Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Punk Fish by Rafael Bastos
Cyril E. Power, English, 1872–1951, The Eight,

Live and Learn

[ed.  This is a great read.  Please take the time if you have it.]

by  Louis Menand

My first job as a professor was at an Ivy League university. The students were happy to be taught, and we, their teachers, were happy to be teaching them. Whatever portion of their time and energy was being eaten up by social commitments—which may have been huge, but about which I was ignorant—they seemed earnestly and unproblematically engaged with the academic experience. If I was naïve about this, they were gracious enough not to disabuse me. None of us ever questioned the importance of what we were doing.

At a certain appointed hour, the university decided to make its way in the world without me, and we parted company. I was assured that there were no hard feelings. I was fortunate to get a position in a public university system, at a college with an overworked faculty, an army of part-time instructors, and sixteen thousand students. Many of these students were the first in their families to attend college, and any distractions they had were not social. Many of them worked, and some had complicated family responsibilities.

I didn’t regard this as my business any more than I had the social lives of my Ivy League students. I assigned my new students the same readings I had assigned the old ones. I understood that the new students would not be as well prepared, but, out of faith or ego, I thought that I could tell them what they needed to know, and open up the texts for them. Soon after I started teaching there, someone raised his hand and asked, about a text I had assigned, “Why did we have to buy this book?”

I got the question in that form only once, but I heard it a number of times in the unmonetized form of “Why did we have to read this book?” I could see that this was not only a perfectly legitimate question; it was a very interesting question. The students were asking me to justify the return on investment in a college education. I just had never been called upon to think about this before. It wasn’t part of my training. We took the value of the business we were in for granted.

I could have said, “You are reading these books because you’re in college, and these are the kinds of books that people in college read.” If you hold a certain theory of education, that answer is not as circular as it sounds. The theory goes like this: In any group of people, it’s easy to determine who is the fastest or the strongest or even the best-looking. But picking out the most intelligent person is difficult, because intelligence involves many attributes that can’t be captured in a one-time assessment, like an I.Q. test. There is no intellectual equivalent of the hundred-yard dash. An intelligent person is open-minded, an outside-the-box thinker, an effective communicator, is prudent, self-critical, consistent, and so on. These are not qualities readily subject to measurement.

Society needs a mechanism for sorting out its more intelligent members from its less intelligent ones, just as a track team needs a mechanism (such as a stopwatch) for sorting out the faster athletes from the slower ones. Society wants to identify intelligent people early on so that it can funnel them into careers that maximize their talents. It wants to get the most out of its human resources. College is a process that is sufficiently multifaceted and fine-grained to do this.

Read more:

How the "Penny Farthing" Got It's Name

I never knew this until reading about it in an awesome post at Poemas del rio Wang about the history of early bicycles -
The Michaux bicycle, whose name in France was velocipède, while in the USA the eloquent boneshaker, was further improved in by Eugène Meyer in France and James Starley in Britain. As a result, by the 1870s they created the well-known velocipede which had wire-spoke tension wheels instead of wooden spokes, and pneumatic rubber tires instead of iron, and whose front wheel was much higher, for the sake of speed, than the rear ones, and so it is called “penny-farthing” in the literature on after the proportion of the contemporary British coins. Starley’s nephew, John Kemp Starley will be the one who in 1885 would create the prototype of a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven cycle with two similar-sized wheels, known as „safety bicycle”, thus reaching the height of the knowledge of the Knights of the Sun and the Moon – but this is already another story.
Much MUCH more at the link with lots and LOTS of interesting photos.  A must read for bicycle enthusiasts.


The Promise

by Joe Posnanski  

Johnny works in a factory. Billy works downtown.
Terry works in a rock and roll band looking for that million dollar sound.

Got a job down in Darlington. Some nights I don't go.
Some nights I go to the drive in. Some night I stay home.
-- Bruce Springsteen. The Promise.

I remember the first time I heard The Promise. It was about a decade ago. The song had been around for a long time before I first heard it -- Bruce Springsteen would say it was the first song he wrote after Born To Run made him a rock and roll star in 1975. It figures that this was the first song. Born to Run, the whole album, was about longing, open highway, the amusement park rising bold and stark, the poets who write nothing at all, the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys Mary sent away. Born to Run is about that brilliant age when you know dreams don't come true, but you still believe they might come true FOR YOU.

And The Promise is about the every day numbing of those dreams. It is a follow-up to Thunder Road, that song about the guy who learned how to make his guitar talk, and the girl who ain't a beauty (but hey, she's all right), both of them, pulling out of that town full of losers, pulling out of there to win. Now, that guy's got a job. It's a night job. Some nights he don't go. A friend told me, "You have to listen to this song. I can't believe you haven't heard this song."

I listened to the version of The Promise on 18 Tracks. It's not the version Springsteen recorded more than 30 years ago. This version is stripped down to almost nothing, just Springsteen and a piano.

And the weirdest thing happened, something I can never remember happening before or since when I listened to a song. I felt myself crying.

I followed that dream just like those guys do way up on the screen.
Drove my Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes.
When the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams

If I had to pick a single memory, the memory that best summarizes my teenage years, the memory that best expresses the kind of man I hoped to become ... well, it is 6 a.m., and my bed shakes. That's how my father wakes me up. He mildly bumps the bed with his knee. It is summertime, but rain pours, so it is still dark, a harsh gray. My father walks out of the room without saying a word. There is nothing to say. It is time to get up.

I dress quickly. There are no morning showers. We have timed our morning to the minute so that we can get as much sleep as possible ... or, more to the point, so I can get as much sleep as possible. Dad doesn't sleep much except for the naps he gets in front of the television. I meet my father downstairs. He is already there -- he is always there first, dressed, ready to go. He is always waiting on me. He wakes up long before 6 a.m. on his own. His lunch is packed in a brown paper sack. It is probably a salami sandwich. It is usually a salami sandwich.

We trudge out to the car, a declining Pontiac T-1000 that I hope to buy at the end of the summer. The rain hits our necks, but there's no running. We ride in silence for a few minutes. Then, we start to talk about small things. We stop at Popeyes for a breakfast biscuit. The morning gains light slowly, like an old television picture tube coming to life. The ride is 30 minutes or so. There is little traffic this early in the morning.

And then, we get out ... and go into the factory. Alisa is the name of the place. It is a knitting factory. We make sweaters, I guess, though I never actually see any sweaters. Everything is yarn. It is hard to breathe because of the heat and the humidity and the dust and the cardboard boxes, and because the yarn chokes the air. I feel sure that a sweater is being knitted in my lungs.

My father's job is to make sure the knitting machines run. He unclogs jams, quiets the guttural sounds, tightens bolts that break free, loosens bolts that choke the machine. His hands are unnaturally strong; I have known this since I was a boy. Now I see that he uses his fingers to loosen bolts that are wedged tight. There is no time to find a wrench. Sometimes, when the machines run smoothly, I see him drawing Xs on graph paper as he works out a sweater color design. When kids in school used to ask me what my father did for a living, I would tell them he designs sweaters. It wasn't because I was ashamed of what he did; quite the opposite. That was how I saw him.

My job is to stay in the warehouse, move boxes of yarn in and out, and, one day a week, Thursday, unloaded barrels of dye from a truck. I am doing this to raise enough money buy that old car, that Pontiac. I'm 18 years old and thoroughly without purpose, except for that, I desperately want my own car. I am an accounting major at college though even the most basic accounting concepts baffle me. I can't help but think of debits as good and credits as bad. The professors keep telling me that they are not good or bad, but I don't believe them. I already know I won't be an accountant, but have not admitted it to myself yet. I don't have any idea what I will do -- or what I can do. Everything feels out of reach.

I work six days a week at Alisa, and the pay, if I remember correctly, is $4 an hour. The minimum wage at the time is $3.35 an hour, so this is the second-highest paying job of my young life. The highest paying job, at $4.50 an hour, involved calling people who were past due on their mortgage. My job there was to set up a payment schedule with those people. I wasn't good at this; I didn't understand the fury and desperation of the voices on the end of dial tones. I got threatened a lot. I don't get threatened at the factory. Yelled at, yes. Threatened, no. There's no point in threats, not here. It's understood by everyone how easy I am to replace. I'm scrawny and weak and viewed as a non-prospect. I'm only here as a favor to my father, the only guy who knows how to fix the machines if they break down.

Well now I built that challenger by myself.
But I needed money and so I sold it.
Lived a secret I should'a kept to myself.
But I got drunk one night and I told it.

Springsteen wrote The Promise for the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album. People who follow the Springsteen story know that the time when he wrote The Promise, that time after Born To Run made him a star and before Darkness made him an adult, that was a strange time for him. He was locked in a searing legal battle with his manager Mike Appel over creative freedom -- the thing Springsteen called his musical soul -- and he was also struggling with what it meant to be a huge success for the first time in his life. He hated success and loved it, and hated himself for loving it.

And the music poured out of him like sweat. He was 27 and hungry, still hungry, but he was not entirely sure for what. He was listening to punk music. He was listening to Hank Williams. The Born to Run sessions were legendary for Springsteen's refusal to compromise, his 14-month insistence on making every single song sound exactly like what he was hearing in his head no matter how many different ways he had to stretch the songs. But at least with Born To Run, there was a clear vision everyone could understand. Springsteen simply wanted to make the greatest rock and roll album that had ever been made. That's was 25 year old musicians did. The kid had ambition.

But nobody quite knew what Springsteen was trying to do with Darkness, maybe not even Springsteen himself. The band learned song after song after song. Some of the songs sounded like hits, but Springsteen seemed uninterested in those. This was the time when he would give "Because The Night" to the punk star Patti Smith -- her biggest hit. This was the time when he gave "Fire" to The Pointer Sisters -- their biggest hit. He gave "This Little Girl" to Gary U.S. Bonds ... and it would become Bonds' first hit in almost 20 years. He gave an older song, "The Fever," and "Talk to Me" to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. He gave "Rendezvous" to Greg Kihn. In the documentary about Darkness, Springsteen's guitarist and foil and alter-ego Stevie Van Zandt would say, seemingly without irony, "It's a bit tragic in a way. Because he would have been one of the great pop songwriters of all time."

The Costly War on Cancer

CANCER is not one disease. It is many. Yet oncologists have long used the same blunt weapons to fight different types of cancer: cut the tumour out, zap it with radiation or blast it with chemotherapy that kills good cells as well as bad ones.

New cancer drugs are changing this. Scientists are now attacking specific mutations that drive specific forms of cancer. A breakthrough came more than a decade ago when Genentech, a Californian biotech firm, launched a drug that attacks breast-cancer cells with too much of a certain protein, HER2. In 2001 Novartis, a Swiss drugmaker, won approval for Gleevec, which treats chronic myeloid leukaemia by attacking another abnormal protein. Other drugs take different tacks. Avastin, introduced in America in 2004 by Genentech, starves tumours by striking the blood vessels that feed them. (Roche, another Swiss drug giant, bought Genentech and its busy cancer pipeline in 2009.)

These new drugs sell well. Last year Gleevec grossed $4.3 billion. Roche’s Herceptin (the HER2 drug) and Avastin did even better: $6 billion and $7.4 billion respectively. Cancer drugs could rescue big drugmakers from a tricky situation: more than $50 billion-worth of wares will lose patent protection in the next three years.

This month Pfizer, an American company, announced that America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would speed up its review of a cancer drug called crizotinib. Roche submitted an FDA application for a new medicine, vemurafenib. The industry is pouring money into clinical trials for cancer drugs (see chart).

This is part of a shift in how big drug firms do business. For years they have relied on blockbusters that treat many people. Now they are investing in more personalised medicine: biotech drugs that treat small groups of patients more effectively.

Read more:

Sniffing Out a Menace

by Julia O'Malley

At a low-rate motel on the edge of Spenard recently, I noticed a guy smoking outside who was covered with scabs. Initially, I thought he might have a disease. Then I realized it was probably bed-bug bites. That was, after all, why I was there.

It took me four months to get Randy Beuter, who owns Eagle Pest Control, to take me out with him and his bedbug-sniffing dog, Rudolph. It wasn't because he didn't want to take me. It was because the places with the bed bugs didn't want any witnesses.

Beuter himself enjoys the limelight. You might recognize his salt-and-pepper bowl cut and gravelly voice from the television news. His consistent message: creeping bed-bug catastrophe is poised to envelop the city.

"It's like a tidal wave," Beuter told me. "And you're trying to tell people to get out of the way, it's coming. And now it's rolling up the beach."

Bed-bug complaints are on the rise in Anchorage, according to municipal and state health departments. The bugs usually don't transfer illnesses and have not be identified as a public health issue. For that reason, there aren't lots of resources focused on them. Exterminators across the city backed Beuter's claim. They told me the bugs used to generate a call or two a year; now they bring several calls a week.

I heard stories from them about bugs at high-end hotels and subsidized housing, Hillside palaces and trailers, dorms, schools and health-care facilities. None would say exactly where. Sometimes they are asked to arrive at odd hours, they said, or park their vans where they can't be seen from the street. A bedbug rumor at a hotel can cost a lot of money. Discretion is the better part of pest management. All the secrecy is probably one reason the problem isn't really on the public's radar.

"It's a dirty secret, but if people could only see it's not about how cleanly you are," Beuter said. "The more vigilant people can be when they check in to hotels and notice strange bites, the better."

I wound up at the Spenard motel because I'd been observing Beuter for a couple of weeks and we'd been skunked every time. I hadn't seen a bug, nor had I seen his dog give a positive response. The hotel was supposed to be a hot zone. It was where Beuter went when he needed sample bugs to train the dog.

Removing the Windows XP Security 2011 malware

[ed.  My computer got infected by this very annoying and persistent piece of malware yesterday.  Initially, a Windows Security screen pops up telling you that you've been infected by 32 different viruses, then it proceeds to scan and list them before asking you to click a button to remove them or purchase a professional removal program.  Numerous other pop up warning screens occur after that.  I was dubious so I tried getting rid of the infections using Malwarebytes.  Here's the thing: this malware blocks not only access to the internet but all executable files, so programs won't load.  Fortunately, for some reason, it didn't affect Spybot Search and Destroy, so I removed what I could with that program (about nine files), got Malwarebytes running, and took care of the rest (another three files).  Rebooted clean.  Here's another approach:]

XP Home Security 2011 is a misleading security application that commonly spread by means of a Trojan that can penetrate the computer without being detected by anti-virus application. XP Home Security 2011 virus will be installed remotely when a prompt displayed by the Trojan is executed. Normally users may get infected when a malicious web site is visited. If installed on the computer, this rogue program will provide virus scan results that tells users to obtain the licensed version to be able to remove detected threats. In fact, there will be a dozens of threats detected. These threats do not really exists on the system and are just a fabrication of XP Home Security 2011 to deceive its victims. On some machines, this can be installed as Vista Home Security 2011 or Win7  Home Security 2011, defending on victim’s operating system.

To be able to remove all the irregularities brought on the PC, users must remove XP Home Security 2011. As mentioned, this is just a rogue program pretending to be a useful application to scam money from computer users. It can be remove by a legitimate anti-malware application included on this page. It is also advise to protect the computer with a legitimate and full version of anti-malware program to prevent any attacks coming from rogue programs like XP Home Security 2011.
Alias: Vista Home Security 2011, Win7  Home Security 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

Love In Vain


by Simon Rich

Josh always knew, on some level, that it was possible for him to get traded. He’d seen it happen to dozens of guys over the years, including some of his closest friends. It was part of the game. Still, he had never been traded himself, and he was having some trouble accepting it. He kept expecting someone to tap him on the shoulder and tell him the whole thing was a joke.

“Here’s your stuff,” Kate said, dropping a duffelbag at his feet. “Goodbye.”

Josh stared at her for a moment, expecting some kind of encouragement or sympathy. But Kate just stood there, her eyelids fluttering with impatience.

“So that’s it, then,” Josh said. “After three and a half years.”

“What do you want me to say?” Kate snapped.

He picked up the bag and slung it wearily over his shoulder. There was nothing he could do. When your girlfriend decides to trade you, you’re through.

“I just don’t get it!” Josh shouted, over the din of the jukebox. “I thought things were going really well.”

“They weren’t,” his brother Craig said. “The writing was on the wall.”


“Oh, yeah. Your record’s been sinking all year. You told me yourself you had a five-argument losing streak. And then there were all those errors.”

Josh nodded ruefully. There had been a lot of errors this year. Forty-five Missed Compliments, three Forgotten Events, twelve Accidental Insults—he’d been playing like a rookie.

Craig squeezed his little brother’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Josh,” he said. “Believe me, I know what you’re going through. Remember in ’04-’05? When Zoe traded me?”

Josh nodded. They’d come to the same bar then.

“I was devastated,” Craig said. “I’d just taken her to Henry’s Inn for her birthday—you know, that fancy place with all the candles? Got her a steak, gave her a necklace, took her to a show, massaged her feet . . .”

“You hit for the cycle?”

“Uh-huh. Then I wake up the next day and she’s giving me my marching orders. Tells me she needs to ‘shake things up’ if she wants to remain a contender.”


“It was right before Valentine’s Day.”

“Of course,” Josh said. “The Trade Deadline.”

Read more:

Basta Bunga Bunga

by Ariel Levy

In 2008, during his fourth campaign to become Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi released a video in which a beautiful blond woman, standing in a grocery store beside a pile of bananas, sings, “There’s a big dream that lives in all of us.” A throng of women belt out the chorus together under a cloudless sky: “Meno male che Silvio c’è”— “Thank God there’s Silvio.” Other women in various settings pick up the tune: a young mother in a pediatrician’s office, surrounded by nurses; a brunette in a beauty parlor, dressed for work in a camisole that barely covers her breasts. To American eyes, the ad looks like a parody, or perhaps some new kind of musical pornography that’s about to erupt into carnality. The finale depicts a passionate young swimming instructor singing to a pool full of women in bathing suits: “Say it with the strength possessed only by those who have a pure mind: Presidente, we are with you!”

These days, you would have to possess an unusually pure mind to look at that pool full of young women without picturing the pool at Berlusconi’s estate, Arcore, just outside Milan. Along with the basement disco and the upstairs bedrooms, the pool is featured almost daily in Italian newspapers as one of the sites where the Presidente reportedly hosted scores of orgies—or, as they have become known around the world, Bunga Bungas. (There is heated debate about the origin of the term. Some say Berlusconi picked it up from Muammar Qaddafi—his friend, until recently. Others cite an off-color joke set in Africa.) The Bunga Bungas are a source of humiliation for many Italians, and of humor for others, including the Presidente, as Berlusconi is called. Not long ago, he told a convention of the Movement for National Responsibility, upon hearing its theme song, “My compliments on your anthem. I will use it as one of my songs for a Bunga Bunga!”

Berlusconi has always seemed pleased with himself. In 2006, he offered some advice to Italians living below the poverty line: “Do it my way and earn more money!” (His net worth is estimated at nine billion dollars.) He has described himself as “the best in the world—all the other world leaders wish they could be as good as I am.” Lately, however, his bravado has sounded increasingly misplaced. The Italian economy is stalled, and unemployment is at 8.4 per cent. In 2009, he was lambasted for his inadequate response to earthquakes in Abruzzo, which killed more than three hundred people and left seventy thousand homeless. Last July, Gianfranco Fini, the president of the parliamentary Chamber of Deputies, who had been a crucial ally for sixteen years, broke away to form his own party. And then came Ruby.

Read more:
photo: markk
Mexico City

A Billion Wicked Thoughts

by Maia Szalavitz

What internet searches reveal about human desire.

Searching all the porn on the Internet might not seem like the most scientifically productive activity, but computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam did it anyway.

For their new book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, Ogas and Gaddam analyzed the results of 400 million online searches for porn and uncovered some startling insights into what men and women may really want from each other — at least sexually. I spoke recently with Ogas.

Why did you decide to analyze online porn searches?

I'm a computational neuroscientist. I view the mind as software. Most computational neuroscientists study higher functions like memory, language and vision. We wanted to apply the same techniques to a lower part of the brain, the sexual part.

So is "Rule 34" true — that if you can imagine it, there's porn of it?

When we first started, Rule 34 was almost a guiding idea. The Internet has every kind of imaginable porn; searches are going to reflect immense diversity. We quickly realized that [the data] didn't really support that.

Even though you can find an instance of any kind of porn you can imagine, people search for and spend money and time on 20 sexual interests, which account for 80% of all porn. The top five are youth, gays, [sexy mothers], breasts and cheating wives.

The Long Weekend

by Alex Balk

What are you doing this weekend? Drinking, sure. Maybe you will attend some kind of "barbecue" or "cookout" with "friends" or "family," during which you will probably eat some charred animal flesh, unless you are a vegan, in which case you will stand there with an impossibly smug look on your face but will be secretly angry inside because all you've had to eat all day are chips and salsa and possibly carrots if they served some kind of vegetable platter. Maybe you'll stay in and blast the A/C and watch six seasons of whatever show you always wanted to get into that is now streaming on Netflix. Maybe you're sad and alone and you have no one to share the weekend with, in which case you'll probably spend most of your time sleeping or crying. There is a world of possibilities out there! But know this for sure: Because the Internet has completely rewired your brain and jacked up the level of stimulus you now constantly require, there will come a point at which you are completely bored and want something to read, but you will not want to turn on your computer because it's a three-day weekend and you feel like turning your computer says something bad about your ability to disconnect. Well, good news! Here are a few of the longer pieces we've run over the last six months or so. Print them out now and take them with you, wherever you go. When the urge strikes, pull 'em out and read 'em. It'll be just like being online, without the guilty feeling that actually being online provides. Enjoy! And have as good a time as you can. It's going to be Tuesday soon enough.

Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert
My Two Days as a Russian Tabloid Sensation
The Last Two Veterans of World War I
When Your Shrink Dies
Chris Kanyon's Doomed Quest To Be Wrestling's First Openly Gay Star
Cannibals Seeking Same: A Visit To The Online World Of Flesh-Eaters
Humanity's Endless Quest to Invent a Death Ray: A History
Our Desperate, 250-Year-Long Search for a Gender-Neutral Pronoun
Gordon Likes to Think He is the Most Underrated of All Mythical Heroes
A Q&A With A Vacuum Cleaner Salesman

Photo by Niklas Hellerstedt, from Flickr.

The Truth About the American Economy

By Robert Reich

The U.S. economy continues to stagnate. It’s growing at the rate of 1.8 percent, which is barely growing at all. Consumer spending is down.

It’s vital that we understand the truth about the American economy.

How did we go from the Great Depression to 30 years of Great Prosperity? And from there, to 30 years of stagnant incomes and widening inequality, culminating in the Great Recession? And from the Great Recession into such an anemic recovery?

The Great Prosperity

During three decades from 1947 to 1977, the nation implemented what might be called a basic bargain with American workers. Employers paid them enough to buy what they produced. Mass production and mass consumption proved perfect complements. Almost everyone who wanted a job could find one with good wages, or at least wages that were trending upward.

During these three decades everyone’s wages grew — not just those at or near the top.

Government enforced the basic bargain in several ways. It used Keynesian policy to achieve nearly full employment. It gave ordinary workers more bargaining power. It provided social insurance. And it expanded public investment. Consequently, the portion of total income that went to the middle class grew while the portion going to the top declined. But this was no zero-sum game. As the economy grew almost everyone came out ahead, including those at the top.

The pay of workers in the bottom fifth grew 116 percent over these years — faster than the pay of those in the top fifth (which rose 99 percent), and in the top 5 percent (86 percent).

Productivity also grew quickly. Labor productivity — average output per hour worked — doubled. So did median incomes. Expressed in 2007 dollars, the typical family’s income rose from about $25,000 to $55,000. The basic bargain was cinched.

The middle class had the means to buy, and their buying created new jobs. As the economy grew, the national debt shrank as a percentage of it.

Read more:

Textbooks Go the iTunes Route

[ed.  I've been out of college for a while.  Can an introductory biology text really cost $185?  What kind of pricing methodology justifies a figure like that?  No wonder students and families are drowning in debt.]

by  Ben Wieder

The high cost of textbooks is a rising student complaint. It inspired recent federal legislation calling on colleges to list the cost of required reading. When courses use only a portion of expensive books, it only makes matters worse.

"Sometimes a professor only assigns five chapters out of a whole book," says Jennie A. Dexter, who just graduated from Oklahoma State University at Tulsa with a degree in marketing and management.

Now textbook publishers are offering an experimental form of price relief: The option to buy book chapters instead of the whole thing, in electronic versions with lower prices.

McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education are among the investors in the San Francisco-based start-up Inkling, which offers multimedia-rich iPad versions of several publishers' textbooks by the chapter or by the book. Cengage Learning also offers students the opportunity to buy chapters of various books in a PDF format, through its Web site.

For students accustomed to purchasing individual songs from Apple's iTunes store, the chapters option may seem like a logical step. Whether it actually saves students money depends on how many chapters from a book they are assigned, when they're given that assignment, and, in the case of Inkling titles, whether they were already planning to spend the $500 or more to purchase an iPad.

The 10th edition of Sylvia S. Mader's Biology textbook, published by McGraw-Hill, is one of Inkling's introductory-biology offerings. The book has 47 chapters, and Inkling sells each one for $3.99, with one chapter thrown in free. The company sells the entire iPad version for $129.99, and McGraw-Hill's hardcover version retails for $185. So students assigned 33 or fewer chapters would save money buying by the chapter rather than by the book.

Of course, such savings are only possible if a professor assigns just a portion of the book. Of 33 publicly available course syllabi that use the textbook, retrieved through a Google search, only two had more than 30 chapters assigned, meaning that students in the other 31 classes would have been better off buying by the chapter. But that is far from a wide-ranging or representative sample of courses.

Ms. Dexter says she would welcome the option to buy only the chapters assigned for class. "It's totally cost-effective," she says. A fellow recent graduate of Oklahoma State, Brent M. Fitzgerald, says most people he knows don't like paying for material they don't use. "Students read what they have to, that's it," he says.

And that's just what worries David S. Berg, a psychology professor at the Community College of Philadelphia. He likes the technology—he leads faculty workshops on using the iPhone and iPad in teaching and encourages students to buy digital textbooks. But he doesn't like what he calls the increasing "disarticulation" of the course model.

Read more:

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Go for What Hurts

Jonathan Franzen is the author, most recently, of “Freedom.” This essay is adapted from a commencement speech he delivered on May 21 at Kenyon College.

A couple of weeks ago, I replaced my three-year-old BlackBerry Pearl with a much more powerful BlackBerry Bold. Needless to say, I was impressed with how far the technology had advanced in three years. Even when I didn’t have anybody to call or text or e-mail, I wanted to keep fondling my new Bold and experiencing the marvelous clarity of its screen, the silky action of its track pad, the shocking speed of its responses, the beguiling elegance of its graphics.

I was, in short, infatuated with my new device. I’d been similarly infatuated with my old device, of course; but over the years the bloom had faded from our relationship. I’d developed trust issues with my Pearl, accountability issues, compatibility issues and even, toward the end, some doubts about my Pearl’s very sanity, until I’d finally had to admit to myself that I’d outgrown the relationship.

Do I need to point out that — absent some wild, anthropomorphizing projection in which my old BlackBerry felt sad about the waning of my love for it — our relationship was entirely one-sided? Let me point it out anyway.

Let me further point out how ubiquitously the word “sexy” is used to describe late-model gadgets; and how the extremely cool things that we can do now with these gadgets — like impelling them to action with voice commands, or doing that spreading-the-fingers iPhone thing that makes images get bigger — would have looked, to people a hundred years ago, like a magician’s incantations, a magician’s hand gestures; and how, when we want to describe an erotic relationship that’s working perfectly, we speak, indeed, of magic.

Let me toss out the idea that, as our markets discover and respond to what consumers most want, our technology has become extremely adept at creating products that correspond to our fantasy ideal of an erotic relationship, in which the beloved object asks for nothing and gives everything, instantly, and makes us feel all powerful, and doesn’t throw terrible scenes when it’s replaced by an even sexier object and is consigned to a drawer.

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Let me suggest, finally, that the world of techno-consumerism is therefore troubled by real love, and that it has no choice but to trouble love in turn.

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Hacking in the U.S.A

[ed.  Government definitions of cyber terrorism here:]

by Kim Zetter

If you want to see a top Pentagon official squirm, tune into CNBC’s cyberwar documentary Thursday night, and watch Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn face an uncomfortably direct question about the Stuxnet worm.

In “CodeWars: America’s Cyber Threat,” correspondent Melissa Lee asks Lynn outright: “Was the U.S. involved in any way in the development of Stuxnet?”

Lynn’s response is long enough that an inattentive viewer might not notice that it doesn’t answer the question.

“The challenges of Stuxnet, as I said, what it shows you is the difficulty of any, any attribution and it’s something that we’re still looking at, it’s hard to get into any kind of comment on that until we’ve finished our examination,” Lynn replies.

“But sir, I’m not asking you if you think another country was involved,” Lee presses. “I’m asking you if the U.S. was involved. If the Department of Defense was involved.”

“And this is not something that we’re going to be able to answer at this point,” Lynn finally says.

The sophisticated Stuxnet worm was released on systems in Iran in June 2009 and again in March and April 2010, and was designed to specifically target programmable logic controllers used in industrial control systems made by Siemens. The worm was programmed to launch its attack only on Siemens systems that had a specific configuration — a configuration believed to exist at Iran’s Natanz plant, where weapons-grade uranium is being enriched.

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Solar Farms of Le Mées, France

The energy company Efinity opened two new solar-power farms in Le Mées in north-central France this month. They're huge. Together they occupy 89 acres, generating enough electricity for 9,000 families. They were also designed with the landscape in mind. The panels were installed without concrete foundations, which means when their 20-year lifespan is over and they're removed, there will be healthy land left behind, and grasses are being planted so sheep can graze among them.

But what's most remarkable about these solar farms is that they're really aesthetically pleasing. Set on the rolling hills, they look like some sort of Frank Gehry installation. Carbon aside, they're just much nicer to look at than a coal plant.

Pieces of a Man

by James Fallows

The music I most associate with my first stage of living in Washington, in the Watergate era of the 1970s when I was working for the Washington Monthly, was the voice and poetry of Gil Scott-Heron, who was then in his early-/mid-20s. When I think of sitting and sweating in the non-airconditioned Washington Monthly office late on stifling DC nights, I think as well of Gil Scott-Heron's immediately recognizable voice in the background, on the radio. To me it was the theme music of that time. Of course this was a voice you stopped and listened to, rather than half-noticing as background effect.

He really was a beautiful singer, in addition to his poetry -- and his political influence, which has been most discussed on the occasion of his death. The only drawback of his being so well known for 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' is that his singing doesn't sound so great on that song. I preferred ones like this, which certainly is political in its own way:



by Lawrence Bush

Long-term marriages rank with fools, barflies and traveling salesmen as a classic butt of American jokes.

I married her 60 years ago, and right away I knew it was a mistake!

Their punch lines testify to nagging, sniping, dissatisfaction and the loss of romance. Their baseline assumption is that a lengthy marriage is sexless or, at best, sexually worn out.

Darling, do you remember the first time we made love?
-- Hell, I can't remember the last time!

These days, there's a new rack of clever, grim headlines for comedians to invent:

"Maria & Arnold: Terminated!"

"IMF head sits in jail, waiting for a bail-out"

Meanwhile, I'm sitting at home, practicing my punditry and wondering why it is that after 36 years with the same woman -- with whom I have made love more than 3,000 times -- there's nothing I'd like better right now than to go into the next room to strip off her clothes.

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How to Care for Your Mother

 by Annie Murphy Paul

Combining personal narrative with practical advice, as Jane Gross does in “A Bittersweet Season,” is a tricky business. A reader swept up in a story is apt to resent the intrusion of brass tacks. And a reader looking for how-tos will have little use for the details of an author’s own tale. Particularly perilous are the transitions between the instructional and the essayistic — passages reminiscent of the fraught moments in Broadway musicals when ordinary speech must lift into song. There is the actor, speaking his lines; suddenly he leans on his pitchfork, squints into the distance and breaks into a soaring rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.”

Or, in this case, “Pore Jud Is Daid.” Gross, a former reporter for The New York Times who wrote pioneering stories about AIDS and autism, here takes on a subject she knows from experience: the trials of caring for an aging parent. She mixes an account of her mother’s difficult last years with a “hard-earned list of tips” on eldercare. Her chronicle of her mother’s decline is intimate and affecting, and her advice to readers is insightful — but the shifts between the two are often far from smooth.

The story part begins just over a decade ago, when Gross’s mother, Estelle, a widow in her mid-80s, becomes too frail to live alone in her Florida apartment. Gross recognizes it’s time for her mother to undertake a “reverse migration,” a move back north to be near Gross and her brother. But she is unprepared for the burdens and crises that follow her mother’s relocation to an assisted-living facility in New York: the plaintive (or demanding) phone calls, the late-night emergency-room visits, the medical tests that stretch into all-day ordeals. Most painful for Gross is seeing Estelle, a proud and private woman, frustrated by her growing infirmity. In a tiny, telling scene, the author observes her mother trying to remove her socks: “She resisted assistance in taking them off, but watching her struggle both saddened and annoyed me.”


U.S. Declines to Protect Bluefin Tuna

by Felicity Barringer

The Obama administration said on Friday that it had declined to grant Endangered Species Act protections to the Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose numbers have declined precipitously because of overfishing on both sides of the ocean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the fish, whose fatty flesh is prized by sushi aficionados, would be classified as a species of concern, however, effectively placing bluefin on a watch list as the agency awaits new data on the impact of a stricter international management regimen.

“The future of this species relies on sound international management,” said Larry Robinson, NOAA’s assistant secretary for conservation and management. The agency’s scientists are also continuing to assess the effect of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill on bluefin spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, officials said, and the agency will revisit its decision by early 2013.

Mr. Robinson said the bluefin tuna did not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act because it was “not likely to become extinct.”

The decision drew sharp criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Arizona that filed the petition requesting endangered species protection. “The Obama administration is kowtowing to the fears of the U.S. fishing industry instead of following the science on this,” said Kieran Suckling, the center’s executive director.

Several other environmental groups have questioned the wisdom of unilaterally listing the bluefin tuna as an endangered species, saying that coordinated international action is preferable.

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Won't Get Fooled Again

by Simon Garfield

Rock music in 2011 is not quite what it was in the mid-1960s. For one thing, it is full of challenging coincidences, such as the one reported by Pete Townshend in a recent e-mail. “I was supposed to be sailing in the St Barth’s Bucket Race on March 24th,” he wrote. That’s right: the writer of “My Generation”, “Substitute” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” now spends part of his time as a yachtsman in the Caribbean. “This was arranged last August,” he added. “In a challenging coincidence Roger Daltrey will be performing ‘Tommy’ on that very day for Teenage Cancer [Trust] at the Royal Albert Hall.”

More than most rock stars, Townshend notices what is going on in the world, and he felt he was meeting the challenge in the only decent way he could. “In these straitened and tragic times I have decided I have to do something useful rather than try to enjoy myself on a yacht while so many people are in trouble, and I am going to see Roger today at his rehearsal studio to offer my services in some way. I hope I will be able to perform with him, possibly sing ‘Acid Queen’ as I did when The Who played at Woodstock.”

Daltrey wasn’t sure. He had already announced that “Tommy” would be played by a new bunch of musicians, which meant no place for Townshend on his own rock opera about the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” who turned out to be both a mean pinball player and a misappropriated seer, a concept that has sold 20m records. “I offered to perform,” Townshend wrote the next day, “but Roger and I agreed in the end that it might be best for him to do his show alone, just to properly test the new model…” Later, he expanded. “Our manager Bill [Curbishley] says that this is a safe place for this experiment. Like doing a run-through in our living room. I know Roger is nervous, but I went to his rehearsal yesterday and his musicians are superb, calm, and will provide the musical support he needs.”

I wondered if I was a silent witness to the break-up of one of rock’s greatest bands. But the following day, at 6.46am, this landed: “Dear Simon, Roger changed his mind. He has now agreed I can walk on and play ‘Acid Queen’ solo. Things change every day at the moment. He is extremely distracted, and of course very busy as usual at this time. – Pete”

Four hours later, this: “I’m definitely back on again. Doing ‘Acid Queen’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’...come if you can.”

A week or two earlier I had spent a few hours at Townshend’s home in Richmond, discussing the world of a rock star in the late afternoon of an explosive career. The conversations had ranged from his attitude towards fans (“there is something very strange about them”), his time as an editor at Faber & Faber (“I don’t think P.D. James liked me at all”) and his current reading matter, a horticultural monthly (“I subscribe to the idea that as you get older you should try to make a garden”). We also discussed his arrest in 2003 for giving his credit card details to an online company that traded in indecent photographs. But we began by talking about the memoir he has been working on for years.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Night Mix

[ed.  SNM will be going on a brief hiatus for the summer.  I'll try to post individual videos when I come across something interesting; in the mean time here are some Flight of the Conchords.]

Ukulele Songs

A few weeks ago, Eddie Vedder released a video for the song “Longing to Belong” from his new album, a second solo full-length, Ukulele Songs. The video fittingly captures Eddie amidst a Hawaiian landscape, of which he spends quite a bit of his time (I would know this because I ran into him at a hotel there and my stalker husband gained that intel from one of the hotel staff).

Anyway, if you head over to NPR, you can listen to Ukulele Songs in full, for free, as NPR is wont to do.

The songs found on Vedder’s new album are selections from more than a decade of writing on the instrument. While the majority of the album is a calm, nostalgic, melody-inspired affair, the album does open up with Pearl Jam’s propulsive “Can’t Keep.” Either way, the overall sound of Ukulele Songs shows us a softer Eddie Vedder, featuring songs drenched in sadness about the breakup of his first marriage, while others speak to the joy and serenity of his second one.

And just when you think an entire album of songs featuring Eddie Vedder and his ukulele might be just a bit too spare, we get some backup vocals from the likes of Glen Hansard on “Sleepless Nights” and Cat Power on 1920′s-inspired “Tonight You Belong to Me.”

You could probably buy your mom this record for her summer layouts by the pool. Or you could buy it for yourself, because it’s actually quite lovely.


Courtney Comes Clean

[ed.  Wow.  You don't read many interviews like this.  Sounds like there's still a lot of denial going on.]

by  Maer Roshan

Last September Courtney Love was scheduled to headline a large concert to benefit the recovery community. Intrigued by the prospect of her performing before thousands of recovering addicts and drunks, I asked her if she'd agree to an interview about her hard-won sobriety. Much to my surprise, she did.

Love was scheduled to perform at Randall's Island Park at 11 a.m. Much to the consternation of the event’s organizers, she showed up three hours late. Apparently her hairdresser was tardy, her make-up artist was a mess, and she needed a jacuzzi dip to calm her frayed nerves. She then spent an hour and a half picking out an appropriate outfit and trying on dozens of shoes. So by the time her car arrived at the park, the crowd of 10,000 had thinned out to about 50 stragglers and die-hard fans, one of whom suffered a heart attack at the exact moment Love emerged from her limo. (Courtney has that kind of effect on people.) As an ambulance rushed over to save the stricken fan, the singer trekked blithely across the expansive grass lawn. “Where is everybody?” she shrieked, trying to stay balanced on her sharp stiletto heels. “Wasn't this supposed to be some massive event!”

Informed that most of the audience had long departed, she smiled sadly and beckoned the remnants of the crowd into a make-shift V.I.P. tent backstage. There, for well over an hour, she delivered a flawless performance, capped off by a rollicking cover of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. Afterwards she patiently signed autographs and sat for an hour-long interview with a documentary team to discuss her struggle with recovery. As she was leaving, a teenage boy who had nearly died of a heroin overdose months earlier approached her for a few private words. She wrapped her arms around him and talked to him for 20 minutes. When she left she was almost in tears.

That, in a nutshell, is Courtney Love—a mad, maddening presence who has managed, through sheer will and raw talent, to stake out a place at the forefront of pop culture for over two decades. At an age (46) when many of her contemporaries are playing reunion shows, she has managed to remain as raucous and relevant as ever, a multi-talented performer who has made impressive inroads in movies, fashion and music.

The following interview links a series of taped conversations that occurred over the past eight months. No doubt many will shudder at the notion of a recovery-oriented website prominently featuring a celebrity who has been a poster girl for drug abuse. But for all that, she may be a perfect poster child for recovery as well. There is something undeniably admirable about her free-wheeling honesty about her struggle with sobriety, and her determined optimism after every fall that this time things will turn out differently. Role model or not, her rocky road to recovery should resonate with many of our readers. We're sure you'll let us know, either way.

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Why Not Let the Dead Pay for Medicare?

by  Kevin Drum

So here's an idea: why not reform Medicare by means testing it? Conservatives should love this idea.

Here's how it works. Basically, we leave Medicare alone. Oh, we can still go ahead with some of the obvious reforms. Comparative effectiveness research is a no-brainer for anyone who's not part of the Republican leadership. Ditto for some of the delivery reforms on the table. Or allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices. It would be great if that stuff works. But if it doesn't, then people will need to pay more for their care. So why not have dead people pay? They don't need the money any more, after all.

So Medicare stays roughly the same, but every time you receive medical care you also get a bill. You don't have to pay it, though. It's just there for accounting purposes. When you die, the bill gets paid out of your estate. If your estate is small or nonexistent, you've gotten lots of free medical care. If it's large, you'll pay for it all. If you're somewhere in between, you'll end up paying for part of the care you've received.

Obviously this gives people incentives to spend all their money before they die. That's fine. I suspect they wouldn't end up spending as much as you'd think. What it does mean, though, is that Medicare has first claim on their estate, not their kids. But that seems fair, doesn't it?

Do you want to make sure to credit estates with all the Medicare taxes that have been paid over the years? Fine. Do you want to exempt a certain smallish amount to account for genuine family heirlooms? Fine. Do you want to pass laws making sure that estates can't be transferred to other people or trusts in order to evade this rule? Or regulate the use of reverse mortgages? Or make special rules for heirs who are minors? Fine, fine, and fine. Whatever.

But I'll bet this would raise a fair amount of money. What's more, that Medicare bill, with its continuously increasing grand total, would give people a pretty good sense of just how much medical care they're really getting. And it wouldn't impoverish the elderly with means testing while they were living. It would come solely from dead people, who have taken advantage of Medicare while they were alive and have no use for their money after they're dead. So what's not to like?


Grindr: Welcome to the World’s Biggest, Scariest Gay Bar

by Matt Kapp

A smart, attractive, chronically single friend of mine had been feverishly fidgeting with his iPhone for half a dozen blocks, somehow navigating the crowded sidewalks without once lifting his gaze from the screen. “Here’s one … 1,127 feet,” he muttered. And then, “Oh, 413 feet!” Sensing my annoyance, he showed me his phone: dozens of little thumbnail pictures of guys, with little blurbs about themselves, organized from top to bottom in order of proximity. Suddenly, it became clear to me what his excitement was about. Could this crude little iPhone app be every single gay man’s dream: to be able to cruise anywhere, anytime? Shopping? Why not! Meet me in Aisle C! Killing time at the airport? I’m sitting at Gate 17. At the gym? A no-brainer. Even at gay bars: cruising within cruising.

Grindr claims its app has more than a million users in more than 180 countries, including Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Haiti, Iraq, and Iran, places where being gay can get you killed. But nowhere is Grindr more popular than in the U.K., where there are more than 160,000 users, which means, after adjusting for population, almost twice as many gay Brits use Grindr as gay Americans do. London tops the list of cities, with 62,000 Grindr users, which the company proudly points out is “1 in every 60 male Londoners.” Users spend an average of 1.3 hours a day logged on. Openly gay celebrity jack-of-all-trades and devout technophile Stephen Fry introduced Grindr to British television viewers on the BBC’s hit show Top Gear, which is about the rather heterosexual subject of cars. “This one may not be quite so up your strata,” he warned Top Gear’s host, Jeremy Clarkson. “It’s called Grindr.” As Fry showed off the app, Clarkson’s incredulity shifted to enthusiasm. “You can find the nearest cruising homosexual with one of those?,” he marveled. “Imagine in traffic jams!” Grindr downloads spiked by 30,000 in the days after Fry’s appearance on the show.

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Branding America

By Naomi Klein

In May 2009, Absolut Vodka launched a limited edition line called "Absolut No ­Label". The company's global public relations manager, Kristina Hagbard, explained that "For the first time we dare to face the world completely naked. We launch a bottle with no label and no logo, to manifest the idea that no matter what's on the outside, it's the inside that really matters."

A few months later, Starbucks opened its first unbranded coffee shop in Seattle, called 15th Avenue E Coffee and Tea. This "stealth Starbucks" (as the anomalous outlet immediately became known) was decorated with "one-of-a-kind" fixtures and customers were invited to bring in their own music for the stereo system as well as their own pet social causes – all to help develop what the company called "a community personality." Customers had to look hard to find the small print on the menus: "inspired by Starbucks". Tim Pfeiffer, a Starbucks senior vice-president, explained that unlike the ordinary Starbucks outlet that used to occupy the same piece of retail space, "This one is definitely a little neighbourhood coffee shop." After spending two decades blasting its logo on to 16,000 stores worldwide, Starbucks was now trying to escape its own brand.

Clearly the techniques of branding have both thrived and adapted since I published No Logo. But in the past 10 years I have written very little about developments like these. I realised why while reading William Gibson's 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. The book's protagonist, Cayce Pollard, is allergic to brands, particularly Tommy Hilfiger and the Michelin man. So strong is this "morbid and sometimes violent reactivity to the semiotics of the marketplace" that she has the buttons on her Levi's jeans ground smooth so that there are no corporate markings. When I read those words, I immediately realised that I had a similar affliction. As a child and teenager I was almost obsessively drawn to brands. But writing No Logo required four years of total immersion in ad culture – four years of watching and rewatching Super Bowl ads, scouring Advertising Age for the latest innovations in corporate synergy, reading soul-destroying business books on how to get in touch with your personal brand values, making excursions to Niketowns, to monster malls, to branded towns.

Some of it was fun. But by the end, it was as if I had passed some kind of threshold and, like Cayce, I developed something close to a brand allergy. Brands lost most of their charm for me, which was handy because once No Logo was a bestseller, even drinking a Diet Coke in public could land me in the gossip column of my hometown newspaper.

The aversion extended even to the brand that I had accidentally created: No Logo. From studying Nike and Starbucks, I was well acquainted with the basic tenet of brand management: find your message, trademark and protect it and repeat yourself ad nauseam through as many synergised platforms as possible. I set out to break these rules whenever the opportunity arose. The offers for No Logo spin-off projects (feature film, TV series, clothing line . . .) were rejected. So were the ones from the megabrands and cutting-edge advertising agencies that wanted me to give them seminars on why they were so hated (there was a career to be made, I was learning, in being a kind of anti-corporate dominatrix, making overpaid executives feel good by telling them what bad, bad brands they were). And against all sensible advice, I stuck by the decision not to trademark the title (that means no royalties from a line of Italian No Logo food products, though they did send me some lovely olive oil).

Most important to my marketing detox program, I changed the subject. Less than a year after No Logo came out I put a personal ban on all talk of corporate branding. In interviews and public appearances I would steer discussion away from the latest innovation in viral marketing and Prada's new superstore and towards the growing resistance movement against corporate rule, the one that had captured world attention with the militant protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle. "But aren't you your own brand?" clever interviewers would ask me endlessly. "Probably," I would respond. "But I try to be a really crap one."

Changing the subject from branding to politics was no great sacrifice because politics was what brought me to marketing in the first place. The first articles I published as a journalist were about the limited job options available to me and my peers – the rise of short-term contracts and McJobs, as well as the ubiquitous use of sweatshop labour to produce the branded gear sold to us. As a token "youth columnist", I also covered how an increasingly voracious marketing culture was encroaching on previously protected non-corporate spaces – schools, museums, parks – while ideas that my friends and I had considered radical were absorbed almost instantly into the latest marketing campaigns for Nike, Benetton and Apple.

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Gil Scott-Heron ( April 1, 1949 -- May 27, 2011)

by Alec Wilkinson

Gil Scott-Heron is frequently called the “godfather of rap,” which is an epithet he doesn’t really care for. In 1968, when he was nineteen, he wrote a satirical spoken-word piece called “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” It was released on a very small label in 1970 and was probably heard of more than heard, but it had a following. It is the species of classic that sounds as subversive and intelligent now as it did when it was new, even though some of the references—Spiro Agnew, Natalie Wood, Roy Wilkins, Hooterville—have become dated. By the time Scott-Heron was twenty-three, he had published two novels and a book of poems and recorded three albums, each of which prospered modestly, but “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him famous.

Scott-Heron calls himself a bluesologist. He is sixty-one, tall and scrawny, and he lives in Harlem, in a ground-floor apartment that he doesn’t often leave. It is long and narrow, and there’s a bedspread covering a sliding glass door to a patio, so no light enters, making the place seem like a monk’s cell or a cave. Once, when I thought he was away, I called to convey a message, and he answered and said, “I’m here. Where else would a caveman be but in his cave?”

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Cat Mom Hugs Baby Kitten

[ed.  This seems to be the meme of the week.]


The U.S. Postal Service Nears Collapse

by Devin Leonard

Phillip Herr looks like many of the men who toil deep within the federal government. He wears blue suits. He keeps his graying hair and mustache neatly trimmed. He has an inoffensively earnest manner. He also has heavy bags under his eyes, which testify to the long hours he spends scrutinizing federal spending for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency where he is Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues. As his title suggests, Herr devotes much of his time to highway programs. But for the past three years he has been diagnosing what ails the U.S. Postal Service.

It's a lonely calling. "Washington is full of Carnegie and Brookings Institutes with people who can tell you every option we have in Egypt or Pakistan," laments Herr, who has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. "Try and find someone who does that on the postal service. There aren't many."

Yet Herr finds the USPS fascinating: ubiquitous, relied on, and headed off a cliff. Its trucks are everywhere; few give it a second thought. "It's one of those things that the public just takes for granted," he says. "The mailman shows up, drops off the mail, and that's it."

He is struck by how many USPS executives started out as letter carriers or clerks. He finds them so consumed with delivering mail that they have been slow to grasp how swiftly the service's financial condition is deteriorating. "We said, 'What's your 10-year plan?' " Herr recalls. "They didn't have one."

Congress gave him until the end of 2011 to report on the USPS's woes. But Herr and his team concluded that the postal service's business model was so badly broken that collapse was imminent. Abandoning a long tradition of overdue reports, they felt they had to deliver theirs 18 months early in April 2010 to the various House and Senate committees and subcommittees that watch over the USPS. A year later, the situation is even grimmer. With the rise of e-mail and the decline of letters, mail volume is falling at a staggering rate, and the postal service's survival plan isn't reassuring. Elsewhere in the world, postal services are grappling with the same dilemma—only most of them, in humbling contrast, are thriving.

The USPS is a wondrous American creation. Six days a week it delivers an average of 563 million pieces of mail—40 percent of the entire world's volume. For the price of a 44¢ stamp, you can mail a letter anywhere within the nation's borders. The service will carry it by pack mule to the Havasupai Indian reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Mailmen on snowmobiles take it to the wilds of Alaska. If your recipient can no longer be found, the USPS will return it at no extra charge. It may be the greatest bargain on earth.

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