12/30/2003

Strike three, life sentence, for cheating on a driver's exam. Only in America.

12/01/2003

While there is no shortage of threats to life and liberty -- from international terrorism to poverty-inducing trade barriers to the deadly war on drugs -- these are indeed high times for a magazine devoted to exploring the promises of "Free Minds and Free Markets." For all of its many problems, the world we live in is dizzying in its variety, breathtaking in its riches, and wide-ranging in its options. Malcontents on the right and left who diagnose modernity as suffering from "affluenza" or "options anxiety" will admit this much: These days we’ve even got a greater choice of ways to be unhappy. Which may be as close to a definition of utopia as we’re likely to come.

Reason loves freedom, and in that spirit they have created a list of the 35 people they feel have made significant contributions to the cause since 1968 (the date of Reason’s birth). As lists are intended to do, it’s fodder for controversy and discussion with a diverse group of honorees.

John Ashcroft, Jeff Bezos, Curt Flood, William Burroughs, Milton Friedman, Les Paul, and Ayn Rand all make the cut.

Since we are free to disagree, I ask who has been left off of the list and who should be cut?

11/17/2003

The absolute abortion that is the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has committed its latest crime against humanity. Like a bad plot twist from T3, or a Matrix prequel, the computer that decides college football's championship game has decided that Ohio State is a better football team than USC. Both teams have one loss and are aiming to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to decide the championship. Never mind that USC has absolutely destroyed their opponents and defending national champs Ohio State have barely eked by the competition regardless of ranking, the computer has decided that Ohio State is the second best team in all the land. (The "flawed" other polls which are based upon human assessments of talent have Ohio State as the 4th best team and USC the in their rightful place at number 2)

If there is one thing we know from the movies, the computers begin by corrupting the "small" things and continue until they reach their ultimate goal of destroying mankind. Be warned, if USC doesn't play in the Sugar Bowl this year, it will be the beginning of the End Times.

11/11/2003

We've discussed the Simpsons a couple of times before, but like Iraq or Bush's IQ it's a topic that's never tiresome. The good news is that the Simpsons are back!

After too many seasons of lo-brow, over-the-top humor, John Bonne writes:

The show has finally evolved into a modern incarnation that retains its heart without feeling tired or bouncing from gag to gag like Homer tumbling down the side of Springfield Gorge.

Moving away from an all-Homer all the time format into one that allows other characters to shine and in the process offers more of the subtle satire and soul that infused earlier seasons. Part of the credit goes to Al Jean who has returned as executive producer.

So is this a renaissance of the Simpsons or a short-lived blip in the cartoon's inevitable creative demise? And for that matter are the Homer-heavy episodes of the recent past really so bad?

10/24/2003

Kinsley on the incoherence of Bush's stem-cell stance:

It's not a complicated point. If stem-cell research is morally questionable, the procedures used in fertility clinics are worse. You cannot logically outlaw the one and praise the other. And surely logical coherence is a measure of moral sincerity.
Just in time for Christams. Ann Coulter dolls....

10/22/2003

Dead Company Walking! How Skype may be the final nail in Verizon's coffin.
Rummy is bearish on the War on Terror. According to this memo.

10/21/2003

Greg Easterbrook, an editor at The New Republic, was fired from ESPN.com for anti-semetic comments he made on his blog about the Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill. Easterbrook, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the best sportswriters in America, having entertained and informed millions with his weekly football column Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ). He is also a man of letters, having penned a well-regarded book about religion while also writing articles on a variety of subjects for The New Republic, The Atlantic, and others.

Easterbrook’s TMQ column ran on ESPN.com, which is owned, by Disney, the same company that owns Miramax, the company that released Kill Bill. He criticized Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Miramax Chairman Harvey Weinstein (both who are Jewish) for chasing profit at the expense of morals by releasing the hyper-violent Kill Bill. After pointing out that the two executives are Jewish, he went on:

Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.

Some have said that his wording, awkward at best, out right disgusting at worst, shows the limits of blogging as a journalism tool. Revision, reflection, and editing being the tools of the writer’s craft, Easterbrook’s misstep was destined to strike the blogsphere. Others have expressed larger concerns. Once again media consolidation and the ability for a few people to silence smaller voices is a worry. As Lawrence Lessig wrote on his blog:

If ESPN fired Easterbrook because it overreacted to his comment, then that’s an injustice to Easterbrook, and a slight to society.

But it it fired Easterbrook because Easterbrook criticized the owner, that’s an offense to society, whatever the injustice to Easterbrook — at least when fewer and fewer control access to media. No doubt, anti-semitism has done infinitely greater harm than misused media mogul power. But if firing your critics becomes the norm in American media, then there will be much more than insensitivity to anti-semitism to worry about in the future.

10/20/2003

Some critics of the recall results consider Schwarzenegger’s election as a triumph of style versus substance, the empty headed masses deluded by big screen dreams and empty rhetoric into voting first for a recall that was unwarranted and then to vote for a candidate who was unqualified. "Finally", they proclaimed, "the inevitable triumph of all that is trite in American culture. The ignorant have had their say".

Others aren’t so sure. Andrew Sullivan is a supporter (if not a voter) of the new way shown by the Governor. As he wrote in the Sunday's Times:

Schwarzenegger used his celebrity power to forge a new politics. That politics - the missing element in American life right now - is a blend of fiscal conservatism, social liberalism and foreign policy hawkishness. As governor, Arnold's foreign policy aspect is minimal. But here is a Republican who is pro-choice on abortion, environmentally-conscious, and comfortable with gay people his whole life. But he's also very tough on taxation and very skeptical of excessive government power. When he complained that Californians pay a tax each time they flush the toilet in the morning, he was tapping into deep conservative instincts. But in his transition team, announced last Thursday, he included the left-wing mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, and former Michael Dukakis campaign manager, Susan Estrich. He's also married to the Kennedys. This left-right combo plays directly to the new American center. It's far more potent than Howard Dean's bitter Michael-Moore routine. And it's far fresher than Dubya's Texan propriety.

Other high profile pre-election supporters include Mickey Kaus, Most of the Kennedy family, and Warren Buffett. However the latest blow to the “Arnold-voters-are-ignorant-masses-blinded-by-their-lack-of-understanding-of-political-dynamics” meme was the shocking announcement by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer that he voted for Arnold. Interestingly enough his announcement came at a conference populated by a feuding and confused Democratic party still reeling and struggling to make sense of what happened. Since state Democrats are still clearly befuddled, can someone explain what happened? Is there a way for politicians, of every stripe to harness this movement? Is this is a phenomenon or are there larger implications for American politics?

Maybe in America’s most diverse state a new political standard has erupted. If you listen closely, you can hear the old ways scream as they die.
Kaus on the Easterbrook affair.

10/15/2003

The FDA is studying if cloned meat is OK for human consumption.

10/14/2003

Wild. The Supremes say medical pot is OK!

10/07/2003

Harry Truman had a sign on his desk reading "The Buck Stops Here." He felt a leader ultimately holds the responsibility. Tired of politicians constantly shifting blame to others, Californian voters today recalled Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither the vote on the recall, nor the race to replace Davis was particularly close. The economy, once again, was the deciding factor in an election almost as noticeable for its high voter turnout as it was for its diverse list of candidates. Some consider this a populist vote reflective of the ever changing and accelerating state of political affairs. Others consider the recall campaign another in a long line of efforts to undermine the spirit, if not the law, of high-profile elections. California has once again shown the fearsome power and Faustian bargain that is democracy.

10/03/2003

The always engaging Dahlia Lithwick on the Constitutional "smackdown" at the heart of the Do-Not-Call case.

9/30/2003

"Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors." Bush Sr. at a 1999 dedication.

Does Andrew Sullivan really think this is much ado about nothing?

9/28/2003

Nextel says it doesn't actually "own" the color yellow afterall. Millions of crayon-pushing school kids rejoice.

9/26/2003

Does California wine really suck? Mike Steinberger thinks so.

Personally, I think the 1970s and 1980s was the golden age of California winemaking; the most successful wines of that era—Ridge Monte Bello, Phelps Eisele Vineyard, Heitz Martha's Vineyard—had ripeness and power, but they also had finesse and elegance, qualities not currently found in many California wines. These days, the signature California style is flashy and in-your-face—"hedonistic fruit bombs," in the Parker vernacular. Though these wines tend to flow across the palate with all the subtlety and grace of the Soviet Army rolling into Prague, they do have a certain burlesque appeal
George Plimpton has died.

9/15/2003

Is America in decline? Laura Secor for the Boston Globe writes that there is certainly a recent rise in “declinism”.

Wherever anyone believes in progress, someone, possibly the same one, believes in decline. Declinism emerges today from the triumphalism of the right: In our greatness, conservatives say, there is much to lose, and many who threaten us. So, too, does it emerge from the pessimism of the left: Power corrupts, and the corrupt will get their comeuppance. At present, both impulses -- triumphalist and pessimistic, chest-beating and self-lacerating -- are on the upsurge. So too, then, declinism….. . .Many of those who argue that US power is currently ebbing draw on the pathbreaking work of Yale historian Paul Kennedy. In his 1987 classic, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," Kennedy analyzed former great powers such as the Netherlands, Austria-Hungary, and Spain. He observed that historically, wars were won and empires sustained by those who possessed superior economic, rather than simply military, strength, and that an excess of foreign commitments left great powers particularly vulnerable.

While empires collapsing has long been the stuff of legend it appears as if there are a greater number of vocal declinists today than in recent memory.

In books released in the last 12 months, the leftist SUNY-Binghamton sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, Clinton security advisor and Georgetown international relations specialist Charles A. Kupchan, and French demographer Emmanuel Todd contend, for very different reasons, but each with a debt to Kennedy, that Pax Americana has come to a close. America, writes Wallerstein in "The Decline of American Power" (July 2003), is "a lone superpower that lacks true power, a world leader nobody follows and few respect, and a nation drifting dangerously amidst a global chaos it cannot control." That the United States has come unmoored is evident, writes Kupchan in "The End of the American Era" (October 2002), from its "contradictory and incoherent behavior" since the end of the Cold War. And as Todd, author of the French bestseller "Apres l'Empire" (forthcoming in English translation from Columbia University Press), told the British magazine Prospect, in Iraq the United States "used military means in response to a nonmilitary problem. I believe this shows it has lost its omnipotence."

What then to make of all this? Is America in decline or a state of flux reflective of a world immersed in change? What can be done to protect this nation state? What should be done?

9/09/2003

Dahlia Lithwick and Julia Turner in part one of a four-part series on what the Patriot Act says and does.

9/08/2003

Neo-cons showing reservations about our policy in Iraq.

9/07/2003

Matt Welch takes another look at blogging.

9/06/2003

The John Hopkin’s researcher who last year claimed that ecstasy can cause Parkinson's-like brain damage is retracting the study. The reason? His lab administered methamphetamine not MDMA to the primates in the study.
As Bjork releases an extraordinary career retrospective, it's time to crown her as the most important pop musician of her generation-Salon

Thomas Bartlett takes a look at the astonishing career of Bjork and finds an artist who is as confounding as she is mesmerizing. Able to navigate through the ever changing whims of hipster music fans, the commercial demands of an increasingly segmented music business, and still make music that is challenging, personal, and complete.

But for all that, Bj?rk remains curiously isolated, her music more loved than influential. Radiohead, probably her closest rival in the intersection of popularity and critical acclaim that makes up at least one definition of greatness, has spawned countless baby Radioheads. Bj?rk has no copycats, no one feeding so obviously off her achievements, because those achievements are so alien. Radiohead is very much of our time, the musical zeitgeist for the millennium, but Bj?rk and her music come from a different time and place. There are two options in placing Bj?rk: Either she is an anomaly, brilliant but finally irrelevant, or she is the most important and forward-looking musician of her generation. In either case, we will need to wait 50 years to really make sense of what she has done, and absorb her influence in any useful way.

What is her music about? And who is she? In a business steeped in the laser-like demographic appeal of Madonna and her offspring, Bjork stands atop the apex of culture and commerce. A point with attackers on all sides.

The world of alternative popular culture is none too tolerant of success, as Wilco, the Strokes and even Radiohead have recently discovered, with waves of faddish discontent emanating from Manhattan, leaving no hipster unaffected. But Bj?rk has enjoyed 10 years of uncommonly smooth sailing with nary a backlash in sight.

A “sonic innovator” whose songs use the non-rhyming technique favored by poets, acutely aware of her every note and yet inclined to disregard musical convention, fans, critics, music execs are left with one question; What kind of music is she making, then?

9/05/2003

Even George Orwell wasn't able to hide from the all-seeing camera.

9/04/2003

Ashcroft is on tour touting the PATRIOT Act (I&II) and thankfully it's bringing a slew of discussion about liberty along for the ride.
Is deregulation and privatization hitting a wall? Some free-market advocates are beginning to temper their enthusiasm for open systems that, as recently as a decade ago, were heralded as the solution for everything from fledgling democracies, to energy companies, to financial services. Lately there have been more calls for government intervention leading some to believe that Big-Government may be on the rebound.

The latest black eye for deregulation came on Friday. FERC announced settlements with the energy companies involved with California’s blackouts. Paul Krugman calls them a “joke”, and point out they were announced on a Friday so that the media cycle would be more likely to pass over the news. The blackouts (which in no small part contributed to Gov. Davis’ descent into recall territory) and $8.9Billion in associated costs (not including future costs of the long term contracts California signed during the peak of the “crisis”) were found to have been wholly or partially due to manufactured energy shortages that were intended to raise prices and manipulate the newly deregulated market.

Yet the charges energy companies agreed to added up to only a bit more than $1 million. That is, the average Californian was bilked of more than $250, but the state will receive per-capita compensation of about 3 cents.

In instances such as the California energy crisis, where a state jumped headlong into “deregulation”, suffered dire consequences, and then the governmental watchdog agency was so beholden to the industry it was established to police that its judgment was as impotent as it was unreasonable, it clearly speaks to the limits of deregulation. Some still argue that California reiterates the importance of deregulation since what occurred there was partial deregulation, which is the worst of all worlds.

But the larger questions remain. What is the proper mix of private sector autonomy and government oversight? Should the State be charged with making the rules, enforcing the rules, or simply allowing for equal access? What does the future hold for deregulation?
Who should you vote for in the CA recall election? This test can help you find out...
TCS: Tech Central Station - A New Road to Serfdom? is a related piece to our discussion of the spector of socialism haunting the capitalism.
Slate chimes in with a few thoughts on Against Love.

9/03/2003

Can capitalism survive? It seems an odd question to ask now that Western liberalism and American hegemony seem ascendant. Galal Amin wants us to take another look. Marx doesn't miss the mark as far as we thought even a decade ago. However, Amin offers capitalism hasn’t imploded in the manner that Marx predicated:

Shareholding companies, a form of collective ownership, became common, giving millions of small shareholders a chance to own capital. Through negotiations with labour unions, capitalists had to increase wages, shorten working hours, and generally improve working conditions. Keynesian economics called for the state to intervene in the market in times of depression. And the welfare state, a post-war concept, entailed income redistribution and the provision of a broader range of basic services.

Monopoly eclipsed competition, state intervention blurred the characteristics of free economy, and skilful advertising overshadowed consumer sovereignty. With giant companies engaged in long-term planning to recoup their extensive investment, what was left of the free market system? One may argue that business ownership is still private and investors continue to look for the highest rate of return. Yet, is the form of ownership (private versus public) more significant or the extent in which ownership has spread and come under public control?


It does raise the questions, what is the current state of capitalism and what is its future? Some have argued the current system more closely resembles mercantilism than capitalism. Some argue that Marxian (if not Marxist) theories about capitalism are coming to bear.

Amin offers some intriguing questions, the fact of which illuminates how indistinct the current state of world economic affairs are:

To what extent were these developments a sign of the triumph of capitalism -- in the Marxist sense -- over socialism? Has free market ended the state monopoly over the means of production and terminated the state monopoly over the decisions of production and investment, or has private monopoly replaced state monopoly? Have consumers won back from the state the right to determine the type and quantity of products, or have they forfeited their rights to private business? Has state-run central planning disappeared, or only been replaced by conglomerate vision? Has the role of the state diminished, or does the state still intervene in the economy to promote the interests of big business, such as arms manufacturers, even to the point of waging wars?

9/02/2003

Vivendi and NBC will merge entertainment assets. Both expect EU anti-trust approval.

8/31/2003

Jim Hightower, at it again.
The apparent success the international peace keepers are having in Liberia has once again raised an interesting suggestion. Perhaps the U.S., the U.N, and the world should consider privatizing peace-keeping efforts on a broader scale. While most troops currently on the ground are not from private firms, some would like this to change. Currently the U.S. uses private firms for a variety of military related services:

From 1994 to 2002, the Pentagon entered into more than 3,000 contracts with private military firms. Companies like Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, now provide the logistics for every major American military deployment. Corporations have even taken over much of military training and recruiting, including the Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at more than 200 American universities. (Yes, private employees now train our military leaders of tomorrow.)
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the industry's growing role than the campaign against Iraq. Private employees worked on everything from feeding and housing coalition troops to maintaining weapons systems like the B-2 bomber. Indeed, there was roughly one private military worker in the region for every 10 soldiers fighting the war (as opposed to one for every 100 troops in the 1991 gulf war).
And companies will play an even greater role in the occupation. In addition to the proposed security force, the new Iraqi military will be trained by corporate consultants. Washington has also contracted DynCorp, whose pilots have long helped the Pentagon destroy coca fields in Colombia, to train the new police force.


In addition, the U.N. contracts their security to a private firm, and another company, Executive Outcomes, demonstrated considerable success in Sierra Leone in the late 90’s. Some are advocating that the “privatized military firms" get even more involved in “hot” peacekeeping efforts. They would be motivated by profit motive, and hence less inclined to be hamstrung by the political machinations of diplomats and bureaucrats. Additionally they typically operate in a relatively efficient, effective, and cost productive manner.

There are serious risks with working with private peacekeepers in future conflicts. Perhaps most importantly is one of perception. Many consider these firms to be nothing more than mercenaries with slick P.R. firms behind them. Additionally there is a concern that when a nation commits its flag to an intervention it will generally be there for the long haul, whereas a private firm is more committed to the cold calculus of profit. P.W. Singer, long an advocate for privatized military firms, also points to other serious risks:

-First, the good of private companies may not always be to the public good.
-Second, just like lawyers, some military contractors work only for ethical clients while others choose to make money from less savory types.
-In addition, foreign and military affairs are the government's domain. Undertaking public policy through private means can mean that some initiatives that might not pass public approval - such as the increasing American involvement, outside Congressional oversight, in Colombia's civil strife - still get carried out.


Regardless of the risks, some say that often privatized military firms are the only ones willing to go into the places the politicians turn their backs on.
Barry Bonds is the greatest baseball player ever. This season is special. An emotional season is turning even his most dogged opponent into reluctant fans. A son’s love for his father is proving to be, like baseball, a timeless sentiment too powerful to dismiss.

Barry and the media have had a long and tumultuous relationship. Most of the grudge stemming from a Sports Illustrated interview almost a decade ago. But even the writers at SI are starting to thaw over Barry’s latest feats. Coming off of two of the greatest offensive seasons ever, Barry is once again leading the SF Giants in their quest to win their first championship ever. Leading the majors in a number of offensive categories, including walks, home runs, and slugging percentage, has been especially difficult in light of his father’s illness and death.

Bobby Bonds, also a Giants great, spent much of this season and last battling stomach and lung cancer. The illness of his father weighed heavily on Barry. A guarded man who offers little of himself via the media Bonds was clearly fueled by an emotional fervor through much of the season. A desire drove Barry to play the best game possible in honor of the man who taught him how to play baseball. When Bobby was clearly nearing the end he went to the ballpark to watch Barry play. Apparently realizing that there were few sights as magnificent as watching his son’s sweet swing slap another splash hit, he chose to be at the park rather than a hospital bed. Bobby didn’t die in the box that night, but he did see Barry hit a walk off homer to beat the Atlanta Braves. He died shortly after.

Yesterday Bonds returned to the team after taking six days off to deal with his father’s death. Facing second place Arizona, and their missile-launching pitcher Randy Johnson, Bonds took a fourth inning, 93-MPH 1-0 fastball deep to right field with what would turn out to be the game’s winning run in a 2-1 victory. Barry later said his heart raced as he ran the bases. When he touched home plate he looked towards the sky a bit longer than usual. As he walked back to the dugout he took off his helmet and covered his face, apparently to hide his tears. He was taken out of the game later for an irregular and rapid heartbeat. The emotion and anxiety of the moment too much for even him.

So now the media appears to be warming to the surly slugger, and perhaps from there even the fans in other cities will be able to see that just because a man doesn’t get along with reporters it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have heart. Or perhaps Skip Bayless words it best,

Now maybe they'll realize what a once-a-lifetime privilege it is to watch a man who has come far closer to mastering bashing a baseball than any mortal ever.

8/30/2003

Concerns about consumer privacy have led to unique ways to slow down the adoption and reach of RFID chips. RSA Security is working on "blocker chips" that you are wearable and will block transmissions back to the mother ship.

8/29/2003

Chef Laurent Manrique has enjoyed amazing success in his adopted homeland. His San Francisco restaurant Aqua is considered one the finest in America, and he planned to open another high-end eatery in Sonoma. In addition to chicken, beef, and duck, the restaurant serves the French delicacy foie gras. This has some animal rights terrorists up in arms. They severely damaged the planned location of the restaurant, a historical site, in the latest in a string of disturbing incidents.

The attacks began last month when vandals sprayed red paint on Manrique's Mill Valley home and on the Santa Rosa home of Didier Jaubert, a partner in the foie gras venture. Attackers also put acid-based etching foam on their cars and windows, and glued shut locks and garage doors. The Bite Back Web magazine says that etched on Manrique's car windows was "foie gras is animal torture" and "murderer."
A sacred Buddha statue in Manrique's yard was also damaged. Manrique …is a practicing Buddhist.
The perpetrators left a videotape, which Manrique said was shot from his garden and showed his family relaxing inside their home. It was accompanied by a letter warning that they were being watched.


Laurent Manrique’s experience isn’t unique with radical groups seemingly reacquainting themselves with terror as a tool. Yesterday Chiron, a Bay Area biotech company that contracts with a company that uses animals for research, was the target of two bombs. A warning email sent the day before from animal rights groups, and a string of related threats against company executives at home, points in a familiar direction. Shortly after the blasts the Animal Liberation Brigade claimed responsibility and warned, "You might be able to protect your buildings, but can you protect the homes of every employee?" Earlier this month a $50 million arson attack on a real-estate development in San Diego and a similar-styled attack on a Hummer dealership, has led many to question whether these tactics help or hinder the causes they purportedly support. People wonder, how far is this going?
One more music critic coming to terms with Andrew W.K.
Are you a neocon? Take this quiz and find out.

8/28/2003

As thanks for liberating their country an Iraqi couple has named their 6-week-old baby boy George Bush. Now that's winning their hearts and minds!

8/25/2003

"We have discovered nothing new in art in 17,000 years."- Picasso, on visiting the caves of Lascaux.

What makes man “modern”? This is a question that’s sent much of science on a search for the dawn of modernity. A question explored by Randal White of New York University in his book "Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind".

The discussion about the emergence of modern humans has been going on for close to 100 years, and early in the debate criteria were proposed that might indicate "modern" behavior…(The) suggested hallmarks of modernity included toolmaking, the development of trade and social organization -- and the creation of art.

And it’s art that’s the most vexing. We hardly agree what art is now, let alone what constitutes art from eons past. Artistic discoveries garner more attention than all the other types of archeological finds, which clearly speaks to our fascination with the higher aspirations of mankind. What does our understanding of “representational systems" tell us about our break from Neanderthals?

Many of the techniques of “art” were familiar to ancient man:
"All of the major representational techniques were known at least by the Magdalenian [Period, beginning about 18,000 years ago]; oil- and water-based polychrome painting, engraving, bas-relief sculpture, sculpture in the round, charcoal and manganese crayon drawing, molded clay, fired ceramic figurines, shading, perspective drawing, false relief, brush painting, stamping and stenciling. The Grotte Chauvet even contains the image of a bison colored by dots of paint applied by hand, a technique that White describes as "pointillism -- 300 centuries before Seurat."

But is it Art? It is necessary, cautions White, that "we get away from the 19th- and 20th-century notion that somehow art exists as a universal urge on the part of humans, independent of social, cultural and environmental factors." Much of what we look back on as art may have actually been tools of a different sort. Systems of communication, prayer, maps, ways of warding off spirits, ways of enforcing law.

Adding to the difficulty in assessing what role, if any, ancient art played, is the lack of “artistic” discoveries from places other than Central Europe. Due mostly because of science’s pre-occupation with all things European in the early part of this century, there are relatively few finds from Africa, Southern Asia, and the Middle East, the hotbeds of early human development and the wellspring of modernity. So what does the “art” of the past add to the story of ancient man? And does it offer clues to the path that we have headed down?
Nice article about the fall-out from the dot-com experiment. The main lessons:

• Being a Luddite is bad, but being a technophile can be worse.
• There is a difference between red tape and necessary procedures.
• They are more comfortable dealing with the outside world.
• Speed can connote efficiency as well as recklessness.
• Employee loyalty isn't an outdated concept.
• It is often easy to do more with less.
• The Internet may not be a great business model, but it is a great business tool.
• Managers must value elan and encourage optimism.

8/24/2003

"Perhaps the most truly evil aspect of religious terrorism is that it aims at destroying moral distinctions themselves. Its goal is to confuse not only its sympathizers, but also those who aim to fight it’, so writes Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God; Why Militants Kill. The Harvard professor traveled around the world during the 5-year course of her study of violent, religious militants, hoping to decipher what causes people to kill for God. The analysis is remarkably clear sighted and insightful for such an esoteric topic and leads to some very useful conclusions. Perhaps most notably she differentiates between three types of religious-terror organizations. As described in the San Francisco Chronicle’s review:

The Saints of Christ, a violent American anti-abortionist movement, is an example of "leaderless resistance," a type of group whose actions are troublingly insusceptible to penetration or prevention because its members never meet to discuss specific plans, only the overall philosophy.

By contrast, Harkat ul Mujahideen, the Pakistani Islamist group that murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, operates more like a conventional army, with a centralized command-control structure and military training. Al Qaeda has achieved its devastating impact by combining decentralized infrastructure, composed of sleepers and freelancers, with a military-style hierarchy.


Fundamentalism comes across as a desperate, pathetic, violent effort to hold off the future and force change back into the Pandora’s box of globalization. Fueled by definable benefits the misplaced fervor can actually be used to understand, and destroy the terrorists. While America struggles to better understand its role in creating and fighting the disillusionment and dread that feeds violence it’s helpful to have an idea of what causes religious violence.

8/23/2003

George Soros founded the Project on Death in America nearly a decade ago. He outlined what he was hoping to accomplish in a 1994 speech Reflections of Death In America, “The mission of the Project is to promote a better understanding of the experiences of dying and bereavement and by doing so help transform the culture surrounding death.”

America’s conflicted relationship with death is something few people have a firm grasp on, so apologies in advance for the clumsy nature of these questions, I wonder if the deaths of celebrities shed light on our lives and deaths? Do the fawning obits help us grasp our worlds any better or do they serve as nothing more than the culmination in a series of diversions? Is our enthrallment with celebrity death merely an extension of our fascination with all things famous, or another way to collectively explore death?

Soros worried that death has become a subject whose own importance makes impossible its significance in popular culture.

In America, the land of perpetually young, growing older is an embarrassment, and dying is a failure. Death has replaced sex as the taboo subject of our times. People compete to appear on talk shows to discuss the most intimate details of their sex lives, but they have nothing to say about dying, which in its immensity dwarfs the momentary pleasures of sex.

What if the dead were among us and spoke to us now? Warren Zevon demonstrates how it might look. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer he is feverishly making up for hours spent in relative obscurity. He’s the subject of a VH1 documentary, he recently spent a night as the lone guest on the David Letterman show, he's on the receiving end of many fawning magazine pieces, and he’s about to release his last album, written and recorded after his diagnosis. Called by many a “masterpiece” The Windis an exploration of death, dying, and what that means to living. Themes he’s explored many times before.

So what does a celebrity’s death mean to me? What does it mean to you? What does my death mean? Soros offers words of pain and salve if not clear direction.

In conclusion, let me tell you how I came to terms with my own death -- a subject I gave a lot of thought to in my youth. I spent years thinking about it. Building on my insight that there is always a divergence between ideas and facts I came to the conclusion that it is the idea of my death which I cannot accept because it is a total denial of my consciousness. The fact of dying, when it comes, may be much more acceptable, especially if it comes at the end of a long life. The insight that the idea is not the same as the fact, made the idea more bearable.
You read that the White House ordered the EPA to include misleading statements about the air quality in New York shortly after 9/11 and you work hard to keep your rising level of cynacism below the level of anger and disgust. These are our elected officials.

8/22/2003

Pete Sampras, the greatest tennis player of his generation, and arguably ever, will retire on Monday. Sampara’s career includes 14 Grand Slam titles, more than any male in history, he was the youngest U.S. Open Men’s winner at 19,from 1993 through 1998 he finished the season ranked #1 in the world, and he was fresh breath of civility in a game that had been in need.

Early on he wasn’t embraced by the fans who took to players with more extreme personalities. When Agassi was a male Kournikova, and Boris Becker was thrilling people with his aerial circus, Sampras was just winning. Even today he remains mostly an enigma, having never offered much more than devastatingly effective game, and a polite acknowledgement of the crowd.

Pete’s never won the French Open, a surface too foreign to his game, and this is part of why some consider Rod Laver (or Borg, or Emerson, or…) to be greater than Sampras. Others, citing his “lack of charisma” say that the shortcomings of his persona override his dominance on the court. As always the argument becomes; style vs. substance. Regardless of what the criteria is used to judge athletic greatness, in New York on Monday, we will see a champion of the ages step off the stage for good.
"To restore morality we must first recognize the source from which all morality springs. From our earliest history in 1776 when we were declared to be the United States of America, our forefathers recognized the sovereignty of God."-Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

"Is it possible for the state to celebrate a plurality of religions without establishing one or several as more legitimate?”-Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is a Christian and often uses God’s Higher Law to guide him on the bench. When he became Chief Justice he had a two-ton monument to the Ten Commandments placed in the state judicial building rotunda. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the monument was impermissible since its “primary effect (was to) advance religion” Moore (and his growing legion of followers) have refused to remove the Commandments. The Chief Justice lost in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was once again ordered to remove the monument or face fines of $5,000 per day. The other justices on Alabama’s Supreme Court have also ruled against Moore, ordering the building manager to take down the monument. While true believers flock to the monument in droves Moore is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue highlights America’s divided beliefs about the role that religion should play in public life. While there is no mention of “separation of church and state” in the Constitution, America has a long and conflicted relationship with religion. Dahlia Lithwick explains the legal matters,

There is… a constitutional problem highlighted by Moore's conduct and by the popular support he's garnered in some circle A sentiment expressed frequently by elected officials, religious leaders, and even the occasional U.S. Supreme Court justice, is that the principle of separating church and state has morphed into unbridled state hostility toward the church. The founders of this country were, for the most part, deeply religious men. Would they, like Moore, object to the ways in which religion has been chased out of the public square?
The Constitution itself codifies two conflicting impulses. The First Amendment guarantees simultaneously that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" and that Congress won't "prohibit ... the free exercise thereof." Which one is it? How can Congress avoid promoting religion, while also encouraging its free exercise?


Religion matters a great deal. To the people who have made the pilgrimage to the monument of The Commandments, it’s clear they see this fight as something larger than a legal matter.

Hundreds of Moore's supporters have held round-the-clock song and prayer vigils at the court building, and many vowed yesterday to risk arrest to fight the removal.

Gene Chapman, a preacher who walked more than 1,100 kilometers to Alabama from Austin, Texas, said he has not found any religion that opposes the Ten Commandments.

"I fear this could come to bloodshed," he said.

"This is how revolutions start."

8/21/2003

How bad is PowerPoint really?

8/20/2003

"The Smoking Gun, which digs up arrest records, mug shots, show business contracts and divorce papers, became a tip sheet for journalists and a cult Web site for reality show aficionados. It managed to embarrass seemingly squeaky-clean contestants on reality shows from CBS's "Survivor" to Fox's "Joe Millionaire." (Most memorably, it uncovered the early bondage films of a bachelorette, Sarah Kozer.)

Inevitably, but contrary to the laws of nature, the Web site will mutate…into the very thing it feeds on: a television show"


So writes the New York Times Alessandra Stanley. The challenge is to translate the instantaneous nature of the website into the relatively slothful format of the TV.

The early reviews are mixed and some are wondering what the show will do to separate itself from the overabundance of celebrity sleaze-TV that fills the airwaves. The larger issue is one that is near and dear to those of us who ponder how Carl might make a few bucks; Can a successful website be turned into TV gold? And if so, how?

Mo Rocca, most notable for his stint on the uber-satirical Daily Show, is the host and he dons a variety of guises in search of the perfect comedic pitch. Some have called the show a “comedic nugget”, which bodes well for websites brimming with “breezy cynicism.”
It’s easy to scoff at the Ron Popeil inventions hawked on infomercials (and buried in some of our closets). However you just never know when today’s odd contraption becomes tomorrow’s must have cooking tool. The San Francisco Chronicle celebrates the birthdays of two such devices; the microwave oven and the Cuisinart. Both were disregarded as inane novelties at first and have over time become must-haves for any cook’s kitchen.

So in celebration of these two labor saving devices I ask you for your best microwave/food processor stories/recipes, and your thoughts on what gizmos of today will work their way into the cook’s canon.
The spy-cams in Florida are gone!

8/19/2003

It’s World Series time again. But this World Series includes teams from Japan, Saudi Arabia, America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and others. The Little League World Series is the brainchild of a Pennsylvania rubber company and has captivated the baseball-playing globe since 1948. ESPN is broadcasting an unprecedented number of games, which has some pundits pining for a return to simpler times. (A time, which others argue, never existed except in the wistful memories of overly nostalgic grown-ups.)

Coming off the Danny Almonte scandal the Series is doing its best to regain its wholesome innocence, which is clearly the game’s biggest draw. (Even if the success of the teams seems to be less dependent on skill than on size.) Regardless of how many levels of player verification exist, there is a sense to some that the media glare is distorting what should be a simple proposition: Kids playing baseball.
Dean sends spam. Techies upset.

8/18/2003

Bin Laden's Boys try to claim credit for the blackout.
California, “the land of fruits and nuts” chortle the clue-less wags from fly-over states and the eastern seaboard. The absurdities they scoff at today are the trends they breathlessly chase months later. From spinning classes to Prop.13, California is an important bellwether for changing norms.

The recall election is no different. While self-styled pundits, cartoonists, and even some Californians themselves chuckle at the whole affair a real revolution is coming to a head. Californian political historian Kevin Starr understands what is happening,

“Something powerfully transformative is underway in state politics, and it is nothing less than voters' self-liberation from a claustrophobic and demeaning political culture out of sync with today's 24/7 information society and unworthy of the larger creativity of the Golden State.”

Just as the political powers that be were caught off guard by Howard Dean’s campaign strategy, this one has left the unimaginative lights grasping for hoary old insults in a desperate attempt to hold back the clock. This is a nightmare for many, true democracy in action, emboldened and enhanced by a limitless sense of possibility and technology.

Starr relishes what the recall truly signals; “No wonder California voters seem to be in a state of emotional and moral release, seeking a new connection to their politicians. Far from being a circus or even a grand opera, the current situation, as personally painful as it must be for Gov. Gray Davis, offers a breakthrough opportunity to rethink, reform, revitalize — indeed, refound — state government".

Many politicians clearly are hunkering down in an attempt to fight the future. To them (and the yucksters) the question is: What are you afraid of?

8/17/2003

Video Game maker Ubisoft spokeswoman Cassie Vogel reports, "If you look at stats, in 1990 the average age of your typical gamer was 18, and now it's 29."

While some of that change may be due to peter-pandemonium it’s clear that the game makers anticipated this shift. New titles have come out reflecting the changing perspectives, as has a not so subtle shift in marketing focus. Oft heralded leader of this trend is the Madden football franchise. Madden is a classic game with a devoted following among professional athletes. Slate offers the news that Madden is so well regarded within the inner-sanctum of the NFL that simply being in the game is considered a validation of one’s entire sports life, being on the cover has been mentioned as a “career highlight” by last year’s star, and the game is now in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Fred Taylor admitted that he plays up to six hours a day of Madden during the season. "In the offseason, I'll play from 2 in the afternoon to 11 or 12 at night—every night."… The Sporting News reported that Vick, the league's most electrifying player, nonetheless finds that his "ultimate rush comes from beating the snot out of a Madden NFL opponent."

That kind of cool you can’t buy. (Actually, the museum has a massive marketing arrangement with EA Sports, the maker of Madden) The NFL has a lock into the prime male demographic range, and now it appears, so does video games.

What’s next for games? Are they truly the “new movies”? And how exactly did a fat man in a bus replace Nike as the ultimate arbiter of cool?

8/16/2003

Michael Vick, the electrifying QB of the Falcons, has broken his fibula. In a pre-season game of course.
On Aug. 28 (or 27th, depends what hood you live in), the Earth will pass within 34.7 million miles of Mars. This is the closest that the Red Planet will be to the Earth in approximately 60,000 years. It won’t be this close to Earth for another 50,000 years. The rare occurrence has backyard astronomers, astrology nuts, and of course, the pros, agog over the prospect of seeing Mars in such vivid detail.

I bring up Mars for the most selfish of reasons. I’m having a viewing party and am wondering what everyone else is doing and soliciting suggestions. Are tin-foil hats de’ rigueur? Anyone have any cocktail suggestions? Or witty Martian related anecdotes I can share in order to appear witty and urbane?
America, David Brooks argues, isn’t nearly as diverse as we pride ourselves to be. We have quartered off sections of like-minded folks to live, work, and play with. People spend an awful lot of time working to be with people culturally similar to themselves. Some of this is enabled and accelerated by the tools of the modern age.

"It is a common complaint that every place is starting to look the same," Brooks writes. "But in the information age, the late writer James Chapin once told me, every place becomes more like itself."

Race, religion, political affiliation, education levels, buying habits, all create the barometers we use to chose those we surround ourselves with. He mentions the precision marketing firm Claritas, and how accurately they can predict spending patterns based upon basic demographic information like zip code.

(Claritas) breaks down the U.S. population into sixty-two psycho-demographic clusters, based on such factors as how much money people make, what they like to read and watch, and what products they have bought in the past. For example, the "suburban sprawl" cluster is composed of young families making about $41,000 a year and living in fast-growing places such as Burnsville, Minnesota, and Bensalem, Pennsylvania. These people are almost twice as likely as other Americans to have three-way calling. They are two and a half times as likely to buy Light n' Lively Kid Yogurt. Members of the "towns & gowns" cluster are recent college graduates in places such as Berkeley, California, and Gainesville, Florida. They are big consumers of DoveBars and Saturday Night Live. They tend to drive small foreign cars and to read Rolling Stone and Scientific American.

He closes with some thought provoking questions: “Look around at your daily life. Are you really in touch with the broad diversity of American life? Do you care?”

8/15/2003

Taking an account of Christopher Hitchen's Iraq War essays.
Madden is in the NFL Hall of Fame

8/14/2003

John Ashcroft, flush off of his triumphant victory over terrorism, is now turning the considerable energy, focus, and resources of the Department of Justice towards protecting Americans from smut. Emboldened by the recent Supreme Court internet filter win, and fresh on the heels of the DOJ’s 10-count indictment of porn-producing empire Extreme Associates, Inc, Solicitor General Theodore Olson filed a brief with the Supreme Court asking them to reconsider the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

COPA, a Clinton-administration law that was intended to protect children from internet porn by requiring adult websites to use credit cards or other age-verification systems before allowing access. (COPA was offered as a more moderate version of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which was overturned by the Court) A Pennsylvania appeals court has twice ruled (the second after the Supreme Court passed the case back down) that COPA prohibits a too wide-range of online expression; the DOJ would like the Supremes to hear the case.

Eugene Volokh describes the issue at hand. “(The) spillover problem is a recurring question in First Amendment law. The law cannot restrict all harmful, valueless speech and at the same time protect all valuable speech.” Considering that the Court recently ruled that mandating library internet filters was acceptable, even if the filters block some legitimate sites, the DOJ feels that now the court may be willing to listen.
What price are you willing to pay? That is the mantra we are confronted with daily. What price will we pay for security? What price for privacy? What price for lower prices? Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology offers major advantages for consumers and retailers while raising serious privacy concerns. RFID chips can be implanted in goods and monitors their movement throughout the supply chain; From warehouse to stock room, from stock room to shelf, from shelf to the consumer’s basket, and theoretically can continue to transmit their whereabouts as the consumer moves throughout their lives.

Proponents hail the technology as the next-generation bar code, allowing merchants and manufacturers to operate more efficiently and cut down on theft.

Privacy activists worry, however, that the unchecked use of RFID could end up trampling consumer privacy by allowing retailers to gather unprecedented amounts of information about activity in their stores and link it to customer information databases. They also worry about the possibility that companies and would-be thieves might be able to track people's personal belongings, embedded with tiny RFID microchips, after they are purchased.

"If you are walking around emanating an electric cloud of these devices wherever you go, you have no more privacy," said Katherine Albrecht, the head of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (Caspian), a fierce critic of RFID technology.

"Every door way you walk through could be scanning you," she added.


Sen. Debra Bowen of California is holding hearings on August 18th to investigate the larger implications of RFID. Wal-Mart has cancelled a test run in their Boston store while the issue is being discussed. However overseas RFID is being used in a trial at the UK supermarket chain Tesco. The chips have been implanted in Gillette Mach-3 razors. When a consumer picks up a razor off the shelf a closed circuit camera takes their photograph, monitors their movements throughout the store, and then compares it with another CCTV photo taken at check out. Caspian is urging a worldwide boycott against Gillette. Gillette says that the “spy chips” aren’t intended to infringe on shoppers privacy, but rather, “improve the efficiency of its supply chain.”

The potential benefits from RFID are fascinating and important. Advocates claim that in addition to increasing efficiencies, and hence lowering prices, RFID may protect our food sources from terrorist attacks, enable us to keep better tabs on our dry cleaning, create “personalized ads” for consumers as they walk through stores (and perhaps even while at home), and faster check-outs. Once again the question is “What price are you willing to pay?"

8/13/2003

Now that we are finding out that O'Reiley actively lobbied Fox News to sue Franken, it will be interesting to hear Bill's take on our "overly litigious culture"....

8/12/2003

At last a toilet tech. in America is about to step forward.
Good news? Bad news? At least we caught another terror-monger.

8/11/2003

Marriage is a hot topic these days. “Against Love: A Polemic” is a new missive on the topic that takes an interesting tact. A review from the New Yorker offers a surprising endorsement.

Much of the book consists of an argument against companionate coupledom, the condition to which—or so popular culture, legal systems, and religious institutions insist—we all aspire. “Domestic coupledom [is] modern love’s mandatory barracks,” Kipnis says.

But, she argues, perhaps there is another, better way. A path that acknowledges (and embraces) the lust that beats in us, even when the lust for those other than our “soul mates for life”. Currently the institution of Domestic coupledom is an exercise in cynical self-delusion. Not only is matrimony a 50-50 crap-shot (at least in America) it’s a quaint tradition that may actually be used as a form of control.

The structure of contemporary marriage, with its expectations of lifetime fidelity, belongs to the apparatus of state control. A population that willingly polices itself through the interdictions of married life, Kipnis argues, has given up any revolutionary strivings, and will submit to other repressive social orders—capitalism, say—without protest.

So while politicians moralize about the sanctity of marriage, and the rest of us wrestle with the every changing notions of who we are in relationship to those closest to us, perhaps we can take this moment in history to reassess marriage for the better.

Should marriage remain a contractual agreement monopolized by the government? Perhaps we should offer temporary marriages, akin to auto-leases (one of the modifications I personally advocate). For those who have successful marriages what are the keys? Does it “take work”? And if so, to quote Kipnis, “When did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love?”
“I’m so glad that nigger-loving Commie fag Bill Clinton lost” That’s what someone shouted over the phone to Hillary Clinton long after midnight after her husband lost his 1974 campaign for Congress in Arkansas. She wonders, “What could inspire such bile?”

And so does Todd Gitlin in an article that once again plumbs America’s fascination with William Jefferson Clinton. Looking at Hillary’s recent largely self-penned bio, and Sidney Blumenthal’s gloves-off look back, he examines why the “vast right wing conspiracy” was so rapidly deployed and passionately effective against the man and his presidency.

In late May 1993, a calendar called “365 Reasons to Hate Bill Clinton” was already on sale in right-wing bookshops. Clinton had moved into the White House a bare four months before. Who had already divined 365 reasons to hate him, and why?
The claim that the scandals caused the hatred runs afoul of the fact that the hatred preceded most of the scandals. True, early in the 1992 campaign, scandal sheets funded by Clinton-hating fat cats had wound up the volume on charges that Clinton was not only the longtime lover of the lounge singer Gennifer Flowers but a drug-smuggler, a serial adulterer, a rapist, and the father of a black baby.
More consequentially, the New York Times had jumped in with a front-page story…


While he writes Hillary Clinton comes across as shocked as dismayed, Blumenthal goes after the big game. Why was The Right able to embark on a program to “repeal the 1960’s” without further impunity by the powers that be? “A network of foundations, media, lawyers, politicians and other operatives hijacked first the Republican Party and then the Republic,” Gitlan paraphrases. Compare Clinton’s treatment to Bush’s and one could be forgiven for drawing even starker conclusions.

No Gotcha team hammers Bush day after day on talk radio or cable news about his many years as a drunk, or the missing year during his draft-evading service in the Texas Air National Guard, or the mysterious windfall oil profits that came his way when other investors in his company were losing their shirts. Reporters have only recently begun to mar his triumphalist excuses for press conferences by asking pesky questions about Saddam Hussein’s phantom nuclear deal with Niger, or his putative al-Qaida connections, or other untruths this administration has found useful. The Niger-uranium deception finally undermined Bush’s amazing reputation for plain speaking, but on most issues he still escapes sustained scrutiny.

Clearly we’ve done, “Bush (or Clinton) is Good (or Bad)” stories before. Likewise we’ve done, “Is the media a right-wing or leftish-tool”? But I’m curious as to how people’s perceptions of either President has changed and why. Clearly they are different people in different times, but do you perceive a reactionary bias on the part of the public and/or the media? As we’ve gained the luxury of time, has our assessment of Clinton changed?

8/10/2003

Sentimental kitsch. That’s not how one typically hears abstract impressionistic art described, but that’s the implication in Bram Dijkstra’s provocative new coffee table art book American Expressionism. The San Francisco Chronicle’s review gives snippets of the snappish prose that accompanies the expansive artwork inside. Dijkstra retconned 20th centaury art history and comes to the somewhat surprising conclusion that abstract expressionism was (and is) the equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting on Christmas Eve. Trite, overrated, and ultimately intended to keep people from grappling with the issues that truly great art is inclined to suggest.

To oversimplify his delicious thesis -- something Dijkstra himself is guilty of from time to time -- reactionary corporate patronage allegedly killed off the thriving, progressive spirit that FDR's Works Progress Administration had nurtured in American art, replacing it with Abstract Expressionism, whose nonrepresentational canvases were less likely to frighten the stockholders. According to Dijkstra, composition without representation is tyranny, and we've been living under that tyranny ever since Henry Luce's Life magazine pretended to ask a question it had already answered affirmatively to its own satisfaction: "Is [Jackson Pollock] the Greatest Living American Artist?"

While the ruling class’ patronage of, and often power over, art is as old as the hills Dijkstra’s "American Expressionism" reacquaints us with the idea in some unexpected places.

Expressionism, writes Bram Dijkstra, "seeks to make us confront the harsher realities of existence. It calls upon us to acknowledge the raw, emotional core of experience and demand that we confront the inner conflicts that make us human." It would be unfortunate if we turned our back on transformational art for a manufactured fad.
Barcelona Vs. Paris: Smack Down in the Kitchen!!

France has taken some hard knocks in the US press lately. But few slams may sting as long and as bad as the most recent NY Times cover piece on the state of European cooking. France, once the vanguard of nouvelle cuisine, no longer is creating the freshest ideas, innovative chefs, and taste sensations that inspire restaurateurs and foodies around the globe. That honor now belongs to Spain.

The two epicenters of the Spanish groundswell are both in the northern part of the country -- Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, and the Basque country around San Sebasti?n. And while there are many exciting chefs throughout Spain, the name on everyone's lips, the man who is redefining haute cuisine into alta cocina, is a prodigiously talented, self-taught Catalan. Like Elvis or Miles, he is usually known by his first name alone: Ferran.

Ferran AdriĆ  is perhaps the most notable, but he’s certainly not alone in the “new nouvelle cuisine” movement centered in Spain and reverberating around the globe. As with all truly great cultural phenomenon, the reach and roots of nueva cocina in Spain are wide and deep. 1976 is considered the beginning of this revolution. A nation unshackled by the death of Generalissimo Franco, with a close proximity to both the sea and France, a fervent embrace of outsiders, low-lifes, new ideas and bravado, has created a cooking culture that is electrifying and at times awe-inspiring.

France meanwhile has run out of steam. What has happened in Paris is troubling and has left some Francophiles a bit non-plussed. The noticeable lack of energy most likely stems from a combination of resting on past laurels, economic considerations trumping a commitment to innovation, and just plain bad habits. Thomas Keller, owner of what is generally regarded to be the best restaurant in America, sadly notes, ''the French work ethic has deteriorated over the last few years'' and that compared with Spain, ''you have in France a much more traditional, fundamental-based cooking.'' Or as David Bouley describes, “''The Spanish don't have this rigor where they have to cook a certain way. They seem to be totally free. Something happened in France -- they ran out of gas. I don't hear about youthful passion as I used to in those kitchens.”

While Paris is left wondering how and why it lost it’s culinary verve the rest of us can rejoice at the prospect of a new food revolution.

8/09/2003

The NY Times offers an interesting profile of economist Steven Levitt. He wants answers to questions not typically asked by economists.

For instance: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What really caused crime rates to plunge during the past decade? Do real-estate agents have their clients' best interests at heart? Why do black parents give their children names that may hurt their career prospects? Do schoolteachers cheat to meet high-stakes testing standards? Is sumo wrestling corrupt?

He’s been called “The most brilliant young economist in America”. He is, at 36, a full professor in the University of Chicago's economics department, the American Economic Association recently awarded him its John Bates Clark Medal (given to the country’s best economist under 40), edits The Journal of Political Economy, and is a lightening-rod of controversy. His most widely noted piece ''The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime'' was one of those rare, unifying works that was able to rally conservatives and liberals together (albeit to demonize him and his work).

(H)is paper linking a rise in abortion to a drop in crime has made more noise than the rest combined. Levitt and his co-author, John Donohue of Stanford Law School, argued that as much as 50 percent of the huge drop in crime since the early 1990's can be traced to Roe v. Wade. Their thinking goes like this: the women most likely to seek an abortion -- poor, single, black or teenage mothers -- were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. But since those children weren't born, crime began to decrease during the years they would have entered their criminal prime. In conversation, Levitt reduces the theory to a tidy syllogism: ''Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime.''

Whether it’s discussing poor, black, mothers and their impact on crime rates, or the relative dangers of backyard swimming pools to guns, he’s not afraid to look at old problems in new ways. Voltaire said, “Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” It’s clear that Steven Levitt is asking some very intriguing questions. Time will tell what answers we ultimately come up with in response.

8/08/2003

The DOJ must be flush with resources. They are reninvigorating their war on Porn.
The folks at Plastic having a good go on my PeterPandemonium sub.

8/06/2003

Mike Hawash pleads guilty will get a minimum of seven and up to ten years.
Arnold's in! Pundits atwiter.
Tacos to Trannies at last Craigslist comes to the big screen.
The farther behind I leave the past, the closer I am to forging my own character.
-Isabelle Eberhardt

Frank Furedi writes in Spiked-online that a juvenillation of culture is occurring at an alarming rate. People, in a variety of ways, are holding on to their pasts, (or more likely an idealized version of it) and putting off growing up. The signs are everywhere: living with one’s parents past 30, college kids getting together and watching children’s TV shows, grown men putting off getting married and spending endless hours playing PS2’s, the children’s-book-as-adult-fad trend. As the ad folk try to sell things to actual youngsters to rush them into adulthood they are selling things to “grown-ups” in the hopes of pushing them ever backwards to their youth.

Two US advertisers, Becky Ebenkamp and Jeff Odiorne, have coined the term Peterpandemonium to describe this trend. 'People in their twenties and thirties are clamouring for comfort in purchases and products, and sensory experiences that remind them of a happier, more innocent time - childhood' they observe.

The present-day obsession with childish things may seem like a trivial detail - but the all-pervasive nostalgia for childhood among young adults is symptomatic of a profound insecurity towards the future.

One strategy for dealing with the risks to one's emotions is to distance the self from the potential source of disappointment.


Besides a general fear and dread towards the future, what specifically is causing this growing phenomenon? Earlier generations faced uncertainty with trepidation yet managed to put away their toys, get jobs, and raise families. Is Madison Ave. engaged in unseemly demand creation that fosters this environment or are they simply responding to our desires and doubts? Does this endless cycling of our past(s) serve any larger purpose? Why won’t we grow up?
Edward Said with some stern words.
Reason (yes Reason!) advocates a nationalized healthcare system.
Taranto on blogging politicians. "Blogging, in short, thrives on sarcasm. Politics doesn't. "

8/05/2003

Willie Brown is one of the shrewdest politicians currently plying the trade. His announcement that he'll recall the recall winner reflects this on a number of levels.

8/01/2003

Perhaps Marx was right, socialism is back!
What was blacked out in the 9/11 report? According to TNR, it doesn't look good for the Saudi's.

7/31/2003

The War on Terror's encroachment on liberty continues.
Dahlia Lithwick (who has never written a bad article it seems) writes about America's rape law morass and Kobe.