French Utopian Planned Community Goes Up in Flames

VilleneuveGrenobleFranceUtopia2010-09-01.jpg“The planned neighborhood Villeneuve, in Grenoble, has slowly degraded into a poor district before it finally burst into flames three weeks ago, with a mob setting nearly 100 cars on fire.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) GRENOBLE, France — A utopian dream of a new urban community, built here in the 1970s, had slowly degraded into a poor neighborhood plagued by aimless youths before it finally burst into flames three weeks ago.

After Karim Boudouda, a 27-year-old of North African descent, and some of his friends had robbed a casino, he was killed in an exchange of automatic gunfire with the police. The next night, Villeneuve, a carefully planned neighborhood of Grenoble in eastern France, exploded. A mob set nearly 100 cars on fire, wrecked a tram car and burned an annex of city hall.
. . .
Villeneuve, or “new city,” emerged directly out of the social unrest of the May 1968 student uprising.
People committed to social change, from here as well as from Paris and other cities, came to create a largely self-contained neighborhood of apartment buildings, parks, schools, and health and local services in this city of 160,000 people, at the spectacular juncture of two rivers and three mountain ranges at the foot of the French Alps.

For the full story, see:

STEVEN ERLANGER. “Grenoble Journal; Utopian Dream Becomes Battleground in France.” The New York Times (Mon., August 9, 2010): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated August 8, 2010.)

Neanderthal “Innovation Was Rare”

(p. 42) Judging from slowly changing styles of stone axes, innovation was rare and technological change almost imperceptible. The rhythm of daily life varied little from one generation to the next, just as the lives of animals followed predictable and familiar paths of migration and dispersal, life and death. Humans were collaborative predators among predators, both hunters and the hunted, effective at survival thanks to their expertise with wooden spears, their stalking ability, and their painfully acquired knowledge of animals and plants. And, over two hundred millennia, they gradually evolved into the Neanderthals, the primordial Europeans encountered by the Cro-Magnons.

Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

Government Import Quotas Increase Price of Sugar in U.S.


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) The gap between what Americans and the rest of the world pay for sugar has reached its widest level in at least a decade, breathing new life into the battle over import quotas that prop up the price of the sweet stuff in the U.S.

For years, U.S. prices have been artificially inflated by import restrictions designed to protect American farmers. That has kept the price well above the global market.
But in recent days, the difference between the two has ballooned, giving new impetus to U.S. sugar processors and confectioners to step up their long campaign to pressure the government to increase import limits.
Attention to sugar prices, and the dwindling supply of sugar left in U.S. warehouses, has intensified in the lead up to April 1, after which the U.S. Department of Agriculture can review and change the import quotas, which now stand at 1.3 million metric tons.
Sugar users have long been vocal critics of the quotas but have failed to convince the government to change the limits. The quota has remained unchanged since it was first imposed in 1990, except for two temporary increases after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and a major refinery explosion in 2008.

For the full story, see:
CAROLYN CUI. “Price Gap Puts Spice in Sugar-Quota Fight.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., MARCH 15, 2010): A1 & A20.

Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma Is “Most Influential Business Book”

(p. W3) . . . in today’s world, gale-like market forces–rapid globalization, accelerating innovation, relentless competition–have intensified what economist Joseph Schumpeter called the forces of “creative destruction.”
. . .
When I asked members of The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council, a group of chief executives who meet each year to deliberate on issues of public interest, to name the most influential business book they had read, many cited Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” That book documents how market-leading companies have missed game-changing transformations in industry after industry–computers (mainframes to PCs), telephony (landline to mobile), photography (film to digital), stock markets (floor to online)–not because of “bad” management, but because they followed the dictates of “good” management. They listened closely to their customers. They carefully studied market trends. They allocated capital to the innovations that promised the largest returns. And in the process, they missed disruptive innovations that opened up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster products.

For the full commentary, see:
ALAN MURRAY. “The End of Management; Corporate bureaucracy is becoming obsolete. Why managers should act like venture capitalists.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 21, 2010): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)

The most complete and current account of Christensen’s views can be found in:
Christensen, Clayton M., and Michael E. Raynor. The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.

Harry Frankfurt’s Critique of Postmodernist “Bullshit”


“Harry G. Frankfurt.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 29) Q: Your new book, “On Truth,” is a sequel to “On Bull–,” a slim philosophical tract published by Princeton University Press that became an accidental best seller last year.
What do you mean by accidental? People didn’t know they were buying it?
. . .

In your new book, you are especially critical of academics and their theories of postmodernism, which treat all truth as an artificial construction as opposed to an independent reality.
I used to teach at Yale, which was at one time a center of postmodernist literary theory. Derrida was there. Paul de Man was there. I originally wrote the bull– essay at Yale, and a physics professor told me that it was appropriate that this essay should have been written at Yale, because, after all, he said, Yale is the bull– capital of the world.
But there is probably far more bull– in politics and entertainment than in academia.
I hope so!
What about in philosophy, which you still teach?
I think there is a certain amount of bull– in philosophy — people pretending to have important ideas when they don’t and obscuring the fact by using a lot of impenetrable language.

For the full interview, see:
DEBORAH SOLOMON. “Questions for Harry G. Frankfurt; Fighting Bull .” The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., October 22, 2006): 29.
(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original print version, to indicate questions by Deborah Solomon.)

The reference to the first book is:
Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

The reference to the sequel is:
Frankfurt, Harry G. On Truth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.


Source of book image on left:

Source of book image on right:

Compared to the Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnons Had “an Ongoing Culture of Innovation”

In an earlier entry Fagan discusses the eyed needle as key technological advantage of the Cro-Magnons over the Neanderthals. In the passage quoted below, he discusses some other key differences between the two human species.

(p. 14) We know from their art that they looked at their world with more than practical eyes, through a lens of the intangible that changed constantly over the generations. It was this symbolism, these beliefs, as much as their technological innovations and layered clothing, that gave them the decisive advantage over their neighbors in the seesawlike climatic world of the late Ice Age. There were more of them living in larger groups than there were Neanderthals, too, so there were more intense social interactions, much greater food gathering activity from an early age, and an ongoing culture of innovation that came (p. 15) from a growing sophistication of language, advances in technology, and a greater life expectancy. In a world where all knowledge passed orally from one generation to the next, this enhanced cultural buffer between the moderns and the harsh climate provided an extra, albeit sometimes fragile, layer of protection during the intense cold of the so-called Last Glacial Maximum, from 21,500 to 18,000 years ago.

Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

Charles II Took a Gamble on Toleration


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

(p. A19) Early in “A Gambling Man,” a detailed and thoroughly engrossing examination of the Restoration’s first decade, Jenny Uglow notes that Charles Stuart, upon his ascension, “wanted passionately to be seen as the healer of his people’s woes and the glory of his nation.” Cromwell’s regime had featured constant war and constant taxes. The population was bitterly divided among Anglicans, Catholics and dissenting Protestants–Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers, Baptists. A huge standing army had burdened the people financially and frightened them; such an army, it was not unreasonably thought, could be used to impose a tyranny.
. . .
As a result of such divisions, Charles became a “gambler,” as Ms. Uglow puts it–not at cards or gaming tables but at affairs of state. His biggest gamble was on something he fervently wanted to achieve: religious toleration for all sects and the freedom for Englishmen to follow their own “tender consciences” in individual worship. He forwarded this policy in Parliament only to receive his first major defeat with the passage of the Corporation Act, a law that took the power of corporations (governing towns and businesses) away from Nonconformists and handed it back to the Church of England. Charles had gambled on “the force of reasonable argument,” Ms. Uglow says, but was ultimately defeated “by the entrenched interests of the [Anglican] Church” and “the deep-held suspicions” of Parliament, which believed that England’s dissenting sects posed a persistent threat. That Charles was willing to go head-to-head with Parliament for such a cause, even in failure, was especially audacious, considering his father’s fate.
. . .
In his desire to be a monarch of the people, Charles was determined to make himself accessible–in the early days of his reign he threw open the palace of Whitehall to all comers. He gambled, with some success, that (in Ms. Uglow’s words) “easy access would make people of all views feel they might reach him, preventing conspiracies.” During the 1666 Great Fire of London he and his brother, James, duke of York, went out into the streets and put themselves alongside soldiers and workmen. They could be seen “filthy, smoke-blackened and tired,” frantically creating a firebreak as the blaze consumed London like a monstrous beast.

For the full review, see:
NED CRABB. “BOOKSHELF; Risky Business; A bitterly divided nation, a monarchy splendiferously restored..” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., NOVEMBER 27, 2009): A19.
(Note: ellipses added; bracketed word in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated NOVEMBER 26, 2009.)

Book being reviewed:
Uglow, Jenny. A Gambling Man: Charles II’s Restoration Game. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.