Months before we're inundated with distinctly avoidable year-end lists of best this and best that comes August Outside, proclaiming "The Best Places to Live."
No surprise, this bastion of the Chablis, Brie and kayak crowd doesn't go with Detroit, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago (where its main office resided, above a subway line, for years). Yes, it did factor in some traditional data that might have helped those folks fare well, such as cost of living, unemployment, nightlife and access to green spaces, as well as both percentages of citizens with college degrees and income levels compared to home prices.
But no. There was another factor, prompting what one might deem the slight rigging of the list to meet the magazine's anti-cement, anti-couch potato value system. It comes in what it terms "our own (trademarked and proprietary) multisport factor, which rated each of our finalists on a scale of 1 to 5 for quality and proximity to biking, running, paddling, hiking, and skiing."
Well, there go Gary, Indiana, and Waco, Texas, though biking or running past Gary's once-proud steel mills would have a certain anthropological allure.
The winners, in order, are Colorado Springs, Seattle, Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Albuquerque, Portland (the one in Oregon), Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Charlotte.
Next year, I urge these guys to devise a list of "The Best Places for TV-Loving, Uncoordinated Nerds."
--America's last honest institution, Consumer Reports, decides to check out perhaps the greatest invention in modern history since liquid Prell, namely GPS systems. Imagine that, once upon a time, we actually squinted in the passenger seat as we tried to understand a printed road map, none of them ever equipped with voice activation or with word as to where the nearest cheap motel or burger franchise might be.
The September issue checks out about 90 varieties and finds certain Garmin and TomTom models as the best, with the $600 GarminNuvi 885T just ahead of the $400 TomTom Go 740 Live and $480 Garmin Nuvi 765T.
--"The Untouchable" by Ben McGrath in the Aug. 24 New Yorker is an excellent
overview of the reign of billionaire Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York, even if tending to focus more on the style and mechanics of his rule, with a special accent on his successful push to have a term limits law scrapped and thus allowing him to run for a third term. What remains ambiguous is the lasting impact of that rule, with a fleeting suggestion here that he was fortunate in riding a strong 1990s economy but now sees some prime accomplishments heading south. Despite the general raves from the business class, there's not a particularly strong case made that he's truly altered the look, feel and operation of the city, with the jury unavoidably out on perhaps his most substantive endeavor, tough-mindedly trying to change the sink hole of urban public education. He may see himself as a transformational force akin to the legendary Robert Moses, whose impact on New York (for good and bad) was stunning, but the case is not made here. He is clearly one of the most curious fellows to run a major city but, for all his dedication and admirable ability to resist traditional special interest pressures, one doesn't sense the voracious adoration of place that can be the hallmark of a truly great mayor. Indeed, he comes off as more a political meteor in the form of a well-intentioned, wealthy technocrat.
--"Las Vegas: The Casino Town Bets on a Comeback" is the cover of Time, with Joel Stein seeing the glass half full during a distinctly dismal period for the town. He concludes:
So Vegas has made its bet. This recession, it clearly believes, is just another business cycle. It will end, sooner rather than later, and the world will go right back to gambling on slot machines and real estate and tasting menus and double-digit corporate earnings. In fact, [casino mogul Steve] Wynn bet me $100, an amount I had to spend several minutes explaining to him, that the U.S.'s GDP growth will be positive by April 2011. In the meantime, he and the other people who run Vegas believe the deck will get reshuffled and new players will sit down at the table as casino owners, but the game itself won't change. Americans, they think, will continue to get economically better off. It sounds a little hollow, especially looking at this city in the desert that creates nothing, the world's greatest ghost town in waiting. But a lot of people have gone broke betting against the people who run Las Vegas. Besides, the Las Vegas people have no choice but to bet things will go back. They're all in.
--"Bullies: They can be stopped, but it takes a village" by Yale University's Alan Kazdin and Boston University's Carlo Rotella in Slate opens by citing our expected responses if a child is bullied by a schoolmate, namely telling your child to stand up to the bully; telling the child to ignore the bully; contacting the bully's parents or confronting the bully yourself; or going to your kid's teacher and requesting help in putting a stop to the conduct.
Alas, the academics argue that these approaches have three common denominators: "they all express genuine caring, concern, and good intentions; you will feel better for taking action; and they are likely to be ineffective."
What to do? This says find out what's going on; make sure not to blame your child for being bullied; "problem-solve" with your child, coming up with different strategies; and mobilize a larger plan, including involving a school's parents and teachers. Which is to say that they urge a whole lot of work. Good luck.
--September's Bon Appetit praises some hot new restaurants nationwide and, more practically, offers ten chicken recipes, with one offering, for an Italian-style herb roasted chicken, looking and sounding just dandy. It's "chicken al mattone" from New York's Sfoglia restaurant and turns on a seemingly simple marinade of lemon juice, oil, chopped rosemary and garlic. But, whatever you do, don't consider making any of these shortly after seeing "Julie & Julia," which features tape of the famous Dan Akroyd Saturday Night Live blood-spewing takeoff of Julia Child cutting a chicken.
--This week's Journey to the Obscure brings us to the Jenny Diski's review of an Intellectual History of Cannibalism" by Catalin Avrameschu in the Aug. 6 London Review of Books. She opines:
Though I've yet to put it to the test, I'm with Montaigne in finding myself less than horrified at the idea of being eaten, provided I'm dead at the time; and eating someone else (also supposing them dead) as a practical matter of survival if there was nothing else to eat doesn't give me much pause for moral thought. In love, of course, consumption is all, but like most of us, I've been satisfied with no more than a nibble or two. However, it seems that many people do shudder at the idea of being confronted with the possibilities of cannibalism, and the young Uruguayan rugby players who were airwrecked in the Andes in 1972 seem to have had a terrible time coming to terms with eating portions of their fellow passengers who hadn't survived the crash. The Catholicism of the young men appeared to be paramount, although since the Council of Trent insisted in the mid-16th century that the bread and wine of the Catholic Eucharist actually transubstantiates into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, and they had, therefore, been in the way of cannibalism since childhood, I'd have thought it would have been the least of their problems. Rumours of cannibalism in the final stages of the 19th-century Franklin Arctic expedition were desperately denied and covered up by the government and relatives, but these days there's probably a practical, if grim general understanding of the reasonableness of eating someone in order not to starve, at least as long as they are fairly chosen. Historically as well as imaginatively, practical cannibalism has most often occurred at sea, where a sort of common law has emerged. The lifeboat has been a place where lots are drawn to decide who will eat and who will be eaten. In 1884, three survivors of the shipwrecked Mignonette were found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. They had killed and eaten the midshipman who was with them on the life raft. They were accused, Avramescu says, not because they ate their colleague (there being no law against cannibalism), or even because they murdered him, but because 'they failed to draw lots to decide on the victim. Instead of doing so, they killed the weakest of their number.'
Cannibalism apparently does have a certain moral code.
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