen until 2022.
The area around Shepparton, a city two hours north of Melbourne, where Mr. Hall was rushing to harvest his apples, is one of the worst hit by the labor shortage.
Usually, backpackers would be flocking to Victoria Park Lake, in the middle of town, to use its free barbecue facilities and set up tents and park vans. This year, though, it’s quiet and still.
Hostels, too, are mostly empty.
One Australian, Brett Jones, 38, said he would return to a construction job soon.
“With construction, at the end you feel like you’ve accomplished something, rather than just filled a bin of pears for someone,” he said.
Besides, he admitted, “I’m not very good at fruit picking.”
“My mind keeps wandering,” he said. “I keep thinking there has to be an easier way to make money.”
Angelina Jolie's Churchill Painting Fetches $11.5 Million
The painting, “Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque,” was a gift to Jolie by Brad Pitt and is believed to be Churchill’s only World War II-era landscape.
LONDON — A painting first owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and now being sold by the actress Angelina Jolie, elevated the art of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to a new price league at auction at Christie’s on Monday.
The work, “Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” (1943), sold for 8.3 million pounds, or about $11.5 million, with fees — a record for an artwork by Churchill, who was a keen amateur painter.
Churchill gave his Impressionist-style painting of a sunlit Marrakesh with the Atlas Mountains in the background to Roosevelt in 1943, as a birthday gift, after a pivotal World War II meeting in Casablanca to discuss long-term strategy. Churchill persuaded Roosevelt to stay on an extra day in North Africa. Marrakesh was a much-loved subject for paintings by Churchill.
“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh,” Churchill told the president, according to the Christie’s catalog. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.” Believed to be Churchill’s only landscape painted during the war years, the work records the view the two statesmen enjoyed at the Villa Taylor, on the outskirts of the city.
More recently, in 2011, the painting had been bought by Brad Pitt for $2.95 million from the New Orleans antiques dealer M.S. Rau, and gifted to Jolie. The celebrity couple married in 2014, but began divorce proceedings in 2016. Christie’s catalog listed the work as “property of the Jolie Family Collection.”
The work proved to be the star lot of Christie’s evening auction of Modern British Art in London. Estimated to sell for about $2.09 million to $3.49 million, it was acquired by an undisclosed telephone buyer. The same telephone buyer bought two other Churchill paintings in the sale, including the landscape “Scene at Marrakech,” dating from about 1935, for $2.6 million.
The previous auction high for a painting by Churchill had been $2.75 million in 2014, for “The Goldfish Pool at Chartwell,” dating from 1932, showing the garden of the politician’s country home in Kent.
“Academics have always looked on him as a Sunday painter, but there’s always been a following for him, especially in America,” said Alan Hobart, director of the London-based Pyms Gallery, who mentioned an exhibition devoted to Churchill’s paintings held at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1958. “But this was Roosevelt, Hollywood and Churchill. It had everything going for it.”
Articles by Churchill on “Painting as a Pastime” appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1921 and 1922. According to the International Churchill Society, this journalism netted the politician the “handsome” sum of £1,000, or about $66,700 in today’s money, “considerably more than his paintings would earn him in his lifetime.”
Farther, Faster and No Sweat: Bike-Sharing and the E-Bike Boom
Social-distancing, sustainability and accessibility helped accelerate e-biking during the pandemic, and the trend is showing up in urban bike-sharing programs.
As with all bicycles during the pandemic, electric bikes, or those with battery-powered motors to handle propulsion, boomed. The market research firm NPD Group said sales of e-bikes grew 145 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, outpacing sales of all bikes, which were up 65 percent.
“Bike categories that catered to families and recreational and newer riders grew better than more performance-oriented bikes,” said Dirk Sorenson, a sports industry analyst at NPD, adding that e-bikes “overcome challenges like big hills or going on a longer ride than a typical bike.”
But it’s not just consumer sales that have mainstreamed e-bikes. Municipal bike-sharing systems have increasingly adopted the technology, with some cities, including Charlotte, N.C., going with an all-electric fleet during the pandemic.
Social distancing demands, the quest for safe and more accessible public transportation and sustainable travel measures have forged a growing adoption of e-bikes among travelers as well as local residents.
“Covid sort of propelled electric bikes forward by years,” said Josh Squire, the founder and chief executive of Hopr, a bike-share service.
Cities, bike-sharing companies and even a peer-to-peer bike-sharing platform (in which bike owners rent their bikes directly to users) are jumping into the e-bike ecosystem. Here’s how bike-sharing — sometimes called “micromobility” to include other small vehicles, such as scooters — has shifted in the tourism lull.
In the early days of the pandemic, bike-share usage stalled as those working from home stopped commuting. For essential workers who needed to travel, bike-sharing became an alternative to buses or trains, where they might be exposed to the virus by other passengers. Lyft, which manages bike-share fleets in nine cities — including the largest systems in New York City and Chicago — gave about 30,000 essential workers free yearly passes.
“Covid was able to highlight micromobility as an essential transportation service, filling in where transit service stopped or where gaps existed and helping essential workers get to work,” said Samantha Herr, the executive director of the North American Bikeshare Association.
As people began to leave their houses in summer, biking rebounded. In Honolulu, nearly 80 percent of members of the bike-sharing system Biki said riding was the safest form of public transportation during the pandemic. In Chicago, the Divvy bike-share system recorded its busiest month on record in August.
In New York City, where Citi Bike added 3,700 new bikes in 2020, ridership exceeded 2019 levels in the last four months of 2020, according to a monthly report filed with the New York City Department of Transportation. The company said 27 percent of rides were deemed “casual,” or recreational, in 2020, versus 17 percent in 2019, with the most popular stations around hospitals and parks, reflecting the mix of essential and casual uses.
Biking was clearly a remedy for cabin fever, and bike sharing is an affordable cure.
In Miami, where hand sanitizer dispensers were installed at Citi Bike Miami stations, casual users have taken about 40 percent of rides in 2021 as tourism has ticked up.
Colby Reese, the co-founder of DecoBike, which runs Citi Bike Miami, estimates about half a million visitors annually used the bike-share system before the pandemic. Plans are in place to add about 200 e-bikes this summer to the existing 2,000-bike fleet. “Because of Covid, outdoor things are more popular than they were before,” he said.
The electrification of bike-share systems, accelerating now, has been underway for several years. In 2018, the Bikeshare Planning Guide from the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, a global initiative on sustainable transportation, called them “ideal for bikeshare because of their otherwise high upfront cost to users, and they can improve user comfort by reducing often-cited barriers to cycling such as fatigue, sweating, and longer-distance or hilly trips.”
According to the North American Bikeshare Association, in 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, 28 percent of bike-sharing systems had e-bikes. It found e-bikes were used more intensively than traditional bikes, at a rate 1.7 times higher.
In 2019, when the Madison BCycle fleet in Madison, Wis., went electric, usage more than doubled. Novelty was a driver, along with affordability.
“To be able to try an e-bike for a very low rate for a day pass is what draws people initially to try it out,” said Helen Bradley, the general manager of Madison BCycle, where a day pass costs $15. “Then they get hooked,” she added, on the range of the bikes, which can go 30 to 35 miles on a full charge with top speed of about 17 miles per hour.
Chicago plans to have 10,000 e-bikes in its Divvy system by 2022 — it added 3,500 e-bikes in 2020 — in a plan to provide accessibility to 100 percent of the city.
Adopting e-bikes hasn’t come without growing pains. In New York City, Citi Bike introduced e-bikes in 2018, but removed them in 2019 after reports of brakes malfunctioning, causing rider injuries (similar problems forced Lyft, which manages Citi Bike, to temporarily withdraw e-bikes from its systems in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco). Last winter, New York re-introduced Citi Bike e-bikes, which reach maximum speeds of 18 m.p.h., below the limit of 20 m.p.h. later set by the city for the pedal-assisted e-bikes. There are now about 3,700 e-bikes in the 19,000-bike system; the average e-bike gets over nine rides a day, while the average for pedal bikes is 3.5.
“Putting a little bit of a motor on it makes cycling more attractive to a wider and aging audience,” said Aaron Ritz, who oversees the Indego bike-share system for the City of Philadelphia. Over the next five years, the Indego system will more than double in size, making half the fleet electric and focusing on historically underserved neighborhoods, which tend to be Black or Latin American.
“The more we shift from single-occupancy vehicles, the better, for reasons of air quality, traffic safety, environmental impact and greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr. Ritz said.
Gregory F. Maassen, 53, a resident of Washington, D.C., describes the district’s Capital Bikeshare e-bikes as “built like tanks to withstand a lot of abuse.”
E-bike aficionados, like Mr. Maassen, who founded a social group called E-bike Lovers, prefer higher-end bikes, but credit bike-sharing as a gateway for introducing them to a broader audience.
“Interest in bike-share systems has had a great impact on the acceptance of e-bikes,” he said. “It gives people a low-cost entry into this new technology.” E-bikes can be purchased for a few hundred dollars, though most fans say quality bikes start around $1,500 and go much higher.
But finding a fully charged bike is crucial, said Richard Strell, 68, a Bay Wheels bike-share rider in San Francisco.
“I started using e-bikes because of Covid and I don’t own a car in San Francisco,” he said, noting that e-bikes with only seven or eight miles left on the battery were too weak to get him up hills. “I was excited, but it turned out to be disappointing.”
Shared bike systems always aimed to go the “last mile” or fill the gap between public transit hubs and your destination. E-bikes makes them more serious contenders as transportation options by going farther with less effort.
“If I can get someplace farther or faster, that matters when you’re picking a mode of transportation,” said Bill Dossett, the executive director of Nice Ride Minnesota, the nonprofit that started the shared mobility system in Minneapolis, now operated by Lyft, which plans to add about 2,000 e-bikes this spring.
Lyft, the country’s largest bike-share service, has added transit information on its rideshare app in 17 cities to better coordinate with public transportation systems, in addition to showing available drivers, bikes and scooters. In Denver, users can buy transit passes through the app.
“We’re giving people a user-friendly way to piece together trips and allow them to explore a city that historically would have been much harder,” said Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s head of micromobility policy.
The success of electric bikes and scooters has encouraged Bolt Mobility, which is in about 21 cities and college campuses, to develop electric mopeds, three-wheeled bikes and minicars, electric vehicles that offer more stability and protection.
“These devices aren’t supposed to be just for 20-year-old kids, they’re supposed to be for everyone,” said Ignacio Tzoumas, the chief executive of Bolt Mobility.
Bolt, which was co-founded by the Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Usain Bolt, has plans to bring its e-bikes and scooters to Tokyo in time for the Olympic Games this summer.
While most bike-share systems are affiliated with cities, entrepreneurs foresee a future in private bike shares for hotel guests, apartment complex renters or company employees.
The peer-to-peer bike-sharing platform Spinlister is developing a private model that would station Rokit Ebikes at a hotel, for example, which could offer access as an amenity, leaving the management and maintenance to Spinlister.
Before the pandemic, Hopr had plans to take its services, which include e-bikes, to hotels and create private bike-share systems, an effort paused by the dearth of travel.
“We come from sharing and have the technology to unlock a bike from an app and rent it so it’s no hassle for the hotel,” Mr. Squire of Hopr said.
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Workhorse, the electric-truck maker, will meet with the Postal Service about the contract it lost.
Workhorse Group, the small company that lost a contract last week to build electric delivery trucks for the United States Postal Service, said Monday that it would meet with officials at the post office on Wednesday to discuss the decision.
Shares of Workhorse tumbled after the Postal Service chose a competitor, Oshkosh Defense, to replace its aging fleet of 229,000 right hand-drive trucks used for letter and parcel delivery.
“This is not the result we had anticipated or hoped for,” Workhorse’s chief executive, Duane Hughes, said in a conference call on Monday to discuss the company’s fourth quarter results. “We intend to explore all avenues that are available to us.”
Mr. Hughes added the company is talking to “different parties and groups” but declined to elaborate on what Workhorse might do to get postal officials to reconsider their decision, which has also been criticized by some lawmakers and environmental groups because most of the trucks under the Oshkosh bid will be powered by gasoline.
Workhorse’s chances of getting a second shot at the Postal Service business may hinge on whether President Biden is able to force out Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who was installed last year by board members appointed by former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. DeJoy has cut overtime and taken other steps in the name of efficiency that critics have said resulted in significant delays in letter and package deliveries.
Mr. DeJoy oversaw the decision to award a 10-year contract worth $482 million to Oshkosh, which offered to make gasoline-powered trucks that could be converted later to run on battery power. The decision runs counter to Mr. Biden’s recent executive order to replace the 645,000 vehicles in federal fleets with electric vehicles.
After the contract decision was announced, Mr. Biden nominated three new members to the Postal Service board, which has the power to fire the postmaster general.
“I think what you’re seeing is a speedup in what President Biden is doing to put the board of governors together in such a way to support his plan going forward,” Mr. Hughes said.
Workhorse saw its share price rise from less than $2 a year ago to more than $40 at the beginning of February in anticipation that it would win at least part of the Postal Service contract. The stock lost more than half its value after the Post Office announced it had chosen Oshkosh for the contract.
Workhorse said it made $69.8 million in profit in 2020, but only because it brought in $323 million related to the 10 percent stake it owns in Lordstown Motors, an electric pickup truck start-up that was founded by Workhorse’s former chief executive. Workhorse was trading at about $16.60 a share on Monday afternoon, up about 3 percent.
Workhorse has orders for some 8,000 electric delivery vans, but has struggled to ramp up production. It made just seven trucks in the fourth quarter, when its operations were temporarily halted because about a third of its workers tested positive for Covid-19.
The company said it hoped to increase production to three trucks a day by the end of this month, and to 10 trucks a day by the end of June.
Ad With Realistic Take on Breastfeeding Airing at Golden Globes
A commercial from the parent products company Frida, to be broadcast during the Golden Globes, is part of a wider effort to show the struggles of the “fourth trimester.”
[baby crying] You’ve got this. Latch — and oh, god, unlatch! And clog. Good moms should know how to do this. And am I a bad mom if I stop now? And my doctor said cabbage. And do I love my baby? And cluster feeding. So much milk. Not enough milk. And what even is enough milk? And flatten the nipple. And I just want to feed my baby.
Companies are constantly on my case about breasts.
As an advertising reporter who happens to be eight months pregnant, I have been targeted relentlessly, since I first typed “expecting” into a search engine, by unnaturally rosy ads about maternity bras, anti-stretch lotions, latch-aiding bottles and nursing support pillows.
But on Sunday, a commercial that presents a more realistic look at parenting will be shown during NBC’s prime time broadcast of the 78th Golden Globe Awards. The spot, from the parenting products company Frida, shows new mothers dealing with cluster feedings, applying cabbage compresses and, in a rarity for national TV, exposing breasts clogged and stretched by the effort of nourishing their babies.
In its first TV commercial, Frida shows real mothers caring for their children to showcase the often unglamorous and painful lactation experience. The commercial, accompanied by the message “Care for your breasts, not just your baby,” promotes the company’s Frida Mom line of nursing pillows, massagers, gummies and other products.
“We agree that the ad may push the envelope, but it is the context surrounding the visuals that makes this ad different, and we stand by it,” NBCUniversal said in a statement.
Frida worked with the network on a 30-second edit that blurs or covers nipples that are visible in the original 75-second ad — a “fairly robust editing process at NBCU’s insistence,” said Chelsea Hirschhorn, the company’s chief executive, in a statement.
She added that the point of the ad remained intact — “that the physical and emotional breastfeeding journey puts an unrivaled pressure on women to ‘perform,’ and no longer should women be expected to prioritize making milk over their own physical discomfort.”
On YouTube, the original ad, which was posted on Feb. 24, already has more than 1.4 million views.
The spot was created by the ad agency Mekanism, a San Francisco shop that has created campaigns for Ben & Jerry’s, HBO and, famously, Peloton. It was directed by Rachel Morrison, who was the first woman to be nominated for a cinematography Oscar for her work on the 2017 drama “Mudbound.”
Last year, Frida produced an ad showing an exhausted new mother in diaperlike postpartum underwear plodding to the bathroom. The commercial, according to the company, was blocked from airing during the Oscars because it was considered too graphic.
As pregnant women form purchasing preferences that often extend for years after their babies are born, they become a highly desirable demographic to marketers. Janet Vertesi, an associate professor of sociology at Princeton who experimented with hiding her pregnancy from internet trackers, estimated in 2014 that an average pregnant woman’s marketing data is worth $1.50, while a regular person’s is worth 10 cents. This month, the diaper brand Huggies aired a commercial during the Super Bowl that cost millions of dollars to place.
Many of the ads encountered by first-time parents favor modesty over authenticity. Instagram ads tend to focus more on warm images of cooing babies cuddled by radiant, fully covered mothers and less on the agony of aggressive feedings and the mess of midnight cleanups.
The disconnect can leave first-time parents underprepared during a transitional period often described as the fourth trimester. And during the pandemic, the difficulties have been intensified for the families of the more than 116 million babies expected to have been born since March.
Recently, there has been more talk about postpartum care (as well as issues like pregnancy discrimination and career trajectories for mothers) from brands, service providers and celebrities like Katy Perry, Ashley Graham and Chrissy Teigen.
Last week, in an attempt to normalize the “whole new world” of breastfeeding, bottles and pumps, the baby products company Tommee Tippee began circulating upbeat ads that showed a variety of nursing women amid a montage of fruits, basketballs and other stand-ins for bosoms.
The so-called Boob Life campaign will be relegated mostly to digital platforms, said Jessica Becker, a managing partner at Manifest, the ad agency behind the effort. It “would not meet the ad regulations in the U.S.” for a broadcast run and was rejected by television channels in Britain and Australia “as it was deemed ‘adult content,’” she said in an email.
“The film is meant to celebrate women’s postpartum bodies (something our insight shows is a great struggle for them) and isn’t in any way sexualized,” Ms. Becker added. “So we’re hugely disappointed it won’t make it to TV.”
The Week in Business: A Snag in the Fight for $15
Welcome to the end of February. Here’s your quick run-down of the business and tech news to know for the week ahead, and stay warm. — Charlotte Cowles
The home-rental company appeared to be flying high after its splashy initial public offering in December. Then it posted a major decline in revenue and an eye-watering $3.9 billion loss last week, in its first earnings report as a publicly traded company. A big chunk of its loss — $2.8 billion — can be chalked up to stock-based compensation related to its I.P.O. But the company also faces challenges with disgruntled hosts, who have become increasingly frustrated with the company’s cancellation policies and are seeking to list their properties elsewhere. Still, Airbnb beat sales expectations, and said it was poised to bounce back once the pandemic eases its chokehold on the travel industry.
Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, testified before Congress last week about plans to bolster the economy’s recovery. It was scintillating stuff, as usual, and nothing new — he reiterated that the central bank would keep interest rates low and stimulus flowing freely to support the country’s comeback for as long as necessary. But he also put forth one novel idea: that improved child care support policies from the government were an “area worth looking at,” and might attract women back to the labor market after their historic exodus this past year.
The head of the consulting firm McKinsey was voted out of his role last week after an investigation into the consulting firm’s involvement in the opioid crisis. Earlier this month, McKinsey agreed to pay 49 states a settlement of almost $600 million because it helped Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” sales of its OxyContin painkillers, even after the drugmaker pleaded guilty to misleading doctors and regulators about OxyContin’s risks. McKinsey did not admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but the evidence against the firm made for pretty bad publicity.
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China Tried to Slow Divorces by Making Couples Wait. Instead, They Rushed.
A new rule requiring a cooling-off period before a divorce could be granted led to an outcry, as well as a surge of applications to beat the deadline.
Elsie Chen and
Last December, Emma Shi desperately needed an appointment at the civil affairs bureau in Shanghai, but could not get one. She scoured the internet to find someone who could help, quickly.
Her request: Help me obtain a divorce within a day.
Ms. Shi, a 38-year-old engineer, was trying to get ahead of a Chinese government rule that from Jan. 1, couples seeking a divorce must first wait 30 days. Ms. Shi said that forcing unhappy couples to stay married would only lead to more fighting.
“To anyone, this would be very unbearable,” she said. “The relationship is already broken.”
The new cooling-off period was introduced to deter impulsive divorces, but it prompted a scramble at the end of last year among couples urgently wanting to part ways.
China’s steadily rising divorce rate has compounded the challenges facing the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to reverse a demographic crisis that threatens economic growth. The number of marriages has plummeted every year since 2014, and officials have also grown increasingly concerned that more wedded couples were acting hastily to untie the knot.
“Some couples would fight in the morning and divorce in the afternoon,” Long Jun, an expert who worked to include the rule in the country’s new civil code, said in an interview with the official Legal Daily newspaper. “In order to reduce this phenomenon, the civil code was designed to address this in a systemic way.”
Data released by the civil affairs ministry last week showed that there were more than a million filings for divorce in the last three months of 2020, up 13 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
The trend was stark in several major cities. Beijing recorded a 36 percent rise in divorces, to nearly 27,000 cases. In Shenzhen, they rose 26 percent, to more than 11,600 cases. In the southwestern municipality of Chongqing, there was a 15 percent rise, to 35,000 cases. In the last two weeks of December, about 40 couples filed for divorce each day, double the number compared to the same period a year ago, a district official in Chongqing told a local newspaper.
In Shanghai, divorce filings jumped 53 percent in that period, to 20,000. Ms. Shi, the engineer, just barely made the deadline. She said she and her husband had agreed to the divorce after she discovered in December that he had been cheating on her.
On Dec. 30, she found a fixer on Xianyu, an app for trading secondhand items, who promised to closely monitor the civil affairs bureau’s website for any slots that might free up. She paid him $50.
That same evening, Ms. Shi got an appointment — and her divorce came through the next morning. “I’m very grateful,” she said. In her view, she said, “it is marriage that needs a cooling-off period,” not divorce.
Mandated waiting periods for divorces — to allow for reflection, reconciliation, the organization of finances or discussions about custody — are not unusual in many countries. But in China, the move was met with skepticism and concern, with the hashtag #OpposeCoolingOffPeriod# generating 81,000 comments on Weibo, a popular social media website. People felt the government was overreaching into their personal lives.
“We have seen enough evidence suggesting that even if you make divorce harder and you set up more hurdles, if people are not happy with their marriage, they will find ways to get out,” said Ke Li, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York who has studied divorce litigation in China for 15 years.
Women’s rights activists say the waiting period could further disadvantage stay-at-home mothers who often have no independent income to pay for a legal fight. For those urgently seeking a dissolution, the order to wait could complicate the legal process. Even after they have completed the wait, couples would need to make another appointment to finalize the divorce.
The rule also grants either spouse the power to retract the divorce application if they disagree, which could further endanger victims of domestic violence, activists have said. The government said that in such cases, victims could approach a court to dissolve their marriage.
Shen Jinjin, a 34-year-old employee of an insurance company, has been married for over three years to a man who she says is verbally abusive to her and her parents. In January, she decided to leave him.
Ms. Shen, who lives in the southern city of Zhangzhou, said she believed that her husband’s conduct amounted to domestic violence. But she had taken her friends’ advice and pursued a divorce instead of suing him, a process that would have taken longer.
Ms. Shen was expecting to be granted the divorce on Saturday. She described the wait as a “real torment,” adding that she was most worried that her husband would change his mind.
“I’m under a lot of pressure,” Ms. Shen said. “I don’t know what kind of harm he could inflict on me.”
For many, the rush to get divorced before the rule took effect meant that in cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, residents sometimes had to wait up to a month for an appointment. Some described going to unusual lengths to beat the crowd.
In Guangzhou, Li Sisi, the 28-year-old owner of a cosmetics shop on the e-commerce platform Taobao, said that for several nights in September, she stayed up until midnight just to wait for the Guangzhou civil affairs bureau to release appointment slots on its website.
Ms. Li eventually secured a slot in October, but her husband couldn’t make it. She tried again and was finally able to dissolve the marriage on Dec. 21.
Ms. Li said she had decided to divorce because her marriage, which was long-distance, was leaving her unhappy. She has a 3-year-old daughter but said she would not stay married just for the sake of her child, unlike many parents in earlier generations. “This generation has spiritual needs,” she said.
“Since I want a divorce,” she added, “one more day and one more minute of being together is all suffering for me.”
Fred Segal, Designer Who Commodified California Cool, Dies at 87
His laid-back style and namesake jeans made him a touchstone of 1960s fashion, drawing celebrities and tourists alike to his stores.
Fred Segal, whose clothing boutiques became an emblem of Los Angeles cool by selling form-fitting jeans and chambray shirts to the likes of Bob Dylan, Farah Fawcett and the Beatles, died on Thursday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 87.
The cause was complications of a stroke, a spokeswoman for his family said.
Mr. Segal became one of the West Coast’s best-known designers and retailers in the 1960s and helped shape the image of Southern California fashion as breezy, sexy and relaxed. His namesake ivy-covered store became a hangout for fashionistas, Hollywood actors and big-name artists and musicians. For tourists, it often figured into sightseeing itineraries right alongside Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Hollywood sign.
Mr. Segal opened his first store in 1960. It was, according to the company’s website, a 700-square-foot space on Santa Monica Boulevard that sold denim jeans, chambray shirts and pants, velvets and flannels.
In 1961, Mr. Segal and Ron Herman, his nephew, opened a shop half as large on Melrose Avenue that carried only jeans, which they sold for $19.95 a pair — a price that was practically unheard-of at the time, when men still wore suits and denim pants typically sold for $3 a pair.
“My concept was that people wanted to be comfortable, casual and sexy, so I thought it would work, and obviously it did work,” Mr. Segal said in an interview with Haute Living magazine in 2012.
People flocked to the store to buy the jeans, driven in no small part by celebrities like Jay Sebring, the hairdresser who was one of the inspirations for Warren Beatty’s character in “Shampoo,” who wore tight, flare-bottomed jeans and a fitted shirt that he had purchased at Mr. Segal’s store. Mr. Segal’s customers soon included the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Diana Ross, as well as members of the Jackson Five and Jefferson Airplane.
“When I first came to L.A. in the late ’70s, there were two things everyone talked about: Gucci bags and Fred Segal,” the writer Pleasant Gehman told The New York Times in 2001.
His designs were notable for fits that were unusual for the time. Pants were cut for men so they would fall low on the hips, for instance, and his stores also sold tightfitting French T-shirts and Danskin leotards.
In addition to his designs, Mr. Segal was among a small group of retailers at the time — the others included Tommy Perse, Linda Dresner and Joan Weinstein — who pioneered the concept of working closely with designers and selling the designers’ clothes in their stores, said Ikram Goldman, the owner of the Chicago boutique Ikram.
“They had an exquisite eye,” Ms. Goldman said. “Those are the people that discovered talent and brought it to light in a way that — before Instagram, before social media, before the news hit you — introduced collections that you hadn’t seen before.”
In 2006, a New York Times reporter described Mr. Segal as “the outfitter of those Hollywood fantasies, selling uniforms of expensive shirts and impossibly overthought bluejeans and kitten heels to the city’s well-to-do inhabitants and celebrities.”
Frederick Mandel Segal was born on Aug. 16, 1933, in Chicago. His parents, David and Helen Segal, worked multiple jobs, according to the family’s spokeswoman, and Mr. Segal grew up poor.
Mr. Segal never went to school for fashion. He worked as a traveling shoe salesman and shined shoes in Venice Beach — two jobs that let him observe people and helped him cultivate a sense for what buyers wanted.
Tired of traveling, he decided to open his first store in 1960.
Mr. Segal credited his early success to his ability to be honest with customers.
“I learned at a very young age that the area of no competition is in integrity,” Mr. Segal told Haute Living. “When I was selling in my store to my customers and they came in wanting to buy this or that, if they put an outfit on and they asked me for my advice, part of the time I’d say, ‘Take that off, don’t even buy that, that would be ridiculous, you don’t even look good in that.’ That’s really deep honesty. You don’t find that in business, you know?”
There were eventually Fred Segal stores in Taiwan and in Bern, the capital of Switzerland. In 2015, the brand opened a store in Tokyo that also included an on-site food truck that sold Mexican street corn, shrimp on a roll, and hot dogs paired with Coca-Cola and Corona.
The name Fred Segal became so well known that it was casually referenced in movies like “Clueless” and “Legally Blonde.”
Mr. Segal is survived by his wife, Tina; five children, Michael, Judy, Sharon, Nina and Annie; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Mike Ives contributed reporting, and Jack Begg contributed research.
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