Dynamist Blog

Weirdest Line of the Night

"I'm going to get it right for those soldiers, because it's important to Israel, it's important to America, it's important to the world, it's important to the fight on terror." I actually replayed this on Tivo to make sure I heard right. Because it's important to Israel????? First?????

Those priorities may help win Florida, but they'll come back to haunt a Kerry administration--and the United States--in the Arab world.

Don't take my picking on Kerry as an endorsement of Bush's debate performance, which was boring, repetitive, and superficial--in other words, calculated not to lose but not to advance a policy debate either. His most interesting moments involved the Iranian Moolahs.

Like Watching Paint Dry

That's my reaction to the presidential debate. But then I had a couple of wisdom teeth removed today and may not be the best judge.

The only interesting part was watching Kerry reverse his usual attitude toward alliances when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Maybe Asian allies don't count. Or maybe the problem is that China, Russia, and Japan (not to mention South Korea) actually have a stake in the outcome in North Korea. They aren't just there to lend their moral approval to U.S. actions.

The Road to Casual Friday

Ed Haggar, who coined the term "slacks," has died. From the Dallas Morning News obit:

Mr. Haggar teamed with legendary Dallas advertising pioneer Morris Hite to coin the term "slacks," his son said. Pants were largely known as trousers until then.

"During the war years, people tried to get more casual during the weekends, during slack time or down time," [his son] Eddie Haggar said. "Dad and Morris Hite...came up with the name slacks."

Contrary to popular belief, the baby boomers didn't invent casual living. The WWII generation made it the American standard.

Readers Agree

Judging from my emails, many readers believe that Amadeus is a classic movie. I'm persuadable on the subject--I haven't seen the film--but I do wonder why such a beloved film never seems to reappear on cable TV. Is there some kind of rights problem?

A Starbucks on Every--and We Mean Every--Corner

Photo Illustration by James Porto for Newsweek

Newsweek reports on Starbucks' real estate strategy and expansion plans:

While it may seem that there's already a Starbucks on every corner, chairman Howard Schultz says the company is just getting started. His previous goal of 10,000 stores in the United States, set in 2002, now appears "light," he says, and the company plans to double the current number of domestic stores to nearly 12,000. To meet that target, Starbucks will speed up its rollout of drive-throughs and kiosks at airports and supermarkets. And it will continue challenging one of the prime tenets of retail: don't locate your new stores close to your old ones. Don't be fooled: the key to its success is not the taste of its coffee. "The two things that made them great are real estate and making sure that no one has a bad experience in their stores," says CIBC World Markets analyst John Glass.

Starbucks' unconventional approach to real estate goes back to an impulse decision by Schultz more than 15 years ago. In 1988 he visited the company's first international store, in downtown Vancouver, B.C., and saw what every retailer dreams about: a busy store. But he also saw customers twitching in long lines as they waited for their coffee. He startled his real-estate broker by suggesting they expand to the vacant lot directly across the intersection. "It wasn't a different neighborhood but it had a different vibe," Schultz recalls. He sensed that each side of the street had its own traffic pattern, and that customers are reluctant to alter their routines or delay their day for a cup o' joe they consider a luxury.

Starbucks is, of course, the touchstone example of the trend I document in The Substance of Style. It's been a pioneer in creating economic value not just from coffee and service but from the look and feel of its store environments--so much so that now everybody "wants to be like Starbucks." But the company's strategy demands more than a standard cookie-cutter style, however attractive. It requires the ability to vary the aesthetic from store to store while maintaining a distinctive Starbucks identity. Here's the relevant passage from chapter four of TSOS:

Effective surfaces, whether for people, places, or things, reveal layers of identity and association while preserving a fundamental sense of self. A graphic identity, says [graphic designer Stephen] Doyle, "is like a personality. You need to be able to take the same person to a black tie dinner and then see them at a barbecue, and then hang out in front of the [television] with them in their socks. It's still the same personality, but adapted for different occasions." The days of the unvarying stand-alone trademark and the single corporate color are over--too impersonal, inflexible, and monotonous for the age of look and feel. The challenge for designers, as for individuals, is to be true to the "self" of underlying identity while still allowing appearance to vary with time, place, and circumstance.

Every Starbucks looks like Starbucks, yet every Starbucks is unique, combining in a singular way elements of the company's language of colors, finishes, materials, lighting, and music. "People are amazed that we have stores across the street from each other," says the company's director of business development. "But they're different stores." The Starbucks design language does more than allow stores to accommodate different spaces or traffic patterns. Following the aesthetic imperative, different store environments offer novelty--a change of pace for regular customers--and personalization. If the color of one store "reminds you of something from your childhood that you intensely dislike, you can go three stores down to a different Starbucks and say, 'I like this better. I just feel better here,'" she explains. By developing mix-and-match elements, Starbucks maintains its aesthetic personality while still suiting different tastes.

More Important than Glamorous Bloggers

Amid all the blogger self-obsession over the NYTM's cover story, John Tierney's far more substantive and significant article on automobility has been ignored. That's too bad, because it's not only a great overview of the policy issues but a good read. So read it. Here's a small sample:

Americans still love their own cars, but they're sick of everyone else's. The car is blamed for everything from global warming to the war in Iraq to the transformation of America into a land of strip malls and soulless subdivisions filled with fat, lonely suburbanites. Al Gore called the automobile a "mortal threat" that is "more deadly than that of any military enemy." Cities across America, with encouragement from Washington, are adopting "smart growth" policies to discourage driving and promote mass transit. Three years ago, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new freeway just outside Los Angeles, Gov. Gray Davis declared that it would be the last one built in the state. Standing at the cradle of car culture, he said it was time to find other ways to move people.

I sympathize with the critics, because I don't like even my own car. For most of my adult life I didn't even own one. I lived in Manhattan and pitied the suburbanites driving to the mall. When I moved to Washington and joined their ranks, I picked a home in smart-growth heaven, near a bike path and a subway station. Most days I skate or bike downtown, filled with righteous Schadenfreude as I roll past drivers stuck in traffic. The rest of the time I usually take the subway, and on the rare day I go by car, I hate the drive.

But I no longer believe that my tastes should be public policy. I've been converted by a renegade school of thinkers you might call the autonomists, because they extol the autonomy made possible by automobiles. Their school includes engineers and philosophers, political scientists like James Q. Wilson and number-crunching economists like Randal O'Toole, the author of the 540-page manifesto "The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths." These thinkers acknowledge the social and environmental problems caused by the car but argue that these would not be solved -- in fact, would be mostly made worse -- by the proposals coming from the car's critics. They call smart growth a dumb idea, the result not of rational planning but of class snobbery and intellectual arrogance. They prefer to promote smart driving, which means more tolls, more roads and, yes, more cars.

Drawing on authorities ranging from Aristotle to Walt Whitman, the autonomists argue that the car is not merely a convenience but one of history's greatest forces for good, an invention that liberated the poor from slums and workers from company towns, challenged communism, powered the civil rights movement and freed women to work outside the home. Their arguments have given me new respect for my minivan. I still don't like driving it, but now when the sound system is blaring "Thunder Road" -- These two lanes will take us aaanywhere -- I think Bruce Springsteen got it right. There is redemption beneath that dirty hood.

My friend and former boss Bob Poole, father of HOT lanes and popularizer of all sorts of toll systems (and, interestingly, a major train fan), is mentioned.

Reversing Urbanization

Most projections of what the near future will look like assume the inexorable growth of Third World cities. But it's starting to look like they'll hit their limits--just as cities like Chicago (once the quintessential developing-nation urban center) did. As the cost of living and doing business in urban centers rises, production and people move to cheaper places. It happened here, to the striking benefit of the once-rural Sunbelt, and a couple of recent articles suggest it's happening in China and Brazil.

Here's the WaPost article on China:

Where once a paycheck, even under harsh conditions, was enough to entice tens of millions of people to leave their villages in China's interior and flock to factories on the coast, workers are beginning to turn their backs on the prospect of laboring in 100-degree heat, living in rat-infested dormitories and being cheated out of their earnings.

They are instead staying in their home villages to take advantage of rising farm wages -- up 15 to 40 percent in the past year as the government streamlines taxes and as growing domestic spending power raises the price of vegetables and meat. Or they are finding jobs closer to home in the factories sprouting up in inland cities along China's expanding road and rail networks.

At bus and train stations here, migrant workers carry belongings in plastic sacks, headed back to villages in the interior. "The wages are too low and the work is too hard," said a 21-year-old man from Guangxi province as he waited to board an all-night bus home. "It's a waste of time."

And here's the NYT on Brazil:

A year and a half ago, Isabel Fátima Bueno and her husband, Ricardo Del Arco Pereira, gave up on São Paulo, a city that has long been a magnet for job seekers from all over Brazil.

Mr. Pereira, an economist trained in corporate finance, had been unemployed more than a year and could not find work anywhere. With two young children at home, the couple struggled to make ends meet on Ms. Bueno's modest salary as an accountant at a trading company. That was tough; after all, Brazil's biggest city is also the country's most expensive.

So they packed their bags and moved to Birigüi, a city of 100,000 people in western São Paulo State with almost no unemployment, in contrast to an 18.5 percent jobless rate in São Paulo. In less than three months, both landed full-time administrative jobs at shoe factories, the town's main industry.

"Ricardo couldn't find a job, and my salary just wasn't enough to raise a family in São Paulo, so we had to go where there was more of a chance for both of us to get work," said Ms. Bueno, 35, who was born and raised in São Paulo. "It wasn't an easy choice, but it was the right choice."

They are far from alone. A growing number of Brazilians are finding it increasingly difficult to get good jobs in big metropolitan areas like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and are looking elsewhere.

Thanks to a boom in agriculture and the emergence in recent years of specialized industrial hubs in small and medium-size towns, Brazil's vast but still sparsely populated interior is generating jobs at a faster pace than urban centers for the first time in generations.

Consequently, rural Brazilians are far less inclined than those of past generations to uproot their families for an often uncertain city life.

Art That Lasts

I happened to browse this list of Oscar nominees from 20 years ago (winners in all caps):

"AMADEUS", "The Killing Fields", "A Passage to India", "Places in the Heart", "A Soldier's Story"
F. MURRAY ABRAHAM in "Amadeus", Jeff Bridges in "Starman", Albert Finney in "Under the Volcano", Tom Hulce in "Amadeus", Sam Waterston in "The Killing Fields"
SALLY FIELD in "Places in the Heart", Judy Davis in "A Passage to India", Jessica Lange in "Country", Vanessa Redgrave in "The Bostonians", Sissy Spacek in "The River"
Supporting Actor:
HAING S. NGOR in "The Killing Fields", Adolph Caesar in "A Soldier's Story", John Malkovich in "Places in the Heart", Noriyuki "Pat" Morita in "The Karate Kid", Ralph Richardson in "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes"
Supporting Actress:
PEGGY ASHCROFT in "A Passage to India", Glenn Close in "The Natural", Lindsay Crouse in "Places in the Heart", Christine Lahti in "Swing Shift", Geraldine Page in "The Pope of Greenwich Village"
MILOS FORMAN for "Amadeus", Woody Allen for "Broadway Danny Rose", Robert Benton for "Places in the Heart", Roland Joffe for "The Killing Fields", David Lean for "A Passage to India"

From that list, you might think 1984 was a forgotten year in film. (When was the last time you heard someone refer to Amadeus?) But it wasn't. With all due respect to The Killing Fields, which was a powerful movie (until that awful use of "Imagine" at the end), the enduring classics of 1984 were Ghostbusters and, that nearly perfect film, The Terminator. The Academy just isn't that good at rewarding art that lasts.

UPDATE: Jesse Walker, a major movie buff, writes, "Ghostbusters -- definitely. The Terminator -- well, OK. But the most enduring classic of 1984 is Repo Man." The only repo'ing Oscar noticed was of farms in debt (The River, Places in the Heart).

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