San Francisco

A New State of the States
March 22, 2011

What are states good for? The 19th century answer was that states are a critical counterweight to federal power. The 20th century answer was that states are laboratories of democracy--tinkering with the beta versions of laws and policies before other states or the federal government adopted them on a large scale. The 21st century answer is that states are the enablers and supporters of metropolitan economies. One problem: States don’t really think this way. According to law, all the component elements of metros--cities, counties, townships, villages, etc.--are creatures of the state.

Top of the Class: The Role of Leading Academic Programs in Cleantech Innovation
February 24, 2011

Yesterday, we noted the extreme concentration in just a few metropolitan areas of the leading-edge U.S. cleantech firms honored in the Global Cleantech 100 list of the most promising start-ups. We noted that a whopping 39 of the 58 U.S. firms included in the list are hyper-clustered in just four metropolitan areas—San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, and Los Angeles, in that order.

Requiem for the DLC
February 09, 2011

After a good quarter-century run, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) has announced it will close its doors this month. Its original mission has long been accomplished: This small but famous—or, depending on your orientation, infamous—organization was founded in the wake of the 1984 Walter Mondale debacle by two House Democratic Caucus staffers named Al From and Will Marshall, who enlisted an assortment of elected officials with names like Clinton, Gore, Gephardt, Nunn, Babbitt, and Robb.

What Does a Municipal Bankruptcy Look Like?
February 02, 2011

In Vallejo, Calif., the city just outside San Francisco trying to emerge from its 2008 bankruptcy, it looks like “unsecured creditors receive 5 to 20 cents on the dollar.” And who are those unsecured creditors? Mostly city employees and retirees.

Silicon Implant
January 27, 2011

When Dmitri Medvedev became Russia’s president in 2008, he projected a very different image from that of his predecessor. Vladimir Putin is a buff former KGB agent who is fond of rugged pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, and is frequently photographed engaged in them without his shirt on. Medvedev is an elfin St. Petersburg-trained lawyer who enjoys chess and photography, practices yoga daily, and is the proud owner of the complete recordings of Deep Purple on vinyl.

Yesterday’s Heroes
January 19, 2011

Photojournalists are yesterday’s heroes. True, there are still some big names out there, among them Gilles Peress and Sabastiao Salgado. But the significance of their work is unclear. Do they shape political or social opinion through their images? Or are they mostly regarded as imaginative artists who just happen to be drawn to tough, newsworthy subjects? Few photographers are any longer seen as providing definitive information about some national or international trouble spot, at least very few who are what used to be called professionals.

David Thomson on Films: 'White Material'
January 07, 2011

Film-going is a total experience, so, when I went to see Claire Denis’s White Material in San Francisco this week, I had to sit through an advertisement for visiting South Africa and having a marvelous time. I’ve seen the ad before, and it gets increasingly depressing. There is lovely scenery and a complacent couple who can’t wait to get back there to regain the best Thai cooking of their lives and the rapturous experience of seeing elephants come to drink in the evening. Go if you must. I only know that my daughter—a world traveler—says South Africa is the scariest place she’s ever been.

Magnum Opus
January 04, 2011

I am besotted with a new book that is also an old book. This is The H.D. Book, by Robert Duncan, a wild, dazzling, idiosyncratic magnum opus that the poet composed between 1959 and 1964 and that is only now being published in its complete form, by the University of California Press. What began with a request for a brief birthday homage to the American poet known as H.D.—she had been born Hilda Doolittle—morphed into one of the greatest of all meditations on the nature not only of modern poetry but of the modern artistic imagination in its bewitching complexity.

The Rise of Femicide
December 29, 2010

During the last decade, Guatemala has experienced an epidemic of woman-killing. The bodies are everywhere: turning up in ditches on the side of the road, on the curbs of city streets, and in wooded ravines, often with signs of mutilation and rape.

Conan the Solipsist
December 03, 2010

“Welcome to my second annual first show,” said Conan O’Brien in the recent premiere of his new late-night talk show on TBS. Also: “People asked me why I named the show ‘Conan.’ I did it so I’d be harder to replace.” His first episode opened with a video of an unemployed O’Brien being hounded by a haggard wife and 14 kids, then gunned down by Godfather-style NBC hitmen. And, as the weeks progressed, the self-pity has persisted.