Ïîïóëÿðíûå ñîîáùåíèÿ


Ed Koch, the colorful three-term mayor who led New York City through its financial crisis in the '70s, has died.

George Arzt, a spokesman for the former mayor, tells NPR's Joel Rose that Koch died of congestive heart failure around 2 a.m. ET Friday. The former mayor was 88.

As Joel writes, Koch's "larger-than-life personality was well-suited to the nation's biggest city but could also get him in trouble." The Democratic mayor, says Joel:

"Was famous for asking his constituents this question: 'Hey! How'm I doing?' He insisted this was more than just shtick. He told NPR in 1981 that he really wanted to know. 'Some people have said that's a mark of insecurity. Gee, I have to be patted on the back, how'm I doing,' he said. 'I want you to think about this: Do you know people in public life who are sufficiently secure to ask people to rate them?' "

"[But] Koch's mouth finally cost him his job as mayor. His relationship with African-American voters — never great to begin with — soured for good when he suggested that Jews would be 'crazy' to vote for Jesse Jackson in 1988. The next year, Koch lost the Democratic primary to David Dinkins, who went on to be the city's first African-American mayor. Koch never ran for office again, but he never left the public eye, either.

"He did a stint behind the bench on the People's Court; he hosted a popular talk radio show; and he stayed active in politics, endorsing causes and candidates he favored, with little regard for party affiliation."

Then they return to their cells, Caesar's head bowed, Cassius subdued as the door clangs shut behind him and he surveys his spartan surroundings.

"Since I got to know art," he says, "this cell has become a prison."

Caesar Must Die

Directors: Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 76 minutes

Not rated; some intense scenes

With: Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Giovanni Arcuri


Everyone wants to go to a bar with Rosie Schaap. And not just because she can shake up a mean cocktail — you'd expect no less from the "Drink" columnist for The New York Times Magazine — but because a bar is the ideal setting for her insightful and endlessly funny stories. For those of us who can't make it to closing time with Rosie, however, Drinking With Men, her new collection of essays, is the next best thing. (Read NPR's review, and an excerpt from the book, here).

The "Dory Green"

2-1/2 oz. Canadian Club or Crown Royal whiskey

1/2 oz. dry vermouth

A scant teaspoon of Canadian Grade B maple syrup

2 dashes Brooklyn Hemispherical Rhubarb Bitters


To a mixing glass, add ice and all ingredients except seltzer. Shake like mad and pour into rocks glasses or small tumblers, leaving room for a good shpritz of seltzer to top it up.

Of all the individuals in President Obama's first-term Cabinet, physicist Steven Chu was arguably the least likely to be found in official Washington.

The Energy Department secretary, after all, was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from the University of California, Berkeley, the first science laureate to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

Chu announced on Friday that he would be stepping down. Which means that if President Obama was serious in this inaugural declaration — "We will respond to the threat of climate change" — he'll be doing it with an entirely new cast of lieutenants.

The three major Cabinet posts that deal with the issue — EPA, Interior and Energy — are now awaiting new leaders. The fourth leg in the climate change policy stool is the State Department, which must ultimately approve any decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline because it crosses international boundaries. And Friday was John Kerry's first day as the new secretary of state.

But Chu's pending exit offered a good chance to look back at what he brought to the Obama administration, and what his legacy could include.

Chu's resume would have stood out even if he hadn't won a Nobel.

He wasn't entirely an innocent when it came to the federal bureaucracy's ways. He was director of the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory before being named to the department's top job. Still, amid the career politicians who largely filled the president's first-term Cabinet, his background made him an intriguing choice.

What Chu lacked in Washington political experience, he more than made up for in scientific brilliance and an accessible, easygoing, quick-witted style that came across in his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2009.

Asked by Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, if the incoming administration's cap-and-trade policy was the "politically best" position, Chu flattered Corker: "You're far more experienced about answering that question."

"Well, I don't know. You seem pretty good," responded Corker, prompting laughs from the audience.

Scientific expertise undoubtedly was needed in his attempt to foster new energy technologies to reduce the nation's reliance on fossil fuels. And Chu's academic stature and connections in academia and Silicon Valley helped him attract other really smart people with proven track records to DOE.

There they got going a group called ARPA-E, which was meant to be DOE's version of DARPA, the renowned Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that spearheaded the creation of the Internet, GPS and other technologies. (A side benefit of having all those brainiacs around was that they also figured out which method had the best chance of stopping the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.)

With funding from the American Recovery Act — the more than $800 billion economic stimulus legislation Obama signed in early 2009 — ARPA-E funded a number of cutting-edge technologies. Its competitive grants were meant to kick-start promising projects that would attract the interest of private investors. (For instance, there are microbes engineered to turn hydrogen and carbon dioxide into liquid fuel.)

As Michael Grunwald wrote in The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, ARPA-E was a small part of the stimulus, a mere 0.05 percent. "The stimulus was only partly about stimulus. It was also about metamorphosis. ... Most of its breakthroughs won't produce results for years. But it's emblematic of the [Recovery Act's] assault on the status quo."

It's true that Chu's tenure will be remembered in part for the controversy over government loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra solar company.

But if ARPA-E winds up midwifing a technology that changes the nation's energy equation in a positive way, that could prove to be Chu's ultimate legacy as energy secretary.

It took years for Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina to become who he is today: the highest-ranking African-American in Congress.

And those years included many failures. During a visit to StoryCorps, his granddaughter Sydney Reed, who was 10 at the time of the recording, asks Clyburn a personal question: "Have you ever felt you wanted to quit?"

"Oh, absolutely," Clyburn, 72, responds without hesitation.

He flashes back to 1970, when he won a primary race for the South Carolina House of Representatives. Clyburn celebrated with a huge party after the votes came in. Everyone was jumping up and down with excitement, he recalls.

"But the next morning, I went into the bathroom and there, on my sink, was a little note from your grandmother," Clyburn tells Reed.

"When you win, brag gently. When you lose, weep softly," he recalls the note reading.

"And I thought that was kind of interesting. And I stuck it up on the mirror in the bathroom," Clyburn says.

That November, when the general election rolled around and the polls closed, news organizations rushed to announce that Clyburn had won. But the next morning — at 3:30 a.m. — Clyburn awoke to sour news.

Visitors at his front door told him that something had gone wrong at the courthouse. He made his way down to the building, where he was told that he didn't win by 500 votes; he had lost by 500 votes.

"The next morning when I went to my bathroom, I looked up at the mirror, and I wept softly. And yes, I thought then that this was the worst thing [that] could possibly happen," Clyburn says. "But later on that morning, I determined that I was going to go forward."

In 1978, Clyburn decided to run for South Carolina secretary of state, but he lost. When he tried again eight years later, he lost again.

"More than one person said to me, 'Well, that's your third strike,' " he says. " 'What are you going to do next?' And I always said, 'Three strikes may be an out in baseball, but life is not baseball.' "

In 1992, he ran to represent South Carolina's 6th Congressional District. This time, he won.

"I don't know, there was just something that kept telling me that you've got to stick this out," Clyburn says. "And you know, we have a state seal in South Carolina, and the Latin phrase on the seal says Dum Spiro Spero — 'While I breathe, I hope.'

"And I've always felt that there's hope," Clyburn says. "And so I have never given up."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Anita Rao.

StoryCorps Bonus: Animated Video

In this short, Carl McNair remembers his brother Ronald E. McNair, a South Carolina native who was a laser physicist and the second African-American in space. Ron died with his fellow crew members when the Challenger shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff 27 years ago.

When Secretariat won what was certified to be his last race, I went down onto the track at Woodbine, and gauging where he had crossed the finish line, snatched up the last grass that perhaps the greatest thoroughbred ever had laid hooves to in his career.

Pretty sappy, I'll admit, but then it's quite a memento if only because it really is rare in sport for someone to declare that this will be the finale — the last dance — and then indeed go out a winner. Most famously, perhaps, was Ted Williams, who hit a home run in his final at bat. But as dramatic as that was, it was a meaningless game before a sparse crowd.

Perhaps the most impressive declared last game was performed by one of the least sentimental athletes, the acerbic Dutchman Norm Van Brocklin, who quarterbacked the Philadelphia Eagles to their last NFL championship in 1960.

This is, of course, what Ray Lewis, the Ravens' superb linebacker, is seeking to do with the Super Bowl. Lewis' valedictory has received exceptional attention because, like Van Brocklin, he is a controversial — even notorious — character. At least Lewis suffers the media better. When, late in his life, Van Brocklin endured brain surgery, he revealed to the press: "I got a new brain, but I demanded a sportswriter's brain because I wanted one that had never been used before."

The Two-Way

On Ray Lewis' Retirement, Some Media Fail To Mention 2000 Murder Case

The economy shrunk in the fourth quarter — for the first time in three years — and one of the critical reasons was a drop in defense spending. Apparently, contractors took precautionary steps and held onto money in case the federal government failed to avert the fiscal and tax crisis known as the fiscal cliff.

But there's now a new deadline — automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, which may hit at the beginning of March.

The Effect On Contractors

Kevin Graybeal sells components for electronic systems. His buyers are big defense contractors like Northrop Grumman.

This past year, he saw some of his contracts drop 50 percent; others have just gone away.

"I see it as companies just bracing for what's going to come and doing their best to plan in such an uncertain environment," he says. "You think 10 years ago people were coming up with five- or 10-year plans. And right now no one knows what to do six months from now."

Or even one month from now.

At the Pentagon, automatic spending cuts will start in March unless Congress comes up with a way to stop them. The military will face almost $50 billion in cuts this year alone.

What Might Be Cut

That means more of Graybeal's contracts could disappear. There's more: Military pilots might be told to stop training; ship repairs might be put on hold; Pentagon civilian employees are being told to expect furloughs — however, uniformed personnel are exempt.

"Every activity within the Department of Defense will have to be cut by the same percentage," says Todd Harrison, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "It'll be about a 9 percent cut off of every account."

So how do you cut 10 percent of a Joint Strike Fighter?

"Well, you cut back — instead of buying 29 of them this year, we might just buy 26 or maybe even 25. In some cases that means they have to go back and break contracts."

Harrison and other analysts say those across-the-board spending cuts are likely to go into effect, but maybe for just a short time — perhaps a month or so.

"If it only goes into effect for a month, that won't be enough time for the furloughs to kick in," Harrison says.

But even if the automatic cuts don't happen — or don't last long — Congress is looking at slicing the budget deficit, and the Pentagon is still a big target.

"There's little doubt that if the two parties can agree on a formula for deficit reduction, a significant amount of the savings are going to come from the Pentagon," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

"And that will have an impact on defense workers in the broader economy," he says.

Finding Savings

Experts predict the cuts won't be $50 billion, but maybe half of that, each year for the next decade. So where does the Pentagon find those savings?

Gordon Adams was a defense budget analyst during the Clinton administration. He says as the war in Afghanistan winds down, the Pentagon can save money on expenses like maintenance. For example, there's no rush to repair armored vehicles.

"How fast do we put things though the depot? How much training do we do, and how frequently, and with whom? How much are we going to lay in stocks of fuel supplies?" Adams says.

And with little appetite for another ground war, some analysts say there could be more cuts in the Army and Marine Corps, along with fewer armored vehicles.

The new strategic focus is on Asia and the Pacific. That means there will be winners and losers in the defense industry.

Harrison says aircraft systems and shipbuilding will probably "fare well," but production for other military equipment might not.

"Other parts of the industry, though, that build ground vehicles, tanks, I think that they're likely to get hurt disproportionately," he says.

Not just yet. Salesman Graybeal might be hurting, but Northrop Grumman is predicting strong profits for this year.

There are three phrases that are almost always bad news for a piece of cultural writing.

They are:

1. "The masses."

2. "Middle America."

3. "The lowest common denominator."

All three are ways to separate the writer and her sensibility — which are presumed to be congruent with the reader and her sensibility — from invisible and undefined others, for whom bad cultural content is produced and by whom it is unquestioningly gobbled up.

For substantive comment on the quality or meaning of anything, all three substitute code — code for a pernicious, poisonous underlying assumption that popularity, non-U.S.-coastal geography, and easy translation from person to person are all good indicators that an opinion is not to be trusted or that an audience is unsophisticated. And while that attitude may endear a writer to those who feel favored by it, it also gradually narrows the writer's audience to the point where it's a drum circle of incessant one-upmanship and complaints about the things other people — with whom no one in the circle actually associates — are presumably watching, listening to, and reading, without actually engaging any of those things on their own terms.

What, after all, does it mean to say something is for "the masses"? That many people like it and enjoy it? That it brings pleasure to a broad audience? Does it merely mean that you don't have to be an expert in anything in particular to enjoy it? Because while commonality and popularity may be a feature of plenty of artless junk, they are also a feature of plenty of artful creative work of the most traditional kinds, from Mozart to Shakespeare. They're also easy to identify in plenty of vibrant, heartening culture from more modern traditions like soul music and stand-up comedy.

The problem with popularity is not that only awful things are popular or that "the masses" can't tell the difference; it's the wrongheaded philosophy that only popular things are perceived to be good, or the practical problem that arises when only popular things can survive. A statement that something is "fine for the masses" or "made for the masses" could simply mean it's of high quality and accessible, which should be a good thing, or could mean it's facile and uncreative, in which case what's wrong with it is that it's facile and uncreative, not that there exists somewhere a teeming zombie horde of undifferentiated pasty-faced morons waiting to snap it up.

Sadly, with so much of cultural writing happening on the east and west coasts, that zombie horde is often presumed to exist in the dreaded "Middle America." According to this terrifying scenario, everything from about Pittsburgh to Carson City is one thing — one big blob of blobs, where there are maybe some farms, and also people ride horses, maybe? ... and everybody shops at Wal-Mart and listens to the same music as everybody else because all they have is one radio station, and there aren't any good restaurants, and people basically live there because they can't afford to move to New York or couldn't make it there.

If you've ever actually lived off the coasts, this is very embarrassing to encounter, because it's so arrogant and so un-self-consciously so. I lived for about ten years in the Twin Cities, and the thing is, Minneapolis and St. Paul aren't even the same. You have to live there to get it, just like you have to live in Brooklyn to get — or care about — the different parts of Brooklyn and how they differ. But Minneapolis has more of a glass-buildings feel, and St. Paul has more of a stone-buildings feel, and St. Paul has more the feel of the private colleges and Minneapolis is more dominated by the U, and ... you see, you kind of have to live there to get it.

Assuming cultural commonality between those places and Cleveland and all the different parts of Texas is not just condescending and coast-centric, though it is those things. It's also just wrong and silly. There's no such thing as making a television show, for instance, for "middle America," because anything that's broad enough to be intended for even both Austin and Dallas is intended for parts of New York and California. And if your definition of "middle America" is super-super-middle-America, like, "Oh, no, I'm talking about just Kansas and Missouri," then (1) that's still not all one kind of person, and (2) nobody would ever make a television show or a movie for Kansas and Missouri, because they have a combined population of under 10 million people, and making something for a potential audience pool of 10 million people is not exactly the broad, safe play people have in mind when they say "middle America."

To try to appreciate the cultural flavor of "middle America" is not to come to terms with its depressing sameness, but to get your arms around its tremendous variation, its pockets of enthusiasm, and its utter indifference to most of what people in New York and Los Angeles have to say about it.

And that brings us to the final term and the fundamental question: What's wrong with the lowest common denominator?

If you remember what a lowest common denominator is from math, you know that it has to do with taking two fractions — say one-fourth and one-sixth, where the denominators would be four and six respectively — and finding the smallest denominator you can use to express both so that you can, for instance, add them together. For those two fractions, the lowest common denominator would be 12, because one-fourth can be expressed as three-twelfths and one-sixth can be expressed as two-twelfths, so you can add them together and get five-twelfths.

I've always found the lowest common denominator kind of a cozy concept, particularly because you kind of do it by feel — it's a translator that lets you take two things that seem to be vibrating on different frequencies and unlock them so they can fit together instead of bumping into each other.

But somehow in culture, "lowest common denominator" has become a way to describe not what's unifying but what's worst, as if we all come together where we are awful and stupid. In fact, when we do all come together in large numbers, it's usually not where we are awful and stupid, particularly not because we are awful and stupid. We come together where there's enough commonality to let people talk to each other about the same thing. How did that become a slam, unless we assume that the purpose of culture, and of our own tastes, is to efficiently separate those who favor wheat from those who are more into chaff?

The lowest common denominator on a huge scale, in fact, is probably something like The Avengers or the Oscars or the Super Bowl, none of which is embraced for its scandalous or scatological qualities, but all of which are popular simply because lots of people think it's fun to watch them. And as silly as those things are, their commonality is actually their most redeeming quality — that it's the lowest common denominator across surprisingly diverse populations is the best thing about the Super Bowl, not the worst. It's certainly the best thing about the Oscars.

In a smaller group of people, the lowest common denominator would be the thing everyone can relate to that draws out their shared likes and dislikes, like a common language. Maybe in an individual family, the lowest common denominator is Top Chef — if that's the case, then whether you like or hate Top Chef, what's wrong with it is hardly that everybody in that family puts down their cell phones when it's on, even though the rest of the time, they're strictly in different rooms with different things playing.

Talking derisively to a limited audience about imagined cultural "masses" existing elsewhere is like any other kind of derisive in-group chatter. The good part is where it bonds you to those who feel like they're inside the circle you're drawing. The bad part is where it pushes, hard, on the people who know they're outside that circle and in fact are being used to define it. We're entering a phase where cultural content is pitched for smaller and smaller audiences, and it's more important than ever to find and value the things that are both good and unifying. Popularity is not quality, but neither, after all, is obscurity.

An explosion at the office headquarters of Mexico's state-owned oil company killed 25 people and injured 101 on Thursday as it heavily damaged three floors of a building, sending hundreds into the streets and a large plume of smoke over Mexico City's skyline.

Rescuers continued to search the rubble for victims trapped in the debris late Thursday with the aid of rescue dogs, trucks with mounted lights and an oil company crane. Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong said it was uncertain if there were any people still trapped but that crews would keep searching. Many of the office workers were outside having lunch when the explosion occurred about 3:45 p.m. local time in a basement parking garage next to the iconic, 51-story tower of Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, one of the tallest buildings in Mexico City.

Osorio Chong said the explosion hit the basement and first two floors, which rescuers said had collapsed.

"It was an explosion, a shock, the lights went out and suddenly there was a lot of debris," employee Cristian Obele told Milenio television, adding that he had been injured in the leg. "Co-workers helped us get out of the building."

President Enrique Pena Nieto said authorities have not yet found what caused the blast in the 14-story building in a busy commercial and residential area. Pemex first said it had evacuated the building because of a problem with the electrical system. The company later tweeted that the Attorney General's Office was investigating the explosion and any reports of a cause were speculation.

Ana Vargas Palacio was distraught as she searched for her missing husband, Daniel Garcia Garcia, 36, who works in the building where the explosion occurred. She said she last talked to him a couple hours earlier.

"I called his phone many times, but a young man answered and told me he found the phone in the debris," Vargas said. The two have an 11-year-old daughter. His mother, Gloria Garcia Castaneda, collapsed on a friend's arm, crying "My son. My son."

The tower, where several thousand people work, was evacuated following the blast but not damaged, according to Gabriela Espinoza, 50, a Pemex secretary for 29 years who was on the second floor when the explosion next door occurred.

"There was a very loud roar. It was very ugly," she said.

Espinoza's co-worker, Tomas Rivera, 32, worked on the ground floor and was knocked to floor, fracturing his wrist and jaw.

Hundreds of firefighters, military in camouflage and Red Cross workers hauled large chunks of concrete and looked for victims late into the night, with at least four bodies pulled out of the rubble, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

The exploded building was intact on the outside but filled inside with debris.

Television images showed people being evacuated in office chairs, and on gurneys. Most of them had injuries likely caused by falling debris.

"We were talking and all of sudden we heard an explosion with white smoke and glass falling from the windows," said Maria Concepcion Andrade, 42, who lives on the same block as the Pemex building. "People started running from the building covered in dust. A lot of pieces were flying."

Police landed four rescue helicopters to remove the dead and injured. About a dozen tow trucks were furiously moving cars to make more landing room for the helicopters.

"I profoundly lament the death of our fellow workers at Pemex. My condolences to their families," Pena Nieto said via Twitter. He later toured the scene.

Streets surrounding the building were closed as evacuees wandered around, and rescue crews loaded the injured into ambulances.

The injured were taken to Pemex's hospital in the capital's northwest delegation of Azcapotzalco and the Red Cross hospital in the Polanco neighborhood near the oil company's office headquarters, where relatives huddled in the waiting room for news of their loved ones. Some walked out of meetings with the hospital social worker joyous, while others came out crying.

Pemex, created as a state-owned company in 1938, has nearly 150,000 employees and in 2011 produced about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil a day, according to its website, with $111 billion in sales.

Shortly before the explosion, Operations Director Carlos Murrieta reported via Twitter that the company had reduced its accident rate in recent years. Most Pemex accidents have occurred at pipeline and refinery installations.

A fire at a pipeline metering center in northeast Mexico near the Texas border killed 30 workers in September, the largest-single toll in at least a decade for the company.

Blog Archive