Saturday, May 27, 2006

Brooklyn Jazz Renaissance

High-Quality Music in Casual Cafés

Published: May 26, 2006

ON almost any given Sunday, the trumpeter John McNeil walks out of his apartment and down a few tree-lined blocks to Night and Day, a bistro on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope. Since February, Mr. McNeil has held a weekly gig in a rear annex of the restaurant with a quartet he formed with the tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry. A hangout for neighborhood residents and a magnet for musicians, the engagement has become a fixture of Brooklyn's rich and booming jazz scene.

Donna Alberico for The New York Times

At the Tea Lounge, a patron, top, works on a laptop while listening to Curtis Hasselbring, above, on trombone, play with Andrew D'Angelo on sax and Shane Endsley on trumpet.

Richard Perry/The New York Times

The Tony Malaby Tuba Trio plays Barbès, in Park Slope, known as the vanguard of the new Brooklyn jazz scene, while, from left, Vlad Ouzienko, Gregory Boleslavsky and Jeffrey Altman listen from front-row seats.

The rise of that scene — which, like its borough, is an assemblage of enclaves — has been one of the most significant developments for jazz in New York in recent years. (Every bit as significant as the Brooklyn rock explosion of a few years ago, with which it shouldn't be confused.) Through a growing network of low-rent spaces mostly booked by enterprising musicians, Brooklyn has assumed a vital role in the city's larger jazz culture. And the music has been a boon for listeners of all kinds, including those who have to cross the East River to hear it.

To his great delight, Mr. McNeil barely has to cross the street. "I've lived here since the early 1970's," he said one Sunday, between sets at Night and Day. For a long time he was one of many Brooklyn jazz citizens who had to travel to Manhattan for staples of employment and entertainment. Many musicians still make that commute, occasionally to perform at marquee clubs like the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard, but more often to hold court in small rooms like the 55 Bar, Fat Cat and the Cornelia Street Café, which is owned by Robin Hirsch, one of two partners behind Night and Day.

In a sense Brooklyn's jazz clubs operate on the same plane as those West Village bars. (It's not uncommon for a group to play one night at the 55 Bar and the next at a spot in Brooklyn.) The difference between the two scenes, in terms of audience, is outlined succinctly by Mr. Hirsch, based on firsthand expertise: "The Village will draw an international crowd, while Park Slope is strictly local."

Certainly the crowd is overwhelmingly local at Tea Lounge on Union Street in Park Slope. Walk into the cavernous coffeehouse on a Thursday or Friday night, and you'll probably spot a few strollers nestled among the couches, along with laptop computers and stylish casual attire. You'll also see adventurous young jazz musicians playing for tips, since Tea Lounge doesn't have a cover charge.

That policy attracts an audience more random and robust than the musicians might otherwise hope to reach, especially in Manhattan. This winter the alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo played one show to more than 100 people, a large crowd for an avant-garde jazz show. Some of the listeners paid a suggested donation; others merely paid attention. Oren Arnon, who books the room, recently pegged its vibe: "a combination of quality jazz and something social, which doesn't happen often enough in this city."

A similar ethos prevails at Barbès, universally acknowledged as the vanguard (Village Vanguard, even) of the new Brooklyn jazz scene. "We tried to build a no-pressure environment for audiences and musicians," said Olivier Conan, who owns the bar with a fellow French expatriate and musician, Vincent Douglas. The club's success confirms the wisdom of that premise.

Barbès may be the place most responsible for the perception of a Brooklyn jazz renaissance. Its cozy dimensions suit small audiences and rapt attention. And its booking describes a rough bouquet of sounds: from French musette to Brazilian forró, as well as multiple strains of jazz, from Gypsy swing to collective free improvisation.

Long-term residencies, hardly a staple in Manhattan, are a prominent feature of the programming at Barbès. The violinist Jenny Scheinman usually plays on Tuesday nights, seasoning her music with flecks of jazz, classical and rustic folk. Wednesdays are devoted to an avant-garde series organized by the saxophonist Michaël Attias. (He isn't the only musician maintaining a series in the area; six blocks south, the keyboardist James Carney books Sunday nights at Bar 4, a red-lighted dive.)

Last month the clarinetist and saxophonist Chris Speed started Skirl, an independent record label with the express purpose of documenting some of the experimental artists in the regular Barbès orbit. The label's next release party is scheduled for Thursday at the club.

Experimentation and eclecticism are hardly limited to Park Slope. In Williamsburg they converge at Rose Live Music, a stylish lounge on Grand Street that opened just a few months ago. They come together even more explicitly during the Williamsburg Jazz Festival, which will have its fourth season in September.

But nothing beats the neighborhood's leading spot, Zebulon Café Concert, which combines the flea-market chic of Barbès (the owners, Guillaume Blestel and Jef and Jocelyn Soubiran, are French) with the no-cover rule of Tea Lounge (but with one significant distinction: every artist receives a guarantee). Zebulon's programming has lately leaned markedly toward world music, but the free-jazz violinist Billy Bang has made notable appearances, as has the composer and conductor Butch Morris.

Mr. Morris also helped inaugurate a more extreme outpost, the nonprofit Issue Project Room, when it relocated last June from the East Village into a silo on the Gowanus Canal. "The industrial environment tends to inspire a rugged sort of experimentation," said Suzanne Fiol, the organization's director, hours before a recent premiere by the Japanese composer Shoko Nagai.

Rugged experimentation of a different sort was one hallmark of the jazz scene in Brooklyn during its original heyday, from the late 1950's through the 60's. Throughout those years a cluster of African-American establishments thrived around Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue.

One of them, the Blue Coronet, served as a laboratory for youngbloods like the tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Another was immortalized by Mr. Hubbard with a 1965 Blue Note album called "The Night of the Cookers: Live at Club La Marchal," on which he locked horns with Lee Morgan in a casual but heated exchange.

"Going back to 1960, there was something loosely called a Brooklyn sound," said Robert Myers, referring in part to that album. "And it started with the venues, which gave the musicians license to explore new avenues onstage and not be confined by management." Until the close of 2004 Mr. Myers operated Up Over Jazz Café, a bar on Flatbush Avenue that fulfilled a similar function for the latest generation of post-bop strivers, like the tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland and the pianist Robert Glasper.

Mr. Glasper provides an illustrative example of the current Brooklyn-Manhattan jazz symbiosis. He arrived in the city at the tail end of the 1990's, settling in Brooklyn but matriculating at the New School University in Manhattan. He quickly plugged into a circuit of jam sessions stretching from Freddy's Backroom, on Dean Street in Park Slope, to Smalls, a crucible of young talent in Greenwich Village.

At Up Over Jazz he found steady work and a space to hone his craft. But after he earned the imprimatur of a Blue Note Records contract, his next career move was clear: a week at the Village Vanguard. (He concludes his second engagement there this weekend with his trio.)

Mr. Glasper's example also illustrates the existence of a parallel Brooklyn jazz movement among African-Americans in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. Self-consciously styled as a revival of Brooklyn's golden era, this scene includes institutions like Jazz 966, a series held for the last 16 years at the Fort Greene Senior Citizens Council; 651 Arts, a nonprofit concert presenting organization; and the Concord Baptist Church, which holds occasional jazz services. In April a consortium of these and other groups mounted the seventh annual Central Brooklyn Jazz Festival, with "Jazz: A Music of the Spirit" as its theme.

The author of that theme, the trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, was a visible presence during the festival, especially at Sista's Place, a communally owned coffeehouse and salon in Bedford-Stuyvesant. "African-Americans have rarely owned the music's means of production," he said in a phone conversation. "The music has to be in our community if it's going to grow. We've got to have an alternative to mainstream institutions."

The crowd that packed Sista's Place one rainy Saturday for a festival performance by the trumpeter Charles Tolliver made it look as if Mr. Abdullah's objective was being fulfilled. Less expectedly, his words seemed nearly as pertinent to a performance held on the same night at the Center for Improvisational Music, or CIM, a nonprofit educational effort run by the trumpeter Ralph Alessi near the northern stretch of the Gowanus Canal.

It featured the alto saxophonist Tim Berne, one of the early homesteaders of the newly ascendant Brooklyn jazz community. Mr. Berne long ago claimed ownership of his music's means of production with a self-sustaining record label based in a brownstone near Flatbush Avenue. And he has spent most of his career on the alternative fringe of jazz culture, though his audience at CIM included a couple of industry veterans like Jeff Levenson, who has a working affiliation with the Blue Note, one of New York's most obvious mainstream jazz institutions.

"Brooklyn is essentially an incubator, where a lot of things get messed with and hybridized," Mr. Levenson said later, speaking as an almost 30-year resident of the borough. "I think an audience approaches that experience differently than the audience that comes to the Blue Note. There's a different agenda, a different motivation. We're talking works in progress, which moderates the expectation levels."

A good many Brooklyn musicians would agree with that characterization, which casts the borough's jazz scene almost in the role of a loose-and-limber Triple-A baseball team. (Higher in the pecking order than the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones, anyway.) But the idea probably wouldn't sit well with Mr. Abdullah, who sees community-based creative action as a goal in itself.

Nor for different reasons would it agree with the percussionist Matt Moran, who leads Slavic Soul Party, an improviser-stocked Balkan brass band that performs on Tuesdays at Barbès, after Ms. Scheinman. "Maybe this started out as a place where people workshop things," Mr. Moran said outside the club recently, between sets. "But it's on the radar now, and you need to step up and present your work in the best possible light."

"It has really arrived as a scene," he continued, gathering steam. "People are saying, 'I'm not going to step into the shininess of Manhattan, I'm going to do it in my own earthy way.' And rather than struggling in obscurity, they're finding that now it's a celebrated thing."

Mightier Than the Board - co-op

Published: May 28, 2006

IN New York City, letters of recommendation are part of the hazing ritual known as a board package, whereby a buyer must convince a co-op board that he or she would make a worthy neighbor. But in this era of cellphones and instant messaging, formal letters of recommendation solicited from friends and associates can seem as quaint as cucumber sandwiches, with buyers and writers alike tempted to treat them as crustless formalities.

Ruby Washington/The New York Times

Angel Franco/The New York Times

When Susan Ruttner read, “Both applicants are of the highest moral turpitude,” she thought it was a joke.

"It's not really a blowoff," said Joan Sacks, an associate broker at Stribling who sits on the board of her white-glove building at 45 Sutton Place South. "Many people believe falsely the letters will never be considered, because who would ask for one from someone who would give a bad one. But the quality of the letters will speak to the kinds of people the applicant knows, their ability to write well, and most importantly, the ability to provide a sense at a personal level what the applicant and his family are like."

Boards typically require three to six letters from friends, employers and professional colleagues. And depending on the building and the candidate, the letter-writing ritual can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. But, brokers lament, letters of recommendation continue to be chronically misunderstood, occasionally faked and frequently bungled — sometimes to comic effect.

Consider the reference submitted by a lawyer on behalf of a couple buying a one-bedroom pied-à-terre a few years ago. "Both applicants are of the highest moral turpitude," he wrote.

"I read it three times to myself, saying 'This has got to be a joke,' " said Susan Ruttner, a senior vice president of Halstead Property who, as the seller's agent, reviewed the board package before it was submitted. The writer was asked for a revision.

"I get a new one faxed to me a month later that says: 'I purchased a dictionary for my secretary. Sorry for the previous effort,' " Ms. Ruttner said. "He changed it to 'of the highest moral character.' "

The inadvertently maligned buyers got the apartment.

Sometimes, the letters really are intended as jokes — ones that are not always recognized until it is nearly too late. When an actor asked a comedian friend for a reference, he said that the actor "sleeps all day, and he's really very quiet, even at night when he practices the piano at 3 in the morning, and he's actually very talented," said Michele Kleier, the chairwoman of Gumley Haft Kleier. The letter slipped by the buyer's broker and would have gone into the board package if Ms. Kleier, the seller's broker, hadn't noticed something amiss. "About four days later, the real letter arrived," Ms. Kleier said.

Less amusing, she said, was a reference on behalf of a couple buying one of her listed apartments. "It was very long and started out beautifully," she recalled, "and toward the end there was a paragraph about how wonderful these people were in the face of adversity — that after three bankruptcies, they landed on their feet each time and only did better, and now their lives had turned around. And I said, 'Oh my God, who wants to have someone in their building who has had three bankruptcies?' "

It is also unwise to bring up a candidate's penchant for entertaining or for cooking pungent-smelling foods. JoAnne Kennedy, the chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, said that other instances of innocent sabotage involve statements like "they train pit bulls and have five grandchildren that they like to take care of."

She also bemoaned references to "things that are absolutely off the wall — like gun collections."

"I mean, gun collecting is an honorable pastime in some parts of the world," she said. "But New Yorkers don't collect guns; they collect art."

Obvious miscues like these rarely make it to the board. They wind up in rewrite or in a dead-letter file after the brokers have vetted them. But plenty of people submit brief, pro forma letters that brokers can do little about if the writer is unwilling to try again.

These terse cookie-cutter letters bespeak a maladroit candidate who doesn't play well with others, particularly when they are from social references.

"The last thing you want in a package is four letters, each of which is two-sentence paragraphs," said Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty, who was the president of his board on Central Park West for five years. "That makes a really bad impression. When I was a board president, what I thought was that people couldn't really be bothered. And I think that says something about how they feel about the applicant."

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Anthony vanEyck Miller defended the common practice of distributing sample letters, to give prospective references an idea of what’s expected.

The tone and content of the ideal letter vary according to the building. An astute broker can tell you whether a chatty, sophisticated or businesslike approach will work best.

But all letters should describe through specific examples "people who have a solid base in society in terms of relationships," said Judith H. Saunders, a senior vice president of Halstead. "They show that you can get along with people, accommodate yourself to other people's needs, and you're not going to make unreasonable demands."

A reference from a fellow volunteer, for example, should say "not just that you sit on the board, but that you worked tirelessly to raise money for X and painted the playground," said Laura Matiz, an executive vice president of Bellmarc Realty.

While stock phrases like "financially prudent," "quietly reliable" and "excellent reputation" have their uses, they are no substitute for personal and powerful storytelling. "I've had other board members tell me they've been moved to tears on more than one occasion by beautiful letters of a beautiful friendship," said Maury Solomon, an associate broker at Halstead and former board member at an Upper West Side building.

Ms. Sacks recalled the stirring recommendation she recently read "from a woman who met her next-door neighbors"— the buyers — "because of 9/11. She lived alone and was absolutely terrified to come out of her apartment. Her next-door neighbors made it a point to ring her doorbell and make sure she was all right and befriended her and really helped her get through that kind of trauma."

While some board members are motivated mostly by curiosity, satisfying it can be tantamount to a red carpet at the board interview, the final and traditionally most feared part of the application process.

"We're all very nosy people," Ms. Kennedy said. "Look at all the reality shows on television. And when you know another person's story, you then learn how to connect with them."

Of course, in New York, who is writing can be as important as what they say.

"Sometimes a building wants to know who the letters are from before the application review," said Margaret Furniss, a vice president of Stribling, referring to certain buildings in the white-glove category, including those that expect handwritten letters on engraved stationery. "They want to make sure the buyers know people who live in the same sort of co-ops. And they want a snapshot profile of who the person is. What kind of world do they live in?"

At other times, it's the seller who may be gun-shy. Last year, Ms. Matiz helped sell a $2.5 million apartment on Park Avenue after the board had already turned down one pair of financially qualified buyers, raising suspicions of a "social" turndown. "The seller's agent would not look at our financials until they knew who the letter writers were," Ms. Matiz said. "I gave them very wealthy C.E.O.'s who all lived on Park Avenue."

In a slightly different wrinkle, a seller's broker weighing competing bids may ask for the names of the letter writers to help identify the offer most likely to pass the board.

The "right" names depend on the personality of the building. "Different buildings are looking for different things," said Mr. Peters, Warburg's president. "There are some buildings which are quite clubby, and they want letters from people they know, so you have to figure out who's on the board, what they do, and figure out if you know someone who knows them."

(On the other hand, brokers warn, don't ask someone who barely knows you, even a famous someone, to write a recommendation, and think carefully before including one of your potential neighbors. "You don't know whether they are really well liked or not," said Mr. Solomon of Halstead.)

So can reference letters really torpedo an application?

Occasionally, yes.

"We had at least one experience on my board that I can recall in which the letters hinted to us at stuff that we then did more research to find out, which led us to conclude that the candidate was not right for us," Mr. Peters said, referring to his Central Park West board.

Much more commonly, great letters can push a buyer with so-so financials across the finish line.

"If it's a business recommendation and that letter is saying John Jones is a highly competent employee and his future with our company is excellent, that, of course, becomes very significant in weighing that applicant," said Ms. Sacks of Stribling.

Similarly, Ms. Furniss, her colleague at Stribling, said: "If you have an entry-level couple and their finances are sort of on the edge, if their letters all say they're honest and straightforward and always meet their obligations personally and financially, that can tip it right over into their favor. A lot of boards are interested in having smart young people on their way up in the building and will give a leg up to people like that."

What if you are quiet, honest and reasonably solvent but keep to yourself? This is not the moment to abandon type and forge a set of letters, at least not in the traditional sense.

Some boards actually check references, especially on the Upper East Side. "Your 10 percent deposit can be lost that quickly," Mr. Solomon said.

But there are legitimized types of fakery — for example, when references say they will sign whatever you write (or when a script-doctoring broker offers to "fill out" an awkward or anemic letter). While this is not cause for disqualification, it can backfire by producing a subpar letter.

"You always get better references from someone else than one you write yourself," said Ms. Saunders of Halstead. "People writing their own letters and asking a friend to sign it are less likely to have personal detail quality."

Plagiarism is another problem and often can be traced to the sample letters brokers hand out. "Then, the danger is that everybody uses it, and you get four letters back, and all of them have the same middle paragraph," Mr. Peters said.

Anthony vanEyck Miller, a vice president of Bellmarc, defended the widespread practice of distributing examples. "In this age of e-mails, many college-educated people do not know how to write well," he said, "and they don't know how to construct a letter. With a sample, they get the idea."

Sometimes, a board confronting a sheaf of clonish or skeletal letters will ask for a new and improved set. But if a candidate's finances are excellent, money will usually speak louder than words.

"At the end of the day, it's the finances of the buyer that count," said Mr. Miller, a veteran of two boards. "The reference letters simply legitimize whatever conclusions the board might have already reached by view of the financial statements."

Regardless of the outcome, a board package containing detailed and moving references may carry sentimental value.

"It's like a little time capsule," said Meg Siegel, a senior vice president of Sotheby's International Realty and the president of her SoHo board for five years. "A friend or associate who writes a wonderful letter for you — it's a wonderful marking of time, of where you are at this point in your life. It's kind of like a complete packet that really sums up who this person really is. And it's pretty accurate."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In a Tiny Queens Apartment, 70 Cats Gone, and 28 to Go

In a Tiny Queens Apartment, 70 Cats Gone, and 28 to Go

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

The cats scurry under the bed when visitors arrive. Most of them are the products of inbreeding and have similar markings.

Published: May 1, 2006

"Any evil intention against my cats and me, will come back to you, three times three."

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Melanie Neer will be allowed to keep 2 of her 30 cats in her studio apartment in Queens. She once had 100.

Thus spoke the witch of Elmhurst last week, casting a protective spell over her coven of cats — 30 strong, but shrinking by the day — living in the rent-controlled studio apartment she shares with her mother on 80th Street in Queens.

The witch happens to be Melanie Neer, 50, a student of the principles of Wicca and Harry Potter.

The evil intention happens to be an eviction order from her landlord, who has long complained about the intense cat odor coming from the apartment.

Although it is against Wiccan principles to put a harmful spell upon others, Ms. Neer said as she took out a special candle used for "super-duper protection spells," one may cast a boomerang spell on a harmful person to so that the harm comes back to him.

But while she has managed to stave off eviction thus far, the witchcraft is not working wonders on the cat front.

Thirty cats in a cramped apartment may seem like a lot, but five years ago, the Neers had 100 in there and CNN showed up to cover the story. The publicity led people and rescue groups to adopt dozens of the cats. But the Neers are obligated by an agreement with their landlord to trim the herd to two.

Workers arrive daily now from Animal Care and Control of New York City to remove another cat or two. If the collected cats are not adopted, they are killed.

The floors were scrubbed down to bare wood and the wooden furniture clawed into scratching posts. A heavy cat smell filled the small space, despite two window fans on full blast.

Melanie sat with her mother, Barbaralee Neer, 73, a retired bank receptionist who has esophageal cancer and needs constant attention. Since no home health attendant is willing to work in the house, Melanie fills that role.

Melanie lit a cigarette and recalled that they had just nine cats in 1992. Some were not spayed or neutered, and things soon got out of control.

"That's her, she started the mess," she said, pointing to Whoopee, a 13-year-old cat who strolled into the room. Her litter spawned most of the cats, Melanie explained.

Barbaralee sat in her overcoat and a pair of thick boots and watched as Melanie pulled out papers showing that the landlord, Antonio Feggoudakis, was seeking her eviction. Michael S. Schnitzer, Mr. Feggoudakis's lawyer, said last night that eviction was a last-resort effort to "cure a health and safety problem, keep the integrity of the building and look out for the other tenants," since the Neers broke a 2001 agreement to keep only two cats.

When the Neers moved in 45 years ago, they paid $86 a month. Now they pay $521, they said. Melanie receives disability and Barbara lives on her pension and Social Security checks. The cat costs sap it all and they live hand to mouth, they said.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Hu Wants You

As China's president tours America, the government in Beijing is on a campaign to get tourists beyond the country's big cities -- and into its vast interior.
April 22, 2006; Page P1

GUIZHOU PROVINCE, China -- Chen Hua Jin, a resident of the beautiful village of Langde, slung onto the side of a mountain above a fast-flowing river, has just cooked her visitors a hot-pot lunch of local pork, tofu and greens. They're delighted, and she's happier still, having just earned $10 in a place where the average family income is $250 a year.

With its breathtaking limestone mountains and terraced rice fields, Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China. Now, tourism is coming to the rescue. As the 43-year-old Ms. Chen cooks, the women of this Miao tribal village, wearing colorful native costumes, perform a dance for a busload of tourists from Hong Kong, which is a half-day trip away, divided between a plane and car. Other women sell textiles and jewelry from tables set up along the steep stone walkways.

Two-day, three-day and five-day options for business travelers who are interested in a side trip after their work is done.

China is beset with rural poverty: The growing income gap between the rich of the coastal cities and the rural poor is a major issue for the Communist Party. In response, the government is pouring $10 billion into the tourism infrastructure of dozens of scenic but impoverished areas -- from historic sites along the old Silk Road, to mountains considered holy by Taoists and Buddhists, to national parks. For travelers, this means an alternative to China's teeming metropolises -- and a break from the crush of tour buses that plague a growing number of sites. But in many of these places, there are still obstacles that may intimidate some tourists, from language barriers to a lack of indoor plumbing -- even the occasional restaurant where the specialty is dog. While Western-brand hotels are expanding into the interior, others are aging state-owned institutions with suspicious-looking stains on the carpet and extremely hard mattresses.

Guizhou Province, the size of Minnesota and home to 39 million people, serves as a prime example of what is now available. Cut off from its neighbors by its towering mountains, the province had long been isolated. But now visitors can fly nonstop to its capital, Guiyang, from Shanghai, Beijing and many other Chinese cities, disembarking at a gleaming modern airport with super-efficient baggage retrieval and check-in. From Guiyang, the gateway city of Kaili, where tourists who visit the ethnic minority villages can stay in relative comfort, used to be a bumpy seven-hour drive on a winding country road. Now it's a 2½-hour ride on a divided four-lane expressway. New hotels in both cities offer comfortable accommodations with free, high-speed Internet access, at the bargain prices of $85 a night in Guiyang and $50 in Kaili.

With its crystal-clear rivers and unpolluted air, the valley presents a side of China that visitors to the eastern and northern parts of the country might have despaired of ever seeing. During four days in the area, we never saw another Westerner; only 270,000 foreigners visited Guizhou Province last year, including the businessmen who stayed only in Guiyang.

Scenes from Guizhou: A child from the Miao village of Qinman

Very few of Guizhou's residents speak English, even in Guiyang's two five-star hotels, imposing huge hurdles for anyone who wants to tour the province without first hiring a guide, car and driver. And of Guizhou's 2,000 tour guides, only about 35 are English speakers; they'd quickly be overwhelmed if Americans and Europeans started arriving en masse.

Although Guizhou's 49 ethnic-minority groups, each with a distinctive style of dress and many with distinctive cuisines, represent an enticing tourist attraction, China didn't fully open the province to foreigners until 1997.

Working with the provincial and local governments, the United Nations World Tourism Organization formulated a master plan to bring tourists to seven ethnic-minority villages of Guizhou's Bala River Valley as a demonstration project in how to alleviate rural poverty. "Tourism in Guizhou is the only sector that can uplift the quality of life," says Xu Jing, the tourism organization's regional representative for Asia and the Pacific. "They tried other sectors like minerals and forestry, but it cannot be sustainable from a long-term perspective. Instead of cutting the trees, tourists can look at the trees."

The new project hasn't resolved all the problems of traveling in Guizhou. Although Guiyang's airport has been upgraded to international status, no airline has yet started international flights, so travelers in Southeast Asia, which is relatively close, can't add Guizhou to their itineraries as a short hop.

Elsewhere, similar projects are under way. In the center of the country, Jiuzhaigou is a national park with stunning glacial lakes, waterfalls and a panda reserve. This year, airlines will be adding six flights from Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities. That has prompted local authorities to launch a $36 million expansion of the nearby Jiuhuang airport.

Non-Chinese speakers may have a slightly easier time in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, a semi-autonomous region of China, and Buddhism's heartland. In recent years, Tibet been in the news for its political woes. But with better rail, road and air routes in the works, its thousand-year-old monasteries are about to become more prominent. The world's highest railway, linking Beijing to Tibet, was completed in October. Starting at the end of this year, it will be possible for the first time to make the trip by rail, in 48 hours.

In the south, the central government is spending $324 million over five years to turn the little-known town of Zhaoqing into a showpiece that includes eco-tourism hikes and visits to Ming-era villages. One promised tour stop: Bagua Village, a pentagram-shaped hamlet built along feng-shui principles and populated with traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. Overall, the planned $10 billion investment in tourism infrastructure over the next five years is almost half the total figure of the previous two decades, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

The government is looking to do in tourism what it did in manufacturing two decades ago. Its decision to create "special economic zones" in the 1980s to boost foreign investment -- at a time when the economy was still largely state-controlled -- transformed peaceful rice farms into powerhouses that now make a large chunk of the world's sneakers, DVD players and flat-panel screens. But the development has been uneven, enriching mostly coastal areas and helping to trigger unrest in lesser-developed parts of the country. In 2004, the last year for which data are available, there were about 74,000 social demonstrations in China, compared with just 10,000 such incidents a decade earlier.

Another motivation for the government: China's economic czars are anxious to boost spending on services -- including tourism -- as the country tries to transition from being an export-led economy, which has it made vulnerable to a growing protectionist backlash from its trading partners. Some critics say protectionism is also at work in its travel industry. Foreign travel agencies chafe at China's slow pace in allowing outside competition, as is required by its membership in the World Trade Organization.

In the same way that China has taken manufacturing business away from higher-wage countries in Asia, its new push has the potential to redraw the region's tourism map. If it can develop a dozen new destinations, it could attract travelers who might otherwise take their vacations in other countries in the region, like Thailand or Japan.

Wang Ba

Already, China's tourism boom has meant growth opportunities for everyone from hotel companies to makers of camping equipment. French chain Accor, which has 34 hotels in China, is opening 30 more by the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Other hotel chains expanding in China include Sheraton, InterContinental and Super 8. For now, many of these companies are expanding in China's big cities and the surrounding areas. They face competition from local companies such as Shanghai-based Jinjiang Group, China's largest hotel operator, which has ambitious plans inside and outside China.

The investment in remote spots of China could give it a leg up on some nearby countries where poor planning and a flood of visitors have already stripped tourist attractions of much of their charm. In Guizhou, the ethnic-minority villages are largely pristine, a stark contrast with Thailand, where such villages have been often ravaged by the impact of uncontrolled tourism. The predominant minority in Guizhou, the Miao -- known outside of China as Hmong -- live in eye-pleasing wooden houses with roofs of black slate tiles. They're more likely to wear traditional dress than jeans and T-shirts. Although a visitor's interpreter has to translate, people will readily invite a foreigner into their house to talk. And the local cuisine is distinctive and delicious, emphasizing local fish cooked in sauces with a sour tang from pickled vegetables.

In Wang Ba, a Gejia-minority village of 1,200 people two hours north of Kaili, tourists pay for dance performances, buy handicrafts and eat in people's homes. A year ago, the villagers hit the jackpot when 34 members of the Harvard Alumni Association arrived, paying $5 each for lunch and $180 for a performance.

Pan Cheng Ya, Nanhua's mayor, said the village earned $60,000 last year from dance performances alone, with a thousand foreigners visiting. That has created new wealth locally. Some families have cellphones and televisions, and kids have new toys, he says. Still, tourism is proving far from a panacea. Almost all the young people go off to wealthy coastal cities like Guangzhou looking for jobs. Mr. Pan himself has to supplement his salary of $15 a month by working on construction projects. And now he has to deal with a new problem: the suspicion of the villagers that he and other local officials are getting rich from the tourist boom. "Money has become a sensitive issue," he says. "They think we get all the benefits. Whatever we tell them, they don't believe us."

--Cui Rong and Candace Jackson contributed to this article


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Suitable Attire ?

Suit Goes in Washer, Dryer,
But Traditionalists Recoil:
'This is the Antichrist'
April 20, 2006; WSJ Page B1

LONDON --Tim Blackshaw still winces about the night two years ago that a party guest spilled a glass of Chateau Lafitte 1975 down the back of his Christian Dior jacket, the fine red wine ruining the expensive light-gray suit.

Yet, as the 30-year-old chef browsed the racks at a Marks & Spencer PLC store here recently, that episode wasn't enough to persuade him to bite on the retailer's heralded new product: the first suit that can be washed, machine dried and worn without ironing.

"I am not sure it would come out looking okay," he says, even though it looks like the other suits hanging on a rack, with its brightly colored silk lining.

And therein lies the problem plaguing the wool/polyester/lycra suit like a stubborn wrinkle. The suit maker, Bagir Ltd. and its retailers, M&S in Britain and J.C. Penney Co. in America, are fighting powerful forces of anthropology and sociology with mere chemistry and marketing. Men, long accustomed to armoring themselves in creased-and-pressed formality as a sign of their status and aspirations, would have to risk not looking just so in professional situations.

"Suits aren't meant to be convenient," says Anne Hollander, a fashion historian in New York and author of a book about suits. "If you wear a suit, you are joining the company of respectable people."

She says men in general feel more insecure about clothes than women. "What men fear the most is something that makes them look like a fool," she says.

Thomas Horton, the 44-year-old chief financial officer of American Airlines's parent AMR Corp. expresses the befuddlement of many men when asked about the idea of a wash-and-dry suit.

"That would be hard for me to get my head around," says Mr. Horton, who like his boss, AMR Chief Executive Gerard Arpey, has his suits custom-made by Chris Cobb in Dallas. "It's a foreign concept. It's like starching your jeans. I wouldn't do that either."

But the retailers and the suit maker aren't aiming quite that high up the executive ladder. Instead, they are banking on the mix of convenience and price (about $225 in the United Kingdom and $177.99 in the U.S.) to lure in a certain type of buyer.

"There are a lot of very busy blokes about who wear a suit for work, who go through a lot of wear and tear and who'll want this because of convenience," says Stuart Rose, chief executive of M&S, the biggest seller of suits in Britain. Tim Danser, a buyer for tailored clothing for men at Penney, says, "The customer is time-compressed and, in middle America, also pocket-book compressed."

Kenny Cook, a 37-year-old desk clerk for Royal Mail in London, plans to buy one of the new suits for a friend's wedding later this month. Mr. Cook says he eats lunch at his desk and often drops a piece of his sandwich on his suits. "I can't be bothered to go to the dry cleaners," says Mr. Cook. "But I've mastered a washing machine."

The quest for convenience suited with style has been going on for decades. The first "wash-and-wear suits" appeared in the early 1950s, when polyester was invented, but they were more often the butt of jokes to indicate the wearer's humble circumstances. They have quietly occupied a small market niche.

In the summer of 2002, Bagir, which is based in Israel, decided to pursue the concept as a way to distinguish itself from garment makers in low-wage countries. At the time, suit makers like Bagir were also suffering because the trend toward casual wear was at its peak. One reason men were rejecting suits, market research showed, was that they thought of them as inconvenient. It came up with a washable suit that could be drip-dried. That suit, which needs to be ironed, is now M&S's biggest seller and has sold 750,000 since 2004. Penney also sells a version.

Despite the success, Bagir executives wanted to go further and make a suit that could go in the dryer. But heat from the dryer created a problem. In long trials, it would render the front of the suit either wrinkled or as stiff as cardboard. In tests, Bagir washed and dried the suits 30 times and checked after every five cycles to see that the garment's shape and color could withstand water and heat. Finding the right formula took over two years and $10 million.

The new dryer-friendly version is made of 45% wool, 52% polyester and 3% lycra. The man-made fibers, says Offer Gilboa, chief executive of Bagir, prevent the wool from going back to its origins "as a wet lamb." The wool content prevents the plastic feel of earlier, all-polyester suits. Many men trying on the new suit in London say it isn't shiny, scratchy or hot and looks like the other middle-priced suits at the store.

At M&S, the "Wash and Tumble Dry Suit" went on sale a few weeks ago and comes in gray, black, navy and classic British chalk stripe, as well as double- or single-breasted. It costs £129 (about $230), less than most department-store brands. At Penney, the pants and the single-breasted, two-button jackets can be purchased separately. Neither Penney nor M&S would say how many of the suits they have sold, but both stores said the suit was selling well.

Upscale U.S. retailers Barney's New York, a unit of Jones Apparel Group Inc., and Brooks Brothers, a unit of Retail Brand Alliance Inc., declined to say whether they would ever consider selling a wash-and-dry suit. At Nordstrom Inc., spokesman Deniz Anders says, "It is a great idea though it needs more development."

In at least one corner of the fashion world, the suit is drawing praise.

"For some guys, polyester carries a stigma but it shouldn't because of its high wool content, which makes the suit hang very well," says Jim Moore, creative director of men's magazine GQ in New York. "This is a real business suit." He notes that polyester is losing its negative image, as an increasing number of fashion designers, including heavyweights such as Giorgio Armani, use synthetic fibers in men's suits. "I don't think it's a suit that's for every single man out there," he adds, "but it has a sensible price and would be great as a starter suit, or for a guy who is traveling a lot."

But, in Britain, the new suit may face a particularly tough time, even though it costs £9.99 (about $17.80) to dry-clean a suit in central London -- about twice as much as on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In Britain, where casual Fridays never caught on, suits are still de rigueur for business.

"It's about the image you want to project," says Steve Hughes, a 39-year-old information technology consultant who says he dreads wearing the wrong suit to work. "What you wear is a reflection on you as a professional."

Catherine Hayward, fashion director of British men's magazine Esquire, says she didn't see a great need to wash suits to begin with. "It's not like men are going to the meat market where they get covered in blood, or doing gardening in them," she says.

For Marc Psarolis, sales director for upscale British clothes maker Daks, the reaction is much more visceral.

"This is the Antichrist of what we believe in," he sniffs.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


最近日本報紙層出不窮的40歲男子犯案事件,像是千葉法務局職 員殺妻、眾議院議員在六本木強行猥褻女生被當成現行犯逮捕、46歲和44歲的兄弟聯手殺害包括父母在內的家庭成員5人、NTT西日本員工以製偽鈔嫌疑被逮 捕、日本航海連盟的教練同時也指導北京奧運選手卻因向少女買春而被逮捕,連著名的從事耐震度偽造的姊齒秀次“ 前”建築師都是在40歲以上的年紀犯下離譜案件的男性之一。

  男性過了40歲,已經是人生的折返點,也很多男性在此時已功成名就,上述也有不少人是在不錯的公司擁有不錯的職位或頭銜,讓人丈二金鋼摸不著腦袋為何他們會去犯下這些自毀前程的事,原因就在於被日本稱為「Midlife Crisis」的中年恐慌。

   「Midlife Crisis」中年恐慌是指人在人生的一半,也就是過了40歲的時候,開始慢慢感覺到精神和肉體上的衰老,但自己的心中卻仍希望自己還是很年輕,但心理與 現實之間的落差沒能成功消除,於是自己開始慌亂起來,不知道該怎麼辦,甚至有些人會在這途中迷失了自我。有些人會開始想自己的人生怎麼過得這麼地無趣,然 後煩惱自己是否該就這樣繼續無趣的人生?因而對自己的人生感到焦燥,每天開始憂鬱了起來。但這樣的反應也還是因人而異,有些人因此變得重度憂鬱而犯下一些 自己一生都沒想過的罪行,但也有一些人想開了,拋棄目前現有的一切,重新展開與過去完全不一樣的人生。

  其實,這樣的中年恐慌並不是只 存在於日本,美國就有研究指出,每4個美國人就有1個會有這樣的中年恐慌,而這樣的中年恐慌也不是只會發生在男性身上, 女性會從面容、白髮等外觀感覺到自己的衰老,然後拼命求助於美容、整形之類,來降低自己心理上及外貌上的差距,但在男性身上較常見到容易迷失自己做出超出 常軌的事,特別是在一些老實了半輩子的、將面臨退休的或是無法圓滿處理自己的人際關係的男性身上。

  而日本男性為什麼最近冒出了這麼多 因為中年恐慌而犯下重大罪行的人呢?帝塚山學院大學的小田晉教授表示,由於日本這個世代的人是被獲勝就能得到所有的 社會教育所教出來的,所以成功欲望強,但同時也相對地以「萬一被發現就慘了」的理性來抑制自己本身的欲望,這種成果論的價值觀使得他們在過了40歲後突然 就因為承受不了長久以來的精神分裂而爆發。

  而臨床心理師宮城麻里子表示,到了40幾歲就連工作也會變得具有批判性的分歧點。很多人做 著自己不喜歡的工作到了40幾歲,每天還得為了不喜歡的工作 早出晚歸,過著跟家裡的人每天說不到幾句話的生活,甚至造成夫妻失和,然後又在「再撐一下就過去了」的心理下,強迫自己繼續工作下去,而在長期的身心壓力 下漸漸迷失了自我。

  再加上日本人個性較為壓抑,所以很多人平時就不懂得舒解壓力或是換個方式想,而且日本的公司最近紛紛從以往的年功 序列制改成仿效外資走向的成果主義 制,使得不少人在40幾歲原本以為自己努力了半輩子有功成名就的希望,卻在最後被公司調離權力核心,想到自己為了追求地位和收入不斷地上升,甚至幫公司做 出一些齷齪的事情,卻在最後被棄之不顧,頓時覺得自己的人生失去了希望。尤其是年幼在貧困的環境生長的人,更容易在無意識中產生強烈地自卑感,希望讓人對 自己刮目相看的心理而奮力地工作後,就容易走向極端。


Monday, April 03, 2006

Dump Trash, Add Scavengers, Mix and Get a Big Mess

Zhu Feixiang, 46, leads a band of trash pickers from Anhui Province. "We don't steal," he said. "We don't rob. We only make a living." (Ryan Pyle for The New York Times)

Published: April 3, 2006

SHANGHAI, March 28 — Song Tiping, a peasant from rural Jiangsu Province, and Bernie Kearsley-pratt, an Australian executive, would not at first glance seem to have much in common, and they do not, except for one thing: both were drawn here by the unlikely financial promise of garbage, towering mountains of refuse that attest to this city's status as a raging boomtown. And now they spend their days in a cat-and-mouse game, Mr. Song joining throngs of poor Chinese scavenging in the trash and Mr. Kearsley-pratt, who manages Shanghai's largest municipal dump, trying to keep them out.

Video: Shanghai Journal: The Dump

The Australian, who works for a French company that is helping manage this city's garbage, says his difficult job is made all the harder — indeed on some days he himself would say impossible — by the cruel fact that even in the heartland of a booming China, peasants can make far more money collecting plastic trash bags, tin cans and the rubber soles of shoes than they can as farmers or ordinary day laborers.

Most days Mr. Song, who came to Shanghai seeking a way to pay the hefty tuition fees for his eldest daughter, who had been admitted to one of the country's best high schools, spends several hours dodging monstrous earthmoving equipment in the landfill, one of the largest in Asia, to pick trash.

Were it not for dangers of the job, like being crushed by a bulldozer, inhaling noxious gases while wading knee-deep in fetid refuse or being beaten by warring gangs of scrap pickers for the mere prize of an unbroken bottle, it might even be considered a good job.

"We worked really hard as laborers before, doing 12- to-15-hour days for a mere few hundred yuan," about $35, Mr. Song said. "You have to work even if you are sick or tired. Here we are working for ourselves, and there is a lot more freedom — four to five hours a day, plus we can earn a lot more."

Each morning, on average, 6,300 tons of garbage arrives by barge from the central city. Mr. Kearsley-pratt's company, Onyx, won an international bidding competition in 2003 to replace an old municipal landfill next door, which had observed almost no environmental precautions, with a state-of-the-art dump — a fenced-in area slightly larger than New York's Central Park. To do so, Onyx has invested millions of dollars in heavy equipment, environmental measures and training.

The plan was for a plant that would safeguard the water table and produce enough natural gas to power a small city — in short, the cleanest, safest, most modern landfill imaginable — until the scavengers showed up. They came in ones and twos, like Mr. Song and his wife, and in roving gangs, organized according to their place of origin in the poor and far-flung Chinese countryside. Now, according to all sides in what appears to be a mounting dispute, what they have is one fine mess.

"Everyone has a big challenge when they come to China," Mr. Kearsley-pratt said. He warmed to his subject slowly, talking about how no living-room couch, no matter how abused, would ever make it from a Shanghai curbside to his dump, because someone needier than the owner would quickly haul it away.

Finally, he got to the meat of the problem: the scavengers who descend each day upon his dump like freebooters on a diamond mine. "As soon as you tip the truck there will be 40 or 50 people running all about the machines — quite big machines," he said. "I don't have the statistics, but quite a few people have been crushed like this."

Under the circumstances, tempers sometimes flare. With darkness approaching, as crews of Mr. Kearsley-pratt's workers in hard hats and orange jumpsuits rushed to lay enormous sheets of blue tarpaulins over a flat field of freshly laid garbage to discourage the pickers from coming onto the grounds at night, a female scavenger in her 50's approached a group of foreigners taking pictures of the scene.

"We are just trying to make a livelihood, to eat," she shouted. "Unless you have come to help us survive, we don't want your attention."

All about, as Mr. Kearsley-pratt looked on helplessly, scavengers were loading their day's haul onto pushcarts, onto rickety wagons hitched to the back of motorcycles to be sorted out offsite and sold to buyers who specialize in different kinds of refuse, whether rubber, plastic, aluminum or tin.

"Last year my daughter was admitted to high school and we have to pay 10,000 yuan for her registration," Mr. Song said. In addition to that, the equivalent of $1,250, he said, he also has to pay $125 for his second daughter's school. "We don't know where else to get jobs to support our daughters' education," he said, "and if not for this, there is no hope for us."

The landfill's management has thought about sitting down with the scavengers to cut a deal that would allow them to keep picking without endangering themselves or the dump's operations. But the potential bonanza of the trash has proved, like a gold rush, impossible to manage. The dimensions of the problem are on clear display most days, when 120 huge trucks per hour, freshly loaded with garbage from the barges, rumble down the plant's access road with squadrons of trash pickers on motorbikes following in their wake.

The city is vague about its plans for dealing with the trash pickers, saying only that they will be "phased out" eventually. "Right now, we don't have a city regulation on scavenging," said Wu Xiwei, an official of the city sanitation bureau.

Zhu Feixiang, 46, a scavenger who lives on the edge of the dump on a trash-strewn plot with sheep and dogs and more old plastic bags than you've ever seen, doubts the city will stop him or any others. "They can call the police, but it's not against law or regulation to pick garbage," he said. "We don't steal. We don't rob. We only make a living. Besides, recycling garbage benefits the nation."

Mr. Zhu, who leads a band of trash pickers from Anhui Province that other scavengers describe in fearsome terms, stopped raking the garbage blowing around in his yard to contemplate that for a moment. "Plus, we're dirty and we stink, so the police would never take us in," he said.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

When Life Begins at 5: A New Wake-Up Call

From electricity usage to toilet flushing, the numbers show sleep-deprived Americans are getting up even earlier
March 25, 2006; Page P1

The lights in America are going on an hour earlier.

As people prepare for the annual hour of sleep deprivation that comes next week with the arrival of daylight-saving time, a broader shift in wake-up times is taking place.

By a wide variety of indicators, from electricity usage to water consumption, more U.S. households are starting their days before dawn. In the last six years, PJM Interconnection, which supplies electricity to more than 50 million people in 13 states, saw its largest uptick in usage between the hours of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., while in Atlanta, Southern Co.'s peak winter electricity usage shifted to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m. in 2003. Aqua America, a water supplier for 13 states, has seen everything from toilets to washing machines starting up earlier: The company's booster pumps now kick into gear at 5:30 a.m. in Philadelphia instead of 6 a.m., providing 20% additional water pressure to meet higher demand.

Businesses are taking note. CNN and CNBC moved their main morning shows an hour earlier, to 6 a.m., in December. Office-supplies giant Staples has shifted opening hours of some 100 of its stores to 7 a.m. from 8 a.m. after getting the message from regional focus groups and customer surveys. Based on spending patterns of pre-7 a.m. shoppers, Internet boutique recently began posting all new items and exclusive deals by 6:30.

Of course, for the sleep-deprived, becoming a morning person can be an uphill battle -- 70% of us are not naturally alert and active in the morning, according to the National Sleep Foundation, an educational organization. Videogame designer Frank Rogan used many techniques to train his body to ease into 6 a.m., the only time he can steal for himself. He's experimented with a "dawn simulator" alarm clock that gradually illuminates the bedroom, searched for wake-up tips on the Internet and even forced himself to go to the gym, which he was appalled to find packed at 6 a.m.

"It's like these people are a different species," says Mr. Rogan, who uses his time to work out or enjoy breakfast on the back porch but sometimes can't help logging on and firing off emails before office hours start.

The shift to sunrise comes thanks to everything from heavier rush-hour traffic to BlackBerry overload that has left predawn as the last refuge for many people. In Phoenix, Skydive Arizona has seen a spike in prework parachuting. "These are Type-A personalities -- doctors, lawyers," says jump coordinator Betsy Barnhouse. "Once they face their mortality in the morning, they can just walk through their day."

Others try more sedentary pursuits. In the past year, La Jolla, Calif., psychologist Barbara Rosen says she's started seeing patients at 7 a.m., two hours earlier than her previous first appointments. "I've had requests for 6, but I'm not quite ready to do that," she says.

It's such early risers that helped convince CNN to air its popular morning broadcast earlier. Jonathan Klein, president of CNN, says that in the last 10 years, the number of 25- to 54-year-olds watching TV in the early morning has doubled, a key factor in the decision to move "American Morning" to 6 a.m. from 7 a.m. As for the anchors, who now have to get to work at 3 a.m., "they hate it; they think I'm mean. I'd like to say they cheerfully do it, but hey, it was bad enough that they had to come in at 4 a.m."


At CNBC, the popular "Squawk Box" now airs at 6 a.m., following a new business show at 4 a.m. "There's no question that the fastest growing day part for news is in the mornings," says David Friend, senior vice president of business news. "It was a no-brainer."

Advertiser money is moving in the same direction. An average of about $52 million is spent on network-television commercials during weekday news shows between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., up from $32 million five years ago, according to research firm TNS Media Intelligence. And though this amount pales in comparison to the hours when "Today" and "Good Morning America" hit the air, the spending increase of 5-7 a.m. outpaced 7-9 a.m. during the same time period, 63% to 46%.

When Tina Sharkey was looking for ways to spend more time with her son, she found it -- at 6:45 a.m. The America Online head of network programming now forces herself out of bed and into the gym at 5:30 so she can have time to read to her 6-year-old before the school bus comes. "We've been attacking Harry Potter from 6:45 to 7:31 in the morning," she says. "The only place I can give is sleep."

For some people, it's simply a matter of trying to beat the traffic. In the last five years, the number of people leaving home between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. increased by 12%, the biggest jump in rush-hour departure times, according to the Census Bureau. That, of course, moves everything else earlier. Quality Care Associates, a child-care company that serves several high-powered New York City suburbs, says requests for nannies to start at 7 a.m. are up 5% over the last year.

Getting up earlier comes fairly easy to Chris Oberbeck -- it's his family that sometimes balks. The private-equity investor in Greenwich, Conn., says that between his 11 p.m. conference calls to India and an ever-buzzing BlackBerry, dawn is "the only shot we've got." Among the new morning activities he's lined up: family birthday parties with waffles instead of cake. But with four boys to drag out of bed, Mr. Oberbeck says rebellion is inevitable: "The most grumbling comes from the one assigned to cook."

For Robert Cobourn, mornings have become a chance to catch up on late-night TV shows he programs on his TiVo. Mr. Cobourn's 10-year-old son Jack, whose afternoons are taken up with soccer practice and nights with homework, recently tried setting his alarm earlier, too, so he could squeeze in videogames before school. Lately, though, Jack's been sleeping right through: "I'm more of a stay-up-late person, anyway."

Jack Brennan, 51, chairman and CEO, Vanguard Group, Wayne, Pa.
Wake time: 5:15 a.m.
Routine: Wakes up two minutes before the alarm: "I'm on a mental alarm clock." Gets to work at 6 a.m. and makes coffee for himself and any early employees.

Myron E. "Mike" Ullman III,
59, chairman and CEO, J.C. Penney, Turtle Creek, Texas
Wake time: 4:45 a.m.
Routine: Reads four papers online. Leaves his house around 6:45 a.m. and rereads the papers in print during the ride to work.

Hugh Hefner,
79, founder and editor in chief, Playboy magazine, Los Angeles
Wake time: Late morning, no alarm.
Routine: Eats breakfast in bed, then dresses for work: "I just change out of one pair of pajamas and into another."

David Lee Roth,
51, former lead singer of Van Halen, now host of a morning radio show, New York
Wake Time: 3:30 a.m.
Routine: Takes helicopter-flying lessons three days a week. Often does martial arts before arriving at the studio at 5:15 a.m.

Gary C. Kelly,
51, vice chairman and CEO, Southwest Airlines, Plano, Texas
Wake Time: 5 a.m.
Routine: Breakfast consists of vitamins with a glass of sugar-free cranberry juice. Calls his wife from the car at the same intersection every morning.

Michael J. Critelli,
57, chairman and CEO, Pitney Bowes, Darien, Conn.
Wake time: 6:30 a.m.
Routine: Often stops at a doughnut shop on the way to work to read the newspaper. In times of stress, sometimes gets up at 3 or 4 a.m. to work or take a walk.

Write to John Jurgensen at

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Google's Half Victory

March 21, 2006; Page A14

Google won a partial victory against the Justice Department late Friday night when a federal judge ruled that the company would not be compelled to hand over a sample of users' search queries.

As Judge James Ware noted in his 21-page opinion, search strings like "Jessica Simpson" or "nudity" would not, by themselves, impinge on users' privacy. But a random sampling of searches could well pull up less generic queries. To borrow the judge's example, "[user name] third trimester abortion san jose" might well raise privacy concerns -- not to mention the embarrassment from the publication of the "vanity searches" that Google users have been known to perform, every half hour or so, on themselves.

Judge Ware did grant Justice's request for a random sampling of 50,000 of the sites Google indexes for its searches, so both sides ended up with something. But as the judge also noted, the government remains decidedly vague on how it intends to use the data it was seeking from the major search engines in the underlying case, which concerns the 1998 Child Online Protection Act. Justice says the goal is to "assess the amount of harmful material available to minors" on the Internet. But it doesn't take a genius -- or a subpoena -- to figure out that there's lots of that if you look for it.

The real question is whether criminalizing whole categories of speech on the basis of vaguely worded "community standards" is the least restrictive way of protecting children. Friday's ruling doesn't address that, as the underlying case is being adjudicated in a different court. But it did establish some limits on what the government can demand from private corporations in seeking to defend this law against a First Amendment challenge. Justice's initial request was for every indexed Web address and two months' worth of search queries. By comparison, what the government will now get looks reasonable indeed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Government vs. Google

Web-Search Battle Offers Fireworks,But Look Deeper for the Real IssueMarch 20, 2006
Google is fencing with the Justice Department about access to users' search requests -- the latest chapter in the federal government's quest to get a star-crossed antiporn law on the books. But the real issue in this battle goes beyond porn or kids -- it's a basic fear about privacy, one bigger than worries about government snooping or corporate data warehouses, and one that will be with us for some time.

A little background: In 1998 a law was passed called the Child Online Protection Act, or COPA, which requires U.S. commercial distributors of material harmful to minors to prevent said minors from accessing their sites. As such, COPA was an attempt to narrow provisions of the Communications Decency Act, which the Supreme Court had shot down as unconstitutional. But it hasn't fared much better. Enforcement of COPA was stayed by injunction, and in 1999 an appeals court struck the law down, saying its reliance on "community standards" to define harmful materials was too broad. In 2002 the Supreme Court returned the law to the appeals court for further review, but kept the injunction intact. In 2003, the appeals court struck down COPA again, finding the law would limit protected speech between adult. In 2004 the Supreme Court upheld the injunction on enforcement and warned that COPA was likely unconstitutional. It also noted that the law was likely to be out of date, given technological advances in filtering software and other methods for protecting children from online smut.

Hot Topic: Google vs. Justice

The Justice Department, in an effort to keep the law alive, is trying to show that filters are flawed and further protections are needed. And it's trying to show that by subpoenaing search-engine providers' data about search queries and Web addresses. Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL handed over such information voluntarily; Google chose to fight. After the government revised its demands to 5,000 search queries and 50,000 randomly chosen Web addresses (from millions of queries and 1 million addresses), a federal judge last week ordered Google to cooperate with the government in supplying the Web addresses but denied the request for the search queries, saying that could cost Google the trust of some users and expressing concern that the queries could be potentially sensitive information.

Between porn, kids, the government and privacy, there's a lot of red meat for various sides in this fight. But there are also a fair number of red herrings.

It's worth arguing about how COPA's "community standards" should be interpreted, or whether the law would bar teens from health-related or artistic sites. But that ignores a basic flaw with COPA: Even if it were perfectly constructed and didn't catch non-porn sites in its net, it would hardly keep kids safe online. Among those porn purveyors not affected: run-of-the-mill commercial porn sites run from Amsterdam or the Azores; dodgy overseas porn merchants who've thrown up sites full of dirty pictures and laced with malware; fly-by-nights creating and abandoning ad-laden porn blogs at speeds that far exceed court filings; and people whose hobby is collecting or making porn and who don't mind sharing. That's a lot of porn sites right there -- too many to rest easy if you've got a 12-year-old using the PC unsupervised. A typical Justice Department release on COPA promises that "the department will continue to work to defend children from the dangerous predators who lurk in the dark shadows of the World Wide Web."

But COPA doesn't venture into those dark shadows -- it polices the comparatively well-lit precincts in which U.S. commercial enterprises dwell.

Google's motion in opposition to the government's request for information makes for entertaining reading: Google's lawyers argue that the government doesn't understand what it's asking for, won't find what it's looking for, and will hurt Google in doing so. Google's lawyers deride one government statement as "so uninformed as to be nonsensical. Search queries run on Google's databases come from such a wide variety of sources that Google's query data, stripped of personally identifying information, will not reveal whether the search query was run by a minor or adult, human or non-human, or on behalf of an individual or business." And in noting that Web addresses aren't reliable indicators of their page's content, Google cheekily offers up the example of porn site (You can find the brief linked from this entry on Google's corporate blog.)

At least there's a silver lining for Google in this fight: It gets to cast itself as defending its users against government snoops peeking at their Web searches. That means better Internet buzz for a company that could use some: Google has been bloodied for its self-censored Chinese site, annoyed Wall Street with accidental disclosures of financial targets, and raised eyebrows with its determination to index all the information in the world it can get its digital hands on, whether it's the text of books or the contents of your PC. As I've written before, I'm not against Google's efforts to do that, or its strategies for doing so. But finding Google beavering away at information everywhere you turn strikes many people as creepy, amplifying the uneasy feeling that far too much information about us is out there for someone -- online predators, government Javerts, RIAA bounty hunters, identity thieves -- to find. And that's the real anxiety in this case.

Surveying Google vs. the Government, the thing that worries me most isn't keeping my kid away from porn -- though I do fret about that, as I wrote two weeks ago. It's not the government looking at people's Web searches, though I don't think the government should do that. And it's not knowing Google bots are out there compiling as fast as their little crawlers can crawl, though that can be unsettling.

Rather, it's fearing that all this information -- public and private, trivial and critical -- is getting swept up and made available as more and more information from the analog age migrates to the digital world. And that's happening more quickly than we can identify what ought to be left out -- just ask the CIA, which had to answer questions from the Chicago Tribune about how searches of publicly available databases outed a number of covert operatives.

Rather than protections from porn, we need a basic compact governing what information about ourselves is publicly available, what safeguards there should be on its use, and how we can get information that shouldn't be available quickly and reliably removed. I think such a compact will emerge, and the digital unease of today will be seen as part of the Net's growing pains. But how long do we have to wait? And what mistakes will be made while we do?

What personal information should be available online? How should it be policed? And whose job is that? Drop me a line at -- comments will be posted periodically in Real Time. If you don't want your comments considered for Real Time, please make that clear.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


2006年3月16日 22:30星期四 [中日關係]

以前一些日韓愛情電影與電視劇在拍攝雪景時加一個淡黃filter,十分詩情畫意。現在不用加filter了,因為近數年自然界出現怪現象,日韓不時錄得 天降黃雪。浪漫嗎?不!因為這是從中國大陸飄來的?砂加上有毒粒子(超標30倍!)。中國成為美國之後另一公害輸出大國。

家寶在最近的講話中承認任總理以來沒有處理好環境問題而引以為憾。他保証中國不會先發展經濟,後整治環境。他可是有心無力,地方滿是土皇帝。中國公害問題 日益嚴重,而且禍及鄰邦。俄國、日本及南韓都身受其害。環境問題也成為國際問題。繼酸雨及海上垃圾飄洋過海後,現在出現黃雪。


黃雪是中國北部黃砂引起的。一半天災,一半人禍。水源破壞及伐林造成中國北方?砂風暴近數年十分厲害。想不到中國黃砂竟吹到韓國與日本,與雪一起落下便成 為黃雪。雖然?雨及黃雪以前也曾在日韓出現過,不過單是今年首三個月中國已發生四次?砂風暴,令人關注。最近首爾一帶及日本日本海沿岸曾降?雪。?雪積在 地面與?穢雜物混合,變成淺紅色,因此也稱「赤雪」。每年三月至五月是黃砂風暴的高潮,料今年春季黃雨/雪將為日韓帶來煩惱。







台灣日本綜合研究所   傅婉禎




  第一是婚姻介紹所,像是位於東京赤坂的「M’s Bridal Japan」婚姻介紹所便提供只要將自己的照片和資產等登錄,就可以從資料庫中找出條件相符合的人,並代為介紹的服務。該公司表示,他們最近50歲以上的會員激增,從公司開設5年以來已突破了2500人,其社長感受到很多年長者想要再結婚的熱情,但卻苦於沒有可以為他們介紹的管道,因此有預感這類高齡者對於婚姻介紹所的需求會再繼續延伸成長。






Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


(圖為袁偉時教授, 圖片源自 : 新京報 網上版 ·2005年5月8日)

袁偉時批評中國歷史教科書的文章. 懇請大家耐心地看畢全文吧 !

《現代化與歷史教科書》( 原載《中國青年報》冰點雜誌)







這裡說的亞羅號事件大體符合歷史事實。至于殺法國天主教神甫馬賴(Auguste Chapdelaine)﹐至今仍是一筆糊涂賬。馬氏是1856年2月29日被廣西西林代理知縣張鳴鳳所殺的。直至法國公使查問﹐張鳴鳳仍然矢口否認﹐說根本沒有這回事。致使廣西按察使和兩廣總督到了1858年初還信以為真﹐據此回答法國公使和上奏朝廷。