Friday, May 28, 2010

Barack Obama in Crisis: Zzzz

Barack Obama in Crisis: Zzzz

President Bush's harshest critics often described his look during moments of crisis as "deer in the headlights." After two years of Hope and Change, America has grown accustomed to President Obama's crisis face: eyes glazed over.

At his first press conference in 308 days, Obama fielded questions about the Gulf oil spill, immigration, the war in Afghanistan and the mounting outrage over Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak's job-trading allegations with a sluggishness bordering on geriatric. His aplomb was a bomb.

The commander-in-chief's mumbling, diffident tone contradicted the "I CARE" message of urgency that drifted across the teleprompter screen and rolled languidly off his tongue.

"I am angry and frustrated," he heaved. Rather unconvincingly. He was "singularly focused," he asserted. Rather distractedly. The president did manage to work up enough energy to condemn BP and then turned to a moment of obligatory self-aggrandizement:

"I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis."

How "on top" was he? Well, not enough to take the time on Thursday morning before his much-hyped appearance to nail down the details of how and why his Interior Department Chief of the Minerals Management Service Liz Birnbaum was no longer in office. "You're assuming it was a firing," Obama told reporters. "I don't yet know the circumstances." He explained that he was preoccupied with other matters and couldn't get ahold of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

When pressed to elaborate, he heaved again: "I don't know."

Then, addressing all the ignorant Americans who have failed to appreciate his rescue efforts, Obama mustered up a semblance of indignation: "Those who think we were either slow in our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred."

And this is the Obama definition of accountability: blaming everyone else for lacking the Ivy League-honed comprehension skills to see the greatness of his fortitude and foresight.

How high of a priority did his administration really make the post-spill cleanup? After droning on haltingly about the federal failure to form an "," Obama admitted with a shrug: "There was a lag of several weeks that shouldn't have happened."

With more self-pity than compassion, Obama wrapped up the rare press conference with a disjointed, off-script ramble:

"But look, we've gone through a difficult year and a half. This is just one more bit of difficulty. And this is going to be hard, not just right now; it's going to be hard for months to come. ...

"You know, when I woke up this morning, and I'm shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door, and she peeks in her head, and she says, 'Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?' -- (soft laughter) -- because I think everybody understands that, you know, when we are fouling the Earth like this, it has concrete implications not just for this generation but for future generations. ...

"And in case anybody wonders -- in any of your reporting, in case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.

"That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged, and I'm fully engaged, all right?"

Not waiting for an answer (or for any more nettlesome questions), he hurried off for a quick photo-op pit stop in the Gulf on Friday before jetting to Chicago to keep a high-priority promise to be back in his hometown for Memorial Day weekend.

The sterile performance was eerily reminiscent of his national security announcement last December from Hawaii, when he appeared before the American people in tie-less informal island wear to read a bloodless, perfunctory statement about the Christmas Day bomber. Eyes down on his notes the whole time, he described the failed attack with the weariness of a small-town sheriff's deputy, rather than as the leader of the free world.
Then it was back to the beach. This is Obama in crisis: disengaged, put upon and impatient to get back to Me Time.

Rough men stand ready to keep and defend our well-being and safety. Someone wake President Obama when it's over.

Robert Downey Jr.’s Cosmic Punishment

Robert Downey Jr.’s Cosmic Punishment

Thu, May 6, 2010
Robert Downey Jr.’s Cosmic Punishment
Photo credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger

Martial arts helped him overcome his failures. Now he just has to figure out how to overcome his success.

By Stephen Rodrick
Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t work out like us regular folks. Adulation bathes him from the moment he arrives at his Los Angeles martial arts studio. He opens the front door and is greeted by a framed photo of himself with his trainer and his 16-year-old son, Indio. The inscription reads: SIFU, INDIO AND I ARE AVAILABLE FOR PERSONAL PROTECTION. He takes another step. Before you can hum the opening bars to “Cult of Personality,” there’s an even larger blowup of a Los Angeles Times story, about some dude named Robert Downey Jr. slaying all the bad guys in his mind. Six-pack abs would be so much easier if this kind of positive reinforcement were available at the Y.
Downey is carrying a small black box. The box’s contents are not readily apparent. He puts the box down gently and pulls on a prison-orange hoodie. The effect enlarges his brown puppy-dog eyes to Japanese anime proportions. He bows to Eric Oram, the owner of the studio.
“Good morning, sifu.”
Sifu is what instructors are called in Wing Chun, a martial arts discipline that has been Downey’s religion since 2003. That’s around the time he dropped the drugs that molted him from Oscar nominee to celebrity death pool nominee. Wing Chun is considered the sensitive artist’s kung fu — Bruce Lee was its first celebrity spokesman — because it’s all about balance, peace, and, if all else fails, ass-whipping. These skills are particularly important in Hollywood.
We step onto the mat. While Downey has been practicing Wing Chun for almost seven years, I have been practicing Wing Chun for almost seven minutes. “Seriously, don’t worry about looking like an idiot,” he tells me. “It’s like life: The less self-conscious you are, the better it works. And remember, lots of ice and Advil afterward. Trust me on that one.”
We do breathing exercises, stretch a while, and then toss a small ball around, working on reaction time. Downey muffs one. He shoots Oram a busted schoolboy look. Oram flashes a sadistic smile.
“That’s 10,” he barks at Downey.
Downey drops and gives him 10 push-ups. Many former addicts talk of trading the addiction of drugs for the addiction of exercise. Downey’s one of them. The more he sweats, the more he enters an opiate-free nirvana. “I love this,” he whispers. “Isn’t it awesome?”
I’m just trying not to hurl. We move to a hand-to-hand fighting exercise. “You don’t want to fight the truck,” says Oram, a bald man with intense eyes and even more intense eyebrows. “You want to step out of the way of the truck. Once you step out of the way, you can start throwing rocks at the truck.” Downey nods and tugs at his hoodie.
“This is all about focus,” Downey tells me between reps. “Wing Chun teaches you what to concentrate on, whether you’re here or out in the world dealing with problems. It’s second nature for me now. I don’t even get to the point where there’s a problem.”
Oram raises his hand to punch, and Downey slaps away his elbow and then counters to Oram’s neck. The two do an elaborate, fistic dance for five minutes. There’s just one hitch in Downey’s giddyap. He repeatedly raises his right hand to block a phantom ear punch Oram never throws, perhaps a leftover ghost from having to protect himself in the jails he frequented in the late ’90s. No amount of Wing Chun can make that go away.
After an hour, we’re done. Well, I’m done. Downey keeps working. He pounds on a wooden dummy blocking with one hand and then delivering a combination to a padded face. He lets out a series of grunts and grimaces. A grin slips across his face.
“The word to describe Robert is hard,” says Guy Ritchie, Downey’s director on Sherlock Holmes. “I know that’s fucking ridiculous in describing an actor, but he can really scrap. He’s done time in jail, which didn’t exactly soften him up. He has a real physicality that is pretty fucking amazing.”
In the Arthur Conan Doyle books, Holmes dabbles in martial arts, so Ritchie, Downey, and Oram took some liberties and collaborated to make Sherlock a buff badass. During a key fight scene, Holmes boxes with a behemoth, and Downey was reluctant to punch the British stuntman full in the mouth at first.
“I was like, ‘I can’t or he’s not going to be able to play with his kids this weekend,’ ” recalls Downey. “And Guy was basically saying, ‘He doesn’t have any kids.’ ”
Downey complied. By the end of the day, the stuntman’s face was red and swollen.
No one gets beaten up that bad at the martial arts center today, but Oram finally has to tell Downey that’s enough.
“Sifu, I’m worried about my exam,” says Downey, after a shower. He hopes to move up the Wing Chun achievement ladder from green to brown belt — one level away from black belt.
“You will do fine,” says Oram solemnly. “Or you won’t.”
Oram and Downey have a classic codependent relationship that goes something like this: Oram teaches Downey three to five days a week, Downey stays clean and sane, and Oram comes to his movie sets, where he serves as confessor, guru, and fight consultant. He then gets to plaster Downey’s name and picture all over his gym and literature.
“When he first came to me, insurance companies wouldn’t bond him for movies; he couldn’t get roles,” Oram says. “I told him if he didn’t show up to a lesson, I was going to chop off his toes and feed them back to him. One day he didn’t turn up, and I told him goodbye. Then he had a couple of producers call me and vouch for him, saying, ‘He was with us in a meeting; he didn’t have a phone. It’s our fault. Don’t cut his head off.’ He has committed himself to it ever since and turned his life around.”
“Wing Chun is all about guarding your center line,” Downey tells me, talking about the place where touchy-ouchy martial art meets philosophy of life. “Don’t fight force with force; use two hands at the same time; concentrate on your own thing; and after you have that dialed in, effect the balance, look for openings, look for arms to be crossed.”
So that’s the secret to his newfound prosperity?
“Oh, yeah, dude,” says Downey.
I’d met downey once before under less serene circumstances. It was in 1992 at the Republican National Con­vention in Houston. The heat was nearly as oppressive as Pat Buchanan. Downey was filming a gonzo political documentary, and I was self-medicating with a friend who was working for the Bush-Quayle campaign. Downey and I had a happily incoherent conversation that ended with one of us excusing ourselves, possibly to vomit.
The trip for me was a boys’ weekend gone horribly wrong. It was Downey’s daily life for more than a decade. After a brilliantly diffuse early career — there were starmaking turns in Chaplin and, uh, Weird Science — he seemed hell-bent on reenacting all the drug scenes from his early classic Less Than Zero. It’s hard to remember if the most de­pressing part of Downey’s downward spiral was his going to prison for heroin possession and a gun charge; passing out in his neighbor’s bed, thinking it was his own; or getting hired and fired from Ally McBeal.
By 2006 Downey was longtime clean, but he was still playing the sixth lead in a remake of The Shaggy Dog, the thespian equivalent of opening for a puppet show. But then came Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, and Sherlock Holmes. The three films together grossed $1.25 billion — more than the 50-plus Downey films that preceded them.
Now, at 45, everyone wants a piece of him, including sifu’s earlier client, a director who would just love to meet Robert. “He’s done com­mercials,” says Oram, without pushing too hard. Downey remains serene, nods affirmatively, and speaks few words — a rarity for him.
This meeting is never going to happen.
Downey, of course, is grateful he has moved from Tom Sizemore problems to Tom Cruise problems. Still, there’s a paradox: The suc­cess of Iron Man has opened the world to Robert Downey Jr., but making too many soulless popcorn flicks may be replacing his former Sunset Boulevard buddies as the biggest threat to his sanity. Even before Iron Man 2 hits, Iron Man 3 is already in the works, and a Sherlock sequel is in development. All the filming and promoting has left Downey exhausted. I ask if he is worried about burnout.
“You don’t worry about something that has already happened,” he says with resignation. “You don’t need to worry about your car breaking down when you’re already on the side of the street with the hood up. Worrying is done. The hubcaps have already come off going around the corners.”
Downey bows a goodbye to Oram. The actor is hungry, so his driver/babysitter, Jimmy, drives us over to a chic Italian place in Brentwood. Jimmy’s been with Downey for years. They have an endearing Bertie and Jeeves relationship, if Bertie were an ex-con movie star and Jeeves were the size of Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert, who is actually Jimmy’s cousin.
Downey sprawls in the backseat, still clutching the little black box. We make small talk for a bit, or, more precisely, I make small talk and Downey answers with big talk. A conversation about father­hood swoops and rises (“You realize you’ve got this amazing kid, and all of a sudden you don’t want to have more days behind you than in front of you”) until he tells me of a recent visit he made to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York for an exhibit on Himalayan art and mortality. “You keep going up these stairs, and it’s all about death, and by the time you get to the top, I was like, ‘Wow, my life is so minuscule and pointless.’ ”
The car goes quiet. Jimmy turns up Howard Stern on satellite radio to fill the void. Downey does a bit of a spit take and slaps me on the shoulder. “Dude, no, minuscule is good! Trust me, it’s much better than thinking everything you do is important and meaningful. That is not good.”
When we get to the Italian place, where Downey is a regular, we settle into a window table. Downey orders a cranberry juice with a lemon. The waiter brings him a cranberry juice. He also brings a bowl of approximately 20 lemon wedges. Every five minutes, Downey adds another lemon to his glass. Within an hour, the glass is a lemon com­post pile. He then places the black box on his lap and pops it open. Inside, there’s everything but a bunny rabbit: half a dozen containers of vitamins, multiple pieces of Nicorette gum, a nice pen, and a wrapped cigar.
“It’s just stuff to keep me healthy,” says Downey. His brain is just as happily cluttered. At one point, he makes it clear that despite his recent success, he has not forgotten how low he can go. But he doesn’t say it that simply. He speaks in double helixes of metaphors and allu­sions, taking a straightforward question about how he’s doing and answering with a Grateful Dead space-jam drum solo. Some of it sounds beautiful, some of it sounds like the surreal small print of a rental car agreement, which is why I’m shrinking the type size:
“I’ve seen the folks who the second they hit their critical mass, they essentially shut the door on the story of their past, who they really are, and they become this narcissistic personality disorder version of what they thought they would want to get away from, whatever injury got them to having half of their drive being to get somewhere, because then they could no longer be seen as they see themselves. It’s really tricky to see it happen. It’s another thing to be put in check by people that I’m close to that sometimes are an ac­cessory in a creative burst. Istill have little pilot fish that want to overstate that or centralize that or make it about me. I’ve noticed more and more lately that, say, we’re in a writing session, and Act Three is in desperate need of a break­through, and Icome up with the idea. Iwant to, occasionally, parade around and do my Where the Wild Things Are paw-print stomp, and I’d say, ‘First of all, it’s nice to celebrate, it’s nice to be excited, it’s another thing to sully that with your own character defects.’ Worse still, it’s a shame to not see that it’s not true, because without the context — and that’s why Ilove partnerships — without the context of somebody who’s actually holding the entirety of what we’re look­ing at and what we’re doing and what we have to accomplish, rather someone who knows all the challenges inherent in Acts One and Two, and believes, even though we’re using a bookmark where the movie ends, where the final image is, that just because it works for now, it works for now because it’s comforting, because you believe you have an end. I’ve been noticing more and more lately how partnerships and small groups of well-matched people are all equally re­sponsible, whether you’re the front man in the band or whether you’re just mixing behind the scenes. It’s awesome.”
I know what you’re thinking: pilot fish, narcissistic personality disorder, and Where the Wild Things Are all in one thought burst. Downey has fallen off and is now being dragged behind the wagon, right? Not true. It’s just Downeyspeak. I mention Downey’s tendency to verbally meander to his Iron Man 2 co-star Don Cheadle, and he can’t stop laughing. “Yeah, I don’t know how you’re going to pull that off. You’re going to need a pictograph, or change the color of the text so people know where he’s going. Or just start talking about his socks.” Ritchie sums up the Robert Downey Experience succinctly: “Do I have any idea what the fuck he is talking about most of the time? No fucking way. He fucking rants, sounds very clever, and then I have to tell him: ‘Repeat that, but this time fucking speak English.’ ”
Downey’s brain was molded in a childhood that could be described as bohemian or, less charitably, pro­foundly fucked up. His father is the indie filmmaker Robert Downey Sr., and in 1970, Dad cast his five-year-old son in the black comedy Pound. Junior’s first cinematic line is addressed to a freaked-out bald man: “Have any hair on your balls?” Not ex­actly the pinewood derby. The storied legend is that Downey Sr. gave Bobby Jr. his first hit of pot when he was eight. Downey’s parents split up when he was 12, and he spent a peripatetic childhood shuttling among New York, England, and, finally, Los Angeles, where Downey dropped out of high school just as his father’s career began to dry up.
Downey’s own son had to endure his addled father being carted off to jail and rehab multiple times. Still, Downey is reluctant to give Indio the “Do as I say, not as I do” speech as he raises his kid on L.A.’s posh west side, not far from many of the places where he first lost his mind to drugs.
“I go through periods of wanting to join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ with everyone, and sometimes I want to fire-bomb the entire area,” he says. “All I want, and I think all any parent with a semblance of a moral psychology wants, is for my kid to have his own experience, uninhibited. You want to feed the good dog, because the shadow side of any of us is going to pop up at some point.”
Downey doesn’t blame his hard times on Pop never scaring him straight. “I grew up with a lot of people whose whole prime mover was dad rage. I never really had it — it always seemed so empty. It always seemed to be masking something else, which was really their own lack of initiative.”
He clearly has great respect for his father’s left-of-center work — Senior is best known for 1969’s Putney Swope, a satire of a black man working in an all-white advertising firm — and cringes at memories of his dad banging his head against Hollywood’s studio system. But to say he’s worked out his relationship with his 73-year-old father, who now lives in New York, is way too simplistic for a man as smart as Downey. When we talk about Iron Man 2, he largely parries questions — until the subject turns to his character Tony Stark’s relationship with his dead father.
“We’re having Tony go back and really deal with the ramifications of his lack of connection to his dad, his almost professional-stock, prop-smile answers, and how he’d been using Dad’s memory as a weapon against others,” Downey says. “He’s really feeling hugely conflicted by assumptions about his dad’s feelings about him and whether or not there’s any real connection between them at the most basic level, which is: You’re not here anymore for this. Is there something you have for me, is there something you left for me, is there some sort of bread-crumb trail I can find that will help fill me at this point in my life?”
I ask the logical follow-up: Is your relationship with your own dad good? He gives me the only brief answer in the day we spend together.
Then he squeezes more lemons.
When Jon Favreau first raised the idea of casting Downey as Tony Stark, Marvel Studios was so against it that the Iron Man director had to cam­paign just so that Downey could audition for the part — something he hadn’t done since Chaplin, the 1992 film that earned him his first Oscar nomination. Downey said no problem. “You say no if you don’t want to do the job,” says Downey. “If you want the job, you do whatever’s required to meet the specs to have the job.”
He started prepping. “I wanted to be perceived as just a little bit more handsome, just a little bit taller. It’s all about colors. Sometimes if you’re want­ing to look just a little bit taller, then you want to dress with just more of a thin cut. Most of all it was to leave them with no option other than to hire me.” Downey wore a tailored English suit and slipped on Hogan dress boots to add another inch. But that was all just frosting on the Pop Tart. He already owned the Stark character, a hard-drinking, out-of-control outsider whose swagger camouflages a lifetime of regret and superficial living. In short, the role was not a stretch.
The box office and critical buzz led to Downey being cast as Sherlock Holmes in the Ritchie remake, with Jude Law playing second-banana Wat­son — a billing hierarchy that would have seemed unthinkable just two years ago. In between those films, Downey scored his second Oscar nomination with Tropic Thunder, playing the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude. According to Downey, the role was the “cathartic ex­perience of my creative life,” but in the wrong hands could have won a Razzie, not to mention a censure from the NAACP.
The question now is not whether Downey has the chops to continue as a major movie star, but whether he has the capacity to deal with the bullshit part of the job. It’s one thing to always be the dissolute man of great promise; it’s another thing to simply be the man.

He rhapsodizes about his experience playing a pompous architect trying to get home for the birth of his child in the recently wrapped Due Date, with The Hangover team of co-star Zach Galifianakis and director Todd Phillips. “My inner asshole was required, and all that stuff that sometimes falls out I was able to use constructively,” says Downey. “Working with those guys was probably one of the great experiences of my life.” 

So far, so good. But then, unprompted, he starts talking about another film that did not take him to his happy place. “There are times when you know you’re pushing it and you don’t have a great vibe about where things are going creatively. You have to be collarbone-deep in molasses for four months and just go, ‘I have no solace in my work whatsoever, and it’s 12 hours a day of cosmic punishment.’ ” He stirs the contents of the black box looking like he might cry. “All I have is what I’m doing when I’m not working, and hopefully that has something to do with taking care of myself.”
I ask him which film.
“I will not say its name.”
Was it recent?
We talk about other things for a while, and I start eliminating movies. I’ve got it down to two.
Surely, it was The Shaggy Dog, right?

He leans forward and stares hard at me. He gulps down a triple espresso. “Shaggy Dog was a very, very important movie for me. It was a very enjoyable experience.” He sounds sincere.

Jimmy walks in and reminds Downey of a pending meeting with Ritchie to discuss Sherlock Holmes 2 script revi­sions. We start to wrap things up, and I tell him through my powers of deduc­tive reasoning that his cosmic punish­ment film must be Iron Man 2. Downey flinches a little, like at the gym trying to ward off the imaginary ear punch. 

“This is still art for commerce, at best,” says Downey about his chosen profession. “I consider myself to be a pain-in-the-ass artist who’s self-aware enough to still be tolerable. While I have a little bit of juice, I try not to rub it in anyone’s face, because it’s just disgust­ing. And I use the term ‘artist’ loosely.”

Downey takes a couple more vitamins, rummages around the debris in the little black box, closes it, gives a yank at his heart-covered socks, and heads for the door. Jimmy awaits, and we head toward Santa Monica Boulevard and his conference with Ritchie.

“Meetings. I never thought I’d be in so many meetings,” says Downey. He’s soon off on another tangent, speed-talking about being at a dinner party at producer Joel Silver’s house and talking to his Venetian chef and deciding to take his son, Indio, on a cultural vision quest to Italy, staying in three-star-or-less hotels. “Just take a week, just him and me. He’s into it; maybe in a year he won’t be.” Downey, stretching out in the backseat, has put on a long, grandmotherly black sweater. “This is going to happen soon,” he insists.
I get the sense that between the production meetings, media jun­kets, and the next Sherlock flick, the trip probably won’t happen. Somehow, Downey has lived long enough to have a “Cat’s in the Cradle” moment. But like with most busy, middle-aged fathers, his heart is in the right place. The charismatic, sad, naughty, self-de­structive man-child I met in 1992 is long gone, replaced by a sometimes self-rationalizing, sometimes solipsistic grown-up who now knows how to get out of the way of the truck. Something has been lost, and something has been gained.

They drop me off at my car a few minutes later. Downey shakes my hand and slides into the front seat. He gives a wave and, with a little actorly flair, puts on his seat belt. For the first time, I can imag­ine Robert Downey Jr. living to be a nice old man. The car drives away slowly, never crossing the center line. 

The Density of Smart People

The Density of Smart People

May 28 2010, 11:15 AM ET | Comment
Clusters of smart people of the highly educated sort that economists refer to as "human capital" are the key engine of economic growth and development.  Jane Jacobs argued that the clustering of talented and energetic in cities is the fundamental driving force of economic development. In a classic essay, "On the Mechanics of Economic Development," the Nobel prize-winning, University of Chicago economist Robert Lucas formalized Jacobs' insights and argued that human capital, or what can be called Jane Jacobs externalities, are indeed the key factor in economic growth and development. Still, the standard way economists measure human capital is to take the percentage of people in a country, state, or metropolitan area with a bachelor's degree or higher most scholars measure human capital in terms of population.
So I was intrigued by this fascinating analysis by Rob Pitingolo (h/t: Don Peck) which looks at the density of human capital. Pitingolo put together a neat measure that he refers to as "educational attainment density." Instead of measuring human capital or college degree holders as a function of population, he measures it as a function of land area -- that is, as college degree holders per square mile. As he explains:
I compiled the data at two geographic levels: first at the city level and second at the "urban county" level. I realize that comparing these geographies is not always entirely fair. That's why I'm giving away the spreadsheet with all of my work to anyone who wants to build upon this analysis (download it here). I picked these cities by looking at the 50 largest metro areas by population and pulling what I deemed to be the "primary city" from each. In two metro areas, the Twin Cities and Bay Area, I pulled two "primary cities."
He goes through a variety of analyses -- all of which I highly recommend. But let me just show the results of his analysis of college degree density for the 50 largest cities.
  • San Francisco and New York are far and away the leaders in human capital density with 7,031 and 6,357 college degree holders per square mile, respectively. Boston (3,871), Washington, D.C. (3,395) , Seattle (2,853), and Chicago (2.543) all have human capital densities in the range of 2,500 to 3,500 degree holders per quarter mile.
  • Silicon Valley has a human capital density of 1,259 degree holders per square mile. Also in this range and above the 1,000 threshold are Minneapolis (1,997), Providence (1,711), Philadelphia (1,664), Miami (1,633), L.A. (1,596), Oakland (1,596), Baltimore (1,336), St. Paul (1,293), Pittsburgh (1,289), San Jose (1,259) Portland (1,194), San Diego (1,071), Atlanta, (1,035) and Denver (1,023).
  • Interestingly, noted high-tech clusters of Austin and Raleigh are slightly below this level with 857 and 799 college degree holders per square mile, respectively. The median density in his data series is 792.
  • The lowest human capital densities are in Oklahoma City (159) and Jacksonville (167). Human capital densities of less than 500 degree holders per square mile are found in Birmingham (210), Louisville (250), Nashville (268), New Orleans (285), Kansas City (288), Memphis (313), Virginia Beach (370), Indianapolis (408), Detroit (425), Salt Lake City (445), Cleveland (453), San Antonio (469), and Phoenix (470).
Pitingolo also provides an interesting analysis of human capital density at the county level, as well as identifying places that perform better or worse than expected on "predicted degree density" via a residual analysis.  He raises an important question about "human capital sprawl." As he defines it, this occurs when human capital density is lower in the central city than its surrounding county. He finds preliminary evidence of human capital sprawl in five places -- Louisville, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, Nashville, and Indianapolis, noting that: "This preliminary result is particularly worrisome if you believe that metro areas need strong central cities and strong central cities need a lot of smart people."

Freeze Your Fat Away

Freeze Your Fat Away

A new, high-tech procedure at the dermatologist's office zaps unwanted bulges — no needles or scalpels required.

a woman's stomach and hips
Photo Credit: Diego Alvarez de Toledo/iStock
Special Offer
Since my teens, I've been dogged by my secret fat: a stubborn slab across my lower abdomen that no amount of running would remedy. It was an irritating ripple that seemed to double in size from morning to night, yet it was also isolated enough to conceal in well-cut clothes. On bad days, I could gather it in my hands and fashion it into a giant bagel, which dampened my mood almost to the point of distraction. It was impervious to exercise and diet (I eat pretty healthily), and, since my two pregnancies, it had rested above a depressingly wide horizontal crease above my bikini line. It looked like my whole torso was frowning.

So my usual skepticism was trumped by sheer, childlike giddiness when I learned that my roll of shame was the perfect target for a new, noninvasive gadget called Zeltiq, which permanently zaps fat on the stomach, waist, hips, and back via Cryolipolysis (translation: freezing it). "It's best suited for women who are close to ideal body weight with specific areas of unwanted fat, like the belly," said Dr. Jeffrey Dover, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and the chairman of the scientific advisory board of Zeltiq. Had he seen my vacation photos? "These candidates can be as fit as possible," Dover added, "and they'll still never get rid of that fat." I felt strangely absolved, realizing that I'd viewed my band of blubber as a personal failure. I also realized how much emotional energy I've spent trying to accept my stomach the way it is (I've carried two precious boys, blah, blah)—to no avail. Did this mean I was incredibly vain, or insecure, or both? Suddenly, a new question popped into my head: Who cares?

I scheduled a consultation with dermatologist Dr. Arielle Kauvar, the gentle but no-nonsense director of New York Laser & Skin Care, who has been using the machine on patients since last fall. Zeltiq has been approved for fat removal in Europe, Asia, and South America since mid-2009. In the U.S., it's FDA-approved for skin anesthesia but is still under review for fat removal. In the meantime, a handful of American doctors are using it off-label (a legal practice).

"Fat cells are damaged at a higher temperature than normal tissue and nerves," Kauvar explained. "This device extracts heat and cools the skin so the fat in cells crystallizes, then is slowly eliminated over two months, and the bulge gets smaller. And fat cells do not regenerate." (Dover later explained that once frozen, the cells dissolve and the released fat is likely processed by the liver. Clinical trials reported an average fat-layer reduction of 22.4 percent as measured by ultrasound.) Kauvar moved on to the nuts and bolts. "There's no anesthesia, no needles. I attach the device to you with a vacuum, and it sucks the fat area into the applicator. You sit for an hour each session and may feel bruised or numb for about two weeks. Now, shall we take a look?"

I stood up. Kauvar crouched down in front of me, and I lifted my shirt, squeezing my flab as she worked her way from side to side. "Oh, yeah," she said. "You're a good candidate." She called in an assistant, and they discussed how they would place the device on me. "You could almost do it in one application or two overlapping ones," Kauvar said. Dermatologists charge $600 to $1,000 per application; two in Kauvar's office would run $1,500—versus around $5,000 for abdominal liposuction. Dover added one caveat: "The long-term benefits are still unknown, and if someone binges, they could get fat elsewhere." But his words barely stuck. I was sold.

A week later, Kauvar took "before" photos of me from five angles. I lay back in a chair next to the Zeltiq machine, which is about the size of a freestanding ATM, as her assistant spread a cotton pad saturated with cool gel across the right side of my lower abdomen. Kauvar approached with the vacuum, a translucent nozzle with an 8"x2" opening, and placed it precisely onto the pad. Her assistant pressed the start button, and within seconds the vacuum sucked in half of my stomach, leaving the surrounding area shockingly taut. Next, I felt the cold. It tingled and stung at first, then subsided into a tolerable chill, like when you ice a sore muscle. As I lay there for an hour watching CNN, I felt pain only twice: first, when I coughed (I felt like my abdominal muscles were ripping), and second, for the last few minutes, when the weight of the applicator began to pull on my already-stretched-to-the-limit skin. Still, on my personal pain meter, the experience registered lower than a bikini wax or teeth cleaning.

When Kauvar removed the sucker after an hour, the flesh that had been inside it looked and felt like a pink, raw, wrinkled, frozen block of beef—or, as Kauvar described it, "a stick of cold butter." As I stared at it in horror, I reminded myself that, theoretically, this was precisely the hunk of fat I was getting rid of, and I averted my eyes for the second session on my left side. Afterward, as I hobbled to the bathroom in my blue paper robe, I felt a little like I had after giving birth: completely disconnected from my midsection and terrified to touch it. Which made it even odder when I pulled on my skinny J Brand jeans and walked right out onto Fifth Avenue.

Kauvar had told me that I'd experience numbness, tightness, and maybe even some charley-horse-like cramping for two weeks post-treatment. (Indeed, these have been the only reported complications of Zeltiq.) My stomach was numb to the touch for the first couple of days, and I felt deep jolts of pain when pushing through a subway turnstile. Once the numbness wore off, the area felt achy. During the second week, the soreness spiked, and the whole area felt so tight that it burned, especially when my pants pressed against it. I tried to visualize my fat cells shrieking in agony, shriveling, and disintegrating, but it didn't help. Had the procedure gone awry? Was I having some kind of allergic reaction? But on day 14, the date of my first follow-up with Kauvar, the pain vanished. "I've noticed that the less fat in the treated area, the more symptoms there are afterward," she said. "It may be from the pulling of the surrounding tissue." I then confessed that on a trip I'd taken right after my Zeltiq session, my usually mindful diet had taken a nosedive for five days. "Will that cancel out the fat freezing?" I asked. She smiled patiently. "No. If anything, the fat you've eaten has avoided the area." And gone to my butt? My wrists?

Over the next six weeks, I saw and felt a very gradual change. One day I noticed that I didn't have to suck in my abs to close my skirts anymore, and another day when I pulled on some non-stretch jeans right out of the hot dryer, they felt snug around my hips and thighs but didn't cut into my gut. Remarkably, I'd even gained a couple of pounds from not running as often in the brutal last months of winter. But even more striking than the physical changes was the revelation that my psyche felt lighter, trimmer, sexier. A tiny part of me felt like I'd "cheated," and for that reason I had told only my husband, sisters, and best friends what I'd done. But rather than judge, their general response was, "I want to do it. How much does it cost?" This wasn't about achieving a distorted celebrity ideal; my whole body finally jibed with the intensity of my runs and workouts; this is the way it deserved to look.

Which is not to say, of course, that I'd achieved taut-tummy perfection. The day of my three-month follow-up, I took inventory. The skin on either side of my navel was smooth, snug, and flat. The center of my stomach was still soft and easy to grab, but it was no longer a pouch, and I couldn't tell if the slackness was due to leftover fat or loose skin. When I looked in the mirror, I saw slight lines of definition that had been buried before.

At Kauvar's office, she crouched down once again and gently pulled at my skin. "The sides are definitely better," she said, "and if you want, you can do one more application right in the center." You've probably guessed the next question that popped into my head, as I stood there marveling at what was possible: How soon can you fit me in?

Despite Green Diet, Data Centers Still Gobble Power

Despite Green Diet, Data Centers Still Gobble Power

Joab Jackson, IDG News
May 21, 2010 6:50 pm
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Like the unfortunate person who continually diets but only seems to gain more weight, power-hungry data centers -- despite adopting virtualization and power management techniques -- only seem to be consuming more energy than ever, to judge from some of the talks at the Uptime Symposium 2010, held this week in New York.
"There is a freight train coming that most people do not see, and it is that you are going to run out of power and you will not be able to keep your data center cool enough," Rob Bernard, the chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, told attendees at the conference.
Power usage is not a new issue, of course. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy predicted that data center energy consumption would double by 2011 to more than 120 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh). This prediction seems to be playing out: An ongoing survey from the Uptime Institute found that, from 2005 to 2008, the electricity usage of its members' data centers grew at an average of about 11 percent a year.
But despite all the talk in green computing, data centers don't seem to be getting more power-efficient. In fact, they seem to be getting worse.
"We haven't fundamentally changed the way we do things. We've done a lot of great stuff at the infrastructure level, but we haven't changed our behavior," Bernard said.
Speakers at the conference pointed to a number of different power-sucking culprits, including energy-indifferent application programming, siloed organizational structures, and, ironically, better hardware.
One part of the problem is the way applications are developed. "Applications are architected in the old paradigm," Bernard said. Developers routinely build programs that allocate too much memory and hold on to the processor for too long. A single program that isn't written to go into sleep mode when not in use will drive up power consumption for the entire server.
"The application isn't energy-aware, it doesn't matter that every other application on the client is," he said. That one application will prevent the computer from going into a power-saving sleep mode.
The relentless pace of processor improvement is another culprit, at least if the data center manager doesn't handle it correctly. Thanks to the still-unrelenting pace of Moore's Law, in which the number of transistors on new chips doubles every two years or so, each new generation of processors can double the performance of its predecessors.
In terms of power efficiency, this is problematic, even if the new chips don't consume more power than the old ones, Bernard said. Swapping out old processors for new ones may get the application to run faster, but the application takes up correspondingly less of the more powerful CPU's resources. Meanwhile, the unused cores idle, still consuming a large amount of power. This means more capacity is wasted, unless more applications are folded onto fewer servers.
"As soon as you replace your hardware with something more efficient, your CPU usage, by definition, will go down," Bernard said.
Speakers at the conference estimated that the average CPU utilization (which is the number of processor cycles that are actually tasked with doing something) hovered somewhere between 5 percent and 25 percent. Despite virtualization efforts, the percentage seems to be going down as time passes.
Organizations are not thinking enough about how to consolidate workloads, Bernard charged. Each new application added by an organization tends to get its own silo, and very little work is done in sharing resources.
Bernard used Microsoft as an example. He noted that while Microsoft online services such as Hotmail and Bing have really high CPU utilization rates, the company also has many other projects, both internal and external, that use only a small portion of the capability of the servers devoted to them. For each new project, a manager may provision too many servers for the task. And when the hardware is upgraded, the CPU utilization rate goes down even further.
Bernard said Microsoft, like many large organizations, has "hundreds and hundreds of small applications that aren't mission-critical, but they need to be serviced, and they all overprovision and have massive headroom."
The server makers and other component manufacturers have gone a long way toward building power saving into their equipment. However, again thanks to the low CPU utilization and ingrained organizational habits, power savings have proved to be minimal.
John Stanley, an analyst at the research firm The 451 Group, which purchased the Uptime Institute last year, surveyed power usage across industry members of Uptime. In a panel discussion, he previewed some of his early findings.
He had found that fluctuations in server traffic do not correspond with fluctuations in the amount of power that servers, as a group, draw from the power supply. "Even though you may have big variations with [different] boxes, overall, the variation in the average is very small," he said. Stanley plans to publish his findings in a research note later this month.
Servers may have power-savings features, but given how the workloads are spread out across the servers, such features don't seem to do much good in reducing the overall amount of energy consumed.
Even when it idles, a server can use hundreds of watts, though few users want to turn the servers off, given the time it would take to get them running again, Andrew Fanara said in the same panel discussion. Fanara is the former Energy Star manager for data center specifications and is currently with infrastructure-management software provider OSISoft.
What is needed is a more dynamic way for the data center to scale its power usage with the amount of work that needs to be done, speakers said. "As an industry, what we'd truly like to see is truly linear scaling where you'd use zero watts when doing zero work to drawing a lot of power [only] when you are doing more work," Stanley said.
This idea was echoed by eBay's data center chief, Dean Nelson, during his talk.
"What I believe will be coming is applications that tune the frequency of the server CPU, [so the application] can dynamically overclock or shrink the [CPU] frequency by demand. The physical infrastructure will dynamically match to the load," Nelson said. Moreover, the application requirements could also control the amount of cooling needed. "That is a truly dynamic data center, and that's where I want to get to," he said.
As it happens, this sort of scalable computing is what Intel is trying to achieve with its successive generations of processors.
"Computers seldom work at full workload," admitted Winston Saunders, Intel's director of power initiatives, in an additional talk.
The goal Intel is working on is to develop chips that use "only the amount of energy necessary to scale to the load," Saunders said. Already, some power-saving technologies have been built into the company's processors. For example, the Xeon 5600 has a wide array of power-saving technologies, such as the ability to power down cores and flush the cache when the processor is only being lightly used.
Saunders promised that each new generation of processors will feature gains in energy efficiency and that the company is aiming toward "energy-proportional computing," in which the power usage scales smoothly with the workload.
The CPU accounts for only about half of the power that a server uses, though. For dynamic power scaling to truly work, all the server components -- fans, memory, disk drives and other components -- must scale with the application workload, Stanley said.
Such coordination will need to go beyond server component makers and extend across all aspects of data center operations, Bernard said. "If you look at any one slice, which is what people tend to think about, all you do is push the problem up or down the stack," Bernard said. The application managers must work more closely with the data center operators and even the facilities managers, to work out the most efficient operations overall.
"The idea is to not think about more transactions per watt, but to think about fewer watts per transaction," Bernard said.

Today's Food Companies: The Quick and the Dead

Today's Food Companies: The Quick and the Dead

May 20 2010, 8:47 AM ET | Comment

Despite skepticism surrounding the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation pledge that its food industry members will sell 1.5 trillion fewer calories in the next five years, there is an emerging track record that suggests that food marketers are recognizing that they must deal with the spiraling-out-of-control obesity crisis ... or else. Witness the recent announcement by the American Heart Association- and Clinton Foundation-run Alliance for a Healthier Generation that soft drink giants Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group have reduced the number of calories shipped to schools by 88 percent since 2004. PepsiCo has gone one step further by unilaterally declaring that it will halt the sale of full-sugar soft drinks in primary and secondary schools globally.

With companies like Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, and Campbell Soup participating in the Foundation's pledge, here's a preview of what's coming on grocery shelves. Don't expect traditional Coca-Cola to change (again), but readers are likely to see more visible displays of lower-calorie beverages like Coca-Cola Zero and Vitaminwater. Kraft will pull even more calories out of its Lunchables or reduce the size of Kraft cheese slices. And those Milano cookies from Pepperidge Farm may be just a wee bit less fatty. Anticipate that a plethora of packages will be "downsized," with a whole array of smaller portioned boxes, mini-packs, cans, and bottles to choose from. Even the food inside will be smaller.

More enlightened food marketers are getting the message that doing the right thing is in their best interests. Why are they lowering calories, fats, and sodium? The simple answer is: impending regulations. Smart packaged goods firms have taken a lesson from their restaurant brethren after watching how the restaurant lobby resisted the move to place calories on menu boards. Once the light bulb went off that several states and multiple municipalities beyond New York City might pass legislation requiring different formats for listing calories, agreement to a national standard as proposed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) became a no-brainer. And it has not been lost on marketers that health advocates and activists are reading from a new playbook published by the Urban Institute titled "Reducing Obesity: Policy Strategies from the Tobacco Wars" (PDF).

So is a 1.5 trillion calorie reduction over five years enough to make a difference? Clearly, focusing on lowering calories to deal with the obesity problem is the right call, and the Foundation should be applauded for taking a stand, but this is a drop in the bucket and represents only a 0.5 percent reduction in the 300 trillion calories available for Americans to consume each year. That translates to less than 1.5 pounds of added weight per person. Hardly enough to resolve an obesity crisis.

To fix obesity, we must reverse what got us here in the first place. Daily calories supplied are up 30 percent per person since 1970, and returning to that "pre-obesity" level requires a discharge of 69 trillion calories.

It's time to be bold. REALLY BOLD. "Put a man on the moon" bold.

With all the tools available to food marketers to lower the calories they sell while maintaining profits—introducing low-calorie alternatives and high-profit-margin 100-calorie portion packages, and putting marketing support behind lower-calorie brands—it is time to step up and "tear down this wall" of obesity by committing to eliminating those excess 69 trillion calories. This 20-percent or more reduction in calories is what's really needed to take back American's health and waistlines. So declare this goal for the end of the decade and we'll all be better for it ... consumers as well as corporate bottom lines.

Or else? 

How to stop eating processed foods

How to stop eating processed foods

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Packaged guacamole makes the cut.
This Story
Pop Tarts, alas, do not.
The difference? The first is "real" food, the second not so much.
That's according to Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, whose new book, "Real Food Has Curves: How to Get Off Processed Food, Lose Weight, and Love What You Eat" (Gallery), is a guide to what should be a natural, intuitive activity: feeding ourselves.
Connecticut couple Weinstein (a trained chef) and Scarbrough (a former English professor) have written 17 cookbooks together over 11 years and write for Weight Watchers, Cooking Light and, on occasion, The Washington Post. (Weinstein is also known for his book and blog about knitting for men.)
In "Real Food," they walk us through a seven-step process of weaning ourselves from packaged and processed foods, starting by selecting and tasting -- really tasting -- a fresh peach and ending with committing to "treat yourself well" by bettering your breakfast, enjoying midday snacks and relishing dessert.
Along the way, readers learn to view foods in terms of how close they are to "real." In the authors' paradigm, freshly squeezed orange juice is "real," orange juice not made from concentrate "almost real," orange juice from concentrate "barely real" and bottled orange-flavored drink "not real."
Wherever your typical diet falls in this range, the authors suggest you "take one step to the left," closer to the "real" end. "As you go about your day," they write, "think about what's real and what's not, what's almost real food and what's barely so, what's been shellacked with additives, what's wonderful in its natural state."
Eating in this fashion will probably help you lose weight, say the authors, who both shed pounds when they shifted toward "real" food. But it will also make your diet more healthful and satisfying, they promise.
Grocery shopping with the couple, as I got to do last week, is an exercise in discretion and label reading. Just back from a business trip, they needed to restock their larder. Scarbrough assured Weinstein that they still had plenty of homemade granola; what they needed were ingredients to make the week's lineup of vegetable-and-grain-based lunch salads, which include wheat berries, quinoa, roasted corn and red peppers, baby artichokes, cucumbers and celery. (You can find recipes on their blog:
The two are wary of ingredients such as "flavoring" and "spices," which really don't pin down what you're putting in your mouth. They nixed bottled coleslaw dressing (whose first ingredient is sugar) but approved of pre-sliced, packaged purple onions in the refrigerator section. If you use those onions, Weinstein says, "you are cooking; you're just not chopping."
Tofu makes the grade, but not tofu-based vegetarian chorizo sausage. If your dietary restrictions preclude your eating a certain food, Scarbrough suggests, "don't get something fake instead." If you're gluten intolerant and can't eat a pizza, he says, better to forgo "fake," wheat-free pizza crusts and opt instead for a plate of nachos with ("real") melted cheese.
Weinstein bakes bread at home, but for convenience's sake he buys store-baked bialies. That's in keeping with Scarbrough's advice that "convenience shouldn't be discounted, just examined."
As for the common wisdom that the most healthful food lies along the grocery store's perimeter, Scarbrough asserts that some approved foods can be found among the boxes, bags and cans in the center aisles. Shelf-stable vacuum boxes of milk pass muster, for instance, as do some canned tomatoes and rice.
Still, the grocery shelves are stacked against those seeking "real" food. In the syrup aisle, Scarbrough pointed out that the only "real" sweeteners there, the honey and real maple syrup, are on the top shelf, out of reach. And they are more expensive than the front-and-center pancake toppers whose first ingredients are corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, with not a drop of maple in the mix.
As we left the store, Scarbrough mentioned that he and Weinstein "almost called the book 'Chocolate Pudding Will Save Your Life.' " To these two, the difference between pudding made at home with a few simple ingredients and the additive-riddled kind in boxes or tubs is emblematic of their approach.
"If you have 'real' chocolate pudding," Weinstein says, "it will change the way you think about everything."


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