Sunday, February 25, 2007

Partying while Rome burns: I don't normally agree with much on Ben Stein, but he and I see eye-to-eye in his Sunday column in the Times. He asks, why are rich Americans squandering their massive Bush tax give-aways on parties while poor Americans are dying by the truck-full in Iraq? He can't believe that the $10 million b'nei mitzvah exists, and neither can I. The Republicans holler that it's wartime, that dissent is impermissible; but neither is profligacy:

I started to feel hysterical [watching Donny Deutsch's program on lavish parties]. Is this what America is all about? We're in a war and we cut taxes to stimulate the economy — and it probably did (Ed. note: Uh, not bloody likely) — and we are having million-dollar parties at home while our soldiers are paid starvation wages to offer up their lives in Iraq? We're in a war and the government cannot afford to pay for adequate training for our soldiers, but the society at home is routinely having million-dollar weddings and bar mitzvahs?

Can anyone say "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"?

We are creating a debt that is about $3 trillion greater than it was when Bill Clinton left office, and one sequel is $10 million birthday parties? Is this what supply-side is all about? To obligate future generations so our generation can have $10 million parties for teenagers?


In the Happiest City on Earth: This month, National Geographic makes the point that I’ve made since I arrived here, that there would be nothing in Orlando if not for Disney World. But writer T.D. Allman sees beyond that. As Allman sees it, Disney not only made Orlando, it made it what it is, and made it the model for the new suburbs sprouting up all around America. Where the old-line suburbs in older cities — I lived in Evanston, Ill., a classic example — are much more mixed-use, much denser, much more gridded, it was Disney’s influence that made suburban Phoenix, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta more alike than different. It’s a brilliant article, in other words:

In this place of exurban, postmodern pioneers, the range of choices is vast even when the choices themselves are illusory. Here life is truly a style: You don’t want to live in a mass-produced, instant “community”? No problem. Orlando’s developers, like the producers of instant coffee, offer you a variety of flavors, including one called Tradition. Structurally it may seem identical to all the others. Only instead of vaguely Mediterranean ornamental details, the condos at Tradition have old colonial finishes. In Orlando’s lively downtown, it’s possible to live in a loft just as you would in Chicago or New York. But these lofts are brand-new buildings constructed for those who want the postindustrial lifestyle in a place that never was industrial.

Orlando’s bright lights are not the garish displays of Las Vegas or the proud power logos of New York. Instead, Orlando glimmers with the familiar signage of franchise America: Denny’s, Burger King, Quality Inn, Hampton Inn, Hertz. Orlando also leads in the culinary transformation of the exotic into the familiar. From its Orlando headquarters, the Darden Corporation, the city’s first Fortune 500 company, mass-markets theme foods. It standardizes the output of Red Lobsters and Olive Gardens everywhere.

All over Orlando you see forces at work that are changing America from Fairbanks to Little Rock. This, truly, is a 21st-century paradigm: It is growth built on consumption, not production; a society founded not on natural resources, but upon the dissipation of capital accumulated elsewhere; a place of infinite possibilities, somehow held together, to the extent it is held together at all, by a shared recognition of highway signs, brand names, TV shows, and personalities, rather than any shared history. Nowhere else is the juxtaposition of what America actually is and the conventional idea of what America should be more vivid and revealing.

Welcome to the theme-park nation.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

But how many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a CFL lightbulb? Australia is making moves to become the first country to phase out the use of incandescent light bulbs, in exchange for compact fluorescent bulbs, which use much less electricity. These aren’t your grandparents’ Carter-era sickly white fluorescent bulbs, either: The only incandescent bulb I use is on a dimmer switch, with which ordinary CFL bulbs are incompatible, and the lighting’s better as well as cheaper in my apartment. Between Australia, California and Wal-Mart, we might just change the world. From the Times:

“The most effective and immediate way we can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is by using energy more efficiently,” Mr. Turnbull said. “Electric lighting is a vital part of our lives; globally, it generates emissions equal to 70 percent of those from all the world’s passenger vehicles.”

He pointed to International Energy Agency data showing that a worldwide switch to compact fluorescent lights could result in energy savings equivalent to five years of Australia’s present electricity use by 2030.

Australia already has minimum energy performance standards that apply to appliances, and a similar system will be put into effect for light bulbs. The standards would ultimately make it impossible to sell incandescent bulbs. Mr. Turnbull said the government would consider some exceptions, like medical lighting and low-power oven lights.


But it never tastes that way when I make it: My mother has a recipe that she often makes when I come home, a chicken dish that she’s been making for years. I cannot replicate it. Don’t we all have a recipe that way? Kim Severson, of the Times, put this to the test, attempting to trace her mother’s pasta sauce all the way back to Italy in the hopes of understanding it. She failed gloriously:

Among my four siblings, how mom makes her sauce has been a constant source of discussion. We’re all decent cooks, but none of us can get it just right. When does she put in the paste? Is a little bit of roasted pepper essential? Do you need to use oregano in the meatballs?

This is a problem my cousins have, too. Sharon Herman still lives in Cumberland [Wisc.], not far from the Zappa family dairy farm. Her mother (my aunt and godmother, the late Philomena DeGidio) was one of the oldest of the Zappa girls and was considered the best sauce maker. My cousin has lived for years under the cloud of never having mastered the master’s sauce.


I use fresh basil and fresh bread crumbs instead of Progresso in my meatballs, but I still stick to dried basil and oregano in the sauce. My canned tomatoes come from Italy, even though my mother thinks Contadina or Hunt’s is just fine.

It never tastes just like hers, but I keep trying. And maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps I’m too fixated on my fancy-pants ingredients. Or perhaps it’s just a psychological quirk of the kitchen. The one that makes you think nothing ever tastes as good as your mother’s


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

You've got to make your free throws: In electronics as in sports, sometimes, it's the little but dependable things that count. Free throws are free points. And remembering to back up your hard drive means never losing data. It's how I survived with the same computer, through three hard drives, for five years (and before that, for six years with four different hard drives, on the same desktop). But I didn't remember to back up my iTunes library, and I lost several hundred dollars worth of paid music. Bandwagon is a service that aims to fix that... and I'm going to give it a whirl. I want to get back to some of my distant tech-blogging roots, from the early days of the Idea Salon. It sounds like it uses Amazon's S3 service, or at least the idea behind it, which I find fairly impressive -- the tech details will be disclosed along with the review.

Anyway, Bandwagon's introductory, pre-launch offer is $69 per year for regular storage -- I'll let you know how it goes. (Fair disclosure: They're bribing us bloggers with a year of free access. But you know I'm impartial.) From their site:

What we are
  • Bandwagon is for music geeks that use Macs.
  • Bandwagon is for people that use rsync, ftp or cds + dvds to backup their iTunes and want to find a better way.
  • Bandwagon is for smart people that have a huge music library that has never been backed up.
  • Why is this distinction of what Bandwagon can (and cannot) do important?
  • [Link]

    But he never got the Mount Hood Freeway: Robert Moses is the Antichrist to a certain generation of urbanist thinkers, and to those of us who grew up in places where his influence was at its lowest. He was the urban planner who gave New York City the BQE, the LIE, the West Side Highway, the FDR, the Van Wyck, the Cross-Bronx, et cetera. He was the urban planner who nearly destroyed America’s great cities to make more room for cars and sprawl. I was fortunate to grow up in Portland, Oregon, one of the least Moses-friendly places on Earth, which memorably rejected one of his pet projects and became the first city in America to tear out a freeway. But three new exhibits in New York are trying to reclaim Moses’ legacy. I’m not buying it, but the Daily News is:

    Finkelpearl says that while there is a desire to look at Moses’ achievements more evenhandedly, the estimation of the man himself is unchanged. His racism, for example, is well-documented, but it was standard for the time. It did not prevent him from building a swimming pool in Harlem. He also built Lenox Terrace, the first building in Harlem that had 24-hour doorman service and upscale amenities.

    As for his destroying the South Bronx, Ballon points to an overhead view that shows the George Washington Bridge shortly after its completion in 1929.

    “It was like a cannon pointed at the South Bronx,” she says. “You had all this traffic coming over needing to go North and East - where was the logical place to sort it out?”

    An interesting part of the third Moses exhibit, “Slum Clearance and the Superblock Solution” at the Wallach Art Galleries at Columbia University, is the unused designs for Lincoln Center, one of his grandest projects.

    Coming back from Columbia on the M11 bus, however, passing blocks and blocks of high-rise apartments, reinforces Jacobs’ objections to Moses’ plans: The buildings are drab, the grounds lifeless, a stark contrast to the streets just south, where tenements have been renovated, new businesses seem to be thriving and the streets themselves are inviting.


    Monday, February 19, 2007

    Whitewashed: A New York man who was a major Republican campaign contributor was indicted on charges of financing terror on Friday. Abdul Tawala ibn Ali Alishtari, a.k.a. Michael Mixen, contributed $15,000 to the RNCC in 2002 and 2004. That’s right, a major Republican financier is also literally a supporter of terrorism. Bet you won’t hear about that on Fox News, hmm? From CBS News:

    The indictment said Alishtari tried to support terrorists between June and December by accepting an unspecified amount of money to transfer $152,000 that he believed was being sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan to support an Afghanistan terrorist training camp.

    He believed the money would be used to fund the purchase of night vision goggles and other equipment, the indictment said.

    He was also charged with money laundering for allegedly causing the transfer on Aug. 17 of about $25,000 from a bank account in New York to a bank account in Montreal, Canada. The money was to be used to provide material support to terrorist, prosecutors said.


    CBS News has confirmed that Alishtari is a donor to the Republican Party, as he claims on his curriculum vitae. Alishtari gave $15,500 to the National Republican Campaign Committee between 2002 and 2004, according to Federal Election Commission records. That amount includes $13,000 in 2003, a year when he claims to have been named NRCC New York State Businessman of the Year.

    Alishtari also claims to be a lifetime member of the National Republican Senate Committee’s Inner Circle, which the NRCC describes as “an impressive cross-section of American society – community leaders, business executives, entrepreneurs, retirees, and sports and entertainment celebrities – all of whom hold a deep interest in our nation’s prosperity and security.”

    Update: Chris notes in the comments that Fox News did, in fact, post this story on their Web site, and I'm man enough to note that. But I have yet to hear any word that they've put it on TV, or that, for instance, the usual suspects -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, et al. -- have so much as mentioned this story. Imagine if he'd been a Democrat, what an uproar it would've caused.


    Pharoah, let my people donate blood: Since 1985, the Red Cross has disallowed blood donation from any man who has had sex with another man since 1977. At the time, this made sense, given the limited reliability and high rate of false negatives of the AIDS testing regime. But, Bill Hooker at 3 Quarks Daily argues, today, the logic behind this ban no longer applies, so we are excluding a critical supply of blood donors for purely non-scientific reasons. I once had administered a lunchtime debate about this, in college, and I made almost the same argument, and was told by a Coulter acolyte, “Gay sex is inherently risky and immoral behavior. We should not reward it.” The opposition is not logical any longer. From 3QD:

    A variety of expert presentations at a March, 2006 FDA workshop on behaviour based donor deferrals indicated that, with the advent of [nucleic acid testing], the window period for HIV infection is less than 12 days. In the US, the residual risk of transmission of HIV or HCV by blood transfusion is estimated, by a variety of models, to be around 1 in 2,000,000 donations. This is clearly a very conservative estimate, since there are around 15 million donations every year and I could only find mention of four authenticated transfusion-related transmissions of HIV since NAT was implemented in 1999 (none of which involved [men who have sex with other men]). At the same FDA workshop, Celso Bianco re-ran an earlier prediction using risk and other estimates that were getting general agreement at the workshop and came up with a figure, which he called conservative, of one infected unit per 32 years.

    So, while it seems intuitively likely that including a high-risk group (as judged by increased prevalence) in the donor pool would increase overall risk, calculating — or rather, estimating — that increase is far from straightforward. The only numbers I could find were presented by Andrew Dayton to the same FDA workshop:

    The 5-year [deferral, instead of a lifetime ban] would result in possibly a 25 percent increase in the current residual risk, and the 1-year would be 40 percent.

    So, worst case scenario: 1.4 transmissions per 2 million donations, instead of 1.0 — or about three extra cases per year (and remember that, to date, the observed level of transmission is much lower than the estimate). I’m not familiar with what sorts of risks are considered acceptable in public policy formation, but I can say outright that I would be prepared to accept that risk to my own person as the cost of allowing MSM to participate on a more equal footing in a profound act of community altruism. (To say nothing of a 1% increase in a critical health resource that is often in short supply.)

    Furthermore, given that the window period is less than two weeks and you can only donate every eight weeks, there is an obvious method for reducing the risk even further. According to the AABB, red blood cells can be stored cold for 42 days or frozen for ten years, and plasmaand cryoprecipitated antihemophilic factor can be frozen for at least a year; of the fractions into which whole blood is routinely divided, only platelets have a shorter effective storage life, about five days. It is clearly possible to hold (at least most of the fractions of) any first-time donation until the donor returns and can be re-tested; two clear tests eight weeks apart are definitive proof of HIV-negative status.


    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    COINTELPRO, revisited: I just picked up my paper today, and holy cow is the front page of the Sentinel a stunner. Apparently the man who organized a neo-Nazi rally through the heavily African-American Parramore neighborhood, last year, was a paid informant for the FBI who infiltrated the National Socialist Movement. Damn. From the Sentinel:

    The FBI would not comment on what it knew about the involvement of its informant, 39-year-old David Gletty of Orlando, in the neo-Nazi event. In court Wednesday, an FBI agent said the bureau has paid its informant at least $20,000 during the past two years.


    Orlando drew national attention when the city granted a permit to Gletty so a minimum of 100 white supremacists and National Socialist Movement members could march Feb. 25 through the historically black Parramore neighborhood.

    Wearing swastikas and holding signs declaring "White Pride," the 22 neo-Nazis who turned out were protected from 500 counterprotesters by about 300 police officers.

    Gletty's secret life became public Wednesday in a federal court hearing resulting from the arrest last week of two suspected white supremacists on charges of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

    Last Thursday, the FBI arrested Tom Martin, 23, and John Rock, 35, after Gletty wore a wire to a meeting and agreed to help them rob a drug dealer in Casselberry, according to testimony.

    Rock told Gletty in a tape-recorded conversation that he and Martin had robbed seven drug dealers by posing as law-enforcement officers, according to testimony. Martin and Rock remain held without bail in the Seminole County Jail.


    The proof of the cake is in the eating: At one time or another, we've all relied on Betty Crocker's lemon chiffon cake. It's delicious, and, as long as you have a stand mixer, pretty easy. It's also a delicious slice of '50s nostalgia. But I didn't know that, until 1948, the recipe was a complete secret, invented by Harry Baker, a mostly closeted gay man living in Los Angeles, who sold his cakes to the Brown Derby. Holy cow. From Minneapolis' The Rake magazine, the (slightly over-written) account of the cake:

    Harry [Baker] also began to tinker with cake recipes, and he would have put Cook’s Illustrated’s Stephen Schmidt to shame. He devised more than four hundred different recipes in his quest to bake a sweeter, moister angel food cake. He varied ingredients, measurements, and the baking time and temperature. Nothing satisfied. In later years, he described the eureka moment that led him to salad oil in almost mystical terms: It was, he told a reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune, a “sixth sense—something cosmic” that revealed his secret ingredient. And it worked.

    During the time that Harry Baker was handing out experimental cakes to his neighbors, a handful of entrepreneurs pooled resources to launch a restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. The Brown Derby opened for business in 1926, in a building shaped to match its name. Two years later—call it another cosmic twist—Harry Baker walked in with a sample of his unbelievable cake. It became one of the Derby’s signature dishes.


    Wednesday, February 14, 2007

    And now the other shoe drops: I blogged in August about Gannett buying the FSView and Florida Flambeau, the Florida State weekly student newspaper. Turns out that wasn’t a one-off deal, which doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is the newspaper they bought: UCF’s Central Florida Future, which isn’t exactly in a position to be a sister newspaper the way the FSView was. The Sentinel has the scoop:

    The company’s Central Florida unit, Florida Today/Cape Publishing, paid an undisclosed amount for the Future, a free paper published three times a week during the academic year. It also bought the Seminole Chronicle, a weekly circulated in Oviedo and Winter Springs, and Sales, a coupon book distributed at UCF.

    “It is a good fit for them,” said Heissam Jebailey, who was co-owner of the three publications. “It has become a great publication.”

    The Future, with a circulation of 15,000, was once the university’s official newspaper. Jebailey said it moved off campus in 1992 and eventually became a for-profit business. Jebailey and a partner, Brian Linden, bought the Future in 2001.


    But [newspaper analyst John] Morton said corporate ownership could bring unforeseen change to student newspapers, which are often freewheeling operations.

    “They will be answering to a different master,” Morton said. “And it will be a more strenuous master.”


    Thursday, February 8, 2007

    Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure: My ninth-grade world history teacher used to say that everything comes down to infrastructure in the end. Turns out she was right. The Times is on top of the aging of our urban water infrastructure, which, in Portland, meant raising sewer rates to pay for massive redevelopment projects -- and a swallowed sewage truck:

    Local and state officials across the country say thousands of miles of century-old underground water and sewer lines are springing leaks, eroding and — in extreme cases — causing the ground above them to collapse. Though there is no master tally of sinkholes, there is consensus among civil engineers and water experts that things are getting worse.

    The Environmental Protection Agency has projected that unless cities invest more to repair and replace their water and sewer systems, nearly half of the water system pipes in the United States will be in poor, very poor or “life elapsed” status by 2020.


    [Portland] is in the 16th year of a 20-year, $1.4 billion, federally mandated project to reduce sewage overflows into the Willamette River from about 100 days a year to 4 days or less. Signs in the city promote two enormous sewer and storm water lines being dug as part of the project, one on the west bank of the Willamette that is 14 feet in diameter and another on the east side that is 22 feet in diameter.


    Overflows are a problem in many cities, and fixing them is not cheap; Portland has some of the highest water and sewer rates in the country. Mr. Marriott said the average residential sewer bill in Portland has risen to about $45 a month from about $14 in the early 1990s, when the city began the mandated improvements.

    Once the project is completed, he said, rates will probably stay high so that the city can fix other problems, like the sewer pipe decay that officials believe most likely helped cause the sinkhole in December, the one that swallowed the sewer truck.

    Mack McEachern was there on that chilly morning. First the water in his apartment on Southeast Oak Street stopped running. Then the boiler in the basement began to fade. Water-utility workers came to check an exterior main. The city inspected a clogged sewer line. Something was wrong with the system, but what?

    Mr. McEachern recalled how he stood outside and watched the big sewer truck start to pull away, supposedly without having pinpointed the problem.

    Then, he said, “The ground shook.”


    A fan by any other name: A Bears fan in Decatur, Ill., made a pledge that if Da Bears didn’t win the Super Bowl, he would legally change his name to Peyton Manning. Well, the game is history — Bears 17, Colts 29 — and if all goes smoothly, Scott Wiese’s name isn’t much longer for this world. CNN had some real gems for this story:

    Wiese, a die-hard Chicago Bears fan, will legally change his name to that of the Indiana Colts quarterback. He signed a pledge in front of a crowd at a Decatur bar last Friday night, vowing to adopt Manning’s name if the Bears lost Sunday’s Super Bowl.


    Wiese will now have to advertise his intention in the local newspaper — the Herald & Review — for several weeks and then have a judge give him the OK to become, legally anyway, Peyton Manning.

    The men have little in common, Wiese acknowledges.

    Manning the quarterback is 30 years old, stands 6-foot-5 and has a contract with the Colts worth more than $100 million.

    Wiese is 5-foot-11 and works at a Staples office-supply store for somewhat less.

    [Link] (Thanks, Phil!)

    Tuesday, February 6, 2007

    Korean Fried Chicken?: I’m a devotee of Southern-style fried chicken, with crispy, thick, uneven breaded skin peeling away from the meat. But in Korea, they’ve turned this into a whole separate bird, a microscopic layer of flour and batter finely crisped over chicken. It sounds delicious, even though I’d want it with biscuits rather than pickled radish. The Times has the bird:

    Platters of fried chicken are a hugely popular bar food in South Korea — like chicken wings in the United States, they are downed with beer or soju, after work or after dinner, rarely eaten as a meal.

    “Some places have a very thin, crisp skin; some places have more garlicky, sticky sauces; some advertise that they are healthy because they fry in 100 percent olive oil,” said Mr. McPherson, an English teacher, who writes a food blog called


    Korean-style fried chicken is radically different, reflecting an Asian frying technique that renders out the fat in the skin, transforming it into a thin, crackly and almost transparent crust. (Chinese cooks call this “paper fried chicken.”) The chicken is unseasoned, barely dredged in very fine flour and then dipped into a thin batter before going into the fryer. The oil temperature is a relatively low 350 degrees, and the chicken is cooked in two separate stages.

    After 10 minutes, the chicken is removed from the oil, shaken vigorously in a wire strainer and allowed to cool for two minutes. This slows the cooking process, preventing the crust from getting too brown before the meat cooks through. It also shaves off all those crusty nubs and crags that American cooks strive for.

    After 10 more minutes in the fryer, the chicken is smooth, compact, golden-brown, and done. Then, it’s served plain (with a small dish of salt and pepper for seasoning) or lightly painted with sauce. When it’s done correctly, the sauce is absorbed into the crust, adding savor without making it soggy.


    In space, your brain has no weight: We already have a winner for February’s You Can’t Make This Up category, and it’s only Feb. 6. What could possibly top this? A female astronaut drove all the way from Houston, wearing diapers so she wouldn’t have to stop, to assault and probably murder a fellow female astronaut who was involved with a male astronaut. The Sentinel has the preposterous scoop:

    Lisa Marie Nowak drove more than 12 hours from Texas to meet the 1 a.m. flight of a woman who had also been seeing the astronaut Nowak pined for, according to Orlando police.

    Nowak — who was a mission specialist on a space shuttle Discovery flight last summer — was wearing a trench coat and wig and had a knife, BB pistol and latex gloves in her car, reports show. They also found diapers, which Nowak told police she used so she wouldn’t have to stop on the 1,000-mile drive. Reports show that after U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman’s flight arrived, Nowak followed her to the airport’s Blue Lot for long-term parking, tried to get into Shipman’s car and then doused her with pepper spray.

    Nowak, 43, is charged with attempted kidnapping, battery, attempted vehicle burglary with battery and destruction of evidence. Police considered her such a danger that they requested she be held without bail in the Orange County Jail, reports show.


    Shipman told police that after waiting two hours to get her luggage, she noticed a woman in a trench coat waiting near the airport taxi stand. When Shipman boarded a shuttle bus to long-term parking, the woman followed, according to police.

    When Shipman got into her car in the Blue Lot on Cargo Road, reports show, she heard “running footsteps” coming toward her. Nowak tried to open the car door, then claimed she needed a ride, or use of a cell phone.


    Saturday, February 3, 2007

    “An improbable object of desire”: The Oregonian had an amazing two-part feature in December (which somehow I missed and discovered this morning) about Ron Tonkin’s attempt to sell Smart cars in the U.S. Tonkin, who is a car dealer and a household name in the Portland area, became one of the first American dealers to sell Ferraris in 1966, after he fell in love with one on a trip to Italy. He saw the same magic in the tiny little Smart cars, which he believed could sell even better than the Mini Cooper. And they broke his heart. From the Big O:

    After his 2001 visit to Italy [when he first saw the Smart car], Tonkin’s mind often wandered to the little car, even as Mercedes Car Group’s Smart GmbH division suffered bleak sales. Mercedes’ parent, DaimlerChrysler AG, decided Americans were too keen on sport-utility vehicles and by 2003 shelved plans to export stateside.

    Then one August day in 2005, two Florida salesmen showed up at Tonkin’s dealership office on Southeast 122nd Avenue. He usually didn’t see people without an appointment, but this call piqued his interest. Mike Mervish, a burly 48-year-old with a tan, introduced himself as a salesman for Smartz U.S.A. and proceeded to do all the talking.

    Mervish told Tonkin that his Fort Lauderdale firm was the only U.S. company with federal approval to sell Smartz cars — the name twist on Smart that the company gave its version of the impish imports. In an appeal refined over years as a car salesman, Mervish told Tonkin he could be Smartz’s exclusive dealer in Oregon.

    Tonkin remembers a pitch heavy on showmanship. The cars were “on the high seas” bound for a port in Brunswick, Ga., Tonkin recalls Mervish saying. Cars would be in Portland by fall, he promised, and Smartz President Tim Davis would keep lining up a dealer network. With Tonkin’s price at $21,000 and retail around $23,000, each Smartz would earn about $2,000 in profit, Mervish said. Not the juiciest margin, but, for a car whose futuristic looks stopped passers-by in their tracks, sales could add up.

    Smart cars, designed by edgy Swiss watchmaker Swatch, would zip off lots in the earth-friendly Pacific Northwest, the salesman continued. He had lived in Oregon a while, he told Tonkin, and knew it was full of tree-huggers.

    Tonkin contained a good-natured eye-roll. Flashy guys from Florida didn’t need to tell him what his customers liked, he remembers thinking. He was a fourth-generation Oregonian and a second-generation car dealer.

    But the prospect reignited the spark he’d felt four years earlier in Italy. Here was a shot to sell the flirty little car that no other local dealer had — before Daimler-Chrysler changed its mind.

    [Links to parts one and two]

    You are what you eat: In this week’s Times Magazine, Michael Pollan explores the relationship between the way that we eat and the disastrous state of our health. In short, he says, today we are so focused on the individual components of nutrition that we’ve lost sight of the gestalt. It’s a terrific article. (Which I meant to post on Sunday… and forgot about. Sorry, guys.) Somehow, we are less healthy today than we were thirty years ago, when people were still eating eggs fried in bacon grease; and the answer, Pollan believes, is our inability to say, "Eat less meat and dairy."

    [I]n retrospect a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

    Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”

    A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.”


    Roll up your sleeve: Today, the people who run around claiming various deleterious effects of vaccination are mostly fringe elements, you know: granola-crunchers who believe the government is poisoning us, or Christian Scientists who won’t take medicine. But before World War II, anti-vaccine sentiment was widespread in the United States. The Times Book Review looks at Arthur Allen’s new book, Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver, and wonders just how this happened:

    Allen sees two events in these years as crucial to the growing public acceptance of vaccines. When America went to war in 1941 following Pearl Harbor, the health of the troops became a primary concern. Determined to prevent the medical casualties of World War I, where the number of American soldiers killed by influenza (44,000) almost matched the number lost in battle (50,000), military officials made vaccination mandatory. “Yes, the shots hurt and even caused illness sometimes, but the soldier survived,” Allen writes. “Returning from the war he wanted his children to have the same protection.”

    World War II made vaccination fashionable. Polio turned it into a national crusade. No disease drew as much attention in postwar America, or created as much fear. Primarily striking children, polio killed some of its victims and paralyzed others, leaving behind vivid reminders for all to see: wheelchairs, leg braces, iron lungs, deformed limbs. The quest for a means of prevention led to the largest public health experiment in American history, involving nearly two million school-age volunteers. When Jonas Salk’s killed-virus polio vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent” in 1955, the nation celebrated as if a war had ended — and, indeed, one had. At a White House ceremony, President Eisenhower choked back tears as he told the young researcher: “I have no words to thank you. I am very, very happy.”

    The polio vaccines of Salk and Albert Sabin marked a special moment in medical history. As late as the 1950s, parents had been encouraged to expose their children to diseases like measles, mumps and chicken pox in order to get them over with before adulthood, when the dangers increased. Now, there were vaccines for all these illnesses, and more were on the way. Some researchers spoke openly of a future without infectious disease. “Will such a world exist?” a scientist asked. “We believe so.”


    Friday, February 2, 2007

    Massive, widespread destruction: I will not have very much to post today. This morning, at around 6 a.m., several very powerful tornadoes wrought enormous damage in many of the counties surrounding Orlando: Lake, Sumter, Volusia and Marion counties. The Sentinel has been covering it like there is no tomorrow, and it's been great. But we'll be silent tonight, in memoriam. From the Sentinel:
    Gov. Charlie Crist has declared a State of Emergency for Lake, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties after severe thunderstorms and tornadoes slammed through the areas overnight in the communities north and east of Orlando. [...] Thirteen deaths were reported in Paisley/Lake Mack area of Lake and six in Lady Lake near The Villages. The dead include Carla and Donald Downing of Lake Mack as well as their 15-year-old son, David. He was one of three triplets who was killed while his two triplet sisters, Heather and Kayla, survived the storms, said Umatilla High principal June Dalton. Another Lake County high school student also perished, officials there said this afternoon. About 15 to 20 percent of Umatilla High's students were absent Friday, Dalton said. Buses and cars could not pass on some roads. Many kids lost their homes. "Most have been devastated," Dalton said. "We have counselors working with the students."
    There is also on-going coverage on the Sentinel's website. [Link]

    Thursday, February 1, 2007

    He put the surprise in Surprise, Ariz.: The Times had a fantastic story today about the 29-year-old pedophile who spent the last four months posing as a 14-year-old boy in a suburb in Phoenix. Turns out that not only was he living with three other male "relatives," who were also pedophiles, but they believed he was a 14-year-old and had regular sexual relations with him. What a tangled web humanity weaves. From the story:

    A retracing of Mr. Rodreick's tracks over the past several years shows that he is under investigation in three states. The authorities in four jurisdictions say he repeatedly failed to register as a sex offender, housed a large cache of child pornography in his computer and, based on videos found by the police, had sex with at least one boy.

    "Obviously there are a lot of emotions to work through," said Mindy Newlin, the mother of a kindergartener at Imagine Charter School, the school in Surprise where Mr. Rodreick posed as Casey. "We are just shocked."

    Robin Kaiser's daughter Kaitlin shared a class with "Casey," but he failed to make an impression, Ms. Kaiser said. "She remembers him, that he was quiet and sat in the back of the classroom," she said. "She said he looked like he had been held back."

    Janet R. Lincoln, the public defender for Yavapai County, who represents Mr. Rodreick and the other three men, did not return multiple phone calls. A receptionist in her office said Ms. Lincoln would have no comment. The men have been indicted on numerous counts and are scheduled to appear in court in late February; they have already pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and failing to register as sex offenders.


    "With boys it is a really tough deal," said Lt. Van Gillock of the Police Department in El Reno, Okla., where Mr. Rodreick is believed to have posed as a 12-year-old to ingratiate himself with boys at church. "If they did it voluntarily, they have the stigma of homosexuality, and if it is forced, well, boys are supposed to be tough and the things the boys have on them gives them an embarrassment factor."