mercredi, novembre 21, 2007

righteous back

Cass sent me this You Tube video, of her co-worker Michelle's first dance at her October wedding. The videographer put it online and now it is one of the hottest videos. (Be sure to watch the whole thing.)

football and family

A feel-good story about family and football would normally turn me off. But this one hit all the right notes.
Brothers Are Tied to Home, No Matter Where They Run
November 21, 2007

BIG STONE GAP, Va., Nov. 16 — The story of the brothers Jones, who once shared a bunk bed and now share a job title, starts in this sliver of southwest Virginia in the heart of coal country.

Both are starting N.F.L. running backs who will play on Thanksgiving Day against each other, for the second time, when the Jets meet the Cowboys in Irving, Tex.

What binds them is their big, close family in this mining town of fewer than 6,000 residents. But their work-related obligations have forced them to give thanks with their parents and five sisters a day earlier than usual. So they will gather Wednesday in Dallas for all the favorites.

Thomas Jones, the 29-year-old Jets running back, always requests caramel cake. Julius Jones, the 26-year-old Cowboys running back, begs his mother for sweet potato pie.

These days, as opposed to the times when money was tight, there is plenty to go around.

There were Christmases when the boys received no presents. They wore patched jeans and hand-me-downs, and their parents somehow made six pork chops feed nine mouths. Nineteen years separate the oldest Jones child from the youngest, but each still sprinkles sentences with “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am.”

“Your bond with your family got you through those times,” said Thomas A. Jones, the father whom everyone calls Big Thomas. “Nobody goes to Wal-Mart and buys a cup of happiness. That’s how two children can come from where they came from, go to where they are and hold on to what they have.”

Some brothers, like quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning, seem to have been born into professional football. Others, like the twins Ronde and Tiki Barber, made their mark with quick feet and photogenic smiles. What stands out for the Jones brothers is the speck of a town they grew up in and emerged from, nourished at all times by family.

Thomas Q. Jones, the son whom everyone calls Little Thomas, said the brothers always had to prove themselves. “Constantly,” he said. “Over and over again.”

Race was a factor at times, particularly away from home during their high school football and basketball careers. They were two African-Americans at a predominantly white school in an overwhelmingly white town. Those from opposing schools sometimes waved rebel flags, and there was the occasional taunt at road games.

It was all familiar to Betty and Big Thomas, who had lived through integration in 1965. Later, Betty became the first black cheerleader at Appalachia High School. They settled in Appalachia, Va., a few miles down the road. Big Thomas always told his children, “It’s not the color of the grocery bag, it’s what’s inside.”

In high school, during one of his long talks with his father, Little Thomas asked, “Do you think anybody will ever know anything about me?”

Those doubting days of their old life seem as far away as the N.F.L. dreams used to be.

The family lives in Big Stone Gap now, in the house Little Thomas purchased with a rookie signing bonus in the millions. It has a swimming pool and a sprawling view of the mountains.

On a two-day tour of the area in mid-November, Big Thomas and Betty returned to their old home and saw its peeling pink paint.

The boys used to sleep in the basement with cracked floorboards visible through the window. Each Sunday, they would take two trips to a nearby church, half the family at a time, in a 1975 Pontiac with bucket seats. The house remains on the market, listed for $36,000.

“Family,” said Thomas A. Jones, the father whom everyone calls Big Thomas. “Family is all we know, all we’ve ever been.”

Big Stone Gap has six traffic lights, along with a Wal-Mart, a few fast-food restaurants and a $4.99 breakfast platter at the Huddle House, featuring eggs, hash browns, grits, toast and bacon.

Down the road, in the Powell Valley schools, which at least one Jones child attended for each of the 30 years before this one, they never tire of talking about the family.

This includes the sisters: Gwen, 37; Beatrice, 34; Julius’s twin, Knetris, 26; Knetta, 23; and Katrice, 18. Their parents required them to get A’s and B’s in school, and all seven attended or are attending college.

“They put us on the map,” said David Dowdy, the principal at the middle school. “In my whole career, those are the best kids I’ve ever seen.”

Little Thomas used to hide out in the basement of their house, lining up G.I. Joes into football formations. He was all pigskin, all energy, all the time. He once gained 462 yards in a game.

Younger, faster and so quiet that coaches said they rarely heard him speak, Julius followed next. During Julius’s senior season, the Powell Valley defense allowed one play longer than 10 yards — an achievement Coach Phil Robbins attributed to Julius, who played safety and earned the nickname the Eraser.

Each morning, the brothers ran up and down their hill some 20 times, performed push-ups until their arms burned and situps until their stomachs ached.

Robbins still watches the highlight tape from Little Thomas’s senior season so often that current players grumble as he pops it in. “Well,” he said, “those boys are as good as it gets.”

Each brother won two state championships. They also drew national attention and scores of recruiters to Big Stone Gap. Thomas went to the Virginia; Julius went to Notre Dame. Julius missed a semester because of academic difficulties, and he went to live with Little Thomas, who was playing in the N.F.L. with Arizona.

The family’s roots here run deeper than the coal mines driven into the mountains. Big Thomas and Betty met in a mining camp, after their parents had migrated from southern Alabama to find work.

Big Thomas started the family running back tradition. Married for 34 years now, they followed their parents underground.

On her first day in the mines, Betty realized why so few women worked there. Conditions were dirty and dark and dangerous. She said she resolved to quit but ended up staying 19 years, operating the shovel car. She made $10 an hour back in the late 1970s, good money that kept her coming back.

“The Jones family is known for hard work and high standards,” said Joan Short, who taught all seven children in various subjects. “When you’ve got a mother who’s pregnant, crawling around in the bottom of a coal mine to support her children, what more do you need to say?”

Big Thomas recalls two fatalities during the year he spent in the mine, two friends who went underground when the shift started and never came out alive. After he was laid off, he later held a variety of jobs: disc jockey, television reporter, minority recruiter at the University of Tennessee and counselor at the nearby prison.

When she returned to the Exeter Mining Corporation, Betty could see the path she took, the tunnels that mark her past and paved her children’s future. She worked from midnight to 8 a.m., and her children prayed each day for a safe return. Betty described the injuries as inevitable: crushed arms and legs, and broken ribs.

“Those miners are in my boys,” Betty said, gesturing toward her former office. “It’s what they’ve seen. It’s what they’ve been taught.”

The town established a Thomas and Julius Jones day in July 2006.

“They elevated what people here think is possible,” said Travis Kern, an algebra teacher who played basketball with both brothers. “They had this charisma that made you want to follow.”

On Thursday, the family will commemorate the big game by wearing white jerseys with logos for both teams and “T Jones” and “J Jones” ironed on the back.

Julius will become a father for the first time in December, when the family will add another member, a boy.

“It just humbles me more and more,” Big Thomas said about the game and the grandson and the story of his family. “It draws right back to that question: Do you think anybody will ever know anything about me?”

Plenty of people know these Joneses now.

Much in their lives has changed, evidenced by the luxury cars in the garage and the segments for a reality TV show the brothers want to pitch to networks. But Little Thomas said the brothers got more than they gave.

Last spring, the family returned here for Katrice’s graduation. Little Thomas delivered the keynote address. And as the seventh sibling walked across the stage, the family members stole glances at one another, their eyes welling with tears.

“There is a purpose to this story,” Big Thomas said. “It’s about so much more than our family. It’s about family, period.”

mercredi, novembre 14, 2007

killing me softly

This is probably another example of me being the last person on the planet to know something, but in case I'm wrong, here's my musical public service for the day.

I grew up listening to lots of my dad's music on records, tapes, and reel-to-reel. He had spent lots of hours taping music that he borrowed at the music lending library while stationed in Vietnam and had moved the music around the world a few times. That meant my musical education was heavy on Motown, the British Invasion, what was on the charts during the Vietnam War, and on folk music. (All of it was a welcome counterbalance to the 'there's a tear in my beer' country music that he loved to play on the radio in the car and at home. It was also more interesting than the pop on the airwaves for much of the 1980s.)

Anyhow, I still remember the day that I pulled Don McLean's "American Pie" album out of its sleeve for the first time. And I can hum the songs before and after Roberta Flack's cover of "Killing Me Softly" on my dad's tapes. But I didn't realize that there was a connection between the two until today.

While listening to Don McLean's "Vincent" this morning, I glanced at McLean's bio on It turns out that that "Killing Me Softly" is based on a poem called "Killing Me Softly with His Blues" written about McLean.
The Greatest Songs Ever! Killing Me Softly
“One time! Two times!” rapped the Fugees, and how right they were! For this Don McLean–inspired weepie had already passed through two artists before the Fugees — and, later, Hugh Grant — got their hands on it!
By Johnny Black
Blender, April 2003

“KILLING ME SOFTLY With His Song” might be pop’s most misunderstood tune of all time. It’s surrounded by so many myths, it makes Aesop’s fables look like reality TV. Millions of pop fans know that Roberta Flack wrote the song about Don McLean – killing her softly with his song “American Pie” – and that the Fugees made it a smash more than 20 years later.

Interesting, but not true. Yes, Flack took this classic lovelorn weepie to number 1 in February 1973. But she didn’t write it.

“When Roberta’s version came out,” McLean recalls, “somebody called me and said, ’Do you know there’s a song about you that’s number 1?’ I said, ’What – are you kidding?’ And they said, “The girl who originally recorded it had it written for her after she saw you at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. She went on TV and talked about it.”

The girl was an L.A. folkie named Lori Lieberman. “I thought [McLean] was just incredible,” she says. “He was singing songs that I felt pertained to my life.” But it wasn’t “American Pie” that got her scribbling – it was a lesser-known album track called “Empty Chairs.”

“I was going through some difficult things at the time, and what he was singing about made me think, ’Whoa! This person knows me! How could he know me so well?’ ” Lieberman says.“I went home and wrote a poem and showed it to the two men I was working with at the time”: songwriters Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who decided her heartfelt words weren’t lyrics yet.

“Never having written a song,” she says, “I didn’t know how to put my poem into lyric form. Norman was able to do that. The finished lyrics are Norman’s, but he was very careful to make sure that all of the feelings were coming from me.” His biggest change was her title, originally “Killing Me Softly With His Blues.”

Although Lieberman’s recording didn’t set the world on fire, it did become a track on TWA’s in-flight entertainment set, and that’s where fate stepped in. “I was flying from Los Angeles to New York,” Roberta Flack has said. “Looking at the in-flight magazine, I saw the picture of this little girl, Lori Lieberman, and the title of the song.

Before I heard the song, I thought it had an awfully good title, and when I heard it, I loved it. By the time I got to New York I knew I had to do that song, and I knew I’d be able to add something to it.”

Quincy Jones, Flack’s producer, contacted Gimbel and Fox and began transforming the song. “My classical background made it possible for me to try a number of things with it,” Flack has said. “I changed parts of the chord structure and chose to end on a major chord. It wasn’t written that way.”

Her revised arrangement rocketed to number 1 in 1973 and earned a Grammy double-whammy: Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal.

More than two decades later, the song was still in regular radio rotation, and a New Jersey rap trio was hitting the charts with its 1994 debut album, Blunted on Reality.

“My mom was a Roberta Flack fan, so I grew up with her music,” Fugees vocalist Lauryn Hill said at the time. “One day, me and [Fugee] Pras [Michel] were in the car. The song came on the radio, and we both decided that song was it. One of our goals is to reunite the youths with musicality. It’s about soul.”

The Fugees had to jump through hoops to get permission to record it. Like Gimbel, Fox and Flack before them, they had a couple of changes they wanted to make. They had rewritten the lyric to become an antidrug, antipoverty theme called “Killing Him Softly,” but Gimbel and Fox refused to play ball, forcing the Fugees to stamp their identity on its sound and not on its lyrics.

The Fugees recorded the song cheaply, in band member Wyclef Jean’s rudimentary home studio, the Booga Basement, and the song hit the streets on March 9, 1996, as a track on the Fugees’ second album, The Score. By May 5, “Killing Me Softly” had become a runaway smash, leaping up the rap airplay chart before exploding onto mainstream radio.

Among the song’s millions of fans was a certain Welshman-about-Vegas. “I loved what Wyclef did with the Fugees, especially ’Killing Me Softly,’ ” Tom Jones said at the time. “He stripped it down and turned it into something different from the original.”

The Fugees’ smartest move, though, wasn’t musical but commercial: They decided not to release the song as a single, forcing fans to buy their entire album. The song helped The Score go multiplatinum and garnered both the Best R&B Performance by a Group and Rap Album of the Year Grammies for the Fugees in 1997.

“Killing Me Softly” also enjoyed a brief jolt in last year’s movie About a Boy, in which young British actor Nicholas Hoult warbles it – a cappella – before hundreds of jeering schoolmates. Things are looking pretty grim until Hugh Grant materializes with a guitar to salvage a shred of their dignity.

Hoult and Grant’s interpretation, needless to say, didn’t chart. But Roberta Flack’s and the Fugees’ versions have racked up an astonishing 5 million performances, propelling “Killing Me Softly” to number 11 in the BMI list of the Top 100 songs of all time. Not bad for one night’s work at the Troubadour.

mercredi, novembre 07, 2007

food 2.0: chefs as chemists

This is mad cool.

Slices of eel are served with puffed yuzu, inspired by airy puffed snacks like Cheez Doodles, left. Framed by a reverse comma of tomato lettuce and powdered onions, beef tongue is accompanied by small pieces of lettuce and a high-tech version of fried mayonnaise.
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists

Published: November 6, 2007

In September, talking to an audience of chefs from around the world, Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan waxed enthusiastic about a type of ingredient he has been adding to his restaurant’s dishes.

Multimedia: Nouvelle Chimie Slide Show

Not organic Waygu beef or newfound exotic spices or eye of newt and toe of frog, but hydrocolloid gums — obscure starches and proteins usually relegated to the lower reaches of ingredient labels on products like Twinkies. These substances are helping Mr. Dufresne make eye-opening (and critically acclaimed) creations like fried mayonnaise and a foie gras that can be tied into a knot.

Chefs are using science not only to better understand their cooking, but also to create new ways of cooking. Elsewhere, chefs have played with lasers and liquid nitrogen. Restaurant kitchens are sometimes outfitted with equipment adapted from scientific laboratories. And then there are hydrocolloids that come in white bottles like chemicals.

Xanthan gum, for instance, a slime fermented by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris and then dried, is used in bottled salad dressing to slow the settling of the spice particles and keep water and oil from separating. Xanthan and other hydrocolloids are now part of the tool kit of high-end chefs.

“These ingredients are finding more and more of a footing in the traditional, free-standing restaurant,” said Mr. Dufresne (pronounced doo-FRAYN) at the Starchefs International Chefs Congress in New York.

He noted that the hydrocolloids he uses came from natural sources and often had a long history in the cooking of other cultures.

“In our ongoing search of working with hydrocolloids, we’re always trying to find interesting and new things and new applications,” said Mr. Dufresne, who at times sounded as if he were talking to chemists rather than chefs.

And rightly so. Cooking is chemistry, after all, and in recent decades scientists have given much closer scrutiny to the transformations that occur when foodstuffs are heated. That has debunked some longstanding myths. Searing meat does not seal in juices, for example, but high heat does induce chemical reactions among the proteins that make it tastier. The experimentation with hydrocolloids represents a rare crossover between the culinary arts and food science, two fields that at first glance would seem to be closely related but which have been almost separate. Food science arose in the 20th century as food companies looked for ways to make their products survive the trek to the supermarket and remain palatable. The long list of ingredients on a frozen dinner represents the work of food scientists in ensuring shelf life and approximating the taste of fresh-cooked food.

“Ten years ago, or maybe a little more than that, no chef in a serious restaurant would be caught dead using these ingredients,” said Harold McGee, author of “On Food and Cooking” (Scribner, 2004) and the “Curious Cook” column, which appears in the Dining section of The New York Times. “Because they were industrial stabilizers for the most part.”

Then a few chefs like Ferran Adrià in Spain and Heston Blumenthal in England started experimenting. “They asked what can you do with these ingredients that you can’t do with other ingredients,” Mr. McGee said.

Despite its imposing name, a hydrocolloid is a simple thing. A colloid is a suspension of particles within some substance. A hydrocolloid is a suspension of particles in water where the particles are molecules that bind to water and to one another. The particles slow the flow of the liquid or stop it entirely, solidifying into a gel.

Cornstarch used as a thickener is a hydrocolloid. So is plain flour. But the properties of hydrocolloids differ widely, depending on their molecular structure and affinity for water.

Today, Grant Achatz, chef of Alinea in Chicago, uses agar-agar, which is a hydrocolloid made from seaweed that is best known for growing bacteria in petri dishes, and gelatin, a more familiar hydrocolloid made from collagen in meat, to make transparent sheets that he drapes over hot foods. For a dish made of a confit of beef short ribs, he wanted to add a taste of beer so he draped a veil flavored with Guinness on top — “a thin, flavorful glaze that ensured the diner would get some beer flavor in every bit of the dish,” Mr. Achatz said. Plain gelatin would simply melt, and ruin the effect.

Even chefs far from the avant-garde use hydrocolloids. David Kinch, the chef of Manresa Restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif., known for ultra-fresh and ultra-local ingredients, makes purees of vegetables. To keep water from leaking out, he adds a touch of xanthan gum.

One of the dishes Mr. Dufresne presented in his Starchefs talk was what he called “knot foie,” a result of experimentation combining xanthan gum with konjac flour, made from a tuber long used in Japanese cooking.

“We’ve had konjac flour in the kitchen for a long time, and we just hadn’t used it,” Mr. Dufresne said. “We realized, after reading, that it has a really interesting synergy with xanthan gum. It makes a kind of funky, strange gel on its own, but in conjunction with xanthan gum, which on its own won’t make a gel but is just a thickener, it makes a really interesting, very elastic product.”

He continued: “So we thought, well what could we take that normally wouldn’t behave like that but would be really interesting. And almost instantly, we came up with the idea of foie gras.”

One wall of the WD-50 kitchen, with metal shelves filled with white bottles of hydrocolloids, looks almost like a pharmacy. Mr. Dufresne’s reading material includes “Water-Soluble Polymer Applications in Foods” and “Hydrocolloid Applications: Gum Technology in the Food and Other Industries.”

Like scientists, Mr. Dufresne and his staff experiment, recording their observations and findings in notebooks. Using butter — much cheaper than foie gras — they began a series of trials in May to determine the ideal proportion of konjac to xanthan, which turned out to be 70 percent konjac, 30 percent xanthan in a 0.65 percent concentration.

“It’s a recipe,” Mr. Dufresne said.

In addition to flexible butter, Mr. Dufresne also has a recipe for a butter that does not melt in an oven. (That innovation has yet to find a place on his menu.) The latest experiments are how to make deep-fried hollandaise sauce, which he hopes to wrap into a variation of eggs benedict.

To make a flexible foie, a foie gras terrine is melted into liquefied fat, the xanthan and konjac are mixed in, and then a small amount of water and an egg yolk, which helps keep everything evenly suspended in the liquid, are blended in. The mixture is spread on a sheet, chilled, cut into strands and tied into knots. Hence, knot foie.

In the question-and-answer session, one person asked why Mr. Dufresne went to the trouble of making a foie gras terrine, a process that takes half a day of chilling, when the next step was melting it into a liquid.

“We were trying to be true and honest to that aspect of French cooking,” Mr. Dufresne replied. He paused before adding, “And do something kind of crazy with it.”

dimanche, novembre 04, 2007

let us pray for wealth

Let me get this straight: the more wealthy one is, the less religious? Makes sense to me.
Let Us Pray for Wealth
Published: November 3, 2007

A GLOBAL survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be religious.

The survey, done as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, covers a wide swath of economic matters, including global trade and immigration (

Pew found that there is “a strong relationship between a country’s religiosity and its economic status.” The poorer a country, the more “religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.”

The United States is the “most notable” exception. Other exceptions are oil-rich, mostly Muslim nations like Kuwait.

There is no simple interpretation of the findings. Perhaps as “people get less religious, they get wealthier,” wrote Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog ( “Or perhaps the other way around. Or perhaps there’s something else behind both trends.”

Mr. Drum concludes that it’s “probably a bit of all three.”

taking a megabyte out of poverty seems to embody what Muhammad Yunus meant when he called for social businesses. Kudos to Sean Blagsvedt.
In India, Poverty Inspires Technology Workers to Altruism
Published: October 30, 2007

BANGALORE, India — Manohar Lakshmipathi does not own a computer. In fact, in India workmen like Mr. Manohar, a house painter, are usually forbidden to touch clients’ computers.

So you can imagine Mr. Manohar’s wonder as he sat in a swiveling chair in front of a computer, dictating his date of birth, phone number and work history to a secretary. Afterward, a man took his photo. Then, with a click of a mouse, Mr. Manohar’s page popped onto the World Wide Web, the newest profile on an Indian Web site called

Babajob seeks to bring the social-networking revolution popularized by Facebook and MySpace to people who do not even have computers — the world’s poor. And the start-up is just one example of an unanticipated byproduct of the outsourcing boom: many of the hundreds of multinationals and hundreds of thousands of technology workers who are working here are turning their talents to fighting the grinding poverty that surrounds them.

“In Redmond, you don’t see 7-year-olds begging on the street,” said Sean Blagsvedt, Babajob’s founder, referring to Microsoft’s headquarters in Washington State, where he once worked. “In India, you can’t escape the feeling that you’re really lucky. So you ask, What are you going to do about all the stuff around you? How are you going to use all these skills?”

Perhaps for less altruistic reasons, but often with positive results for the poor, corporations have made India a laboratory for extending modern technological conveniences to those long deprived. Nokia, for instance, develops many of its ultralow-cost cellphones here. Citibank first experimented here with a special A.T.M. that recognizes thumbprints — to help slum dwellers who struggle with PINs. And Microsoft has made India one of the major centers of its global research group studying technologies for the poor, like software that reads to illiterate computer users. Babajob is a quintessential example of how the back-office operations in India have spawned poverty-inspired innovation.

The best-known networking sites in the industry connect computer-savvy elites to one another. Babajob, by contrast, connects India’s elites to the poor at their doorsteps, people who need jobs but lack the connections to find them. Job seekers advertise skills, employers advertise jobs and matches are made through social networks.

For example, if Rajeev and Sanjay are friends, and Sanjay needs a chauffeur, he can view Rajeev’s page, travel to the page of Rajeev’s chauffeur and see which of the chauffeur’s friends are looking for similar work.

Mr. Blagsvedt, now 31, joined Microsoft in Redmond in 1999. Three years ago he was sent to India to help build the local office of Microsoft Research, the company’s in-house policy research arm. The new team worked on many of the same complex problems as their peers in Redmond, but the employees here led very different lives outside the office than their counterparts in Redmond. They had servants and laborers. They read constant newspaper tales of undernourishment and illiteracy.

The company’s Indian employees were not seeing poverty for the first time, but they were now equipped with first-rate computing skills, and many felt newly empowered to help their society.

At the same time, Microsoft was plagued by widespread software piracy, which limited its revenue in India. Among other things, the company looked at low-income consumers as a vast and unexploited commercial opportunity, so it encouraged its engineers’ philanthropic urges.

Poverty became a major focus in Mr. Blagsvedt’s research office. Anthropologists and sociologists were hired to explain things like the effect of the caste system on rural computer usage. In the course of that work, Mr. Blagsvedt stumbled upon an insight by a Duke University economist, Anirudh Krishna.

Mr. Krishna found that many poor Indians in dead-end jobs remain in poverty not because there are no better jobs, but because they lack the connections to find them. Any Bangalorean could confirm the observation: the city teems with laborers desperate for work, and yet wealthy software tycoons complain endlessly about a shortage of maids and cooks.

Mr. Blagsvedt’s epiphany? “We need village LinkedIn!” he recalled saying, alluding to the professional networking site.

He quit Microsoft and, with his stepfather, Ira Weise, and a former Microsoft colleague built a social-networking site to connect Bangalore’s yuppies with its laborers. (The site, which Mr. Blagsvedt started this summer and runs out of his home, focuses on Bangalore now, but he plans to spread it to other Indian cities and maybe globally.)

Building a site meant to reach laborers earning $2 to $3 a day presented special challenges. The workers would be unfamiliar with computers. The wealthy potential employers would be reluctant to let random applicants tend their gardens or their newborns. To deal with the connectivity problem, Babajob pays anyone, from charities to Internet cafe owners, who finds job seekers and registers them online. (Babajob earns its keep from employers’ advertisements, diverting a portion of that to those who register job seekers.) And instead of creating an anonymous job bazaar, Babajob replicates online the process by which Indians hire in real life: through chains of personal connections.

In India, a businessman looking for a chauffeur might ask his friend, who might ask his chauffeur. Such connections provide a kind of quality control. The friend’s chauffeur, for instance, will not recommend a hoodlum, for fear of losing his own job.

To re-create this dynamic online, Babajob pays people to be “connectors” between employer and employee. In the example above, the businessman’s friend and his chauffeur would each earn the equivalent of $2.50 if they connected the businessman with someone he liked.

The model is gaining attention, and praise. A Bangalore venture capitalist, when told of Babajob, immediately asked to be put in touch with Mr. Blagsvedt. And Steve Pogorzelski, president of the international division of, the American jobs site, said, “Wow” when told of the company. “It is an important innovation because it opens up the marketplace to people of socioeconomic levels who may not have the widest array of jobs available to them.”

Mr. Krishna, the Duke economist, called it a “very significant innovation,” but he cautioned that the very poor might not belong to the social networks that would bring them to Babajob, even on the periphery.

In its first few months, the company has drummed up job seekers on its own, sending workers into the streets with fliers promising employment.

To find potential employers, in addition to counting on word of mouth among those desperate for maids and laborers, Babajob is also relying on Babalife, the company’s parallel social networking site for the yuppie elite. People listed on Babalife will automatically be on Babajob, too.

So far, more than 2,000 job seekers have registered. The listings are a portrait of India’s floating underclass, millions and millions seeking a few dollars a day to work as chauffeurs, nannies, gardeners, guards and receptionists.

A woman named Selvi Venkatesh was a typical job seeker. “I am really in need of a job as our residential building collapsed last month in Ejipura,” she said, referring to a building collapse that killed two people, including an infant, in late July, according to The Times of India.

In Mr. Blagsvedt’s apartment one morning, Mr. Manohar, the painter, professed hope.

He earns $100 a month. Jobs come irregularly, so he often spends up to three months of the year idle. Between jobs, he borrows from loan sharks to feed his wife and children. The usurers levy 10 percent monthly interest, enough to make a $100 loan a $314 debt in one year.

Mr. Manohar does not want his children to know his worries, or his life. He wants them to work in a nice office, so he spends nearly half his income on private schools for them. That is why he was at Babajob in a swiveling chair, staring at a computer and dreaming of more work.

hello darkness, my old friend

"If only ..." was my first thought. But knowing that a cell phone jammer could be used along with the commission of a violent crime gives me serious pause.
Devices Enforce Silence of Cellphones, Illegally
Published: November 4, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 2 — One afternoon in early September, an architect boarded his commuter train and became a cellphone vigilante. He sat down next to a 20-something woman who he said was “blabbing away” into her phone.

“She was using the word ‘like’ all the time. She sounded like a Valley Girl,” said the architect, Andrew, who declined to give his last name because what he did next was illegal.

Andrew reached into his shirt pocket and pushed a button on a black device the size of a cigarette pack. It sent out a powerful radio signal that cut off the chatterer’s cellphone transmission — and any others in a 30-foot radius.

“She kept talking into her phone for about 30 seconds before she realized there was no one listening on the other end,” he said. His reaction when he first discovered he could wield such power? “Oh, holy moly! Deliverance.”

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. “The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”

The jamming technology works by sending out a radio signal so powerful that phones are overwhelmed and cannot communicate with cell towers. The range varies from several feet to several yards, and the devices cost from $50 to several hundred dollars. Larger models can be left on to create a no-call zone.

Using the jammers is illegal in the United States. The radio frequencies used by cellphone carriers are protected, just like those used by television and radio broadcasters.

The Federal Communication Commission says people who use cellphone jammers could be fined up to $11,000 for a first offense. Its enforcement bureau has prosecuted a handful of American companies for distributing the gadgets — and it also pursues their users.

Investigators from the F.C.C. and Verizon Wireless visited an upscale restaurant in Maryland over the last year, the restaurant owner said. The owner, who declined to be named, said he bought a powerful jammer for $1,000 because he was tired of his employees focusing on their phones rather than customers.

“I told them: put away your phones, put away your phones, put away your phones,” he said. They ignored him.

The owner said the F.C.C. investigator hung around for a week, using special equipment designed to detect jammers. But the owner had turned his off.

The Verizon investigator was similarly unsuccessful. “He went to everyone in town and gave them his number and said if they were having trouble, they should call him right away,” the owner said. He said he has since stopped using the jammer.

Of course, it would be harder to detect the use of smaller battery-operated jammers like those used by disgruntled commuters.

An F.C.C. spokesman, Clyde Ensslin, declined to comment on the issue or the case in Maryland.

Cellphone carriers pay tens of billions of dollars to lease frequencies from the government with an understanding that others will not interfere with their signals. And there are other costs on top of that. Verizon Wireless, for example, spends $6.5 billion a year to build and maintain its network.

“It’s counterintuitive that when the demand is clear and strong from wireless consumers for improved cell coverage, that these kinds of devices are finding a market,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman. The carriers also raise a public safety issue: jammers could be used by criminals to stop people from communicating in an emergency.

In evidence of the intensifying debate over the devices, CTIA, the main cellular phone industry association, asked the F.C.C. on Friday to maintain the illegality of jamming and to continue to pursue violators. It said the move was a response to requests by two companies for permission to use jammers in specific situations, like in jails.

Individuals using jammers express some guilt about their sabotage, but some clearly have a prankster side, along with some mean-spirited cellphone schadenfreude. “Just watching those dumb teens at the mall get their calls dropped is worth it. Can you hear me now? NO! Good,” the purchaser of a jammer wrote last month in a review on a Web site called DealExtreme.

Gary, a therapist in Ohio who also declined to give his last name, citing the illegality of the devices, says jamming is necessary to do his job effectively. He runs group therapy sessions for sufferers of eating disorders. In one session, a woman’s confession was rudely interrupted.

“She was talking about sexual abuse,” Gary said. “Someone’s cellphone went off and they carried on a conversation.”

“There’s no etiquette,” he said. “It’s a pandemic.”

Gary said phone calls interrupted therapy all the time, despite a no-phones policy. Four months ago, he paid $200 for a jammer, which he placed surreptitiously on one side of the room. He tells patients that if they are expecting an emergency call, they should give out the front desk’s number. He has not told them about the jammer.

Gary bought his jammer from a Web site based in London called Victor McCormack, the site’s operator, says he ships roughly 400 jammers a month into the United States, up from 300 a year ago. Orders for holiday gifts, he said, have exceeded 2,000.

Kumaar Thakkar, who lives in Mumbai, India, and sells jammers online, said he exported 20 a month to the United States, twice as many as a year ago. Clients, he said, include owners of cafes and hair salons, and a New York school bus driver named Dan.

“The kids think they are sneaky by hiding low in the seats and using their phones,” Dan wrote in an e-mail message to Mr. Thakkar thanking him for selling the jammer. “Now the kids can’t figure out why their phones don’t work, but can’t ask because they will get in trouble! It’s fun to watch them try to get a signal.”

Andrew, the San Francisco-area architect, said using his jammer was initially fun, and then became a practical way to get some quiet on the train. Now he uses it more judiciously.

“At this point, just knowing I have the power to cut somebody off is satisfaction enough,” he said.

vendredi, novembre 02, 2007

god help us

So much for turning the other cheek.
don't want to ruin your day this early, but i feel you should know:

things you learn while browsing

I once talked about Martha on national television. (It was with Alex Trebek during my 1.2 seconds of fame as a Jeopardy! contestant.)

Yesterday, some healthy recipes from Body+Soul were featured in an e-mail I got and before I knew it, I'd spent twenty minutes exploring the site's sustainability-oriented content. Who knew that Martha was cashing in on the enviro/hippie-dippy segment with features like this going green checklist: 101 ways to get started?

Anyhow, I've known for awhile that phosphates are evil. I just didn't realize how crazy all the ingredients are that go into our laundry products. Check it out ... and you'll quit using Tide, fabric softener, and all those other things that make fresh laundry smell so good.
Lighten Your Load
"After ecstasy, the laundry," a Zen philosopher once mused. These days, the weekly wash may hit you with more than the soiled thud of earthly reality due to the chemicals packed into many common detergents. Each of the 35 billion loads washed annually by American households contributes a mounting dose of irritants and pollutants to the environment -- but they don't have to. With a growing selection of eco- and health-friendly alternatives, you can find a gentle, easy, and effective "green" clean. Exact compositions of detergents are protected trade secrets, so product labels often reveal little more than chemical acronyms and cautions to "keep out of reach of children." To help you make optimal selections for your family and home, we've listed the benefits and costs of common laundry products, as well as our picks from the greener alternatives.

Conventional Detergents
Petrochemical-based synthetic detergents replaced flaked soap on supermarket and laundry-room shelves in the 1940s. Heavily marketed and quite effective, they quickly became the standard choice for American households. These detergents remove dirt and oils, rinsing them off so they don't settle back into the fabric, and they leave no mineral residue, even in hard water. Companies offer a wide-ranging palette of scents by using synthetic fragrances. And with powerful chemical preservatives, these products have a shelf-life that's essentially unlimited.

Conventional detergents do have their drawbacks, however, starting with the fact that they use nonrenewable resources -- among them, the petroleum-based optical brighteners found in many products. These potentially toxic "fluorescent whitening agents" make clothes appear whiter by attaching to fabrics and converting UV rays into visible blue-violet light. Some manufacturers will list these as "brighteners," or the trade names ER, KSN, OB, and OB-1. Often not on the labels of these detergents are the dyes, perfumes, softeners, enzymes, or bleaching agents the products may contain. Fragrance, for instance, often helps disguise the chemical smell of a detergent, even if the box says "hypoallergenic" or "fragrance-free"; these claims aren't regulated by any government committee or standards organization.

The extent to which conventional detergents compromise our health remains another cause for concern. These products are formulated to cling to clothes, rather than rinse out, placing harsh ingredients in prolonged contact with the skin, stripping it of moisture. They sometimes include synthetic surfactants, cleaning agents that biodegrade slowly and are associated with chronic health problems. Petrochemical-based surfactants called alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) can break down to compounds that the Environmental Protection Agency considers highly toxic to aquatic organisms and potential "endocrine disruptors" for humans. This means they could harm your body's endocrine system, which is responsible for healthy metabolism, reproduction, and growth. Another chemical group, phthalates (indicated by nonspecific "fragrance" on many labels), is readily absorbed by skin, fingernails, and lungs, and they may cause birth defects. Finally, most conventional detergents include parabens, or chemical preservatives that can accumulate in the body with use and have been detected in breast cancer tumors. While early studies on the link between parabens and breast cancer have been inconclusive, some health experts still advise caution.

Vegetable-Based Detergents
For their part, formulators of ecofriendly vegetable-based detergents have made major strides in recent years to achieve the strengths of conventional cleaners, without sacrificing responsibility to the environment and good health. In general, these detergents minimize pollution and residues by using renewable plant resources: Rather than tapping crude oil, their surfactants use vegetable oils, often from coconut. They won't attach to textiles (so you're not in constant contact with chemicals), and they're paraben-free. While risks associated with parabens are still unknown, these manufacturers opt for alternatives that are less questionable.

Of course, not all vegetable-based detergents will please everyone. Some contain strong fragrances that may aggravate allergies. Others can harbor unlisted additives, like their conventional counterparts. When hunting for alternatives, look for labels that state the origin of their scents and surfactants: "coconut-oil-based surfactant," for instance, instead of "cleaning agents," and "fragrance derived from lavender oil" rather than "fragrance." While we've found effective detergents from several brands (see "Detergents Put to the Test"), it's worth conducting your own tests, which will take into account your most common laundry dilemmas, as well as the type of water in which you wash your clothes. Find a detergent you like, and you can give those whites and brights a healthy hint of "green."

Learn more healthy laundry practices in our guide to better bleaches.

What About Softeners?Many textile and cleaning experts advise against using synthetic fabric softeners altogether, especially for those items you want to remain absorbent or nonirritating to sensitive skin. That's because conventional softeners generate their namesake feel with a waxy chemical residue that attaches to your garments and can build up over time. This can inhibit towels and "wicking" athletic wear from serving their functions. The same innovation that allows a softener to enhance comfort and control static cling between washes keeps your body in close, constant contact with its potentially harmful ingredients.

In addition, most softeners contain derivatives of ammonium chloride, a chemical that is deadly to some aquatic life and a common trigger for allergy and asthma symptoms, including difficulty breathing, congestion, and watery eyes. Many softeners also contain tallow, or animal fat, making them undesirable to vegans and other people trying to avoid animal products. Fortunately, you can choose from a variety of gentler alternatives, some of which you may already stock in your kitchen. A quarter to one cup of white vinegar added to a final rinse (after any chlorine products have been washed away to avoid dangerous fumes) can help to fluff, deodorize, and prevent lint, and a quarter cup of baking soda added to the wash cycle can help to reduce static cling.

prostates and prejudices

A politician lying in a campaign ad? Shocking.
Op-Ed Columnist: Prostates and Prejudices
Published: November 2, 2007

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”

It would be a stunning comparison if it were true. But it isn’t. And thereby hangs a tale — one of scare tactics, of the character of a man who would be president and, I’m sorry to say, about what’s wrong with political news coverage.

Let’s start with the facts: Mr. Giuliani’s claim is wrong on multiple levels — bogus numbers wrapped in an invalid comparison embedded in a smear.

Mr. Giuliani got his numbers from a recent article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute. The author gave no source for his numbers on five-year survival rates — the probability that someone diagnosed with prostate cancer would still be alive five years after the diagnosis. And they’re just wrong.

You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.

So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

Anyway, comparisons with Britain have absolutely nothing to do with what the Democrats are proposing. In Britain, doctors are government employees; despite what Mr. Giuliani is suggesting, none of the Democratic candidates have proposed to make American doctors work for the government.

As a fact-check in The Washington Post put it: “The Clinton health care plan” — which is very similar to the Edwards and Obama plans — “has more in common with the Massachusetts plan signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney than the British National Health system.” Of course, this hasn’t stopped Mr. Romney from making similar smears.

At one level, what Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney are doing here is engaging in time-honored scare tactics. For generations, conservatives have denounced every attempt to ensure that Americans receive needed health care, from Medicare to S-chip, as “socialized medicine.”

Part of the strategy has always involved claiming that health reform is suspect because it’s un-American, and exaggerating health care problems in other countries — usually on the basis of unsubstantiated anecdotes or fraudulent statistics. Opponents of reform also make a practice of lumping all forms of government intervention together, pretending that having the government pay some health care bills is just the same as having the government take over the whole health care system.

But here’s what I don’t understand: Why isn’t Mr. Giuliani’s behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?

For better or (mostly) for worse, political reporting is dominated by the search for the supposedly revealing incident, in which the candidate says or does something that reveals his true character. And this incident surely seems to fit the bill.

Leave aside the fact that Mr. Giuliani is simply lying about what the Democrats are proposing; after all, Mitt Romney is doing the same thing.

But health care is the pre-eminent domestic issue for the 2008 election. Surely the American people deserve candidates who do their homework on the subject.

Yet what we actually have is the front-runner for the Republican nomination apparently basing his health-care views on something he read somewhere, which he believed without double-checking because it confirmed his prejudices.

By rights, then, Mr. Giuliani’s false claims about prostate cancer — which he has, by the way, continued to repeat, along with some fresh false claims about breast cancer — should be a major political scandal. As far as I can tell, however, they aren’t being treated that way.

To be fair, there has been some news coverage of the prostate affair. But it’s only a tiny fraction of the coverage received by Hillary’s laugh and John Edwards’s haircut.

And much of the coverage seems weirdly diffident. Memo to editors: If a candidate says something completely false, it’s not “in dispute.” It’s not the case that “Democrats say” they’re not advocating British-style socialized medicine; they aren’t.

The fact is that the prostate affair is part of a pattern: Mr. Giuliani has a habit of saying things, on issues that range from health care to national security, that are demonstrably untrue. And the American people have a right to know that.

jeudi, novembre 01, 2007

the feminine critique

Damned if you, doomed if you don't. How inspiring.
Life’s Work: The Feminine Critique
Published: November 1, 2007

DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, not whimsical online polls, and each time I read one I feel deflated. What are women supposed to do with this information? Transform overnight? And if so, into what? How are we supposed to be assertive, but not, at the same time?

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “Women are dizzy, men are dizzy, and we still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

In 2006, Catalyst looked at stereotypes across cultures (surveying 935 alumni of the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland) and found that while the view of an ideal leader varied from place to place — in some regions the ideal leader was a team builder, in others the most valued skill was problem-solving. But whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.

Respondents in the United States and England, for instance, listed “inspiring others” as a most important leadership quality, and then rated women as less adept at this than men. In Nordic countries, women were seen as perfectly inspirational, but it was “delegating” that was of higher value there, and women were not seen as good delegators.

Other researchers have reached similar conclusions. Joan Williams runs the Center for WorkLife Law, part of the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She wrote the book “Unbending Gender” and she, too, has found that women are held to a different standard at work.

They are expected to be nurturing, but seen as ineffective if they are too feminine, she said in a speech last week at Cornell. They are expected to be strong, but tend to be labeled as strident or abrasive when acting as leaders. “Women have to choose between being liked but not respected, or respected but not liked,” she said.

While some researchers, like those at Catalyst and WorkLife Law, tend to paint the sweeping global picture — women don’t advance as much as men because they don’t act like men — other researchers narrow their focus.

Victoria Brescoll, a researcher at Yale, made headlines this August with her findings that while men gain stature and clout by expressing anger, women who express it are seen as being out of control, and lose stature. Study participants were shown videos of a job interview, after which they were asked to rate the applicant and choose their salary. The videos were identical but for two variables — in some the applicants were male and others female, and the applicant expressed either anger or sadness about having lost an account after a colleague arrived late to an important meeting.

The participants were most impressed with the angry man, followed by the sad woman, then the sad man, and finally, at the bottom of the list, the angry woman. The average salary assigned to the angry man was nearly $38,000 while the angry woman received an average of only $23,000.

When the scenario was tweaked and the applicant went on to expand upon his or her anger — explaining that the co-worker had lied and said he had directions to the meeting — participants were somewhat forgiving, giving women who explained their anger more money than those who had no excuse (but still less money than comparative men).

Also this summer, Linda C. Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, looked at gender and salary in a novel way. She recruited volunteers to play Boggle and told them beforehand that they would receive $2 to $10 for their time. When it came time for payment, each participant was given $3 and asked if that was enough.

Men asked for more money at eight times the rate of women. In a second round of testing, where participants were told directly that the sum was negotiable, 50 percent of women asked for more money, but that still did not compare with 83 percent of men. It would follow, Professor Babcock concluded, that women are equally poor at negotiating their salaries and raises.

There are practical nuggets of advice in all this data. Don’t be shy about negotiating. If you blow your stack, explain (or try). “Some of what we are learning is directly helpful, and tells women that they are acting in ways they might not even be aware of, and that is harming them and they can change,” said Peter Glick, a psychology professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

He is the author of one such study, in which he showed respondents a video of a woman wearing a sexy low-cut blouse with a tight skirt or a skirt and blouse that were conservatively cut. The woman recited the same lines in both, and the viewer was either told she was a secretary or an executive. Being more provocatively dressed had no effect on the perceived competence of the secretary, but it lowered the perceived competence of the executive dramatically. (Sexy men don’t have that disconnect, Professor Glick said. While they might lose respect for wearing tight pants and unbuttoned shirts to the office, the attributes considered most sexy in men — power, status, salary — are in keeping with an executive image at work.)

But Professor Glick also concedes that much of this data — like his 2000 study showing that women were penalized more than men when not perceived as being nice or having social skills — gives women absolutely no way to “fight back.” “Most of what we learn shows that the problem is with the perception, not with the woman,” he said, “and that it is not the problem of an individual, it’s a problem of a corporation.”

Ms. Lang, at Catalyst, agreed. This accumulation of data will be of value only when companies act on it, she said, noting that some are already making changes. At Goldman Sachs, she said, the policy on performance reviews now tries to eliminate bias. A red flag is expected to go up if a woman is described as “having sharp elbows or being brusque,” she said. “The statement should not just stand,” she said. “Examples should be asked for, the context should be considered, would the same actions be cause for comment if it was a man?”

In fact, Catalyst’s next large project is to advise companies on ways they can combat stereotypical bias. And Professor Glick has some upcoming projects, too. One looks at whether women do better in sales if they show more cleavage. A second will look at the flip side of gender stereotypes at work: hostility toward men.