Dynamist Blog


In another test of blog influence, Mickey Kaus picked up the story, mentioned below of the truly insane California bill to regulate development anywhere near, or maybe near, or some miles away from Indian religious sites. From the San Diego Tribune description:

Senate Bill 18 would empower the Native American Heritage Commission to regulate development on any land that includes or is close to an Indian sacred site. This would add a new, lengthy and costly regulatory process onto the already complex California Environmental Quality Act. There's no distance limit between a project and a sacred site, so the Native American Heritage Commission could have power over projects that are quite removed from the sacred site itself.

I saw Mickey and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek on some TV show yesterday, discussing the recall election, and they agreed on one thing: the stupidity of this bill. The question is now whether even the powerful Kausfiles exerts enough influence to stop the madness.

Meanwhile, reader Lawrence Rhodes raises a question better addressed by Eugene Volokh and co-conspirators than me:

How is the Native American Heritage Commission, created by the Sacred Sites bill linked from your Tuesday post 000435, different from Judge Roy Moore wanting the Ten Commandments monument in his court? I would think both are forbidden by the First Amendment, at least in current interpretations. Indeed, I recall a related case in which the National Park Service was prevented from accommodating Native American religious claims by restricting climbing on Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

I have to admit it seems worth it to me to nitpick the not entirely historically irrelevant Ten Commandments if it will protect us against things like the Sacred Sites bill (assuming it does, of course). Now if we could just get environmentalism recognized as the religion it is...

Over to you, Volokh Conspiracy. Or perhaps Professor Reynolds would like to weigh in? Or Professor Hewitt (yes, he does teach law), who knows all about California environmental law?


Retailing guru Paco Underhill reviews The Substance of Style in the WSJ (subscription required), not surprisingly emphasizing the retailing/marketing angles more than the intellectual debates:

Marketing and advertising find themselves in a 21st-century bar fight where 60% to 70% of what we buy is discretionary. At the grocery store, at Wal-Mart and at the shopping mall, roughly two-thirds of what we purchase we had no intention of buying when we walked in the door. The bar fight has been made even more fierce by an aging population base that is still recovering from the shopping binge of the 1990s and the revolution in engineering and distribution that have indeed driven the price of many goods down while improving their durability.

The question that merchants and marketers are asking, then, is where to find leverage -- how to get customers to notice, consider and trade-up to a higher-price product. There is a convergence of a global visual language that is evolving faster than the spoken or written word and an affluent, aging, cynical, middle class. The result? What Ms. Postrel argues for -- the increasing importance of design in all its manifestations: from material and form to the graphics of digital media, broadcast and print....

A company in Taiwan makes the flat screens and the guts of Apple's computers, but the design of its iMac, Ms. Postrel writes, "turns the personal computer from a utilitarian, putty-colored box into curvy, translucent eye candy -- blueberry, strawberry, tangerine, grape." A tube of lipstick costs pennies to make but somehow ends up costing us $17 at Sephora. That is all modern magic.

Ms. Postrel makes a persuasive and well-researched case for the value of such magic. Far from being at odds with "substance," as various critics have argued, it has a meaning all its own.


Sears isn't looking to close The Great Indoors after all. (See earlier posts here and here.) The company instead will close three stores and convert a fourth to an outlet, leaving it with 18 stores, including the seemingly thriving ones in Dallas and suburban DC, according to this report.


Reader and blogger Billy Beck writes:

I read your 1999 article "A World With All Kinds Of Music", and it's pretty good.

I only wish that more people realized the seminal work of someone without whom recorded music as we've known it for about a half-century simply would not exist. (Here is one stark example: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was produced on a 4-track tape machine. Technically understood, it becomes a marvel quite beyond its aesthetic impact. It simply would not have been possible without this man's genius, nor would have anything else that we've listened to, all our lives.)

He invented multi-track recording, and if you sat down in the technological marvel of a recording studio, you would look around at his nearly innumerable inventions that augment music production, and which are generally taken for granted by everyone in the industry.

Best of all, he's still alive. He plays his guitar at a little joint in New York called "Iridium", every Monday night.

His name is Les Paul, and he really is an un-sung hero.


In today's Economic Scene column, Hal Varian reports on research by UT-Austin economist Dan Hamermesh and, appropriately enough, one of his undergrads, Amy Parker, that looks at the correlation between professors' teaching ratings and their looks. Holding constant some obvious variables (sex, race, native English speaking), they find that better looking profs get higher ratings--and that the effect is more important for men than women. Of course, whether higher teaching ratings mean more learning is a difficult question.

A column I wrote on some of Hamermesh's earlier work on the labor economics of beauty is here. You can download all the papers from his website here. (This is the sort of link you can find in my online bibliography for TSOS.)


MSNBC.com has an interesting report on a Pew Internet and American Life Project study of regional variations in Internet use.

The study underscores one of the Pew project's key themes, which is that the online world is more diverse and idiosyncratic than it is often portrayed, and users often mold online habits to their interests and needs.

"You can't look at the Internet as a monolithic thing anymore," says Tom Spooner, the report's principal author. "It's more helpful to take a nuanced view."

One sidelight: The report separates the "South" (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia), a national low of 48 percent of adults have Internet access, from the "Southeast" (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida), where the figure is 57 percent, one point between the Mid-Atlantic (NY, Penn., NJ, maybe Delaware) and the Industrial Midwest (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin). The division makes sense--with the arguable exception of Tennessee, it's the New booming South vs. the Old still poor South--but it creates a false lead for the story: " When it comes to Internet use, at least, the East Coast and West Coast rule. By contrast, fewer than half of all Southerners go online."

Only if you use a definition so narrow that Fort Sumter is no longer in the South. For more information, see the Pew site.


The Atlantic, which features a long, well-written, and mostly sympathetic review of The Substance of Style in its October issue (not yet online, just arriving to subscribers), has just posted a Q&A interview with me on its website. The page also contains links to other interesting interviews, as well as style-related articles from the Atlantic archives.


This LAT Magazine article identifies an L.A. approach to fashion--even high-end, expensive, name-label fashion--that upturns traditional New York assumptions about authority and status. Angeleno fashionistas, it implies, are simply more confident than their East Coast counterparts. They wear what makes them happy, not what someone says is the season's "must have." (Very junior high, that.)

Go ahead, say the words "L.A." and "style" together without smirking just a little. The implied regionalism of the term gives the game away. It's so "Me, too!" In Milan, the term is bella figura; in Paris, it's simply "chic"; in London, it's a "look." Our sister to the East, New York, has a million hegemonic expressions for it — one "works" a fashion mood, one "serves [up]" a designer outfit, one "feels" a costumey dress. And whatever "look" is in is guaranteed to be identified, dissected and priced within 30 seconds of its presentation.

L.A. women don't go for that. Sure, they covet, but L.A. style-setters don't get as fixated about "must haves" as women in other cities. "Fashion here is digested in a totally different way," says stylist and costume designer Arianne Phillips, who dresses Madonna, contributes to Italian Vogue, Pop and Harper's Bazaar and costumed actors in films including "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "Identity" and "Girl, Interrupted." Phillips attributes part of this digestive process to good old California culture: the beach, the mountains, the desert, the climate, the sunshine.

"There really is a casual aesthetic, and it reflects the ease — or perceived ease — of life here," Phillips says. "People aren't quite as fashion literal here. I don't know people who go out and buy, say, the new fall collection. You walk into Fred Segal or Barneys, and that approach is just not there."

L.A. women are "more likely to throw together a Birkin bag, Juicy pants and a Chanel jacket. That's what I see," says boutique owner Tracey Ross. Designer Magda Berliner, whose whimsical dresses are a favorite of fashion editors and connoisseurs, and who counts Chanel among her influences, adds, "We don't have the 'That's last year's Balenciaga' thing. Here it's 'That looks great.' People are not really hung up on what's current right now."

L.A.-born model and style icon Peggy Moffitt, who with designer Rudi Gernreich helped create some of the most enduring fashion of this epoch, says fashion "is predicated on the idea that every six months it's going to change. When you look at something, you have to ask yourself, 'Do I want that because everyone does? Or do I want that because it serves my purposes?' I think people with style might have things 30 or 40 years."

The article is a bit detached from everyday reality, where multi-thousand-dollar Birkin bags aren't exactly normal, but the point is well taken. To quote an idea from my new book, pleasure and aesthetic identity--"I like that" and "I'm like that"--drive L.A. fashion. And, I'd argue, increasingly American fashion in general.


Reader Charles Taylor points me to this USA Today article on Census data confirming my anecdotal experience below: Once they get established in the United States, immigrants who come into the traditional gateways, including California, leave for Sunbelt states like Texas:

"More Hispanics are leaving California than whites," says demographer William Frey, who linked "white flight" from California and New York in the early 1990s to the surge in immigrants in those states. "Now, it's a middle-class flight motivated by cost and congestion."

This phenomenon means that immigrants in California will be disproportionately poor and unassimilated, adding to the other reasons why immigration is a hotter issue in California than in Texas.

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