Monthly Archives: January 2003

An Ode to Clutter

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Chances are your desk is a swirling way-station for faxes, files, post-it notes, and paper. Messy deskers, there are books to correct that problem: “Stop Clutter from Stealing your Life;” “Lighten Up and Free yourself from Clutter;” “Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.”

But before you search for that sort of literary relief, you should also take note that researchers are now saying that it may not be a problem.– that the mess on your desk is not a bad thing. In fact, it may even help get the job done. It may even mark you among your colleagues as the hard-working clever person you always knew you were.

Sure, computers and other digital technologies were supposed to replace the chaos, but they aren’t. And we may never want them to.


Richard Harper, Director of the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey and author of “The Myth of the Paperless Office”

Geoffrey Nunberg, Senior Researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University.

America's Sagging Arches

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To the anti-globalization crowd, it’s a dream come true, McDonald’s, the symbol of America’s cultural and corporate hegemony, is faltering.

The company posted its first quarterly loss since going public in 1965, and its ever venomous critics are hoping this signals the demise of the evil empire. The cultural and culinary icon has been battered by lawsuits, fat-phobic nutritionists, and increased competition in the fast food market.

McDonald’s, the company will survive this, but the values and the habits we have learned from “Mickey D’s” are now so embedded in this country that any change for McDonald’s is a change for all of us. And I’m not talking about hamburgers. It’s about the way we eat, the way we work and the way we socialize. Imagining America, without the fries.


James Watson, professor of anthropology at Harvard University and author of, “Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia”

George Ritzer, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, and author of, “The McDonaldization of Society.”

Portrait of a Curmudgeon

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Henry Louis Mencken wasn’t always on the outs with America. At the height of his powers in the 1920s, Mencken’s magazine, The American Mercury, was the journal to be caught reading.

That didn’t dissuade the professionally dyspeptic Mencken from dismissing most of America, including its leaders and his readers, as citizens of a provincial Never Never Land he called Moronia.

But 50 years after his death, a decade after the publication of the diaries that shocked even his admirers with their passages full of prejudice and backstabbing, Mencken’s literary appeal endures.


Terry Teachout, author of “The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken”

The Fever-High Cost of Prescription Drugs

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Have you taken your pills today? Do you know what they cost? If you have insurance or are on Medicaid, you may be only vaguely aware. But if you’re one of the 50 million Americans who has no prescription drug coverage, you know. To the penny.

And you know that sometimes paying for your meds means not paying for other items, like heat or food.

Congress and presidential candidates keep promising to do something about prescription drug prices. But they haven’t, and states are moving into the vacuum. Maine came up with a plan to force drug companies to lower drug prices for the uninsured, or risk losing Medicaid business.

Just before the plan was to go into effect, the drug industry sued and yesterday the Supreme Court heard the case. The cure and the cause of pain: prescription drugs.


Cheryl Rivers, executive director, National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices

Marjorie Powell, senior assistant general counsel, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)

Viola Quirion, senior citizen, Waterville, Maine.

The Exonerated

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In a few small theaters across the country, a quiet conversation about the death penalty is taking place. Actors on a sparsely-set stage with cell block lighting read lines from a play called The Exonerated. It’s theater, and it’s fact.

The Exonerated pieces together extracts of interviews with six former death row inmates who served time for someone else’s crime. Ordinary people caught in a nightmare where justice and jurisprudence didn’t see eye to eye. It’s their eloquence that gives the low-tech production its power. “I’m no different from you,” one character says. “I wasn’t a street thug, I wasn’t trash, I came from a good family, if it happened to me, man, it can happen to anyone.” That man, Kerry Max Cook, spent 22 years on death row.


Kerry Max Cook, former death row inmate

Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen, playwrights and authors of “The Exonerated”

Deadline: Iraq

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U.N. weapons inspectors are poised to give their first full report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. President Bush is indicating that it should be their last report. Its clear he says. Iraq is not disarming.

But the U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix says inspections should be allowed to continue. China, France, Germany and other members of the Security Council agree. They’re demanding more time, not less, for inspections. But the Bush Administration seems in no mood for diplomatic dancing. Yesterday, Secretary Powell declared inspections will not work, and an exasperated President Bush told reporters that while he had not made a decision on military action, “I will let you know when the moment has come.” The waiting.


Robin Wright, Correspondent, Los Angeles Times

Tom Donnelly, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

Ray Zilinskas, former weapons inspector, and director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

A Love Supreme

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If an audio recording is simply a snapshot of a musical moment in time, then the four hours in December 1964 that gave us John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” constitute one of the finest moments of the 20th century.

For Coltrane, that night marked the culmination of years of musical study, and a lifetime of spiritual exploration. It’s as if all roads in Coltrane’s life were leading to that evening in a studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey when he and his quartet recorded that revered four part suite, a performance that has been challenging and rewarding musical sensibilities for nearly 40 years. “A Love Supreme,” John Coltrane’s giant step for jazz and humble gift to God.


Ashley Kahn, author of “A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album”

Elvin Jones, drummer and member of the quartet that recorded “A Love Supreme.”

Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky is a lightning rod. Anything he says attracts sparks. He calls the United States “one of the leading terrorist states in the world.” He says Americans have become so inured to U.S. abuses of power that “they regard our crimes against the weak to be as normal as the air we breathe.”

No wonder Chomsky is a hero to many on the left, at home and even more so abroad. No wonder he is equally abhorred by others who consider him the king of the “hate America first-ers.” He achieved public prominence in the 1960s as a leader in the movement against the Vietnam War. Now at the age of 74, the MIT professor of linguistics is still going strong. Rock singer Bono calls him “a rebel without a pause.”


Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at MIT.

Horatio Alger's America

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As President Bush cuts another tax, the latest on stock dividends, critics complain that it is one more blatant giveaway to the rich, but the outcry from the middle class and the poor has been, if anything, a whimper.

Social critics tell us that’s because Americans have learned to live in a world of hope, imagining lives of wealth. Since the 19th century author, Horatio Alger, planted the phrase “rags to riches” in the American psyche, nothing has defined what it means to be American more than that the belief in opportunity for everyone.

Even today, when all the facts argue against social mobility, popular culture hews to the same message, that America is a classless society.


Neal Gabler, cultural critic and author of “Life: The Movie”;
Jean Kilbourne, visiting scholar at Wellesley College and author of “Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes How We Think and Feel.”

Race and the Resume

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Consider it a different kind of name dropping. These days human resource managers are legally required to put on color-blind glasses, to carefully pore over resumes looking for the “best” candidate. But still, discrimination can be as quick and capricious as looking at a person’s name.

That’s according to a new study of 5,000 resumes sent in response to want ads. Researchers found that people with black sounding names like Tamika or Tyrone were fifty percent more likely to get dropped from consideration and those with “white” sounding names were strongly favored. This research has some saying that racism is so deep, so subconscious, that some kind of mass deprogramming is needed. Others say maybe name changing would be easier.


Sendhil Mullainathan, assistant professor of economics, MIT

Preston Edwards Sr., CEO, iMinorities Inc.