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Liveable v lovable

The FT asks a very good question, Why is it no one really wants to live in the most liveable cities? 

…The polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability.The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities

“These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people…” 

Liveable usually does not mean the most dynamic…

… can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility? The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings

The common criteria of What makes a city great for all these surveys are:

Blend of beauty and ugliness – beauty to lift the soul, ugliness to ensure there are parts of the fabric of the city that can accommodate change.

Diversity – if lots of people are wanting to come to a city, there must be something there. 

Tolerance – the only way diversity works but also an accommodating attitude to sexuality (gay communities are famously successful inner-city regenerators) and religion (there are signs of increasing intolerance towards religious minorities all over the world). 

Density – density of habitation is crucial in ensuring density of activity, a vibrancy of commerce, residential and cultural activity. 

Social mix – the close proximity of social and economic classes keeps a city lively. 

Civility – impossible to measure and slightly against my stated notions about the benefits of friction but critical nevertheless. I once criticised the ingratiating politeness in the US and was told by an American who used to live in Paris that “it’s better to be told to have a nice day by someone who doesn’t mean it than to be told to go f*** yourself by someone who does”. Discounts any Israeli or Russian city from ever getting on the listEH

Read the whole article here 

Liveable v lovable 

By Edwin Heathcote FT.com

Published: May 6 2011 17:52 | Last updated: May 6 2011 17:52
A collage of city monuments and landmarks
Vancouver is Hollywood’s urban body double. It is famously the stand-in for New York, LA, Seattle and Chicago, employed when those cities just get too tough, too traffic-clogged, too murderous or too bureaucratic to film in. It is almost never filmed as itself. That is because, lovely as it is, it is also, well … a little dull. Who would want to watch a film set in Vancouver? To see its skyscrapers destroyed by aliens or tidal waves, its streets populated by cops and junkies, its public buildings hosting romantic reunions? Yet Vancouver (original name, Gastown) has also spent more than a decade at the very top of the charts of the best city to live in the world. Can that really be right?
The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient. So what do these top cities have in common? How exactly do you measure “liveability”?No. Not at all. In fact, Vancouver’s boringly consistent topping of the polls underlines the fundamental fault that lies at the heart of the idea of measuring cities by their “liveability”. The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur: Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope. Americans in particular seem to get wound up by the lack of US cities in the top tier. The one that does make it is Pittsburgh. Which winds them up even more.
So that’s the mountains, lakes and huge cups of generic coffee accounted for. Then there’s efficient public transport (that faint whoosh is the sound of London, NY and LA disappearing). There are also cultural institutions, global connectivity, green urban policies, well-designed housing within an easy commute, and so on. Each determinant on its own seems an indisputably good thing. But what do they mean together? Can Munich (Monocle’s Number 1) really be one of the best places in the world to live? On a Sunday afternoon?All the surveys use an index. But what is on it? “There’s always proximity to nature,” says Tyler Brûlé (editor of Monocle and patron saint of liveable cities and airport lounges, whose column appears weekly in the FT’s Life & Arts section). “Global connectivity is important, education and we’ve recently added chain store metrics – is there a Starbucks or a Zara?” he says.
To even begin to understand how these slightly unsettling results are arrived at, we need to understand who compiles them and who they are for. The lists are made by well-travelled academics, researchers and journalists for corporate, media and creative executives on generous expense accounts as well as other academics enjoying grants and stipends. And, of course, by Tyler Brûlé.
Most of these people are profoundly concerned with things like well-designed street furniture, a proliferation of eye-wateringly expensive artisanal retail, boutique hotels with good (English-speaking) service and environmentally friendly mayoral policies. Certainly these are all things which help but they skew the polls to a particular type of European or marginal Pacific city. What they also do is to strip out all the complexity, all the friction and buzz that make big cities what they are.
I spoke to Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development, and asked him about these surveys. “I’ve been to Copenhagen,” (Monocle’s Number 2) he tells me “and it’s cute. But frankly, on the second day, I was wondering what to do.” So, if the results aren’t to his liking, what does he suggest? “We need to ask, what makes a city great? If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that’s fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called ‘productive resorts’. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be ‘an inventory of the possible’. I like that description.”
Joel Garreau, the US urban academic and author, agrees. “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”
Ricky Burdett, who founded the London School of Economics’ Cities Programme, says: “These surveys always come up with a list where no one would want to live. One wants to live in places which are large and complex, where you don’t know everyone and you don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Cities are places of opportunity but also of conflict, but where you can find safety in a crowd.
“We also have to acknowledge that these cities that come top of the polls also don’t have any poor people,” he adds. And that, it seems to me, touches on the big issue. Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s hugely influential book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (2009) seems to present an obvious truth – that places where the differential in income between the wealthiest and the poorest is smallest tend to engender a sense of satisfaction and well-being. But while it may be socially desirable, that kind of comfort doesn’t necessarily make for vibrancy or dynamism. If everybody is where they want to be, no one is going anywhere.
“Sure, Vancouver is beautiful,” says Kotkin, “but it’s also unaffordable unless you’re on an expense account and your company is paying your rent.” Burdett agrees: “Economically all these cities at the top of the polls are also in the top league.” In fact, it can often be exactly the juxtaposition of wealth and relative poverty that makes a city vibrant, the collision between the two worlds. Where parts of big cities have declined, through the collapse of industries or the fears about immigration that led to what urbanists have termed the “donut effect” (in which white populations flee to the suburbs, leaving minorities in the centres), there is space to be filled by artists and architects, by poorer immigrants arriving with a drive to make money and by the proliferation of food outlets, studios and galleries. These, in turn, attract the wealthy back to the centre, at first to consume, and then to gentrify. Whether in New York’s SoHo, Chelsea or Brooklyn, in Berlin’s Mitte or London’s Shoreditch, Hoxton and now Peckham, it is at these moments of radical change that cities begin to show potential for real transformation of lives, or for the creation of new ideas, culture, cuisine and wealth. Once gentrification has occurred, bohemians may whinge about being priced out, as they always have done but, in a big enough city they are able to move on and find the next spot.
In a strange way the everyday conflict with the (unliveable) city can also become part of the attraction. Professor Tony Travers of the LSE says, “At one level the kind of urban sophisticates who live in these areas, in Hoxton or Brooklyn, want to fight the city. The urban struggle is part of the self-image of living on the edge.”
If the relative poverty of newcomers to the city distorts income equality in one direction, then the arrival of the super-wealthy does the same from the other end. The recent turmoil in the Middle East has led to a huge wave of investment in London property, one of the traditional safe havens for foreign money. London, unlike many cities that appear high on liveability lists, has few controls on property ownership. “If cities are any good,” says Travers, “they’ll attract a footloose international crowd who bring wealth.” And so the gap gets bigger.
He adds: “But they also come because of stability. If they buy something, they’ll be able to get their money back.” Which explains why New York and London remain popular, desirable and hugely expensive, despite never appearing on the lists.
The big cities also suffer from size. It’s true that Tokyo (Monocle’s Number 4) occasionally makes it on to these lists but metropolises like London, New York, Paris and Istanbul struggle with aged infrastructure and vast, sprawling transport systems. They are penalised in surveys for their inefficiency compared to, say, a small Scandinavian city. But it’s easy to be efficient when you’re small and when you have a highly taxed, wealthy population. It is also easy to initiate green measures, from recycling to cycling, which prove far more challenging in a proper metropolis with its problems of crumbling infrastructure and mobile population.
Yet it is proven again and again that the biggest cities are in fact the greenest. Their density, the close proximity in which people live and the minimal amount of land they occupy – compared with largely suburban Vancouver, for example, makes for a far smaller carbon footprint. Mumbai is probably the greenest big city there is – slums like the million-strong Dharavi use minimal land, energy and water. And, of course, without wishing to patronise, it is undeniable that there are happy people living surrounded by their families in Brazil’s favelas and millions living lives of drudgery and lonely despair beneath northern Europe’s leaden skies. The world’s most liveable informal cities lists have yet to be pioneered.
There is one criterion which throws up shockingly counter-intuitive results – beauty. On this criterion alone, almost any Tuscan hill town, perhaps Venice, perhaps Paris, would come out on top, yet none of these are there. Most of the beauty in the cities which occupy the tops of the leagues seem to ghettoise their beauty outside the city. They have convenient escapes, though the most beautiful and enjoyable – Rio, San Francisco and others – are curiously absent from the lists. The problem is that beauty doesn’t do you any good at all. It’s not a factor for the efficient, mid-sized chart toppers – though places such as Zurich certainly have their lovely bits. But it also damages your chances of making it into the disaffected megacities mentioned at the start of this article. The most beautiful cities become monuments to their own elegance, immobile and unchangeable. They cannot accommodate the kind of dynamic change and churn that keeps cities alive. In London, New York and Berlin, it is their very ugliness which keeps them flexible.
“The other big question,” says Kotkin, “is can someone coming from somewhere else improve themselves, reinvent themselves? Is there upward mobility?” The top cities score badly again. London and New York are magnets for immigrants precisely because they allow those kinds of new beginnings. They do have class structures but they are increasingly malleable.
There is one problem, though, that remains hard to ignore – violence. Johannesburg may be beautiful but its per capita homicide rates are astronomical; Los Angeles and New York are held back for the same reason. Washington DC’s per capita homicide rate, for example, is more than 30 times that of London and this continues to hold US cities down in the rankings. Urban guru Richard Florida remarks that the key to liveability is to “ensure that a city can guarantee the safety of all its residents”.
Of course, the ultimate difficulty with these surveys is that tastes are individual. I find London infuriating but –with the possible exception of New York – couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. “The city is a unique and private reality,” wrote Jonathan Raban, author of Soft City. He proposed that his London was a “soft city”, a place that everyone remakes in their own manner, in which every place evokes a personal memory or connection and which we navigate through our own unique mental maps. Our cities are our own – we make them inside us. No city means the same to two people so how on earth can we measure them?
Edwin Heathcote is the FT’s architecture critic
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Rankings: the best and the worst
New York
The only city that gives me a thrill every single time I walk through it. Fast, furious, brash, cosmopolitan yet completely self-absorbed, it is the perfect big city.
Rio de Janeiro
An extraordinary cocktail of pleasure and pain, beaches and favelas, condos and shacks, Rio is one of the most beautiful, most tolerant and most varied cities on earth. Unfortunately, its high murder rate discounts it from traditional best cities lists. But what a cityscape.
Istanbul
Istanbul
Istanbul

The fulcrum of the delicate balance between Europe and Asia, Christianity, secularism and Islam, Istanbul manages to be both one of the most beautiful cities on earth and yet accommodating to huge and constant change. It is a young, international, wildly commercial city with an extraordinarily vibrant street scene, open 24 hours and genuinely alive.

London
London seems to have the ability to reinvent itself. It has been a magnet for immigrants for centuries and remains a place where the poor can make something of themselves and the wealthy can enjoy their money. Its infrastructure is crumbling, its property overpriced and its weather dull but London’s cultural life is astonishing and most of its museums are free.
Rome
It might be more than 1,500 years since Rome was a proper world city but its allure lies in a blend of history, chaos, beauty and infinite layers of culture.
A few that don’t make the grade
Moscow
Impossible to traverse on foot, infinitely rude, corrupt, understandably alcoholic and seriously traffic-clogged, Moscow needs work. It does have some beautiful bits, from the Kremlin through to the masterworks of revolutionary modernism but the legacy of the communist police state hangs heavy.
Dubai
Everything that could go wrong with a city does here. It is, in fact, a place with no “here”. A succession of malls, highways, hotels and hideous towers, it has spent its history announcing its arrival but hasn’t a clue what to do when it gets there.
Birmingham
Once it was the workshop of the world, an astonishing morass of industry that somehow threw up a powerful, elegant Victorian city, which has been completely destroyed. Its decline has been less complete than that of, say, Detroit or Flint but it manages to be uglier nevertheless.
Jerusalem
I know, I know – beautiful, holy, history lingers in its every shady corner. Yet the treatment of Arabs as second-class citizens, the ghastly security wall smashing through its edges and the omnipresent guns have spoilt it. Jerusalem is the perfect example of why tolerance is so critical to a city.

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The Class That Built Apps, and Fortunes

May 7, 2011

NYTimes.com

STANFORD, Calif.
ALL right, class, here’s your homework assignment: Devise an app. Get people to use it. Repeat.
That was the task for some Stanford students in the fall of 2007, in what became known here as the “Facebook Class.”
No one expected what happened next.
The students ended up getting millions of users for free apps that they designed to run on Facebook. And, as advertising rolled in, some of those students started making far more money than their professors.
Almost overnight, the Facebook Class fired up the careers and fortunes of more than two dozen students and teachers here. It also helped to pioneer a new model of entrepreneurship that has upturned the tech establishment: the lean start-up.
“Everything was happening so fast,” recalls Joachim De Lombaert, now 23. His team’s app netted $3,000 a day and morphed into a company that later sold for a six-figure sum.
“I almost didn’t realize what it all meant,” he says.
Neither did many of his classmates. Back then, Facebook apps were a novelty. The iPhone had just arrived, and the first Android phone was a year off.
But by teaching students to build no-frills apps, distribute them quickly and worry about perfecting them later, the Facebook Class stumbled upon what has become standard operating procedure for a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley and beyond. For many, the long trek from idea to product to company has turned into a sprint.
Start-ups once required a lot of money, time and people. But over the past decade, free, open-source software and “cloud” services have brought costs down, while ad networks help bring in revenue quickly.
The app phenomenon has accentuated the trend and helped unleash what some call a new wave of technology innovation — and what others call a bubble.
Early on, the Facebook Class became a microcosm of Silicon Valley. Working in teams of three, the 75 students created apps that collectively had 16 million users in just 10 weeks. Many of those apps were sort of silly: Mr. De Lombaert’s, for example, allowed users to send “hotness” points to Facebook friends. Yet during the term, the apps, free for users, generated roughly $1 million in advertising revenue.
Such successes helped inspire entrepreneurs to ditch business plans and work on apps. Not all succeeded, but those that did helped to fuel the expansion of Facebook, which now has nearly 700 million users.
Venture capitalists also began rethinking their approach. Some created investment funds tailored to the new, bare-bones start-ups.
“A lot of the concepts and ideas that came out of the class influenced the structure of the fund that I am working on now,” says Dave McClure, one of the class instructors and founder of 500 Startups, which invests in lean start-ups. “The class was the realization that this stuff really works.”
Nearly four years later, many of the students have learned that building a business is a lot harder than creating an app — even an app worthy of an A+.
“Starting a company is definitely more work,” says Edward Baker, who was Mr. De Lombaert’s partner in the class and later in business. The two have founded Friend.ly, a social networking start-up.
Still, many students were richly rewarded. Some turned their homework into companies. A few have since sold those businesses to the likes of Zynga. Others joined hot start-ups like RockYou, a gaming site that at the time was among the most successful Facebook apps.
The Facebook Class changed Mr. De Lombaert’s life. His team’s app, Send Hotness, brought in more users and more money faster than any other in the class. And its success attracted the attention of venture capitalists.
“The class, more than anything, set the tone for us to try to start something big,” says Mr. Baker, 32, Friend.ly’s C.E.O.
When the Send Hotness app began to take off, Mr. Baker encouraged Mr. De Lombaert to treat himself to a new car. Mr. De Lombaert settled for a laptop. (He also put some money aside to help to pay his Stanford tuition.) They eventually sold the app to a dating Web site.
Facebook did not actively participate in the Stanford class. But some of its engineers attended sessions, and it benefited from the success of the students’ apps. “It really felt like an incubator,” says David Fetterman, a Facebook engineer who helped develop the applications platform.
The startling success of some of the class’s projects got Silicon Valley buzzing. The final session, held in an auditorium in December 2007, was attended by more than 500 people, including many investors.
“The Facebook platform was taking off, and there was this feeling of a gold rush,” said Mike Maples Jr., an investor who attended some of the classes and ended up backing one of the start-ups.
THE Facebook Class was the brainchild of B. J. Fogg, who runs the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford. An energetic academic and an innovation guru, he focuses on how to harness technology and human psychology to influence people’s behavior.
Mr. Fogg thought that the Facebook platform would be a good way to test some of his theories. Creating a new model of entrepreneurship was far from his mind.
At first, university administrators pushed back. “Facebook was not taken so seriously in academic circles back then,” Mr. Fogg recalls.
But there was no hesitation among students — from undergraduates in computer science to M.B.A. candidates — who were spending much of their lives immersed in Facebook.
From the start, many approached the class from a business angle. Mr. Baker, for instance, was a graduate business student but lacked technical skills, so he spent his first week interviewing engineers. “I wanted a technical co-founder,” he says.
He settled on Mr. De Lombaert, and the two, along with a third student, Alex Onsager, created Send Hotness. It let users send points to friends they considered “hot” and to compare “hotness” rankings.
Soon they found themselves in a proverbial “the dog ate my homework” situation. Three days before a presentation was due, Mr. De Lombaert accidentally deleted the computer code he was tinkering with. “We kind of freaked out,” he recalls.
Rebuilding the app would take too long. So, working around the clock over a weekend, they built another version, with a more rudimentary algorithm.
The stripped-down app took off. In five weeks, five million people signed up. When the team began placing ads on the app, the money poured in.
They had stumbled upon one of the themes of the class: make things simple, and perfect them later.
“The students did an amazing job of getting stuff into the market very quickly,” says Michael Dearing, a consulting associate professor at theInstitute of Design at Stanford, who now teaches a class based on similar, rapid prototyping ideas. “It was a huge success.”
DAN GREENBERG was sitting at the kitchen table one night when he and another teaching assistant decided to get into the app game. Mr. Greenberg, a graduate student who had done research for Mr. Fogg, hadn’t planned to get app-happy. But the students’ success whetted his appetite.
Four weeks into the quarter, he and his colleague, Rob Fan, set out to create an app that would let Facebook users send “hugs” to one another.
It took them all of five hours.
The app took off. So they moved on to apps for “kisses,” “pillow fights” and other digital interactions — 70 in all.
Their apps caught on with millions of people and were soon bringing in nearly $100,000 a month in ads. After the class ended, the two started a company, 750 Industries, named after the 750 Pub at Stanford where Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Fan where drinking when they decided to become business partners.
But juggling the business and schoolwork was too much for Mr. Greenberg, then 22. So he called his father.
“I said, ‘Dad, it is 10 p.m., and I’ve got so much stuff to do,’ ” Mr. Greenberg recalls. “ ‘We’re running this business, and I’ve got customers, and we are earning money, and we got financing and we have people to hire. But I have to write a paper tonight, and I just don’t have time for it.’ ”
His father advised him to pull a Mark Zuckerberg and drop out. The next day, Mr. Greenberg did just that.
Now 25, he works out of a glass-walled corner office in San Francisco. He is C.E.O. of his company, now called Sharethrough, which uses social media to distribute videos across the Web for companies. It employs 30 people and has raised about $6 million in venture capital. “It feels like a fairy tale when you look back on it,” he says of the class.
He has upgraded his lifestyle somewhat, but still doesn’t own a car. “I have a Vespa and skateboard,” he says.
“LOVE CHILD.” It sounds like an unlikely name for an app. But Johnny Hwin and his Stanford class team set out to build an app of that name, one that would let two users create and raise a virtual child. It never took off.
“We were overly ambitious,” Mr. Hwin says.
Seeing his classmates strike gold with simpler ideas proved to be a valuable lesson. In 2009, he began working on Damntheradio.com, a Facebook marketing tool that helped bands and musicians connect with fans online.
It opened last June and was acquired in January by FanBridge, where Mr. Hwin is now a vice president, for a few million dollars, he says.
Mr. Hwin, who is 26 and also a musician, now lives in a loft space in the Mission neighborhood in San Francisco. He uses his place as a kind of salon for late-night art shows and concerts.
“With Love Child, we wanted it to be perfect,” he says. With Damntheradio, he found his first clients by showing mockups of the product. “We were able to launch within weeks,” he says.
Another class member, Robert Cezar Matei, says he had only modest success with his projects. One, he said, allowed users to send “cheesy pickup lines” to friends; another encouraged people to reveal something about themselves. After graduating from Stanford, he wanted to earn some money to go traveling, but instead of getting a job, he decided to write Facebook apps. “I’d seen my peers being so successful with apps,” he says. “If they could do it, I could do it.”
After a few false starts, he created an app that let people send points and “kisses” to friends. It struggled until Mr. Matei, who speaks several languages, translated the app. The next day, traffic jumped fivefold. He added games, and employees, and the app became one of the most popular Facebook programs in Europe. In late 2009, he sold to Zynga for an undisclosed sum.
Also in the class was Joshua Reeves, who built an app that created animations that Facebook members would send to one another as birthday greetings or other messages. It made enough money for him to quit his job in 2008 to start Buzzeo, a content management system for Facebook. A year ago, Buzzeo was acquired by Context Optional, where Mr. Reeves, 28, is now a vice president. Last week, Efficient Frontier, a digital marketing company, acquired Context Optional for an undisclosed sum.
ONE recent afternoon at the headquarters of Friend.ly in Mountain View, Calif., 10 engineers worked away as two employees turned their attention to a companywide project: a 24,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.
For much of the past year, Friend.ly has worked on developing its service, a social network for meeting new people, without much success. A few weeks ago, the work appeared to pay off: traffic took off, growing to nearly five million monthly users.
Mr. Baker says the Facebook platform is a magnet for young developers, even though the kind of simple apps that were the focus of his Stanford class now face bigger hurdles. Facebook has made it harder to develop big-hit apps by controlling how apps spread virally.

But Mr. Fogg, says that for those who were at the right place at the right time — in late 2007 — things were different. “There was a period of time when you could walk in and collect gold,” he says. “It was landscape that was ready to be harvested.”


>April 22, 2011
A Passover Toast to a Rabbi Known for Social Activism, and for Kosher Coca-Cola
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, of blessed memory, was born in Lithuania in 1870 and educated in the renowned Slobodka yeshiva. In the wake of a pogrom, he immigrated to New York in 1903, and seven years later he moved to Atlanta to become the rabbi of Shearith Israel, a tiny and struggling Orthodox congregation meeting in the battered remnant of a Methodist church.

During his early decades at Shearith Israel, Rabbi Geffen established Atlanta’s first Hebrew school and oversaw its ritual bath. He stood by Leo Frank, the Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a young Christian girl, and after Frank’s lynching in 1915, the rabbi urged his congregants not to flee the South in fear.

At Passover in 1925, he spoke eloquently and presciently against Congress for passing immigration restrictions that “have slammed shut the gates of the country before the wanderers, the strangers, and those who walk in darkness from place to place.” As early as 1933, he warned about the Nazi regime in Germany. Long before feminism, he advocated for Orthodox women who were being denied religious divorce decrees by vindictive husbands.

But all those achievements are not why we invoke the name and memory of Rabbi Geffen today, more than 40 years after his death. No, we come to honor his least likely yet most enduring contribution to the Jewish people and his adopted nation: kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola.

Yes, observant Jews of today, searching supermarket counters for those bottles with the telltale yellow cap bearing the Orthodox Union’s certification, and yes, Coke die-hards of any or no religion who seek out those same bottles for the throwback flavor of cane-sugar Coke, you owe it all to Rabbi Tuvia Geffen.

He of the long beard and wire-rim glasses and Yiddish-inflected English, a man by all outward appearances belonging to the Old World, he was the person who by geographical coincidence and unexpected perspicacity adapted Coca-Cola’s secret formula to make the iconic soft drink kosher in one version for Passover and in another for the rest of the year. To this day, his 1935 rabbinical ruling, known in Hebrew as a teshuva, remains the standard.

That ruling, in turn, did much more than solve a dietary problem. A generation after Frank’s lynching, a decade after Congress barred the Golden Door, amid the early stages of Hitler’s genocide, kosher Coke formed a powerful symbol of American Jewry’s place in the mainstream.

“Rabbi Geffen really got the importance of it,” said Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in Jewish life in the South. “You couldn’t live in any better place than the South to get it. To not drink Coca-Cola was certainly to be considered un-American.”

Or look at the interplay of Jews and America from another angle. Rabbi Geffen’s solution to the Coke problem was not to forget the kosher rules and melt into the melting pot. But neither was it to decry the spiritual pollution of modernity in the form of a fizzy drink. A half-century before the era of cultural pluralism, his answer was to have the majority address the distinct needs of a minority.

As a contemporary Orthodox rabbi, Adam Mintz, has written in an essay on Geffen and Coke: “Struggling to find their place in a land that was often hostile to their religion, American Jews respected and appreciated rabbis who sought to include them within the Orthodox camp rather than simply condemn them as sinners. Of course his approach would not have been possible had he not felt confident in his powers of persuasion.”

We can safely say, however, that this issue chose Rabbi Geffen rather than the other way around. As early as 1925, as the Orthodox authority in Coke’s home city, he was receiving inquiries from other rabbis about the drink’s kosher status. A few other rabbis had already given certification, without knowing the secret formula. And multitudes of American Jews were drinking Coke regardless.

“Because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink,” Rabbi Geffen wrote in his teshuva, “I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution.”

Putting aside God’s props for a moment, we should note that Rabbi Geffen had some significant earthly help in the person of Harold Hirsch, a Jewish Atlantan who was Coca-Cola’s corporate lawyer. Through Hirsch, Rabbi Geffen was permitted to enter that industry’s Holy of Holies and receive Coke’s secret formula.

With it, the rabbi was able to identify the elements that rendered Coke nonkosher during the bulk of the year (oil of glycerine derived from beef tallow) and specifically during Passover (a corn derivative). Hiding the exact ingredients behind Hebrew euphemisms in his teshuva, Rabbi Geffen explained the needed corrections. Glycerine could be replaced by coconut or cottonseed oils, and the corn derivative by cane or beet sugars.

Kosher-for-Passover Coke is now produced under rabbinic supervision at bottling plants serving Jewish population centers in New York, Florida, Southern California and Houston, among other areas. A number of other major brands have followed Coke into the Passover market: Dannon, Lipton, Pepsi and Tropicana. There are tequila and blintzes made without forbidden grains.

“It used to be that for Pesach you were limited to matza and hard-boiled eggs,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher-certification program. “Now, I’ve got to tell you, I love those cheese blintzes.”

And, whether devout or debauched, Coke fans anticipate Passover for their own cultish reason: the usual sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, is replaced by cane or beet sugar.

Moshe Feder, an editor of science-fiction and fantasy books, traveled to six supermarkets from his home in Queens before finding four two-liter bottles of Passover Coke. The subject of his quest happened to come up at a seder the other night. The host, a Jewish man, had never heard about the difference between Coke and Passover Coke. But two Roman Catholic guests, Mr. Feder reported, “knew all about it.”

Rabbi Geffen, of blessed memory, who’d have guessed you were so ecumenical?

E-mail: sgf1@columbia.edu
A Passover Toast to a Kosher Innovator — On Religion – NYTimes.com


>

Scarred by the Dot-Com Bust, Reinvented for Social Media

Thomas WeiselNoah Berger/Bloomberg NewsBeen there: Thomas Weisel scouted technology start-ups in the 1990s and is doing so again.
SAN FRANCISCO — Thomas Weisel doesn’t have much personal experience with social media. He has never opened a Facebook or Twitter account, and he has resisted buying an iPhone.
But Mr. Weisel knows a lot about overheated markets. His firm, Thomas Weisel Partners Group, was a dominant force in taking technology companies public during the dot-com boom and was hobbled when that bubble burst in 2000.
Today, Mr. Weisel, 70, is assessing the industry landscape from his corner office at the Stifel Financial Corporation, the brokerage firm that bought his struggling company in April 2010. Although the current frenzy raises concerns, he says he thinks it is unfair to compare Internet stocks during the late 1990s to social media companies now.
“In a sentence, the big difference is these companies, in many cases, are enormously profitable out of the gate,” he said.
Mr. Weisel, who as co-chairman of Stifel’s board is still out hustling banking business, is among the many heavyweights from the dot-com days who are reinventing themselves in the era of social media.
Mary Meeker, the research analyst who was called the Queen of the Internet, recently joined theventure capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Frank Quattrone, the Wall Street investment banker who helped take Amazon.com public in 1997, now has his own boutique advisory group working with technology start-ups and stalwarts, including National Semiconductor on its recent deal with Texas Instruments. Sandy Robertson, previously a founder of Robertson Stephens, a technology banking firm, joined Francisco Partners, a private equity shop that focuses on technology.
Lise Buyer, a former Credit Suisse First Boston analyst who currently advises companies on potential public offerings at her firm, Class V Group, jokes that she is “running into everyone” she knew from the go-go period of the late 1990s.
“Social media is a new frontier,” Mr. Robertson said.These veterans offer a unique perspective, having survived the previous technology craze and now playing a role in the current one.
Mr. Weisel, a Rochester, Minn., native who was once a competitive speed skater, rose to fame during the technology boom. In the early 1990s, he ran Montgomery Securities, one of the boutique banks known as the Four Horsemen that dominated technology underwriting during the decade. During his tenure, Mr. Weisel took Yahoo public and helped orchestrate StrataCom’s sale to Cisco for $4.7 billion, at the time the largest technology acquisition that year.
But like many at the time, Mr. Weisel was swept up in the frenzy. In an interview in January 2000, he declared the tech boom was “the Super Bowl of all Super Bowls.” Just a couple months later, the bubble burst — a crushing blow to his firm.After NationsBank bought Montgomery in 1997, he struck out on his own, starting Thomas Weisel Partners. He quickly landed a number of big assignments, including advising Yahoo on its acquisition of GeoCities.
In the aftermath, Mr. Weisel tried to diversify his firm away from technology, which accounted for more than 80 percent of revenue. He expanded into health care and consumer products. To raise capital, he took Thomas Weisel public in 2006.
But the firm never really recovered from the dot-com bust, and in 2010, it was sold to Stifel Financial.
His experience over the last decade has influenced his view. While he remains bullish on technology broadly, he says social media stocks are far from a slam dunk.
“They have great potential, but they have to continue to produce,” Mr. Weisel said.
After years of managing, Mr. Weisel is happy to play the role of sage counsel. He regularly meets with technology entrepreneurs and executives, to help Stifel Financial land deals.
The notable difference this time is the underlying business models of many companies, he says. Technology costs are minimal, which allows social networking sites to be profitable almost immediately. During the dot-com boom, companies burned through cash and took years to turn a profit — if they did at all.
“For the most part, these are real companies with real revenue and are generating real cash flow,” he said.
Even so, Mr. Weisel says it is critical for companies like Groupon, which is said to be valued at roughly $25 billion, to maintain their leadership position.
“First-mover advantage is key,” Mr. Weisel said. “If they don’t continue to produce, someone next door will come in and build a better mouse trap.”
He points to MySpace as a cautionary tale. In 2006, it was the top social networking site, with users topping 50 million that year, according to the research firm comScore. But it has steadily ceded ground since then to Facebook, which claims 150.7 million users today versus 37.7 million for MySpace. Its current owner, the News Corporation, recently put MySpace on the auction block.
Mr. Weisel is also watching valuations. Companies like Facebook, which is worth an estimated $50 billion, may not be able to justify such numbers unless their strategies evolve and they find new sources of profit.
“Right now, these business models are typically brand new and not fully vetted,” Mr. Weisel said. “They have to figure how to continue to monetize the traffic they are getting or valuations will fall off.”

The Barons of Two Booms

Other major Wall Street players from the dot-com bubble have reinvented themselves.
Sandy Robertson
Sandy Robertson
THEN: A founder of the boutique bank Robertson Stephens, he proclaimed in 1999 that tech companies were the most expensive stocks ever.
NOW: While he wonders if sites like Facebook are the modern equivalent of the defunct citizens’ band radio, Mr. Robertson, an executive at the private equity firm Francisco Partners and a director at the software company Salesforce.com, sees great potential.
Mary Meeker
Mary Meeker
THEN: As an analyst for the investment bank Morgan Stanley, Ms. Meeker was referred to as the Queen of the Internet for her bullish investment calls on technology companies like Amazon.com and eBay.
NOW: Ms. Meeker left her perch at Morgan Stanley in late 2010 to join Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm based in San Francisco. An investor in the start-ups Groupon and Zynga, the firm recently introduced a $250 million social media fund.
Henry Blodget
Henry Blodget
THEN: Once a high-flying technology analyst at Merrill Lynch whose stock recommendations often moved the market, Mr. Blodget was accused by regulators of issuing positive ratings on stocks in public while deriding them in private e-mails. As part of a settlement, he was barred from the securities industry.
NOW: Mr. Blodget is currently the editor and chief executive of The Business Insider, a gossipy news site that covers Wall Street. He has more than 28,000 followers on Twitter.

Sent from a wireless device.


>below are some excerpts from Jim Rogers interview:

Dollar will be debased; gold and silver to hit new highs

Chinese economy:

There is some overheating and inflation

setback in urban, coastal real estate is under way

China has been overbuilding ever since I have been visiting. There is at least eventual demand for much of it, but that does not preclude some bankruptcies in the future.

Europe:

I think we are getting closer and closer to the point where someone in Europe is going to have to take some losses, whether it's the banks or the countries, but somebody has to acknowledge that they are bankrupt.

Following is an interview that The Daily Bell had with Jim Rogers:

Jim Rogers: Dollar will be debased; gold and silver to hit new highs
05 April 2011 | http://www.commodityonline.com

Daily Bell: We've interviewed you before. Thanks for spending some time with us once again. Let's jump right in. What do you think of the Chinese economy these days?

Jim Rogers: There is some overheating and inflation, which they are wisely trying to cool – especially in urban, coastal real estate. They have huge reserves so will suffer less than others in any coming downturn.

Daily Bell: Is price inflation more or less of a problem?

Jim Rogers: More. At least they acknowledge inflation and are attacking it. Some countries still try denying there is inflation worldwide. The US is even pouring gasoline on these inflationary trends with more money printing instead of trying to extinguish the problem.

Daily Bell: Is China headed for a setback as you suggested last time we spoke?

Jim Rogers: Did I say a setback or a setback in real estate speculation? I think you will find it was the latter. Yes, the setback in urban, coastal real estate is under way.

Daily Bell: They are allowing the yuan to float upward. Good move?

Jim Rogers: Yes, but I would make it freely convertible faster than they are.

Daily Bell: Will that squeeze price inflation?

Jim Rogers: It will help.

Daily Bell: Why so many empty cities and malls in China? Does the government have plans to move rural folk into cities en masse?

Jim Rogers: That is a bit exaggerated. China has been overbuilding ever since I have been visiting. There is at least eventual demand for much of it, but that does not preclude some bankruptcies in the future.

Daily Bell: Is such centralized planning good for the economy?

Jim Rogers: No. Centralized planning is rarely, if ever, good for the economy. But the kind of construction you are describing is at the provincial level – not the national level.

Daily Bell: The Chinese government is worried about unrest given what is occurring in the Middle East. Should they be?

Jim Rogers: We all should be. There is going to be more social unrest worldwide including the US. More governments will fall. More countries will fail.

Daily Bell: Are they still on track to be the world's biggest economy over the next decade?

Jim Rogers: Perhaps not that soon, but eventually.

Daily Bell: Any thoughts on Japan? Why haven't they been able to get the economy moving after 30 years? Will the earthquake finally jump-start the economy or is that an erroneous application of the broken-windows fallacy?

Jim Rogers: It has been 20 years. They refused to let people fail and go bankrupt. They constantly propped up zombie companies. The earthquake will help some sectors for a while, but there are serious demographic and debt problems down the road.

Daily Bell: The Japanese were going to buy PIGS bonds. What will happen now? Does that only leave China?

Jim Rogers: Obviously the Japanese have other things on their mind right now. I think we are getting closer and closer to the point where someone in Europe is going to have to take some losses, whether it's the banks or the countries, but somebody has to acknowledge that they are bankrupt. The thing that the world needs is for somebody to acknowledge reality and start taking haircuts.

Read more »


>

Can You Frisk a Hard Drive?

If you stand with the Customs and Border Protection officers who staff the passport booths at Dulles airport near the nation’s capital, their task seems daunting. As a huge crowd of weary travelers shuffle along in serpentine lines, inspectors make quick decisions by asking a few questions (often across language barriers) and watching computer displays that don’t go much beyond name, date of birth and codes for a previous customs problem or an outstanding arrest warrant.
Illustrations by Jennifer Daniel, Photograph by Imagemore Co., Ltd./Corbis
The officers are supposed to pick out the possible smugglers, terrorists or child pornographers and send them to secondary screening.
The chosen few — 6.1 million of the 293 million who entered the United States in the year ending Sept. 30, 2010 — get a big letter written on their declaration forms: A for an agriculture check on foodstuffs, B for an immigration issue, and C for a luggage inspection. Into the computer the passport officers type the reasons for the selection, a heads-up to their colleagues in the back room, where more thorough databases are accessible.
And there is where concerns have developed about invasions of privacy, for the most complete records on the travelers may be the ones they are carrying: their laptop computers full of professional and personal e-mail messages, photographs, diaries, legal documents, tax returns, browsing histories and other windows into their lives far beyond anything that could be, or would be, stuffed into a suitcase for a trip abroad. Those revealing digital portraits can be immensely useful to inspectors, who now hunt for criminal activity and security threats by searching and copying people’s hard drives, cellphones and other electronic devices, which are sometimes held for weeks of analysis.
Digital inspections raise constitutional questions about how robust the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee “against unreasonable searches and seizures” should be on the border, especially in a time of terrorism. A total of 6,671 travelers, 2,995 of them American citizens, had electronic gear searched from Oct. 1, 2008, through June 2, 2010, just a tiny percentage of arrivals.

“But the government’s obligation is to obey the Constitution all the time,” said Catherine Crump, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Moreover, controversial government programs often start small and then grow,” after which “the government argues that it is merely carrying out the same policies it has been carrying out for years.”
One of the regular targets is Pascal Abidor, a Brooklyn-born student getting his Ph.D. in Islamic studies, who reported being frisked, handcuffed, taken off a train from Montreal and locked for several hours in a cell last May, apparently because his computer contained research material in Arabic and news photographs of Hezbollah and Hamas rallies. He said he was questioned about his political and religious views, and his laptop was held for 11 days.
Another is James Yee, a former Muslim chaplain at the Guantánamo Bay prison, who gets what he wryly calls a “V.I.P. escort” whenever he flies into the United States. In 2003, Mr. Yee was jailed and then exonerated by the Army after he had conveyed prisoners’ complaints about abuse, urged respect for their religious practices and reported obscene anti-Muslim caricatures being e-mailed among security staff.
Years later, he evidently remains on a “lookout” list. A federal agent stands at the door of Mr. Yee’s incoming plane, then escorts him to the front of the passport line and to secondary screening.
Arriving in Los Angeles last May from speaking engagements in Malaysia, he was thoroughly questioned and searched, he said, and his laptop was taken for three or four hours. He was not told why, but after it was returned and he was waiting to rebook a connecting flight he’d missed, a customs officer rushed up to the counter. “We left our disk inside your computer,” he quoted her as saying. “I said, ‘It’s mine now.’ She said no, and sure enough when I took the computer out, there was a disk.”
Customs won’t comment on specific cases. “The privacy rights that citizens have really supersede the government’s ability to go into any depth,” said Kelly Ivahnenko, a spokeswoman.
In general, “we’re looking for anyone who might be violating a U.S. law and is posing a threat to the country,” she explained. “We’re in the business of risk mitigation.”
Yet the mitigation itself has created a sense of risk among certain travelers, including lawyers who need to protect attorney-client privilege, business people with proprietary information, researchers who promise their subjects anonymity and photojournalists who may pledge to blur a face to conceal an identity. Some are now taking precautions to minimize data on computers they take overseas.
“I just had to do this myself when I traveled internationally,” said Ms. Crump, the lead attorney in a lawsuit challenging the policy on behalf of Mr. Abidor, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Press Photographers Association.
During a week in Paris, where she lectured on communications privacy, she had legal work to do for clients, which she could not risk the government seeing as she returned. “It’s a pain to get a new computer,” she said, “wipe it completely clean, travel through the border, put the new data on, wipe it completely clean again.”
In simpler days, as customs merely looked for drugs, ivory, undeclared diamonds and other contraband that could be held in an inspector’s hand, searches had clear boundaries and unambiguous results.
Either the traveler had banned items, or didn’t. Digital information is different. Some is clearly illegal, some only hints at criminal intent, and under existing law, all is vulnerable to the same inspection as hand-carried material on paper.
Most pirated intellectual property and child pornography, for example, cannot be uncovered without fishing around in hard drives. “We’ve seen a raft of people coming from Southeast Asia with kiddie porn,” said Christopher Downing, a supervisor at Dulles. If a person has been gone only two or three days and pictures of children are spotted in a bag, he explained, the laptop is a logical candidate for inspection. Such searches have been fruitful, judging by the bureau’s spreadsheets, which list numerous child pornography cases.
But terrorism is an amalgam of violence and ideas, so its potential is harder to define as officers scrutinize words and images as indicators of attitudes, affiliations and aspirations. Random searches are not done, Mr. Downing said, although courts so far have upheld computer inspections without any suspicion of wrongdoing. In practice, something needs to spark an officer’s interest. “If you open up a suitcase and see a picture of somebody holding an RPG,” he noted, referring to a rocket-propelled grenade, “you’d want to look into that a little more.”
The search power is preserved by its judicious use, Mr. Downing said. “If you abuse it, you lose it.” he added. The A.C.L.U. doesn’t want customs to lose it, Ms. Crump explained, but just wants the courts to require reasonable suspicion, as the Supreme Court did in 1985 for examinations of a person’s “alimentary canal.” The court distinguished such intrusive inspection from “routine searches” on the border, which “are not subject to any requirement of reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or warrant.” The justices added in a footnote that they were not deciding “what level of suspicion, if any, is required for nonroutine border searches” of other kinds.
Laptop searches should be considered “nonroutine,” Ms. Crump argues, something the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined to do in 2008, when it reversed a judge’s decision to suppress evidence of child pornography obtained during a suspicionless airport computer search.
With the search powers intact, Mr. Abidor no longer dares take the train home from his studies at McGill University in Montreal. He doesn’t want to be stranded at the border, waiting hours for a bus, as he was in May. So last month his father drove up from New York to get him for vacation. The men were ordered to a room and told to keep their hands on a table while customs officers spent 45 minutes searching the car, and possibly the laptop, Mr. Abidor said. “I was told to expect this every time.”

David K. Shipler, a former reporter at The Times, is the author of “The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties,” to be published in April.

‘Digital Inspections’ at U.S. Border Raise Constitutional Questions – NYTimes.com

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LinkedIn’s IPO to test appetite for Facebook

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner talks during an interview during the Reuters Technology Summit in San Francisco, California May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO | Thu Jan 27, 2011 10:21pm EST 

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – LinkedIn Corp announced plans to go public this year in what could be a test of investor appetite for social networking websites ahead of a highly anticipated Facebook offering.
LinkedIn announced its intention to go public on Thursday, setting the stage for the company co-founded in 2002 by ex-PayPal executive Reid Hoffman to become the first social network to plant a flag on Wall Street.

But many investors will be watching LinkedIn’s IPO to gauge the appetite for Facebook, now valued at $50 billion as the world’s most dominant social network, and other Internet IPOs.
“Facebook has definitely escalated people’s interest in the sector and I think there’s a lot of demand (for more Internet IPOs),” said Rory Maher, an analyst with Hudson Square Research.

The number of shares to be offered and the price range have not yet been determined, according to the form S-1 registration statement that LinkedIn filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investor interest and valuations are surging for privately held Web companies like Facebook, Zynga and Groupon. LinkedIn revealed its plans a day after newly public Internet company Demand Media Inc saw its shares jump roughly 33 percent in their first day of trading.
Just this week, Groupon Chief Executive Andrew Mason said the company was considering an IPO and was in talks with bankers.

Facebook, the world’s No. 1 Internet social network, recently raised $1.5 billion in funding in a deal that valued the company at $50 billion.

Facebook said recently it planned to publicly disclose its financial results by April 2012, a regulatory requirement triggered by the company’s number of shareholders and a move that some believe could lead to a public offering.

LinkedIn’s net revenue nearly doubled to $161.4 million in the first nine months of 2010, with $1.85 million in profit, according to the filing.

In contrast, Facebook, which has far more users worldwide, had $1.2 billion in revenue in the first nine months of 2010 and $355 million in profit, according to a Goldman Sachs prospectus pitching the company earlier this month to investors.

LinkedIn, which caters to professionals, has 90 million users, compared with the more than 500 million users of Facebook’s mainstream social networking service.

Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and JPMorgan are among the book runners for the LinkedIn offering.

A portion of the shares will be issued and sold by the company, while a separate portion will be sold by certain stockholders of LinkedIn, the filing said. No specific details were disclosed.
LinkedIn’s investors include Greylock Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Goldman Sachs and Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm that has backed Yahoo, Google, Apple Cisco Systems and Oracle.

(Reporting by Nadia Damouni in New York and Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco; Editing by Bernard Orr, Gary Hill)

LinkedIn’s IPO to test appetite for Facebook | Reuters

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