kottke.org posts about 2008 New Yorker Conference
One of the most enjoyable sessions at the New Yorker Conference was the chefs roundtable.
Bill Buford talks with the chefs David Chang, Daniel Humm, and Marc Taxiera about their influences and the future of the culinary world.
Buford talks too much and the chefs too little but he manages some good questions and fun is had.
British architect David Adjaye observed that not only are public buildings built for "the public" but they also create "the public" by establishing a space for it to exist. I guess by the same token, buildings built for private citizens also create private citizens...hence, eventually, gated communities and the like.
Adjaye also described his native Africa as layered combination of its different eras: colonialism + nation building + European + Islam + urban/capitalist.
The chefs panel, with Bill Buford interviewing Daniel Humm, Marc Taxiera, and David Chang, was the most entertaining of the day. Right at the end, David Chang told a short anecdote about a customer who complained to him about the amount of fat in the Momofuku pork bun...pork as in pork belly and pork belly as in mostly fat. Chang told him that's the way it came and that he wasn't getting a replacement. Shrugging, he told the audience he had a different idea about hospitality than most restaurateurs..."the customer is not always right".
Michael Novogratz, the 317th richest American, explained the current financial crisis. Goes something like this. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of China and India for both trade and labor laid the groundwork for globalization. Lots and lots of cheap labor available made for cheap goods and low inflation. Between early 2003 and late 2007, globalization kicked into high gear and people thought, this is it, this is the end of inflation forever. But the workers in Eastern Europe, India, and China gradually became consumers. They bought TVs and cars and better food and whaddya know, inflation is back. The bubble burst.
Amy Smith challenges her students to try living on $2 a day for a week...that includes food, transportation, and entertainment. This video of a talk that Smith did at TED in 2006 covers much of what she talked about today at the New Yorker Conference. The NY Times covered her clever inventions back in 2003.
Haseltine came from an unusual place to the NSA: Walt Disney Imagineering. Between his overuse of the phrases "bad guys" and "war on terror", there were a couple of interesting moments.
In Haseltine's estimation, something called Intellipedia is the biggest advance in the intelligence community since 9/11. Intellipedia is basically an internal Wikipedia for people who work for one of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Its goal is to break down some of the barriers between these agencies in terms of information sharing and colloboration.
Right at the end of the session, interviewer Jane Mayer asked Haseltine if perhaps the Bush administration is overreacting to terrorism...if the mindset that danger lurks everywhere is appropriate and realistic. He replied that since he got involved in the intelligence community, he doesn't sleep well at night. "I know too much."
I'll admit I don't watch politicians speak that often, particularly in public. So maybe I'm being a little naive here, but San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is nothing short of a magician up on the stage. He talked for 20 straight minutes (his would-be interviewer could only get in 2-3 questions during that time and Newsom pretty much ignored them and talked about whatever he pleased) and it felt both like 5 minutes and exhausting at the same time. By the time he'd finished what I would term a sermon, I wanted to sign up for whatever he was selling at a price no lower than my heart and soul. I haven't non-sexually crushed this hard on a speaker since Robert Wright.
Ok, two particularly interesting things that broke my gaze long enough for me to scribble them down in my notebook.
1. Newsom talked about building filling stations for electric cars that relied on exchanging batteries instead of plugging in and waiting for your car to charge. You don't need to own your particular battery.
2. In SF, he's hoping to exchange the payroll tax for a carbon tax. In his words, tax a bad thing (carbon use) instead of taxing a good thing (jobs). That way, the incentives are in the right place...people aren't penalized for working but are penalized for using excessive amounts of carbon.
Update: Oh, don't get me wrong, I have no idea if Newsom was telling the truth or what...it's just that it all sounded so good coming out of his mouth. Even when it sounded like bullshit I wanted to believe him. I felt so dirty and manipulated afterwards, but still wanted to believe. Like I said, love...what's truth got to do with it?
Picking a subject from his upcoming book, Malcolm Gladwell talked about the difficulty in hiring people in the increasingly complex thought-based contemporary workplace. Specifically that we're using a collection of antiquated tools to evaluate potential employees, creating what he calls "mismatch problems" in the workplace, when the critera for evaluating job candidates is out of step with the demands of the job.
To illustrate his point, Gladwell talked about sports combines, events that professional sports leagues hold for scouts to evaluate potential draftees based on a battery of physical, psychological, and intelligence tests. What he found, a result that echoes what Michael Lewis talks about in Moneyball, is that sports combines are a poor way to determine how well an athlete will eventually perform as a member of their eventual team. One striking example he gave is the intelligence test they give to NFL quarterbacks. Two of the test's all-time worst performers were Dan Marino and Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Famers both.
A more material example is teachers. Gladwell says that while we evaluate teachers on the basis of high standardized test scores and whether they have degrees and credentialed training, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.
I'll be at the New Yorker conference today and some attempt to provide an alive weblogging of the goings-on will be made. On the slate are kottke.org tagholders David Remnick, Rebecca Mead, David Chang, Malcolm Gladwell, and James Surowiecki.