April 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


REVIEW: The Band, The Band (RALPH J. GLEASON, October 18, 1969, Rolling Stone)

About the only way I can go about discussing the content of the album is to use as an illustration a view of Mt. Tamalpais on the Pacific Coast shore line above San Francisco. The western part of that mountain runs right down to the sea and the more you look at it, the more you see. Week in, week out, month by month, hour by hour even, nature conducts a change which rings through the twelve months and the four seasons, and there is the change in daylight when the sun shifts and the shadows bring out silhouettes and crevices in the rocks and accentuate the gullies and the draws and at night when there's moonlight, it is a different mountain altogether.

The album is like that. It is full of sleepers, diamonds that begin to glow at different times. As with the Beatles and Dylan and the Stones and Crosby-Stills and Nash, the album seems to change shape as you continue to play it. The emphasis shifts from song to song and songs prominent in the early listening will retreat and be replaced in your consciousness by others, only in later hearings to move to the fore again. Little things pop up unexpectedly after numerous listenings and the whole thing serves as a definition of what Gide meant by the necessity of art having density.

Take "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," a Civil War song sung by Levon ("I aimed it right at him, I wrote it for him, he gets to say it all," Robbie says). It is the story of a Rebel soldier who served on the Danville and Richmond railroad which supplied Richmond during the war and which was cut several times by Gen. George Stoneman's Union Cavalry. Virgil Kane is the soldier's name and the song builds a story of the winter after Appomattox, lean and sparse like a Hemingway short story.

Nothing that I have read, from Bruce Catton to Douglas Southall Freeman, from Fletcher Pratt to Lloyd Lewis, has brought home to me the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is the Red Badge of Courage. It is a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Rick and Richard Manuel in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn't some oral tradition material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of '65 to today. It has the ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity. Yet after playing the album a dozen times, I began to feel that "Dixie" was an obvious song, the superficial standout number on the album and I acquired other favorites. But I kept coming back and coming back until now I am prepared to say that, depending on one's mood, these songs stand, each on its own, as equal sides of a twelve-faceted gem, the whole of which is geometrically greater than the sum of the parts.

Just as "Dixie" evokes history, "Up On Cripple Creek" throws images of trucks and trailers rolling down the great inland highways, putting the Danville and Richmond Railroad, as well as many others, out of business. "Up On Cripple Creek" is a modern song, its rhetoric is the rhetoric of today and even the line "When I get off of this mountain, 'y' know where I'm gonna go, straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico" (on Highway 61 from Minneapolis to New Orleans, paralleling Ole Miss?), which is, as a friend remarked, surely the oldest line in American folk history, does not date it. "Cripple Creek" is the story of a trucker and the gal he has stashed away in Lake Charles, "a drunkard's dream if I ever did see one." It is a salty, sexy, earthy (rather than funky) ballad and it is Levon who sings it with a little help from his friends Rick and Richard. (Levon's chuckle towards the end is surely the nastiest, dirtiest, evilest sexual snort in the history of the phonograph record). And again the rhythmic tension created between the interplay of the bass and drums and the line of the voice sets up a tremendously moving pulse. It vies with "Dixie" as the song that hooks you first and like the former it fades and then returns to fade and return again.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Cereal fan's book tells the story of a breakfast basic  (LISA ABRAHAM, AKRON BEACON JOURNAL)

Ask Marty Gitlin to name his favorite cereal, and rest assured the answer he provides comes from years of thorough research that began when he just 8 years old. His passion for breakfast cereal goes back nearly 50 years.

Gitlin was a child when he decided it was imperative for him to try at least one bowl of every new breakfast cereal that hit the market. Lured by Saturday morning commercials and a host of characters from Tony the Tiger to Cap'n Crunch, and with the help of a permissive mother, he was able to do just that.

"I told my mother and she was cool about it. She just did it. I was a goofy 8-year-old kid," Gitlin recalls.

Now, the 55-year-old has his mother to thank for his new book, The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch (Abrams Image, $19.95). [...]

Q. Quisp or Quake?

Quisp. Quisp is still around. Quake hasn't been around for a long time. They were actually the same cereal, just a different shape. But Quisp's character was the little alien with the propeller on his head. Quake was a miner. Quisp just completely blew Quake away. Quisp was way more popular and it shows you the power of marketing.

To paraphrase Tom Boswell: No man of quality has ever preferred Quake to Quisp.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


How Romney could win over Latinos (Tamar Jacoby, April 18, 2012, LA Times)

As a Republican who cares deeply about the future of the party and wants to see us win in November, I was thrilled this week when Mitt Romney told attendees at a closed-door fundraiser that he supports Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican alternative to the Dream Act. The next step: Romney should endorse the proposal publicly and challenge Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring it up for a vote in the Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Warren Buffett's Cancer Decoded (Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, 4/18/12, Daily Beast)

Warren Buffett announced Tuesday that he has Stage 1 prostate cancer, a disease that untreated has an extremely high 5-year survival rate. Per the report, he will begin radiation therapy to reduce the risk that the cancer will spread. [...]

It also raised the larger issue of whether his treatment fits his disease. Finding stage I prostate cancer in an 81-year-old is like finding gray hair in an 81-year-old. As Forbes reported, about 80% of 80-year-old men have some detectable amount of prostate cancer if autopsied. So Buffett the person was neither under- nor overperforming. He was doing what most 81-year-old guys do. Assuming the reports that the cancer is limited to stage I are true, the real question is why he opted for a relatively aggressive approach (radiation is no picnic) for a condition that, left untreated but observed closely, was unlikely to cause him much harm. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


India tests long-range ballistic missile (Al Jazeera,19 Apr 2012)

The launch makes India part of an elite club with intercontinental nuclear defence capabilites [AFP]
India has test launched its first long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of reaching deep into China and as far as Europe, with a scientist at the launch describing the mission as successful.
"It has met all the mission objectives," S P Dash, director of the test range, told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. "It hit the target with very good accuracy."

The launch of the Agni V, which can carry nuclear warheads and has a range of 5,000km, thrusts the country into an elite club of nations with intercontinental nuclear capabilities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


How America Spends Money: 100 Years in the Life of the Family Budget (Derek Thompson, APR 5 2012, The Atlantic)

Fortunately, we have something that's very close to an aggregate receipt for the American family going back more than a century: "100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending", a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This is our story today: It is a story about how spending on food and clothing went from half the family budget in 1900 to less than a fifth in 2000.It is a story about how a nation that feels poor got so rich. Here's the big picture in one chart showing the share of family spending per category over the 20th century. The big story is that spending on food and clothes has fallen massively while spending on housing and services has gone up.

1900 1950 2003.png
Of course, the average home doubled in size from 1950 to 2000 and healthcare is no longer a necessity but a consumer good like entertainment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Why Trees Matter (JIM ROBBINS, 4/12/12, NY Times)

What we do know, however, suggests that what trees do is essential though often not obvious. Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned.

Trees are nature's water filters, capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes, largely through a dense community of microbes around the tree's roots that clean water in exchange for nutrients, a process known as phytoremediation. Tree leaves also filter air pollution. A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.

In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call "forest bathing." A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment.

Trees also release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals. On a large scale, some of these aerosols appear to help regulate the climate; others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. We need to learn much more about the role these chemicals play in nature. One of these substances, taxane, from the Pacific yew tree, has become a powerful treatment for breast and other cancers. Aspirin's active ingredient comes from willows.

Trees are greatly underutilized as an eco-technology. "Working trees" could absorb some of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen that run off farm fields and help heal the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In Africa, millions of acres of parched land have been reclaimed through strategic tree growth.

Trees are also the planet's heat shield. They keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler and protect our skin from the sun's harsh UV rays. The Texas Department of Forestry has estimated that the die-off of shade trees will cost Texans hundreds of millions of dollars more for air-conditioning. Trees, of course, sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that makes the planet warmer. A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science also found that water vapor from forests lowers ambient temperatures.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


The Population Boon (PHILIP E. AUERSWALD, May/June 2012, The American Interest)

Funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund permitted the creation of the Population Council in 1952. John D. Rockefeller III appointed Frederick Osborn to be the Council's first president. 

The work of the Population Council took its cue from the famed 1798 masterwork by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population. "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man", Malthus wrote. This slim volume has become one of the most celebrated works of political economy ever published, a distinction made a bit surprising by the fact that it was published at pretty much exactly the time when history began to prove its core thesis incorrect. Starting not long after An Essay on the Principle of Population appeared in print, global population levels and per capita income began a long and steady ascent--in tandem. Yet we have only recently begun to note the strong correlation between population growth and increased prosperity. For most of the past two centuries Malthusian fears of demographic doom have obscured the increasingly evident fact of a global demographic dividend. 

In 1893, almost a century after the publication of Malthus's book, Henry Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams) proclaimed that "two more generations should saturate the world with population and should exhaust the mines." At about that time, a new intellectual movement took shape that combined Malthusian fears with social Darwinism. Its proponents dubbed it "eugenics." For the first half of the 20th century the eugenics movement flourished in the United Kingdom and the United States; the result was an intellectual architecture that provided justification for some of the most abhorrent acts that humans have perpetrated upon other humans--the Holocaust being primary among them. 

The Nazi embrace of eugenics largely (though not entirely) put an end to its appeal in the United Kingdom and the United States following World War II, but core concerns about the proliferation of people in poor places found new expression in the global population control programs that came into being in the 1950s and 1960s, including ones funded by the Population Council. Frederick Osborn himself had been a founding member of the American Eugenics Society, and was the author of a 1940 book titled Preface to Eugenics. Another protagonist of the postwar population control movement was General William Henry Draper, Jr.--military leader, diplomat, and venture capital pioneer--who coined the phrase "population bomb" to refer to the dim prospects for humanity (in particular, cream-skinned humanity) in the face of a globally increasing population. The phrase lived on in the title of a hugely influential 1968 book by Paul and Ann Ehrlich, as well as several subsequent publications, most recently a spring 2010 cover essay in Foreign Affairs titled "The New Population Bomb."  

So what actually happened over the past two centuries since Malthus penned his famous treatise, or in the sixty years since Reuther and Wiener met to discuss the danger of mass technological unemployment? 

With regard to the threat of global overpopulation, the facts are as I briefly summarized them above: Growth in population is minimal until the start of the 18th century, at which point a steady increase begins. Population really starts to take off, though, after World War II. In the second half of the 20th century, global population more than doubles, from roughly 2.5 billion in 1950 to almost 6 billion in 2000. And the data show that, in material terms at least, individual well-being (as measured by global per capita income) takes off at exactly the same time as population.
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