samedi, août 30, 2008

the diamond invention

I had heard that DeBeers had changed centuries-old Japanese marriage customs in just a few decades and created soaring demand for diamonds. Now I understand how they did it.

The Diamond Invention
By Edward Jay Epstein
In Japan, the matrimonial custom had survived feudal revolutions, world wars, industrialization and even the American occupation. Up until the mid-196os, Japanese parents arranged proper marriages for their children through trusted 'intermediaries. The ceremony was then consummated, according to Shinto law, by the bride and groom both drinking rice wine from the same wooden bowl. This simple arrangement had persisted for more than a millennium. There was no tradition for romance, courtship, seduction and prenuptial love in Japan; and no tradition that required the gift of a diamond engagement ring.

Then, in 1967, halfway around the world, a South African diamond company decided to change the Japanese courtship ritual. It retained J. Walter Thompson, the largest advertising agency in the world, to embark on a campaign to popularize diamond engagement rings in Japan. It was not an easy task. Even the quartering of millions of American soldiers in Japan for a decade had not resulted in any substantial Japanese interest in giving diamonds as a token of love.

The advertising agency began its campaign by subtly suggesting that diamonds were a visible sign of modern Western values. It created a series of color advertisements in Japanese magazines showing very beautiful women displaying their diamond rings. The women all had Western facial features and wore European clothes. Moreover, in most of the advertisements, the women were involved in some activity that defied Japanese traditions, such as bicycling, camping, yachting, ocean-swimming and mountain-climbing. In the background, there usually stood a Japanese man, also attired in fashionable European clothes. In addition, almost all of the automobiles, sporting equipment and other artifacts in the picture, were conspicuous foreign imports. The message in these ads was clear: diamonds represent a sharp break with the Oriental past and an entry point into modern life.

The campaign was remarkably successful. Until 1959 the importation of diamonds had not even been permitted by the postwar Japanese government. When the campaign began in 1968, less than 5 percent of Japanese women getting married received a diamond engagement ring. By 1972 the proportion had risen to 27 percent. By 1978, half of all Japanese women who were married wore a diamond on their ring finger. And, by 1981, some 6o percent of Japanese brides wore diamonds. In a mere thirteen years, the fifteen-hundred-year Japanese tradition was radically revised. Diamonds became a staple of the Japanese marriage. And Japan became, after the United States, the second largest market for the sale of diamond engagement rings. It was all part of the diamond invention.

The diamond invention was an ingenious scheme for sustaining the value of diamonds in an uncertain world. To begin with, it involved gaining control over the production of all the important diamond mines in the world. Next, a system was devised for allocating this controlled supply of gems to a select number of diamond cutters who all agreed to abide by certain rules intended to assure that the quantity of finished diamonds available at any given time never exceeded the public's demand for them. Finally, a set of subtle, but effective, incentives were devised for regulating the behavior of all the people who served and ultimately profited from the system.

The invention had a wide array of diverse parts: these included a huge stockpile of uncut diamonds in a vault in London; a billion-dollar cash hoard deposited in banks in Europe; and private intelligence network operating out of Antwerp, Tel Aviv, Johannesburg and London; a global network of advertising agencies, brokers and distributors; corporate fronts in Africa for concealing massive diamond purchases; and private treaties with nations establishing quotas for annual production.

The invention is far more than merely a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of power and romance. For it to ultimately succeed, it must endow these stones with the sort of sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them onto the market. The illusion thus had to be inculcated into the mass mind that diamonds were forever-- "forever" in the sense that they could never be resold.

The invention itself was a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Up until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were a genuinely rare stone. They were found only in a few river beds in India and the jungles Brazil. The entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to only a few pounds a year.

In 1870, however, there was a radical change in this situation. Huge diamond "pipes" were discovered near the Orange River in South Africa.

These were the first diamond mines ever discovered. Now, rather than finding by chance an occasional diamond in a river, diamonds could now be scooped out of these mines by huge steam shovels. Suddenly, the market was deluged a growing flood of diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly came to realize that their investment was endangered: diamonds had little intrinsic value, and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. They feared that when new mines developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only a semi-precious gem.

As it turned out, financial acumen proved the mother of invention. The major investors in the diamond mines realized that they had no alternative but to merge their interests into a single entity that would be powerful enough to control the mines' production and, in every other way that was necessary, perpetuate the scarcity and illusion of diamonds. The instrument that they created for this purpose was called De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd., a company incorporated in South Africa.

As De Beers penetrated and took control of all aspects of the world diamond trade, it also assumed many protean forms. In London, it operated under the innocuous name of the Diamond Trading Company. In Israel, it was known under the all-embracing mantle of "the syndicate." In Antwerp, it was just called the CSO-- initials referring to the Central Selling Organization (which was an arm of the Diamond Trading Company). And in Black Africa, it disguised its South African origins under subsidiaries with such names as the Diamond Development Corporation or Mining Services, Inc. At its height, it not only either directly owned or controlled all the diamond mines in southern Africa, it also owned diamond trading companies in England, Portugal, Israel, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. It was De Beers of course that organized the Japanese campaign as part of its worldwide promotion of diamonds.

By 1981, De Beers had proved to be the most successful cartel arrangement in the annals of modern commerce. For more than a half century, while other commodities, such as gold, silver, copper, rubber and grains, fluctuated wildly in response to economic conditions, diamonds continued to advance upward in price each year. Indeed, the mechanism of the diamond invention seemed so superbly in control of prices-and unassailable-that even speculators began buying diamonds as a guard against the vagaries of inflation and recession. Like the romantic subjects of the advertising campaigns, they also assumed diamonds would increase in value forever.

My interest in the diamond invention was sparked originally by a chance meeting that I had with an English diamond broker in St. Tropez in the summer of 1977. The .broker was Benjamin Bonas, and he represented De Beers' Diamond Trading Company. He was visiting some friends of mine for the weekend, and during the course of a leisurely lunch the subject of diamonds was broached. Bonas explained that despite revolutions, hostile governments and general turmoil in Africa, De Beers still firmly controlled the production of diamonds. He pointed out that this arrangement had proved so successful that even the Soviet Union sold the diamonds from its Siberian mines to De Beers. He did not elaborate at this point on the actual mechanisms used De Beers to lock up the flow of diamonds from diverse quarters of the world. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea that a South African company, aided and abetted Black African and Communist nations who were pledged a total embargo of South African business, had succeeded putting together a truly global alliance to protect the value and illusion of diamonds. As the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique got their full independence, the pressures throughout Africa, and most of the world, to isolate South Africa would drastically escalate. How would the diamond cartel survive?

In Washington, later that year, I filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all the investigations of the Justice Department concerning the diamond Cartel. The resulting archive of documents provided a fragmentary picture of De Beers' conflicts and near collision with antitrust laws of the United States, the clues all pointed to mining companies in South Africa and the distribution arm in London. I therefore began my inquiry into the nature and future of the diamond invention in Johannesburg.
Via this hilarious thread on Slashdot

mercredi, août 27, 2008

things you don't want to hear in the emergency room

"It says here your tetanus shot is no longer current."
"They wrote 'laceration' on your chart, but this looks more like a puncture wound."
"See this thing I just pulled out of your leg? It's a fleck of bone."
"Sorry I was gone so long, the orthopedists were arguing about your x-ray. They should be done any minute now."

Thankfully, Leo's injury was minor. He had a dime-sized divet in his leg that some stitches closed up and lost a small bit of his tibia after his indoor soccer league game last night. He also had a damn impressive bump on his shin, but that's what happens when you're shoved from behind as you're about to kick the ball ... and you kick the metal goal post ... two inches above where your shinguard ends. Meanwhile, it's bedrest, antibiotics, and vicodin for Leo.

second-place citizens

Like many Americans, I've slapped an Obama '08 sticker on the back of my car. He's our only hope in the Obi-Wan sense -- our country just can't afford another four years of the GOP, and McCain will literally be business as usual. Sure, Obama's inspiring. Sure, he chose a running mate with great credentials. Sure, he's change we can believe in. But he wasn't my first choice for the job.

I got goosebumps when I heard that Barack, a black man, had enough votes to win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. It made me proud to think that our country had come this far and the message that his nomination sent to American children and, indeed, the world.

But knowing that you can be a black man and be President isn't enough. Despite the 18 million cracks made in the glass ceiling, women are still taking a back seat to men. And that also sends a very powerful message to American children and the world.
Excerpted from Second-Place Citizens
Op-Ed Contributor
Published: August 25, 2008
For all the talk of Hillary Clinton’s “breakthrough” candidacy and other recent successes for women, progress on important fronts has stalled.

Today, the United States ranks 22nd among the 30 developed nations in its proportion of female federal lawmakers. The proportion of female state legislators has been stuck in the low 20 percent range for 15 years; women’s share of state elective executive offices has fallen consistently since 2000, and is now under 25 percent. The American political pipeline is 86 percent male.

Women’s real annual earnings have fallen for the last four years. Progress in narrowing the wage gap between men and women has slowed considerably since 1990, yet last year the Supreme Court established onerous restrictions on women’s ability to sue for pay discrimination. The salaries of women in managerial positions are on average lower today than in 1983.

Women’s numbers are stalled or falling in fields ranging from executive management to journalism, from computer science to the directing of major motion pictures. The 20 top occupations of women last year were the same as half a century ago: secretary, nurse, grade school teacher, sales clerk, maid, hairdresser, cook and so on. And just as Congress cut funds in 1929 for maternity education, it recently slashed child support enforcement by 20 percent, a decision expected to leave billions of dollars owed to mothers and their children uncollected.

Again, male politicians and pundits indulge in outbursts of “new masculinist” misogyny (witness Mrs. Clinton’s campaign coverage). Again, the news media showcase young women’s “feminist — new style” pseudo-liberation — the flapper is now a girl-gone-wild. Again, many daughters of a feminist generation seem pleased to proclaim themselves so “beyond gender” that they don’t need a female president.

As it turns out, they won’t have one. But they will still have all the abiding inequalities that Hillary Clinton, especially in defeat, symbolized. Without a coalescing cause to focus their forces, how will women fight a foe that remains insidious, amorphous, relentless and pervasive?

“I am sorry for you young women who have to carry on the work in the next 10 years, for suffrage was a symbol, and you have lost your symbol,” the suffragist Anna Howard Shaw said in 1920. “There is nothing for women to rally around.” As they rally around their candidate tonight, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters will have to decide if they are mollified — or even more aggrieved — by the history she evokes.

vendredi, août 22, 2008

putting the puzzle together

I've posted before about SuperBay, a 7-year old who is fighting Rhabdomyosarcoma. His mother's fortitude left me speechless this morning.

Essentially, Bailey's had this cancer for half of his life. He's been poked and prodded, spent his formative years in and out of Children's Hospital of Orange County, and pretty much endured more than any human being should.

Here's the latest update from his mom:
On Tuesday during Bailey's chemo I saw his oncologist. So we were talking about Bailey's scans and how they are due again and how Bailey was doing overall. Then he asked me if I had any questions. I asked him the one question that I knew I shouldn't ask and the one that I pretty much knew the answer to but asked it anyway (of course). Little background, when Bay relapsed we were told that Bay would be doing chemo for 2 years, 6 months into relapse we were told that he had 2 years left, 1 year into relapse we were told that he had 2 years left, are you seeing a pattern? It has been 18 months since relapse so I thought that maybe we should ask again. Let me just say that the pattern was broken and it is no longer 2 years. Before you get the YIPPEEEE out let me just say that it is now 3 years if not longer. I pretty much knew that we were not close to being done but that was not the answer that I wanted to hear. Just the thought that Bay would be 10 years old before we even think of stopping chemo is just a very long time.

Tuesday was also Drew's [her husband/ Bailey's dad] birthday and somehow I thought that telling him that Bay had at least another 3 years left would not go well with the socks and shorts so I debated on telling him, but since we have always told each other everything I ended up telling him. I think that being a year older really helped with receiving the news because he handled it really well. He just said that we should just think of it as a chronic disease that we just have to deal with long term. We both also know that really we have no right to complain because we still have him and heck if we are doing chemo 3 years from now that is 3 more years that we thought that we would never have 18 months ago. We have met far too many wonderful families that no longer have their kids that we are just very grateful for every day that we have together.

We have learned a lot in the past two and a half years. The biggest gift of all is that we learned to cherish what we have. We have been incredibly blessed. We thank God everyday for everything that he has given us. I could not imagine our life any other way. This is the journey we are meant to go on. I have mentioned before about this journey being like a puzzle. When you dump out the entire pieces to the puzzle it doesn't make any sense at all but as you start putting the pieces together you start to see the entire picture. I like to think of our journey that same way. The only difference is that we don't have all of our pieces yet and we have no clue what it will look like at the end. The one thing that I can say is that I have faith that at the end it will be the most beautiful puzzle that I have ever seen. I also feel as we go on this journey we are given pieces to our puzzle here and there. People we have met along the way, things that we have done, and experiences that we have been through. So only God knows what our puzzle will look like at the end but I truly so have faith and look forward to seeing the completed picture someday.
I'm hoping for a picture that includes a happy, healthy Bailey, surrounded by the Spoonies and all the people whose lives have been touched by this journey.

jeudi, août 14, 2008

sauteeing and spying

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- Julia Child was a total badass.

She's one of my heroes because she broke all sorts of gender barriers and taught me, my mom, and most of this country how to cook French food. Now, there's one more reason to have her at my dream dinner table -- she was a spy and it would be interesting to hear about her time with the OSS.
Chef Julia Child, others part of WWII spy network -
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Famed chef Julia Child shared a secret with Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg at a time when the Nazis threatened the world.

While Julia Child was cooking pheasants, she was also part of an international spy ring during World War II.

They served in an international spy ring managed by the Office of Strategic Services, an early version of the CIA created in World War II by President Franklin Roosevelt.

The full secret comes out Thursday, all of the names and previously classified files identifying nearly 24,000 spies who formed the first centralized intelligence effort by the United States. The National Archives, which this week released a list of the names found in the records, will make available for the first time all 750,000 pages identifying the vast spy network of military and civilian operatives.

They were soldiers, actors, historians, lawyers, athletes, professors, reporters. But for several years during World War II, they were known simply as the OSS. They studied military plans, created propaganda, infiltrated enemy ranks and stirred resistance among foreign troops.

Some of those on the list have been identified previously as having worked for the OSS, but their personnel records never have been available before. Those records would show why they were hired, jobs they were assigned to and perhaps even missions they pursued while working for the agency.

Among the more than 35,000 OSS personnel files are applications, commendations and handwritten notes identifying young recruits who, like Child, Goldberg and Berg, earned greater acclaim in other fields -- Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a historian and special assistant to President Kennedy; Sterling Hayden, a film and television actor whose work included a role in "The Godfather"; and Thomas Braden, an author whose "Eight Is Enough" book inspired the 1970s television series.

Other notables identified in the files include John Hemingway, son of author Ernest Hemingway; Quentin and Kermit Roosevelt, sons of President Theodore Roosevelt, and Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police.

The release of the OSS personnel files uncloaks one of the last secrets from the short-lived wartime intelligence agency, which for the most part later was folded into the CIA after President Truman disbanded it in 1945.

"I think it's terrific," said Elizabeth McIntosh, 93, a former OSS agent now living in Woodbridge, Va. "They've finally, after all these years, they've gotten the names out. All of these people had been told never to mention they were with the OSS."

The CIA had resisted releasing OSS records for decades. But former CIA Director William Casey, himself an OSS veteran, cleared the way for transfer of millions of OSS documents to the National Archives when he took over the agency in 1981. The personnel files are the latest to be made public.

Information about OSS involvement was so guarded that relatives often couldn't confirm a family member's work with the group.

Walter Mess, who handled covert OSS operations in Poland and North Africa, said he kept quiet for more than 50 years, only recently telling his wife of 62 years about his OSS activity.

"I was told to keep my mouth shut," said Mess, now 93 and living in Falls Church, Va.

The files will offer new information even for those most familiar with the agency. Charles Pinck, president of the OSS Society created by former OSS agents and their relatives, said the nearly 24,000 employees included in the archives far exceeds previous estimates of 13,000.

The newly released documents will clarify these and other issues, said William Cunliffe, an archivist who has worked extensively with the OSS records at the National Archives.

"We're saying the OSS was a lot bigger than they were saying," Cunliffe said.

mercredi, août 13, 2008

both candidates back old blue eyes

Turns out Obama and McCain have one thing in common -- they both list Frank Sinatra in their top-10 songs ever. And despite McCain's inclusion of two (yes, two) ABBA songs and one Neil Diamond item (and, admittedly, a few other good picks), he's still a cranky old man who doesn't represent me and won't get my vote.
White House DJ Battle
On the eve of the Democratic and Republican conventions, Blender polled Barack Obama and John McCain for their top 10 songs. Then we enlisted trusted sages Randy Newman and Girl Talk to analyze their picks.

By Jon Coplon
Blender July 30 2008

1. Ready or Not Fugees
2. What's Going On Marvin Gaye
3. I'm On Fire Bruce Spingsteen
4. Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones
5. Sinnerman Nina Simone
6. Touch the Sky Kanye West
7. You'd Be So Easy to Love Frank Sinatra
8. Think Aretha Franklin
9. City of Blinding Lights U2
10. Yes We Can

1. Dancing Queen ABBA
2. Blue Bayou Roy Orbison
3. Take a Chance On Me ABBA
4. If We Make It Through December Merle Haggard
5. As Time Goes By Dooley Wilson
6. Good Vibrations The Beach Boys
7. What A Wonderful World Louis Armstrong
8. I've Got You Under My Skin Frank Sinatra
9. Sweet Caroline Neil Diamond
10. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes The Platters

Do these guys have time for music?
GIRL TALK: Candidates all seem like robots and machines. It’s funny to think about them listening to these songs gearing up for a debate.

RANDY NEWMAN: I find them irresistible. Listening to “Dancing Queen” alone too many times, though, would be suspicious.
GT: I mixed ABBA in on a previous album. McCain should check it out.

Better Sinatra song?
GT: McCain went with the more obvious pick, but if you wanna be a big dog, you should go with the biggest hit.

Why’d they both pick Frankie Blue Eyes?
RN: It says a lot about the long ride Sinatra got out of being phenomenal for two years in the ’40s.

Weirdest pick?
GT: I couldn’t tell if it was cool or creepy for Obama to have “Yes We Can.” Maybe he’s in love with himself and wants to hear his speeches over and over as collaged by

Any snubs?
RN: The Beatles! Also, Streisand’s not on there; that’s more of a McCain pick.

McCain: Hip? Or hip replacement?
GT: It’s easy to knock McCain for being old, but I love meeting old people who know about music.

Who gets your vote based solely on this list?
GT: If there’s a candidate with Fugees’ “Ready or Not” on his list, I have to vote for him.
RN: McCain has a really likeable list. Then again, Hitler liked some good music, you know?

vendredi, août 08, 2008

hay que venir al sur

Leo, to me this morning: "She's Italian. And those guys are amazing."
Apparently, she was a disco queen who rivaled ABBA (in terms of popularity) back in the day.

Rafaella Carrá - Hay que Venir Al Sur