You may not have heard the name Peter Harbage before. But if you are one of the millions of people getting health insurance because of Obamacare or some other government program, it’s possible Peter had something to do with it.

Peter was a health policy analyst, advocate, and consultant who spent most of his professional life shuttling between Washington and Sacramento, California — at times working for the government, at other times working with it. To reporters covering health policy, such as myself, he was a source and, yes, a friend — a reliably honest source of information and expertise, and unfailingly good cheer.

Earlier this month, Peter lost a battle to leukemia. He was 43 and had been married, for a little more than five years to Hilary Haycock, a veteran health policy and public affairs expert.

Peter’s eclectic legacy includes running with the bulls in Spain and a drink named for him at The Grange, an upscale restaurant frequented by California pols in Sacramento. But it was Peter’s advocacy for health care reform — particularly his success at rallying people and groups behind the cause of expanding access — that left the most indelible impression in political circles.

“He was a man of passion who was dedicated to the cause,” says Chris Jennings, the former Clinton administration official and well-known advocate for health care reform in Washington. “He so wanted to made a difference and he did not rest until he did.”

“Peter is the unsung architect of health care reform in the United States,” says Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, a California-based advocacy group. “For two decades, Peter has been on the front lines of the work to improve our health system, as an administrator, consultant, policy guru; as an evangelist, a thinker and a provider of social lubricant.”

Peter got his start in health policy in the 1990s, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in public policy. He had taken a position at the Department of Health and Human Services when, during a meeting about a new initiative, he impressed Nancy Ann Deparle — who was, at the time, the Clinton administration’s newly confirmed administrator for the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“The room was filled with probably 50 or 60 staffers representing the staff and operating divisions of the department, and they were all peppering me with questions about implementation,” DeParle recalls. “I noticed this one young man who kept asking very good questions, and sometimes helping me answer others’ questions. I knew right then and there I wanted him on my team.”

Later, Peter’s trajectory took him to California, where he worked in the administration of Gov. Gray Davis and, then, joined the crusade to create a version of universal health care while Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor. That effort came up just short, but a parallel effort, in Massachusetts, succeeded — thus establishing a program that would become the model for Obamacare.

Peter played a key role in that evolution — thanks to an episode that history has largely, and wrongly, forgotten. Early in the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, Peter was working on the campaign staff of then-Sen. John Edwards, whom he had also advised in 2004. Within the inner circle of advisers, Peter was among those urging Edwards to propose an ambitious plan that would seek to make coverage nearly universal. Edwards would go on to lose the primary campaign and, subsequently, to disgrace himself with a personal scandal. But Edwards’ early embrace of such a sweeping health care plan, including a requirement that everybody get coverage, set the standard by which other candidates would be judged — making universal coverage, or something close to it, a prerequisite for serious consideration in the race.

“Peter was John Edwards’ principal adviser on health policy for six years, including both of his White House campaigns,” says James Kvaal, who was policy director in the 2008 campaign and now works in the Obama administration. “His fingerprints were all over Edwards’ plan for universal health care, the first from a presidential candidate in over 15 years.”

After Obama’s election, Peter worked on reform from the outside — helping to rally interest groups behind what eventually became the Affordable Care Act. He understood, more than most people, that simply passing legislation was only step one — and started working closely with local and state officials, with a focus on programs that would help low-income Californians get access to care.

“Peter Harbage has improved the lives of countless people through his generosity as a friend, advisor and policymaker,” Mari Cantwell, chief deputy director at California’s Department of Health Care Services, told the California HealthLine. “He was intelligent and passionate about our work to improve and expand health care to Californians in need, and we are grateful that he shared his time and knowledge with us.”

Peter was in the midst of his California work when he got the leukemia diagnosis. He remained an incorrigible optimist, finding an upside even in such a dire personal moment — suggesting to me, at one point, that he thought his experiences as a cancer patient would make for a good book. His treatment seemed to be going well, when, a few weeks ago, he took a sudden turn for the worse.

“He quietly took his battle against leukemia head-on and seemed to be winning it as he did with virtually all challenges he confronted,” says Jennings. “But this time, he could not overcome an infection and we all learned what is all too hard to accept — we all eventually fail in the battle against death. The good news is that Peter won the battle of life and we are all the better for it.”

“Peter’s work in health care was deeply driven by a sense of fairness and a fight against the idea that somehow it’s acceptable to have ‘two Americas’ — one where care is available and one where it is not,” says Haycock, who will remain at the helm of Harbage Consulting. “He spent his career supporting the safety net and those who need it, and helping to level the playing field for Medicaid.”

Peter set aside starting funds for a new fellowship, to pay for recent graduates in health policy to spend time working with advocacy and education groups in California. Information about the fellowship, and how to support it financially, is available at the Harbage Consulting website.


After the apocalypse, riding a Simpsons episode into the future.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Humans have passed hours sitting around campfires and swapping stories as long as they have known how to make fires and grunt. OK, I can’t prove that but I challenge anyone to disprove it. So what could possibly be special about a fireside bull session driven by efforts to recall people and events that might have some meaning to everyone in earshot?

In Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, that sort of al fresco gathering, deep in a Northern California forest, is special. For seven strangers, survivors of a catastrophe that shattered the world they knew, it opens doors to the future by revealing aspects of the past: fragments of shared knowledge and experience.

Their common thread — which they follow to bizarre and hilarious ends — is The Simpsons. Memories of recalled episodes provide not only grist for conversation but also direction and meaning to uprooted lives. Considering the place of TV in contemporary America and the fact that Matt Groening’s animated satire is still going strong in its 26th year, finding a better touchstone would be difficult.

A sellout in its New York premiere in 2013, Washburn’s dark comedy is receiving rollicking treatment from American Conservatory Theater in the Geary. The production was mounted jointly by ACT and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where it will move in late March.


Ryan Williams French (left) and Jim Lichtscheidl, Charity Jones and Anna Ishida rehearse a well-known episode from The Simpsons.

Although the setting is apocalyptic, Mr. Burns offers only a scant and tentative glimpse at the disaster that brought the group together. It involved, among other things, a nuclear meltdown that destroyed the nation’s electric grid, and presumably similar grids all across the world. There was no going back.

What matters for these survivors is the need to preserve and hand down something of their shared history, connecting generation to generation. They can do it only through the spoken word, a medium that is not anchored in stone or printed volumes. It evolves.

The show’s three acts span 82 years, long enough for shards of remembered tales to grow a life of their own, adding and transforming elements while retaining enough of their source to remain recognizable. I don’t know whether any Simpsons episode ever lifted tunes from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado but it surfaces hilariously here, as do slivers of commercials for chablis and Diet Coke, among others.

In the fireside give-and-take, memories are fuzzy and script lines may be shaky, but the response is ecstatic when someone hits on the actual words and their source. The past, after all, must be carried forward with accuracy.

By Act Two, seven years later, the group has become one of many troupes of storytellers competing for audiences, and lines have assumed a life of their own as commodities to be bought and sold, usable only by their owners.


Andrea Wollenberg narrates a staging of The Simpsons’ ‘Cape Feare.’

Seventy-five years later, in ACT Three, storytelling has become a polished theatrical art, displayed here by familiar characters in a narrative that blends whimsy with homicidal melodrama. It’s The Simpsons, re-created darkly.

Washburn’s inventive antics are delivered with vigor and tonal variety by a no-star cast of eight: Nick Gabriel, Anna Ishida, Kelsey Venter, Ryan Williams French, Charity Jones, Jim Lichtscheidl, Tracey A. Leigh and Andrea Wollenberg. Wollenberg doubles as an offstage instrumentalist and impressive on-stage singer, and David Möschler provides expert instrumental support. Michael Friedman composed the wide-ranging score and Washburn added the lyrics. Mark Rucker directed.

The three acts (staged with one intermission) take place in very different venues — a dense forest, a graffiti-spattered industrial building and a brightly cartoonish houseboat — all beautifully realized by Ralph Funicello. Alex Jaeger did the costumes, in styles that range from contemporary streetwear to gaudy apparel and wigs straight out of The Simpsons.

Being reasonably familiar with the TV series will certainly let a viewer pick up nuances that went over my head, and I’m sure over many others, but you don’t have to be a Simpsons addict to appreciate the delights of Mr. Burns. It sizzles.

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play runs through March 15 at American Conservatory Theater’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.Tickets are $20-$120, from 415-749-2228 or

I knew it was coming.

I’d steeled myself for grim news when I read earlier in the week that he’d been admitted to a hospital due to chest pains, but that didn’t make it any less of a gut punch to actually see the headline that Leonard Nimoy, 83, was gone.

This one hurts for a variety of reasons. The older you get, the more aware you become of the immutable passage of time. Your own mortality starts feeling more starkly pronounced, as does that of the people close to you, and the people you admire. Certainly Nimoy falls into that latter camp. While he amassed a raft of impressive accomplishments during his many years in and out of the film industry, it’s of course for his pointy-eared alter ego as the original Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, such an indelible part of so many of our lives, that he’ll rightly be remembered, in death just as he was in life.

With Spock, the dispassionate, half-human, half-Vulcan officer who manned the science station on the U.S.S. Enterprise, Nimoy found the kind of character performers both clamor for and disdain (often at the same time). He assured himself a place of permanence in the pop culture conversation while also chaining himself to that role forever and always. And while he attempted to branch out in other directions following Trek‘s cancellation in 1969 (including a two-season stint as “The Great Paris” on TV’s Mission: Impossible), it wasn’t long before Spock came calling once again, and Nimoy answered.

While reticent at first (he even wrote an autobiography in the early ’70s with the pointed title I Am Not Spock), the actor did reprise his role for the Trek animated show, and eventually returned with the rest of the crew for 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which in turn launched a string of five movie sequels over the next twelve years (three of which Nimoy himself was intimately involved with shaping). By the end of that run, which included a guest shot on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Nimoy had long since come to be viewed by many (including the late Trek creator Gene Roddenberry himself), as “the conscience of Star Trek.” And indeed he was.

By all accounts a gregarious and self-effacing guy, Nimoy nonetheless took his role, his work, and his fans seriously, and he was beloved right back as a result. Despite some early headaches in the post-TV, pre-movie Trek era thanks to typecasting, it’s plain to see that the franchise gave Nimoy far more than it ever took from him. (His second bio, from the mid-’90s, seemed to reflect his own acknowledgment of this fact, bearing the amended title I Am Spock.) Indeed, from the ’60s right up to his death, he never stopped working, including a particularly memorable (to me) voiceover, and directing the hit comedy Three Men and a Baby in 1987.

More than that, he was also the perfect point man to help pass the torch of the original Trek crew to its new iteration via his key role in 2009’s J.J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek reboot, which gave us this memorable moment between the two Spocks. By itself that would have been fitting enough goodbye, but they found a way to include him in 2013’s sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness as well. At the time, I thought Nimoy’s cameo there was reflective of lazy writing more than anything else. But looking at it now, I view it as a little gift from the filmmakers to us. One final chance to spend some too-fleeting moments with an actor and character we loved so much.

For the perfect perspective on his passing, here’s Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet, from five days ago. LLAP indeed, Mr. Nimoy. Thanks for giving us so many perfect moments for our memories.


I’m From Driftwood is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit archive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer stories. New stories are posted on the site every Wednesday.

Renee was a tomboy as long as they can remember. When Renee was a teenager, they were part of an all-girls youth group, and they were asked to represent the group at a pageant weekend. Part of that involved wearing a gown. Renee recalls:

[M]y 15-year-old self decided that to wear this formal gown, I was going to wear it with a fedora and a tie and elbow-length gloves. It was my way of asserting some kind of gender mixing, like, “If I have to wear this formal gown, this is what I’m going to do, and this is how I’m going to do it, as me!”

Renee felt comfortable in the gender-mixed attire, but the mom of one of the other students did not. In an attempt to “fix” Renee’s gender, the mom took Renee to Gap to buy them some pants for girls:

I found some tight, flare-leg jeans, like, “Fine,” and we left. I think she really did want to do right by me, but all I could remember in that moment was my ears getting hot, and my stomach was in my throat, and I just wanted to cry. That moment was the first time I was really consciously aware of someone actively policing my gender. And this little tomboy kind of felt like they needed to go back in the closet.

Renee found their footing in college by getting more involved with the LGBTQ community and learning that some people identify with the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their,” which Renee does now. Ultimately, they say, it’s about doing what makes you happy:

It’s really hard to tease apart what you genuinely enjoy versus what everyone else is telling you that you want. If it makes you happy, if it makes your heart warm and fuzzy, if it’s what you genuinely enjoy, if you want to wear a bowtie and paint your nails, do it. If it’s not hurting anyone, if it makes you feel good, if it makes you feel beautiful, then feel beautiful.


For more stories, visit I’m From Driftwood, the LGBTQ Story Archive.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a one-week funding bill for the Homeland Security Department, keeping the agency open after a showdown that went right up to the brink.

Obama signed the bill late Friday, just minutes before the midnight deadline.

Typically, when Obama signs important legislation, he issues a statement addressing its significance. But the White House issued only a sparse, one-sentence notice of Obama’s signature.

Obama and Democrats wanted full-year funding but clashed with Republicans over whether to include language repealing Obama’s immigration actions. The White House had said Obama would only sign a short-term bill if the alternative were letting Homeland Security shut down.

Obama’s signature also starts the clock on the next deadline. It’s unclear how Congress will seek to fund the agency beyond next week.

In the midst of war and heightened nationalism in Ukraine, many demonstrators who participated in protests at Maidan Square just one year ago are gripped with a profound sense of shock and wonder what has happened to their country. During the revolt in Kiev which eventually ousted the unpopular government of Viktor Yanukovych, the crowd called for a thorough overhaul of elite corruption, cronyism and the incestuous business-government revolving door. Yet, if anything, recent developments have only served to bolster tycoons [commonly referred to in Ukraine as “oligarchs”] and their position, thus torpedoing hopes that Maidan might have led to a more socially equitable and level playing field.

Like many of his peers, Yegor Stadny is disillusioned with the political trajectory in Kiev. A veteran of student protest on the Maidan, he hoped to bring about a hopeful new era of transparency in government. Instead, powerful oligarchs such as current president Petro Poroshenko no less have assumed power. “I don’t think students aimed to bring the current government into power,” he tells me in a local Kiev cafe. In an ironic chuckle, Stadny asks rhetorically, “We fought on Maidan just to allow these right-wing people to form their own political parties and achieve representation? For me this is like…really?”

Ukraine’s Foremost Oligarch

Indeed, the ascendance of Poroshenko is a bitter pill for activists to swallow. A chocolate magnate worth a whopping $1.3 billion, Poroshenko owns Ukraine’s TV Kanal 5 and has assets in real estate, insurance and the banking sector. In the words of the Economist magazine, the current oligarch president made a large fortune through “opaque deal-making” in the 1990s. Hardly afraid to throw his weight around, the oligarch has donated money to MP’s and moreover makes use of his TV station to push his own agenda.

A living testament to the revolving door, Poroshenko made his way up as a businessman but later served as trade minister under Yanukovych himself. When his boss fell out of favor, however, the “King of Chocolate” enhanced his public standing by doing a 180 degree turn and siding with protesters on the Maidan. In this sense, Poroshenko proved more flexible and independent than other oligarchs who preferred to stay out of the power struggle.

Nevertheless, Foreign Policy magazine writes that Poroshenko “probably would have never risen to his current position had it not been for the lack of credible leaders among the revolutionaries.” In his rise to the top, Poroshenko also benefited from sheer political vicissitudes of the moment. When Russia banned products of Poroshenko’s Roshen candy company, the Ukrainian public rallied to the homegrown oligarch and Poroshenko’s credibility amongst voters was solidified. Scared and panicked amidst increased hostilities with Moscow, Ukraine rallied to Poroshenko on election night and currently the oligarch heads his own bloc representing the largest party in parliament.

Meet the Oligarchs

Though perhaps the most prominent oligarch, Poroshenko is joined by a host of other tycoons. To a great extent, the rise of the oligarchs was tied to the wave of privatizations and acquisitions of large industrial firms in the wake of the 1990s breakup of the Soviet Union. Many Ukrainian oligarchs are invested in the industrial east of the country, home to Soviet-era mines and factories. Most of the oligarchs, notes Foreign Policy magazine, “amassed their wealth by exploiting their closeness to those in power rather than through efficient management.”

In the words of the New York Times, “the ultra-wealthy industrialists wield such power in Ukraine that they form what amounts to a shadow government, with empires of steel and coal, telecoms and media, and armies of workers.” By securing positions in government for themselves or buying off politicians, oligarchs obtain valued political influence. Moreover, by buying up media outlets the oligarchs hope to forestall or preempt any efforts to undermine their position.

Unfortunately for the oligarchs, Yanukovych began to squeeze the elites and promote his own group, nicknamed the “Family.” Forced to compete against such incestuous interests, and leery of Yanukovych’s plans to move Ukraine closer into Russian orbit, the oligarchs began to splinter. To be sure, most of the oligarchs’ exports, which emanate from outdated and outmoded factories, were directed toward Russia. On the other hand, the oligarchs feared jeopardizing Ukraine’s ties to the west, as well their easy access to fancy vacation homes and London’s financial center.

Oligarchs Grasping for Power

With the exception of Poroshenko, the oligarchs chose to remain neutral in the end — unwilling to support Maidan protesters but equally wary of Yanukovych’s pro-Kremlin crackdown. Once Yanukovych ceased to be useful, the oligarchs simply abandoned him. Without key top-level support the president was forced into exile and today, in the wake of Maidan, oligarchs are nervously looking around, wondering what the new shakeup in Kiev will mean for them. The safe bet is that plutocrats will try to play ball with government because making waves would be bad for business.

Reportedly, the oligarchs are “hedging their bets politically” and trying to secure a kind of comfortable status quo in which their assets will be protected. At the very least, the oligarchs no longer have to worry about the sinister sounding “Family,” which imploded in the midst of Yanukovych’s fall from power. The government meanwhile is keenly aware of the perils in taking on oligarchic interests too intensely, since tycoons control eighty to eighty five percent of overall GDP.

The Activist Perspective

What the rest of civil society thinks is another matter. Activists who I spoke with felt somewhat disillusioned in the wake of Maidan, which in their words had failed to usher in a more progressive or anti-authoritarian political ethos. In November, 2013 amidst a riot police crackdown in Maidan square, students became radicalized. “We started to think about systemic change,” Yegor Stadny tells me. “Students realized that merely shaking up top figureheads wouldn’t result in wider societal change.”

Nataliya Neshevets, another young activist affiliated with Direct Action student labor union, chimes in. “We not only wanted to change faces in power but the inherent power structure itself,” she says. “We hoped to get away from leaders and promote more genuine, democratic participation.” In line with such thinking, Neshevets and fellow activists formed egalitarian decision-making assemblies on the Maidan.

Another student veteran of Direct Action, Denis Pilash, did his utmost to inject a bit of radical, anti-oligarchic politics at the Maidan. He distributed leaflets, for example, calling for improved healthcare and education and a ban on offshore money laundering. On the Maidan, Pilash tells me, it was common to hear people chanting, “All politicians out!” The grassroots, it seems, had become more anti-establishment. Many protesters, Pilash adds, started to become radicalized and to call for punitive measures against Ukrainian oligarchs and the powerful. For instance, demonstrators sought to end the corrupt and incestuous alliance between business and government. Moreover, they hoped to shed light on privatization initiatives so as to reveal the true extent of what had been stolen.

Initially at least, Pilash says many people on the Maidan were receptive to a more progressive social agenda, though over time “you saw a lot less of this kind of rhetoric,” and such ideas were entirely lost amidst all the “mainstream, pro-market neo-liberal politics.” What is more, the crowd became less assertive in its demands and lost its momentum, solidarity and sense of unity. “When protests ended,” Pilash declares, “ordinary people weren’t involved in making decisions anymore and left such tasks to the establishment.” In the wake of Poroshenko’s electoral victory, civil society retreated and “there is very little political engagement.” The oligarchs, Pilash declares, “are still in power both politically and economically. Maidan showed we could challenge politics, but economically we have the same guys in charge.”

Appeasing the Oligarchs

On the other hand, Kiev is officially at least taking activists’ concerns seriously. In fact, the Poroshenko government has been engaged in a raft of anti-corruption initiatives designed to forestall the power of “rent-seeking oligarchs” and a new government team “is largely free from the control of the country’s super-rich, who dictated policy in the past.” To a certain extent the president is under the gun, since western financial assistance is contingent on the government enacting reforms designed to curtail the tycoons’ power. In the short-run, oligarchs too may wish to cooperate with reform since the specter of the International Monetary Fund withholding funds could torpedo the Ukrainian economy, and that in turn would harm their interests.

Despite these developments, grassroots activists may have a big battle on their hands in the long-term. Poroshenko himself has been dogged by corruption allegations in the past and has ties to one Dmytro Firtash, another oligarch who faces bribery charges in the U.S. Recently, Firtash was arrested in Vienna at the request of the F.B.I. Washington has charged the oligarch with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and a grand jury has ruled that Firtash, a gas, banking and minerals magnate, paid bribes to secure titanium for one of his U.S. affiliates.

After being hauled into a local police station, Firtash agreed to post bail to the tune of $190 million (such a whopping sum may seem crippling but for a gas oligarch whose net worth may be more than $10 billion, the payment was a mere drop in the bucket). Firtash can’t leave Austria, and he’s currently fighting extradition to the U.S. From Vienna, the oligarch loudly proclaims his innocence and audaciously argues that his entrepreneurial spirit is vital to his country.

Meeting in Vienna

Despite his previous connections, Firtash now finds himself in a difficult bind. In light of the oligarch’s previous ties to Yanukovych, not to mention links to Russia’s reviled Gazprom, the native son may find it difficult to recruit influential allies. Nevertheless, Firtash remains a power-broker and is hedging his bets, even from afar. Indeed, he and other oligarchs such as Rhinat Akhmetov [see below] are behind the so-called Opposition Bloc, an anti-Poroshenko political party.

Even though Firtash represents the old guard oligarchic circle around Yanukoych, Poroshenko can’t afford to alienate this larger than life figure. Prior to Maidan, Firtash was one of the most powerful people in Ukraine. As a result of such influence, Poroshenko himself has sought to curry favor with the gas and minerals magnate. Just before the presidential election, Ukraine’s Chocolate King flew to Austria to meet with Firtash. Reportedly, Poroshenko was eager to garner his fellow oligarch’s support, and in particular to secure favorable media coverage on Inter, Firtash’s own TV channel.

Old Guard Challenged

As if the task for reformers could get no more challenging, other oligarchs add to overall political complexities. Take, for example, Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man. A steel magnate with a deluxe penthouse home in London, Akhmetov owns a business empire consisting of mobile phone companies, banks, real estate and even a media company. In Donetsk, he has interests in heavy industry, coal mines and metallurgy, and is considered by some to be the “de facto ruler of Donbass.”

A tycoon worth a staggering $12.5 billion, Akhmetov has — in the words of the Guardian — “smoothed over an early reputation for mixing with tough street operators.” Nevertheless, some reports suggest the oligarch acquired his wealth during the “lawless early 1990s.” When Akhmetov’s mentor, an alleged mobster, was killed in an enigmatic bombing, the Donetsk metal king inherited a huge financial empire. Though investigative journalists have sought to link Akhmetov to the shadowy underworld, the oligarch steadfastly denies such charges and has even sued over the allegations, all the while claiming he simply made some fortuitous and lucky gambles over the course of his business career.

Welcome to “Donetsk Clan”

Akhmetov is currently down but not yet out of the game, and the oligarch could still exert an impact on Ukrainian political life. During the Yanukovych era, the oligarch was a key supporter of the disgraced president as well as his political organization, the Party of Regions. In a leaked cable published by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst refers to the Party of Regions as a “haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs” and names Akhmetov as a “godfather” of the Donetsk clan.

According to an article in Vice media, Akhmetov “is reported to have used a system of patronage to exert considerable influence over several deputies in the house,” and the oligarch’s businesses “flourished exponentially.” A recent piece in Der Spiegel adds that Akhmetov — along with key ally Firtash — controlled about half of Yanukovych’s party between them. Indeed, the magazine adds, the two tycoons controlled their country’s political scene “as though it were a business joint venture.”

The eruption of unrest on the Maidan placed Akhmetov in a quandary. When demonstrations occurred, Spiegel notes, both Firtash and Akhmetov “began to distance themselves” from Yanukovych. “It was clear to both of them,” the article adds, “that if worse comes to worst, and the West imposed sanctions on Ukraine, their businesses would be the first to be affected.” When confrontations turned bloody, “both Akhmetov’s and Firtash’s TV stations changed their coverage of Independence Square: Suddenly the two channels, Ukraina and Inter, were reporting objectively on the opposition. The message of the oligarchs was clear: We’re letting Yanukovych fall.”

For Akhmetov, the demise of Yanukovych raised the unsettling possibility that the new government might soon investigate oligarchic assets. On the other hand, both Akhmetov and Firtash maintain influence within the Opposition Bloc, thus ensuring that political change may be slow in coming.

New Oligarchs Fill Vacuum

Within such a Byzantine political milieu, just who wins or loses? On the surface at least, the removal or at least eclipse of Firtash and Akhmetov seems to suggest a popular victory for reformers and the spirit of Maidan. However, a power vacuum has led to the rise of yet more oligarchs who are keen to take advantage of political and economic opportunity. Take, for example, Igor Kolomoisky, an oligarch with a net worth of about $1.6 billion who reportedly likes to feed sharks in his own office aquarium as a favorite pastime.

An oil and banking magnate, Kolomoisky gained a reputation during the early 2000s as a “corporate bandit” after carrying out hostile takeovers. Vice media reports that such tactics gained the oligarch and his business partner the familiar nickname of “The Raiders.” At least some of the takeovers, the publication notes, “were physically enforced.” In one case, hired hands reportedly wielded “baseball bats, iron bars, chainsaws, and rubber bullet pistols” which eventually helped Kolomoisky and his partner secure ownership over a local steel plant. In addition to his other assets, Kolomoisky has invested in the prominent 1+1 Media Group, which controls eight Ukrainian television channels.

“Over the past two decades,” notes Foreign Policy magazine, Kolomoisky “has always found a way to cooperate with whoever ruled over the country.” During the Yanukovych era, for instance, the oligarch was allowed to maintain a stake in the state oil company. Unlike Firtash and Akhmetov, however, Kolomoisky proved more flexible once protesters hit the Maidan. Kolomoisky in fact offered political support to demonstrators on his television channel, and he has emerged as a clear winner in the Kiev power reshuffle.

Rising Star Kolomoisky

Needless to say, Kolomoisky has wasted no time in taking on his oligarch competitors, and 1+1 TV channel recently ran an inflammatory report on Firtash claiming the oligarch was a Kremlin puppet [Firtash has struck back in turn by seeking to blacken Kolomoisky’s reputation on Inter]. Perhaps mindful of rising star Kolomoisky, the Poroshenko government has appointed the oligarch as governor of Dnipropetrovsk near conflict-ridden Donetsk. Tablet magazine notes, “Many Ukrainians assume that he had taken up the position mostly to protect his myriad business interests from being expropriated by the new regime.”

In the short-term, Poroshenko may benefit from having a powerful oligarch on his side, but in the long run Kolomoisky could prove difficult to handle. “Kolomoisky is certainly poised to capitalize on the current weakness of the central government,” notes Foreign Policy. “Many Ukrainians are eagerly casting about for a strong leader, and for some it’s Kolomoisky who fits the bill.”

Maidan’s Legacy and the Oligarchs

Watching news reports emanating from Kiev, many westerners surely came to believe that the most crucial power struggle taking place on Maidan pitted Yanukovych against popular demonstrators in the square. Yet just beneath the surface, another equally important feud was taking shape: the conflict between Ukraine’s political and economic tycoons. While Maidan succeeded in ridding the country of some oligarchs, the revolution failed to root out the elites, and if anything the political shakeup has only served to enhance the prospects of new and up and coming players.

While Poroshenko talks about cleaning up corruption, it’s not clear if he can succeed or even has the willingness to go up against his own oligarchic class. In such circumstances, it’s interesting to speculate how the Ukrainian public will respond to the oligarchs in the not too distant future. On the one hand, many Ukrainians admire Poroshenko and trust him to protect the country in a time of peril. On the other hand, the spirit of Maidan could turn against the president if he is perceived as going soft on the oligarchs.

Will there be another Maidan against oligarchic interests? In Kiev, I put the question straight to activist Denis Pilash. “Things have tilted so far to the right that disillusionment is inevitable,” he says. Pilash adds that perhaps in time “this small Ukrainian left will undertake actions closer akin to Occupy Wall Street.” He then muses, perhaps prophetically, “I don’t think this last Maidan was the last.”

Nikolas Kozloff is a New York-based writer who recently conducted a research trip to Ukraine.

Astronomers have known about these objects for decades, but in the depths of cosmic time, it’s hard to understand how they can grow so quickly — or maybe not!

Thanks to the painstaking research conducted by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope in the 1990s, the consensus is that virtually all large galaxies have at their centers massive black holes that formed over the course of billions of years. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has one of these massive beasts, whose mass is about 3 million times that of the Sun. The monster black hole at the center of the giant galaxy NGC 4889 has a mass that’s estimated to be 20 billion times that of the Sun. And this galaxy is right in our cosmic neighborhood, only about 300 million light-years from the Sun!

NGC 4889 (Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey)

Let me give you a better perspective on what a black hole looks like. The radius of a simple black hole (nonrotating) is about 2.8 kilometers for every solar mass it contains. This defines the radius of its event horizon. Once inside the event horizon, you are dead meat in a matter of a millisecond. You cannot escape the intense gravity, and even worse, spacetime itself is in perpetual collapse, so there are no stable orbits. Your only destiny is to get snuffed out by the singularity. But because of the gravitational tides, you will be stretched out into an atomic tube of spaghetti long before you get this close. The gravity is lethal at a distance of 1,000 kilometers!

If the supermassive black hole in NGC 4889 were located where the Sun is, its event horizon would be 56 billion kilometers away — far beyond the orbit of Pluto! The gravity tides are so weak you would not even feel that you had crossed over the event horizon until it was too late. Then your destiny would still be to collide with the singularity after a few hours of uncontrollable travel.

We know that black holes constantly gain more mass as they absorb surrounding gas, dust, planets, and even stars. The Milky Way’s black hole just tried to feast on a cloud of gas in 2013.

Computer simulation of the 2013 event (Credit: ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann)

This event produced hardly a blip in the light and radiation emitted from this region of space. But when a black hole eats a wayward star, you get a huge supply of radiation that transforms the object into a quasar. In fact, for a rotating black hole, the energy you get is about 1/2 mc2 where m is the mass of the infalling matter. The radiation is so powerful that these quasar events can be seen clear across the span of the visible universe, billions of light-years away! Quasars require the consumption of about one entire solar mass of material every year to be as brilliant as they are.

Now here’s the problem. You can only shove matter into a black hole as quickly as you can get it past the surface area of the event horizon. That means that small Sun-sized black holes with very small surface areas (about 8 square miles) take a long time to consume the mass of a shreaded star. But the vastly larger supermassive black holes can easily consume an entire star every year or more.

But there is a second problem. Most accretion occurs in a rotating disk that has to form because the angular momentum of the incoming star has to be conserved. This leads to a slow accretion process. A much faster accretion process happens in “spherical accretion,” where the infalling gas enters along a direct “radial” direction with no angular momentum. But if the inflow is too dense, the radiation generated by the heated gas pushes back on the infalling material and slows it down. This is called the Eddington rate, and it seems to be the maximum rate at which even a supermassive black hole can eat. For the supermassive black holes in quasars, this works out to about a few solar masses per year.

What does this have to do with the recently identified supermassive black hole called SDSS J0100+2802? Well, based on its distance, we can estimate that the object we see today was created about 700 million years after the Big Bang, and some 400 million years after the expanding cosmic gas became cold enough to form small objects. The mass of this black hole is nearly 13 billion times the mass of the Sun. That means that over the course of 400 million years, it had to consume about 30 times the mass of the Sun every year. This is way above the Eddington limit. So how could such a massive black hole have formed?

Luckily, nearby, we have examples of how this might work. A faster growth rate can happen by black-hole cannibalism. When two supermassive black holes collide, they form a new black hole with their original combined mass. We see signs of this starting to happen in such galaxies as SDSS J120136.02+300305.5, in which the collision between two galaxies has left behind a 10-million-solar-mass black hole and a 1-million-solar-mass black hole, now spiraling into each other and separated by less than a light-year.

This artist’s impression shows a binary supermassive black hole system in the galaxy SDSS J120136.02+300305.5 (Credit: ESA / C. Carreau)

We know that in the early history of the universe, there were a lot of mass mergers going on. Most produced bursts of star formation, and we see these objects as multiple knots of brilliant UV light. So this may be the way that supermassive black holes like SDSS J0100+2802 grew to be such massive objects in only a few hundred million years.

Still, it is very impressive that not only can we detect these kinds of events occurring so close to the Big Bang but we can still find explanations from our local corner of the universe that seem to apply to such a remote time and space.

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

I’ve been conducting this series of interviews for over a year, primarily focusing on queer artists, but I realized that artists aren’t the only people whose work may be influenced or inspired by their queer identity. So I decided to open up my interviews and start talking to people with all kinds of jobs. With this in mind, I contacted Zachary Koval. He’s a busy man: He’s a personal trainer and life coach, primarily helping people with coming out or switching to a plant-based diet. We sat down to chat on a cold New York afternoon.

Phillip M. Miner: How long have you been out?

Zachary Koval: I came out to my parents in the eighth grade. After that it was a gradual process, from slowly telling friends to kissing a boy in the cafeteria my junior year. Both of my parents were very supportive. Personally becoming OK with my sexuality and not caring what other people thought was the biggest challenge. When I came out to my parents, I told them that I never wanted to talk about it again. I told friends and then ended up recanting the next day and jumping back in the closet. I think there’s a perception that coming out is a onetime event, but it’s definitely a continuum and process.

PM: Through some online research (aka Instagram stalking) I learned that you’re involved with the radical faeries. How did that influence your coming-out process?

ZK: I learned about the radical faeries from a high-school friend who connected with them after we graduated. They were something that really intrigued me — the freedom of expression, the connection to the spirit, the Earth, and to generations beyond my own. Exploring those things also completely terrified me. At that time, all that expression and sexuality wasn’t something I was comfortable with, but I still was attracted to the alternative way of being, outside the ever-present bar scene. It wasn’t until I moved to New York and met some friends who invited me to a large gathering in Tennessee for May Day that I finally got courage enough to go. Ever since, it’s been an amazing experience of learning about — and creating — myself. I’m seeing where I am and where I’m comfortable pushing past and growing. It’s not about conforming to what the mainstream says I should be or what I think that guy over there wants me to be. It’s been about finding, creating, and defining myself from the inside.

PM: I understand that. I naïvely thought that after I came out, that would be that and everything would be sorted. It’s been over a decade now, and I’m still figuring stuff out.

ZK: It’s definitely an interesting realization that we’re not done yet and probably will never be, but that’s the fun of it, I think. I went to a gay social boxing club called Velvet Gloves here in the city and found myself automatically self-correcting my stance and movements. The voice in my head was saying, “You’re standing very gay right now,” even as I was standing in a room full of gay men! I didn’t even realize I still had that kind of deep internalized self-shame! I like to think I’m completely comfortable with being gay, but there are still these pieces that have yet to be reconciled.

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

PM: Does this sort of reconciliation happen in your life coaching?

ZK: Definitely. What’s really important to me is helping my clients find integrity in their lives and work to integrate all the different pieces of themselves. I think we have so many parts of ourselves: who we are at work, who we are with friends, and who we are at home. For many, those can be completely different people. This separation is what most of us do to survive day to day, being gay and/or other; we are no exception. Sometimes the different sides of us separate more and more, and we lose the sense of who we are. What I do is support clients in starting to bring those pieces back together to create a whole person.

PM: How do you go about doing that?

ZK: Through reflection, awareness, and action. While I work with clients on specific projects, we focus just as much on what’s happening on the inside and who they’re being about it. Many people concentrate on doing something in order to be something, trying to fix something they think is wrong or broken within them. In coaching I come at it in the other direction. It’s about being first. By recognizing you are whole, the doing comes naturally.

PM: I think I get it, but can you give me an example of how you’ve done this for yourself?

ZK: I grew up with a body image of myself being entirely too skinny, so I was always going to the gym, trying to put on weight and put on muscle to fix what I saw as wrong with me, chasing the proverbial unattainable carrot always held out in front of me. It drove me on but also [kept] me unhappy and unfulfilled. As long as I believed myself broken, it didn’t matter how many reps at the gym I lifted; they’d never be enough. It wasn’t until I began to address my own thoughts around my self-worth that I began to see changes. I connected my physical fitness goals with my overall health, ethics, and values. I’ve seen my dad deal with some serious health problems, and I didn’t want to go through that myself. Being vegan and my fitness journey are both a part of that.

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

PM: I know it’s important to you, so could you talk more about your veganism?

ZK: It connects to so many things that are bigger than myself: the environment and climate change, world hunger, and animal suffering. I very much see veganism as an exercise in my personal integrity, connecting and bringing my intentions, words, and actions into alignment. I want to set an example that you can be healthy, fit, and even thrive on a vegan diet. Our diets are often just another example of our dissociation. We are disconnected from where our food comes from and the violence involved in producing it. Being vegan is more than just the action and choice of not consuming animals. It is also a synthesis of personal values and beliefs, which lead to those actions. On the other side, eating meat is also a choice, and one that is backed also by a certain set of values and beliefs, a belief system and ideology called “carnism.” By recognizing this, we can see that it’s not just “the way things are.” We can also begin to examine our actions and make empowered choices and changes rather than just being at the effect of the existing paradigm.

PM: That is important, like how “straight” didn’t exist until we defined “gay.” Final question: You’re goal-driven, so what’s next?

ZK: I have my life coaching. I have my personal training. I have my vegan lifestyle, and my acting as well. I want to bring them all together. Like I’ve been saying, it’s all about integration. I’m interested in traveling and giving talks as well as creating a plant-based, vegan fitness center, complete with workshops, classes, coaching, and training. I’m also currently working on an ensemble theatrical piece and a one-man show — a lot of exciting things coming up!

Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons

BOSTON (AP) — The trial of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev can stay in Massachusetts, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said any high-profile case would receive significant media attention but that knowledge of such case “does not equate to disqualifying prejudice.” “Distinguishing between the two is at the heart of the jury selection process,” the panel wrote.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers argued that intense media coverage of the case and the large number of people personally affected by the deadly attack made it impossible for him to find a fair and impartial jury in Massachusetts.

Prosecutors insisted that Judge George O’Toole Jr.’s individual questioning of prospective jurors has successfully weeded out people with strong opinions on Tsarnaev’s guilt.

In its 2-1 ruling, the appeals court found that the defense did not meet the standards necessary to have the trial moved.

It said it was not clear and indisputable that pretrial publicity required a change of venue, and that the ongoing jury selection process did not suggest pervasive prejudice. Furthermore, the court ruled, the defense did not demonstrate irreparable harm if the trial was not moved.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers had asked O’Toole three times to move the trial, but he refused, saying bias among prospective jurors could be rooted out through careful questioning about their thoughts on Tsarnaev and the death penalty.

A panel of 12 jurors and six alternates will be chosen to hear the case. The same jury will decide whether Tsarnaev lives or dies. If he is convicted, the only possible punishments are life in prison without pariole or the death penalty. Only jurors who said they are willing to give meaningful consideration to both punishments can be seated on the jury.

Three people were killed and more than 260 were injured when twin bombs exploded near the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013.

In arguments before the appeals court, federal public defender Judith Mizner said the local jury pool is “connected to the case in many ways” and cannot be counted on to be fair and impartial.

“This attack was viewed as an attack on the marathon itself … and an attack on the city of Boston,” Mizner said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Weinreb told the appeals court that prospective jurors who have strong opinions have “unhesitatingly admitted” them, allowing the judge to rule them out as jurors.

Mizner also argued that the trial needed to be moved to maintain public confidence in the judicial system.

우리나라에도 1970∼80년대에 공중파 TV로 방영된 적이 있는 SF 시리즈 ‘스타트렉’에서 ‘스폭’ 역을 맡았던 레너드 니모이가 27일(현지시간) 83세로 별세했다.

미국 일간지 뉴욕타임스(NYT)는 니모이가 로스앤젤레스 자택에서 숨을 거뒀다고 그의 부인 수전 베이 니모이를 인용해 보도했다.

그는 지난달 14일 트위터를 통해 만성 폐쇄성 폐질환(COPD)을 앓고 있다고 팬들에게 알리면서 “나는 30년 전에 담배를 끊었지만 너무 늦었다”며 “할아버지가 말하는데, 지금 당장 끊어라”고 썼다.

leonard nimoy

그는 1966년부터 3년간 미국에서 방영된 TV 시리즈 스타트렉에서 ‘스폭’역을 맡아 스타덤에 올랐다. 스폭은 ‘뾰족한 귀’를 가진 지구인과 벌칸인의 혼혈로, 항상 침착하고 논리적인 과학담당 장교 겸 일등항해사였다.

니모이는 스타트렉이 끝난 뒤에는 다른 방송 프로그램에도 출연했고, 영화판 스타 트렉 Ⅲ(1984년)와 Ⅳ(1986년)의 감독을 맡기도 했다. 또 연극 무대에도 섰으며, 시집을 출간하기도 했다.

leonard nimoy

하지만, 대중에게 그는 항상 ‘스폭’으로 통했다.

1975년에 ‘나는 스폭이 아니다'(I Am Not Spock)라는 제목의 자서전을 냈던 니모이는 20년 뒤인 1995년에는 ‘나는 스폭이다'(I Am Spock)라는 반대 제목의 자서전을 펴내는 등 항상 그를 따라다닌 ‘스폭’을 두고 상반된 감정을 나타내기도 했다.

leonard nimoy

1 2 3 108