Virtuous architecture, carrots, undercover in North Korea, counterfeit wine, placebos

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I'm here at TED with the crew from Pop Up Magazine, so I'm sharing links to the work of people I'm performing with today.


1. Dana Goodyear on the limits of "virtuous architecture."

"This radical-chic architecture echoes a larger force at work in the marketplace. Just as the environmental movement spawned greenwashing, the altruistic bent of the under-thirty-five generation has given rise to what you might call goodwashing. TOMS, a company that started out making canvas espadrilles, has built a half-billion-dollar-a-year business on its “One for One” marketing platform: for every pair of shoes you buy it donates a pair to a child in need. TOMS has given away more than ten million pairs and its shoe dumps have engendered some controversy, of the giving-a-man-a-fish-versus-teaching-him-to-fish variety. More important, it has inspired copycats. (See Skechers’s BOBS shoe collection, whose slogan is “Making a Difference for Kids” and whose marketing materials look like a Save the Children campaign.) Then there is Maiyet, the luxury leather and jewelry company born at Davos and sold at Barney’s, which employs artisans in the global South, pays them a living wage, and storytells the hell out of their narratives. Ban in Aspen represents a high-culture culmination of this goodwashing force."

2. Doug McGray tells us how carrots became the new junk food.

"A local grower named Mike Yurosek had become frustrated with all the waste in the carrot business. Supermarkets expected carrots to be a particular size, shape, and color. Anything else had to be sold for juice or processing or animal feed, or just thrown away. Yurosek wondered what would happen if he peeled the skin off the gnarly carrots, cut them into pieces, and sold them in bags. He made up a few test batches to show his buyers. One batch, cut into 1-inch bites and peeled round, he called "bunny balls." Another batch, peeled and cut 2 inches long, looked like little baby carrots."

3. Suki Kim spent six months undercover at a school for North Korea's elite.

"Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields—except for the 270 students at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime."


4. The Kitchen Sisters on the crazy world of anti-counterfeit wine technology.

"Jim Elroy had a hunch that the wine in the Jefferson bottles did not date to the 18th century, but he needed a way to prove it, preferably without opening the bottle and destroying its contents. 'I started looking in Scientific American magazine,' said Elroy, 'and I found an article that Philippe Hubert, a French physicist, had written about using low level gamma ray detection for Cesium 137 to date wine. Cesuim 137 did not exist on this planet until we exploded the first atomic bomb.' … This radioactivity is everywhere on earth—in our food, clothing, the cells of our body. 'It is in the atmosphere,' says Hubert. 'And then with rain this radioactivity falls on the grapes. When you make the wine this comes into the wine and stays into the wine.' Jim Elroy was confident that this was going to be the smoking gun that would prove Rodenstock guilty of fabricating the Jefferson bottles."


5. Steve Silberman on the wonders of the placebo effect.

"Why are inert pills suddenly overwhelming promising new drugs and established medicines alike? The reasons are only just beginning to be understood. A network of independent researchers is doggedly uncovering the inner workings—and potential therapeutic applications—of the placebo effect. At the same time, drugmakers are realizing they need to fully understand the mechanisms behind it so they can design trials that differentiate more clearly between the beneficial effects of their products and the body's innate ability to heal itself. A special task force of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health is seeking to stem the crisis by quietly undertaking one of the most ambitious data-sharing efforts in the history of the drug industry. After decades in the jungles of fringe science, the placebo effect has become the elephant in the boardroom."


On Fusion: My feature on an ambitious effort by DARPA to design new vaccines to combat emerging diseases like Ebola.

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

Sorry! Still traveling. Normal tips will return soon. But if you need some kind of tip, consider this one: get yourself to Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. It is so beautiful.


The Credits

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