[Paleopsych] The New York Times Magazine: The Year in Ideas: A to Z
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The New York Times Magazine: The Year in Ideas: A to Z
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/12/magazine/12INTRO.html et seq.
[This is quite long. Note that there is no mention of Steve Sailer in
"Fertile Red States." Did Phillip Longman get the idea first?]
I n what has become an annual tradition, The New York Times Magazine
takes stock of the passing year by creating a mini-encyclopedia of the
most noteworthy ideas of the previous 12 months. We put out feelers,
fine-tune our journalistic antennae and call on a fleet of reporters
and researchers to scour the infosphere for the most captivating,
baffling, promising and influential ideas from all walks of life --
not just science and technology, politics and policy, but also tattoo
culture and fast-food management, horticulture and shoe design. Once
we separate the wheat of innovation from the chaff of familiar
notions, we offer up the alphabetical harvest now before you: 71 of
the ideas that emerged -- in ways big and small, for better and worse
-- in 2004.
Connoisseurs of ''The Year in Ideas'' will discover a few changes in
this issue, most notably the addition of the ingenious, whimsical
photographs of Zachary Scott. But our central mission -- to salute the
absurdly wide range of human originality and insight -- remains the
same. You'll find innovations that will make you smile
(Self-Storage), that will make you blink (Eyeball Jewelry),
that will prompt speculation about the fate of nations (Lawfare)
and that will inspire reverence for even the smallest applications of
human reason (The Best Way to Skip a Stone). This year was also
marked, of course, by a presidential election and an accompanying rise
of interest in the social and cultural divisions of the United States;
politics became a sort of prism for refracting all manner of concerns
about American life. Accordingly, you'll find a healthy dose of
entries on demographic trends (Fertile Red States), cultural
happenings (Purple-State Country Music), technology (The
Global Political Positioning System) and cris de coeur
(Neo-Secessionism) that speak, one way or another, to the
While no single digest could capture all the ideas of a nation as
bountiful, if divided, as this one, this ''Year in Ideas'' issue
presents at least a sampling of the way we were thinking in 2004.
Acoustic Keyboard Eavesdropping
By STEPHEN MIHM
W hen it comes to computer security, do you have faith in firewalls?
Think passwords will protect you? Not so fast: it is now possible to
eavesdrop on a typist's keystrokes and, by exploiting minute
variations in the sounds made by different keys, distinguish and
decipher what is being typed.
Credit for this discovery goes to Dmitri Asonov, a computer-security
researcher for I.B.M. at the Almaden Research Center in San Jose,
Calif., who (with Rakesh Agrawal) published his results this year. The
principle is a simple one. Keyboards are a bit like drums: the keys
rest atop a plastic plate; different areas of the plate yield
different sounds when struck. The human ear can't tell the difference,
but if the sounds are recorded and processed by a highly sophisticated
computer program, the computer can, with a little bit of practice,
learn to translate the sounds of keystrokes into the appropriate
letters and symbols.
This means that firewalls and passwords will amount to nothing if
someone manages to bug a room and record the cacophony of keystrokes.
Asonov managed to pull off this feat with readily available recording
equipment at a short distance. Even as far away as 50 feet, and with
significant background noise, he was able to replicate his success
using a parabolic microphone. He also anticipated an obvious practical
objection: how does a would-be eavesdropper get into a building and
spend enough time to ''train'' a computer program to recognize the
keystrokes of a particular keyboard? Not a problem: it seems that
keyboards of the same make and model sound sufficiently alike --
regardless of who is typing -- that a computer trained on one keyboard
can be unleashed on another.
Having divulged this vulnerability, Asonov says he felt dutybound to
come up with a countermeasure. Keyboards, he proposes, could be
engineered in such a way that the sounds of different keys would be
indistinguishable from one another. But even if engineers manage that,
other loopholes will undoubtedly emerge. Asonov says that he has heard
rumors of research into the possibility of using computers to
translate the humming of ink-jet printers into the actual text being
Thankfully, such approaches remain relatively exotic and beyond the
reach of the average eavesdropper. ''Everyone still tries to break
firewalls,'' Asonov complains. ''People don't think outside the box.''
'Acting White' Myth, The
By PAUL TOUGH
W hen Bill Cosby spoke out publicly in May against dysfunction and
irresponsibility in black families, he identified one pervasive
symptom: ''boys attacking other boys because the boys are studying and
they say, 'You're acting white.''' This idea isn't new; it was first
proposed formally in the mid-80's by John Ogbu, a Nigerian professor
of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, and it
has since become almost a truism: when smart black kids try hard and
do well, they are picked on by their less successful peers for
The only problem with this theory, according to a research paper
released in October, is that for the most part, it isn't true. Karolyn
Tyson, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, and William Darity Jr., an economist at Duke and U.N.C.,
coordinated an 18-month ethnographic study at 11 schools in North
Carolina. What they found was that black students basically have the
same attitudes about achievement as their white counterparts do: they
want to succeed, understand that doing well in school has important
consequences in later life and feel better about themselves the better
So where does the idea of the burden of ''acting white'' come from?
One explanation the authors offer will make sense to anyone who has
ever seen a John Hughes movie: there's an ''oppositional peer
culture'' in every high school -- the stoners and the jocks making fun
of the nerds and the student-government types. When white burnouts
give wedgies to white A students, the authors argue, it is seen as
inevitable, but when the same dynamic is observed among black
students, it is pathologized as a racial neurosis.
More insidiously, the authors say, the idea that failing black kids
pull down successful black kids can be used as an excuse by
administrators to conceal or justify discrimination in the
public-education system. The one school where the researchers did find
anxiety about ''acting white'' was the one in which black students
were drastically underrepresented in the gifted-and-talented classes.
And significantly, at this particular school, the notion of the burden
of ''acting white'' was most pervasive not among the black students
interviewed by the researchers, but among their teachers and
administrators, who told researchers that blacks are ''averse to
success'' and ''don't place a high value on education.''
Animated Society Portrait, The
By JOHN BOWE
F or a small consideration, Raphael immortalized the Medicis. Whistler
and Picasso were known to take portrait work on commission. But after
Andy Warhol's silkscreens of Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, society
portraits fell somewhat out of style. Until recently, that is, when
the brother-and-sister gallerist duo Harry and Maya Stendhal, of the
Maya Stendhal Gallery in New York, decided to revive the practice by
reinventing the society portrait in the form of a short animated film.
The Stendhals commissioned the painter and filmmaker Jeff Scher to do
a portrait of a society friend of theirs named Susan Shin, an
intellectual-property lawyer and influential charity maven. Scher
filmed Shin and then ''rotoscoped'' the footage -- projecting it one
frame at a time onto a wall. He then watercolored the hundreds of
resulting frames onto paper. Finally, he refilmed hundreds of these
hand-painted images, much as you would film the drawings that animate
a cartoon. Scher's final project is an endlessly repeating
three-minute film -- or loop -- of Shin, flickering, shimmering and
changing colors appealingly, if not exactly momentously. (There is a
point when Shin smiles that could be called the climax.) Granted,
she's no Jessica Rabbit, and the film's facture is a bit amateurish,
but the effect is flattering in its own way.
Not that facture has much to do with the Stendhals' master plan. The
point of the portrait -- a gift to Shin -- was to create a market
sensation. And Shin was, for Harry Stendhal, the perfect loss leader,
since she is ''an icon of the times,'' he wrote on a Web site he
created for her. ''She is glamorous and much sought after in New York,
London, Paris, you name it.''
The Stendhals say they are now pleased to announce that clients are
lining up to pay $25,000 for their own animated portraits (with the
original frames included). Scher recently finished a birthday portrait
for a client Maya Stendhal describes as ''a 20-year-old daughter of
art collectors from Miami.'' In this work, ''the motion was subtler,
more intimate,'' Stendhal notes. ''It's more like a motion portrait of
Mona Lisa.'' The artist is now working on a portrait of the actor
Gabriel Byrne. After Byrne, Stendhal says, you'll simply have to get
on the waiting list.
Anti-Concept Concept Store, The
By AMANDA FORTINI
T his year, Comme des Garçons, the avant-garde fashion line designed
by Rei Kawakubo, opened a series of ''guerrilla stores'' in hip,
yet-to-be-gentrified areas in cities around the world, including
Berlin, Barcelona, Helsinki, Singapore, Stockholm, Ljubljana and
Warsaw. Kawakubo and her husband and business partner, Adrian Joffe,
delineated their guerrilla idea with a no-nonsense precision usually
reserved for actual combat operations. The shops, which are installed
in raw urban spaces -- the Berlin outpost occupies a former bookstore;
the Helsinki a 1950's pharmacy -- sell ''seasonless'' merchandise
drawn from current and past collections, must remain unsullied by
architects and designers and are required to close after a single
While the venture might be interpreted as a call to arms against the
aggressive commercialism and gaudy architecture of high-concept
flagship behemoths like the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada stores, it has
also engendered a delicious absurdity: in their rejection of
concept-store pretension, the guerrilla stores have realized its
purest expression. A news release issued by Comme des Garçons lays out
the ''rules'' behind this anti-concept with the earnestness of F.T.
Marinetti's futurist manifesto: ''The location will be chosen
according to its atmosphere, historical connection, geographical
situation away from established commercial areas or some other
interesting feature,'' reads one rule.
The idea may be easy to send up, but guerrilla retailing is also smart
business, allowing companies to tap into new markets at low cost
(rents are cheap; advertising is nil) and to reduce inventory by
recycling old merchandise. Indeed, others have joined Comme des
Garçons in employing this marketing tactic. Alife, a Manhattan
collective best described as a gallery, store and hipster brain trust,
partnered with Levi's this fall to create a line of jeans that sold
for one month only, and Vacant, a high-end retailer that bills itself
on its Web site as the ''original traveling guerrilla retail concept
and exhibition,'' has opened ephemeral store-gallery hybrids in empty
spaces across the globe. A spokeswoman for Comme des Garçons notes
that the guerrilla project has been wildly successful (''Warsaw met
300 percent of its projected monthly sales in the first week''). The
company now plans to open shops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, S-o Paulo
Augmented Bar Code, The
By NATHANAEL JOHNSON
M eant for mechanical eyes only, the bar code divulges little
information to the shopper. But Dara O'Rourke, a U.C. Berkeley
professor of labor, says that with a few tweaks, it could help foment
a consumer revolution. As he explained in a World Bank Group policy
paper in the spring, shoppers choosing, say, turkeys could one day
scan bar codes with their cellphone cameras to find out where the
birds were from, and even see pictures of the farms. The transformed
bar code would call attention to environmentally friendly products and
raise the consciousness of shoppers everywhere.
The idea isn't entirely fanciful. Software already exists that allows
camera phones to read bar codes. And some companies have begun sharing
encoded product-tracking information with curious consumers. This
year, Heritage Foods started providing a tracking number with every
piece of meat it sells. When keyed into the company's Web site, the
number provides the animal's medical and feed history. The site also
features a turkey Web cam, so you can examine the animals' living
conditions for yourself. As Patrick Martins, co-founder of Heritage
Foods, puts it, you can ''see Tom naturally mating with Henrietta.''
The disclosure of so much production-process detail has risks: what if
a turkey keels over on camera? Many companies are reluctant to throw
open their doors while their competitors remain invisible. Still, a
sizable number of consumers actually want to know how their sausage
(or turkey) is made. These folks are less worried about losing their
appetites than they are about buying something seriously unhealthful.
O'Rourke, whose 1997 report on Nike factory conditions in Vietnam
helped spur consumer boycotts, says he hopes the government will
construct a vast product-tracking database available to
scanner-wielding consumers. If he gets his wish, the bar code may
become the most interested thing on the box.
Benign Corporate Oligarchy, The
By ROGER LOWENSTEIN
W hen Google went public in August, investors hoped the much
anticipated event would herald a return to late-90's stock-market
populism: the idea that the Internet would not only make us all rich;
it would also give us power.
But the real idea behind the Google initial public offering goes back
much further -- to the kind of noblesse oblige that J.P. Morgan
championed. Google's founders, Larry Page, 32, and Sergey Brin, 31,
seem like nice modern fellows, but they have old-fashioned ideas about
shareholder relations. The shareholder, in their view, is a child --
fickle and hyperactive. Care for him, provide for him and, above all,
keep him from the ruinous path of instant gratification.
What modern shareholders crave above all are earnings that rise
steadily, quarter after quarter, or, even better, earnings that ''beat
expectations'' -- the number that analysts predict the company will
report -- even by a penny or two. To achieve such beautifully turned
out earnings every three months, executives sometimes do dumb things
-- go on a merger spree, cut back marketing or fiddle with the
accounting -- to give the stock a short-term pop. A recent survey by
Campbell Harvey, professor of finance at Duke University, found that a
remarkable 78 percent of 302 chief financial officers said they would
take some action to ''smooth'' quarterly earnings and meet
expectations, even if that action sacrificed long-term value.
In the Google prospectus, Page rejected this nonsense in the kind of
straightforward English sentences rarely encountered in securities
filings. ''Many companies are under pressure to keep their earnings in
line with analysts' forecasts. Therefore, they often accept smaller,
predictable earnings rather than larger and less predictable
returns,'' he wrote. ''Sergey and I feel this is harmful, and we
intend to steer in the opposite direction.''
Google's policy was inspired by Warren Buffett, who has been preaching
long-term management at Berkshire Hathaway for four decades. Buffett
feels no pressure from Wall Street because he is arguably the most
successful investor of all time. The young founders of Google don't
have that kind of track record, so they sold stock to the public that
comes with diluted voting rights. They were thus able to raise lots of
money while still retaining control over the company. In the past,
this has often spelled trouble. Executives who aren't accountable to
shareholder votes can be prone to mischief. The Google founders seem
to be saying that executives get into more mischief when they are
overly solicitous of short-term investors. Mindful of all the
companies that went astray and sometimes lied to meet analysts'
expectations, Google will not even issue earnings forecasts. Like
latter-day corporate barons, they advance the proposition that
shareholders will be better off if the executives are trusted more and
interfered with less.
Best Way to Skip a Stone, The
By CLIVE THOMPSON
W ant to break the stone-skipping record? Here's a hint: throw the
stone at an angle of precisely 10 degrees to the water. That's what a
team of French scientists discovered when they constructed a machine
to determine the ideal technique. Lyderic Bocquet, a physicist at the
Universite Claude Bernard Lyon, became interested in the mechanics of
skipping two years ago, while out tossing stones with his son. ''He
asked me, why is the stone skipping and not sinking?'' he recalls.
Bocquet realized that while stone skipping had been around since the
ancient Greeks, no scientist had ever deduced the ultimate equations
for mastery. He wrote a short paper pondering ''the stone-skipping
problem,'' whereupon a fellow physicist, Christophe Clanet, suggested
they solve it with the aid of a robot. They went on to create a device
that could whip metal disks at a tank of water with utter precision.
As they began blasting away, the scientists quickly noticed something
remarkable. No matter how fast or slow their robot threw, the disks
always seemed to skip farther if the stone hit the water at an angle
of roughly 20 degrees. Why? In a January paper for Nature, titled
''Secrets of Successful Stone-Skipping,'' they concluded that this was
because such an angle produced the briefest impact with the water and
thus the least drag on the stone. Armed with this knowledge, they
could figure out how to break the world record -- a bouncy 40 skips,
set in 2002 by Kurt Steiner. They began pitching stones faster and
faster, but at its top performance, the robot could only manage 20
skips. ''It was vibrating, and pieces were falling off it,'' Bocquet
says. Nonetheless, the experiment this fall gave them the answer they
needed. To achieve a record-breaking 41 skips, you'd have to throw a
stone four inches in diameter at 60 miles an hour and at an angle of
10 degrees. You'd also want to perform this trick on a glass-smooth
pond, since the scientists' tests were conducted in a perfectly still
The scientists admit that there is probably no practical use for this
knowledge. For his part, Bocquet admits that he can't manage more than
15 skips himself. ''Going from theory to practice,'' he says, ''is
Blogo Ad, The
By SETH STEVENSON
B logs are known for their brutal honesty, independence of spirit and
genuine emotional conviction. None of these attributes play much of a
role in corporate advertising, of course, but they are values that
corporate advertisers strive to imitate -- and, where possible,
So it wasn't all that shocking when Nike launched a blog this June. As
a brand, Nike is youthful and forward-looking, and blogs are a great
way to reach the young, hip and carefully shod -- those who bristle
when products get pitched at them but enjoy discovering cool new
things on their own. Nike's blogo ad, titled ''Art of Speed,'' ran for
20 days, posting short films, speed-related trivia, inspirational
athlete stories and so forth.
So far so good, until October saw a blog launched by . . . General
Motors. Not your father's Oldsmobile, indeed. Why would an earnest
corporate dinosaur like G.M. get involved with an upstart medium like
the blog? ''It's a different attitude from our corporate Web site,''
says Michael Wiley, G.M.'s director of new media and the man behind
its blog operation. ''It's more grass roots.''
The G.M. blog, which Wiley describes as a cautious experiment, focuses
on the 50th anniversary of the G.M. small-block V-8 engine -- a
touchstone for hot-rod enthusiasts. Entries feature some legendary
small-block-powered sports cars of the past and are sprinkled with
posts from G.M. engineers touting horsepower and torque levels.
Readers chime in with their own small-block stories and post questions
on the future of small-block technology. It's clearly blogging by car
geeks, for car geeks. But it turns out that geek to geek, informal and
honest, is a pretty good model for the blogo ad.
From a marketing perspective, blogs make perfect sense. They are cheap
to produce, immersive and interactive. It's easy to measure their
readership and response rates. For small companies, blogs are a quick
and dirty promotional tool that cuts out the middleman; for big
companies, blogs are a tool of humanization -- an informal, chatty,
down-to-earth voice amid the din of bland corporate-speak.
''It's a dream come true,'' says Bob Cargill, senior creative director
for Yellowfin Direct Marketing. ''You can embed yourself smack-dab in
the middle of your customers, form an ongoing relationship with them
and hear exactly what they think of your brand.''
Caller ID 6.0
By MICHAEL CHANDLER
R ather than face the embarrassment of misplacing a friend's name or
failing to keep up with a conversation, the elderly often avoid social
situations, even phone calls. This year, however, a new remedy for
social isolation made its appearance: a group of families in Las Vegas
and Portland, Ore., began trying out a new caller ID system that's
intended to help spark the memories of aging parents.
This enhanced caller ID system, designed by Intel, is meant to ease
the stress of social activity for the memory-impaired. When the phone
rings, a monitor shows both a number and a photograph of the caller.
Some extra details can also be displayed on a screen: Tim is calling;
he is your oldest son; you talked to him four days ago about the
weather and his daughter's piano recital. In future versions,
speech-recognition technology could store and display key words from
Prepping for social encounters is nothing new, says Margaret Morris, a
clinical psychologist and senior researcher for Intel. Many people,
after all, rely on a spouse to brief them before going into a party:
''Doris is going to be there. You talked to her last time about her
tomato plants, remember?''
The enhanced caller ID system replaces a spouse's knowledge with
technology. It belongs to a larger home-monitoring apparatus,
involving tiny wireless sensors. Matchbook-size computerized devices,
or ''motes,'' track individuals' activities and note behavior
Researchers say this technology could help people stay in their homes
instead of moving into expensive nursing facilities. These companies
hope families unable to keep an eye on the older generation will -- in
effect -- pay for virtual eyes instead.
Car That Emotes, The
By CHRIS BALLARD
I n June, four Japanese engineers for Toyota secured a U.S. patent for
a car that they say can express moods ranging from angry to happy to
sad. The car can raise or lower its body height and ''wag'' its
antenna and comes equipped with illuminated hood designs -- capable of
changing colors -- that are meant to look like eyebrows, eyes and even
tears. The car will try to approximate the feelings of its driver by
drawing on data stored in an on-board computer. So, for example, if
another car swerves into an expressive car's lane, the right
combination of deceleration, brake pressure and defensive steering,
when matched with previous input from the driver, will trigger an
As futuristic as the concept sounds, the premise isn't particularly
novel. Ever since the first teenager painted the first set of licking
flames onto his muscle car, people have been trying to express
themselves through their automobiles. Bumper stickers, fuzzy dice,
Baby on Board signs, suction-cup Garfields, Jesus fish, vanity license
plates, cartoon Calvins urinating on Ford logos -- each one is meant
to convey a message about the driver.
So do we really need our cars to express more? The engineers say the
answer is yes. Not only so that we can differentiate between, as they
write, honks ''asking permission to cut in front'' and honks ''showing
gratitude for having been allowed to cut in front'' but so that
drivers can potentially ''have greater affinity for their vehicles and
make the driving experience more comfortable.'' (Though you might
argue that the last thing Americans need is a greater affinity for
Then there is this most obvious use for the car: as a high-tech
stand-in for road rage. Along with their patent, the engineers
included a simulated graphic of an ''angry'' vehicle that looks a bit
like a toaster oven cut in half: the boxy car's front end is lighted
up with glowing red U-shaped lights, the headlights are hooded at
45-degree angles and downward-sloping ''eyebrow'' lights glow crimson.
(The engineers use red to equal anger, orange for good feelings --
like a ''wink'' -- and blue to represent sadness.) Interpreted
correctly, the angry car does look vaguely dissatisfied, but it's hard
to imagine anyone's fury being soothed because he gave another driver
the ''angry lights.''
For that purpose, there remains a more efficient, if old-fashioned,
method of driver communication that seems unlikely to fall out of
favor anytime soon: the one-finger salute.
Cold-Weather Theory of Witchcraft, The
By CHRISTOPHER SHEA
I f she floats she's a witch; if she sinks she's innocent -- but now
drowned, alas. The witch trials that swept through Europe from the
1300's into the 1700's baffle the rational modern mind. Why Europeans
suddenly concluded that many of their neighbors were casting curses
and smiting their crops remains a historical mystery.
That hardly implies a shortage of theories. Some have traced
witch-related paranoia to the demonization of female folk healers and
midwives by a nascent male medical establishment. Others have
emphasized the theological anxieties of the Reformation or suggested
an epidemic of syphilis (whose symptoms could resemble demonic
possession). On this side of the Atlantic, fungus-infested rye, which
can cause hallucinations, has been proposed as a factor in the Salem,
Mass., witch scare of 1692.
In the Winter 2004 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspectives,
Emily Oster, an economics graduate student at Harvard, suggests a more
banal explanation of witch mania: the weather. From 1520 to 1770,
according to Oster, spikes in witch trials coincided with sharp drops
in temperature. Cold and harsh conditions may have devastated crops,
she theorizes, leaving Europeans starving and looking for someone to
Oster is not the first scholar to propose a connection between the
advent of cold weather and the killing of witches. (The fact that a
''little ice age'' settled over Europe in the era of the witch scare
has attracted the attention of researchers.) But she is the first to
map temperature against trial records, decade by decade. Among other
things, she found that one of the steepest single temperature drops,
around 1560, coincides with a mysterious resurgence in trials after a
lull of 70 years.
The idea that witches lay waste to crops was once conventional wisdom.
In a papal bull of 1484, Pope Innocent VIII wrote, ''It has indeed
lately come to Our ears . . . many persons of both sexes . . . have
blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits
of the trees.'' According to Oster's research, crops really were
devastated when charges of necromancy flew. The witches themselves,
however, were simply climate-change scapegoats.
Concrete You Can See Through
By BRENDAN I. KOERNER
C oncrete has figured heavily in numerous architectural monstrosities,
not least because the cheap, durable substance oozes despair and seems
to suck up light. But this year, at the National Building Museum in
Washington, the architect Aron Losonczi helped rehabilitate concrete's
cheerless reputation by demonstrating a new version of the substance
more akin to glass than granite.
Losonczi, a 28-year-old from Csongrad, Hungary, is the inventor of
LiTraCon (shorthand for ''light-transmitting concrete''), which is
made by adding glass or plastic fibers to the usual blend of gravel,
sand, cement and water. A LiTraCon wall, though sturdy, is as
translucent as an oilskin lampshade. Shadows seep through from one
side to the other, even if the slab is of prison-grade thickness.
Losonczi has created a company to market his brainchild, but buildings
made of LiTraCon are most likely way off. Translucent concrete is
tough enough for the task, but the glass or plastic fibers make it too
expensive for most large-scale construction. The most sensible
commercial use might be see-through barriers of the sort that shield
the halls of government from car bombs. Since 9/11, the United States
may have a bunker mentality, but that doesn't mean our bunkers need be
Criminalizing Reckless Sex
By CHRISTOPHER SHEA
C olorado prosecutors dropped sexual-assault charges against Kobe
Bryant in September after his accuser decided she was unwilling to
testify. But Ian Ayres of Yale Law School and Katharine Baker of the
Chicago Kent College of Law contend that even the behavior Bryant
admitted to -- unprotected consensual sex with a woman he had just met
-- was irresponsible and dangerous. They have a proposal to curtail
such behavior: outlawing ''reckless sex.''
Ayres and Baker define reckless sex as penetration, without a condom,
in a first-time sexual encounter. Because such sex leaves behind
forensic evidence, it would be relatively easy for prosecutors to
prove that it had occurred. Anyone accused of the crime could then
offer the defense that omitting the condom had been consensual. But he
or she would have to prove this by a ''preponderance'' of the
Both men and women could theoretically be charged with sexual
recklessness -- and sentenced to up to six months in jail. Women would
have a fairly easy time defending themselves: a man's insertion of a
condom-free penis would almost certainly demonstrate his consent to
such an encounter.
Ayres and Baker say that raising a legal obstacle to first-time sex
without a condom would reap benefits for public health. ''The lion's
share of sexually transmitted infections are caused by first-time
sexual encounters,'' they argue on the legal-affairs Web site
Balkinization. Moreover, failure to wear a condom may amount to prima
facie evidence of disdain for women: ''Few men careful enough to use a
condom are reckless enough to rape. The same recklessness that causes
men to overlook the risk of disease and pregnancy can also lead them
to overlook whether the woman has truly consented.''
Of course, Ayres and Baker aren't doing away with the ''he said, she
said'' problem as much as shifting it to the question of who did or
didn't want the man to wear a condom. But they point out that men
could avoid courtroom arguments over consent simply by wearing a
condom that first time. The paper has raised objections both obvious
(privacy) and subtle (what are implications for gay men?). But before
you ridicule the proposal as a parody of the Nanny State, the authors
ask that you keep in mind two things: unprotected sex can kill and
date rapists almost always walk.
Debunking Photoshop Fakery
By RYAN BIGGE
O ur faith in photography has been forever compromised by computer
programs like Photoshop that doctor images with a relatively high
degree of ease and verisimilitude. When you come across a provocative
photo on the Web -- John Kerry and Jane Fonda protesting together, say
-- it can be hard to know what to make of it.
But not for Hany Farid. In May, Farid, a professor of computer science
at Dartmouth College, unveiled software that helps determine whether a
digital image has been tampered with. Much as art experts detect
forgeries by studying the minutia of brush strokes, Farid has devised
methods of analyzing the clusters of pixels that make up a digital
photo. After crunching the numbers, his program generates a map of the
suspect image that calls attention to suspicious areas where tampering
may have occurred.
Here's how it works. Each pixel in a photo represents a small piece of
coded information, and Farid's program looks for patterns of
information within the overall composition of the photo. Unaltered
images, he discovered, tend to have what you might call naturally
occurring patterns of information. Images that have been altered, by
contrast, tend to have abnormal patterns of information that, while
invisible to the eye, are detectable by computer. Making things
easier, most doctored images are produced with common manipulations --
like resizing, duplication, adjusting the contrast and airbrushing.
Farid began thinking about how to authenticate digital imagery after
discovering that photos taken with a digital camera could be
considered admissible evidence in United States courts. As a pioneer
in this type of forensic analysis, he receives numerous unsolicited
e-mail messages from Photoshop-fraud victims, including one from a
Brazilian model who claimed Budweiser spliced her head onto the body
of another woman in a print ad. ''You gotta love this job if you've
got supermodels calling you,'' Farid says.
Designated Hitter as Moral Hazard, The
By DANIEL H. PINK
B aseball purists have long argued that the designated hitter is a
moral outrage. Now an economist and a mathematician have found that
the D.H. is also a moral hazard. In economics, ''moral hazard'' is the
term for the idea that someone insured against risk is more likely to
engage in risky behavior. Just as a homeowner who has fire insurance
is more likely to risk smoking in bed, these scholars argue, so, too,
a pitcher who has a designated hitter batting in his stead is more
likely to risk plunking an opposing player.
Since the American League instituted the designated hitter in 1973,
A.L. pitchers haven't been required to bat. In the National League,
which never adopted the D.H., pitchers still must step up to the
plate. As a result, A.L. pitchers who hit a batter with a pitch never
have to face retaliation in the form of a 95-mile-an-hour fastball to
the ribs. But N.L. pitchers who bean an opponent must step into the
batter's box later in the game and stand 60 feet, 6 inches away from a
snarling Randy Johnson, bent on exacting revenge. John-Charles
Bradbury and Doug Drinen of the University of the South in Sewanee,
Tenn., realized that this rule difference ''created ideal conditions
to test for the existence of moral hazard in a controlled setting.''
In a paper presented at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in January,
Bradbury, the economist, and Drinen, the mathematician, noted that the
rate of hit batsmen is 15 percent higher in the American League than
in the National. Using a computer program written by Drinen, a former
college baseball player, the two young scholars mined eight years of
detailed play-by-play data on major-league games. After they
controlled for pitcher quality, batter quality, game situation and
other factors that also contribute to hit batters, they found that the
designated-hitter rule itself ''increases the likelihood that any
batter will be hit during a plate appearance between 11 and 17
percent.'' And in a study of interleague play that they plan to
publish next year, the pattern held: in interleague games in which
both sides used a D.H., National League pitchers were more likely than
usual to hit batters; in games in which pitchers had to bat, American
League throwers were less likely to hit opponents with a pitch. In
baseball, it seems, the laws of economics govern the diamond as well
as the front office.
Do-It-Yourself Attack Ad, The
By CLIVE THOMPSON
F or a political ad, ''Bush Hates Veterans'' is about as ferocious as
they come. ''My question to Mr. Bush is, Do you support the troops?
You're the one who hates the troops,'' shouts an angry male voice, as
pictures of maimed soldiers fill the screen. ''And you sent them off
to die so your friends could get rich!''
You might wonder which TV network would air such a blunt ad, and the
answer is none of them. ''Bush Hates Veterans'' is an online ad,
viewable at BushFlash.com, the Web site of Eric Blumrich, a
34-year-old Web designer in Montclair, N.J. When the Iraq war began,
Blumrich started creating spots attacking the Republicans. He has made
27 of them, and more than 3.2 million people have visited his site to
watch them. ''I'd been yelling about politics for years, but no one
listened to me,'' he says. ''Then I put up a couple of animations, and
Normally, we think of political ads as expensive products, financed by
established parties and deep-pocketed organizations. But this
election, technology made things drastically cheaper. Inexpensive home
video cameras could shoot broadcast-quality footage; cheap software
for editing could transform the footage into a punchy spot. Suddenly,
virtually any average citizen could run his or her own campaign ad,
and this year, it sometimes seemed, virtually any citizen did.
Partisans who loathed Howard Dean remixed his infamous scream in
parody music; others assembled ''American Betrayal?'' an ad pillorying
John Kerry over his Vietnam War protests. When MoveOn.org ran a
competition for the best self-produced TV spot attacking Bush, 1,500
people submitted ads. ''They were terrific,'' says Eli Pariser, the
executive director of MoveOn PAC. ''They were much funnier than the
ones you see on TV.''
They were certainly more savage. With no TV censors to appease, online
ads could throw punches far below the belt. (Maybe too far: MoveOn was
criticized for briefly posting two amateur ads that compared Bush with
Hitler.) If this political season was more rancorous than most, it was
partly because of this explosion of grass-roots advertising, swapped
online by gleeful partisans.
Downwardly Defined Celebrity Flaw, The
By KATE AURTHUR
C elebrity magazines have always concerned themselves with weight gain
and other lapses in the appearance of the rich and famous. You're a
moneyed, potentially beautiful star, reads the subtext of countless
magazine cover articles -- what have you got to be so fat about? But
as David Graham, a fashion writer for The Toronto Star, noted this
year, things are getting worse. As competition among tabloids
increases the demand for celebrity shortcomings, the chattering
classes have been forced to expand their definition of what counts as
a failing, often scrutinizing celebs for less obvious, even arguable
Consider a few examples. In Star magazine, Kate Hudson was called out
for her ''Dumbo ears.'' Jewel was criticized for a ''snaggletooth''
and the actress Christine Taylor for a ''bony back.'' The otherwise
impeccable Katie Holmes was cited for having ''mangled ankles'' --
whatever those are. Recent makeover programs like ''The Swan,'' in
which noncelebrities undergo spectacular top-to-bottom plastic
surgery, seem only to heighten the impulse to nit-pick: if an
unlimited budget of time and money can rid a body of nearly any
impurity, why should it be too much to expect that wealthy celebrities
appear only as smooth, ageless creatures with perfectly proportioned
features and figures?
Even those who are fit and trim are vulnerable. In an August issue,
The National Enquirer ran a cover article about the cellulite
afflictions of Britney Spears, Sandra Bullock, Tori Spelling and Lara
Flynn Boyle. The inclusion of Boyle was indicative of the phenomenon's
cruel double-bind, since she is also regularly accused by the tabloids
of having an eating disorder. ''So celebrities like Lara can't win,''
Graham writes. ''In this war, they can only take cover.''
Drug-Trial Registry, The
By SHANNON BROWNLEE
W hen doctors pull out their prescription pads, chances are good that
they are relying on incomplete information about the safety and
efficacy of the drugs -- from Celebrex to Zoloft -- you're about to
take. That's because studies that come up with negative results tend
not to appear in the medical literature, a problem known as
''publication bias.'' For years, critics have argued that drug
companies and researchers who fail to publish negative studies are
distorting the public record and leading doctors to prescribe the
wrong drugs to the wrong patients. This year, Congress considered a
novel solution to the problem: the registration of all drug studies
involving human subjects in a central database, or clinical-trials
Currently, when a company wishes to have a drug approved by the Food
and Drug Administration, it must submit all clinical-trial results,
both negative and positive, to the agency. But the company is under no
legal obligation to disseminate that information -- or any later
studies -- to the public.
A clinical-trial registry would discourage the cherry-picking of trial
results and provide doctors with a more balanced picture of the risks
and benefits of the drugs. Eventually, proponents would like to see
complete trial results posted, an idea that has been gaining traction,
even with the pharmaceutical industry. This fall, the Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry's trade group,
announced a voluntary plan for companies to post results of clinical
trials on a Web site.
But drug makers aren't ready to tell all. They have balked at having
to register so-called Phase I and Phase II trials, which are performed
early in the course of bringing a drug to market. Companies say they
worry that full disclosure will provide their competitors with
proprietary information and that it would be all too easy for patients
to see one negative study and conclude incorrectly that a drug isn't
right for them. Registry proponents counter that doctors and patients
should be able to make decisions on the basis of all the evidence --
and that isn't possible, as long as there's no way to know what
evidence is out there.
Dumb Robots Are Better
By D.T. MAX
S teven Skaar, a robotics professor at Notre Dame, is the prophet of a
not-so-brave new world. His creation is a wheelchair that can take its
occupant among just a handful of destinations -- the toilet, the
kitchen, the bed. And it makes this journey very slowly. Skaar's
students taught the chair its course by painstakingly pushing it along
all the permutations of possible routes and methodically saving them
in the robot's memory.
What's significant about Skaar's wheelchair isn't the invention itself
as much as the idea that it represents. This simple robot, Skaar
argues, is about as good as a robot gets. Forget ''R.U.R.,'' Karel
Capek's 1921 play that first introduced intelligent autonomous
interactive mobile humanoids -- no robot is going to run the world for
a long time.
What happened? Where did the technology pinup of the last century go
wrong? The answer, really, is nowhere. To err is human, and we erred
in underestimating how remarkable we humans are, Skaar argues.
Activities we take for granted -- distinguishing between the bottle of
shampoo and the lamp, deciding whether to switch it on or pull it off
the shelf -- turn out to be very hard tasks for robots, partly because
we don't really know how we do them ourselves.
Recognizing that robotic technology is at a ''dead end,'' Skaar says,
our solution should be to make a lot of pretty dumb robots that do
what they do well. The future, he contends, is going to belong to
androids with robotic arms spot-welding the same joint in the same car
at the same spot on the assembly line. Not very romantic, but at least
there's some poetic justice here. When Capek's brother, Josef, coined
the word for the automatons in the play ''R.U.R.,'' he derived it from
the Czech word robota, meaning ''slave labor.''
By SUSAN DOMINUS
S ince its inception, the Internet has been likened to the Wild West,
but a culture further along in its development would provide a more
apt reference point: New York City in the 70's -- a vast metropolis,
infinitely diverse, with pockets of untamed sleaze suggesting an
overall tolerance for corruption in the system. Places like this breed
a certain kind of vigilante hero -- not the brazen, spur-clinking
swashbucklers of a lawless frontier but the silent, seething types,
the unexpected, subterranean enforcers.
Enter the eBay vigilantes. This year you could find these people
patrolling the electronics and rare-stamp and kitchenware offerings of
the world's largest online auction house. Their goal is to stop
dishonest auctioneers from selling products they don't actually have,
and their deal-busting methods are wily: rescuing naive customers by
outbidding them with outlandishly high offers (which they never pay);
sending potentially fraudulent sellers seemingly innocent e-mail
messages with surveillance systems attached; contacting would-be
buyers to let them in on what they say are the telltale signs of a
scam -- the hidden bidder list, the request to pay by Western Union,
the false location. (Andorra, a principality in the Pyrenees, is
frequently listed by swindlers who are based in Romania.)
''I got angry,'' says Greg Schiller, a computer and network technician
in New Mexico who regularly spent an hour a day trawling eBay for
frauds at the peak of his vigilantism this year. ''You know, the
people who use eBay are not wealthy people. They're looking to get a
deal. And these guys who are ripping them off are laughing at those
people, and they're laughing at the law.''
EBay has a team of more than 1,000 employees -- among them former
law-enforcement officials, computer programmers and customer-support
representatives -- who are authorized to police the community. The
company says it doesn't appreciate what it calls the vigilantes'
''auction interference,'' which can tip off lawbreakers, it claims,
without actually stopping them. Not only did eBay decline to thank
Schiller for the thousands of fake offers he told them about, but the
company also threatened to suspend his account. All he has got in
return for his vigilance are some coffee beans, a coffee grinder and a
coffee machine from Capresso, a manufacturer grateful for his work in
preventing fraudulent eBay sales of its products. Schiller is not one
for gourmet coffee, and he isn't looking for compensation, but he says
that he was perfectly happy to get the gift all the same. ''At
least,'' he says, ''it showed someone's paying attention.''
By MATT BAI
W hat makes a candidate ''electable''? That question, more than any
other, defined the Democratic primaries and caucuses beginning in
January. In polls and focus groups, Democratic voters in the early
states of Iowa and New Hampshire repeatedly said that they were
willing to vote for whichever challenger stood the best chance of
being elected over George W. Bush. Roughly half the voters who chose
Kerry in the Iowa caucuses cited electability as their main motive.
Electability as a political attribute is nothing new. But in the past,
electability was a subtext, something for strategists to exploit while
the candidates went on with the important business of debating issues.
In this year's campaign, electability became the issue itself. There
was a strange result: a nomination fight that worked more like a
futures market than an actual campaign. Iowans and New Hampshirites
bet on the candidate they thought voters in the rest of the country
would choose, rather than choosing the candidate they necessarily
The electability derby reflected, in part, the growing punditization
of the American electorate. Deluged by television prognosticators and
celebrity consultants, voters now seem to view politics the way
operatives do -- as an exercise in strategy, rather than as the means
to governing. This was the year that voters, echoing chatter on the
Web and cable news, began talking less about the policies that affect
them and more about polling samples, the machinations of independently
financed 527's and, yes, electability.
How well these voters served their own cause is a matter of some
debate. Kerry, chosen as the most electable of the field, didn't end
up winning a single Southern or Southwestern state (unless your
definition is flexible enough to admit California). Which goes to
show, perhaps, that Democratic primary voters aren't any better or
worse at the prediction game than the experts on TV.
Employable Liberal Arts Major, The
By RACHEL DONADIO
F ew questions make liberal arts majors wince more than the
time-honored ''But what are you going to do with that?'' (As the
accounting student said to the English major.) Now, with tuition costs
rising as fast as parental anxiety levels, colleges have begun asking
the same question -- and helping their students answer it through
professional training programs that look ahead to the day after
This year, Colgate University and New York University began offering
special career-oriented workshops to undergraduates. Colgate's
''Career Development in the New Economy'' program brings in alumni
business executives to offer advice and engage in networking; students
meet for up to two hours a week, for six to eight weeks during the
semester. In its Gateway Program, Colgate will soon offer noncredit
courses in fields like law, journalism and marketing and finance.
''The job market is getting competitive, and there are a lot of . . .
industry-specific skills that young people need as the professions and
the economy continue to diversify,'' said Adam Weinberg, the dean of
the college at Colgate University.
At New York University, juniors and seniors with high grade-point
averages can enroll in the Professional Edge program and take
specialized vocational courses for academic credit in N.Y.U.'s School
of Continuing and Professional Studies. An art history major could
learn to appraise art, or a language student could learn to become a
translator. Other colleges are on the same page. Columbia University
allows undergraduates to take professional-school courses for credit,
as does the University of Southern California.
Colleges say they aren't abandoning the liberal arts education but
rather bringing the ideal slightly more in line with the job-market
reality. Colgate's program makes sure the professions don't ''seep in
and otherwise corrupt the strong liberal arts curriculum,'' Weinberg
Yet others aren't entirely convinced. ''To dilute the power of the
liberal arts with premature professionalism will deprive our society
of the thoughtful leadership it needs,'' Anthony Marx, the president
of Amherst College, was quoted as saying in The Times earlier this
year. If they have the luxury of time, he said, students should ''go
deeper into the liberal arts, because that is the seed corn of an
intellectual life and informed citizenship.'' After all, college is
breathlessly short, and the American working life increasingly long.
How many professionals think back fondly to those industry-specific
lingo-training courses of their undergraduate days?
Escalating High-Heel Shoe, The
By AMANDA FORTINI
O f the many impractical fashions that have appeared throughout
history, none have endured like the high heel. From ladies of the
court in 18th-century France who had to be escorted up and down stairs
because they tottered on stems so precariously high, to today's
socialites and celebrities who mince along in their lofty Manolos,
comfort and even mobility have always been an afterthought. Remarking
upon the heel's despotic allure, George Bernard Shaw reportedly said,
''If you rebel against high heels, take care to do so in a very smart
Yet change may be afoot, as it were. Channeling the desire of working
women everywhere, Wei-Chieh Tu, a graduate student in industrial
design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, has created an escalating
high-heel shoe, the height of which can be set at six different
levels, ranging from zero to 38 degrees, with the mere push of a
button. ''My wife wanted three-inch heels but refused to buy them
because she wouldn't be able to wear them all day,'' Tu explains.
''She told me, 'You're an industrial designer; you should do something
about that,' and of course I listened to her.''
The resulting shoe is sleek and futuristic, with a green tiered base
that echoes Ferragamo's iconic layered rainbow platform of the late
30's. Tu, however, says he drew inspiration from the elegant, foldable
Chinese hand fans he saw his mother and grandmother use when he was a
child growing up in Taiwan. His ingenious creation not only marries
fashion and function but also instills hope that high heels may soon
cease to be instruments of torture. Need a towering presence for a
meeting at work? Set your shoes at a higher altitude. Got a short
date? Lower the shoes to half-mast. Want to add some glam rock to an
evening out? Crank the shoes way, way up and saunter around. And best
of all, when the vogue in heel height shifts, as it invariably does,
there's no shopping required; push a button and -- voila! -- your
heels will adjust. If only all heels were as easy to manage.
By NOAH SHACHTMAN
T he sci-fi author Robert Heinlein had the idea first: in his 1959
novel, ''Starship Troopers,'' soldiers stepped into suits of powered
armor to make themselves stronger, faster and generally better
prepared to fight off alien hordes. This year, Homayoon Kazerooni, an
engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley,
made the idea a reality by introducing a set of high-tech leg braces
called the Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton, or Bleex. Strap it
on, and a load once backbreaking suddenly feels no heavier than a
couple of copies of the Sunday paper.
Bleex is a set of modified combat boots, attached to what look like
metal braces that snake up the sides of the legs. The prosthetics,
which operate with the assistance of a Pentium-5-equivalent processor,
are connected to a vest and backpack. About 70 pounds of gear can be
crammed into the pack. But once the exoskeleton is turned on, it feels
like only a five-pound load; the mechanical legs pick up the rest.
Bleex 2, scheduled for June, should be able to carry 150 pounds and
amble at a four-miles-an-hour clip.
The Pentagon -- which has financed much of Kazerooni's research --
says it wants the machine to literally ease the burden on American
troops, who routinely haul more than a hundred pounds of gear into
battle. But Kazerooni sees his exoskeleton as more than just a ''war
machine,'' he says. The mechanical legs might someday help the elderly
get around, for instance. The idea of replacing Grandma's walker is a
long way from science fiction. But at least it's real.
By REBECCA SKLOOT
G errit Melles is soft-spoken and conservative in an
I'd-never-get-a-tattoo-or-piercing sort of way, so he's a bit bashful
about having created the latest craze in body modification: eyeball
jewelry. We're not talking pierced eyelids or eyebrows -- that's
child's play at this point. We're talking jewelry placed directly in
Here's how it works. An ophthalmologist anesthetizes your eye, then
makes a microscopic incision in the conjunctiva, the eye's transparent
outer membrane. The doctor drops a tiny piece of jewelry (called
JewelEye) into the incision, and the procedure is over. It takes 10
minutes and costs about $4,000, and you spend the next week feeling as
if you have a piece of sand in your eye. When the conjunctiva heals,
you can't feel it (even when you rub your eye).
Melles, an ophthalmic surgeon with the Netherlands Institute for
Innovative Ocular Surgery, uses the word ''subtle'' to describe
JewelEye: ''It's not like you'll pass someone on the street and say,
Whoa, what's in that person's eye?'' But it's impossible not to stare
at it when you're face to face. The jewelry is a small, platinum
medallion gently curved to fit the eye. It rests just below the
surface, held in place by the conjunctiva, like a charm under Scotch
tape. Melles stumbled on the idea while developing implantable devices
for treating glaucoma. ''I found a way to safely implant things in the
outer layer of the eye,'' he says, ''and I thought, Why not make
special shapes people could wear for fun?'' He started with hearts and
stars but now makes everything from euro signs to Harley-Davidson
According to Melles, the risk of infection is lower with JewelEye than
with ear piercing, because JewelEye is sealed in the eye and never
exposed to bacteria. It doesn't migrate, even after millions of blinks
and countless eye rubbings, and it's removable. ''We have seen no
complications,'' he says, ''and no reason to expect them in the
future.'' So why doesn't he have one? ''I'm a doctor,'' he says.
''Doctors don't do that sort of thing.''
By CLIVE THOMPSON
W hen you first see the FanWing, you think: there's no way that thing
is going to fly. After all, it looks less like an airplane than a big,
lumbering combine harvester that has somehow strayed from its wheat
field. It has a hollow cylinder where its wings ought to be, and when
it trundles down the runway, it moves barely faster than a bicycle.
But then it lifts off, angles up and -- whoa -- soars up into the sky.
''People think it's a hoax, even when they see it for themselves,''
says Patrick Peebles, the inventor. Peebles is a former
ice-cream-machine-repair instructor and amateur pilot. About 10 years
ago, he had an idea for how to radically redesign the airplane so that
it would not use wings. Wings, of course, keep a plane aloft in part
because of their curved upper surface, which creates lower air
pressure above than below, thereby pushing the plane upward. Peebles
envisioned something different: he would replace the wing with a tube
filled with blades that rotated like the water wheel on a Mississippi
riverboat. If the blades spun fast enough, he reasoned, they would
reduce the drag on top, allowing the plane to fly. He spent five years
tinkering in his living room until he finally got a tiny model
airborne. By this year, he was flying a prototype with a 10-foot span,
which he introduced to the public at the Farnborough International Air
Show in Britain.
Compared with a traditional airplane, the FanWing can fly at much
lower speeds and with much greater stability. It can take off from a
relatively small runway and cruise at the leisurely pace of a car. If
it ever catches on, the FanWing would make a good air taxi, ferrying
people on short hops from city to city, or out to airports. It is more
fuel-efficient than a helicopter and potentially safer than a normal
plane, since a FanWing cannot stall, no matter how sharply it points
up or down. The only real danger is if the fan blades jam and cease
spinning -- then, Peebles admits, ''it drops like a rock.'' Peebles is
currently talking to military experts in the United States and Britain
about using FanWings as unmanned surveillance vehicles, since they
could stay aloft for eight hours on one tank of gas. But whatever the
FanWing's commercial success, Peebles can already claim one singular
achievement: he has created one of the few truly new aircraft since
the Wright brothers.
By KEN STIER
T his year, the American military was forced to relearn painful
lessons in urban warfare. Insurgents in Falluja and Najaf were able to
neutralize much of America's technological superiority and inflict
costly casualties. It remains to be seen whether the retaking of those
Iraqi cities proves to be a Pyrrhic victory.
But renewed urban combat is hardly the only global urban crisis. In a
World Policy Journal article published this spring, the national
security experts Peter Liotta and James Miskel argued that the
''failed state,'' which received so much attention in the 1990's, is
being supplemented by the emergence of failed cities, where civil
order succumbs to powerful criminal gangs. From Brazil to South
Africa, these gangs pose a variety of nontraditional security threats
-- from unchecked black-marketeering and the smuggling of people, guns
and drugs to public-health breakdowns and alliances with terrorists.
Richard Norton, a Naval War College scholar who has developed a
taxonomy of what he calls feral cities, says that there are numerous
places slipping toward Mogadishu, perhaps the only fully feral city
nowadays. As public services disintegrate, residents are forced to
hire private security or pay criminals for protection. The police in
Brazil have fallen back on a containment policy against gangs ruling
the favelas, while the rich try to stay above the fray, fueling the
busiest civilian helicopter traffic in the world (there are 240
helipads in S-o Paulo; there are 10 in New York City). In
Johannesburg, much of downtown, including the stock exchange, has been
abandoned to squatters and drug gangs. In Mexico City, crime is
soaring despite the presence of 91,000 policemen. Karachi, Pakistan,
where 40 percent of the population lives in slums, plays host to
gangland violence and to Al Qaeda cells.
As cities around the world descend into disorder, the United States
may have to step up training local militaries to undertake armed
interventions. Writing in The Naval War College Review last fall,
Norton warned that ''traditionally, problems of urban decay and
associated issues, such as crime, have been seen as domestic issues
best dealt with by internal security or police forces. That will no
longer be an option.''
Fertile Red States
By NOAM SCHEIBER
A fter this year's presidential election, pundits agreed that George
W. Bush won by turning out conservative voters in greater numbers than
Democrats turned out liberals. According to Phillip Longman, a senior
fellow at the New America Foundation, that feat will only be easier
for Republican candidates in the future. Instead of having to rely on
the same conservative voters, Republicans may benefit from the fact
that there simply will be more voters in conservative states. The
reason, Longman argued in The Washington Post this summer, is that
voters in red states are having children at much higher rates than
their counterparts in blue states.
The numbers that Longman revealed were striking. In 2002, Utah, where
Bush made his strongest showing this year, had the country's highest
fertility rate (the number of births per thousand women of
child-bearing age). By contrast, liberal Vermont had the lowest
fertility rate that year. Furthermore, 15 out of the country's 17 most
fertile states went for Bush in 2000. The Gore states today have an
average replacement rate of 1.89 births per woman -- far below the
rate of 2.1 necessary to prevent the population from shrinking. (The
average rate of the Bush states is 2.06.) These trends are
particularly meaningful when you consider that political convictions
are often inherited. As Longman notes: ''It's a truism of social
science that people wind up having the political and religious
orientation of their parents.''
You might object that state fertility rates are a crude unit of
measurement, since states are not politically uniform and since people
move in and out of them over time. But the evidence became even more
compelling when Longman broke it down by demographic group. The
fertility rate among Mexican-Americans, who tend to lean Democratic,
is high but rapidly declining. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican and
African-American fertility rates are now only slightly higher than
that of white America. But rural and religious white voters -- voters
who went disproportionately for Bush -- seem to be reproducing at a
rate far above the national average.
What accounts for the differences? Two factors, according to Longman.
First, raising a middle-class child today is expensive. ''People don't
have an economic reason to have kids,'' Longman says. ''They need
another reason. God may provide that.'' Second, the cost of raising a
child is much higher in urban areas than it is in rural areas. If
Longman's math is right, then the slide from an evenly divided
electorate in 2000 to a 51-48 split this year could be the beginning
of a depressing trend for Democrats.
Foolproof Death Penalty, The
By EMILY BAZELON
O pponents of the death penalty have increasingly emphasized the
danger of placing the wrong people on death row. When there is a
possibility that the innocent will be convicted, they ask, how can the
state risk the finality of execution? This year, the Republican
governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, took that problem to heart and
proposed a solution -- error-free capital punishment.
In May, a blue-ribbon panel convened by Romney offered up
recommendations for a death penalty that would be ''as infallible as
humanly possible.'' Among the high points of the report: execute only
the ''worst of the worst'' -- certain cop killers, terrorists,
multiple murderers and individuals in a few other select categories.
Pay for top-notch defense lawyers. Caution juries about the
questionable value of confessions, eyewitness identifications and
testimony by jailhouse snitches. Require scientific evidence to
corroborate guilt, with DNA matches as the benchmark. Set up an
independent panel to watch out for crime-lab errors. Create a
death-penalty-review commission. And base death sentences on a ''no
doubt'' standard of proof. Philosophers may gripe about this last
requirement -- can anyone be that sure of anything? -- but the
commission says it's trying to ensure that not a single juror harbors
Romney promptly embraced the commission's report. But with the
Legislature firmly in Democratic hands and public support for the
death penalty on the decline in the state, the proposal appears to be
stalled. The governor hasn't even introduced a bill based on his
For their part, the commissioners say they hope their report will
serve as a guide to states with the death penalty, if not to
Massachusetts. But Franklin Zimring, a law professor at Berkeley,
believes the commission's highly restrictive criteria will have little
attraction for determined death-penalty states.
The significance of the commission's work, Zimring says, is that it
shows how capital punishment has become a luxury. The outgoing
governor of Illinois commuted the death sentences of all death-row
inmates; meanwhile, the number of people sentenced to death across the
United States reached a 30-year low. Now Massachusetts has dreamed up
a death penalty that will apply to very few real criminals, suggesting
capital punishment isn't necessary to keep the streets safe. ''This
may be the first effort to write a solely symbolic criminal statute,''
Zimring said of the Massachusetts proposal. ''We have entered the
postmodern era of death-penalty discourse.'' EMILY BAZELON
Genetic Family Values
By RUSSELL SHORTO
T he bond between mother and child is an elemental part of the human
fabric. So, some would say, is the promiscuous tendency of the male.
With genetic foundations being discovered or claimed for everything
from spirituality to fear, it should come as no surprise that two
studies this year found evidence that both of these varieties of love
reduce to genes and brain chemistry.
The glue between mother and infant, according to work done at the
National Research Council Institute of Neuroscience in Rome, acts like
an opiate. Baby mice genetically altered to be unresponsive to opiates
did not cry out when separated from their mothers, as normal mice do.
According to Dr. Francesca D'Amato and her team, this supports the
notion that a mother's affection works like a pain-relieving opiate in
her baby's body. Maternal caresses are not just psychologically
soothing, the work suggests, but physically so.
Such a chemical mother-child link would seem to leave dads out of the
loop, looking for love in all the wrong places. But here too genetics
yields insight. It seems that the vole (a small rodent) comes in two
varieties: meadow and prairie. Male meadow voles are sexually
rapacious, moving endlessly from mate to mate and leaving behind a
succession of single-parent households, while the male prairie vole
settles in with the female of his choosing and helps raise the young.
The difference is the presence of a certain gene, the vasopressin
receptor, found in the ventral pallium, one of the brain's pleasure
and reward centers. The homebody vole has the gene, which gives him a
pleasurable response to sex with his mate and encourages him to stick
around. Without it, the meadow vole moves on, always hungering, never
By transferring the gene into the meadow vole, however, Dr. Larry
Young of Emory University found that the wanton creature instantly
stopped roving and turned into a veritable prairie home companion.
''It indicates that, in terms of evolution, a mutation in a single
gene could have altered behavior,'' Young says. ''And it means this
mutation could disrupt the ability to form bonds, both in extreme
cases, such as autism, and in behavior that we wouldn't call a
disease, such as promiscuity.''
Both studies also highlight a connection between love and addictive
drugs, indicating that such drugs work by hijacking the brain's
natural reward circuitry. But while the work points to future research
in drug addiction and autism, scientists balk at the idea of using
genetics to alter social behavior. ''I don't think we'll be selling
drugs to women to help them keep their men,'' Young says.
By CLIVE THOMPSON
I n March 2001, the first officer of the cruise ship Caledonian Star
saw a wave that chilled his soul. It stood almost 100 feet tall,
towering over the surrounding waves, and it didn't slope -- it was a
sheer wall of water. It smashed into the ship with such force that it
broke windows and flooded the command deck.
This watery beast was what scientists are now calling a rogue wave.
According to a study released this year, there are more of them
roaming the oceans than anyone ever imagined. In July, the European
Space Agency announced that it had conducted the first satellite study
of the oceans, looking specifically for rogues. In a three-week
period, the satellites discovered 10 rogues, some taller than 85 feet.
The scientists involved said they were stunned by the results, because
for centuries skeptics dismissed reports of gigantic waves as myths.
Wave equations normally describe an average wave height; they don't
Now scientists are rushing to produce models that illustrate the
behavior of rogues -- which rear up and tower twice as high as nearby
waves. ''They come out of nowhere, and they're short-lived,'' says
Martin Holt, a scientist with Britain's meteorological office. ''You
could be in the same area of sea, and you wouldn't even know they were
there.'' Holt is a member of the MaxWave project, a three-year effort
to understand what causes rogues. In Norway, one researcher has
successfully created his own minirogues in a tank of water.
If rogues are truly common, the implications for sea safety are
significant. Every year, big ships are lost at sea; are some being
done in by rogues? Critics say today's ships aren't strong enough to
withstand rogue waves, because they weren't designed to face down
massive walls of water. A rogue can hit with a force of more than 100
tons per square meter. Certifying agencies and oil companies -- which
operate offshore rigs -- are now paying close attention to the MaxWave
research. Because if the scientists are right, the biggest sea
monsters aren't beneath the surface -- they're right on top.
Global Political Positioning System, The
By PAUL TOUGH
L et's say you somehow find yourself stuck behind enemy lines in the
new divided America -- a Democrat in suburban Dallas, say, or a
Republican in the East Village. Surely there's someone around who
thinks the way you do; but how to locate that lonesome kindred spirit?
Now there's a solution: a simple application you can install on your
BlackBerry or cellphone (preferably the latest kind, equipped with
G.P.S.) that displays the precise redness and blueness of the spot
where you're standing -- and points you in the direction of redder or
bluer neighborhoods nearby.
The program is called RedBlue (pronounced ''red or blue''), and it is
the invention of Jason Uechi, a partner in a New York advertising firm
who is also a serious tech-head. In January, Uechi stumbled across an
innovative Web project called Fundrace.org, which uses publicly
available information from the Federal Election Commission to create
maps of various cities showing the exact source of every donation of
more than $200 to Republican or Democratic candidates or committees.
The data generate a vivid image of political geography. The New York
City map, unsurprisingly, shows mostly blue dots, for Democratic
donors, and the map turns a deep aquamarine on the Upper West Side.
But there are also some big red circles, denoting Republican givers,
mostly clustered on the Upper East Side and around Wall Street.
Uechi borrowed the Fundrace database, wrote some Java code and created
a program that users can download onto their phones. He released it in
October and offered it free to most users. When you fire it up, the
G.P.S. sensor in your phone figures out where you are and which way
you're facing, and using the Fundrace data, shows you pre-election
donations for each party from the neighborhood you're in. And it can
expand its radius to 60 miles, and let you know where to head to find
more Republicans or Democrats.
Hawkishness as Evolutionary Holdover
By CHRISTOPHER SHEA
A merican overconfidence on the road to Baghdad has been well
catalogued, but it is worth remembering that the United States hardly
monopolizes military hubris. Why, for instance, did Saddam Hussein
conclude that he could survive a showdown with the United States? And
why did the Taliban, rather than turn over Al Qaeda leaders, roll the
dice on war with America?
Dominic D.P. Johnson offers a bio-political answer to such puzzles in
his book ''Overconfidence and War,'' which was published this year by
Harvard University Press. ''By virtue of human psychology,'' Johnson
writes, ''we should fully expect a bias toward overconfidence by all
sides in conflicts today, whether they are superpowers, small states,
freedom fighters or terrorists.''
To reach this conclusion, Johnson applies the logic of evolution to
international relations. Following one of his mentors, the Harvard
anthropologist Richard Wrangham, he suggests that overconfidence might
once have been helpful in war and conflict. On the ancient African
savannah, it was actually rational to misestimate your own capacities:
a fearsome appearance and bold tactics could intimidate the enemy and
help carry the day during lightning raids on enemy camps. But today,
given modern weaponry, bureaucratic planning and mass armies, a cocky
disposition is as likely to be suicidal as it is glorious.
Military overconfidence, in other words, is a psychological holdover
-- a cognitive appendix -- from an earlier period in human history. It
is perhaps most dangerous when it prompts a decision for war in the
first place. And it could be the X-factor explaining the otherwise
inexplicable in recent military history: French faith in the Maginot
line, Hitler's drive into Russia, the American failure to heed the
lessons of French defeat in Vietnam.
Most humans are prone to overestimating themselves, but leaders (who
are inordinately ambitious and, by definition, have suffered few
recent professional setbacks) are especially susceptible. Fittingly,
the cover of Johnson's book features George W. Bush in the famous
flight suit, flashing an exuberant thumbs-up.
By NOAM SCHEIBER
F or decades, political scientists have believed that the economy is
the key to a president's re-election chances: when the economy is
buoyant, as it was in 1984 and 1996, the incumbent should cruise to
victory. When the economy is dicey, as it was in 1980 and 1992, the
advantage tilts toward the challenger. So it is no surprise that with
every major economic indicator looking good this year, leading
political-science models tended to show George W. Bush winning easily.
That obviously didn't happen. And the reason, according to a recent
series of papers by Jacob Hacker, a Yale political scientist, is that
while incomes have been rising, so has the degree to which those
incomes fluctuate. The problem for an incumbent, Hacker argues, is
that voters care a great deal about having a stable income, not just
about having a large one.
When Hacker began tinkering with ways to measure the instability of
family income, what he found amazed him. Between the early 1970's and
the early 90's, the index of income volatility he devised rose by a
factor of 5 (though it fell somewhat toward the end of the 90's). Put
differently, a family earning $50,000 a year in 1974 (in today's
dollars) had a 2 in 3 chance of making anywhere between $38,000 and
$62,000 in 1975. But by the early 90's, a family earning $50,000 would
have a 2 in 3 chance of making between $30,000 and $70,000 the
following year. The risk of a substantial drop-off in income was much
greater. Moreover, the trend wasn't confined to less-well-educated
workers. Workers with and without college training saw a similar rise
in the volatility of their family incomes.
A conservative might argue that most people would gladly accept the
risk of seeing their income fall in exchange for the possibility of a
large increase. But the social scientific evidence suggests the
opposite. Behavioral economists have identified a phenomenon known as
''loss aversion'' -- people's tendency to dislike losing things they
already have much more intensely than they like gaining things of
equal value. No wonder rising income volatility makes voters more and
more anxious about their economic prospects.
''The economy did much less for Bush than you'd have expected,''
Hacker says. ''I would posit one reason is that people feel less
Inkless Magazine, The
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
F or its latest issue, Visionaire, the high-style, limited-edition
publication, corralled Rachel Whiteread, Adam Fuss, Robert Longo, Karl
Lagerfeld and a dozen other big art and fashion names to experiment
with the technology of laser cutting. The technique, in essence,
entails scanning drawings or photographs into a computer, which then
prompts a laser to burn holes, or shapes, into paper or any other
material. It may be the first inkless (not to mention textless)
magazine, if you're not counting those on the Internet, of course.
To be precise, the magazine is really a portfolio of laser-cut
multiples, all made with heavy black paper, loosely slid between
shiny, colored, thick cardboard pages. The magazine cover is silver
and black, part laser-cut, part silver-foil-stamped with the image of
an apartment building. The look of the laser-cut works ranges from a
fine, almost imperceptible black mesh to macrame. If you hold them at
a certain angle, either up to the light or so that light can pass
through the holes onto the magazine pages, you can see some of the
images as faint, ghostly reflections. This is not always easy to do,
and the temperamental, alchemical aspect is vaguely akin to holographs
or old daguerreotypes, as is the implicit magic that comes with
finding a face or flower, as if conjured up, out of the darkness.
Fuss photographed a shy girl, who seems more reticent because of the
difficulty of making her image out; Mario Sorrenti has printed a
skull; Maurizio Cattelan, an inscription in Arabic. Whiteread's work
resembles an exquisite doily, and Simon Periton's the back of a torn
Laser cutting and engraving have been used by industry for at least a
decade to make signs, cut lace and leather, do fine wood inlays and
cut fashion patterns. ''The art world is always the last to embrace
new technologies for lack of money,'' says David Lasry of Two Palms
Press in New York, who has used the technology to make works with the
artists Chuck Close and Terry Winters. ''My family went to Yellowstone
this summer. Every little trinket was made with laser cutting --
coasters, cutouts of bears, pine trees, every cheesy souvenir. It's
just a tool. It saves us months and months of time and is more exact
than the human hand. But ultimately, it's what you do with it and
whether what you make is good to look at or think about.''
Invitation-Only, Incentivized Campaign Rally, The
By MICHAEL CROWLEY
I t used to be that campaign rallies symbolized the messy glory of
democracy. They were a chance for voters of all stripes to convene
noisily and size up a candidate at close range. This year, however,
the Bush campaign turned its rallies into something quite the
opposite: an organizing tool designed to mobilize its core supporters.
It was just one way in which the Bushies masterfully harnessed their
volunteers' excitement and refracted it, like sunlight through a
magnifying glass, into concentrated results on the ground.
The first innovation was exclusivity. Whereas Kerry rallies were
generally open to all comers, Bush's events were largely
invitation-only. Tickets were offered first to proven supporters of
the president. Uninvited walk-ups at R.N.C.-sponsored rallies,
meanwhile, sometimes had their names cross-referenced against voter
files and contribution records. Many people were asked to sign an
endorsement of Bush.
But simple loyalty wasn't always enough. Would-be attendees were told
that they could increase their chances of getting a coveted ticket or
earning a spot nearer to the candidate by putting in some grunt work
for the campaign. A prime seat was earned through phone calls,
door-knocking, planting yard signs.
Another twist was that the work of volunteers often continued long
after the cheering stopped. The Bush campaign set up phone banks
outside its rallies and led pumped-up supporters straight from the
applause lines to the phone lines. Volunteers leaving events were
handed campaign signs and sent off on local door-knocking missions.
Sometimes they were even herded into buses for canvassing precincts.
The concept, says Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, was ''based on
the notion that if you want more of something, you ought to encourage
it. We looked at everything the campaign did, and said, 'How do we
recruit and encourage more volunteers, and how do we have synergy?'''
During the campaign, many Democrats sneered at such tactics.
Invitation-only rallies and so-called ''loyalty oaths'' were the stuff
of banana-republic dictatorships, they said. But the G.O.P.'s stunning
Election Day turnout has them singing a more respectful tune. ''It's
easy for Democrats to mock tactics like these,'' says the Democratic
strategist Jim Jordan. ''It seems so militaristic and goonish. But it
also speaks volumes about why Republicans keep winning presidential
Kill Midlevel Terrorists
By DAVID GLENN
W hat if Al Qaeda is less an organization than a franchisable idea?
What if the future of terrorism doesn't involve tightly coordinated
global conspiracies but rather small and self-generated social
networks? These prospects have counterterrorism officials scrambling
to explore the burgeoning academic field of social network analysis.
Typically, network theorists examine civilians' social circles. (This
year, three sociologists mapped romantic relationships at a Midwestern
high school. Their models revealed that students almost never take up
with the exes of their exes' current partner.) Now, however, the
Pentagon would like to dismantle terrorist cells with the same
The most visible scholar plowing this terrain is Kathleen M. Carley of
Carnegie Mellon University, who is supported by the Defense
Department's Insight program (aka Interpreting Network Structures to
obtain Intelligence on Groups of Hidden Terrorists).
In one recent paper, Carley and her colleagues analyzed the cell that
carried out the bloody American Embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. If
the police had detected this group before the attacks, whom should
they have targeted first? Wadih al Hage was the member with the
highest level of ''degree centrality'' (direct social ties with other
cell members) and ''betweenness centrality'' (that is, centrality in
the cell's general diffusion of tasks and ideas). But Ahmed the German
had the cell's highest levels of ''cognitive load'' (that is, he
juggled the greatest number of tasks, resources and negotiations) and
''task exclusivity'' (the largest number of tasks that no other member
of the cell could perform). Carley's answer: the removal of a midlevel
operative like Ahmed would have done more to destabilize the cell,
even though a superficial glance at a graph of the cell network would
have pegged Wadih al Hage as the most important figure.
Of course, field agents who stumble onto a potential terrorist cell
have a difficult enough time learning the players' actual names, much
less their levels of task exclusivity. It is not clear that network
analysis will ever prove useful at the front lines. Carley offers one
option for future research, however: she wonders whether flooding a
cell with wrong information can be even more disruptive than removing
its key members.
By CLIVE THOMPSON
T his January, the Danish company Aresa Biodetection announced that it
had produced an unusual new variant of thale-cress, a small flowering
weed: a strain that turns red in the presence of land mines. Aresa
scientists had genetically modified the weed so that it reacts to
nitrogen dioxide, a gas commonly emitted by explosives. A result is a
new way to detect mines: sprinkle the seeds over a suspect area, wait
a few weeks for the thale-cress to grow and -- presto -- wherever they
turn red, you have danger. ''It's much more efficient,'' says Simon
Ostergaard, Aresa's C.E.O. ''It's very tedious to clear mines the
normal way. You're putting a stick in the ground every three
centimeters. One man can sometimes only do two square meters a day.''
Given that there are tens of millions of explosives still strewn
across 80 countries -- killing and injuring more than 8,000 people a
year -- the idea has intriguing merits. The plants could help free up
precious abandoned farmland by showing farmers where it is still safe
to tread. What's more, the weeds can be genetically altered to detect
many other environmental hazards, like heavy metals in the soil.
Still, there are plenty of hurdles: Aresa is hoping its invention will
pass Europe's strict regulations governing genetically modified crops.
Critics aren't convinced the plants are accurate enough, since
land-mine clearing cannot, for obvious reasons, tolerate errors.
(Worse, cows might be attracted to the weeds growing over mines, with
disastrous consequences.) Nevertheless, Ostergaard says he hopes to
begin trials in Africa next year. If he is successful, the symbolism
couldn't be more lovely: the brutality of land mines quelled by a
By SCOTT MALCOMSON
T he Prussian military strategist Karl von Clausewitz never said that
international law is war by other means. That distinction falls to the
conservative pundit John Fonte, writing this year in The National
Interest. In his article ''Democracy's Trojan Horse,'' he accused
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA -- standing in for
the global human rights movement -- of waging ''what could be
characterized as 'lawfare' against the exercise of democratic
sovereignty by the American nation-state.'' Fonte worried that this
century could become, in another coinage, ''the 'post-democratic'
century -- the century in which liberal democracy as we know it is
slowly, almost imperceptibly, replaced by a new form of global
Fonte paints a vivid word-portrait of a stateless, unelected class of
''transnational progressives'' who are quietly undermining democracy
in the name of human rights (as they define them). Ultimately, he
envisions the United States as locked in a two-front war both with
post-democrats and with reactionary ''pre-democrats'' like Osama bin
Laden, although he clearly finds left-leaning international lawyers
more insidious and, over the long term, more dangerous.
Fonte is not alone in noting the rise of a new supranational class.
His vision is echoed in an influential book by Anne-Marie Slaughter,
''A New World Order,'' published this year. Slaughter, a former
president of the American Society of International Law and in no
evident way a conservative, identifies an increasingly powerful
transnational network of government officials, N.G.O. representatives
and businesspeople that makes Fonte's nightmare seem rather modest.
This network administers globalization, whether in trade, security or
political idealism. Slaughter does not exactly champion her ''new
world order,'' but she does present it as a reality of globalization.
Better for a nation to, as Slaughter would put it, ''disaggregate''
some of its sovereign power now than to find itself cut from the
global team later.
For Kenneth Anderson of American University, however, an aggressively
international-law-based approach to human rights is something of a
Western hothouse flower: it is able to survive only in the historical
parenthesis between the end of the cold war and the coming rise of
powers like China and India. ''No one's ever going to stop talking the
language of international law,'' Anderson concedes. But in his view, a
universal system of rules and values, agreed to by treaty and
monitored and uniformly enforced by international bureaucracies and
courts, will become a relic of elite utopianism -- regardless of
whether it was considered a promise or a threat. Then the lawfare will
end, while the real warfare will continue.
Listening for Cancer
By CLIVE THOMPSON
T hree years ago, the nanotechnology expert James Gimzewski realized
something startling about human cells: since they have many tiny
moving parts, they might be producing tiny vibrations. And since all
vibrations produce noise, it would be theoretically possible to listen
to the sound of a cell. Gimzewski set about adapting an extremely
small device to measure these vibrations and then with another device
proceeded to amplify them loud enough for human ears. He discovered
that a yeast cell produced about 1,000 vibrations a second. When he
amplified the signal, a musical hum filled the room. ''It wasn't at
all what I expected,'' he recalls. ''It sounded beautiful.''
Beautiful, and also potentially revolutionary. Gimzewski says that his
technique could become a unique tool in the war against cancer: to
figure out if a cell is malignant, doctors could simply listen to it.
When a cell turns cancerous, its internal machinery alters: it might
divide more rapidly, and its walls could take a new shape. Those
changes, Gimzewski surmises, would produce distinctive rates of
vibration and thus distinctive noises. He has already measured the
acoustics of some cells going through death cycles. When he measured
an inert yeast cell, its lack of movement produced a dead-sounding
hiss. And when he immersed a bunch of yeast in alcohol, the cells
emitted a creepy ''screaming'' sound as they suddenly perished. Even
minute changes -- like getting warmer -- make the cells sing
differently. Gimzewski calls his technique sonocytology, and in August
he published the first paper on this field in the journal Science.
Gimzewski's work has attracted some unusual enthusiasts.
Representatives of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi contacted him (''they
apparently thought I'd discovered 'the language of life,''' he says),
and a horror-movie director asked if he could use the sound of
screaming cells in his soundtrack. But cancer specialists are
seriously interested, and Gimzewski is now trying to adapt his device
to listen to human cells.
Mainstream Mash-Up, The
By WM. FERGUSON
N ot so long ago, mash-ups -- unauthorized remixes combining the
vocals from one recording with the instrumental track from another --
were musical samizdat. Beyond the inherent fascination of hearing,
say, Beyonce singing with Nirvana, this was their primal thrill: they
were illegal. This year, however, mash-ups moved from the ghetto of
bootleg CD's to the speed racks of Virgin Records.
The mainstreaming of the mash-up began with the release of a bootleg
known as ''The Grey Album.'' A 45-minute sound collage combining the
vocals from the rapper Jay-Z's ''Black Album'' with loops from the
Beatles' White Album, ''The Grey Album'' was an underground sensation
-- and a lightning rod for litigation. After EMI, which owns the White
Album copyrights, threatened legal action, nearly 200 Web sites posted
tracks from the ''Grey Album'' in protest. In a single day -- Grey
Tuesday, Feb. 24 -- one million ''Grey Album'' sound files were
downloaded. Rather than bemoan the lawlessness of the Internet, the
recording industry did what it does best. It jumped on the bandwagon.
Around the time of Grey Tuesday, a New York D.J. named Jeremy Brown
got a surprising call from the singer Beck. Professionally known as DJ
Reset, Brown was responsible for ''Frontin' on Debra,'' a strikingly
graceful mash-up of a languid Beck song with a Neptunes track that
includes a cameo by Jay-Z. It had become a favorite on Internet
file-sharing networks, eventually receiving airplay on commercial
radio stations. According to Brown, Beck said that he approved of the
mix and encouraged him to contact his label, Interscope. By
mid-October, ''Frontin' on Debra'' became America's first major-label
mash-up (on Interscope), available for download on Apple's iTunes
Jay-Z himself actively embraced the form this fall, working with the
leaden rock band Linkin Park. Their collaboration yielded the album
''Collision Course,'' a rather pedestrian entry in the already
saturated category of ''Black Album'' mash-ups.
No record company can be faulted for chasing a hit formula, but
corporate-sponsored mash-ups like ''Collision Course'' may end up
killing the genre. The joy of the mash-up lies in the certainty that
no matter how many lawyers are involved, Madonna and the Sex Pistols
could never coexist except in a flash of inspiration. Also working
against the legal mash-up: you're expected to pay for it.
Making Vaccines Good Business
By DAVID GLENN
L eft to their own devices, major drug companies are unlikely to pay
much attention to malaria, tuberculosis and other illnesses that
afflict poor countries but spare the prosperous West. As a result, the
prevention of such diseases has typically been put in the hands of the
World Health Organization and other nonprofit entities. But that
approach has serious limits, according to an increasingly influential
group of market-oriented scholars. Effective treatments and vaccines
could be invented and disseminated much more quickly, these scholars
say, if private pharmaceutical companies were brought into the game.
And for that to happen -- so the argument runs -- Big Pharma needs to
be reassured of making a profit.
In their new book, ''Strong Medicine: Creating Incentives for
Pharmaceutical Research on Neglected Diseases,'' Michael Kremer, an
economist at Harvard, and Rachel Glennerster, who directs the Poverty
Action Lab at M.I.T., argue that Western governments and foundations
should make a legally binding promise to pharmaceutical and biotech
companies: if you invent a safe and effective vaccine for malaria,
tuberculosis or H.I.V., we'll buy the first (say) 200 million doses at
a respectable profit-guaranteeing price. One great virtue of this
scheme, the authors suggest, is that the public would pay for only a
successful product. If a company invests millions in research but
fails to develop a vaccine that meets the contract's specifications,
no money would change hands.
Kremer -- who contracted malaria himself while working as a volunteer
in Kenya in 1986 -- likens his plan to mathematics prizes that are
awarded if and only if someone proves a particular theorem. Without
such incentives, he says, pharmaceutical companies will steer clear of
cash-strapped countries where patent rights are weakly enforced.
Already, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has expressed an
interest in supporting Kremer and Glennerster's proposal. (The
foundation may try to assemble a consortium of donors, perhaps
including the World Bank, governments and other private foundations,
to make the purchase pledge.) Of course, you might prefer an
alternative world in which pharmaceutical companies make fatal
diseases their primary concern and pour money into cures for impotence
only when offered large prizes by eccentric software moguls. But
Kremer and Glennerster may be offering the next best thing.
By STEPHEN MIHM
I magine rolling up to your favorite fast-food restaurant in the
family minivan, kids in the back. As you pull into a parking place, a
camera on the roof of the burger joint silently zooms in on your
vehicle. By the time you've opened the door, a computer has analyzed
the image and, based on previous encounters with vehicles the size and
shape of the one you're driving, classified you as a likely consumer
of, say, chicken nuggets and fries. The computer then instructs the
kitchen -- via flashing computer monitors -- to start preparing your
supposed favorite dishes before you walk through the door.
Sound fanciful? Not at all: a primitive version of just such a device
is already on the market. Known as HyperActive Bob, the system is the
progeny of HyperActive Technologies, a start-up company based in
Pittsburgh. A decade ago, the company's founders began studying a
problem that has plagued the fast-food business ever since Ray Kroc
set up shop beneath the first pair of golden arches: food is fast only
because it is cooked before the customer shows up. But predicting when
and how many customers will arrive is next to impossible. Make too few
sandwiches, and customers get irked -- the food isn't fast. Make too
many, and the food ends up in the trash.
By monitoring the amount of incoming foot and vehicle traffic -- and
constantly learning from past experience -- HyperActive Bob takes the
guesswork out of cooking for the masses. And at a cost of a few
thousand dollars, it is within reach of the average fast-food
franchise. So far, stripped-down versions of Bob have made their
debuts at several chains, including McDonald's, Burger King and Taco
Bell; more advanced versions that can predict orders on the basis of
the kind of vehicle you drive are in the works.
Yet crude models that merely monitor the volume of traffic have
already paid remarkable dividends. In restaurants using Bob, wait
times have dropped by a minute or more, while the time that burgers,
fries and other artery-clogging fare sits around has also declined by
50 to 75 percent. Food is rarely wasted, and employee-retention rates
have risen, largely because the device tends to make working the grill
far less stressful. Even upper-level employees have taken to Bob.
''I've been a manager for 28 years,'' one McDonald's employee was
quoted as saying after seeing Bob at work. ''It's the most impressive
thing I've ever seen.''
By JON GERTNER
I t's probably easiest to define a micropolis by what it isn't --
namely, a metropolis, which typically comprises a dense ''core'' city
of more than 50,000 people surrounded by a large cluster of suburbs
and exurbs. Since 1950, the United States Census Bureau has divided
the country into broad swaths of metropolitan and nonmetropolitan
areas. According to the census, you were either in a metro area or you
weren't. Any middle ground between big-city living and remote rural
living went unrecognized.
That's no longer the case. This is the first full year the federal
government has gathered data on 573 regions sprinkled around the
country known as micropolitan areas: locales with a core city of fewer
than 50,000 (as small as 10,000). In the South, that means Mount Airy,
N.C., the model for Mayberry in ''The Andy Griffith Show''; in the
Midwest, Ashtabula, Ohio; in the West, Heber, Utah; and in the East,
Corning, N.Y. There's no typical micropolis -- Dodge City, Kan., and
Bennington, Vt., present extreme variations within the category.
Still, micro cities are generally more countrified than metro cities.
Hub airports are usually very far away; so is good sushi. In addition,
the suburbs of micropolitan cities often resemble the low-density
exurbs at the fringe of many metro areas. Houses sit on large lots.
Big-box retailers serve as commercial centers.
The point of the micropolitan category is not so much to give
government agencies extra data to crunch. It's to track the growth --
as well as the character -- of a type of influential urban area that
already exists but is barely understood by demographers. In this
regard, the census is far behind the business community, which has
been tapping far-flung small-city America for at least two decades.
Wal-Mart and Applebee's, in fact, have built vast empires from the
legions who live there. So has the national Republican Party. Strictly
speaking, the re-election of George W. Bush may have been less
attributable to the so-called rural vote (which can still lie well
outside micro or metro areas) than to the micropolitan vote. According
to Robert Lang at Virginia Tech, in the newly defined micropolitan
areas in the United States, Bush won 60.6 percent of the vote to
Kerry's 39.2 percent. And in Ohio, 27 of the 29 micropolitan areas
voted red -- a difference that by itself accounts for Bush's victory
By JACK HITT
E nraged by the president's war and still angry about the last
election, the Massachusetts Legislature recently called for a special
meeting of New England states to consider secession from the country.
Recent, that is, if 1814 is recent. That year, at the Hartford
Convention, delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island,
New Hampshire and Vermont toyed with an idea the country would hear a
good bit more of half a century later: that secession was a right,
embedded in the Constitution.
These days, in the wake of George W. Bush's re-election, talk of
secession is once again whipping through the New England states.
Proposals are being floated for a ''Coastopia'' that unites the West
Coast and East Coast blue states along with a few select heartland
states. One Internet pamphleteer argued: ''In the middle of the
country, we have taken Iowa and Illinois, mostly because we need the
fine produce of Iowa's soil, and the museums in Chicago are
fabulous.'' A proposed map showing the United States of Canada just
above ''JesusLand'' has become an instant Internet classic.
Paul Lewis, professor of English at Boston College, has written
several articles exploring secession and the logical step beyond. Last
year he noted that ''Gore's states are contiguous either to Canada or
to other Gore states,'' except New Mexico. ''In the most peaceful and
democratic way, without invoking images of Jefferson Davis and Robert
E. Lee, these states need to secede from the Union, reform into
provinces and join Canada.''
When contacted, old secession organizations in the Deep South were
quick with advice. ''I've heard about this,'' said Michael Hill,
president of the League of the South, which advocates the modern
secession of old Dixie. ''I say to the Yankee states, 'Go, and be in a
hurry about it.''' Growing serious, Hill observed that there isn't
really a red-state-blue-state divide. If you examine the map closely,
many counties in blue states are red. By population, the real divide
is rural versus urban. ''I would encourage them to start secession
groups in the cities,'' he said. ''I've always liked the city-state
idea. It worked quite well in the Middle Ages.''
But if it didn't work out, and there had to be a War of Southern
Aggression to save the Union, Hill saw some good even in that. ''We
could go up there and get back some of the stolen silverware they
looted from our ancestors 140 years ago.''
By CHRISTOPHER SHEA
T he opening of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American
Indian this September was a landmark event in the recognition of the
history and the plight of native peoples. But the grand opening may
prove to be a landmark in the history -- and perhaps the plight -- of
museum curating as well.
Because Native American mythology is rooted in the idea that Indians
have always inhabited this continent, scientifically informed
discussion of how North America came to be populated has been banished
from the museum's halls. The exhibits, moreover, reject the supposedly
Eurocentric notion of historical development. ''Things are looked at
very cyclically, not in a linear way,'' one curator told The
Thus, spear- and arrowheads dating from 9000 B.C. to the 20th century
appear together on one wall, unlabeled, in a beautiful array
resembling schools of fish; to get even sketchy details about their
provenance, you have to consult a separate electronic display. In
another gallery, a young Indian discusses glass blowing on a video
screen, alongside images of Tlingit house posts from Alaska, dating to
1830. The implicit message: Indian artists from across the ages are
participants in one unified culture. Elsewhere, dozens of earthen
figurines are accompanied by only this wall notation: ''Their world is
ancient and modern, and forever changing, with memories from the
beginning of everything.''
Where specific tribes are discussed, ''community curators'' selected
by the tribes -- not anthropologists, not historians -- tell the
Not everyone appreciates the new hegemony-free museum. Edward
Rothstein of The New York Times complained, ''The result is that
monotony sets in; every tribe is equal, and so is every idea.''
But judging from attendance figures -- a healthy 275,400 in October,
the first full month of operation -- this new kind of museum has its
fans. Certainly, the desire for a fresh start is understandable. After
all, curators dismantled the archaic Indian dioramas in the National
Museum of Natural History, across the mall, only this year.
By ROBERT MACKEY
N o Americans suffer more from their inability to understand, or make
themselves understood by, non-English speakers than America's soldiers
in Iraq. That's why this year the Pentagon equipped thousands of them
with the Phraselator, a hand-held electronic gadget that allows the
soldiers to deliver hundreds of useful phrases, prerecorded in Arabic,
to the Iraqis they encounter.
The device, which looks like an oversize Palm Pilot with a speaker and
a microphone on top, breaks into Arabic when it hears an equivalent
phrase in English spoken by a user whose voice it recognizes. Like an
electronic parrot, the Phraselator may not be much of a
conversationalist and can lack charm -- sample phrases include ''Not a
step farther,'' ''Put your hands on the wall'' and ''Everyone stop
talking'' -- but its boosters claim that because the phrases are
prerecorded by native speakers and not computer-generated, the
monologues have ''a more natural feel.'' The Phraselator is marketed
as ''a complete solution for cross-cultural awareness.''
Its creators at the Pentagon-financed company VoxTec admit that even
the new model, the P2, has a drawback: it is still just a ''one-way''
translation device. In other words, it phraselates perfectly well from
English into Arabic (or any of the 59 other ''target languages'' it
has mastered so far), but the device is no better at understanding
foreign languages than the Americans who are wielding it. So the
Phraselator allows occupiers to issue commands, but it does not help
them comprehend any of what the occupied may have to say in response.
Despite this limitation, VoxTec is planning to roll out a consumer
version soon, so it won't be long before American tourists will be
able to make demands and deliver orders in foreign languages without
having to learn a single word of them.
By JEFFREY ROSEN
N ow that it seems clear that Republicans will control the courts for
the foreseeable future, canny liberals are beginning to wean
themselves of the romantic idea that judges inevitably favor liberal
values. And now these liberals have a rallying cry -- ''popular
constitutionalism'' -- which appears in the title of a book published
this year by Larry Kramer, the new dean of Stanford Law School. In the
early 90's, Kramer became interested in the idea that the public might
do a better job of protecting its rights than the courts. He became
convinced that the framers of the Constitution expected it to be
interpreted not by unelected judges but by the people themselves --
through petitions, juries, voting and civil disobedience. Several
years later, he was astonished to find the Supreme Court striking down
laws one after the other and claiming to do so in the name of the
Kramer is not the only scholar who has rediscovered the virtues of
popular constitutionalism: the movement has both liberal and
conservative adherents. Rather than dividing left from right, his book
has divided populists from antipopulists. The book was sharply
criticized in The New York Times by Laurence Tribe of Harvard, an
unapologetic antipopulist who implied that popular constitutionalism
could lead to mob rule. Kramer notes that the same predictions, which
he considers elitist and alarmist, have been made throughout American
history. He argues in his book that progressive movements have
typically been popular movements, with the anomalous exception of the
Warren Court, which led progressives to embrace the naive belief that
they could achieve their goals through the courts rather than through
politics. He considers the liberal embrace of judicial supremacy to be
a ''shortsighted and dangerous strategy.''
Instead, Kramer says, liberals should resurrect political tools for
controlling the courts that presidents from Jefferson to Lincoln
embraced -- from Congressional filibusters of controversial nominees
to efforts to strip the court of jurisdiction to hear controversial
cases. Although these tools were used by conservatives to resist the
civil rights movement, Kramer laments that they have been repudiated
since the 60's by an unlikely alliance of antipopulists on both the
left and right. ''From a historical perspective, it is a truly bizarre
state of affairs,'' he says.
By JASON ZENGERLE
F or some bosses, there's no greater satisfaction than hearing the
coughs and sniffles of their workers. Those sickly sounds say
something good about their employees: namely, that they're
hard-working and dedicated enough to show up at the office even when
they're under the weather. Employees who come to work sick, the
thinking goes, are a sign of a healthy company.
But that thinking may soon change, thanks to a growing body of
research on a phenomenon called presenteeism -- the problem of workers
being on the job but, because of illness, not operating at top form.
According to some health and management experts, presenteeism is a
bigger and more costly problem than absenteeism.
In the April issue of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental
Medicine, a team of researchers analyzed information from a medical
database of 375,000 employees in the United States as well as five
productivity surveys on 10 common health conditions, like hypertension
and diabetes. The researchers, primarily from the Institute for Health
and Productivity Studies at Cornell University and the
health-information company Medstat, found that as much as 60 percent
of the total cost of worker illness stems from ''on-the-job
productivity losses'' -- exceeding what companies spend on medical and
disability benefits and sick days. The biggest productivity drains,
according to the study, are relatively benign ailments like headaches,
allergies and arthritis. Another recent study, conducted by Walter
Stewart, a health researcher, calculated that presenteeism costs
American businesses more than $150 billion per year in decreased
A handful of companies have started to wise up. The bank Comerica, for
instance, sponsored an in-house health study that determined that at
least 10 percent of its workforce of 10,919 suffered from irritable
bowel syndrome and that the condition reduced on-the-job productivity
by approximately 20 percent. ''People show up for work, but with the
pain -- not to mention frequent trips to the bathroom -- they're just
not very productive,'' a Comerica vice president said in an article in
the October issue of Harvard Business Review. In response, Comerica
sponsored a series of hourlong sessions with a gastroenterologist for
its employees. Presenteeism-related declines in productivity, the
article concluded, ''can be more than offset by relatively small
investments in screening, treatment and education.'' And that's music
to any boss's ears -- even more than the sound of coughs and sniffles.
By CLIVE THOMPSON
I n January, a man named Jay McNeil peered into his telescope and
discovered a nebula -- a developing young star -- out near the Orion
constellation. Professional astronomers worldwide hailed the
discovery. But McNeil himself is no credentialed scientist; he
installs TV satellite dishes for a living. Today's backyard skygazers,
it seems, use equipment so sophisticated that they can beat out the
world's biggest, well-financed observatories.
And that, according to Charles Leadbeater, a social critic, should be
no surprise. In a report titled ''The Pro-Am Revolution,'' published
by the London-based Demos policy center, Leadbeater argued that a new
breed of demi-expert is evolving, collapsing the distinction between
an expert and a tinkerer. Cheaper technology offers amateurs
increasingly powerful tools; the Internet allows them to collaborate
globally and train themselves more rapidly. The upshot is that
amateurs are increasingly holding themselves to professional standards
and producing significant innovations and discoveries. The Linux
computer system was created by geeks working without pay in their
spare time, yet it now rivals Microsoft's best products. Patients
arrive at hospitals sometimes better informed about their diseases
than their doctors. And amateur lobbyists promoted the Jubilee 2000
campaign, which helped persuade Western nations to cancel more than
$30 billion in third-world debt.
In a way, pro-ams represent a return to our past: until the 20th
century, much science was conducted by amateur societies. But the rise
of pro-ams also reflects recent social changes. We're living longer,
which gives us more time to grow bored with our cubicle jobs and to
hunger for a richer life. ''You find people in their 40's and 50's
going back to the things they always wanted to do in their youth,''
Leadbeater says. ''So they're becoming musicians, gardeners,
astronomers. Normally, we regard leisure just as 'nonwork.' But these
people treat their leisure very seriously. They want to get things out
Leadbeater says that governments ought to find ways to encourage the
higher amateurism. After all, he claims that pro-ams live healthier,
more satisfied lives -- to say nothing of all the cool stuff they
create. Professionals, too, should get used to sharing the stage.
Because if Leadbetter is right, the future belongs not to the pros,
but to the weekend warriors.
By MICHAEL STEINBERGER
E ver wonder what leads a lavishly compensated C.E.O. to cheat, steal
and lie? Perhaps he's a psychopath, and now there is a test, the
B-Scan 360, that can help make that determination. The B-Scan was
conceived by Paul Babiak, an industrial psychologist, and Robert Hare,
the creator of the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathic features
in prison inmates. The B-Scan is the first formalized attempt to
uncover similar tendencies in captains of industry, and it speaks to a
growing suspicion that psychopaths may be especially adept at scaling
the corporate ladder.
Indeed, Babiak and Hare could not have chosen a more propitious moment
to roll out the B-Scan, which is now in the trial stage. The recent
rash of damaging corporate scandals -- combined with legislation
making boards far more liable for executive malfeasance -- has given
companies good reason to screen current employees more rigorously.
According to Babiak and Hare, white-collar psychopaths are not apt to
become serial rapists or murderers. Rather, they are prone to being
''subcriminal'' psychopaths: smooth-talking, energetic individuals who
easily charm their way into jobs and promotions but who are also
exceedingly manipulative, narcissistic and ruthless. The purpose of
the B-Scan is to smoke out these ''snakes in suits.''
The individual being evaluated does not actually take the test.
Instead, it is given to his or her superiors, subordinates and peers.
They rate the subject in four broad categories -- organizational
maturity, personal style, emotional style and social style -- and 16
subcategories, like reliability, honesty and sincerity.
Babiak and Hare say that decisions to promote or dismiss ought not to
be made on the basis of the B-Scan alone and that it is possible, with
good coaching and training, to turn a talented executive with mild
psychopathic tendencies into an effective manager. They acknowledge
too that strong corporate leadership may require a certain degree of
guile, egoism and callousness.
But they point out that the frenzied nature of modern business -- the
constant downsizing, the relentless merging and acquiring -- provides
a very fertile environment for havoc-wreaking psychopaths, who thrive
on chaos and risk-taking. As Hare put it in one interview, ''If I
couldn't study psychopaths in prison, I would go down to the Stock
Purple Is the Color of Correction
By KATE JACOBS
T he latest menace to the American education system has nothing to do
with standardized tests or McDonald's outposts in school lunchrooms.
Instead, it's a venerable symbol of discipline and authority: the red
ink that has been used to grade papers for generations. For the school
year that ended in the spring, focus groups and in-store polls
conducted by Paper Mate revealed that teachers were migrating away
from red ink and toward the kinder, gentler hue of purple.
Proponents of purple contend that grading with violet tones is less
negative than using angry reds. Sensing a marketing opportunity, Paper
Mate increased production of purple pens by 10 percent; Staples and
OfficeMax followed suit, stocking more purple-ink products and
offering boxes of purple-only pens. Leatrice Eiseman, director of the
Pantone Color Institute, calls purple the ideal color for grading.
''Red is rather intimidating,'' she says. ''With the purple, you
soften the blow.'' Jan Haag, another advocate of purple pens, says
that the comment she hears most often from her students at Sacramento
City College is simply ''Thank you for not using red.''
But even advocates of the switch acknowledge that purple is not
intrinsically better. Eiseman gives purple a few years before new
cultural associations force the teaching establishment to come up with
an even newer, even friendlier grading color. KATE JACOBS
Purple-State Country Music
By STEPHEN METCALF
T his may have been the year of two Americas, one devoted to thumping
Bibles, the other to sipping Chardonnay, but a handful of country
musicians had a different idea: one giant palpitating heartland,
turning blue into red and red back into blue -- a kind of One Nation
Under a Dobro.
Consider the latest craze in country music, one that's revitalizing
Nashville while speaking to New York at the same time. Kenny Alphin
and John Rich were just another couple of unsigned nobodies when the
two decided to start a weekly hootenanny at a bar called the Pub of
Love. Alphin and Rich became Big & Rich; and Tuesday nights turned
into a bona fide Nashville Happening, involving a loosely knit group
of oddball talents that came to be known as the Muzik Mafia. Big &
Rich are now stars, but next to the usual adult contemporary pop
coming out of Nashville, the two remain goofy heretics: they mix
blue-America elements like rap, arena rock and even hints of Nirvana
with old-school country. And their Mafia associate, the 31-year-old
phenom Gretchen Wilson, is now battling it out with Ashlee Simpson to
be the biggest new female singer in the United States. Her first
album, ''Here for the Party,'' may be a statement of allegiance to
red-state mythos (''I can't swig that sweet Champagne, I'd rather
drink beer all night/In a tavern or in a honky tonk or on a
four-wheel-drive tailgate/I've got posters on my wall of Skynyrd, Kid
and Strait''), but she sings with a smoke-cured voice that recalls
Janis Joplin, and she even raps a little.
Meanwhile, blue America has returned the favor. The single most
intriguing purple-state record of the year certainly belongs to Jack
White, of the trendy garage-rock duo the White Stripes, and Loretta
Lynn -- yes, that Loretta Lynn. White produced Lynn's comeback album,
''Van Lear Rose,'' after Lynn heard that the 29-year-old White, 40
years her junior, dedicated the White Stripes' album ''White Blood
Cells'' to her. By throwing off the stale conventions of Music City --
and surrounding Lynn with garage punkers and blue-state alt-country
types -- White helped create an album that Lynn herself declared is
''countrier than anything I've ever cut.'' It's the sound of open
skies, a blue collar and a cheatin' heart. And maybe a nice, crisp . .
Sabermetrics for Football
By PAUL CAMPOS and JONATHAN CHAIT
O f all sports, football is the most strategic. Football coaches spend
the late hours of the night poring over film, crouching over
chalkboards and producing phone-book-size playbooks, all in the hope
of gleaning some advantage. Occasionally one of them invents a system
-- like Bill Walsh's West Coast Offense, or Buddy Ryan's 46 Defense --
that is so revolutionary it overwhelms all opponents, even those with
superior talent. Baseball managers, on the other hand, go out for a
beer after the game. Strategy in baseball, while fascinating to
aficionados, affects the results only around the margins. Even
brilliant managers can't win championships with average players.
And yet, until very recently, it was baseball and not football that
was reshaped by an intellectual revolution called sabermetrics.
Created by the statistical guru Bill James, who now works for the
Boston Red Sox, sabermetrics is a system for applying statistical
analysis to decisions that were previously made according to basic
intuitions -- intuitions that, as James and his disciples showed, were
often horribly wrong. Now the sabermetric revolution may be gaining a
toehold in football as well. And here too the center of the revolution
can be found in Massachusetts, where Coach Bill Belichick has led the
New England Patriots to victories in two of the last three Super
Belichick is known for his unorthodox strategies: being more willing
than most to not punt on fourth down; running the ball far more than
average in certain crucial situations; and eschewing
two-point-conversion attempts in situations when orthodox doctrine
Not coincidentally, experts in the world of football statistical
analysis endorse all these strategies. For example, David Romer, an
economist at the University of California at Berkeley, published a
working paper arguing that conventional football wisdom led to far too
much punting. Romer analyzed thousands of plays and calculated the
chance of scoring from any position on the field. Based on that, he
gauged the relative worth of the field position gained by punting
against the lost opportunity to score. Romer found that football
coaches punt far more than they ought to -- perhaps acting out of fear
of the worst outcome (going for it on fourth down and failing), rather
than rationally balancing risk and reward.
Romer's paper, ''It's Fourth Down and What Does the Bellman Equation
Say? A Dynamic Programming Analysis of Football Strategy,'' is far
from light reading, so it came as a shock to Romer when he learned
that Belichick, who was an economics major at Wesleyan University, had
Yet this is not the only example of the Patriots' willingness to turn
to the academic world for guidance. A few years ago, Ernie Adams, the
Patriots' football research director, asked Harold Sackrowitz, a
Rutgers statistician, to give his opinion regarding the team's
two-point conversion strategies. Sackrowitz concluded that the
strategy was less than optimal -- and the Patriots subsequently did
not try any two-point conversions in the 2003-2004 season.
Belichick also sticks to running the ball on third down in
short-yardage situations, while other coaches pass reasonably often to
try to surprise the defense. According to Aaron Schatz, founder of the
sabermetrics-inspired Web site FootballOutsiders.com, Belichick's
strategy, though predictable, is well warranted by a careful analysis
of the risks and rewards involved in using it.
Following in James's footsteps, Schatz employs a metric known as
defense-adjusted value over average, or DVOA. It takes into account
that not all yards gained in football are created equal -- that, for
example, gaining 5 yards on third down and 4 is more beneficial, on
average, than gaining eight yards on third and 10.
Just as it is in baseball sabermetrics, context is crucial to Schatz's
analysis. Schatz rates every play a team runs by comparing it with the
league average performance for plays in as close to that situation as
possible. In Schatz's analysis, the relative success of a play is
determined by, among other things, the down and distance, the current
score, the field position and the opponent's strength. DVOA, in short,
is an attempt to create a tool of analysis for football similar to
such Jamesian baseball statistics as offensive winning percentage,
runs created and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).
''We're trying to see through the biases inherent in a game where the
basic situation is constantly changing,'' Schatz told The Boston
Globe. ''We're trying to create an intelligent community for
discussing the N.F.L.'' In a sense, the community of those who believe
that empiricism has a role to play crosses the boundaries of sport. As
James says, the Red Sox front office ''has great admiration for both
what the Patriots have done and how they've done it.''
By BRUCE GRIERSON
T he modern urban traveler tends to move through the day at an allegro
pace: he speeds around absorbing too much information to process and,
come nightfall, crashes hard. At which point, all the day's
complicated protocols are swamped by a simple biological imperative:
tune out and recharge. There's no need to bring broadloom or satellite
TV into the equation. This person is whipped; all he requires to fall
asleep is a little slice of real estate where kids can't poke him and
the rain won't short out his BlackBerry.
This year, the easyGroup -- a British chain specializing in discount
air, sea and road travel -- announced that it will answer the call for
no-frills body storage with easyHotel. Beginning next year, a night's
accommodation in central London will cost as little as $10 a night.
For that, you get a room that's 90 square feet -- or a shade larger
than the average American prison cell.
''People are willing to trade off space for price,'' says James
Rothnie, easyGroup's director of corporate affairs. The planned
micro-suites resemble the Japanese ''capsule'' hotels that embrace
businessmen like upholstered sarcophagi, but adapted for a different
culture. ''We figured that a Westerner would want to at least stand up
in their hotel room,'' Rothnie says. Everything does double duty: the
headboard is the closet, the wall is the shelf, the bed is the chair.
Conceived by a New York City architect, Joel Sanders -- who with this
project has made a strong case for handling the first hotel in space
-- prototype rooms are made of wipe-clean metal modules that link
The need to crash during the day poses problems of its own, given
vagrancy laws. But this, too, is now being addressed. For $13.45 plus
tax for the first 20 minutes, Manhattanites can now rent a MetroNap
''pod'' on the 24th floor of the Empire State Building. You check in,
drift off to the sound of ocean surf or rain, wake up to gentle
lighting and a vibrating mattress pad, clean your face at the ''wake
station'' and resume your routine. The company plans to expand into
corporations, hospitals, highway rest stops and airports. (In fact,
the second outlet is opening this month at the International Airport
in Vancouver.) The aim here, finally, is a culture shift -- though not
quite a downshift into gentler siestaville. ''We want to overcome the
bias that people who nap are somehow lazy,'' says Christopher
Lindholst, co-founder of MetroNaps. ''We believe there's a clear
economic benefit to napping, to companies and to individuals -- it
allows them to be more effective during the day.''
Singable National Anthem, The
By REBECCA SKLOOT
H ere's a little-known fact about the melody of ''The Star Spangled
Banner'': before it was our national anthem, it was a
belt-it-out-in-the-pub drinking song. According to Ed Siegel, a
psychiatrist in Solana Beach, Calif., this may explain why most of us
sound like a bunch of yodeling drunks when we sing it. And he has
found a way to fix this.
Not long after the song became the national anthem in the 1930's, a
committee of musicians, congressmen and military officials wrote a
code specifying that it be played in the key of B flat major. The
problem is, most people can't sing it in B flat major. ''It's just too
high,'' Siegel says. ''And what does it say about this country that no
one can actually sing our national anthem?'' His solution: Lower the
Siegel changed the key of the national anthem while running a support
group for recovering alcoholic veterans. ''I didn't know what key it
was supposed to be in,'' says Siegel, who plays piano strictly by ear.
''I just played in a key everyone could sing, because I wanted to show
that they could lose inhibitions without drinking.'' In the end
everyone sang, and no one sounded drunk.
In June, Siegel persuaded his City Council to pass a resolution saying
''the federal government should establish the key of G major as the
song's official key.'' He claims that ''The Star Spangled Banner'' has
contributed to a nationwide decrease in singing, because Americans are
routinely embarrassed by how badly they sound hollering it out. ''This
has caused a form of post-traumatic stress disorder in our culture,''
he says. ''People freak when asked to sing.''
Of course, changing the song's key doesn't fix its absurdly wide
range, and the new lows will be too low for some. ''People can mumble
those parts if necessary,'' Siegel says. ''But everyone should be able
to hit the high notes -- that's where it gets exciting.''
It's no small detail that the song's highest note -- the one most
people can't reach -- is the word ''free,'' as in, ''land of the
freeeeeeeeee.'' Siegel says he figures the government would want to do
whatever it could to allow everyone in the country to hit that note,
and he has sent repeated requests to the Pentagon for change. So what
does the Pentagon think? ''Huh?'' a Pentagon spokeswoman says. ''We
didn't even know the Pentagon had any say over the national anthem.''
By DANIEL H. PINK
M ost artists spend their careers trying to create something that will
live forever. But the writer Shelley Jackson is creating a work of
literature that is intentionally and indisputably mortal. Jackson is
publishing her latest short story by recruiting 2,095 people, each of
whom will have one word of the story tattooed on his or her body. The
story, titled ''Skin,'' will appear only on the collective limbs,
torsos and backsides of its participants. And decades from now, when
the last of Jackson's ''words'' dies, so, too, will her tale.
As of November, Jackson, the Brooklyn-based author of a short-story
collection called ''The Melancholy of Anatomy,'' had enrolled about
1,800 volunteers, some from such distant countries as Argentina,
Jordan, Thailand and Finland. Participants, who contact Jackson
through her Web site, cannot choose which word they receive. And their
tattoos must be inked in the font that Jackson has specified. But they
do have some freedom to bend and stretch the narrative. They can
select the place on their bodies they want to become part of the
Jackson opus. In return, Jackson asks her ''words'' to sign a 12-page
release absolving her of liability and promising not to share the
story with others. (Participants are the only people who will get to
see the full text of the story.) They must also send her two
photographs -- one of the word on their skin, the other a portrait of
themselves without the word visible -- which she may later publish or
What kind of person signs up for an experiment in epidermal
literature? Curiosity seekers and members of ''body modification''
communities have been early adopters. But many enlistees have been
surprisingly mainstream. Mothers and daughters are requesting
consecutive words. So are couples, perhaps hoping to form the
syntactic equivalent of a civil union. For others, the motives are
social: Jackson is encouraging her far-flung words to get to know each
other via e-mail, telephone, even in person. (Imagine the
possibilities. A sentence getting together for dinner. A paragraph
having a party.) In addition, Jackson has heard from several
dyslexics, who have struggled with mastery of writing and reading. And
librarians are signing up in droves. ''A lot of librarians are
probably a lot hipper than we think,'' Jackson says.
Of course, librarians, like the rest of us, have a due date. And when
a participant meets his or her demise, Jackson vows, she will try to
attend that person's funeral. But the 41-year-old author understands
that some of her 2,095 collaborators, many of whom are in their 20's,
might outlive her. If she dies first, she says, she hopes several of
them will come to her funeral and make her the first writer ever to be
mourned by her words.
Soccer Model of Warfare, The
By JEFF Z. KLEIN
F or decades, the American military's war-fighting paradigm has been
provided by football: the massing and coordinated movement of
overwhelming force, replete with a playbook of long bombs, end runs,
blitzes and, most explicitly, the ''Hail Mary'' maneuver that sealed
General Schwarzkopf's victory against Iraq in 1991. But this year,
American defense experts debated the heretical possibility that the
United States armed forces could learn more from soccer than from the
Late last year, The Armed Forces Journal published ''Football vs.
Soccer: American Warfare in an Era of Unconventional Threats,'' an
article by Joel Cassman, a career Foreign Service officer, and David
Lai, a professor at the United States Air War College. Soccer, they
wrote, is the model for unconventional forces like terrorist
organizations and guerrilla insurgencies: like a soccer team, they use
finesse, patience, surprise attack, improvisation and low technology
and make a virtue out of decentralized control and execution.
''Contemporary U.S. adversaries who use soccer strategies tend to look
at the entire world as their playing field, taking action at openings
where the United States and its allies are vulnerable,'' Cassman and
Lai wrote, citing as examples the Sept. 11 attacks, the bombing of the
U.S.S. Cole and the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
The solution, according to Cassman and Lai, is for the American armed
forces to become far more soccerlike themselves by developing small,
flexible units that can operate autonomously to meet the elusive enemy
wherever it appears. ''The United States needs to reorient its
thinking about war,'' they wrote, ''not as a series of discrete
battles ('plays') marching down a field to victory, but rather a
continuous struggle'' involving ''a shifting combination of offense
and defense'' that takes place ''over a long period.''
Throughout 2004, rebuttal articles appeared touting ''the football
advantage'' over what was sometimes sniffily referred to as soccer's
''more continental nuances.'' They argued that the ''gridiron
approach'' keeps American casualties down and is generally superior as
a war-fighting strategy. But according to John Roos, editor of The
Armed Forces Journal,''the military is trying for a more mobile,
flexible force in Iraq, so at least for now it's leaning more toward
the soccer side.''
Stock Options for Soldiers
By JASON ZENGERLE
L ike many liberal policy wonks, Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the
New America Foundation, had some advice for John Kerry before this
year's presidential debates. In order to burnish his pro-military
credentials, Clemons suggested, Kerry should call on patriotic
companies -- particularly those that are profiting from the war in
Iraq, like defense and oil firms -- to contribute stock options and
other assets to a national fund for American servicemen and women who
have seen combat in Iraq. Clemons called his proposal ''Stock Options
for Soldiers,'' and as is the case with most unsolicited predebate
advice, the candidate politely passed.
But Clemons's idea didn't fall completely on deaf ears. In September,
he posted the plan on his blog, The Washington Note, which has about
10,000 readers. Now Clemons is fielding calls and e-mail about his
proposal from fellow wonks and politicos, as well as from military and
corporate types. Clemons envisions corporations contributing any type
of asset -- possibly stock options but also cash -- to a national fund
for soldiers that would be managed in a transparent fashion along the
lines of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which was created in 1976 in order
to invest a portion of the state's oil revenue for future generations
Initially, Clemons conceived of the plan somewhat facetiously, mainly
as a way to call attention to what he considers war profiteering by
hawkish Bush supporters who have benefited financially from the war in
Iraq. But now that his idea is being taken more seriously, he is
grappling with some of the trickier details of his proposal and
crossing his fingers that legislation will be introduced in the next
Congress. ''There'll be a lot of kickback the further this idea
goes,'' he says. ''But I think the country would like to see the
establishment of something broader for the people on the front line --
because the people profiting right now aren't on the front line.''
By PAUL TOUGH
I t may be hard to believe these days, but in fact, Americans are
pretty moderate people, politically. Even on deeply emotional issues
like abortion, public opinion tends to coalesce around a mushy
compromise position somewhere close to the middle of the road. So why
do party platforms and campaign rhetoric tend toward extreme
According to a paper in the October issue of the Harvard Institute of
Economic Research, there may be a calculated reason behind the
nation's current political divide. The lead author, Edward L. Glaeser,
a Harvard economist, argues that the parties are employing a tactic
that he calls strategic extremism. When the political landscape is
balanced in a very particular way, he writes -- the way it is right
now -- ''extreme political platforms that deviate sharply from the
median voter's preferences can be vote-maximizing.''
There are two main conditions that have to be met before strategic
extremism can work. The first is the presence of a lot of voters with
relatively extreme positions who don't vote regularly. This was the
idea behind Karl Rove's ''base'' strategy this year: target the four
million evangelicals who didn't vote in 2000, as well as other
reluctant voters with similar positions. If you fire them up enough,
you can afford to lose a few voters in the middle.
The second condition is what Glaeser calls informational asymmetry.
Strategic extremism works only if you are able to target your extreme
messages solely at your own base. The polarization of the media has
made this easier -- an interview on Fox News will reach more
right-leaning voters; an interview on Air America will reach more
left-leaning voters. Direct mail (the field in which Karl Rove got his
start in politics) is probably the most effective narrow-casting
strategy of all.
But at the same time, there are other emerging technologies that make
this approach risky. Blogs, ''oppo'' researchers and even the
mainstream media can reveal a candidate's red-meat rhetoric to the
other side, thus firing up his opponent's base. It is anyone's guess,
Glaeser says, which set of tools will be more effective in the future.
''Everything depends upon whether changes in technology increase the
ability to target faster than they increase the ability to reveal,''
Glaeser says. ''It's direct mailing versus Drudge, and reducing
extremism depends on the Drudges expanding faster than the direct
Despite the president's campaign rhetoric, Glaeser doesn't expect him
to expend much political capital in his second term on the cultural
and religious issues that his base cares about. ''This has to do with
energizing the base and getting elected,'' Glaeser says. ''I'll be
very surprised if this is where he chooses to put his energy.''
Television Blaster, The
By STEVEN BODZIN
Published: December 12, 2004
W hen stuck in airport waiting rooms, Kristine Smock, a mandolin
player, likes to practice her instrument. But in recent years, her
plucking has been lost under the tinny voices of CNN anchors. ''I feel
like vandalizing the TV's,'' the musician said. ''I imagine myself
ripping wires out of walls, axing the screen and splintering,
A more peaceful solution might be a key-chain-size remote control that
turns off nearby televisions, called TV-B-Gone.
Its inventor, Mitch Altman, was inspired to develop his TV-zapping
device out of frustration with the omnipresent TV sets in bars,
restaurants and Laundromats. The technology he went on to develop is
simple: an L.E.D. emits the ''power'' codes for every brand of set,
one after the next. It takes 69 seconds to hit them all. In the first
month after Altman's Web store went live in October, eager customers
bought 11,000 remotes, major retailers called and Altman almost
recouped the $150,000 investment he had borrowed from his retirement
account. He got used to appearing, of all places, on TV.
Altman is aware that some users will exploit TV-B-Gone to alter other
people's environments. In a vacant Laundromat, the device provides
self-defense for the mind. At a sports bar during the Rose Bowl, it
could provoke a situation when bodily self-defense is more important.
For most customers, however, the problem appears to be not too much
power but too little. Several have beseeched Altman to develop gadgets
that can conquer other modern nuisances. One correspondent wrote
requesting a product ''that will temporarily disable or secretly
destroy some component of loud, intrusive car stereos.'' Another
letter asks for ''a capacitor'' to knock mobile phones offline.
Thermoacoustic Freezer, The
By RYAN BIGGE
T his April, a fire-hydrant-size apparatus called a thermoacoustic
freezer made its debut at a Ben & Jerry's in Manhattan. The event was
a relatively quiet affair, which was no small achievement: inside the
core of the steel cooling unit, which was attached to a standard
ice-cream cabinet, a loudspeaker emitted a 195-decibel screech to keep
quarts of ice cream cold. From the outside, you could hear only a soft
How did it work? The freezer is based on the principle that sound
alters the temperature of the air it travels through. Sound waves
oscillate, compressing and expanding in rapid cycles: compression
causes the air to get warmer; expansion causes the air to get cooler.
An ordinary conversation might cause the temperature to fluctuate
within one ten-thousandth of a degree, but crank the volume inside the
pressurized thermoacoustic freezer and you create much larger
temperature spikes. The trick, then, is to capture the coolness of the
expansion half of the wave cycle while wicking away the heat generated
during the compression half. An ingeniously designed stack of tightly
packed metal screens and heat exchangers in the freezer does just
this. Repeat the trick over and over as the sound waves fluctuate
thousands of times a minute, and you can prevent your Chunky Monkey
The freezer was created for Ben & Jerry's by a team of researchers led
by Steven Garrett, a professor of acoustics at Penn State University.
The goal was to devise a method of cooling that was less
environmentally hazardous than using chemical refrigerants like
hydrofluorocarbons -- which is why the freezer is filled with an inert
gas like helium or argon. Garrett and his colleagues are now working
to build at least 50 units for long-term testing. Ben & Jerry's,
meanwhile, donated its patent rights to Penn State. The company is
content to fill freezers rather than build them.
3-Point Problem, The
By JOEL LOVELL
I n 1979, the National Basketball Association introduced the 3-point
line as a way of rekindling fan interest. The hope was that by
providing an extra incentive for longer shots, the focus of the game
would shift away from lumbering big men and back to sharpshooting
guards, and dramatic come-from-behind victories would replace the
league's frequent blowouts. Twenty-five years later, though, things
haven't worked out as planned. American basketball players can throw
down mind-blowing dunks, but leave them wide open for a jumper and
chances are pretty good they're going to clang it off the rim. In the
last season that N.B.A. teams played without a 3-point line, every
team in the league averaged more than 100 points per game; last
season, only two teams averaged more than 100.
What happened? According to Stu Jackson, the N.B.A.'s senior vice
president for basketball operations, the 3-point shot has been its own
worst enemy. Rather than looking for their natural shooting range,
players are tempted to chuck up glorious but usually errant
3-pointers, and they neglect the art of the midrange jumper. ''If you
look at the game overall,'' Jackson said in October, ''including the
collegiate and high-school level, since the inception of the 3-point
shot -- it's being taken with an increasing amount of frequency, which
in part has driven shooting percentages south.''
Jackson's proposed solution is to do away with the 3-point line -- but
only for part of the game. His idea is being tested out this season in
the N.B.A.'s development league, where the 3-point line will be in
effect in just the last three minutes of each quarter. Shooting
percentages should go up, scores should be higher and the game should
become more aesthetically pleasing.
Basketball purists tend to support the idea. ''I kind of liked the
3-pointer before every player on every team was a 3-point shooter,''
said Steve Kerr, the N.B.A.'s all-time leader in 3-point shooting
percentage, after hearing of Jackson's proposal. ''It's being shot way
too often these days, and it's hurting the game.''
Underwear for Animated People
By JASCHA HOFFMAN
W hen Pixar animators were creating this year's hit movie ''The
Incredibles,'' they noticed a certain limpness in the movements of a
key character, the diminutive fashion diva Edna Mode. Her skirt
appeared to sag and crumple as she walked. The animators could have
taken the trouble to iron out the glitches frame by frame. But they
devised a more clever solution: the studio fitted Edna with a virtual
petticoat. While her underwear is never actually seen onscreen, it
nonetheless helps keep her clothing in place.
Welcome to the world of invisible animation. Hollywood's computer
animators have had great success when it comes to depicting the human
body in motion. Their portrayal of shirts, pants and jackets has
proved to be equally lifelike and impressive. But when animators
program computer systems to mimic the way interwoven fibers interact
with skin -- that is, when virtual clothing is put on the virtual
person -- the results are hard to predict and often go awry. Simulated
cloth routinely gets snagged in armpits and groins or flutters and
tangles spontaneously. Directors simply do not know in advance what an
ordinary shirt will do once it is fitted to a moving torso.
In the face of persistent wardrobe malfunctions, animators have
discovered the virtues of introducing a virtual garment that cannot be
seen onscreen but nonetheless alters the computer modeling in a
desirable way. For instance, when Tom Hanks's conductor's jacket in
''Polar Express'' kept flapping violently in the wind, it was easier
to wrap him inside an invisible shroud than to smooth the jacket out
And while testing a scene of ''The Incredibles'' in which the
once-dashing Mr. Incredible is demoted to a dead-end insurance job,
animators noticed that his barrel chest kept tugging his button-down
shirt out of his trousers. Rather than repeatedly halting production
to tuck the shirt back in, they fell back on an old costuming trick
and simply sewed his shirttails into a custom-fitted pair of virtual
Vaporized, Oxygenated Cocktail, The
By JOEL LOVELL
P aris Hilton, things are looking up! An English businessman named
Dominic Simler has created a machine that takes hard liquor and
reconstitutes it as a breathable mist, which Simler claims is a
low-calorie, low-carb, non-hangover-inducing way to consume alcohol.
The invention is called AWOL (Alcohol Without Liquid), and it looks,
well, like a crack pipe, or maybe like an asthma inhaler (but mostly
like a crack pipe). The device consists of two parts -- the vaporizer,
into which you pour your liquor of choice, and the oxygen generator,
which pumps oxygen through a tube connected to the vaporizer,
producing a mist that is then inhaled into the lungs.
AWOL was introduced in the United Kingdom in 2003, and early this year
a company called Spirit Partners purchased a license to market the
device in the United States. While the AWOL USA Web site celebrates
the ''euphoric high'' from inhaling oxygenated and vaporized alcohol,
various public-health and law-enforcement puritans, looking to ruin
everyone's good, clean, liquor-breathing fun, have raised a few
For one, it turns out that alcohol inhaled through the AWOL machine
goes into the lungs and is then dispersed into the bloodstream, which
critics contend can get users drunk much more quickly and intensely
than those who prefer their cocktails the old-fashioned,
absorbed-through-the-small-intestine way. To ward off possible alcohol
toxicity from binge breathing, the AWOL machine is calibrated so that
it takes 15 minutes to inhale one shot of hard liquor, and its
inventor recommends that users don't exceed two sessions in a 24-hour
Seems fair enough -- and yet in the days leading up to the machine's
American debut at the Manhattan night club Trust, Attorney General
Eliot Spitzer, responding to the concerns of local politicians,
referred the question of AWOL's legality to the New York State Liquor
Authority. So Spirit Partners unveiled its magical machine using
Gatorade instead of alcohol, fearing it might otherwise violate a New
York state law dating back to 1934 that prohibits the dispensing of
alcohol from a different container than the one it was delivered in.
Apparently vaporized liquor is no lower in calories and carbohydrates
than liquid alcohol, and there's no proof that it doesn't produce
hangovers. But what neither Eliot Spitzer nor ''science'' nor any of
the buzzkills at the New York State Liquor Authority can deny is that,
in the words of one anonymous enthusiast quoted by Spirit Partners,
''this is the greatest thing since the still.''
By RYAN BIGGE
A traditional autopsy begins with a deep Y-shaped incision in the
chest. Next, the skin is peeled back to expose the rib cage, which
must be sawed open with a bone cutter so that various organs can be
removed and examined. Such near-eviscerations are rarely very tidy.
A team of forensic scientists from Switzerland is trying to make this
procedure a little more aesthetically pleasing. Since 2000, Michael
Thali and colleagues at the University of Bern's Institutes of
Forensic Medicine and Diagnostic Radiology have been developing a
bloodless and noninvasive form of digital autopsy. Their Virtopsy
Project uses nearly $2 million worth of C.T. (Computed Tomography),
M.R.I. (magnetic resonance imaging) and 3-D surface-scanning
technology. With Virtopsy, the pathologist has only to press a button
and scan the body -- and wait a few minutes. What results is a
digitally embalmed body stored on a workstation, a ''corpse'' that can
be viewed from any angle or depth. ''It's like a virtual flight
through the data set,'' Thali explains. ''You start at the head and go
through the thorax, abdomen and pelvis, right down to the legs.'' A
click of the mouse will remove a layer of skin, muscle or connective
tissue from the skeleton as if it were a piece of clothing.
Thali and his colleagues have already performed more than 100
virtopsies, with each virtual analysis confirmed by an actual autopsy
afterward. While Thali is cautious to note that virtopsy is ''still a
little baby,'' with years of further research required, the procedure
has caught the interest of the United States Department of Defense.
Last month, Dover Air Force Base in Delaware installed a Virtopsy
system to facilitate the analysis and processing of deceased soldiers.
Virtual Sketch Artist, The
By JASCHA HOFFMAN
F or years, crime witnesses have been asked to come down to the police
station and describe crime suspects to sketch artists. Recently,
though, psychologists have found that when witnesses try to describe a
face, they often distort their memory of it. Could there be a better
Police stations in the English county of Kent say they believe they
have found one. This spring, they will introduce EigenFIT, one of
several new programs that present a witness with a screen full of
various photorealistic portraits. The witness chooses the portrait
that seems to bear a resemblance, however slight, to the person he or
she remembers. The computer then uses the chosen photo to produce a
new generation of potential suspects, which the witness will again
narrow down. Once more, the computer clones and mutates the chosen
faces, slowly closing in on the face in question.
In order to create fresh sets of faces with enough variation, EigenFIT
borrows tricks from evolution's playbook, causing traits to appear in
a variety of combinations. After dozens of cycles, the
computer-generated faces can no longer be distinguished from one
another, and the police are left with a single lifelike portrait that
no human sketch artist could possibly have drawn.
There is one potential problem: our memory of faces can be hazy and
coarse, but the software creates images of fine-grained detail. In
order to reduce the chances of a mistake, researchers have toyed with
letting witnesses blur out the features they simply don't remember.
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
A mericans claim they favor leaders who understand their wants, have a
track record of creating jobs and can be ruthless when required.
Sounds like Wal-Mart! Maybe that's why, last spring, the
Arkansas-based retail behemoth asked the citizens of Inglewood,
Calif., to hand it the reins of government.
When the Inglewood City Council rejected Wal-Mart's bid to open a
130,000-square-foot superstore, company executives did not sulk. They
disparaged the council as the captive of outside special interests,
particularly organized labor. And with the help of election
professionals, they collected more than 10,000 signatures to sponsor a
ballot referendum to reverse the decision. In the ensuing referendum
campaign, the company spent more than $1 million to convey the idea
that it would create hundreds of jobs and pump up the local tax base.
Opponents emphasized what they saw as the company's legacy of blighted
downtowns and falling wages.
Ultimately, though, voters were most upset by something else:
Wal-Mart's initiative would have exempted the company from Inglewood's
zoning, planning and environmental laws and established a provision
whereby the deal could be altered only by a two-thirds vote of the
public. By the time voters rejected the initiative at the ballot box
in April, this strategy had acquired a name: Wal-Mart Sovereignty.
There's nothing new about the urge to turn economic power into
political power (and vice versa). Misgivings about it aren't new,
either. But in times of economic transformation, when society
renegotiates what is public and what is private, the questions that
arise get really nettlesome. Should inmates pay their debt to society
through the middleman of a for-profit prison company? Would you say no
even if it meant more criminals on the street? Should sports moguls
pocket fortunes from publicly financed stadiums? Would you say no even
if it meant your city lost its baseball team?
For a long time, Wal-Mart steered clear of such quarrels. It was out
of sight, out of mind, building retail space mostly on the
ahistorical, apolitical exurban frontier. But more and more, it is
encroaching on communities that are more settled -- Inglewood is part
of Los Angeles County -- more ideological or snobbier. The Inglewood
referendum won't be the last time voters are invited to trade citizen
rights for consumer rights -- and no one should make any glib
assumptions about which of those rights Americans hold more dear.
Wandering Museum, The
By BRENDAN I. KOERNER
A s you might expect from an artist who swims with sperm whales and
communes with penguins, Gregory Colbert has dismissed ordinary museums
as ''generic sausages,'' too humdrum to display his unusual photos of
himself and others romping with animals. So to house his exhibition
''Ashes and Snow,'' Colbert commissioned the Japanese architect
Shigeru Ban to create something as unique as the artwork itself. Ban
obliged by designing a mammoth museum space consisting almost entirely
of empty cargo containers (the walls) and recycled paper tubes (the
roof and columns).
The museum will be portable, moving from city to city along with the
exhibit. The tour starts this March on Hudson River Park's Pier 54 in
Manhattan, and the plan is to continue on to Los Angeles, Paris and
Beijing. In each location, the structure's 148 containers will be
stacked in a gridlike pattern and more than 200 unframed photos will
hang from the cables between the columns.
Meanwhile, Colbert is adding pictures to the museum from one of his
most recent artistic adventures: a visit to Antarctica with a
choreographer, dancers and a gaggle of Russian sailors. No doubt a
generic sausage wouldn't do justice to whatever he comes up with.
Water That Isn't Wet
By WILLIAM S. LIN
L ast spring, a peculiar new fire-suppression system made its debut in
the United States with a splash -- literally. A division of Tyco
International introduced a liquid-based product called Sapphire that
can extinguish flames without damaging electronic equipment, precious
library collections, priceless works of art or any other ''critical
business assets,'' in Tyco's lingo.
The system relies on Novec 1230, a colorless chemical agent that
resembles water and feels cool to the touch. When released, the fluid
transforms into a gas that snuffs out blazes. According to Tyco, it
then evaporates at a rate 25 times quicker than normal water, leaving
all other items in the room virtually bone dry.
Back in 1999, Paul Rivers, a 3M researcher who holds a degree in
fire-protection engineering, led a team that first identified the
carbon-based molecule as having fire-safety applications. ''When I
first saw it,'' he says, ''I was a bit skeptical because I thought it
was going to be a 'me too' product''; that is, he presumed it wouldn't
differ from fire-suppression chemicals already on the market. But
after testing its effectiveness and environmental safety, Rivers and
his team became elated. Among its other virtues, Novec 1230, which
remains intact in the atmosphere for only five days, would not deplete
the ozone layer.
In April, Tyco marketers kick-started a publicity campaign with a stop
at ''Good Morning America'' and went on to demonstrate the product
around the country by dunking laptops, cellphones, flat-screen TV's,
books, photographs, paintings and clothing in the liquid. All of the
electronic devices worked moments afterward or even while submerged.
Floating cellphones could still be heard humming tunes. The other
items dried within seconds without any of the usual traces of water
damage: no marks, smears or smudges. Charging a standard fee of
roughly $30 to $40 per square foot of protection, Tyco claims it has
already raked in millions from companies in the telecommunications,
banking and television-broadcast industries, among others.
There is one field, however, in which Novec 1230 won't be used: since
it may cause vomiting if guzzled, it doesn't stand much of a chance of
becoming the next Gatorade.
You Don't Need Superstars to Win
By DEAN ROBINSON
E ven as the superstar athlete in our winner-take-all culture adds to
his already oversize share of available salary money, media attention
and endorsements, there's one thing he may be getting less of these
days -- actual victories. This year, a number of teams unable or
unwilling to invest in franchise players simply did without and still
emerged triumphant. These organizations realized that an effectively
endless supply of bigger, faster and better-trained athletes means you
can plug cheaper players coglike into systems where the interaction of
parts, or style of play, is more important than the parts themselves.
In other words, sometimes there is no ''star'' in ''team,'' and that's
for the best.
In July, the Greek national soccer team won the European Championship.
Led by the no-name and minor-league likes of Theodoros Zagorakis (a
player who had been unable to keep his starter's spot on a mediocre
English team), the Greeks prevailed by beating several countries that
fielded known-by-one-name superstars: France (Zidane), the Czech
Republic (Nedved) and, twice, Portugal (Figo).
Just five months before Euro 2004 ended, the New England Patriots won
the Super Bowl for the second time in three years with a team that
might as well have been all Greek. Only two Patriots were among the
initial selections to the N.F.L.'s Pro Bowl in New England's two
championship seasons. (Even Tom Brady, now the face of the team, is
still a role player, as a comparison of his modest individual stats
with those of his quarterback peers attests.)
The Platonic matchup of Team versus Stars took place in June, when the
Detroit Pistons defeated the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers in the
N.B.A. Finals. The Lakers had four probable future Hall of Famers
(Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Gary Payton); the
Pistons had one second-team All-N.B.A. player (Ben Wallace). But Team
routed Stars, 4 games to 1. Larry Brown, the victorious coach, said,
''The sport is about players playing the right way and showing . . .
that you can be a team and be successful.'' Indeed, a sequel was made
from the same script later in the summer, in Athens. There, the United
States Olympic agglomeration of basketball stars like Tim Duncan,
Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury was beaten by the teamwork of Puerto
Rico, Lithuania and Argentina.
Of course, even as one anonymous team after another takes down the
stars, a new star rises: the miracle-working coach in charge of all
those role players.
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