In a truly bizarre interview, Nick Gillespie demonstrates that he's unflappable and the charming (in person) but morally disturbed and disturbing (in print) Luke Ford demonstrates that for all his Jewish posturing, he needs to brush up on the concept of l'shon hara.
On Slate, Stephen Metcalf examines the source of the controversy surrounding Larry Summers: His "crusade to stamp out the culture of self-flattery." That crusade has focused primarily on the faculty, but I suspect that the students are more routinely flattered than the professors. After all, they got into Harvard. What more could anyone possibly expect of them?
A lot of elite universities, and some not-so-elite ones, could use a good dose of Project Runway-style tough talk. If design and architecture students can routinely put up with nasty criticisms, some justified, some less so, surely Ivy Leaguers could stand the occasional B. But all the incentives for professors cut against setting high standards.
To social critics like Robert Frank, the only spillovers from aesthetically appealing luxuries are negative--envy and status competition, producing a never-ending race to consume.
We hear the same about beautiful people, especially if they got that way not through sheer luck but through discipline and technology. The better other people look, the more pressure you feel to get better looking yourself. Seth Stevenson explored those competitive pressures in his delightful Slate article on tooth whiteners: "Tooth whiteners are primed to be the next deodorant: a once-optional form of personal hygiene that's now simply an obligation. It's only a matter of time because the more of us who get whitened, the grungier your unwhitened teeth will appear in contrast."
But LAT car critic Dan Neil reminds us that not all the spillovers from costly, beauty are negative. He drove a Bentley Continental GT (that's the "affordable" non-stodgy model) and discovered that beautiful luxuries can provide public goods as well as private pleasures.
Why, when I drive a car like the $170,000 Bentley Continental GT, don't the valet parkers, the carwash rag men, the predawn pop can harvesters in their rusty swayback pickups — why don't they lynch me with their looks?...
Who could be more disenchanted with cars than the men who work at the carwash at the corner of Sunset and Alvarado? But when I pull the Bentley in, the workers eagerly scrimmage for positions around it. These are guys who are standing in rubber boots half filled with cold, soapy water, whose hands must hurt from the biting detergent. Why are they so happy to see me?
The crew foreman scoffs at the Lexus waiting in line. "This is a true car," he says in Spanish....
While it may seem foolish to lump pro basketball players and Malibu real estate developers in with the likes of the Medicis, it's nonetheless true that without rich patrons the Bentley would not exist. And that would leave us all a little poorer.
All About the O: Slate's Seth Stevenson explains that bizarre Overstock.com ad.
Spiffy Badges: Donald Sensing blogs on the changing prestige and meaning of the Combat Infantry Badge and (notes reader George Jong in an email to me) makes a style point toward the end: "I have always had the suspicion that the CIB is so highly coveted because it is a very attractive, handsome badge and stands out on the class A uniform. I bet that if the Army took the wreath away from the CIB and gave it to the EIB, the prestige pecking order would change, too."
Reader Frank Conte calls my attention to this CSMonitor article, occasioned by the bankruptcy of Winn-Dixie, which explores the dramatic changes going on in the supermarket industry. As in so many other businesses, there are essentially two successful strategies: very low prices, which requires size, tough bargaining, and unmatchable logistics (Wal-Mart) or a great experience with aesthetic attention in both the shopping environment and the foods themselves.
Paradoxically, the strength of Wal-Mart is one of the major factors driving today's aesthetic imperative. If you can't be Wal-Mart, and only one retailer can, you've got to give customers something valuable for the extra money. Great goods and a pleasant shopping experience are one possiblity. Another is quick convenience--the 7-Eleven strategy. Yet another is an appeal to personal identity, such as Whole Foods' earthy-crunchy approach (brilliantly analyzed in this old column by Jonah Goldberg).
Speaking of Wal-Mart, Hugh Hewitt recently suggested that I might have some thoughts on the stores' aesthetics. Here they are: Most traditional Wal-Mart stores are ugly inside and out, with bad lighting and crowded aisles. I have it on good authority that Wal-Mart customer surveys show that when asked what they most enjoy about the "Wal-Mart experience," people say, "Leaving the store." Not good--though not dissatisfied either. (They like the stuff they buy.)
That's not the end of the story, however. Wal-Mart exists in the same competitive world as other businesses. So the company can't entirely ignore aesthetics and, over time, we can expect Wal-Marts to get moer attractive. And, judging from the new one near me, their new Neighborhood Markets--which are grocery stores--are not only better looking than ordinary Wal-Marts but slightly more attractive than the typical Albertson's. The merchandise doesn't go as far up the food chain as I'd like, but at least they keep up their stocks and don't regularly run out of Diet Coke.
Finally, having just returned from New York, I can say there are major swaths of America--or at least Manhattan--that would be aesthetically improved if their existing "super"markets were replaced with even the world's ugliest Wal-Mart.
The WaPost reports on how employers are flocking to military hospitals to recruit new employees:
Through broad initiatives and individual requests, corporations have been actively recruiting veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, turning military hospitals like Walter Reed into de facto hiring centers.
Job offers aren't being handed out carte blanche, and companies say talent and fit are still the main priorities. But executives seeking out wounded soldiers claim that many of the skills acquired in the military are applicable in the private sector -- particularly within companies that serve the government. A soldier who has led a platoon into war is probably capable of leading a unit at a private company, executives say. With government contracting in the midst of a boom, the security clearances and knowledge that soldiers bring home with them are also highly valued.
We're a long way from the plaintive TV commercials of the 1970s, which begged employers to hire Vietnam vets. The recruitment trend represents a triumph for the All Volunteer Force--a military of skilled professionals.
David Mastio, editorial page editor of the new Washington Examiner, is looking for help:
Washington Examiner needs Assoc. Editorial Page Editor
The Examiner seeks an opinion pro to join a small team going toe-to-toe with The Washington Post. We have speed and innovation ... they had Watergate. We have new ideas ... they have writers with centuries of experience. We have a sense of humor ... they have E. J. whatshisname. We're looking for someone who can help us remake a dead art form. Skills are more important than politics as long as you can work among people who disagree. The job centers on conceiving newsmaking op-eds, finding the perfect people to execute them and then editing the copy. All our editors are also expected to write frequently.
The ability to think visually and stay ahead of the news is key. We prefer daily experience and editing experience, but we are willing to have our preferences overruled. MAIL resumes and clips to Washington Examiner Attn: David Mastio 6408 Edsall Rd., Alexandria, VA 22312
I have an essay, in slide show form, on George Hurrell, the quintessential Golden Age Hollywood photographer.
D Magazine's FrontBurner blog reports that Paris Vendome, an excellent bistro in my neighborhood owned and designed by the folks I wrote about here, has changed its name to Paris--An American Restaurant "because business was suffering as a result of anti-French sentiment." In response, a FrontBurner reader suggests that "Paris Cell Phone" would be a more successful alternative.
The Glittering Eye makes a fairly obvious point, but one I missed: "There aren't that many jobs for hard scientists these days (except medical-related) and scientists who have jobs are holding onto them for dear life — there's less room for younger scientists to get in (and that does mean women since nearly all of the hard scientist job were held by men thirty years ago). Higher pay would attract more people into the hard sciences, too."
And Steve Shu (whose wife, Professor Shu, is a colleague and friend of Professor Postrel) passes on the unwritten advice that circulates among female grad students.