Monday, February 28, 2005
The ties that bind.
Also taking a long view, Steve Clemons posts about Chinese efforts to create Sino-centric regional organizations.
Prior Koko here and here.
Economic insecurity in America.
I'm still waiting for the story behind that building.
My friend P., with his lovely and talented wife M., serving on assignment in the Middle East.
At the risk of mentioning Thomas Kuhn and Malcolm Gladwell in the same breath,
Thomas Kuhn famously argued that science advances not gradually but in jolts, through a series of raw and jagged paradigm shifts. Somebody sees a problem differently, and suddenly everybody's vantage point changes.
"Why not here?" is a Kuhnian question, and as you open the newspaper these days, you see it flitting around the world like a thought contagion. Wherever it is asked, people seem to feel that the rules have changed. New possibilities have opened up.
The question is being asked now in Lebanon. Walid Jumblatt made his much circulated observation to David Ignatius of The Washington Post: "It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world."
So now we have mass demonstrations on the streets of Beirut. A tent city is rising up near the crater where Rafik Hariri was killed, and the inhabitants are refusing to leave until Syria withdraws. The crowds grow in the evenings; bathroom facilities are provided by a nearby Dunkin' Donuts and a Virgin Megastore.
Perhaps Brooks has a new intern who had a roommate who read Kuhn, or something. I don't recall that Einstein solution's to the problem of gravitational red shift was raw or jagged. Maybe because fewer car bombs were involved? (Since Kuhn's insight was about the philosophy of science, maybe the better lessen we can draw from Kuhn has to do with the way people like David Ignatius can drive the rest of us to think something has suddenly changed in Lebanon.) (Maybe there has been a paradigm shift in Lebanon, and the Lebanese have suddenly realized that the large body distorting what they see has been Syria all along. We shall see.)
Working references to Dunkin' Donuts and Virgin Megastores into political commentary on the Middle East is, famously, Tom Friedman's turf, and so Friedman one-upped Brooks on Sunday by framing his column with the philosopher of science whom the pundits and cognoscenti might actually have read, Malcolm Gladwell. Maybe Gladwell doesn't have Kuhn's staying power or prestige yet, but his sales are a lot better. Wrote Friedman:
Three tipping points at once!?!? We know that two tipping points can't work, because what you've got is a see-saw, but three tipping points -- that works, because you tip, you tip back, and then you tip again. I recognize at this point that what I'm saying has neither fidelity to Gladwell nor usefulness to anyone trying to understand the Middle East. Call it an homage to Friedman, who could turn next to another question posed in The Tipping Point. "Have you ever thought about yawning?"
The other night on ABC's "Nightline," the host, Ted Koppel, posed an intriguing question to Malcolm Gladwell, the social scientist who wrote the path-breaking book "The Tipping Point," which is about how changes in behavior or perception can reach a critical mass and then suddenly create a whole new reality. Mr. Koppel asked: Can you know you are in the middle of a tipping point, or is it only something you can see in retrospect?
Mr. Gladwell responded that "the most important thing in trying to analyze whether something is at the verge of a tipping point, is whether it - an event - causes people to reframe an issue. ...A dumb example is the Atkins's diet, which reframes dieting from thinking about it in terms of avoiding calories and fat to thinking about it as avoiding carbohydrates, which really changes the way people perceive dieting."
Mr. Koppel was raising the question because he wanted to explore whether the Iraqi elections marked a tipping point in history. I was on the same show, and in mulling over this question more I think that what's so interesting about the Middle East today is that we're actually witnessing three tipping points at once.
Anyhoo, here are Friedman's three points:
Thanks to eight million Iraqis defying "you vote, you die" terrorist threats, Iraq has been reframed from a story about Iraqi "insurgents" trying to liberate their country from American occupiers and their Iraqi "stooges" to a story of the overwhelming Iraqi majority trying to build a democracy, with U.S. help, against the wishes of Iraqi Baathist-fascists and jihadists.
In Lebanon, the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which Syria is widely suspected of having had a hand in, has reframed that drama. A month ago, Lebanon was the story of a tiny Christian minority trying to resist the Syrian occupation, which had the tacit support of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government and a cadre of Lebanese politicians who had sold their souls to Damascus. After the Hariri murder, Lebanese just snapped. Lebanon became the story of a broad majority of Lebanese Christians, Muslims and Druse no longer willing to remain silent, but instead telling the Syrians, and their Lebanese puppet president, to "go home." Lebanon went from a country where few dared whisper "When will Syria leave?" to a country where nearly everyone was shouting it, and Syria was having to answer.
The Israel-Palestine drama has gone from how Ariel Sharon will use any means possible to sustain Israel's hold on Gaza, which he once said was indispensable for the security of the Jewish state, to being about how Mr. Sharon will use any means possible to evacuate Gaza - with its huge Palestinian population - which he now says is necessary for saving Israel as a Jewish state. The issue for the Palestinians is no longer about how they resist the Israeli occupation in Gaza, but whether they build a decent mini-state there - a Dubai on the Mediterranean. Because if they do, it will fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank.
See, the thing is, these aren't tipping points anymore than they are paradigm shifts. We have Iraq being "reframed," Lebanon becoming a new "story," and the Israeli debate being "fundamentally reshaped." I haven't read this Lakoff book that everyone is talking about, but I'm thinking that work on how our media turns their attention from one story to another would be a little more appropriate -- if perhaps too self-referential -- for explaining the phenomena that Brooks and Friedman really are describing.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
I remember in 1962 my wife and I were sitting in a café in Geneva during a break at the “Rochester” High-Energy Physics Conference, then in town. Looking at the other café patrons, we decided that they must be diplomats—they spoke languages we couldn’t identify, and they were much too well dressed to be physicists. For a moment I felt that although I loved physics, in choosing a career in research, I had given up the glamour of the great world of national and international affairs. Then Oppenheimer came in. He stopped at our table and chatted with me for a few minutes about some of the talks at the conference. After he walked away, one of the diplomats, wearing a gorgeous tarboosh and fez, came over and said, “Pahdon me, sah, but was that Doctah Oppenheimah?” My self-pity passed: I didn’t have a diplomatic passport, but at least I knew Oppenheimer.
The Republicans are incredibly vulnerable in many ways. Both in terms of culture and their brand positioning, and in terms of the contradictions between what they say and what they do. Between this world of all-American, regular people that they imagine and the world that they give us, like you just said, where people have to work two jobs to stay afloat, [is a wide gap]. Hammer that contradiction.
Unrestrained free-market capitalism is not the friend of average Americans. It’s not the friend of tradition and of small town values. It’s quite the opposite. It’s the great destroyer. But where are you going to find somebody in American politics to make an argument like that?
Someone has been thinking about testifying apes.
Glaberson writes the inevitable trial could go something like this: A great ape will actually appear in the courtroom to testify on its own behalf at a trial protesting the animal's life behind bars. The ape will be able to testify itself using sign language or, perhaps, the voice of a synthesizer. All this will prove, they say, that animals have certain legal rights, including a fundamental right to liberty. The challenge to this simple but basic legal proposition is the foundation for much of what occurs in our society, including the mass raising of animals for, and the eating of, meat; pet ownership; using animals in medical experiments; and hunting and fishing, just to name a few.
Don't laugh. As we speak, lawyers are preparing the ground for such a lawsuit and trial. One is William Reppy Jr., a Duke University law professor, who together with a small but growing cadre of animal rights' lawyers say that you will be hearing a lot more from them soon. Another lawyer, David Favre, a law professor at Detroit College of Law at the University of Michigan, is participating in one planning group for such cases, labeled the Great Ape Legal Project. It's part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a notorious national animal rights organization.
I'm not laughing. I want to know whether Koko will be holding a Bible when he takes the oath, or what?
But is he selling his house?
Michael Kinsley, one of my favorite sexists, says that the housing boom is over. Why? Because no one worries about it ending anymore, and we all need better stories to tell:
It is obvious to me that today's real estate prices are a speculative bubble that is bound to burst. Of course, this has been obvious to me for about three decades and wrong almost all of that time. Nevertheless. One piece of evidence is the Dinner Party Index. The boom is over when more people are bored by real estate anecdotes ("My next-door neighbor got three times her asking price before she even put it on the market, from a professional mind reader who divined that she was thinking about selling. . . .") than have new ones.Actually, he seems to really think the housing market is about to collapse:
Another reason the value of your house is about to plunge is that the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and The Washington Post all say that it isn't. A recent L.A. Times article reported that the median price of a local house had gone up only 17 percent in the past year. Headline: "L.A. County Home Prices Cool Slightly." Subhead: "Slowdown may not last."
Like a roller coaster, a financial bubble has a moment of eerie stillness at the top. Buyers have adjusted, sellers haven't. So sales dry up. When the New York Times spins a surplus of unsold houses as a sign that "the ongoing problem of a lack of houses for sale" has been solved, it means that you had better not count on the Times to tell you when it's time to bail.In our market, though, it doesn't look like there are too many houses on the market -- instead, the listings look a little thin here (and elsewhere?). Maybe that's why the SF Chronicle says Kinsley is wrong.
A big libel award against environmentalists.
Chilton responded by suing the center. In court, his attorney, Kraig Marton, showed jurors wide-angle photos — taken at the same locations as the ones on the Web site — that revealed oaks and mesquites dotting lush, rolling grasslands. Barren moonscapes blamed on cows were identified as a campsite for hunters and a parking lot for an annual festival. Marton told jurors that four of the photos weren’t even taken on Chilton’s allotment, though the center says they show a private inholding and a Forest Service exclosure on the allotment.Let's just say that the jurors sympathized a whole lot more with Chilton than CPB. After a two-week trial, they whacked CPB for $100,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. Hard to believe that he suffered to the tune of even $100,000, but then what do I know?
"They were out to do harm, out to stop grazing and out to do whatever they can to prevent the Chiltons and others like them from letting cows on public land," Marton said.
CPB's site is strangely silent about the whole affair. A search in their archives for "Chilton" returns no records. One suspects that they've been chilled.
Forget the wars on drugs and terrorism -- this is more important.
Law lecturer James Anstice . . . smashed up a nativity scene at Madame Tussaud's in London that featured David and Victoria Beckham (soccer star and former Spice Girl, respectively) as Joseph and Mary, and President Bush as one of the three wise men. He was charged with criminal damage for his efforts to render a cultural service to the nation. After his court appearance, Anstice said: "I have done my bit for the war against crap, but I do not think I am going to get involved in any more protests."
Unclear what this has to do with the war against crap, but Mangan says that most of the people who have food allegies actually don't:
I . . . am taking my cue from a study from UC Irvine that showed what many of us have long suspected: Most people who claim to have food allergies are, quite frankly, making it up.
The researchers told a study group (falsely) that they were allergic to certain foods. When they called the subjects later, lo and behold, they were regaled with heartfelt tales of how those foods had made the consumers turn purple and explode, or some such reactions.
That is not to say — and let me be very clear about this — that genuine food allergies don't exist. They can be symptoms of serious illness, and others can be serious enough on their own.
But although about 45% of people claim to have some kind of food intolerance (a figure that has risen dramatically over the last few years), doctors reckon that true allergic reactions can be found in only about 2% of the population (a figure that remains pretty static over the years).
Saturday, February 26, 2005
In other news from the gorilla litigation front,
"Redwood City attorney Todd Roberts, representing the Gorilla Foundation, said, "We're confident there's no merit to either of these lawsuits. We are not going to dignify the allegations with a response." One wonders whether he will keep saying that if more former employees come forward.
Oddly, no word in the article on whether legal experts expect Koko to testify at any trial. Plainly, Koko could corroborate either side's position.
Koko in happier, non-litigious times.
Democracy in Russia marches right along.
According to today's Wall Street Journal (the news pages, mind you, not the paranoid-fantasy pages in the back) Dresdner Bank hired a Stasi veteran who was pals with Vladimir Putin in his KGB days to run its Russian operation, and he's doing very well at it.
What I'm reading.
Force Majeure, by Bruce Wagner
Hadn't ever heard of this, and would be hard-pressed to explain why it leapt into my hands in the bookstore. Too soon to say how it's working out.
This one is called Tamalpais Moon. He's about to give away a photograph; you can register for the drawing on his site.
Tell Me About It.
I entered myself and my mother into a drawing. I mentioned this to my mother beforehand and said, "If you win, you need to split it with me," jokingly since I didn't expect either one of us to win. Well, she did and . . . it's a decent chunk of change. Now that she's won, she wants to split the money three ways -- between her, me and my brother (we're both adult children if that matters). Am I wrong to want half?
Why are they so angry?
You'd think a newspaper would get the value of free speech.
Friday, February 25, 2005
No Comment Dept.
Working hard to improve relations with Old Europe.
Almost four months later, it's still hard to understand how Kerry could have lost.
The reporter explained that a few years ago, a rumor spread that Caribou coffee had a connection to Islamist terrorists, prompted by anti-Israel statements made by someone associated with the bank. Caribou's CEO was speaking in a corporate dialect that doesn't translate well to plain English, but it sounds like some of their locations took a hit, including a Chicago location that they had to close.
And then Richard Cohen writes about Saudi greivances about the U.S. in today's Washington Post:
Since  Saudi Arabia has been closely aligned with the United States, and it is the rare Saudi businessman or government official who has not studied in America -- and in some cases longs for it still. In a sandstorm, thoughts can sometimes turn to student days spent in verdant North Carolina or the cool California coast.
Yet the same elites often express a bitterness toward the United States that even former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, traveling though the region, found startling. That anger usually shows itself 10 or 15 minutes into a meeting and is always preceded with a declaration of affection, which of course makes it all the more vehement. It is one thing, after all, to be dissed by your enemies, but your friends are another matter.
Some of the grievances sound petty, but they wound. It seems every businessman here has a story about some abuse by a customs or immigration official or even a traffic cop. One told of a young man who was denied a visa because on a previous trip to the United States he had blown off a traffic ticket. Another told how a cop in the Denver area summoned the FBI when a Saudi student there got into a fender bender. Others tell of humiliating delays at immigration -- hours spent at one airport or another waiting to see if they will be readmitted to the country where they attended school and, often, own a home.
Are all these stories true? I don't know. But they are widely believed and considered typical.
Aren't Islamic i-bankers and Saudi elites the sorts of folks we most need as allies if we're going to win this whole war on terror? Well, maybe not the Saudi elites, but certainly the Bahreini bankers. If these allies are so easily confused for enemies, isn't something going very wrong?
"To be understood is not the issue."
Asian audiences seem to sweat the plot details less than Westerners. "In Europe and America they say I am surreal and unrealistic and postmodern and I'm happy to hear it," Murakami laughs. "But in Korea or China or Taiwan nobody says these things. They just enjoy the stories." Their enjoyment matters more and more to Murakami, since the East Asia audience now matters more and more to writers. He describes East Asia as a "second hub" after New York for his books, and getting better all the time now that Asian countries are taking steps to curb piracy and pay royalties.
Robert Parker on Charlie Rose.
Richard Tedlow might have predicted this:
I think I wrote an article or I wrote an editorial in one of my books really 15 years ago, in one of my wine buyers' guide,talking about the dark side of wine, the growing threat of global, youknow, globalized wine world and the standardization of wine styles. That was 15 years ago. Actually, I think it was much more acute, thedangers were much more acute 15 years ago than they are today. I mean, we're seeing a proliferation of diverse wine styles, of young men and women taking vineyards that have been forgotten, whether it's in the south, you know, southern Italy, or whether it`s in the back borders of Spain, whether it's southern France, and developing these vineyards and turning out really diverse and different wines.
Wish I could be there.
The Waifs play Denmark, W.A. on March 6. Details.
Newt's pie-in-the-sky futurism was always fun, moreso now that we all know Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert better than we did then. Newtstalgia! But either he's toned it down in this new book, or the reviewer isn't feeling the love.
Years ago, there was a car usually parked a block north of Channing and west of MLK in Berkeley with a bumper sticker reading, Nuck Fewt.
Thursday, February 24, 2005
This is the longest that a Great White has stayed alive in captivity.
"You may rest assured that the British Government is entirely opposed to sharks."
-- Winston Churchill
Ducks instead of rats this time.
"Soon Messina began to empty out. Friar Michele speaks of crazed dogs running wild on deserted streets, of nighttime fires winking from crowded fields and vineyards around the city, of dusty, sun-drenched roads filled with sweaty, fearful refugees, of sick stragglers wandering off to nearby woods and huts to die. He also describes several incidents of what sound, to a modern sensibility, like magical realism but were probably incidents of panic-induced hysteria. In one, 'a black dog with a naked sword in its paw' rushes into a church and smashes the silver vessels, lamps, and candlesticks on the altar. In another, a statue of the Blessed Virgin comes alive en route to Messina and, horrified by the city's sinfulness, refuses to enter. 'The earth gaped wide,' says Friar Michele, 'and the donkey upon which the statue of the Mother of God was being carried became as fixed and immovable as a rock.'"
from John Kelly, The Great Mortality (reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post)
My question about the talking ape is,
How To Teach an Ape To Talk,* in Slate
* The other letters are capitalized but the "a" is not. Is this correct? Maybe not, but it is accurate.
Larry Summers, everyone's friend.
Brad DeLong offers a qualified defense (or is he not that kind) of Summers' comments. Does it seem like most of the bloggers defending Summers are men, and most of the bloggers attacking him are women?
What I'm reading
Alan Furst, Blood of Victory
Furst does a wonderful job of portraying life in the late 30's and early 40's in Europe, and I've enjoyed each of his books tremendously. This one hasn't been grabbing me quite as much, and I'm not sure why. The new setting in this book is Istanbul, but perhaps Furst's source materials weren't as comprehensive, because he doesn't do as much with Istanbul as he's done with other cities in the past. There's Paris, too, and the Brasserie Heinenger (sp?), of course, but only enough to whet the appetite. I've been having a harder time than usual keeping the characters straight -- the Russian names, maybe? But it's still much fun.
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