Showing posts from 2008

Sex and the Swedish Censor

The European Union is flexing its politically correct muscles again, this time taking straight aim at what they deem advertisements that portray women as sex objects.The woman behind this initiative is Eva-Britt Svensson, a 62-year old member of the European parliament (MEP) who has never been accused of being a Swedish beauty.I wonder how the French, Italians, and even the Brits feel about this dictum.
They’re the ones that have the most to lose, since they dominate the fashion and beauty scene in Europe and beyond.The Swedes, on the other hand, are really the “enablers,” since they supply the tall, nubile, full-breasted blondes who model the clothes and beauty products that grace the pages of fashion magazines and billboards.That must really curl the hair on Svensson’s legs.Although Svennson’s initiative is directed at television, it will have a chilling effect on other advertising if it passes Parliament, and it may even affect French and British politics.Imagine Carla Bruni, the be…

FOOD, FUEL AND FARMING: The Sky’s the Limit

Sometimes, the answer to a complex problem is so simple, so elegant that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. That was my reaction yesterday as I sat at the World Science Festival Summit and listened to Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier describe an ingenious idea that could ultimately ease the world’s food, water, and energy crises.

"The Living Tower" by SOA Architects

He calls it vertical farming, and he wasn’t talking about growing pole beans. This is agriculture on the 34th floor of a big city skyscraper. Despommier has been working on vertical farming for more than 10 years, inspired by population experts that foresee over 9 billion people on the planet by 2050.

The environment also benefits since there’s no need for pesticides and other harmful chemicals, you give the land back to trees, shrubs and other natural species, and you use less water for irrigation since you can recirculate. And of course there’s the “buy local” idea. You won’t have to …


Finally, someone in grape valley climbed out of the wine cellar to figure out what wine drinkers really want aside from great taste: peel-off wine labels. According to Trend Central, an Australian wine producer, Oxford Landing, is offering this consumer-friendly perk on their Shiraz . It’s no wonder since there are dozens of Internet sites that are willing to teach you how peel off a wine bottle label without shredding it—a near impossible feat, of course. I’ve discovered that it’s easier to remove an RFID tag from and iPod than it is to remove a wine label from a great bottle of 2001 Brunello.

Of course, peel-off wine labels present etiquette challenges. Can you simply remove the label from the wine you just bought at that restaurant? (Probably—it’s your wine.) At a friend’s home, however, the rules are different. You need permission before you defile that bottle, so you had better pop the question. Once you’ve collected the labels, you can now dig out that gorgeous, hand-stitched lea…


Can monkeys form gangs and terrorize people? Just ask the residents of Gibraltar where a pack of 25 macaques have broken into hotels through open windows, vandalized rooms, and have been seen rummaging through garbage in the center of town. When I first read about this, I thought Judd Apatow was shooting a movie on the big rock and that the monkeys—teenagers no doubt—were “extras.” The more than 200 macaques on the island are a major tourist attraction in Gibraltar, but they also carry diseases like salmonella and herpes B-virus , which can be transmitted to humans, especially if the monkey bites you.

You can imagine what happens when tourists see these free-range monkeys. They feed them (duh)! And like most animals with any brains, the monkeys figure that the tourists have more where that came from. So they hit the hotels. Even though the tourists are to blame for the monkey’s sins, Gibraltar blames the victims. They intend to kill all 25 in the gang.

This has prompted an equally stron…


You might think mice and rats are the answer to solving mankind’s medical afflictions. I thought so too until I read that the lowly fruit fly may hold the key to restoring memory in humans. Turns out we have a lot in common, genetically speaking, with the common fruit fly, otherwise known as Drosophila. According to researchers at NASA's Ames Research Center , about 61% of known human disease genes match the little bugger’s genetic code.

That’s why these flies have been used in myriad genetic experiments, ranging from the most seriously important research on why our two species like sweets to the less important issue of how to prevent cancer. So before you swat them away from that oozing and delectable ripe plum, remember that they are the soldiers on the front line of neurogenesis —a new way of generating brain cells.

Still, this latest study from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories defies credibility. For starters, the lead researcher is a guy named Josh, which pretty much puts him in…

The Dark Side of Green Light

Just when we were feeling good about changing all those incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents (CFLs), we learn that they're filled with two toxic chemicals--mercury and phosphor. But that's not all. If you break one, you're in for a massive, nightmarish cleanup. And what should we do about "dead" bulbs? How do we dispose of them? Here's the EPA on what to do when the bulb breaks.

Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room
-Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
-Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
-Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
-Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
-Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and p…

The Self-Hating Shrew

At first glance Charlotte Allen’s misogynistic Op-Ed piece in The Washington Post looks like post-feminism on hyperbolic steroids from China—an over the top rant with a dose of heavy-metal poison thrown in for effect. She takes on those adoring Obama fans—mostly women—although I’ve seen a few guys melt in his presence. “What is this,” she asks, “the Beatles tour of 1964?”

She then goes on to attack Oprah Winfrey. (I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because Winfrey didn’t go to Harvard and Stanford and yet she’s still richer than Allen.) Next on her list: Celine Dion. I assume she goes after Dion because she’s a Canadian and therefore a potential illegal immigrant or terrorist, not because she sings romantic ballads in contrast to the rap and heavy metal which no doubt dominate Allen’s iPod. And not to be left out, Botox is on her hit list as a metaphor for what’s wrong with women today. She probably has no idea that men have personal trainers, get as much liposuction as women and…

STUPID AND SINFUL--How America Can Be Number One Again

Maybe we should rethink our “No Child Left Behind” program. If we eliminate all expectations for achievement and behavior, we may actually be able to recapture our economic and moral supremacy, and be number one in the world. Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but there is a precedent for this kind of thinking.

At yesterday’s TED conference in Monterey, California, Jay Walker, founder of, made the case that it was the Catholic Church’s Plenary Indulgences—not the Guttenberg Bible—that drove the creation and popularity of the printing press. In the 15th century, indulgences were like modern day torts, and the church hierarchy was the equivalent of ambulance chasing trial lawyers. Instead of the laborious and often inaccurate process of copying these documents that absolved people of their sins, the Church had a better business plan. It was the equivalent of a class-action suit, because printing these Letters of Indulgence en masse would provide a new, extensible and scal…

The OTB of Magazines

Finally, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for print magazines. A new strategy has emerged thanks to The Industry Standard, the high priest of the Internet that folded after that bubble burst. Now, the magazine is back on line, but this time people are betting on it to win—literally. Yes, the Standard is now the OTB of the magazine world, taking bets on whether or not Yahoo will accept Microsoft’s offer, or whether Google will support Open ID. Register to bet and you’re given 100,000 virtual dollars to play with. The odds change, of course, and there are cut-off dates. But what's at stake is more than play money. The results of this kind of virtual betting, which are often right on the money, could determine a company’s stock price or whether or not that V.C. investment goes through.

Soon after it launched in 1998, the Standard became the “bible” for Internet business. It was fat with ads and attracted some of the best financial writers in the magazine universe. …

The Physics of Football

I'm one of the 60 million people who don't regularly follow football, but who will be watching the Superbowl this Sunday. We are more than a group on Facebook, more than a cadre of caterers who feed chicken wings and vats of guacamole from Costco to guests who want to rearrange our furniture and our surround sound system. We are the curious and discriminating viewers who are not bogged down by the season's statistics or the list of injuries that would keep the Hospital for Special Surgery in business for the next 10 years.

Case in point: the thrilling game two weeks ago in Green Bay when the Giants defeated the Packers in overtime. Most of the "real fans" were focused on how the below zero temperatures were affecting the throwing arms of the quarterbacks. And the announcers were speculating that Tom Coughlin, the Giants' coach, might get frostbite as the camera zoomed in on his blood red cheeks. But not me. I kept wondering what was happening to the football. …