Hurrah! Giorgio Armani thinks newspapers are cool (sort of)!...A new magazine about traveling "with a purpose"...A melancholy look at Bosnia and the Dayton Accord...Time on work, Newsweek on Jamie Dimon and the New Yorker on last year's Wall Street debacle...And Consumer Reports tells us which store brands really do taste better than the fancy brand-names ones.
Robert Duvall's Lieut. Kilgore in Apocalypse Now famously loved the smell of napalm in the morning. It's with rare pleasure that we can report that an Italian fashion icon loves an endangered species composed of ink and newsprint.
"If there is a smell I associate with the realization that I was becoming successful, it was newspaper," Giorgio Armani tells WSJ, the new monthly offering from the Wall Street Journal, in an issue devoted to the seemingly fragile state of luxury goods. "I'd open the paper and see the good reviews and realize that people were noticing my designs."
Hey, you remember newspapers, don't you? I know it's not cool but maybe, just maybe, you can buy one every once in a while and, at minimum, keep some of the folks we elect to office just a tad more honest. You know, when the cat's away, the mice will play and all that.
The Armani chat is part of a strong, if not always novel, look at luxury in an age of recession and anxiety with conspicuous consumption by some members of the propertied class. We're informed that the champagne industry is sharply dropping prices amid declining sales; the diamond industry is scurrying, with layoffs and closing of stories, as one-carat high-quality diamonds have sunk by about 20 percent in price, with five-carat gems down 30 percent; high-end handbag makers are producing cheaper bags and accessories; with some trophy real estate morphing into white elephants, it's just "socially unacceptable" to brag about buying a $25 million apartment, unless you can boast about getting a bargain; and then there's the curious "artful dissonance" of "rough luxe," namely reconciling the old and contemporary in interior furnishing, at times simply melding "the decrepit with the pristine."
There are a host of socio-cultural developments inherent in all of this, though some don't get much mention. For example, there's how the very concept of luxury had changed long before the recession, with a new populism in which there is mass accessibility to the highest quality of design, be it via Martha Stewart or Tiffany knockoffs. No matter what F. Scott Fitzgerald thought, the differences between the rich and the rest of us are, in some ways, less than they once were. Maybe I'll rent a stretch limo for a night on the town.
--What don't we have in the pretty strong and creative travel sector? Well, the premier of AFAR is premised on the notion that we're increasingly driven by a search for meaning, not necessarily consumption and entertainment, and there are lots of tales out there about people and culture we've been missing.
There are some smart, fun tales, including a profile of a globetrotting web programmer who exploits the fact he can work from anywhere; travels "with a purpose" to meet experts trying to save our oceans and marine biology; a look at how a hallowed-out loaf of bread with vegetarian or meat curry became South Africa favorite street food; and how costume-play cafes in Tokyo are a magnet for youth seeking social connections. There are lots of fun tidbits, such as a two-page graphic on the biggest coca bean-producing and -consuming nations (the Irish eat the most chocolate, while Americans way back in 12th spot) and, all in all, the sum of the parts may be greater than the whole but this will be worth a second look and watching, especially in a tortuous climate for start-ups.
--"The Death of Dayton: How to Stop Bosnia from Falling Apart" in the September-October Foreign Affairs by Patrice McMahon and Jon Western analyses the legacy of the 19965 Dayton Accord and argues that Bosnia is certainly no longer the "poster child" for post-war reconstruction:
"After 14 years of intense international efforts to stabilize and rebuild Bosnia, the country now stands on the brink of collapse. For the first time since November 1995 -- when the Dayton accord ended three and a half years of bloody ethnic strife -- Bosnians are once again talking about the potential for war."
"Bosnia was once the poster child for international reconstruction efforts. It was routinely touted by U.S. and European leaders as proof that under the right conditions the international community could successfully rebuild conflict-ridden countries. The 1995 Dayton peace agreement divided Bosnia into two semi-independent entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, inhabited mainly by Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (Serb Republic, or RS), each with its own government, controlling taxation, educational policy, and even foreign policy. Soon after the war's end, the country was flooded with attention and over $14 billion in international aid, making it a laboratory for what was arguably the most extensive and innovative democratization experiment in history. By the end of 1996, 17 different foreign governments, 18 UN agencies, 27 intergovernmental organizations, and about 200 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) -- not to mention tens of thousands of troops from across the globe -- were involved in reconstruction efforts. On a per capita basis, the reconstruction of Bosnia -- with less than four million citizens -- made the post-World War II rebuilding of Germany and Japan look modest."
"As successful as Dayton was at ending the violence, it also sowed the seeds of instability by creating a decentralized political system that undermined the state's authority. In the past three years, ethnic nationalist rhetoric from leaders of the country's three constituent ethnic groups -- Muslims, Croats, and Serbs -- has intensified, bringing reform to a standstill. The economy has stalled, unemployment is over 27 percent, about 25 percent of the population lives in poverty, and Bosnia remains near the bottom of World Bank rankings for business development."
--Sept. 21 Time's "Out of Work in America" is a solid job, especially as it broaches the possibility of real structural changes underway in certain sectors of the labor market, while elsewhere offering profiles of socially responsible workers and entrepreneurs, with Barack and Michelle Obama opining on the topic. Meanwhile, Newsweek offers an homage to JPMorgan Chase boss Jamie Dimon, in the form of excerpting a book suggesting he exhibited courage and foresight in agreeing to take over a wounded Bear Stearns and, in the process, save the government's butt. But the strongest of pieces this week on the one-year anniversary of historic financial events is the estimable James Stewart's characteristically superbly-reported "Eight Days" in the New Yorker, which offers some new insights into the decisions to let Lehman Brothers go down the tubes but saving A.I.G; ultimately underscoring some of the hotly-debated matters involving the role of markets and government in a democracy.
--Finally, speaking of markets or, ah, supermarkets, October ShopSmart from the folks at Consumer Reports gives us "Store Brand Winners," namely lots and lots of examples of private-label foods that it decrees to taste better than famous brand products. For example, it prefers Archer Farms (Target) Oatmeal Raisin Chewy Soft Baked Cookies over Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Oatmeal Raisin Cookies; Kirkland Signature (Costco) Organic Salsa, Medium over Old El Paso Thick n' Chunky Salsa, Medium; and 365 (Whole Foods) Organic Steak Sauce over AI Steak Sauce.