Friday, December 31, 2004

Dark Side of the Rose Parade V

UPDATE: 9:30 PM Pasadena Standard Time


Food, fires, fun. Posted by Hello

Well, this "Dark Side" report is finally "dark." As I write I can hear golden oldies tunes from the 80s being blared from some outside speaker, voices, and smell many fires and grills running at full blast. There are more food stalls this year than I remember selling hot dogs, hamburgers, tacos, fruit drinks and kettle corn. As a kid, it was lunch trucks, colloquially known as "roach coaches," that made for street food fun. Very few of those around in 2004.


More of the same. Posted by Hello

Since the Pasadena PD doesn't have enough officers for the crowds, most of Los Angeles County has been called in to help, both police and sheriffs. About an hour ago I saw four sheriff patrol cars take a break in the alley behind my duplex. Too bad they didn't catch the fool driving in reverse up my block at 30 mph. That weirdness, however, is par for the course on Colorado Blvd. tonight.


A good night's sleep. Posted by Hello

Currently, it's 51 degrees F (10 C) and will go down to around 43 F (6 C), so everyone is bundled up. With a couple of hours to go before midnight the sidewalks are crowded, the streets are packed with traffic, and everyone will try to stay awake for at least a couple more hours until the "big noise" of 2005. As for me, I'm signing off for the rest of tonight, and will head off to my Dad's in the morning to watch the parade in person and take lots of photos to post for you all tomorrow afternoon.

Happy New Year to all of you who read this little blog. May we all be saved from the wrath of nature, and the wrath of the American Executive Branch in the coming twelve months.

Dark Side of the Rose Parade IV


Municipal hospitality only goes so far.... Posted by Hello

UPDATE: 3:45 PM Pasadena Standard Time

A stroll down the block, and out onto Colorado Blvd. turns out to be full of obstacles, kids on bicycles attempting to amputate toes on the sidewalk, people filling air matresses, playing cards, lighting fires, and generally milling around, waiting for the mayhem at midnight, then catch a bit of sleep before watching the parade at around 9:00 AM at this midpoint in the route.

As I write this quick observation I hear car alarms going off, lots of traffic, and desperate horns
attempting to move both people and RVs, which seem to have taken over all major auto and pedestrian traffic paths.

At least the sun is coming out behind the clouds, but the ground is still very wet.



No space left untouched. Posted by Hello

Red Lines, Blue Lines


Red line in the middle of the road. Posted by Hello

Long before America was divided into blue states and red states, Pasadena's Orange Grove Ave., and Colorado and Sierra Madre Blvds. were painted with our locally-famous colored lines (which can wreak havoc on out-of-town drivers not used to these curious street markings).

Now, the blue lines are meant to be the "out of bound" zone for parade watchers, and at points (such as near the terminus on Sierra Madre below) the marching bands can walk right up to boundary, literally inches away from spectators.

The red line, right smack down the middle of the street, is more interesting. In the past, when floats became so large that drivers had difficulty steering away from innocent pedestrians, the red line allowed them to center their floats in the street. Over time, they were aided with on-board cameras and viewers, but the lines still remain.

By the way, enjoy these shots of the mountains. I expect tomorrow to be cloudy and gray.



Pasadena's "Blue Line" Posted by Hello

Dark Side of the Rose Parade III


The crowding begins. Posted by Hello

UPDATE: 12:10 PM Pasadena Standard Time

It rained heavily throughout the night an up to about 11:00 AM this morning. Rain is expected to diminish tonight, with chances of rain during the parade tomorrow about 20%. Like most native Pasadenans, I chose to do a round of shopping early in the morning, even with the rain. In Old Town, most of the businesses with large glass display windows put up plywood, making the commercial district look like it was expecting a hurricane, or a riot, rather than a crowd of spectators.

At noon today campers were legally allowed to put up chairs, blankets, tarps and other necessities in order to mark out a space for the parade. It seemed as soon as the rain ceased they came out of the woodwork, like a bad lot of termites. The picture above is one small example of the increasing crush of people that will build today and get worse in the morning.

More updates to follow.

The Relativity of US Aid

If you believe in The Golden Rule and helping your fellow human beings, then don't read the post below. But, if you do, then Dave Lindorff has put the meager $35m in US Aid into clear perspective:

Cost of one F-22 Raptor tactical fighter jet -- $225 million

Cost of the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq--$228 million/day

Amount spent by Kerry and Bush campaigns -- $400 million

U.S. aid to Yushenko camp in recent Ukrainian conflict -- $30+ million

Estimated cost of Bush's Second Inauguration and Ball -- $ 40+ million

Amount of U.S. tax cuts under Bush -- $1 trillion

Cost of the U.S. Iraq War in 2004 -- $147 billion

U.S. reconstruction aid budgeted for Iraq (though never spent!) -- $18 billion

Amount the U.S. initially in aid to Indian Ocean tsunami victims -- $ 10 million

Amount U.S. offered in tsunami aid after being chastised by UN official -- $35 million

Right Wing Bites

Every once and a while the RW nuts open their mouths and air the "real" feelings they harbor towards their fellow human beings. The Ayn Rand Institute posted this commentary yesterday on international relief efforts for the tsunami victims. It is pure Dickensian, but I just can't seem to choose which various nefarious character is the best fit:


As the death toll mounts in the areas hit by Sunday's tsunami in southern Asia, private organizations and individuals are scrambling to send out money and goods to help the victims. Such help may be entirely proper, especially considering that most of those affected by this tragedy are suffering through no fault of their own.

The United States government, however, should not give any money to help the tsunami victims. Why? Because the money is not the government's to give.

Every cent the government spends comes from taxation. Every dollar the government hands out as foreign aid has to be extorted from an American taxpayer first. Year after year, for decades, the government has forced American taxpayers to provide foreign aid to every type of natural or man-made disaster on the face of the earth: from the Marshall Plan to reconstruct a war-ravaged Europe to the $15 billion recently promised to fight AIDS in Africa to the countless amounts spent to help the victims of earthquakes, fires and floods--from South America to Asia. Even the enemies of the United States were given money extorted from American taxpayers: from the billions given away by Clinton to help the starving North Koreans to the billions given away by Bush to help the blood-thirsty Palestinians under Arafat's murderous regime.

The question no one asks about our politicians' "generosity" towards the world's needy is: By what right? By what right do they take our hard-earned money and give it away?

The reason politicians can get away with doling out money that they have no right to and that does not belong to them is that they have the morality of altruism on their side. According to altruism--the morality that most Americans accept and that politicians exploit for all it's worth--those who have more have the moral obligation to help those who have less. This is why Americans--the wealthiest people on earth--are expected to sacrifice (voluntarily or by force) the wealth they have earned to provide for the needs of those who did not earn it. It is Americans' acceptance of altruism that renders them morally impotent to protest against the confiscation and distribution of their wealth. It is past time to question--and to reject--such a vicious morality that demands that we sacrifice our values instead of holding on to them.

Next time a politician gives away money taken from you to show what a good, compassionate altruist he is, ask yourself: By what right?

Tsunami Coverage - Blogs

Today's Guardian has a roundup of blog coverage of the Indian Ocean tsunami, complete with excerpts.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Dark Side of the Rose Parade II

A continuing update on the T of R festivities from a native's point-of-view.


20 Years of the Rose on the Norton Simon Museum Posted by Hello

Pasadena is in a buzz today. Not only are volunteers scrambling to paste flower petals and seeds on floats, but the camera crews descended upon the city today. This morning, while there was still sunlight, I strolled over to the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado, where most people will watch the parade via television. The property is owned by the Elks and at this time of the year becomes a jungle-gym of scaffolding. Pedestrians, like myself, have to negotiate dark passages underneath, hoping that the construction crews remembered to tighten the nuts and bolts.


The other side of the camera. Posted by Hello

Below is a nice view of the south side of Colorado Blvd. where the VIPs and media congregate. You won't see this view come Saturday morning.



Construction still continues. Posted by Hello

Unfortunately, the scaffolding obscures a wonderful flagpole on the north side of Colorado at Orange Grove dedicated to the fallen of WWI. Since the television cameras will ignore it, and most people will walk by without taking a closer look, please enjoy the detail.


Just outside the Norton Simon. Posted by Hello

American Voters (cont.)

The rains have gone away for the day in Pasadena (more to come on the eve of the parade, though), so I spent the morning reading the New York Review of Books, which includes an eye-opening piece by Mark Danner on the election, or more frankly, the slim majority of American voters favoring the incumbent. He drops this nice observation on the careful reader:

Many of the Bush supporters I spoke to were educated, well-informed people. They watched the news and took pleasure in debating politics. And yet they clung to views about important matters of fact that were demonstrably wrong. Steven Kull, the public opinion expert at the University of Maryland who authored the study from which these numbers are drawn, acknowledges that although one reason they "cling so tightly to beliefs that have been so visibly refuted...is that they continue to hear the Bush administration confirming these beliefs," the prevalence, and persistence, of these misperceptions is "probably not due to a simple failure to pay attention to the news." Rather, Kull writes, "Bush supporters cling to these beliefs because they are necessary for their support for the decision to go to war with Iraq":
Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58 percent of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61 percent assume that in this case the president would not have. To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions is difficult to bear, especially in light of the continuing costs in terms of lives and money. Apparently, to avoid this cognitive dissonance, Bush supporters suppress awareness of unsettling information.[7]

This analysis suggests the difficulties Kerry faced in pressing home his highly "fact-dependent" argument that the Iraq war was separate from the war on terror and thus a mistaken distraction from it. Not only did accepting the point require a good deal of sophistication and knowledge, not only did it seem to contradict the evidence on Americans' television screens each night, which often showed vivid depictions of terrorism in Iraq; it also seemed to imply to some voters that they should take what must have seemed an unpatriotic position. For if they accepted the false pretenses on which the war had been based, how could they go on supporting it, as Kerry, somewhat illogically and even dishonestly, seemed to be asking them to do?

Banished Words 2004

Admit it, Americans like lists, including the "Best of" lists popular at this time of the year. On the other hand, some of us prefer the "Worst of" lists that pop up like bad mushrooms around New Year's. In keeping with that interest, Lake Superior State U. has released it's annual list of Banished Words for 2004. I heard it discussed this morning on local public radio outlet KPCC. Visit the site, and you can nominate your own choice(s) for 2005:

METROSEXUAL
- An urban male who pays too much attention to his appearance. Bob Forrest of Tempe, Arizona, says it "sounds like someone who only has sex downtown or on the subway." Fred Bernardin of Arlington, Massachusetts, asks, "Aren't there enough words to describe men who spend too much time in front of the mirror?"

X - Last year it was 'extreme.' This year, 'X' follows in its footsteps. "Marketers have latched onto this letter to grab the 'Generation-X demographic. X-files, Xtreme, Windows XP and X-Box are all part of this PR-powered phenomenon," said John Casnig of Kingston, Ontario.

PUNKED - As in bamboozled, duped, flimflammed, hornswoggled. Nominated by the Frank and Johnnie Show, WGN, Chicago. An old noun given new life as a verb because of the television show. Kill it before it grows.

PLACE STAMP HERE - Dennis K. McDermott of Oneida, New York, says, "It appears on 99% of the return envelopes provided by creditors with monthly billings. It's especially annoying when enclosed in a rectangle drawn in the upper right corner. (What if you miss?) And then…they inform you that 'The Post Office will not deliver without postage.' Can we legitimately claim to be a superpower if we need to be reminded to put a stamp on an envelope?"

Eric Hooper of South Lyon, Michigan, agrees: "If I'm too stupid to figure out where to put the stamp, then paying the phone bill is probably the least of my worries."

COMPANION ANIMALS - "They're called PETS." Nick Leach, Bloomington, Indiana.

BLING or BLING-BLING or any of its variations - "Hate, hate. Grate, grate," says Steven Phipps of Pueblo, Colorado. Received many nominations from across the United States. "This once street slang for items of luxury has now become so overused and abused that (everyone) has incorporated it into their vocabularies. Yes, your mom might say it. Nothing could kill the mystique of a word faster." Todd Facklas, Chicago.

LOL and other abbreviated 'e-mail speak,' including the symbol '@' when used in advertising and elsewhere - Alex G. of Warsaw, Poland, says, "It's everywhere on the net! OMG! u r chattin to sum1 then…lol this and lol that….Get it away!" "I wonder if anyone really laughs out loud when they use this short-hand Instant Messenger slang?" Rachel Rose, Pickford, Michigan.

EMBEDDED JOURNALIST - Nominations for this Iraq War II phrase came from throughout the U.S., Canada and overseas. "I'm a journalist and until the war started, I'd never heard this term. In the interest of objectivity, journalists probably shouldn't be embedded with any organization they regularly cover." Ken Marten, Hamtramck, Michigan.

"It seems to be a hip way of saying, 'at the scene,'" said Tim Bednall, Tokyo.

"The next time I hear it used by the media, I'm going to embed my foot in the TV!" Ellen Brown, San Diego.

SMOKING GUN - Another one that came to us from Iraq, but is widely used elsewhere. "Let's give the 21-gun salute to this overused analogy," says Andrew Pagano, Montgomery Village, Maryland.

"Remember the television show 'Gunsmoke'? Now THERE were smoking guns!" Scot Moss, Madison, Wisconsin. "What's wrong with 'hard evidence'?" Kevin O'Sheehan, Bangkok, Thailand.

SHOCK AND AWE - Still another from Iraq. "I'm just waiting on 'Shock and Awe Laundry Soap' or maybe 'Shock and Awe Pool Cleaner,'" says Joe Reynolds of Conroe, Texas.

CAPTURED ALIVE - "The news keeps stating that Saddam Hussein was 'captured alive.' Well, what other way are you going to be captured? Maybe 'found dead' or 'discovered dead' never 'captured dead.'" Bill Lodholz, Davis, California.

SHOTS RANG OUT - "I'm tired of hearing this phrase on the news. Shots don't 'ring' unless you are standing too close to the muzzle, and in that case you don't need the reporter telling you about it." Michael Kinney, Rockville, Maryland.

RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES - Gerald Anderson of Winter Haven, Florida, says, "TV shows are often described as being 'ripped from the headlines.' Kicking and screaming, no doubt."

SWEAT LIKE A PIG - Tim Croce of Torrington, Connecticut says "Pigs do not have sweat glands; that is why they roll in mud to cool themselves." Nevertheless, Tim said he was sweating like a pig to get this nomination to us.

IN HARM'S WAY - "Who is Harm, and why would you want to get in his way?" Thomas Watts, Sumter, South Carolina.

HAND-CRAFTED LATTE: We're not sure where Orin Hargraves of Westminster, Maryland discovered this beauty, but we agreed with his assertion that "This compound is an insult to generations of skilled craftspeople who have mustered the effort and discipline to create something beautiful by hand. To apply 'hand-crafted' to the routine tasks of the modern-day equivalents of soda jerks cheapens the whole concept of handicraft."

SANITARY LANDFILL - "Ever been to one?" asks Stan Slade of Long Beach, Mississippi. "Not the cleanest place in the world. What happened to the county or city dump?"

During the height of the war last spring, Tyler King of Toronto, Ontario, told us he'd like to see all words rhyming with Iraq banished, and he sent this lovely poem:

"Lately, every news report has tried to create a rhyme about Iraq. Frankly, I'm sick of hearing about the 'Attack on Iraq'! There is no turning back from an attack on Iraq to (get) that quack who likes to yak with his terrorist pack about having the knack to bring weapon inspectors back."

Finally, the committee admits that it is not infallible. On the 2003 list we included 'frozen tundra' as being redundant and heard back from many people who pointed out that tundra does not mean 'frozen land.' Green Bay Packers fans were especially adamant, even though sportscasters frequently use the phrase to describe their home turf. We hereby reinstate 'frozen tundra.'

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dark Side of the Rose Parade I


"There are fields, Neo, endless fields." Posted by Hello

Come this Saturday almost 350 million viewers in more than 80 countries will curl up on the couch and watch the 116th Annual Tourament of Roses Parade, aka "The Rose Parade." For those of us born and raised "in town" it is just part of the holiday season, along with fruit cakes and other forms of questionable holiday festivities. In the coming days, I invite you to take a look at some of what really happens leading up to and during the Rose Parade in the "Dark Side of the Rose Parade" series.

Today I begin with our own "Welcome Wagon" complete with barricades, No Parking signs, random searchers of autos, and bleachers, bleachers, everywhere. The route is 5.5 miles long with a hill just past the TV cameras on top of the Elks Lodge and a freeway overpass to duck underneath, before ending in a residential area - the last 1/2 mile. The mix of topography, potential pitfalls, and businesses makes it a much more varied and *interesting* experience than the cameras can capture. For the next 4-6 days (depending where you live), it seems the whole of the LA basin has chosen to decamp on your doorstep.


Welcome to Pasadena - Assume the Position. Posted by Hello

More End of Year Lists

LABlogs gives a list of the "most watched" during the year, but claims it is not intended to be a "best of" list (and rats....we didn't make it this year):

eWorld
Written by Eric Richardson, a USC student and Downtown resident, Eric frequently writes detailed accounts of the area. Eric also keeps up on city council actions and also provides some info on local historical architecture.

beFrank
The inside story from behind the story. A camera man from CBS (I believe? and channel 9), who gives narratvie and pictoral accounts of his adventures chasing local news. Great writing and a look into a world few get to see.

LAPD Wife
Another writer from a perspective few see, LAPD Wife gives regular acounts about what it is like to be the woman behind the man behind the badge. She does a great job of giving an honest account of the ups and downs of the family of a man serving the community. The LAPD gets a tough rap in this city, it's good to remember that cops are people too and, like you, there is more to them than stereotypes.

anti
Certainly not suitable for everyone's taste, but an unashamed honest account of one man's life in the south bay. Tales of partying, hiring sign holders, drinking, and the turmoil of love and family relationships. Anti's writing style is hard to classify, but has a natural voice reminds me of my book of Hunter Thompson letters.

6-4-2
Covering the Angels and Dodgers with more dedication that Plaske, the amount of effort that goes into this site is impressive. I'm not a huge baseball fan, but when I want local coverage, skip the Times and head here.

the skunks of los feliz
One of the most local blogs out there, nearly every post revolves around local events, history and landmarks. A frequent subject of Los Angeles digests, if you live in the Los Feliz area, this is a bookmark you should have.

"wildbell" Will Campbell
Another blog that consists almost completely of local based content. Will works at the LA Zoo and provides some good insight into internal goings on. Also gives updates on bike rides and hikes around town. Will is also the most consistent contributor to LA Insight, and always gives some very useful tips!

LA Voice
LA Voice went through a transformation this year and has really found its groove. The posts are 100% local and each one provides details above the average blog structure. Although it is set up as a group blog, Mack Reed seems to have taken the reigns and provided regular informative content.

l'atmoshpere
Another blog that I have drawn heavily on for LA Digest posts, l'atmoshpere is an unapologetic LA lover and frequently posts about what is good in this town. As far as I know, the blog started this year and has been going strong with local content.

joyrides without maps
Although the site is called "joyrides", Joseph has been walking this year and detailing his urban hikes in his blog. Drawing on his journalist background, we get a vivid picture of local Mexican (Oxacan) restaurants and watering holes as well.

Heathervescent
Heather moved to LA this year from the Bay Area and has chronicled here adoption of LA. She drives (and crashes) in the hills, motorcycles through the canyons and unashamedly declares that LA isn't as bad as everyone north of Vetura would have you believe. I always enjoy reading about people who transplant here and are suprised at how much they enjoy living in LA (like me).

Eating LA
Although Eating LA doesn't post as often as I would like to see, each post is a good look at some of the places to feed your belly and tantalize your palate. I look forward to more content next year.

Confessions of a Novice Surfer
Another new blog this year, and one that was added to this site within the last couple of months. It is what it says it is, a diary of a novice surfer, detailing his quest for waves and the time to ride them.

Negro Please
A prolific writer, covering local clubs, music and goings on. He works for a major entertainment network and gives a taste of what that is like. For those who covet "the scene" this is a good place to start.

Franklin Avenue
Mike and Maria eat, explore the city, buy a house, attend entertainment events (Mike's job requires it) and they write all about it on their blog. Mike does most of the detailing, but their adventures are usually team based!

Can You Hear Me Now?

While on the topic of dubious innovations, the Observer has an interesting article looking back at 20 years of the cell phone (the "mobile" in Brit-speak):

In two decades, the mobile phone has snaked its way into almost every aspect of modern culture. Richard Benson, former editor of the Face magazine who now works as a consumer cultural trend forecaster for mobile phone firms Motorola and MM02, says: 'Like television and the motor car before it, the mobile has created new forms of behaviour, communication and thinking. We get obsessed by being "in touch"; we get stressed by being rung all the time; we flirt more and in new ways; we have created new forms of language; we feel more exposed being alone in public. The mobile came along at a time in our history when we were beginning to move around more and have less rigid, predictable lifestyles and it has intensified those changes, shrinking space and making our relationships more fluid. And, of course, mobiles have got us mugged and given us health scares, all of which we have been happy to pay handsomely for.'

What cell phones did, along with the PC, was to rearrange the manner in which we access information, and therefore can be seen as part of a suite of information technologies including broadcast media which blurred the categories we used previously to discern "appropriate" from "inappropriate" timing and use of these technologies. For instance, in the food shopping rush before Xmas I witnessed a hapless "domestic male" at Trader Joe's calling "darling" on the phone with questions about what groceries to buy. Before, she (he?) would have accompanied him, or, more likely, written a detailed note. I've also seen undergraduates walk into the men's room and continue their phone conversation with all sorts of background sounds that, for my generation, just shouldn't be part of a phone call.

Food Firsts to Food Worsts

The LAT gives a big "thumbs down" to the worst foods of 2004:

JalapeƱo peanut butter in a tube: Who could resist? PB n' Go portable peanut butter comes in two other disgusting flavors, Cinnamon Surprise and Carmel-Caramel crunch. This must make Mr. Peanut sad.

Blue 'Jell-O' shots: "Gather a group of fun, adventurous adults," says the bottle, "place them in a happening social scene" and feed them gelatinous alcohol. Wet Willy's Edible Drink is a batch of 24-proof, single-serving "adult gelatin cocktails" that you chill to turn into bright-yellow or screaming-blue wiggly booze cubes. Sure to be a hit at your next tailgate party or hazing ritual.

The un-gin: If you like gin but hate juniper, drink vodka. Or pick up a bottle of Damrak gin. Its makers have tweaked the recipe, amplifying the flavors of lemon, orange and coriander and cutting back the juniper, the thing that makes gin gin. No surprise that they're selling it as "the new vodka."

Pet food that you'll love to eat too: Liv-a-Littles dog treats are made with ingredients approved for human consumption, says the news release, as "a low-carb snack that you and your pup can chew on." At last, dog breath can be yours. And only $8.99 for 3 ounces.

Hummus also-ran: At the Kosherfest trade show in October, Mediterranean food-maker Sabra hired a professional sand sculptor to mold busts of Sen. John Kerry and President Bush entirely out of hummus. OK, but can you make Rumsfeld out of baba ghanouj?

Strawberry daiquiri-to-go: Lt. Blender's Strawberry Daiquiri in a Bag directs you to pour in booze to the line indicated, shake to mix it up with the powdered fruity stuff in there, add water, freeze and squeeze yourself some alcoholic slush. It's like Good Seasons salad dressing mix for the frozen-margarita set, packaged up in a garish plastic bota bag.

Designer ice: Now we know why Tom Ford left Gucci, the Italian fashion house he once helped resurrect from death-by-logo-overexposure: Gucci ice cube trays. The $60 set of two rubber trays pops out G-logo ice — the perfect thing to chill down the un-gin.

Herb paste in a tube: Tired of that fresh taste of just-snipped herbs? Try Gourmet Garden lemon grass herb blend in a tube. Augmented with sunflower oil, dextrose, whey, sodium lactate, glycerin, fructose, lactose, salt, sodium ascorbate, citric acid and xanthan gum, it nevertheless "must be kept refrigerated," according to the label.

Slow Cooker Helper pot roast flavor: Just "add beef roast." "Real vegetables included." Need we say more?

Words of Memory

More on the passing of Susan Sontag:

Christopher Hitchens has an obit in today's Slate.
The Guardian also provides a stock, detailed summary.
Last night's News Hour provides an audio of their 2001 interview with Sontag.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Beware the Development Econs

Two recent articles from the NYT nicely summarize the problem economic anthropologists, and others working in international development, have with World Bank/IMF models for economic success. The first, from Sunday's front page, points to the curious case of Argentina's "mysterious" recovery from economic collapse in 2001:

BUENOS AIRES, Dec. 23 - When the Argentine economy collapsed in December 2001, doomsday predictions abounded. Unless it adopted orthodox economic policies and quickly cut a deal with its foreign creditors, hyperinflation would surely follow, the peso would become worthless, investment and foreign reserves would vanish and any prospect of growth would be strangled.

But three years after Argentina declared a record debt default of more than $100 billion, the largest in history, the apocalypse has not arrived. Instead, the economy has grown by 8 percent for two consecutive years, exports have zoomed, the currency is stable, investors are gradually returning and unemployment has eased from record highs - all without a debt settlement or the standard measures required by the International Monetary Fund for its approval.

Argentina's recovery has been undeniable, and it has been achieved at least in part by ignoring and even defying economic and political orthodoxy. Rather than moving to immediately satisfy bondholders, private banks and the I.M.F., as other developing countries have done in less severe crises, the Peronist-led government chose to stimulate internal consumption first and told creditors to get in line with everyone else.

"This is a remarkable historical event, one that challenges 25 years of failed policies," said Mark Weisbrot, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal research group in Washington. "While other countries are just limping along, Argentina is experiencing very healthy growth with no sign that it is unsustainable, and they've done it without having to make any concessions to get foreign capital inflows."

The other, from today's paper, reports that large international firms are changing the face of small-scale agriculture in Guatemala, with dire consequences if farmers cannot support themselves or their families:

Across Latin America, supermarket chains partly or wholly owned by global corporate goliaths like Ahold, Wal-Mart and Carrefour have revolutionized food distribution in the short span of a decade and have now begun to transform food growing, too.

The megastores are popular with customers for their lower prices, choice and convenience. But their sudden appearance has brought unanticipated and daunting challenges to millions of struggling, small farmers.

The stark danger is that increasing numbers of them will go bust and join streams of desperate migrants to America and the urban slums of their own countries. Their declining fortunes, economists and agronomists fear, could worsen inequality in a region where the gap between rich and poor already yawns cavernously and the concentration of land in the hands of an elite has historically fueled cycles of rebellion and violent repression.

The reliance on formal models and accounting ledger logic in international development has been routinely criticized by scholars working in local communities for decades (see the Society for Economic Anthropology - sidebar) and points to a cognitive disconnect between two poles of researchers: those who look only at aggregate, national data; and those who look at income distibution within economies. As I have stated previously, since consumption plays an increasingly important aspect of "modernized" economies (think "consumerism"), getting cash into the hands of consumers with stable household economies becomes the driving force in creating domestic demand for good and services. This is why Argentina's counterintuitive response to 2001 "worked," and why Guatemala's invitation to large-scale argricultural interests threatens to destabilize not only the domestic economy, but the political economy of the state (i.e., the peace accords between rebels and the government).


Passings

I had intended on posting something to you all earlier, but I've been glued to CNN International and other outlets in the wake of the deadly tsunami disaster to hit SE Asia and Somalia. The LAT reports this morning that the death toll may hit 48,000, which is a numbing figure. The Times also ran an article on local communities scrambling to contact loved ones in the countries hit by the waves:

Thousands of Asians who have settled in the Los Angeles area scrambled to restore lifelines to their native lands, organizing vigils, offering prayers, raising money and trying to contact missing loved ones.

Southern California is home to 4,442 Sri Lankans, 90,757 Indians, 28,395 Thais and 11,896 Indonesians, according to U.S. Census figures.

Consular officials, however, estimate that the populations are vastly larger.

It also hit close to me. One of my brother's colleagues was staying on Phuket, and has yet to be heard from.

In times like this we need a strong voice to make sense of the incomprehensible. Sadly, I read today that we have lost Susan Sontag at the age of 71.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Pay More for College, Reap the Reward

Season's greetings from Uncle Sam," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, which conducted one of the analyses and represents about 1,800 colleges and universities. "Your student aid stocking is going to be a little thinner next year."

The NYT reports today that due to cost-cutting changes, "virtually every state will be required to shoulder more of the cost of their education under new federal rules that govern most of the nation's financial aid." So students are shouldering more debt to attain a college degree, which is becoming an increasingly important prerequiste for economic advancement, but what about the rewards? We constantly hear employers gripe about a lack of "skilled" and "educated" workers, but in the current on-going job recession their words and deeds don't quite match. And this in spite of President Bush's claim that community colleges are going to re-educate American workers for the global economy.

Let's look at some facts. Back in August EPI relased an analysis of federal data showing increased rates of unemployment for college graduates in the current job market. So much for that expenseive college education.

Increases in unemployment by educational attainment are more uniform, signaling that this weak recovery has traversed across all educational lines. While the increase was still greatest among those with less than a high school degree, similar increases occurred for all other educational levels (ranging from 1.1 to 1.3 percentage-points). Especially unusual is the significant increase in the unemployment rate for college graduates—a 1.1 percentage-point rise in unemployment that exceeds the 0.7 percentage-point rise in a comparable period in the early 1990s.


Bush II's "job recession" is worse than his dad's.

Literary World Systems

Seems I missed this review which has been out for at least a week. Writing in The Nation William Deresiewicz combines literature, European history, and World-Systems Theory in thought-provoking review of The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova.

But the most important question her book raises, for me at least, is simply this: Why are we so lame? Why is American culture, and the American intelligentsia in particular, so closed off from what's happening in the rest of the world? Why do we still need Paris to tell us what's going on (if we still even listen to it)?

Followers of literature, especially international literature, already know that certain countries and authors are "on the map" while others perish in terra incognita. Hence, the "surprise" when an "international" writer gathers a following in Manhattan. And on a smaller scale in the US contests such as the Pushcart Prize tend to heavily favor MFA students in prestigous writing departments, a practice routinely critized in outlets such as The American Dissent.




Wednesday, December 22, 2004

At The Pictures

"Hotel Rwanda" is a terrific example of what movies can do when they seize real events as raw material and are made by people who are passionate and canny, who know just how far they can squeeze us without turning crass or exploitative.

I'm not a cinema fanatic, like some people, but a new release Hotel Rwanda is on my list for viewing over the break. Charles Taylor gives it a thorough review and recommendation in today's Salon.

The New Mythmakers

"When war is declared, Truth is the first casualty." Arthur Ponsonby

The Neocons have a problem with consistent definitions, but many ways to say it. What the "it" is depends on the caprice of the political backdoor crowd in DC, especially when it come to the so-called "war on terrorism." Please do take the time to read Jonathan Raban's new article in the New York Review of Books, "The Truth About Terrorism," which was posted online today:

If you live, as I do, in an American city designated as a likely target by the Department of Homeland Security, the sheer proliferation of security apparatus in the streets assures you that there is a war on. Yet the nature and conduct of that war, and the character—and very existence—of our enemy, remain infuriatingly obscure: not because there's any shortage of information, or apparent information, but because so much of it has turned out to be creative guesswork or empty propaganda.

Is This Site Real?

The NYT has an interesting article today on faux websites intended to attract web surfers with humor and satire as a means of drawing attention to "real" products marketed by major firms, such as fast food, electronics, etc.

Marketers usually try to slip their names into every conceivable venue - like cellphone screens, bathroom posters and TV shows via product placement. But there are times when an ad that almost disguises its sponsor can be more effective.

Many of these ads have taken the form of specialty Web sites, like www.subservientchicken.com, which is intended to entrance visitors with humor, video or games.

Browsing around the site will eventually draw the reader to BurgerKing, the corporate sponsor of the satirical site:

The site, a promotion for the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich sold at Burger King, says little about Burger King or the sandwich, although there is a discreet link to the Burger King site.

Now, part of the allure of self-deprecating humor in marketing is the notion that a strong or comfortable company that can make fun of itself, or its industry, is interesting, and therefore worthy of your attention. Think of Wendy's "Where's the Beef" campaign which mocked competing burger chains, or Joe Isuzu who mocked the auto industry and the sponsoring corporation itself. Part of the draw of a humorous campaign is to appear "hip," standing out from the crowd in a nonconformist fashion in an effort to reach new customer segments.

Last year American Demographics pointed out that many of these "hip" marketing efforts are futile efforts, few get incorporated into the repertorie of American pop culture, and the connection between brand and slogan or logo is lost quickly once the campaign is over:

Ads are ads. They're not art or philosophy or anything approaching the transcendent capacities of man. But occasionally, the right person or team at the right company brings the right product to the right agency, and together they put their finger on the pulse of something bigger. Although a lot of wacky ads flash in the proverbial pan and score big recall numbers a month after the Super Bowl, communications programs that do more-that speak to their audiences with words they not only understand but also want to hear, that move the cultural needle, that work-are few and far between.

My problem with this new crop of speciality web sites is that they appear at a time when phishing, the use of fake business websites intended to trick users into providing financial information, is spreading. More customers are becoming wary of fake sites and computer experts are loudly extolling the public to be aware via major media outlets. It seems to me that instead openly identifying themselves, companies using faux web sites risk the association of their "speciality" web sites with nefarious outlets copying the web frontages of reliable firms.

A Left Take on the Election

SoCal social historian and theorist Mike Davis offers his take on 11-2 in the current issue of Socialist Review:

The real Achilles' heel of the Democrats, in other words, is the economy, not morality. The biggest 'wedge issue' in the coal and steel valleys is industrial decline, not the threat of gay monogamy. With union halls shut down and the independent press extinct, it is not surprising that they search for answers in their churches or from demagogues on the radio, or that they equate the decay of employment security with the decay of 'family values'.

Before they emigrate to Toronto or bunker down in their ivory towers, American liberals should reflect long and hard on the historical circumstances that have turned yesterday's working class heroes into today's barbarians at the gate.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Gifts, Gifts, Everywhere

Those of you who tried to park in any shopping mall last weekend know that we are in full consumption mode for the holiday season, which inevitably revolves around the notion of giving (or circulating) gifts.

But which ones to give? The LA Times offers some suggestions for the weird and unusual set, whereas Maisonneuve compiles an expensive list of excesses for the able bourgeois shopper. On the other hand, those of us with souls and morals will want to make a meaningful contribution to worthy organizations doing good things, to which we turn to Katha Pollitt, who provides a list of the needy in the current online edition of The Nation.

But gift-giving also implies reciprocal obligations and social distance. And it is at this point that we move into the anthropological universe of social theory and exchange theory. So please remember the name Marcel Mauss when ripping and trashing reams of wrapping paper under the pagan Christmas tree next weekend.

From the Anthrobase entry:

Mauss's most influential work is his Essay sur le don (1923–24; English translation: The Gift. Forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies, 1954), a comparative essay on gift-giving and exchange in "primitive" societies. On the basis of empirical examples from a wide range of societies, Mauss describes the obligations attendent on gift-giving: the obligation to give gifts (by giving, one shows oneself as generous, and thus as deserving of respect), the obligation to receive them (by receiving the gift, one shows respect to the giver, and concommittantly proves one's own generocity), and the obligation to return the gift (thus demonstrating that one's honor is - at least - equivalent to that of the original giver). Gift-giving is thus steeped in morality, and by giving, receiving and returning gifts, a moral bond between the persons exchanging gifts. At the same time, Mauss emphasizes the competitive and strategic aspect of gift-giving: by giving more than one's competitors, one lays claim to greater respect than them, and gift-giving contests (such as the famous North-West Coast Native American potlatch), are thus common in the ethnographic record. In this work, Mauss thus lays the foundation for a theoretical understanding of the nature of social relations.

Rituals of the Season

The Christian Science Monitor notes that holiday office parties are back in vogue after being shunned due to the post 9-11 economy. But, instead of a mere recitation of more corporate holiday lore, the CSM acknowledges the indexical symbol these festivities mark for both employers and employees:

In some ways, the party's comeback parallels the rise and fall of the national economy: excursions to exotic locales in the halcyon days of the 1990s contrast sharply to celebrating on someone else's tab. But it's not just a night of toasts and rubbing elbows. It's also a window into the priorities of top management, a barometer of morale, and a chance, however fleeting, to let gratitude ring.

"Mr. Mandate" Accommodates Reality


The wit and wisdom of George IIPosted by Hello

Dailykos reports that on the eve of his second inaguration Bush is going to be the most unpopular second-termer ever and, finally, most Americans agree that the war in Iraq was a blundering mistake.

And writing in Slate Timothy Noah summarizes his meandering stream-of-consciousness press conference yesterday, especially his take on Social Security, with this insighful analysis:

Until now, Bush has seemed either too dumb or too stubborn to recognize that Social Security privatization will necessitate either hitting up taxpayers or reducing Social Security benefits. But watching Bush in today's press conference, I realized that there was another possibility: Bush is simply too cynical to acknowledge practical realities of which he is well aware. Maybe he figures that accommodating those realities simply isn't his job. Maybe he's thinking: Let Congress get the blame for insisting that two plus two equals four!

Education's Big "Sucking Sound"

The NYT has an article dear to my jaundiced heart today on foreign students fleeing US graduate schools. First, this doesn't bode well for the $13 billion they bring to the US economy annually, nor international competition for academics in the future. One choice observation follows:

In August a delegation of education officials from Singapore visited Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan, at the Ann Arbor campus. They took over a conference room, set up computers and peppered her with questions about tuition policy, fund-raising, governance and research, Dr. Coleman recalled. They wanted to know how Michigan became a prominent university, and how it was run today.

"Eventually they'll reap the benefits of this work," Dr. Coleman said. "Singapore will create world-class universities. Other countries are taking the same approach. We're going to have enormous competition. We'd better be prepared for it."

Now, Coleman was my president at Iowa (before moving to Michigan), and I knew her to do some "dodo" things, but this really raises my ire. Decades ago, US manufacturers gladly gave tours to foreign firms hoping to emulate the American industrial machine. They did. The result was a dwindling manufacturing base, and a downward spiral of real wages and trade deficits. Now it seems, the "best and brightest" are similarly giving away the shop to countries only too glad to heavily subsidize their higher educational systems at time when we are cutting and cutting in the name of efficiency. Come back in 20 years and see how well our universities fare.

Monday, December 20, 2004

What is "Anthropologist" in Farsi?

A great news Monday. The Guardian reports that with 75,000 blogs in the Farsi language, Iran is now becoming a blogging center. In part, this is due to recent crackdowns on print media by the religous judiciary, and the ire it has drawn from young, educated Iranians. Please do take a look.

The internet has opened a new virtual space for free speech in a country dubbed the "the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East", by Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF). Through the anonymity and freedom that weblogs can provide, those who once lacked voices are at last speaking up and discussing issues that have never been aired in any other media in the Islamic world. Where else in Iran could someone dare write, as the blogger Faryadehmah did, "when these mullahs are dethroned ... it will be like the Berlin wall coming down ..."?

Technology and the Election

"If Hitler had an email list and some online tools - yeah, we'd be speaking a different language now."

BOPNews has a great election assessment from Zach Exley, former online communications chief for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, who spoke recently at Harvard's Internet and Society 2004 Conference. His take is not that friendly to those who think that technology is the answer to getting out the vote.

The take away was pretty stark: after a year of Panglossian happy-talk from media outlets like NPR, the tools proved not to be magic: and the much-lauded "conversation" proved to be an irrelevant distraction from building a real world field organization. None of this should surprise most readers, but the fact that this is even considered controversial shows how much techno utopians have to learn.

Rose Parade Survival Tips

Yesterday's LA Times Magazine has a small piece on surviving camping out for the Rose Parade. Keep checking back here for more details. The AA is going to post pictures and play-by-play happenings surrounding the *real* Rose Parade - meaning at the other end of the 5.5 mile route. I guarantee that it's nothing like you've ever seen on the TV come a groggy New Year's Day morning.

And, from the Pasadena Police Department:

What you can do:

A permanent position on the sidewalk may be maintained along the parade route beginning at noon on Dec. 31.

The “Blue Line” is the honor line. All persons and property such as blankets, chairs, etc., must remain on the curb and are not permitted in the street until 11:00 p.m. on Dec. 31. At that time
spectators may move out to the honor line.

Overnight camping is permitted only on the night of December 31.

Fires will only be permitted if it is not windy. Fires must be in fire safe containers which are off the ground. The Pasadena Fire Department will issue citations to violators.

What you can’t do: (Notice the anti-tortilla-throwing ordinance)

Fireworks are prohibited in the City of Pasadena except as a part of scheduled official events.
Vehicles obstructing emergency lanes will be towed. Ladders and scaffolds are not allowed.

Couches or boxes of any type that can be used as stools or seats are prohibited.

Saving space or tying off an area is not allowed. All ropes will be removed.

Unoccupied or extra chairs will be confiscated.

Selling public space other than grandstand seating is illegal and violators will be arrested.

Tents are not allowed.

Throwing any projectile into the Parade, including seemingly harmless items such as tortillas, marshmallows, flowers etc., is prohibited.

It is illegal to buy or sell horns along the parade route. It is illegal to sell any items along the parade route without a permit. Violators will be arrested and their items confiscated. Walking in the street and/or selling in the street is not permitted.

Anthro Tech

Another example of anthropologists alive and well in "the real world," courtesy of the British magazine New Scientist.

Anthropologists' insights are not just for the future: they have already contributed to making existing technologies easier to use. Perhaps the most familiar example is the big green Copy button on photocopiers. Anthropologist Lucy Suchman famously suggested it when working at Xerox in the 1980s, after seeing how frustrated people became with the complexity of the machines of the day.

Now based at Lancaster University, UK, Suchman says major technology companies often consult anthropologists, although their influence often goes unnoticed.

Travis Breaux, an anthropologist and computer scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, expects this kind of input to become more common. "As technology becomes more pervasive, the role of the anthropologist in its development will continue to grow," he predicts.

"Ethnographic methods are being applied to friend-finding networks such as Friendster, multi-player online role-playing games such as Everquest and online dating systems," Breaux says. And these networks and games, he says, are returning the compliment by proving useful to social scientists in their academic research. "Future technologies will in turn be affected by our studies of the way people behave on these networks."

Cover of the Day

"For sharpening the debate until the choices bled, for reframing reality to match his design, for gambling his fortunes—and ours—on his faith in the power of leadership, [Guess Who] is TIME's [1942] Person of the Year."


Uncle Joe Resurected Posted by Hello

Actually, the quote is from Time's introduction to the current 2004 Person of the Year - George W. Bush. But since we are in the season of reflection, it makes one think.

Dueling Quotes

From the AP wires, separated by a couple years:

"I have heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm's way. And he's a good, decent man. He's a caring fellow."

"I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul."

Both are from "Mr. Mandate" George Bush. The first is his defense of Sec. Rumsfeld's latest PR debacle. The second is his assessment of Vladimir Putin, who has since turned from the west and embraced good-old Russian despotism. Makes you wonder about his psychiatric skills.

Poor Little Rich Boys

The London Observer briefs us on the new post-capitalist afflicition, "affluenza."

....psychologists have identified the condition of 'affluenza' as a malaise affecting some who become rapidly wealthy or tire of their riches. Symptoms include materialism, but also shame, guilt and a sense of disorientation.

OK, but I'm willing to give it a go.

What Would This Guy do to Smokey the Bear?

Today's LA Times reports that a builder is suing two US Forest Service employees for "racketeering:"

San Diego businessman Irving Okovita, who filed the suit, alleges that the Eliasons, Zimmerman and Sandy Steers, a local environmental activist, engaged in a criminal conspiracy to block the Marina Point development, a luxury condominium project Okovita wants to develop with an Arizona company in this hamlet on the north shore of Big Bear Lake.

Okovita's attorney, S. Wayne Rosenbaum of San Diego, said his client had lost millions of dollars because of delays in the project, which would include 132 condominiums, a 175-slip marina and tennis courts.

Now this happens to be in an area with a dense stand of trees that is used for nesting by bald eagles. In fact, the two employees being sued are themselves the bald eagle experts for the San Bernadino National Forest. But this bigger question is this: Okovita has owned this slip of land since 1981, but has declined to develop it for the past 23 years. Why now? Perhaps because of the unprecedented building boom in Southern California which, most experts agree, is a big soap bubble waiting to burst. So why these people? Because they were knowledgeable government employees sworn to protect the natural resources of the US who urged officials not to allow the project.

The three Forest Service employees and Steers said the charges against them are patently false. The government workers maintain that they were acting in their official capacity as Forest Service employees and have done nothing wrong. Steers said Okovita's suit was brought partly "to intimidate other activists from speaking out. That won't work," she said.

The next time you hear a builder gripe about "the process," ask them if they think they're local police, fire, medical, and safety service employees are on par with Tony Soprano. That's what this lawsuit maintains. Mr. Okovita is therefore automatically nominated for the next Red Turkey Award.

A Happy Festivus to All!

This Thursday marks Festivus, the hilarious anti-commercial holiday popularized by Seinfeld and created in real life by Dan O'Keefe. Yesterday, the NYT ran a front-page article on the Fashion & Style section, complete with a photo of Kramer and his protest sign "Festivus Yes! Bagels No!"

For even more particulars, check out the Wikipedia encyclopedia entry:

Festivus is a fictional holiday popularized by Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) on the popular American television comedy Seinfeld. Some fans of the show now celebrate this fictional holiday in real life.

Festivus is held on 23 December of each year. It was created as a response to the commercialism of the other December holidays. Its slogan is "A Festivus for the rest of us."

The Festivus idea came to the show through writer Daniel O'Keefe. His father, Dan O'Keefe, invented the holiday in 1966.

Main elements of Festivus

The Festivus celebration includes three major components:

The Festivus Pole. During Festivus, an unadorned aluminum pole is displayed, apparently in opposition to the commercialization of decorated Christmas trees, and because the holiday's creator, Frank Costanza, "find[s] tinsel distracting."

The Airing of Grievances. At the Festivus dinner, the celebrant tells their friends and family all of the instances where they disappointed the celebrant that year.

The Feats of Strength. The head of the family tests his or her strength against one participant of the head's choosing. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned. A participant is allowed to decline to attempt to pin the head of the family only if they have something better to do instead.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Weekend Ideas

Looking for something interesting this weekend? The Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro just turned 130 years old this week and was recently opened after a lengthy restoration. It's located in the midst of a nice park on the bluffs just below the Korean Peace Bell and near the Fort MacArthur Museum.

On the other hand, if you're into post-industrial aethetics Tom Vanderbilt at Design Observer has a piece on exploring the old Bethlehem Steel plant.

Finally, if you enjoy sailing, or just following record-breaking voyages, British sailor Ellen MacArthur is currently attempting to set a new world record for a single-handed circumnavigation non-stop (that means 26,000 miles around the globe without a port o' call) in the 75-ft trimeran B&Q. She has until February 9 to cross the line between Ushant, France and Lizard, England. All the action is being relayed via the Team Ellen website complete with webcams and all the navigation station info.

Holiday Big Bites


LA's totemic street food. Posted by Hello

Chicago might have the best hot dogs, Philadelphia the best cheese steaks and hoagies, New York the best hero sandwiches, but Los Angeles, for a long time, has been and remains a "burger town." The ubiquitous taco trucks are becoming more familiar, but The Food Section has a recent tour of the best burger joints around town, including the famous In-N-Out Double-Double (mentioned prominently in The Big Lebowski).

Several years ago Public Television aired the memorable documentary Burger Town, which firmly placed Los Angeles and this uniquely American food together in the annals of food history:

The hamburger is hands down our all-time favorite food. The average American consumes nearly thirty pounds of hamburger a year - three burgers per person per week.

Burger Town not only unearths the origins of the hamburger and traces its ascent into popular cultural icon, it shows why Los Angeles can lay claim to taking its burgers more seriously than any other city in America. From the Pacific Coast Highway to the sprawling east L.A. desert towns, Los Angeles is home to some of the greatest hamburger palaces and coffee shops in America.

The peace-time prosperity that followed World War II was a glorious time for drive-ins. Los Angeles was the town where McDonald's Hamburgers would shape the future of the burger. The McDonald brothers' first drive in was built in San Bernardino in 1948. When it changed from car hops to self-service, it began a revolution in 15 cent burgers that would sweep the nation and transform the suburban landscape of America. Living legend Richard McDonald, founder of this most successful fast-food chain in history, is interviewed along with America's foremost burger historians.

Burger Town also chronicles the rise of other national hamburger chains and tours the best burger joints in Los Angeles. Packed with clips of vintage burger commercials, nostalgic clips of early burger joints. and interviews with America's foremost burger historians, Burger Town is a mouth-watering look at America's love affair with the hamburger.

Look for it late at night on your favorite public television station, preferably when you have the munchies.


My Peering Eyes, My Cheating Heart

Now the posts below show that, for the average American worker, hard work, being "good," and "following the rules" doesn't seem to help much in the current economy. What about education? The Chronicle of Higher Education has released a special report on plagiarism today (free content), and find some startling zingers:

Among the cases we found were a political scientist who swiped five pages of his book from a journal article, a historian who cribbed from an unpublished dissertation, and a geographer whose verbatim copying appears to span his lengthy career.....In one of the rare surveys conducted about plagiarism, two University of Alabama economists this year asked 1,200 of their colleagues if they believed their work had ever been stolen. A startling 40 percent answered yes. While not a random sample, the responses still represent hundreds of cases of alleged plagiarism.

We expect that from economists and the secondary data crowd.



More of The Big Picture

More news is coming out today from The White House Conference on the Economy showing that the WH team, if not "off message" is, at least, "out of focus" when it comes to the basis of sustaining a consumer-driven domestic economy: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Two good graphs from Jobwatch.org tell the tale. Since WWII we have had five recessions, the latest of which was supposed to have already ended. But 44 months after the recession began, how did jobs recover?


This makes things look just as bad as during the Great Depression. Posted by Hello

And while the WH claims that job growth is "strong," that has only been for government job creation, not the private sector.


Now this comes as Bush is pushing for privitization of Social Security, arguing that retirement savings are best left to the financial markets and private savings accounts. Now if it were that great, why have other countries moved away from private retirement accounts? And if no jobs are being created in the private sector, then where will the extra funds come from to pay for it? Alas, the good citizens of this country can't put everything on a credit card, as our exective branch does. Posted by Hello

Deficits Don't Matter?

President Bush, you're no President Reagan.

Kevin Drum reminds us in the Washington Monthly that the federal deficit of the early 1980's was only erased through many additional tax increases. This, of course, flies in the face of contemporary political mythology, but then the current WH crew isn't much into the minutiae of facts and figures. As governor of California, Reagan also raised taxes when confronted with fiscal emergencies, and did it after his (in)famous 1981 tax cut. So while he spoke like a conservative, he did have some grounding in reality and acted accordingly. Bush II, however, believes in the message itself, uncoupled from material constraints.

The answer, of course, is that Reagan didn't grow his way out of the deficits caused by his 1981 tax cut. As the chart on the right shows (adapted from this Treasury report), he raised taxes twice in 1982, and then raised them again in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987. But even with those seven tax increases and several years of strong growth, he still didn't get rid of his deficit.

It took an eighth tax hike from George Bush Sr. in 1989, a ninth in 1990, a tenth from Bill Clinton in 1993, and then another economic boom to erase the deficit. Sure, a strong economy helped, but without all those tax increases the deficit would never have disappeared.

So why don't more people understand this? I think it's because no one wants them to. Republicans don't like to talk about this because it ruins the conservative foundational myth of Reagan the tax cutter as well as the policy myth of tax cuts as the engine of economic growth. They prefer to preserve the mythology.

Democrats, for their part, like to portray Reagan as an inflexible and simpleminded ideologue, and admitting that he raised taxes several times doesn't fit their myth. What's more, they're scared silly about even mentioning tax increases these days. So they don't.

The end result is that very few voters understand that the Reagan deficit eventually went away only after ten major tax increases that were cumulatively bigger than the famous 1981 tax cut. And because people don't understand that, they figure that maybe Bush can grow his way out of the deficits he's created. After all, Reagan did it.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

'Bye Tavis

Today marks a sad date for fans of public radio. Tavis Smiley airs his last show on National Public Radio after three years and sat down with Salon.com for an interview published today. As an avid listener, I appreciated Smiley's invitation to prominent African-Americans, even self-labelled conservatives, to join the conversation on timely topics. It was a sorely needed voice on the airwaves.

But from the outset I wondered how The Tavis Smiley Show would be received by the paying, if not loyal, NPR audience, even though it was the first NPR show to originate from Los Angeles. Locally, two stations aired the show: KCRW in progressive Santa Monica by the sea, and KPCC in conservative Pasadena in the foothills. KCRW slated him for the morning commute, but listeners complained, wanting the unchanging voices of Morning Edition. So they stuck him at 5-6am, which might have gone down well with truck drivers looking for breakfast, but killed the show. It was taken off the station some time ago. Yet, KPCC aired him consistently during quality time, 8-9pm, from the start.

Now why a station from a city known as the "People's Republic of Santa Monica" should effectively "whiten" the airwaves is surprising. But then, perhaps not. The Salon interview also includes this appraisal of top-tier managment at NPR:

Public radio has been enormously successful in recent years, thanks in part to David Giovannoni, a public-radio analyst the New York Times calls "quite possibly the most influential figure in shaping the sound of National Public Radio today." Giovannoni's research shows that NPR's core audience -- affluent white baby boomers -- doesn't want programming geared toward minorities, or young people, even in moderation. Every time they turn on the radio, he argues, that audience wants to hear the dulcet tones of the Linda Wertheimer sound-alikes who've come to define public radio. Many stations believe that following the advice of Giovannoni and his disciples means they will attract more listeners, which means more donations. As a result, their programming has become aggressively unsurprising, rarely straying far from the predictable approach of "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered."

KCRW showed its true colors too, not so long ago. Back in March, commentator and performer Sandra Tsing Loh was fired by GM Ruth Seymour for using the "f-word" during her weekly commentary that was meant to be deleted by the recording engineer. It was not. So Seymour, worried about FCC meddling, bounced Tsing Loh, and was met with widespread criticism. The incident brought national attention and Seymour had to rescind her decision. Thankfully, Tsing Loh is now at KPCC.

But the decision by Tavis Smiley to leave NPR still leaves me - and I hope others - with a queasy feeling about the future of public radio. Will the "public" in public radio come to mean "pay as you go" programming, or will stations try to adhere to original goals of programming, bringing diverse voices from the local community to a range of issues not addressed by commercial stations. The "white out" at NPR doesn't bode well for the latter.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Purloined Pickles

From my old haunts in Iowa City, and the Press-Citizen:

Hearing in Pickles case delayed

By DAVID PITT Associated Press Writer

DES MOINES — A Polk County judge on Wednesday delayed a hearing in the case of Pickles, the disqualified 2002 Iowa State Fair 4-H grand champion steer.

The hearing, which has been delayed several times to fit the schedules of attorneys and Judge Arthur Gamble, has been moved to Friday, a court clerk said. It had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Pickles' owner, Jenna Sievers, who was 16 at the time when she showed the animal at the farm competition, was accused of switching animals between the December 2001 weigh-in and the August 2002 state fair competition.

Sievers and her father, former state Sen. Bryan Sievers and her mother, Lisa Sievers, publisher of the Muscatine Journal, have insisted they did not cheat and have aggressively defended themselves through a two-year legal process.

The state fair board disqualified Pickles claiming nose prints taken of a calf did not match nose prints of Pickles. The board also did not believe Sievers' claim that the calf gained an average of 9 pounds a day over a 30-day period.

After the board disqualified Pickles, the Sievers' appealed to an administrative law judge, presenting testimony from fingerprint experts that nose prints were unreliable.

That judge concluded last November that Pickles should keep the title.

The State Fair Board overturned the judge's decision in February, upholding Pickles' original disqualification. The Sievers appealed to district court.

The ruling could be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Winning the case also means Jenna Sievers could collect a portion of the $16,000 paid for Pickles at the 2002 state fair's livestock auction. The money remains in escrow until the case is resolved.

Pickles' carcass was placed in a freezer at Iowa State University.

The Season of Hedonism

From the consumption files we see that shoppers admit to personal shopping during the season that meant to be about giving, not receiving:

"Our customers feel it's all right to be hedonistic," Mr. Chinniah said, "especially at holiday time."

An informal survey of retailers suggests that the hedonism is by no means limited to luxury outposts like Bergdorf Goodman. There is even a term to distinguish the practice of gratifying one's own desires from more selfless giving. "People are not really buying gifts, except little things like candles," a saleswoman at Emporio Armani on Madison Avenue said last Friday. "It's really greed buying, but we don't call it that," said the woman, who cannot be named under Armani corporate policy. "Self-purchase," she explained, is the industry euphemism of choice.

British anthropologist Daniel Miller has been publishing on consumption, identity, and consumer behavior for twenty years and wrote A Theory of Shopping, among others, which draws heavily on the work of French theorist Georges Bataille. An essay on his views of gift-giving and sacrifice can be found here. And for further engaging consumption studies, try Culture and Consumption by Grant McCracken, who also runs the blog Cultureby (see sidebar).

Surf's Up in Hawaii


50 foot waves expected to hit Hawaii. Posted by Hello

One person's disaster is another's sporting event. While not a surfer personally, I know some avid surf worshipers, including some living in Honolulu. So I was interested to learn that 30 foot waves are already hitting this islands with 50 foot waves expected by tonight. From today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

The massive waves are expected to attract large crowds to Oahu's North Shore. And they better bring bicycles if they want to get near the rarely held Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surfing contest, which is scheduled for today at Waimea Bay, event organizers said.

Created in 1986 to honor the legendary waterman Aikau, it's held only when waves reach at least 20 feet under the local scale. It has been held only six times in 19 years.

Essential Cookware

Just in time for the shopping season the New York Times has an article on high-end kitchen knives in today's food section, most of which are European, although the Lees do touch on Japanese knives. But wait, last week the Los Angeles Times ran an article focusing entirely on Japanese knives in the kitchen, arguing that they represent the "cutting edge" of kitchen chic. Personally, I use both, in addition to a good old-fashioned Chinese cleaver. While it's largely a matter of personal tastes, the key lies in keeping your knives sharp!