July 2010

Sergey Brin, a Google founder, takes issue with people who say Google has failed to gain a foothold in social networking. Google has had successes, he often says, especially with Orkut, the dominant service in Brazil and India.

Mr. Brin may soon have to revise his answer.

Facebook, the social network service that started in a Harvard dorm room just six years ago, is growing at a dizzying rate around the globe, surging to nearly 500 million users, from 200 million users just 15 months ago.

It is pulling even with Orkut in India, where only a year ago, Orkut was more than twice as large as Facebook. In the last year, Facebook has grown eightfold, to eight million users, in Brazil, where Orkut has 28 million.

In country after country, Facebook is cementing itself as the leader and often displacing other social networks, much as it outflanked MySpace in the United States. In Britain, for example, Facebook made the formerly popular Bebo all but irrelevant, forcing AOL to sell the site at a huge loss two years after it bought it for $850 million. In Germany, Facebook surpassed StudiVZ, which until February was the dominant social network there.

With his typical self-confidence, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 26-year-old chief executive, recently said it was “almost guaranteed” that the company would reach a billion users.

Though he did not say when it would reach that mark, the prediction was not greeted with the skepticism that had met his previous boasts of fast growth.
“They have been more innovative than any other social network, and they are going to continue to grow,” said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “Facebook wants to be ubiquitous, and they are being successful for now.”

The rapid ascent of Facebook has no company more worried than Google, which sees the social networking giant as a threat on multiple fronts. Much of the activity on Facebook is invisible to Google’s search engine, which makes it less useful over time. What’s more, the billions of links posted by users on Facebook have turned the social network into an important driver of users to sites across the Web. That has been Google’s role.

Google has tried time and again to break into social networking not only with Orkut, but also with user profiles, with an industrywide initiative called OpenSocial, and, most recently, with Buzz, a social network that mixes elements of Facebook and Twitter with Gmail. But none of those initiatives have made a dent in Facebook.

Google is said to be trying again with a secret project for a service called Google Me, according to several reports. Google declined to comment for this article.
Google makes its money from advertising, and even here, Facebook poses a challenge.

“There is nothing more threatening to Google than a company that has 500 million subscribers and knows a lot about them and places targeted advertisements in front of them,” said Todd Dagres, a partner at Spark Capital, a venture firm that has invested in Twitter and other social networking companies. “For every second that people are on Facebook and for every ad that Facebook puts in front of their face, it is one less second they are on Google and one less ad that Google puts in front of their face.”

With nearly two-thirds of all Internet users in the United States signed up on Facebook, the company has focused on international expansion.
Just over two years ago, Facebook was available only in English. Still, nearly half of its users were outside the United States, and its presence was particularly strong in Britain, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

The task of expanding the site overseas fell on Javier Olivan, a 33-year-old Spaniard who joined Facebook three years ago, when the site had 30 million users. Mr. Olivan led an innovative effort by Facebook to have its users translate the site into more than 80 languages. Other Web sites and technology companies, notably Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, had used volunteers to translate their sites or programs.

But with 300,000 words on Facebook’s site — not counting material posted by users — the task was immense. Facebook not only encouraged users to translate parts of the site, but also let other users fine-tune those translations or pick among multiple translations. Nearly 300,000 users participated.

“Nobody had done it at the scale that we were doing it,” Mr. Olivan said.
The effort paid off. Now about 70 percent of Facebook’s users are outside the United States. And while the number of users in the United States doubled in the last year, to 123 million, according to comScore, the number more than tripled in Mexico, to 11 million, and it more than quadrupled in Germany, to 19 million.

With every new translation, Facebook pushed into a new country or region, and its spread often mirrored the ties between nations or the movement of people across borders. After becoming popular in Italy, for example, Facebook spread to the Italian-speaking portions of Switzerland. But in German-speaking areas of Switzerland, adoption of Facebook lagged. When Facebook began to gain momentum in Brazil, the activity was most intense in southern parts of the country that border on neighboring Argentina, where Facebook was already popular.
“It’s a mapping of the real world,” Mr. Olivan said.

Facebook is not popular everywhere. The Web site is largely blocked in China. And with fewer than a million users each in Japan, South Korea and Russia, it lags far behind home-grown social networks in those major markets.

Mr. Olivan, who leads a team of just 12 people, hopes to change that. Facebook recently sent some of its best engineers to a new office in Tokyo, where they are working to fine-tune searches so they work with all three Japanese scripts. In South Korea, as well as in Japan, where users post to their social networks on mobile phones more than on PCs, the company is working with network operators to ensure distribution of its service.

Industry insiders say that, most of all, Facebook is benefiting from a cycle where success breeds more success. In particular, its growing revenue, estimated at $1 billion annually, allows the company to invest in improving its product and keep competitors at bay.

“I think that Facebook is winning for two reasons,” said Bing Gordon, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a board member of Zynga, the maker of popular Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars. Mr. Gordon said that Facebook had hired some of the best engineers in Silicon Valley, and he said that the company’s strategy to create a platform for other software developers had played a critical role.
“They have opened up a platform, and they have the best apps on that platform,” Mr. Gordon said.

With Facebook’s social networking lead growing, it is not clear whether Google, or any other company, will succeed in derailing its march forward.
Says Danny Sullivan, the editor of Search Engine Land, an industry blog, “Google can’t even get to the first base of social networks, which is people interacting with each other, much less to second or third base, which is people interacting with each other through games and applications.”

By MIGUEL HELFT (NYT. July 7, 2010)

Nothing Eileen Oldaker tried could calm her mother when she called from the nursing home, disoriented and distressed in what was likely the early stages of dementia. So Ms. Oldaker hung up, dialed the nurses’ station and begged them to get Paro.

Paro is a robot modeled after a baby harp seal. It trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down. Two microprocessors under its artificial white fur adjust its behavior based on information from dozens of hidden sensors that monitor sound, light, temperature and touch. It perks up at the sound of its name, praise and, over time, the words it hears frequently.
“Oh, there’s my baby,” Ms. Oldaker’s mother, Millie Lesek, exclaimed that night last winter when a staff member delivered the seal to her. “Here, Paro, come to me.”
“Meeaakk,” it replied, blinking up at her through long lashes.

Janet Walters, the staff member at Vincentian Home in Pittsburgh who recalled the incident, said she asked Mrs. Lesek if she would watch Paro for a little while.
“I need someone to baby-sit,” she told her.

“Don’t rush,” Mrs. Lesek instructed, stroking Paro’s antiseptic coat in a motion that elicited a wriggle of apparent delight. “He can stay the night with me.”
After years of effort to coax empathy from circuitry, devices designed to soothe, support and keep us company are venturing out of the laboratory. Paro, its name derived from the first sounds of the words “personal robot,” is one of a handful that take forms that are often odd, still primitive and yet, for at least some early users, strangely compelling.


For recovering addicts, doctors at the University of Massachusetts are testing a wearable sensor designed to discern drug cravings and send text messages with just the right blend of tough love.

For those with a hankering for a custom-built companion and $125,000 to spend, a talking robotic head can be modeled on the personality of your choice. It will smile at its own jokes and recognize familiar faces.

For dieters, a 15-inch robot with a touch-screen belly, big eyes and a female voice sits on the kitchen counter and offers encouragement after calculating their calories and exercise.

“Would you come back tomorrow to talk?” the robot coach asks hopefully at the end of each session. “It’s good if we can discuss your progress every day.”
Robots guided by some form of artificial intelligence now explore outer space, drop bombs, perform surgery and play soccer. Computers running artificial intelligence software handle customer service calls and beat humans at chessand, maybe, “Jeopardy!”

Machines as Companions
But building a machine that fills the basic human need for companionship has proved more difficult. Even at its edgiest, artificial intelligence cannot hold up its side of a wide-ranging conversation or, say, tell by an expression when someone is about to cry. Still, the new devices take advantage of the innate soft spot many people have for objects that seem to care — or need someone to care for them.

Their appearances in nursing homes, schools and the occasional living room are adding fuel to science fiction fantasies of machines that people can relate to as well as rely on. And they are adding a personal dimension to a debate over what human responsibilities machines should, and should not, be allowed to undertake.
Ms. Oldaker, a part-time administrative assistant, said she was glad Paro could keep her mother company when she could not. In the months before Mrs. Lesek died in March, the robot became a fixture in the room even during her daughter’s own frequent visits.

“He likes to lie on my left arm here,” Mrs. Lesek would tell her daughter. “He’s learned some new words,” she would report.
Ms. Oldaker readily took up the game, if that is what it was.
“Here, Mom, I’ll take him,” she would say, boosting Paro onto her own lap when her mother’s food tray arrived.

Even when their ministrations extended beyond the robot’s two-hour charge, Mrs. Lesek managed to derive a kind of maternal satisfaction from the seal’s sudden stillness.

“I’m the only one who can put him to sleep,” Mrs. Lesek would tell her daughter when the battery ran out.
“He was very therapeutic for her, and for me too,” Ms. Oldaker said. “It was nice just to see her enjoying something.”
Like pet therapy without the pet, Paro may hold benefits for patients who are allergic, and even those who are not. It need not be fed or cleaned up after, it does not bite, and it may, in some cases, offer an alternative to medication, a standard recourse for patients who are depressed or hard to control.
In Japan, about 1,000 Paros have been sold to nursing homes, hospitals and individual consumers. In Denmark, government health officials are trying to quantify its effect on blood pressure and other stress indicators. Since the robot went on sale in the United States late last year, a few elder care facilities have bought one; several dozen others, hedging their bets, have signed rental agreements with the Japanese manufacturer.
But some social critics see the use of robots with such patients as a sign of the low status of the elderly, especially those with dementia. As the technology improves, argues Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and professor at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology, it will only grow more tempting to substitute Paro and its ilk for a family member, friend — or actual pet — in an ever-widening number of situations.

“Paro is the beginning,” she said. “It’s allowing us to say, ‘A robot makes sense in this situation.’ But does it really? And then what? What about a robot that reads to your kid? A robot you tell your troubles to? Who among us will eventually be deserving enough to deserve people?”
But if there is an argument to be made that people should aspire to more for their loved ones than an emotional rapport with machines, some suggest that such relationships may not be so unfamiliar. Who among us, after all, has not feigned interest in another? Or abruptly switched off their affections, for that matter?
In any case, the question, some artificial intelligence aficionados say, is not whether to avoid the feelings that friendly machines evoke in us, but to figure out how to process them.

“We as a species have to learn how to deal with this new range of synthetic emotions that we’re experiencing — synthetic in the sense that they’re emanating from a manufactured object,” said Timothy Hornyak, author of “Loving the Machine,” a book about robots in Japan, where the world’s most rapidly aging population is showing a growing acceptance of robotic care. “Our technology,” he argues, “is getting ahead of our psychology.”
More proficient at emotional bonding and less toylike than their precursors — say, Aibo the metallic dog or the talking Furby of Christmas crazes past — these devices are still unlikely to replace anyone’s best friend. But as the cost of making them falls, they may be vying for a silicon-based place in our affections.

Strangely Compelling
Marleen Dean, the activities manager at Vincentian Home, where Mrs. Lesek was a resident, was not easily won over. When the home bought six Paro seals with a grant from a local government this year, “I thought, ‘What are they doing, paying $6,000 for a toy that I could get at a thrift store for $2?’ ” she said.
So she did her own test, giving residents who had responded to Paro a teddy bear with the same white fur and eyes that also opened and closed. “No reaction at all,” she reported.

Vincentian now includes “Paro visits” in its daily roster of rehabilitative services, including aromatherapy and visits from real pets. Agitated residents are often calmed by Paro; perpetually unresponsive patients light up when it is placed in their hands.

“It’s something about how it shimmies and opens its eyes when they talk to it,” Ms. Dean said, still somewhat mystified. “It seems like it’s responding to them.”
Even when it is not. Part of the seal’s appeal, according to Dr. Takanori Shibata, the computer scientist who invented Paro with financing from the Japanese government, stems from a kind of robotic sleight of hand. Scientists have observed that people tend to dislike robots whose behavior does not match their preconceptions. Because the technology was not sophisticated enough to conjure any animal accurately, he chose one that was unfamiliar, but still lovable enough that people could project their imaginations onto it. “People think of Paro,” he said, “as ‘like living.’ ”

It is a process he — and others — have begun calling “robot therapy.”
At the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington on a recent sunny afternoon, about a dozen residents and visitors from a neighboring retirement home gathered in the cafeteria for their weekly session. The guests brought their own slightly dingy-looking Paros, and in wheelchairs and walkers they took turns grooming, petting and crooning to the two robotic seals.

Paro’s charms did not work on everyone.

“I’m not absolutely convinced,” said Mary Anna Roche, 88, a former newspaper reporter. The seal’s novelty, she suggested, would wear off quickly.
But she softened when she looked at her friend Clem Smith running her fingers through Paro’s fur.
“What are they feeding you?” Ms. Smith, a Shakespeare lover who said she was 98, asked the seal. “You’re getting fat.”
A stickler for accuracy, Ms. Roche scolded her friend. “You’re 101, remember? I was at your birthday!”
The seal stirred at her tone.

“Oh!” Ms. Roche exclaimed. “He’s opening his eyes.”

As the hour wore on, staff members observed that the robot facilitated human interaction, rather than replaced it.
“This is a nice gathering,” said Philip Richardson, who had spoken only a few words since having a stroke a few months earlier.
Dorothy Marette, the clinical psychologist supervising the cafeteria klatch, said she initially presumed that those who responded to Paro did not realize it was a robot — or that they forgot it between visits.

Yet several patients whose mental faculties are entirely intact have made special visits to her office to see the robotic harp seal.
“I know that this isn’t an animal,” said Pierre Carter, 62, smiling down at the robot he calls Fluffy. “But it brings out natural feelings.”
Then Dr. Marette acknowledged an observation she had made of her own behavior: “It’s hard to walk down the hall with it cooing and making noises and not start talking to it. I had a car that I used to talk to that was a lot less responsive.”

Accepting a Trusty Tool
That effect, computer science experts said, stems from what appears to be a basic human reflex to treat objects that respond to their surroundings as alive, even when we know perfectly well that they are not.
Teenagers wept over the deaths of their digital Tamagotchi pets in the late 1990s; some owners of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners are known to dress them up and give them nicknames.

”When something responds to us, we are built for our emotions to trigger, even when we are 110 percent certain that it is not human,” said Clifford Nass, a professor of computer science at Stanford University. “Which brings up the ethical question: Should you meet the needs of people with something that basically suckers them?”
An answer may lie in whether one signs on to be manipulated.

For Amna Carreiro, a program manager at the M.I.T. Media Lab who volunteered to try a prototype of Autom, the diet coach robot, the point was to lose weight. After naming her robot Maya (“Just something about the way it looked”) and dutifully entering her meals and exercise on its touch screen for a few nights, “It kind of became part of the family,” she said. She lost nine pounds in six weeks.

Cory Kidd, who developed Autom as a graduate student at M.I.T., said that eye contact was crucial to the robot’s appeal and that he had opted for a female voice because of research showing that people see women as especially supportive and helpful. If a user enters an enthusiastic “Definitely!” to the question “Will you tell me what you’ve eaten today?” Autom gets right down to business. A reluctant “If you insist” elicits a more coaxing tone. It was the blend of the machine’s dispassion with its personal attention that Ms. Carreiro found particularly helpful.
“It would say, ‘You did not fulfill your goal today; how about 15 minutes of extra walking tomorrow?’ ” she recalled. “It was always ready with a Plan B.”
Aetna, the insurance company, said it hoped to set up a trial to see whether people using it stayed on their diets longer than those who used other programs when the robot goes on sale next year.

Of course, Autom’s users can choose to lie. That may be less feasible with an emotion detector under development with a million-dollar grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse that is aimed at substance abusers who want to stay clean.
Dr. Edward Boyer of the University of Massachusetts Medical School plans to test the system, which he calls a “portable conscience,” on Iraq veterans later this year. The volunteers will enter information, like places or people or events that set off cravings, and select a range of messages that they think will be most effective in a moment of temptation.

Then they don wristbands with sensors that detect physiological information correlated with their craving. With a spike in pulse not related to exertion, for instance, a wireless signal would alert the person’s cellphone, which in turn would flash a message like “What are you doing now? Is this a good time to talk?” It might grow more insistent if there was no reply. (Hallmark has been solicited for help in generating evocative messages.)
With GPS units and the right algorithms, such a system could tactfully suggest other routes when recovering addicts approached places that hold particular temptation — like a corner where they used to buy drugs. It could show pictures of their children or play a motivational song.
“It works when you begin to see it as a trustworthy companion,” Dr. Boyer said. “It’s designed to be there for you.”

By AMY HARMON (NYT. July 4, 2010)

The total population of this year’s world cup countries is about 1.5 billion. Why then is China — a nation of 1.3 billion — not able to produce a 11-member team to the World Cup when even its destitute neighbor, North Korea, has managed to be there this year?

China is obviously embarrassed about its World Cup failure. The United States, which China would like to surpass politically and economically, has done quite well at the World Cup even though soccer is far from being the most popular sport in the country.
China, ironically, has the world’s largest soccer fan base. No wonder the absence of a Chinese team in the World Cup has touched a raw nerve. Many Chinese fans blame the existing political culture and social norms for China’s soccer failure. Some are even questioning China’s national identity.

Flaws of Central Planning
Susan Brownell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of “Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic.”
The Chinese men’s soccer team has not been able to improve its world standing in the past two decades for the same reason that its swimming and track and field have not improved (in the 2008 Olympics, Chinese swimmers earned medals in six events, including the first-ever men’s medal; two women won track and field medals).
The Chinese state-supported system works well for sports in which children begin highly specialized training at a very young age, and it produces success in women’s sports because it gives equal support to men and women while most other countries do not.
But that system loses its comparative advantage in men’s sports that have good financial backing in other countries, and it does not work well for sports in which stars emerge slowly from a wide participation base, where talent becomes apparent only as the athletes mature physically.

A Threat to the Government
Ray Tsuchiyama has led operations in China and Japan for several multinational technology firms, and also headed the Asia office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a contributor to The China Trackerblog at Forbes.com.
The history of soccer’s growth and excellence in countries like England and Brazil reveal urban working-class roots. Urban soccer clubs have long served as neighborhood or even regional centers for children and youth, and become “feeders” of new talent to local soccer teams.
The clubs not only teach soccer fundamentals, but sportsmanship, courage, discipline and loyalty. (During the World War I, some British battalions were recruited heavily from urban districts with already established soccer clubs, and officers kicked soccer balls into German trenches to lead assault teams.)
Paradoxically, for a nation that prides itself as having been founded by the “masses” of peasants and urban workers and where teamwork is prized, China has not emphasized some team sports — soccer being the most significant omission. (Basketball, however, is played by many Chinese urban dwellers, and a player like Yao Ming has become a N.B.A. star.)

Build a Football Network
Rowan Simons is the chairman of China ClubFootball FC, the first amateur football network in China with foreign investors, and the author of “Bamboo Goalposts.”
China is not at the World Cup and its women’s team is no longer a leading force for reasons of politics, economics, culture and education — all challenges we are trying to tackle with ClubFootball.
Let’s talk politics. The Chinese Football Association is an illegal organization under Article 17 of FIFA’s constitution which demands independence from government. Yet government control of the C.F.A. is clearly laid out in China’s 1994 Sports Law. These mutually exclusive regulations pose significant concerns.
This “top down” system has several fundamental flaws that ignore the long-term grassroots solutions required. Chinese sport still follows a Soviet model, placing children in elite schools (at their own expense!). Football is a mass participation sport in which the best players may not emerge until their later teens. The simple truth is that China needs a system of community-based clubs that are run by the people for the people.

By Ng Han Guan/Associated Press Updated, June 30, 12:45 p.m. (NYT)
Xu Guoqi, a history professor at the University of Hong Kong, is the author of “Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008,” “China and the Great War” and the forthcoming “Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese workers and the Great War.”

Some Comments:
None of those explanations fly. Such as the Chinese parents focus on book learning instead of sports. Japan and South Korea have similar parents yet they field decent teams.

Political system? North Korea athletics is even more state controlled, has a much smaller population, a lot of the population if malnourished, has less financial backing, and has no domestic leagues and yet they qualified.

Simple, Chinese kids don’t play together. From infants they are picked up and carried everywhere by their grandmothers. They are picked up after school and taken home by car, scooter or bicycle. There is very little social interaction
between children in Chna.

I marvel when I see kids in Africa playing on a patch of dirt or girls in northern Afghanistan running like the wind at their school playground………….you just
don’t see it in China…………and considering a lot of those kids (not all) come
from a one-child policy family, it’s childhood lost.

I’ve seen this question elsewhere, and it shocks me how blind people are to the fact that for many years, China has had a team that competes at the top level of world soccer, losing by a shootout in the championship world cup game in 1999, and making it to the semi-finals in 1995 and the quarter-finals in 2003 and 2007. In recent years they’ve not done so well, but through the 90s and early 00s they were top notch. I am speaking, of course, of the women’s team, which I guess doesn’t count for much with readers of the NYT.

One can also ask why India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Vietnam haven’t been able to field teams in the World Cup finals. Each is a large nation with millions of fans and growing economies.

As someone who has lived and taught English in China for seven years, most recently at a high school, I can say that at least one statement each of the above authors wrote is correct. My school has a pretty decent football pitch and in the year I’ve been here I can honestly say I’ve never once seen any kind of football match played on it. Not even a “let’s pick teams and play” sort of thing. My students are in school 6 days a week, until 10PM, and spend 80-90% of their waking hours with their noses buried in books designed to help them score higher on exams. They’re awakened at 6AM, still half asleep and I can hear them “reciting” at 7:30. By the afternoon, when they actually have what passes as “free time,” they are exhausted. Nobody feels like actually playing anything. All they want to do is take a nap.
The corollary to this question is “Why is soccer not nearly as massively popular in the USA as it is in most other countries?” After all, it is an English sport, and we share a close historical rapport with England. I used to believe it was because soccer is a low-scoring game and Americans “like to see lots of scoring.” But then I realized that hockey — itself a low-scoring game and, in several ways, quite similar to soccer — is very popular here. I have come to the (tentative) conclusion that the problem is in the word “soccer.” In some as-yet-undefined way, we Americans may have an aversion to the word. Perhaps it sounds uncool. Every other country calls it football, which, after all, is its proper name. Perhaps we should do likewise. Then the USA would be the country with two football sports.
Sorry. I did not have the chance to read the experts’ comments, but I will do. Here is my two cents. Two factors do not arrest the development of the Chinese soccer playing. First, soccer is a high competitive sport. Be physically strong and competitive is not what the Chinese society has expected their men; by contrast, playing it safe and being smart is. This lowers the level of the willingness and hence ability to be competitive among Chinese. No less important is the fact that soccer requires a high level team spirit. At least 11 players have to cooperate with one another well. No weak link is acceptable. Theoretically, the most populous nation has more people to offer, but in reality that is not the case. Even top players who cannot cooperate well have little chance to prevail. The Chinese are not famous for their team work. The Chinese know this better than others. It is said that one Chinese will do well, but three Chinese will do badly. Interestingly enough, both the US and the Soviet Union dominated the most sport events, but never excelled in soccer, the popular sport in the world except the US.
Simply put: Winning soccer games is not China’s priority. Nobody in the government has told Chinese people they should play and win soccer games.

If one day someone like Wen Jia Bao suddenlly says, “Play soccer, and win!”, China will win. It’s that simple.
India has a population that will soon catch up to China’s. It is not a soccer powerhouse but it is the world’s largest cricket market. At any given time you will see children playing cricket in every available alleyway in Mumbai. India is not as dominant as Australia in cricket, but they have produced world-class cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar. Same goes for Pakistan.

China, on the other hand, is *the* world power in table tennis and badminton. In table tennis, Chinese players are so dominant that Chinese ex-pats who couldn’t even crack the top-100 world rankings would end up playing for other countries. Table tennis is the “people’s” sport of China, it’s played in dusty alleyways and recreation rooms across the country.

Does it matter that China & India were unable to send representatives to this year’s World Cup? The Chinese and Indians already have their own sports that are played in their country by hundreds of millions.

But with the growing interest in televised soccer in China (and India), it may only be a matter of time until there will be decent teams. Until then, there’s plenty of table tennis in China and plenty of cricket in India.
These explanations fail at a root level because the explainers have no idea what they are talking about. To discuss why football (US soccer) is not popular in China, one must understand football first.

Football, at a root level, is very easy to understand. But played at its highest levels, football is extraordinarily complex. Think about American football (NFL and college), where over the course of nearly hundred years, thousands of bright minds have spent their lives thinking up hundreds of offensive and defensive formations, thousands of plays for down and distance, individual techniques (pass or run block, run with or without the ball, pass) for various positions. But I would argue that world football (soccer) is even more complex because each player on the pitch must do much more than one or two things – each player must do a host of things depending on where he or she is on the pitch, who has the ball, and how much time is left, – all without time-outs for coaching and drawing up new plays.

At its highest level, world football is fast, fluid and dynamic, and teams with relatively little depth in the complexities of the game will founder. It takes time to develop junior programs, to develop coaches that understand how to play the game, to develop footballing mindsets for fans, to develop a cultural understanding of the game.

If you walk into any cafe anywhere in Europe or South America, you will be able to discuss the differences between various football formations, be it 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 or a 4-5-1. You simply cannot do that in China; nobody will know what you are referring to.

And so it would be extraordinary (in fact, almost unbelievable) if the Chinese national team were to be able to field a team equal in strength to South Korea or Japan, as both of the latter sides have had their histories in world football extending many, many decades beyond that of China.

So the question of why the Chinese national football team is not at the same level of its East Asian neighbors, is quite easy to answer: the program is far too young. China did not start trying to compete for World Cup finals berth until 1986, and only once made it to the Finals in 2002. For all China’s population, there simply are not enough individuals with the footballing background to be able to pass along the knowledge and history of the game, enough so that the next generation will be incrementally better to perform.

Contrast that with South Korea, who made it to the Finals in 1954 and has eight Finals appearances, or Japan, who also started trying to qualify from 1954 and four consecutive Finals appearances. And even further, North Korea made the quarterfinals of the World Cup back in 1966. These countries, with South Korea and Japan in particular, have had world football permeate their modern culture, and this has made footballing knowledge more common and able to be passed along.
I’ve talked with some friends about this and it’s not really a cultural issues. Yes, sports in China is rarely grass-roots. Yes, teamwork isn’t really apparent in the society at large. But despite the “factory” nature of sports production in China, you still have 1.3 billion people to choose 11 people from. Women’s team sports like volleyball and also soccer have historically been successful. So it’s not about a lack of smarts (I’ve met many smart people here) or talent (they have their own local version of skillfully kicking a feathered hacksac-like thing around) The issue is more specific. It deals with the soccer organization’s inability to hire a good coach. And the inability to hire a coach comes from the fact that people in charge of hiring the coach can’t keep their hands off the pot that contains the salary of the coach. It’s what nobody talks about but everyone seems to know. And as we’ve seen throughout the world cup events, bad coach equals bad team.

So it isn’t some inherent cultural thing. While the lack of grass-roots is true and is an issue in the cultivation of sports in this nation, it’s probably less relevant to this issue. The issue that most directly addresses the factor that China isn’t in t
Sweden and Norway dominated the winter Olympics but either country has a great soccer team. The bottom line is no one is good at everything.

An explosion of smart-phone software has placed an arsenal of trivia at the fingertips of every corner-bar debater, with talking points on sports, politics and how to kill a zombie. Now it is taking on the least trivial topic of all: God.

Publishers of Christian material have begun producing iPhone applications that can cough up quick comebacks and rhetorical strategies for believers who want to fight back against what they view as a new strain of strident atheism. And a competing crop of apps is arming nonbelievers for battle.
“Say someone calls you narrow-minded because you think Jesus is the only way to God,” says one top-selling application introduced in March by a Christian publishing company. “Your first answer should be: ‘What do you mean by narrow-minded?’ ”

For religious skeptics, the “BibleThumper” iPhone app boasts that it “allows the atheist to keep the most funny and irrational Bible verses right in their pocket” to be “always ready to confront fundamentalist Christians or have a little fun among friends.”

The war of ideas between believers and nonbelievers has been part of the Western tradition at least since Socrates. For the most part, it has been waged by intellectual giants: Augustine, Spinoza, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche.

Yet for good or ill, combatants entering the lists today are mainly everyday people, drawn in part by the popularity of books like Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great.” The fierceness of their debate reflects the fractious talk-show culture unintentionally described so aptly in the title of the Glenn Beck best seller “Arguing With Idiots.”

In a dozen new phone applications, whether faith-based or faith-bashing, the prospective debater is given a primer on the basic rules of engagement — how to parry the circular argument, the false dichotomy, the ad hominem attack, the straw man — and then coached on all the likely flashpoints of contention. Why Darwinism is scientifically sound, or not. The differences between intelligent design and creationism, and whether either theory has any merit. The proof that America was, or was not, founded on Christian principles.

Users can scroll from topic to topic to prepare themselves or, in the heat of a dispute, search for the point at hand — and the perfect retort.

Software creators on both sides say they are only trying to help others see the truth. But most applications focus less on scholarly exegesis than on scoring points.
One app, “Fast Facts, Challenges & Tactics” by LifeWay Christian Resources, suggests that in “reasoning with an unbeliever” it is sometimes effective to invoke the “anthropic principle,” which posits, more or less, that the world as we know it is mathematically too improbable to be an accident.

It offers an example: “The Bible’s 66 books were written over a span of 1,500 years by 40 different authors on three different continents who wrote in three different languages. Yet this diverse collection has a unified story line and no contradictions.”

“The Atheist Pocket Debater,” on the other hand, asserts that because miracles like Moses’ parting of the waters are not occurring in modern times, “it is unreasonable to accept that the events happened” at all. “If you take any miracle from the Bible,” it explains, “and tell your co-workers at your job that this recently happened to someone, you will undoubtedly be laughed at.”

These applications and others — like “One-Minute Answers to Skeptics” and “Answers for Catholics” — appear to be selling briskly, if nowhere near as fast as the top sellers among the so-called book apps in their iPhone category: ghost stories, free books and the King James Bible.

Sean McDowell, the editor of “Fast Facts” and some textbooks for Bible students, said he has become increasingly aware of a skill gap between believers and nonbelievers, who he feels tend to be instinctively more savvy at arguing. “Christians who believe, but cannot explain why they believe, become ‘Bible-thumpers’ who seem dogmatic and insecure about their convictions,” he said. “We have to deal with that.”

“Nowadays, atheists are coming to the forefront at every level of society — from the top of academia all the way down to the level of the average Joe,” added Mr. McDowell, a seminary Ph.D. candidate whose phone app was produced by the B&H Publishing Group, one of the country’s largest distributors of Bibles and religious textbooks.

Jason Hagen may be that average guy. A musician and a real estate investor who lives in Queens, Mr. Hagen decided to write the text for “The Atheist Pocket Debater” this year after buying his first iPhone and finding dozens of apps for religious people, but none for nonbelievers like himself.

In creating what became the digital equivalent of a 50,000-word tract, he gleaned material from the recent antifaith books and got the author Michel Shermer’s permission to reprint essays from Mr. Shermer’s monthly magazine,Skeptic. Mr. Hagen pitched his idea to Apple, which referred him to an independent programmer who helped him develop the application; the company pays Mr. Hagen 50 cents for each download of the $1.99 app. He said a few thousand had sold.
What inspired him, he said, was a lifetime of frustration as the son of a fundamentalist Christian preacher in rural Virginia.

“I know what people go through, growing up in the culture I grew up in,” said Mr. Hagen, 39, adding that his father had only recently learned of his true beliefs. “So I tried to give people the tools they need to defend themselves, but at the same time not ridicule anybody. Basically, the people on the other side of the debate are my parents.”

Still, some scholars consider that approach to the debate the least auspicious way of exploring the mystery of existence.
“It turns it into a game,” said Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, in Manhattan. “Both sides come to the discussion with fixed ideas, and you have what amounts to a contest between different types of fundamentalism.”

Indeed, the new phone applications seem to promise hours of unrelieved, humorless argument.

“When someone says, ‘There is no truth,’ ” the Fast Facts app advises, “ask them: ‘Is that true? Is it true there is no truth?’ Because if it’s true that there is no truth, then it’s false that ‘there is no truth.’ ”

Mr. Hagen’s atheistic app resonates with the same certitude. If Jacob saw the face of God (in Genesis 32:30), and God said, “No man shall see me and live” (in Exodus 33:20), then “which one is the liar?” he asks.

His conclusion: “If we know the Bible has content that is false, how can we believe any of it?”

Unavailing as such exchanges may seem, they are a fact of life in parts of the country where for some people, taboos against voicing doubt have lifted for the first time.
“I don’t know that there’s more atheists in the country, but there are definitely more people who are openly atheist, especially on college campuses,” said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and author of “Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists.” He said students have asked him how to deal with nonbelievers.

“There is not one student on this campus who doesn’t have at least one person in his circle of family and friends voicing these ideas,” he said.
If smart-phone software can improve the conversation, all to the good, he said. “The app store is our new public commons.”
Michael Beaty, chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University, a Christian university in Waco, Tex., was not so sure.
“We’d be better off if these people were studying Nietzsche and Kant,” he said.

By PAUL VITELLO (NYT. July 2, 2010)

An American soldier in Iraq who was arrested on charges of leaking a video of a deadly American helicopter attack here in 2007 has also been charged with downloading more than 150,000 highly classified diplomatic cables that could, if made public, reveal the inner workings of American embassies around the world, the military here announced Tuesday.

The full contents of the cables remain unclear, but according to formal charges filed Monday, it appeared that a disgruntled soldier working at a remote base east of Baghdad had gathered some of the most guarded, if not always scandalous, secrets of American diplomacy. He disclosed at least 50 of the cables “to a person not entitled to receive them,” according to the charges.

With the charges, a case that stemmed from the furor over a graphic and fiercely contested video of an attack from an American helicopter that killed 12 people, including a reporter and a driver for Reuters, mushroomed into a far more extensive and potentially embarrassing leak.

The charges cited only one cable by name, “Reykjavik 13,” which appeared to be one made public by WikiLeaks.org, a whistle-blowing Web site devoted to disclosing the secrets of governments and corporations. The Web site decoded and in April made public an edited version of the helicopter attack in a film it called “Collateral Murder.”
In the cable, dated Jan. 13, the American deputy chief of mission, Sam Watson, detailed private discussions he held with Iceland’s leaders over a referendum on whether to repay losses from a bank failure, including a frank assessment that Iceland could default in 2011. (The referendum failed, but negotiations continue.)

WikiLeaks, which reportedly operated in Iceland for a time, disclosed a second cable from the nation in March profiling its leaders, including Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir.

Although hardly sensational in tone, the cable does reveal a complaint over the “alleged use of Icelandic airspace by C.I.A.-operated planes” by the Icelandic ambassador to the United States, Albert Jonsson, who is described as “prickly but pragmatic.” Such are the sorts of assessments that diplomats go to great lengths to keep private.

WikiLeaks has not acknowledged receiving the cables or video from the soldier, Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, 22, who worked as an analyst and whose case has been the subject of vigorous debate between defenders and critics.
Private Manning, who served with the Second Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Contingency Operating Station Hammer, was arrested in May and transferred to a military detention center in Kuwait after the military authorities said he had revealed his activities in online chats with a former computer hacker, who turned him in.

Private Manning now faces an Article 32 investigation, the military’s equivalent of a civilian grand jury, into charges that he mishandled classified information “with reason to believe the information could cause injury to the United States.”

That investigation could lead to administrative punishments or more likely, given the gravity of the charges, a court-martial.
Officially he has been charged with four counts of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for disobeying an order or regulation and eight counts of violating Article 134, a general charge for misconduct, which in this case involved breaking federal laws against disclosing classified information.
The formal charges suggested an extensive effort by military investigators to scour the official and personal computers he used, in order to trace the recipients.
The charges cited unauthorized handling of classified information from Nov. 19, 2009, until May 27 this year, two days before his detention and well after the leak of the helicopter video. The charges accused him of using the classified network to obtain the “Reykjavik 13” cable on the day the one disclosed by WikiLeaks was written.
He was also charged with downloading a classified PowerPoint presentation, one of those heavily used by the American military, but what secrets it contained remained unknown.

Adrian Lamo, the former hacker who reported Private Manning to the authorities, has said that they struck up an online friendship in which the private complained of personal discontent with the military and American foreign policies.
Because the investigation continues, military officials here would not elaborate on the case.
The United States Embassy did not respond to a query. One senior commander, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the investigation, said, “It appeared he had an agenda.”


The Food and Drug Administration is seriously considering whether to approve the first genetically engineered animal that people would eat — salmon that can grow at twice the normal rate.

The developer of the salmon has been trying to get approval for a decade. But the company now seems to have submitted most or all of the data the F.D.A. needs to analyze whether the salmon are safe to eat, nutritionally equivalent to other salmon and safe for the environment, according to government and biotechnology industry officials. A public meeting to discuss the salmon may be held as early as this fall.

Some consumer and environmental groups are likely to raise objections to approval. Even within the F.D.A., there has been a debate about whether the salmon should be labeled as genetically engineered (genetically engineered cropsare not labeled).

The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the “enviropig,” developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.

The salmon was developed by a company called AquaBounty Technologies and would be raised in fish farms. It is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from a Chinook salmon as well as a genetic on-switch from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon.

Normally, salmon do not make growth hormone in cold weather. But the pout’s on-switch keeps production of the hormone going year round. The result is salmon that can grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of three years, though the company says the modified salmon will not end up any bigger than a conventional fish.

“You don’t get salmon the size of the Hindenburg,” said Ronald L. Stotish, the chief executive of AquaBounty. “You can get to those target weights in a shorter time.”
AquaBounty, which is based in Waltham, Mass., and publicly traded in London, said last week that the F.D.A. had signed off on five of the seven sets of data required to demonstrate that the fish was safe for consumption and for the environment. It said it demonstrated, for instance, that the inserted gene did not change through multiple generations and that the genetic engineering did not harm the animals.

“Perhaps in the next few months, we expect to see a final approval,” Mr. Stotish said.
But the company has been overly optimistic before.

He said it would take two or three years after approval for the salmon to reach supermarkets.
The F.D.A. confirmed it was reviewing the salmon but, because of confidentiality rules, would not comment further.
Under a policy announced in 2008, the F.D.A. is regulating genetically engineered animals as if they were veterinary drugs and using the rules for those drugs. And applications for approval of new drugs must be kept confidential by the agency.

Critics say the drug evaluation process does not allow full assessment of the possible environmental impacts of genetically altered animals and also blocks public input.
“There is no opportunity for anyone from the outside to see the data or criticize it,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. When consumer groups were invited to discuss biotechnology policy with top F.D.A. officials last month, Ms. Mellon said she warned the officials that approval of the salmon would generate “a firestorm of negative response.”

How consumers will react is not entirely clear. Some public opinion surveys have shown that Americans are more wary about genetically engineered animals than about the genetically engineered crops now used in a huge number of foods. But other polls suggest that many Americans would accept the animals if they offered environmental or nutritional benefits.

Mr. Stotish said the benefit of the fast-growing salmon would be to help supply the world’s food needs using fewer resources.
Government officials and industry executives say the F.D.A. is moving cautiously on the salmon. “It’s going to be a P. R. issue,” said one government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue.
Some of these government officials and executives said that F.D.A. officials had discussed internally whether the salmon could be labeled to give consumers the choice of avoiding them.

The government has in the past opposed mandatory labeling of foods from genetically engineered crops and animals merely because genetic engineering was used. Foods must be labeled, it says, only if they are different in their nutritional properties or other characteristics.
It would seem difficult for the government to change that policy. And experts say the administration may not have the legal authority to do so.
One possibility could be voluntary labeling by those who sell the fish.
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the F.D.A., said in a statement: “Labeling is one of many issues involved with the review of genetically engineered animals for use in food. As has been publicly reported, the AquAdvantage Salmon is under review by the agency, and as we move forward, we will share information with the public.”

Mr. Stotish of AquaBounty said his company was not against voluntary labeling, but the matter was not in its hands because it would only be selling fish eggs to fish farms, not grown salmon to the supermarket.

He said the company had submitted data to the F.D.A. showing that its salmon was indistinguishable from nonengineered Atlantic salmon in terms of taste, color, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, proteins and other nutrients.

“Our fish is identical in every measurable way to the traditional food Atlantic salmon,” Mr. Stotish said. “If there’s no material difference, then it would be misleading to require labeling.”

Virtually all Atlantic salmon now comes from fish farms, not the wild.

The F.D.A. must also decide on the environmental risks from the salmon. Some experts have speculated that fast-growing fish could out-compete wild fish for food or mates.

Mr. Stotish said the salmon would be grown only in inland tanks or other contained facilities, not in ocean pens where they might escape into the wild. And the fish would all be female and sterile, making it impossible for them to mate.

The F.D.A. is expected to hold a public meeting of an advisory committee before deciding whether to approve the salmon. Typically at such advisory committee meetings, much of the data in support of the drug application is made public and there is some time allotted for public comment.
But Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said such meetings often do not give the public enough time to analyze the data.

By ANDREW POLLACK (NYT. June 25, 2010)

While the United States and Europe fret over huge deficits and threats to a fragile recovery, this region has a surprise in store. Latin America, beset in the past by debt defaults, currency devaluations and the need for bailouts from rich countries, is experiencing robust economic growth that is the envy of its northern counterparts.

Strong demand in Asia for commodities like iron ore, tin and gold, combined with policies in several Latin American economies that help control deficits and keep inflation low, are encouraging investment and fueling much of the growth. The World Bank forecasts that the region’s economy will grow 4.5 percent this year.

Recent growth spurts around Latin America have surpassed the expectations of many governments themselves. Brazil, the region’s rising power, is leading the regional recovery from the downturn of 2009, growing 9 percent in the first quarter from the same period last year. Brazil’s central bank said Wednesday that growth for 2010 could reach 7.3 percent, the nation’s fastest expansion in 24 years.

After a sharp contraction last year, Mexico’s economy grew 4.3 percent in the first quarter and may reach 5 percent this year, the Mexican government has said, possibly outpacing the economy in the United States.

Smaller countries are also growing fast. Here in Peru, where memories are still raw of an economy in tatters from hyperinflation and a brutal, two-decade war against Maoist rebels that left almost 70,000 people dead, gross domestic product surged 9.3 percent in April from the same month of last year.
“We’re witnessing what are probably the best economic conditions in Peru in my lifetime,” said Mario Zamora, 70, who owns six pharmacies in Los Olivos, a bustling working-class district of northern Lima where thousands of poor migrants from Peru’s highlands have settled.

Vibrancy mixes with grit around his pharmacies. A Domino’s Pizza vies for customers with Peruvian-Chinese restaurants called chifas. Motorcycle taxis deliver passengers to nightclubs. Competition, in the form of a newly arrived Chilean pharmacy chain, looms around the corner from his main store.
Los Olivos offers a glimpse into the growth lifting parts of Latin America out of poverty, but big exceptions persist. In Venezuela, electricity shortages and fears of expropriations caused gross domestic product to shrink 5.8 percent in the first quarter.

But Venezuela, and to a lesser extent Ecuador, another oil-dependent country that lags behind its neighbors in growth, seem to be exceptions to a broader trend.

Even small countries ideologically aligned with Venezuela have adopted pragmatic policies and are faring well. While Europe was gripped by fears of contagion from Greece’s debt crisis, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’supgraded Bolivia in May, citing its sound public finances.
Latin America’s growth largely reflects a deepening engagement with Asia, where China and other countries are also growing fast. China surpassed the United States last year as Brazil’s top trading partner, and is the second largest trading partner in countries like Venezuela and Colombia, Washington’s top ally in the region.

Some scholars of Latin America’s economic history of ups and downs say the robust recovery may be too good to last, pointing to volatile politics in some places, excessive reliance on commodity exports and the risks of sharply increasing trade with China.

Michael Pettis, a specialist at Peking University in Beijing on China’s financial links with developing countries, said the region was especially exposed to Chinese policies that had driven up global demand for commodities, including what appears to be Chinese stockpiling of commodities.

“Within China there is a ferocious debate over the sustainability of this investment-driven growth,” Mr. Pettis said. “I’m worried that too few policy makers in Latin America are aware of the debate and of the vulnerability this creates in Latin America.”

Other economists, including Nicolás Eyzaguirre, director of the Western Hemisphere department of the International Monetary Fund, suggest that low international interest rates, another factor supporting Latin America’s growth, will not last much longer. Even so, they applaud home-grown policies that are supporting growth.
Chile, for instance, saved revenues from copper exports when commodities prices climbed, allowing it to enact a stimulus plan last year and rebound from the February earthquake. Chile’s economy grew 8.2 percent in April from the previous month, its biggest increase since 1996.

“This time around, the positive shock is probably even better, since some countries saved at least part of their windfall from the good years,” Mr. Eyzaguirre said.
Within the fund itself, Latin America’s recovery is translating into new political sway, particularly for Brazil, which has paid its debt to the fund and is seeking to enhance its voting stake in it. As Brazil posts China-level growth, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is nurturing soft-power ambitions, with ventures like a state television station that will broadcast to African nations.

David Rothkopf, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, pointed to the dozens of embassies and consulates that Mr. da Silva has opened around the world.

“Like other Latin American countries, Brazil needs to improve its infrastructure and train more engineers,” Mr. Rothkopf said, “but it embodies the rise of emerging powers, one of the great themes of this century.”

Peru, whose economic growth is expected to rival or outstrip Brazil’s over the next several years, exemplifies the challenges remaining in a sizzling economy.
The country boasts nimble companies like Ajegroup, founded during the chaos of the 1980s. Now the company’s soft drinks compete with giants like Coca-Cola, not just in Peru but in other Latin American countries as well.

Foreign investment has flowed into Peru, largely in mining. But this investment reveals both weaknesses and strengths. Mining accounts for about 8 percent of economic activity, but about half of tax revenues, creating problems if commodities prices fall, said Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former finance minister here.

Deep inequalities also persist, especially between the capital, Lima, and the Andean highlands and the forests of the Amazon basin, where factions of the Shining Path guerrilla group feed off the cocaine trade. As much as 70 percent of the labor force still works outside the tax system, depriving workers of benefits and the government of revenue.
But some of what glitters in Peru’s boom seems to be paving the way for lasting prosperity.

Felipe Castillo, 60, mayor of Los Olivos, is investing tax proceeds in a new low-tuition municipal university for 4,000 students. He gazed recently at the 11-story structure, in a slum that has begun to take on the trappings of a lower-middle-class district.
“Maybe the students at this institution will look at the mistakes of our economic policy in the past as the tragic features of a bygone era,” Mr. Castillo said.
Andrea Zárate contributed reporting from Lima.

By SIMON ROMERO (LIMA, Peru —NYT. June 30, 2010)

WILL women soon have a Viagra of their own? Although a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recently rejected an application to market the drug flibanserin in the United States for women with low libido, it endorsed the potential benefits and urged further research. Several pharmaceutical companies are reported to be well along in the search for such a drug.

The implication is that a new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country. But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?

In the 1950s, female “frigidity” was attributed to social conformism and religious puritanism. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, American society has become increasingly secular, with a media environment drenched in sex.

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm.

Only the diffuse New Age movement, inspired by nature-keyed Asian practices, has preserved the radical vision of the modern sexual revolution. But concrete power resides in America’s careerist technocracy, for which the elite schools, with their ideological view of gender as a social construct, are feeder cells.
In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.
The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Furthermore, thanks to a bourgeois white culture that values efficient bodies over voluptuous ones, American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts. Contrast that with Latino and African-American taste, which runs toward the healthy silhouette of the bootylicious Beyoncé.

A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class. Country music, with its history in the rural South and Southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, rock music, once sexually pioneering, is in the dumps. Black rhythm and blues, born in the Mississippi Delta, was the driving force behind the great hard rock bands of the ’60s, whose cover versions of blues songs were filled with electrifying sexual imagery. The Rolling Stones’ hypnotic recording of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” with its titillating phallic exhibitionism, throbs and shimmers with sultry heat.

But with the huge commercial success of rock, the blues receded as a direct influence on young musicians, who simply imitated the white guitar gods without exploring their roots. Step by step, rock lost its visceral rawness and seductive sensuality. Big-ticket rock, with its well-heeled middle-class audience, is now all superego and no id.
In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.

Pharmaceutical companies will never find the holy grail of a female Viagra — not in this culture driven and drained by middle-class values. Inhibitions are stubbornly internal. And lust is too fiery to be left to the pharmacist.

Camille Paglia, a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts, is the author of “Sexual Personae.”

By CAMILLE PAGLIA (NYT. June 25, 2010)

Burgeoning populations of wild animals in cities and suburbs throughout the country may thrill folks who rarely, if ever, see such creatures outside a zoo or museum, but these animals can wreak havoc on human health and safety.

Wildlife experts say that human activities, as well as groups that oppose culling troublesome animals, are directly or indirectly responsible for many of the risks to people. To save life and limb, it pays to know what is out there and how to reduce the chances of hazardous encounters with wildlife in our midst.
At least six coyotes have found their way into New York City this year, including one that crossed the Hudson via the Holland Tunnel. The animals move easily into residential areas along travel corridors like greenways, power lines and train tracks, according to Paul D. Curtis, a wildlife specialist at Cornell University who studies human-wildlife interactions and ways to minimize their negative consequences.

Although coyotes are rarely a threat to people, Dr. Curtis said in an interview that they can be aggressive when breeding and rearing pups. In just the last week and a half, in separate instances, two young girls, ages 6 and 3, were attacked by coyotes in their Rye, N.Y., backyards. Small children have been attacked in Los Angeles and Arizona, Dr. Curtis said, and small dogs everywhere are at risk, even when on a leash.

In January 2009, a flock of Canada geese got sucked into the two jet engines of a loaded US Airways flight and forced an emergency landing in the Hudson, a stone’s throw from Manhattan. The resident population of urban and suburban geese has soared to more than 4 million of these 10-pound birds, each of which deposits a pound of slippery excrement a day, often on park paths, golf courses and athletic fields.

Raccoons, the most adaptable of urban wildlife, rummage through trash cans, snack on pet foods left outside and occasionally break into homes, where they can cause serious destruction in search of food.

The animals may bite when cornered. But their main risk to humans and pets is rabies. There are now rabid raccoons in many areas east of Ohio, including Central Park and Nassau County, where wildlife experts are studying novel ways to get them vaccinated.

White-tailed deer wander fearlessly into suburban yards and fields, munching on crops and ornamental plantings, spreading dreaded ticks that cause Lyme disease. A hungry deer consumes six to eight pounds of vegetation a day, often with little respect for lists of deer-resistant plants.

Deer kill far more people each year than do alligators, and cause over 1.5 million car accidents a year (more than 70,000 in New York State alone).
You need not have seen black bears roaming around Woodstock, N.Y., in April to know that they had ended their hibernation. Overturned garbage cans, with their nonedible contents strewn over lawns and roadsides, were a dead giveaway.

The animals are well established on the west side of the Hudson, where they have caused an occasional fatality. Get between a mother and her cub and you may become history.

The range of black bears has more than doubled along the entire southern border of New York State and across the Hudson in the last decade. “I don’t think black bears will come to New York City, but I’d never say never,” Dr. Curtis remarked.
Dos and Don’ts

Heading the list of negative human behaviors is feeding wild animals, directly or unintentionally. Providing food can cause them to lose their fear of people and bring potentially aggressive quick-footed creatures, like coyotes, bears and raccoons, much too close to potential prey, like children and pets.
Edible garbage should not be left outside in unsecured containers where bears and raccoons can forage. If you live near a city park, like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and you find your trash can ravaged, chances are a raccoon was responsible. Garbage should be placed in metal cans with tight-fitting lids and enclosed in a bin or attached to a solid object.

In residential areas like Woodstock, the bears seem to know what night people put out their garbage for morning collection. They are capable of overturning almost any can except a bear-proof dumpster.
Composting food items is also a bad idea, unless it is done behind a fence that can keep out bears and raccoons. Otherwise, limit compost to nonfood items like leaves.
Pets should be fed indoors; never leave pet food outside. Dr. Curtis recommends taking down bird feeders in summer (bears love bird food) and picking up fruit that drops from trees.

Make sure your chimney has a cap; raccoons without a tree den will use chimneys to raise their young. You can keep out skunks by sealing off openings under porches, decks and crawl spaces.

Unless your property is surrounded by a tall fence, try planting only what deer dislike — plants that are bitter, pungent, toxic or prickly, like rosemary, chives, daffodils, boxwood, barberry, juniper and other evergreens (though a very hungry deer will eat almost anything). Keep bird feeders out of a deer’s reach.
Unless you have a large or aggressive dog that lives outdoors, vegetable gardens should be fenced to keep deer out. (Use chicken wire buried a foot below ground level to deter rabbits and small rodents.) Deer repellents do help, if sprayed often on vulnerable plants. I’ve had luck with a smelly (to deer, at least) fertilizer called Milorganite (made from human waste) sprinkled on the soil around ornamental plantings.

To reduce the ever-growing population of urban and suburban geese, biologists have demonstrated that removing the eggs and nests of locally breeding birds encourages them to find other residences more hospitable than local parks. Other control efforts, like harassing geese with border collies, firecrackers, remote-controlled boats, high-powered lasers and strobe lights, have not worked unless they were done daily, Dr. Curtis said.
Research is under way to control the spread of Lyme-carrying deer ticks. In heavily infested areas of New York State, like Shelter Island and Fire Island, corn-stocked feeding stations equipped with neck rollers treated with tick-killing chemicals have reduced the tick population by 70 to 90 percent, according to preliminary results. A similar tactic under study in Central Park — providing feed laced with rabies vaccine — appears to be effective in reducing this deadly hazard from city-dwelling raccoons.

Dr. Curtis urged prompt reporting of any raccoon acting abnormally, like foraging during the day, coming close to people or walking with an odd gait.
Localities that have experimented with culling deer and bears have demonstrated a significant reduction in motor vehicle accidents and fatalities caused by these animals. Hunting, the main deer-control technique of decades past, has declined greatly. However, states that encourage the killing of does have found that it can control the deer population better than the killing of bucks.

By JANE E. BRODY (NYT. July 5, 2010)