Monthly Archives: October 2007

The industry that time forgot

October 12, 2007
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The industry that time forgot

This essay by Barry B. LePatner, author of Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry, is reprinted from the August 12 edition of the Boston Globe. In April, a gasoline tanker overturned beneath a key stretch of highway in Oakland, Calif., erupting into flames that melted the steel of an overpass and brought a section of road crashing to the ground. Repairs were projected to cost $5.2 million and snarl Bay Area traffic for months. The state solicited bids for the work, offering a set of bonuses for finishing early, and got a surprising offer: One company said it would take the job for $867,000. The firm, C.C. Myers, set to work around the clock, working closely with suppliers and fabricators across the country. The repairs took just 18 days, earning the company a $5 million bonus, giving commuters a smooth drive home far sooner than anyone expected—and sending waves of surprise through the industry. “I haven’t encountered anything like this,” one union official told the San Francisco Chronicle as he watched the project unfold. American construction is the industry that time forgot. Over the last century, the nation’s other great industries—oil, automobiles, even computers—have undergone . . .

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Re-designing Elections

October 11, 2007
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Re-designing Elections

For those of you who don’t pay much attention to Canadian politics, Ontario just finished its provincial elections in which Premier Dalton McGuinty was re-elected for a second term in Canada’s most-populous province. But also up for re-election was Ontario’s election process itself. This year voters were asked to cast ballots for both a new provincial government and for a referendum that would change dramatically the way Ontario’s officials are elected. But many voters who were often unexpectedly asked to fill out not one but two ballots found themselves confused and disoriented by unclear voting instructions and hard to read ballots—probably two significant factors in the proposed referendum’s failure. Enter Marcia Lausen, author of Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design who argues that though often overlooked as a significant part of elections, design can have a significant impact on the voting process by maximizing the clarity and functionality of ballots, registration forms, and even the polling locations themselves. Last Sunday she was called in by the Toronto Star to critique Ontario’s election material. Reporter Ryan Bigge writes: Lausen’s critique of my Notice of Registration card (NRC) is thoroughly humbling. Lausen rapidly lists visual inefficiencies: too many sizes and weights . . .

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Custer’s Last Stand

October 10, 2007
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Custer’s Last Stand

Michael A. Elliott’s new book, Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer is a thought provoking exploration of the contemporary fascination with the Battle of Little Bighorn. From battle reenactments to the unfinished Crazy Horse memorial, for over a century the battle has captivated the American consciousness as one of the most significant defeats in U. S. military history. In a review published in last Sunday’s Access Atlanta Steve Weinberg takes note of Elliott’s book for its in-depth exploration of this phenomena. Weinberg writes: Given all the military battles to study in world history, why does Little Bighorn, an 1876 military debacle in rural Montana, in which George Armstrong Custer, who commanded the Seventh Cavalry, lost his life along with about 200 soldiers, continue to fascinate more than 130 years later?… As Elliott phrases the matter in the absorbing Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer, Custer’s death “has allowed non-Indian Americans to commemorate the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry as a glorious sacrifice for more than a century while at the same time giving Plains Indians the opportunity to extol a brave history of anti-colonial resistance.” The review continues: . . .

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Baboon Aristocrats?

October 9, 2007
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Baboon Aristocrats?

The lead article in the “Science Times” section of today’s New York Times focuses on Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert Seyfarth’s new book Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. The article features a photo gallery of the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s Okavango Delta where Cheney and Seyfarth have been making some extraordinary observations of baboons in their social world, and offers some fascinating insights into their research. Reporter Nicholas Wade notes that Cheney and Seyfarth have gone a step beyond the many studies that have sought to simply parse our primate ancestor’s social organization, and instead approach their subjects with the goal of fully understanding the cognitive mechanisms that underlie their social behaviors—in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of our own. Wade writes: Reading a baboon’s mind affords an excellent grasp of the dynamics of baboon society. But more than that, it bears on the evolution of the human mind and the nature of human existence. As Darwin jotted down in a notebook of 1838, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth have summed up their new cycle of research in a book titled, after Darwin’s . . .

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Richard Halpern on NPR

October 8, 2007
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Richard Halpern on NPR

Author Richard Halpern was featured last Friday on NPR’s On the Media to discuss the myth of American innocence, and the various cultural forces that contribute to its production. Halpern recently spoke at a New York University symposium on the subject—“Shocked! Shocked!! Just How Many Times Can a Country Lose Its Innocence?”—and is the author of a book on a man he claims is one of the most prolific manufacturers of American naïeveté, Norman Rockwell. In Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence, Halpern argues that Rockwell’s art, even as it actively works to create a sentimental American style of innocence, in fact, frequently teems with perverse acts of voyeurism and desire. Listen in as Halpern debunks Rockwell and the American innocence industry online at the NPR website. Read an excerpt from Halpern’s book. . . .

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Friday Remainders

October 5, 2007
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Friday Remainders

Barry B. LePatner has been making the rounds lately to promote his groundbreaking ideas for reforming America’s ailing construction industry, along with his new book, Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry. Most recently, LePatner made an appearance on NPR’s Marketplace to discuss how “inefficiencies in the way the road construction industry operates costs the nation billions of dollars.” Archived audio is available on the Marketplace website. LePatner is also scheduled to be interviewed on Chris Gondek’s business and management podcast, The Invisible Hand sometime next week. You can listen to an advance preview of the show here. The Smithsonian is running an interesting article on Claire Nouvian’s stunning photo portrait of the deep sea, The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss. Their website currently features a nice selection of photos from the book. And once you’re done there, don’t forget to check out our own selection of images (pulled from the hundreds that grace the pages of the book) at www.thedeepbook.org. Lt. Col. John Nagl was also recently given some online airtime in a podcast posted last week at the Power Lines blog. Nagl is an expert on counterinsurgency tactics and author of several . . .

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Liam Rector: 1949-2007

October 4, 2007
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Liam Rector: 1949-2007

The late Liam Rector, who’s most recent book of poetry, The Executive Director of the Fallen World was published last fall by the press, was eulogized by one of his friends and colleagues David Gates in Newsweek‘s online edition this Monday. Gates’ piece begins: The book I treasure most is a copy of Liam Rector’s last collection of poems, (The Executive Director of the Fallen World) which he handed to me a year ago at Café Loup in the West Village, inscribed, in his firm, rounded print, “For David—the most splendid hipster I’ve ever known—long may you run.” It was the best compliment I’ll ever get (long may I run), even though Liam, as he so often did, was really talking obliquely about himself.… As well as providing insights into this talented poet’s life, Gates’ article also reprints several excerpts of Mr. Rector’s work including “The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends,” and “So We’ll Go No More.” Read the full article on the Newsweek website. . . .

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Review: Chappell, Chicago’s Urban Nature

October 3, 2007
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Review: Chappell, Chicago’s Urban Nature

Over the last few decades Chicago has become progressively greener with parks, landscaping, and rooftop gardens becoming ubiquitous features of the cityscape. But as columnist Edward Keegan notes in a review for last Saturday’s Chicago Tribune, these are features which have been ignored by those writing on Chicago’s urban habitat, until now. Keegan cites Sally A. Kit Chappell’s new book, Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture + Landscape, as an “antidote to the overemphasis on bricks and mortar that have long dominated similar books on Chicago’s built environment.” Keegan’s review continues, “This book should take its place with the ample assortment of guides most Chicago architecture aficionados have on their shelves. As the city becomes greener in the years to come, Chappell’s guide will become ever more necessary to understand Chicago’s development in its entirety.” To find out more, view this video portrait of the numerous new green spaces that have enlivened and rejuvenated our hometown, narrated by the Sally Chappell herself. . . .

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Rebuilding the Construction Industry

October 2, 2007
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Rebuilding the Construction Industry

Barry B. LePatner’s new book, Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets: How to Fix America’s Trillion-Dollar Construction Industry, was featured in an interesting article in Monday’s edition of the Architectural Record. Writer James Murdock contrasts the opinions of Stephen Sandherr, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of America, with LePatner’s argument that the industry is in urgent need of reform. Murdock writes: Barry LePatner, a Manhattan-based attorney who counts Frank Gehry and other big-name architects among his clients, sees a problem with the construction industry in the United States—clearly indicated by the title of his book Broken Buildings, Busted Budgets, published today by the University of Chicago Press. “This is the industry that time has forgotten,” he says. “Mom-and-pop shops, composed of 20 people or less, make up 92 percent of the industry. They are hugely inefficient, and they have no money to spend on improving performance and technology.” The result, LePatner continues, is tremendous waste in a $1.2-trillion-a-year business—nearly half of labor expenses on a project, according to some studies, are squandered due to schedule conflicts and late deliveries.… LePatner also says that the construction industry suffers from “the winner’s curse”: Contractors bid so low that the profit margin erodes . . .

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Review: Pager, Marked

October 1, 2007
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Review: Pager, Marked

The online e-zine PopMatters is running an interesting review of Devah Pager’s new book Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration. Like much of the other press this book has been receiving lately, the review focuses on Pager’s revealing analysis of the links between the U. S. penal system and the deep rooted racial and economic inequalities in the U. S. job market. PopMatters reviewer Steve Horowitz writes: Most Americans find the idea of serving two punishments for the one crime unfair, yet according to Princeton Professor of Sociology Devah Pager, this happens all the time. A person spends time in jail, and then suffers from the stigma of incarceration after being released.… This isn’t news to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the justice system. However, Pager extends her analysis one step further through an experimental field study in metropolitan Milwaukee. She sends out pairs of young men with matched resumes on job searches for employment and makes some startling discoveries. The Princeton professor shows that employers regularly exclude ex-offenders from consideration for entry-level, low-paying jobs, and provides strong evidence that the situation for young black men is significantly worse than for their . . .

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