Friday, October 27, 2006

Cafe L.A.

Serious (yay!) about coffee

In a town of a grillion coffeehouses, there aren't many that do it right. Here are the best places for a great cup.

By Amy Scattergood
Times Staff Writer

October 25, 2006

Southern California is used to the spotlight, but when it comes to independent coffeehouses, we're still in the rain shadow of the Pacific Northwest. Maybe this is because Angelenos don't have to endure the lurking damp and early darkness that send so many Seattleites running to the comfort of their neighborhood coffee bars. Or maybe it's because we've historically liked the ice-blended drinks that play so much better at the beach (it's really hard to carry a demitasse of espresso in flip-flops over the sand).

Although there are hundreds of places to get a cup of coffee — or a soy decaf triple latte — in this town, it's surprisingly difficult to find a really good one. Between over-roasted beans, drinks with a proportion of milk more suited to a milkshake than a latte, anemic shots of espresso and flat-out terrible brew, it's harder than you think to get a satisfying caffeine fix. Fortunately for those of us who take coffee seriously — and in ceramic cups, straight, instead of under a mountain of whipped cream — this is finally changing.

Check out some of these neighborhood haunts for a serious dose of quality joe.

Espresso so chic

Caffe Luxxe This 4-month-old coffeehouse is an all-around aesthetic experience, from the chic Montana Avenue address to the sleek coffee bar where you order your drinks to the black-clad baristas (all adept in latte art). Co-owner Mark Wain got his training — and gets his beans — from Seattle, but returned to Southern California (he went to high school in Orange County) to open his cafe. He has plans to open an adjoining roasting facility in the coming months. You won't find a blender or a drip machine here. Instead, activities focus on two Synesso espresso machines, which make beautiful espresso drinks, including cappuccino that comes only in the traditional 8 ounces, and a perfectly made ristretto — a shorter pull of espresso, all gorgeous caramelly crema. The drinks are served in Italian porcelain cups (for a little more cultural authenticity) and if you get hungry, they serve excellent pastries from Breadbar. 925 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 394-2222;


Kéan Coffee Last December, after selling his coffee business, Diedrich Coffee (which Starbucks purchased), Martin Diedrich opened a new coffeehouse, a small storefront and roasteria that he named after his son. Devoted attention to a single shop shows in both the quality of coffee, which Diedrich roasts himself six days a week, and the quality of service: The baristas all practice amazing latte art (gorgeous swirled leaves are their forte). Locals gather in the cozy neighborhood shop to buy just-roasted arrivals such as Guatemalan Antigua, drink anything from a freshly brewed cup of Kenyan to an espresso macchiato (a shot of espresso with a button of steamed milk) to a Turkish caffe latte with cardamom, and eat fresh pastries (crème brûlée bread pudding, anyone?) from local Pacific Whey Cafe. 2043 Westcliff Drive, Suite 100, Newport Beach, (949) 642-5326;

WeHo standout

King's Road Cafe This busy West Hollywood cafe is actually two shops: a bistro and a coffeehouse next door, where they not only serve spectacular coffee but also roast it on site. In fact, the Probat roaster is behind the brass counter where the barista pulls the shots and swirls pretty fine latte art. On a street where average coffee shops proliferate, this cafe roasts and serves a noticeably superior cup. 8361 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 655-9044;

Championship coffee

Coffee Klatch Owner Mike Perry has an impressive awards case (including awards for excellence from the Specialty Coffee Assn. of America), but nothing compared to his daughter Heather's: She's the 2003 World Barista Champ. That award-winning attention to detail shows in the coffee and espresso served at both family-owned stores, one in San Dimas, the other in Rancho Cucamonga. Perry roasts his beans on a 24-kilogram Diedrich roaster in his San Dimas store. ("A coffeehouse without a roaster is like a bakery without an oven," Perry says.) Heather runs the Rancho Cucamonga store and gives classes in latte art when she's not off competing. 806 W. Arrow Highway, San Dimas, (909) 599-0452; 8916 Foothill Blvd., Suite C, Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 944-5282;

Conversation starter

Cafe Balcony You might miss this tiny storefront tucked into a nook just off Santa Monica Boulevard if you're not among the initiated — or if you come too early, as the shop doesn't open until noon. This is intentional, says owner Ray Sato, who likes the slower pace of the night crowd, among whom, he says, are students, architects, the inevitable screenwriters with laptops, and also "a lot of acupuncturists." The little spot is laid out like a bar and has the feel of a place where you might strike up a conversation. You can play it safe and order a cappuccino, but if you need a conversation starter, order the siphon coffee, a cup brewed in a striking vacuum pot that looks like a cross between a Chemex and a particle accelerator. You can choose among Sumatran, Indian Malabar, Guatemalan and AA Kenyan — Sato also offers specials, such as Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain. A burner heats a vacuum chamber, which then pushes water up through the freshly ground beans and brews them at around 200 degrees. The coffee is phenomenal, with the body and flavor of a French-press cup, but with a much cleaner taste. 12431 Rochester Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 820-6916;

Roman holiday

Euro Caffe This cafe is in the middle of Beverly Hills, but get inside the tiny storefront and you'd think you were in Rome. A gorgeous copper Elektra espresso machine dominates the window, churning out authentic, perfectly made espressos and ristrettos while Italian soccer games play on the two televisions. Owner Vartan Kemanjian serves only Danesi coffee, as he likes the "chocolate finish at the end." His espresso is dense, rich and velvety, presented in cups with tiny spoons, both of which he keeps warm in an upper chamber shelf of the Elektra machine. While he chats up the loyal patrons — Italian expats, cops and local businessmen — he demonstrates the sugar test: Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the top of the espresso (Italians prefer it sweetened) and watch as the sugar stays on the top for 10 seconds or more before sinking into the thick crema. It's the mark of a truly well-made cup. If you're hungry, try a house-made pastry or panini or a salad made with fresh burrata while Kemanjian shows you pictures of the crowds that crammed into the tiny place during the World Cup. 9559 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-9070.

Culver City java

The Conservatory Located in a cozy shop right across from Sony studios, this family-owned coffeehouse roasts their coffee on site. If the roaster is going full-steam, they can roast one of 24 blends or single-origin beans to order while you wait. And even if you're not waiting, it's a pretty terrific place to grab a cup of coffee. Sample the well-pulled espresso drinks (they've been practicing latte art for 11 years), or choose between a Sulawesi or Ethiopian Yergacheffe. Try one of the pastries, from La Dijonaise, and check out the array of historical coffee equipment lining the lofty walls. 10117 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 558-0436;

Clouds in my coffee

Aroma Cafe Hidden inside a leafy garden patio, with plastic curtains that pull down during the rainy season and outdoor heaters for the colder months, this Studio City cafe serves an array of espresso drinks and brewed coffee. And because they share the '20s-era bungalow with a bookstore, you can take your double cap and sit down by the fire with a book and one of the pastries or cakes they get from an array of five different local bakeries. Says owner Mark Gunsky, who took a chance on the spot 14 years ago, "I wanted an old outdoor space." And he'd agree that his coffee, which he gets from Fonté Roasters in Seattle, tastes even better in a rainstorm. 4360 Tujunga Ave., Studio City, (818) 508-6505.

Mexican at heart

Zona Rosa Caffe This Pasadena coffeehouse was named for an art district in Mexico City — and the menu and the décor reflect that connection. Mexican art hangs on the walls downstairs as well as upstairs in the cozy reading room, and the cafe regularly hosts traditional Mexican music and cultural events such as a Día de los Muertos celebration. Try a Zona Rosa cappuccino, which combines espresso with Mexican chocolate and whipped cream. Owner Michael Moreno won't say which roaster supplies his beans, only that he's gotten them from the same San Francisco source since he opened his shop 12 years ago. 15 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena, (626) 793-2334;

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cubans Begin to Just Say No

October 27, 2006

Did Brazilian President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva misspeak last week when he said that it's a pity that Fidel Castro did not democratize the island while "he was still alive"? Or did he inadvertently blurt out a secret that only friends of the Cuban regime are supposed to know?

Lula has corrected himself. But the rumor mills are in overdrive since the utterance of those four little words, in part because the last time Cubans were shown proof of life was more than a month ago and the patient looked pretty bad.

Whenever the old man finally passes away, a public statement is likely to be delayed until Fidel's little brother Raul, who as of now is only the "temporary" despot, feels sure he has the upper hand. As we go to press, that effort appears to be a work in progress.

At this time the military seems to be loyal to Raul. Nevertheless, the dictator in waiting has at least two reasons to be worried. The first is Hugo Chávez, who pours an estimated $2 billion into the Cuban economy annually and seems to believe that he is the rightful revolutionary successor to Fidel. Rumor has it that attitude is not going down too well with Raul or his men. As Brian Latell, former CIA analyst and author of "After Fidel" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pointed out this week: "It may also be reasonable to speculate that Raul and his military commanders feel contempt for the mercurial and often bizarre Venezuelan, who rose no higher than lieutenant colonel in the decidedly less professional and accomplished Venezuelan military."

Fold into this mix the tension that already exists between elements of the regime that see themselves as ideologically pure and loyal to Fidel and Raul's army, which seems to enjoy making money -- as Mr. Latell describes so well in his book -- and all kinds of complications arise.

Yet Hugo and the fidelistas might be the least of Raul's troubles. Less noticed by the international press but at least as threatening are the island's dissidents, who are once again stirring things up, this time with their "non-cooperation campaign." While conventional wisdom discounts the movement as weak, disorganized and easily infiltrated, every action of the government suggests that popular resistance to the regime is spreading, even after a brutal wave of repression was unleashed more than a year ago.

It is also worth noting that Lula, a left-wing president of a country that has traditionally supported the Cuban dictatorship, has publicly lamented Castro's failure to democratize. That doesn't bode well for continued international support for the island slave plantation.

Non-cooperation is a strategy aimed at whittling away at the most fundamental tool of every totalitarian regime: fear. The system can survive only if each Cuban believes he is greatly outnumbered by lovers of the revolution and that in speaking out, he is doomed. This is why the regime risked so much bad press to crush the dissidents in March of 2003 in a brutal island-wide crackdown. Intense, debilitating fear must be kept alive if the regime is to survive.

Opponents of the regime also understand the power of fear and it is why they are hopeful about the non-cooperation campaign, which provides a passive way for Cubans to quietly discover solidarity. Rather than calling on citizens to actively rebel against the government, "non-cooperation" asks them simply to refuse to participate in the oppression.

The concept of non-cooperation was born in response to the government's practice of mobilizing neighbors to attack dissidents. This tactic, known as "acts of repudiation" is a longstanding totalitarian weapon. On Nov. 8 of last year Eliécer Consuegra Rivas, an activist in the eastern part of the country, graphically described how the regime was attempting to gin up hatred: "We, the human-rights activists, are being threatened before the public eye by representatives of the regime who claim we are going to poison the water, that we throw rocks, that we are terrorists, even that they will cut off our heads; they are threatening us with death.

"I would like to tell the people of Antilla that the municipal authorities are planning to collect signatures at the workplace in order to apply a label of 'dangerousness' to us and imprison us for our political stance," Mr. Consuegra said. "We encourage all workers to not accept this villainy and fallacy." The petition effort failed and non-cooperation was born.

A few months later the dissident movement's highly revered Jorge Luis Antúnez began echoing the call for non-cooperation from his prison cell in Camaguey. Mr. Antúnez is a Cuban hero. During his 16 years in the gulag he has been beaten, isolated for weeks at a time -- once for 47 days -- in tiny, filthy, rat-infested spaces with no windows or ventilation, and has consistently been denied medical care. (Harry Belafonte where are you?)

In January, Mr. Antúnez was allowed to make a phone call, using the moment to publicly endorse non-cooperation. On Aug. 4 he repeated his message: "We invite you not to cooperate with the repression and . . . to join those who defend your human rights, justice, and struggle for a free, pluralistic and prosperous society," Mr. Antúnez told his Cuban brethren.

For speaking out, Mr. Antúnez was thrown back in isolation. But it's likely he judges his gamble worth it. The idea is spreading and reports from the island say that local participation in repudiation squads is down. The government now has to bus thugs into neighborhoods where it organizes attacks.

The non-cooperation campaign is also aimed at the Cuban worker. With low pay and poor conditions, laborers have never been highly motivated. The campaign strives to link this reality to the politics of resistance. It could be generating results: Since the spring the regime has been complaining, in the state newspaper Granma, about inefficient workers, and in September Raul gave a speech at a labor convention exhorting the country's work force to improve productivity and discipline.

You won't learn much about this from the foreign media with bureaus in Havana or from correspondents or academics who visit Cuba. The quid pro quo for getting an island visa is good behavior toward the regime, and that means ignoring the groundswell of grumbling in politics and economics. Raul, on the other hand, is well-informed, which is probably why Fidel's "status" remains under wraps.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Meat Labels Hope to Lure the Sensitive Carnivore

Many cows, pigs and chickens will soon be living cushier lives.

But in the end, they will still be headed for the dinner plate.

Whole Foods Market is preparing to roll out a line of meat that will carry labels saying “animal compassionate,” indicating the animals were raised in a humane manner until they were slaughtered.

The grocery chain’s decision to use the new labels comes as a growing number of retailers are making similar animal-welfare claims on meat and egg packaging, including “free farmed,” “certified humane,” “cage free” and “free range.”

While the animal-welfare labels are proliferating, it remains unclear whether they appeal to anyone other than a niche market of animal lovers, particularly since the meat and eggs are as much as twice as expensive as products that do not carry the labels.

Mike Jones, a Louisburg, N.C., farmer who is raising “animal compassionate” pigs for Whole Foods, is convinced the new label will find buyers among “recyclers” and “foodies.”

“The recyclers will buy it because they love this kind of agriculture,” Mr. Jones said. “The foodies will buy it because they love the taste.”

The increase in animal-welfare labels has been driven in part by animal-rights organizations. The Humane Society of the United States, for instance, has been working for nearly two years to end the practice of confining hens to cages. But, like organic and natural labels, the animal-welfare claims are also a way for food retailers to offer something their competitors do not.

“You are always trying to find a point of difference,” said Ted Taft, managing director of the Meridian Consulting Group. “You could argue that chicken is chicken. But if you get a chicken that is free range, consumers will say, ‘I like that.’ ”

Mr. Taft added that buyers say “ ‘It makes me feel good.’ It’s something to give it an edge in a tie-breaker.”

The labeling trend has even been embraced by the restaurant industry, where a handful of high-end restaurants are now carrying “certified humane” meat. The Chipotle Mexican Grill, meanwhile, trumpets its humanely raised pork in an ad campaign that appears on the company’s Web site and on billboards.

Steve Ells, the chain’s founder, chairman and chief executive, said his decision to use humanely raised pork, free of antibiotics and hormones, in his burritos was based in part on his distaste for industrial-style farming, but also on his belief that it tastes better. When the natural pork was added to the menu six years ago, sales of the pork burrito quickly doubled, though the price jumped by $1.

“What is cool about this is we made our food taste better, and we did something good for the food system, for sustainability,” Mr. Ells said.

The market for cage-free eggs, which often cost 60 percent more, is growing rapidly, though neither the federal government nor the United Egg Producers, a trade group, tracks their share of the market.

It is harder to determine how many meat packages carry animal-welfare labels. There is general agreement, though, that it remains a small niche that will probably expand substantially when Whole Foods begins offering its animal-compassionate line in its 186 stores.

At one grocery outlet, at least, “certified humane” meat is selling briskly. D’Agostino, a small grocery chain in New York, said sales of meat jumped 25 percent since it added the “certified humane” logo, though the products cost, on average, 30 to 40 percent more.

Several other vendors said they believed that the animal-welfare labels have helped them in various ways. “It has probably helped sales, but it’s not really recordable,” said Steve Gold, vice president for marketing at Murray’s Chicken, which uses the “certified humane” label. “It helps the image of what we are trying to be as a company.”

Whole Foods, which recently banned the sale of live lobster amid welfare concerns, has been working on its animal compassionate standards for three years and plans to unveil its logo in a few months, as soon as auditing guidelines are established to make sure farmers are following the rules. The initiative was started by Whole Foods’ chief executive, John P. Mackey, a vegan who has been increasingly outspoken on animal-rights issues.

“We want to make sure that people know that it’s real,” said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president for communications and quality standards. “That it’s not just marketing.”

But some critics say all the new marketing labels will confuse consumers who are already struggling to decide between organic and antibiotic-free, grass-fed and natural.

“I have a great deal of concern over the animal welfare or certified humane-type programs, that they are meaningful and that they don’t put forth that they do more than organics,” said George Siemon, chief executive of Organic Valley, a Wisconsin cooperative that primarily sells dairy products. He noted that the federal government’s organic standards include animal-welfare provisions, like prohibiting cages for laying hens and requiring outdoor access for livestock.

To remind consumers of the value of organic, the cooperative’s meat brand, Organic Prairie, is playing off the profusion of new labels in its advertising. “Forget the marketing buzz words,” says an ad showing a package of ham with six different labels. “Organic Prairie says it all.”

At the same time, others question the validity of the certification programs for animal-welfare labels because some allow farming practices like cutting the tails off pigs and allowing animals to be raised entirely indoors.

For instance, the United Egg Producers provided an “animal care certified” logo to its members that several state attorneys general said was misleading because it falsely suggested that the chickens were humanely raised. While denying the charges, the group recently changed the label to say “United Egg Producers certified.”

“One needs to understand the integrity of these seals of approval,” said Bill Niman, the founder and chairman of Niman Ranch, a meat company that follows what he believes are rigorous animal-welfare protocols. “If the consumer knew how the animals are being raised that are receiving these seals of approval, it’s quite different than what they envision. They have this bucolic vision” that is often “quite far from reality.”

The federal government generally does not regulate how farm animals are treated, nor do they verify animal-welfare labels. The government does require that labels be truthful and has established definitions for such designations as free range, natural and organic.

Instead, several animal-rights organizations now offer to certify animal-welfare labels to bolster their credibility. For instance, the American Humane Association oversees the “free farmed” program, while Humane Farm Animal Care administers the “certified humane” label. The Animal Welfare Institute plans to unveil its own label next month,

Along with Whole Foods, their animal welfare standards are each more rigorous than the industry norms. For instance, laying hens cannot be housed continuously in wire cages, which is the industry norm. And dairy cows, which are routinely raised indoors, must receive at least four hours of exercise a day. Their tails cannot be cut off either, an accepted industry practice.

Whole Foods has not yet completed its standards for dairy cows.

But there are differences among the humane certification programs, and the activists who run them argue over which program is better.

For instance, the Animal Welfare Institute and “free farmed” allow nose rings for pigs; the rings make rooting more difficult and prevent the pigs from tearing up the ground. The others do not allow rings.

Mike Jones, the North Carolina farmer, said he had no trouble meeting the standards. He has created his own version of hog heaven on 73 scrubby acres that stretch out behind the Mitchell Baptist Church.

Much of the land is divided into wire-rimmed pens in front of his house, where on a recent morning five massive sows snoozed on a thick bed of hay while dozens of pigs chased one another through the woods or nudged open feeder doors for corn and soybean meal.

While most pigs in the United States are raised in buildings derisively called “factory farms,” Mr. Jones, 42, has created a farm that is decidedly low tech. Even pig breeding, which is typically done by artificial insemination, is left to the whims of nature.

As with any romance, it does not always work so smoothly. For instance, a 550-pound pink sow grunted and squealed to ward off the advances of an even larger black boar.

“He’s attempting to be romantic with her, and she’s saying, ‘I’m not interested,’ ” Mr. Jones explained. When the boar bit off a mouthful of shrubs and chased after the sow, Mr. Jones remarked: “Look, he’s bringing her a bouquet of flowers. I’ve never seen that before.”

At the Whole Foods store in Durham, N.C., several customers said they would consider buying meat with the “animal compassionate” label, while others were undecided.

“To be honest with you, I don’t know,” said Christopher Martin, 44. “I’ve never thought about it before.”

“I’ve noticed cage free,” he added. “I never knew what it meant. It didn’t register.”

Martha Warburton, 62, said she did not have a problem with eating meat, though she also did not want farm animals to be mistreated. Still, when confronted with an “animal compassionate” label on meat, Ms. Warburton said, “I might not want to eat meat at all.”

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A 300 Millionth American. Don’t Ask Who.

Yesterday was the birthday of the daredevil Evel Knievel, the actress Margot Kidder and the columnist Jimmy Breslin, and also of Emanuel Plata in Queens, Zoë Emille Hudson in Manhattan, Kiyah Lanaé Boyd in Atlanta and any number of other newborns who just may be the 300 millionth American.

The babies were born at or about 7:46 a.m. Eastern time, when, the Census Bureau estimates, the nation’s population reached that milestone.

Theoretically, the 300 millionth American may have arrived at an airport from overseas at that hour, or been smuggled before dawn across an unguarded section of the Southwestern border. Still, hospital publicists and proud new parents were left to stake their claims to the title.

In Queens, the nation’s most diverse county, Emanuel Plata weighed in at 6 pounds 15 ounces at Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was all but indistinguishable from the 4,400 other infants born there each year except for a tiny white cap, provided by hospital officials, that proclaimed in blue letters, “America’s 300 millionth baby.”

His mother, Gricelda Plata, 22, was draped in an oversized T-shirt that announced, “I delivered America’s 300 millionth baby.” She and the boy’s father, Armando Jimenez, 25, a cook who works in Forest Hills, are immigrants from Puebla, Mexico, and live in East New York, Brooklyn.

Asked by reporters whether he considered himself lucky to be the father of a celebrity, Mr. Jimenez replied: “My baby is healthy. My wife is fine. What more luck do I want?”

At New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital in Manhattan, Zoë Hudson was born, the daughter of native New Yorkers. Zoë’s father, Garvin, 29, an investment banker, is the son of a couple from Jamaica, and her mother, Maria Diaz, 28, a teacher in Harlem, is of Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage.

“We’re Hispanic, and we celebrate so many different holidays,” said Zoë’s maternal grandmother, Rosemary Garcia, “but also the American holidays. But how do you celebrate being the 300 millionth American born in a family of Hispanics, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans? It’s just so Americanized.”

Informed that Elmhurst Hospital Center was also laying claim to having the 300 millionth American, Dr. Herbert Pardes, the president of New York-Presbyterian, said, “We’ll get them together for a play date.”

Just as Life magazine did in 1967 with the 200 millionth American, local and national news outlets nominated their own 300 millionth. In Atlanta, Kiyah Boyd of Mableton, Ga., was welcomed by a crew from “Good Morning America.” Kiyah’s father, Kristopher Boyd, 28, is in the Navy and had been stationed in Bahrain, but came home on leave to join his wife, Keisha, also 28, whom he met in the service. Both are American-born.

In San Francisco, Kevin McCormack, a spokesman for California Pacific Medical Center, described an Asian-American baby born at 4:42 a.m. local time as in the running. “Well, we don’t know if it’s the 300 millionth,” Mr. McCormack acknowledged, “but we know it’s close, within four minutes.”

At the Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland, Md., a crowd broke into cheers at 7:46 when the digital population clock — calculating that an American is born every 7 seconds, one dies every 13 seconds and the nation gains an immigrant from abroad every 31 seconds — flashed 300,000,000.

The United States is now one of three countries with more than 300 million people, ranking behind China and India. (The Soviet Union had nearly 300 million before it dissolved.) In contrast to most other industrialized nations, America has a population that is still growing, propelled by immigration and higher fertility rates.

Statistically, demographers generally agreed, the person who pushed the national population to 300 million was most likely a Hispanic boy in the Southwest.

“I’m still going with the Latino baby boy in Los Angeles,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “This is a symbol of where we’re heading: the new American melting pot.”

Strictly speaking, of course, the 300 millionth American arrived long ago. According to Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, since 1790 as many as 550 million people have lived in the United States.

Michelle O’Donnell and Kai Ma contributed reporting from New York, Brenda Goodman from Atlanta and Carolyn Marshall from San Francisco.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Blind Loyalty Based on Mythical Self-Reliance

North Koreans may have been trained to be tough, but the socialist nation has always depended on the aid of China and others.
By Mark Magnier
Times Staff Writer

October 12, 2006

BEIJING — Faced with a starving population, an economy that is a shambles and longtime Communist allies tripping over themselves to embrace free-market capitalism, North Korea's leadership long ago turned weakness into strength by steeling its population for permanent war.

The years of spadework have paid off, experts say. With tighter restrictions on oil, food and other goods a near-certainty after Monday's announced nuclear test, Pyongyang seems confident that its long-suffering people — battered by famine, floods and economic mismanagement — will bow their heads and continue to suffer in silence. This is an important surety in the regime's decision to detonate an apparent nuclear device, a major gamble.

Many of the intimidation tactics employed in North Korea to keep its population in line are common to totalitarian regimes elsewhere. But North Korea has taken them to the extreme, analysts say, maintaining a tighter lid on its society than East Germany did in its darkest days.

For decades, North Korea has subjected its population to a propaganda assault centered around the concept of juche, roughly translated as "self-reliance." In recent years, scholars say, the term has also come to connote unquestioned trust in the "living god" leadership of national founder Kim Il Sung and his son, current ruler Kim Jong Il.

This link between sacrifice, national glory and the neardivine leadership is evident in the smallest details. During a tour of Pyongyang's Tower of the Juche Idea last year, guide Park Gyong Nam explained that the 560-foot-high monument was built in 1982, the year of the 70th birthday of Kim Il Sung, using more than 25,000 granite blocks — one for every day of Kim's life, he said.

The truth is that socialist North Korea has never been self-reliant, depending since its formation on the Soviet Union, then China and the United Nations and other international donors to feed itself. But the myth is part of the glue that binds North Koreans to the regime.

"This has a huge impact on people's ability to withstand hardship," said Cui Yingjiu, honorary director of Peking University's Institute for Korean Culture Studies. "For most of the past 100 years, North Koreans haven't had enough to eat or wear. This gives them enormous tolerance for hardship," added Cui, who attended university with Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in the early 1960s.

The idea that North Korea has joined the club of seven nations that are declared nuclear powers is also a huge source of honor and confidence for the average North Korean.

"If I were still in North Korea, like ordinary citizens, I would be proud to hear that the nation succeeded in conducting a nuclear test," said Seo Young-seok, 26, a university student living in South Korea who defected in 1999 with his mother and two older sisters. "This is by far a totally different dimension than succeeding at a missile test."

North Korea has no opinion polls, making it difficult to gauge how deeply North Koreans believe their government's propaganda. But a recent project involving North Korean refugees in China provides a clue.

Interviews with 1,300 North Korean expatriates, many of whom had been living in China for months or even years, found nearly 20% still believed North Korea was better off than South Korea, a key claim of the regime. In reality, North Korea's economy is less than one-thirtieth the size of its southern cousin's.

"This gives you some sense of the degree of the socialization in place," said Marcus Noland, a senior fellow with Washington's Institute for International Economics, who was involved in the study. "People may be angry, and there's lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest they are, but that doesn't translate into political action."

Nor would the disaffected have much internal or external support, even if they dared speak out. The state's iron grip on society means there is no domestic institution that might serve as a focal point akin to the role played by the Solidarity labor movement in Poland, the Catholic Church in the Philippines or American-supported nongovernmental assistance organizations in Ukraine, analysts say.

The North's neighbors China and South Korea hardly welcome use of their territory as a base for anti-regime activities that might ultimately give voice to the suffering of ordinary citizens. Far from working against the North, both neighbors have helped prop up the regime, fearful of the refugees and social problems that would flood their countries if Kim fell.

Both dispense unmonitored food aid they know goes mostly to the military rather than ordinary people, fearful of the cost of an implosion. China arrests and harasses North Korean refugees, sending many back. And while in theory any North Korean is entitled to South Korean citizenship, Seoul sets up huge hurdles to control the numbers and has shut down anti-North radio stations after Pyongyang complained.

Adding to North Korea's isolation are U.S. financial sanctions already in place designed to punish Pyongyang for weapons proliferation and suspected money laundering and counterfeiting. These have been surprisingly effective, analysts say, not so much because of the relatively small amount of money frozen at Macao's Banco Delta Asia, much of which is reportedly linked to the North's military, but because of the signal it has sent to banks worldwide.

"It's been a huge shot across the bow for any bank doing business with North Korea," said Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at UC San Diego. "With the sanctions already in place starting to have an effect and talk of further tightening, the North Korean economy is on an incredibly bad path."

Analysts speak of two economic classes in North Korea, the relatively well-off military and party elite and Pyongyang residents, and ordinary citizens elsewhere. Widening the wealth gap further, elites have more access to black-market luxury goods than 15 years ago now that the government's distribution system has started to break down.

The North's economy is around $23.5 billion, or about half of Microsoft's annual sales, ranking it among the poorest nations in the world.

Feelings of international isolation tend to bolster support for a nation's leadership, say Chinese who lived through their country's self-reliance movement, known as zili gengsheng, after falling out with the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Xia Liping, head of strategic research at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, and a student and soldier in Fujian province in southern China at the time, recalls how it helped unify people in the face of hostile relations with both Moscow and Washington.

"It's the most important way to have people forget their suffering," he said.

Self-reliance is particularly attractive for a small, insecure northern-latitude country with just 22 million people and giants Russia and China sitting to its north.

"If you listen to North Korean history, China didn't even have a role in the Korean War," said Banning Garrett, Asia programs director at the Atlantic Council in Washington. "Now of course they're making self-reliance a reality. They've made everyone angry and will be left to eat dirt all by themselves. They're in deep kimchi."

Bolstering the propaganda is the fact that the regime is not afraid to use force against the slightest sign of dissent. North Korean refugees detail the existence of detention camps with an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates subject to torture, starvation, rape, killing and forced labor, according to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, an independent civic group. Human Rights Watch in its annual report ranks the North among the world's most repressive regimes.

Informants are numerous and every five families "share" one official responsible for ensuring adherence to ruling party ideology.

Propaganda efforts are overseen nationally by the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers' Party. This department is headed by Central Committee Secretary Kim Gi Nam, who has close ties to Kim Jong Il.

Officially, everyone in the nation spends two hours a day in political classes, and all state enterprises and offices are required to devote Saturdays to political education, according to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. There are also special courses every year for leading cadres at the Kim Il Sung Party School. Students spend two months each summer in camps devoted to military training.

Schools spend most of their time on the teachings of the two Kims, their biographies, and ruling party history. Feature movies and documentaries about the two leaders make up 20% of the broadcasting time on television and radio.

"If you inculcate juche and other beliefs over decades, you start to have a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Andrew O'Neil, a senior lecturer in international studies at Australia's Flinders University. "From what you hear, a lot of people really believe the U.S. is going to invade tomorrow and their best defense is nuclear weapons."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Across Europe, Worries on Islam Spread to Center


BRUSSELS, Oct. 10 — Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values.

“You saw what happened with the pope,” said Patrick Gonman, 43, the owner of Raga, a funky wine bar in downtown Antwerp, 25 miles from here. “He said Islam is an aggressive religion. And the next day they kill a nun somewhere and make his point.

“Rationality is gone.”

Mr. Gonman is hardly an extremist. In fact, he organized a protest last week in which 20 bars and restaurants closed on the night when a far-right party with an anti-Muslim message held a rally nearby.

His worry is shared by centrists across Europe angry at terror attacks in the name of religion on a continent that has largely abandoned it, and disturbed that any criticism of Islam or Muslim immigration provokes threats of violence.

For years those who raised their voices were mostly on the far right. Now those normally seen as moderates — ordinary people as well as politicians — are asking whether once unquestioned values of tolerance and multiculturalism should have limits.

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, a prominent Labor politician, seemed to sum up the moment when he wrote last week that he felt uncomfortable addressing women whose faces were covered with a veil. The veil, he wrote, is a “visible statement of separation and difference.”

When Pope Benedict XVI made the speech last month that included a quotation calling aspects of Islam “evil and inhuman,” it seemed to unleash such feelings. Muslims berated him for stigmatizing their culture, while non-Muslims applauded him for bravely speaking a hard truth.

The line between open criticism of another group or religion and bigotry can be a thin one, and many Muslims worry that it is being crossed more and more.

Whatever the motivations, “the reality is that views on both sides are becoming more extreme,” said Imam Wahid Pedersen, a prominent Dane who is a convert to Islam. “It has become politically correct to attack Islam, and this is making it hard for moderates on both sides to remain reasonable.” Mr. Pedersen fears that onetime moderates are baiting Muslims, the very people they say should integrate into Europe.

The worries about extremism are real. The Belgian far-right party, Vlaams Belang, took 20.5 percent of the vote in city elections last Sunday, five percentage points higher than in 2000. In Antwerp, its base, though, its performance improved barely, suggesting to some experts that its power might be peaking.

In Austria this month, right-wing parties also polled well, on a campaign promise that had rarely been made openly: that Austria should start to deport its immigrants. Vlaams Belang, too, has suggested “repatriation” for immigrants who do not made greater efforts to integrate.

The idea is unthinkable to mainstream leaders, but many Muslims still fear that the day — or at least a debate on the topic — may be a terror attack away.

“I think the time will come,” said Amir Shafe, 34, a Pakistani who earns a good living selling clothes at a market in Antwerp. He deplores terrorism and said he himself did not sense hostility in Belgium. But he said, “We are now thinking of going back to our country, before that time comes.”

Many experts note that there is a deep and troubled history between Islam and Europe, with the Crusaders and the Ottoman Empire jostling each other for centuries and bloodily defining the boundaries of Christianity and Islam. A sense of guilt over Europe’s colonial past and then World War II, when intolerance exploded into mass murder, allowed a large migration to occur without any uncomfortable debates over the real differences between migrant and host.

Then the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, jolted Europe into new awareness and worry.

The subsequent bombings in Madrid and London, and the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Moroccan stand as examples of the extreme. But many Europeans — even those who generally support immigration — have begun talking more bluntly about cultural differences, specifically about Muslims’ deep religious beliefs and social values, which are far more conservative than those of most Europeans on issues like women’s rights and homosexuality.

“A lot of people, progressive ones — we are not talking about nationalists or the extreme right — are saying, ‘Now we have this religion, it plays a role and it challenges our assumptions about what we learned in the 60’s and 70’s,’ ” said Joost Lagendik, a Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Green Left Party, who is active on Muslim issues.

“So there is this fear,” he said, “that we are being transported back in a time machine where we have to explain to our immigrants that there is equality between men and women, and gays should be treated properly. Now there is the idea we have to do it again.”

Now Europeans are discussing the limits of tolerance, the right with increasing stridency and the left with trepidation.

Austrians in their recent election complained about public schools in Vienna being nearly full with Muslim students and blamed the successive governments that allowed it to happen.

Some Dutch Muslims have expressed support for insurgents in Iraq over Dutch peacekeepers there, on the theory that their prime loyalty is to a Muslim country under invasion.

So strong is the fear that Dutch values of tolerance are under siege that the government last winter introduced a primer on those values for prospective newcomers to Dutch life: a DVD briefly showing topless women and two men kissing. The film does not explicitly mention Muslims, but its target audience is as clear as its message: embrace our culture or leave.

Perhaps most wrenching has been the issue of free speech and expression, and the growing fear that any criticism of Islam could provoke violence.

In France last month, a high school teacher went into hiding after receiving death threats for writing an article calling the Prophet Muhammad “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass murderer of Jews and a polygamist.” In Germany a Mozart opera with a scene of Muhammad’s severed head was canceled because of security fears.

With each incident, mainstream leaders are speaking more plainly. “Self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in criticizing the opera’s cancellation. “It makes no sense to retreat.”

The backlash is revealing itself in other ways. Last month the British home secretary, John Reid, called on Muslim parents to keep a close watch on their children. “There’s no nice way of saying this,” he told a Muslim group in East London. “These fanatics are looking to groom and brainwash children, including your children, for suicide bombing, grooming them to kill themselves to murder others.”

Many Muslims say this new mood is suddenly imposing expectations that never existed before that Muslims be exactly like their European hosts.

Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Lebanese-born activist here in Belgium, said that for years Europeans had emphasized “citizenship and human rights,” the notion that Muslim immigrants had the responsibility to obey the law but could otherwise live with their traditions.

“Then someone comes and says it’s different than that,” said Mr. Jahjah, who opposes assimilation. “You have to dump your culture and religion. It’s a different deal now.”

Lianne Duinberke, 34, who works at a market in the racially mixed northern section of Antwerp, said: “Before I was very eager to tell people I was married to a Muslim. Now I hesitate.” She has been with her husband, a Tunisian, for 12 years, and they have three children.

Many Europeans, she said, have not been accepting of Muslims, especially since 9/11. On the other hand, she said, Muslims truly are different culturally: No amount of explanation about free speech could convince her husband that the publication of cartoons lampooning Muhammad in a Danish newspaper was in any way justified.

When asked if she was optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Muslim immigration in Europe , she found it hard to answer. She finally gave a defeated smile. “I am trying to be optimistic,” she said. “But if you see the global problems before the people, then you really can’t be.”

Dan Bilefsky reported from Brussels, and Ian Fisher from Rome. Contributing were Sarah Lyall and Alan Cowell from London, Mark Landler from Frankfurt, Peter Kiefer from Rome, Renwick McLean from Madrid and Maia de la Baume from Paris.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We Need a New Deterrent

By David Ignatius
Wednesday, October 11, 2006; A19

"Present at the Creation" was the title Dean Acheson gave to his memoir about the founding of the post-World War II order. Now, with North Korea claiming to have tested a nuclear weapon in defiance of the international community, and Iran seemingly on the way, Harvard professor Graham Allison argues that we are present at the unraveling.

The North Korean bomb test is a seismic event for the world community. It tells us that the structure created to maintain global security is failing. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- all warned North Korea against taking this step. Yet the leaders in Pyongyang ignored these signals and in the process blew open the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The North Korean leadership, puny in everything but weapons technology, has been marching toward this moment since the 1950s. It's unrealistic to think that, having brazened their way to detonating what they say is a nuclear bomb, the North Koreans will now give it up. The proliferation machine isn't going to run in reverse. In that sense, the question is less how to repair the old architecture of nonproliferation -- practically speaking, it's a wreck -- and more how to build a new structure that can stop the worst threats.

What are the right cornerstones of this new security structure? I put that question to Allison, who is a national resource when it comes to matters of nuclear proliferation and deterrence. He wrote the definitive book, "Essence of Decision," on the Cuban missile crisis, the world's closest brush with all-out nuclear war. In recent years he has been studying the danger of nuclear terrorism, and he edited a prescient discussion of the implications of a North Korean breakout that appears in the September issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Allison believes that the world must focus on what he calls "the principle of nuclear accountability." The biggest danger posed by North Korea isn't that it would launch a nuclear missile but that this desperately poor country would sell a bomb to al-Qaeda or another terrorist group. Accountability, in Allison's terms, means that if a bomb explodes in Manhattan that contains North Korean fissile material, the United States will act as if the strike came from North Korea itself -- and retaliate accordingly, with devastating force. To make this accountability principle work, the United States needs a crash program to create the "nuclear forensics" that can identify the signature of fissile material of every potential nuclear state. Arms control expert Robert Gallucci describes this approach as "expanded deterrence" in his article in the September Annals.

President Bush seemed to be drawing this red line of accountability when he warned Monday: "The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action."

Tough words, but are they credible? That's why the second essential pillar of a new security regime is a restoration of deterrence. The Bush administration warned North Korea over and over that it would face severe consequences if it tested a nuclear weapon. So did China and Russia, but Kim Jong Il went ahead anyway. Iranian leaders are similarly unimpressed by Bush's saber rattling, viewing America as a weakened nation bogged down by an unwinnable war in Iraq. To restore deterrence, the West needs to stop making threats it can't carry out. And the United States must salvage its strategic position in Iraq -- either by winning or organizing the most stable plan for withdrawal.

After the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy got serious about preventing nuclear war. He installed a "hotline" so the White House and the Kremlin could talk when crises arose; he negotiated the 1963 test ban treaty; and he began the discussions that led to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. That treaty worked adequately for almost four decades. Instead of the 20 nuclear states that Kennedy feared would exist by 1975, we had just eight, until last weekend. But the North Korean test threatens to begin what a 2004 U.N. commission warned would be "a cascade of proliferation" that could spread to Japan, South Korea, Iran, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

We are present at the unraveling. We must "think about the unthinkable" with new urgency. The United States and its allies must begin constructing a system that can succeed where the Non-Proliferation Treaty has failed. A terrorist nuclear bomb in Manhattan or Washington isn't a thriller writer's fantasy; it's a probability, unless America and its allies establish new rules for nuclear accountability that are clear and credible.

The writer co-hosts, with Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues at His e-mail address

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Is Google God? Maybe not, but it's way up there.

The company's stock is surging into the empyrean, vaulting up 80 percent since its IPO. And Google has just been blessed, too, with a major legal victory over Geico; the insurance company had sued Google to prevent Geico's inclusion in Google searches, and the case was thrown out of court. And of course, to Google's googolplex of loyal users, the search engine is an endless source of information, even inspiration.

But Google's awe-inspiring quintessence was made manifest by its recent announcement that it would put the texts of some of the world's leading libraries online, for free. That's a remarkable act of corporate benefaction and vision -- putting the lie, yet again, to the charge that capitalism is neglectful of public goods. The Googlers will spend millions on this project; they deserve our admiration, if not outright adoration.

So, thanks to the free market -- with, to be fair, a key assist from the Pentagon -- humanity is now on its way to preventing, ever again, a repeat of one of the great disasters of human history, the burning of the Alexandria library, back in what should rightfully be called the Dark Ages. Today, thanks to technology and generosity, it's possible to imagine that all the knowledge piled up by people will be so widely distributed that no book-burners or freedom-stiflers will ever be able to destroy our common legacy of learning.

One might even compare Google's effort to legendary Prometheus, the god who stole fire from heaven for the benefit of men. For his trouble, Prometheus was chained to a rock, picked at by birds. Let's hope, as a sign of the better times that we live in, that the Google troika of Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt, are not only remembered forever, but also, as a bonus, get even richer as a result of their gift to us.

But let's also pay homage to those who long ago imagined what the world might be like in our era. If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, maybe novelists are the unacknowledged technologists of the world. Voltaire imagined space travel in "Micromegas," published in 1752, reckoned by many to be the first sci-fi story. And of course, greater sci-fi figures such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells anticipated much of the 20th century.

But none of those greats envisioned the Internet. Interestingly, that magical insight came to two very different people in the same year, 1945. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges published a short story, "The Aleph," in which he conjured up the power of intellectual omniscience:

"I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak and nightfall; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a splintered labyrinth (it was London); I saw, close up, unending eyes watching themselves in me as in a mirror; I saw all the mirrors on earth and none of them reflected me; I saw in a backyard of Soler Street the same tiles that thirty years before I'd seen in the entrance of a house in Fray Bentos; I saw bunches of grapes, snow, tobacco, lodes of metal, steam; I saw convex equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand; I saw a woman in Inverness whom I shall never forget; I saw her tangled hair, her tall figure, I saw the cancer in her breast; I saw a ring of baked mud in a sidewalk, where before there had been a tree; I saw a summer house in Adrogué and a copy of the first English translation of Pliny -- Philemon Holland's -- and all at the same time saw each letter on each page (as a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight); I saw a sunset in Querétaro that seemed to reflect the colour of a rose in Bengal; I saw my empty bedroom; I saw in a closet in Alkmaar a terrestrial globe between two mirrors that multiplied it endlessly; I saw horses with flowing manes on a shore of the Caspian Sea at dawn; I saw the delicate bone structure of a hand; I saw the survivors of a battle sending out picture postcards; I saw in a showcase in Mirzapur a pack of Spanish playing cards; I saw the slanting shadows of ferns on a greenhouse floor; I saw tigers, pistons, bison, tides, and armies; I saw all the ants on the planet; I saw a Persian astrolabe; I saw in the drawer of a writing table (and the handwriting made me tremble) unbelievable, obscene, detailed letters, which Beatriz had written to Carlos Argentino; I saw a monument I worshipped in the Chacarita cemetery; I saw the rotted dust and bones that had once deliciously been Beatriz Viterbo; I saw the circulation of my own dark blood; I saw the coupling of love and the modification of death; I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth; I saw my own face and my own bowels; I saw your face; and I felt dizzy and wept, for my eyes had seen that secret and conjectured object whose name is common to all men but which no man has looked upon -- the unimaginable universe."

That same year, 1945, the American scientist-statesman Vannevar Bush -- chairman of the Defense Research Committee during World War Two, among many other important posts over a half century of public and academic service -- published an essay in The Atlantic Monthly, "As We May Think," in which he imagined what he called "memex," a paperless filing cabinet and instantly retrievable library. Thus did Bush prefigure the Internet and the World Wide Web, foreseeing even the "hyperlink" future of the Net:

"Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them . . . the lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience . . . the physician, puzzled by a patient's reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology."

Now, six decades later, the Internet is here, ubiquitous and omnipotent, embracing more wisdom all the time -- a virtuous Borg.

So to the question, once again: "Is Google God?"

The answer, of course, is "no." If anything, we are the gods. "Man created the Internet" will be the beginning of some future book of genesis. And all of us created Google and the info-sea in which it swims. Yet as we look down at that brainy deep, we see everything in that new realm. We observe good and evil, the gloriousness and ghastliness of our old world, all of it recapitulated in our new online world. Yup, everything is therein, from the greatest flights of intellectual comprehension to the lowest depths of pornographic degradation.

The Net brings to mind the words of the poet William Blake, and Google makes it possible to find 41,700 references to Blake's words in one-fifth of a second:

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour."

Can anything go wrong with this picture? Might we, for example, be raising a "Tower of Google" that will come tumbling down in an earth-crash of hubris? Or might we delude ourselves into thinking that we can use technology to solve all our problems, and then die of broken hearts when it fails? Could we listen to false and dangerous voices, which gain unjustified credibility because they speak through the Net?

Maybe. And so maybe we'd better be careful.

The Net has made us more powerful -- much more powerful, infinitely more powerful. But we still must fear our own strength. We must be humble. And for lessons on humility we can turn to many sources, most notably history, which teaches the powerful and the proud stern lessons about folly and falling.

So let us reinvoke Borges, author of "The Aleph." At the end of that lyrical, rapturous passage, in which the narrator sees "the unimaginable universe," Borges gives that narrator an interesting and sobering conclusion: "I felt infinite wonder, infinite pity."

Which sounds about right. The Net, and now Google, have made us bigger, but not necessarily better. And bigger, if it means bigger weapons and bigger appetites for destruction, is worse. So even as we feel wonder at our achievements, we must feel pity for our future if we aren't wise. And above all, we must never think that we are gods, beyond challenge, beyond mistakes, beyond the potential for destruction and self-destruction.

Those are lessons that bracket even the great Google, as alpha and omega.

WhoseTube? ArtsTube!

YouTube is shaping the future of fine-arts video on demand
September 30, 2006

NEW YORK -- Everybody's talking about YouTube -- and not always nicely, either. Doug Morris, who runs Universal Music, gave a speech the other day in which he proclaimed that the 19-month-old online video-sharing Web site owes his conglomerate "tens of millions of dollars" for allowing copyrighted music videos to be posted without permission. Mr. Morris's shot across the bow was quickly followed by the announcement that Warner Music, Universal's smarter competitor, has struck a deal allowing YouTube, which receives 100 million hits a day, to show its videos in return for a chunk of ad revenue. Says Warner Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr.: "Consumer-empowering destinations like YouTube have created a two-way dialogue that will transform entertainment and media."

Such heated talk will doubtless puzzle casual visitors to who have yet to find anything there other than pirated videos, home movies and amateur porn. But YouTube, like the other new Web-based media, is a common carrier, a means to whatever ends its millions of users choose, be they good, bad, dumb or ugly. You can use it to watch mindless junk -- or some of the greatest classical and jazz musicians of the 20th century.

In recent months, jazz-loving friends have been sending me YouTube links to videos by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and other celebrated artists, most of them drawn from films of the '30s and '40s and TV shows of the '50s and '60s. Some of this material is available on DVD, but most of it lingered in limbo until Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, YouTube's co-founders, made it possible for anyone with a computer to post and view video clips at will. Fascinated by the links unearthed by my friends, I spent the better part of a long weekend trolling through YouTube in search of similar material. When I was done, I'd found hundreds of videos, some extremely rare and all compulsively watchable, posted by collectors from all over the world.

I discovered along the way that using YouTube's literal-minded search engine to track down high-culture links -- or anything else -- can be a tricky business. (It doesn't help that so many YouTube users are poor spellers.) To ease the way for first-timers, I posted the fruits of my labors at, where you'll find a list of links to performances by Armstrong, Ellington, Count Basie, Pablo Casals, the King Cole Trio, Miles Davis, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Benny Goodman, Jascha Heifetz, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Andrés Segovia, Bessie Smith, Arturo Toscanini and numerous other musicians of comparable significance. All can be viewed free, whenever you want.

Seeing these artists, most of whom are now known to us only through their recordings, is an awe-inspiring experience. To watch Art Tatum rippling through a bristlingly virtuosic version of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays," or Richard Strauss conducting his tone poem "Till Eulenspiegel" with a cool detachment that borders on the blasé, is to learn something about the essence of their art that no verbal description, however insightful or evocative, can supply.

By posting this list of links, I have, in effect, created a Web-based fine-arts video-on-demand site. The irony is that I did so just as network TV was getting out of the culture business. Not only have PBS and its affiliates cut back sharply on classical music, jazz and dance, but cable channels like A&E and Bravo that used to specialize in the fine arts are now opting instead to show "Dog the Bounty Hunter" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." This abdication of cultural responsibility has created an opening for entrepreneurs who grasp the new media's unrivaled capacity for niche marketing.

Might YouTube, or something like it, become the salvation of culture-hungry TV viewers? I hasten to point out that nobody's making any money off my little experiment. But it would be perfectly feasible for Classic Arts Showcase, the foundation-supported outfit that makes fine-arts videos available via satellite to any TV station that cares to air them, or Ovation, the last remaining high-culture cable network of any seriousness, to team up with iTunes and launch a professional video-on-demand service. If they don't, somebody else will.

In the meantime, fine-arts fans are using YouTube to build their own makeshift "network." It's far from perfect: The technical quality of the videos is wildly variable, and you have to watch them on a computer. What's more, many are protected by copyright, and some of the copyright holders are requesting that their videos be pulled from YouTube. (I just lost two terrific Bill Evans clips that way.) I understand their concerns, but I think they're being as short-sighted as the paranoid executives at Universal Music.

As any economist can tell you, supply creates its own demand. Disseminating high-culture TV and radio programming for free via the Web is among the simplest and most cost-effective ways to expand the audience for the fine arts. Every time a Web surfer in South Dakota or South Africa views a YouTube video by Louis Armstrong or Arturo Toscanini, he's making a discovery that could change his life -- not to mention his concert-going and record-buying habits. I can't think of a better bargain.

Mr. Teachout, the Journal's drama critic, writes "Sightings" every other Saturday and blogs about the arts at Write to him at

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Guantanamo is not the problem

By Claudia Rosett

To fly into the damp Caribbean heat of this U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is to enter a place of multifaceted myth, a zone that continues to inflame the imagination of the world. And yet, when it comes to witnesses, monitors and the media, there is probably no more heavily trafficked detention center on the planet.

Since the United States began bringing suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives there more than four years ago, Guantanamo has hosted visits by more than 1,000 members of the media, from more than 500 news organizations - including Qatar's Al-Jazeera, Egyptian TV, and such Arabic-language newspapers as Al Sharq al Aswat and Al Hayat. More than 300 lawyers have descended, many offering pro bono services to the detainees.

Humanitarian groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come to view the military commissions that review individual cases. Official emissaries have dropped by from Europe. Four times a year, delegates arrive from the International Committee of the Red Cross, spending a month each time to talk privately with the detainees, check their condition, and offer them a chance to contact their families.

Along with this, we have had the much-debated efforts of the White House, Congress and the U.S. courts to calibrate an approach that will glean information, avert the release of hard-core terrorists, yet treat the captives gently enough to satisfy not only basic standards of humanity, but an apparently endless queue of critics.

At the center of it all are about 460 detainees. Among that number are 14 recently arrived "high-value" terrorist all-stars, including Indonesia's Hambali, al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and a Yemeni believed to be the missing 20th hijacker, Ramzi Binalshibh.

In the effort to welcome reporters, treat detainees with care, glean information, and avoid releasing terrorists to hatch fresh plots (at least 20 of about 300 released have returned to the fight), U.S. officials walk an almost impossible tightrope.

When I visited Guantanamo on a Pentagon-hosted press tour last week, I was told to show up at 5:30 a.m. for the plane ride to the Caribbean from Washington. I expected a rough flight on a military transport and a day of lean rations. But we were ushered onto a sleek jet with deep seats and served a breakfast of French toast, while officers answered our preliminary questions. At Guantanamo, we were welcomed by the base commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., who took almost two hours to brief us and answer yet more questions over lunch before dispatching us on a guided tour of the detainee cells, recreational yards and medical facilities.

What we saw is a place so steeped in political correctness that it comes close to caricature. Make no mistake: The detainees occupy cells in a high-security facility. But almost every room has an arrow on the floor pointing to Mecca. Signs demanding silence stand ready for prayer time. Korans are cradled in surgical masks. Detainees are interrogated while sitting on sofas or cushioned reclining chairs.

They choose from a halal menu including such home-style treats as dates and baklava. Doctors, dentists and psychiatrists (offering confidential counseling) are on 24-hour call. Good behavior is rewarded with access to board games, books and communal areas, including more time in recreational yards - where we saw a group of detainees chatting around a table, while one of their cohorts nearby, at leisurely speed in the afternoon heat, pedaled an exercise bike.

An officer tells me that earlier this year Guantanamo was buying bottled water that had an American flag on the label. Lest this upset the detainees, base personnel were put to work stripping off the labels.

At the same time, there is a deadly game going on in this camp.

Security guards detach name strips from their uniforms when going near the detainees. Some of the guards, we are told, have been on the receiving end not only of direct attacks and threats from the inmates, but threats against their families. Detainees have made weapons out of light bulbs, fan blades, the footpads of their Asian-style toilets, and the springs in their push-button sinks. Guards tell us that detainees use the lawyer-client privileges they enjoy as a clandestine communications network both inside and outside the camp. What exists in the inmate culture, Harris explains, is, in effect, "a fully tricked-out al-Qaeda operating cell."

The conundrum in running Gitmo is how to contain and learn from this scene without getting killed by the inmates on the one hand and clobbered by the critics on the other. I asked Harris how he and his colleagues manage to navigate this maze and remain sane. He answers that this is their job: "We're the most transparent detention facility in the world."

As we head for the plane back to Washington, it seems to me that if the critics of Guantanamo are not satisfied by now, they never will be. If the real aim of the criticisms still directed at this place is truth, justice and security for the Free World, we would be better served were some of the critics to turn their attentions to the countries that spawned this terrorist jihad - countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, countries with prisons whose names most of the world does not remember, and, in many cases, has never even heard.
Claudia Rosett is journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. Contact her at or read her blog, at

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Comentario de Gerardo Malespina

¡Ah! Entonces, veamos las supuestas características de Bush, el ‘fascista’:

1. ¿Nacionalismo exaltado?
Seguramente no más que los etarras. Ergo, los etarras serían ‘fascistas’, aunque ellos se consideren ‘socialistas’. El peronismo también es un fenómeno de nacionalismo exaltado. ¿Alguien leyó ‘Mi mensaje’, de Eva Duarte, aquella rabiosa pieza de nacionalismo fanático (y cristiano)? Evita, la nacionalista y cristiana, ¿era ‘fascista’? Mmmhhh…
Es más, yo mismo no considero ‘fascista’ ni a un nacionalista exaltado como Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Pero… en fin. Si la intención es seguir catalogando como ‘fascista’ a todo lo que se nos antoje, sigamos…

2. ¿Racismo? ¿Homofobia?
Claro, claro. C.Rice quizá no piense lo mismo.
No conozco un solo negro (o negra) en un puesto de relevancia de la dictadura castrista. Ergo, Fidel sería ‘fascista’, aunque se considere ‘socialista’. Y, de paso, me parece una actitud muy ‘machista’ de Fidel, típica en los socialistas de cepa, y también en los verdaderos fascistas.
Recordemos, además, qué les sucede a los homosexuales en la isla. Y que cualquier guerrilla revolucionaria latinoamericana, fue (o es) tremendamente homófoba. En Cuba, los (y las) homosexuales están condenados a la marginalidad. En el país presidido por el ‘fascista’ George Bush, no. El jet-set es prueba irrefutable de que negros y homosexuales, no son marginales en EEUU. Y eso me parece más que correcto. En Teherán, por ejemplo, no pasa lo mismo.
¿Qué preferiría un homosexual, vivir en EEUU o en Irán? Y no olvidemos las gracias químicas de Saddam contra los kurdos. ¿A qué raza o etnia intentó eliminar el ‘fascista’ Bush? Los etarras, por ejemplo, son racistas que se consideran superiores a los ‘españoles’.

3. ¿Combate la libertad de expresión y promueve la censura?
Sí, por eso el principal embanderado de la basura progresista mundial es el estadounidense Noam Chomski. Hasta ahora nadie lo ha hecho estallar por los aires por combatir la democracia de su país, y todas las demás. Y espero que eso no suceda; ojalá muera de viejo, gozando de la libertad que no defiende para los demás.
Digamos que quien calza todos los puntos como un perfecto censor, enemigo de la libertad de expresión, es el socialista (¿o fascista?) Fidel. O el mismísimo Chomski, un acérrimo escudero del Viet Cong, el Khmer Rouge, Fidel, etc.

4. ¿Considera a los judíos como enemigos?
Bueno, no. Es al revés. Quien sí parece ver a Israel como su enemigo, es Hugo Chávez (muy nacionalista, judeófobo, y enemigo de la libertades). ¿Será ‘fascista’? No, para mí es sólo chavista.

5. ¿Se opone al Estado republicano, la democracia, y al voto ciudadano?
Quienes se oponen a esas cositas, son los enemigos (¿’fascistas’?) de Bush.

6. ¿Es anticapitalista?
Quienes son –o dicen ser- anticapitalistas, son los enemigos (¿’fascistas’?) de Bush.

7. ¿Apela al ‘corporativismo’ de la ‘clase trabajadora’ copando los sindicatos?
No. Sin embargo, ésa es una de las características más notorias del peronismo (¿’Fascista’? No, peronista).

8- ¿Es expansionista?
Bueno, entonces todo el Kremlin soviético fue ‘fascista’, y Chávez también lo es, ¿no?

9. ¿Es militarista?
Claro, pero seguramente no más que toda la plana castrense-gubernamental de Pyongyang, La Habana, Caracas o Teherán. ¿Todos ‘fascistas’? ¡Dios mío! Más sencillo sería hacer una lista de quiénes no serían ‘fascistas’.

10. La cosa no es tan fácil. A ver si le aflojan a los alucinógenos, eh… Llamemos las cosas por su nombre, y no veamos ‘fascistas’ por todas partes.
Lo más gracioso de este asunto, es que a Bush no me lo fumo. ¡Ni siquiera en espacios abiertos!
Clint Eastwood, sí me cae muy bien. Clint, para muchos bobos, también es un ‘fascista’. Si seguimos en esta escalada ‘fascistoide’, no hay escapatoria. :-S

Hasta luego, me retiro a disfrutar un greatest hits de ‘Aló presidente’. :-)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Amazing technological development, a way to cheaply produce water from air

A company that developed technology capable of creating water out of thin air nearly anywhere in the world is now under contract to nourish U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

The water-harvesting technology was originally the brainchild of the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which sought ways to ensure sustainable water supplies for U.S. combat troops deployed in arid regions like Iraq.

"The program focused on creating water from the atmosphere using low-energy systems that could reduce the overall logistics burden for deployed forces and provide potable water within the reach of the war fighter any place, any time," said Darpa spokeswoman Jan Walker.

To achieve this end, Darpa gave millions to research companies like LexCarb and Sciperio to create a contraption that could capture water in the Mesopotamian desert.

But it was another company, Aqua Sciences, that developed a product on its own and was first to put a product on the market that can operate in harsh climates.

"People have been trying to figure out how to do this for years, and we just came out of left field in response to Darpa," said Abe Sher, chief executive officer of Aqua Sciences. "The atmosphere is a river full of water, even in the desert. It won't work absolutely everywhere, but it works virtually everywhere."

Sher said he is "not at liberty" to disclose details of the government contracts, except that Aqua Sciences won two highly competitive bids with "some very sophisticated companies."

He also declined to comment on how the technology actually works.

"This is our secret sauce," Sher said. "Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, it tastes good, but we won't tell you what's in it."

He did, however, provide a hint: Think of rice used in saltshakers that acts as a magnet to extract water and keeps salt from clumping.

"We figured out how to tap it in a very unique and proprietary way," Sher said. "We figured out how to mimic nature, using natural salt to extract water and act as a natural decontamination.

"Think of the Dead Sea, where nothing grows around it because the salt dehydrates everything. It's kind of like that."

The 20-foot machine can churn out 600 gallons of water a day without using or producing toxic materials and byproducts. The machine was displayed on Capitol Hill last week where a half-dozen lawmakers and some staffers stopped by for a drink.

"It was very interesting to see the technology in action and learn about its possible implementation in natural disasters," said Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., a Republican from Florida whose hurricane-prone district includes Fort Lauderdale.

"It was delicious," Shaw said.

Jason Rowe, chief of staff to Rep. Tom Feeney, another Florida Republican, called the technology "pretty impressive."

"I was pretty blown away by the things it's able to do," Rowe said. "The fact that this technology is not tied to humidity like others are makes it an attractive alternative for military bases in the Mideast where humidity is not really an option.

"It seems like it's a cheaper alternative to trucking in bottled water, which has a shelf life," said Rowe, who described himself as a fiscal hawk.

Once deployed, the machines could reduce the cost of logistical support for supplying water to the troops in Iraq by billions of dollars, said Stuart Roy, spokesman of the DCI Group, Aqua Sciences' public affairs firm.

The cost to transport water by C-17 cargo planes, then truck it to the troops, runs $30 a gallon. The cost, including the machines from Aqua Sciences, will be reduced to 30 cents a gallon, Roy said.

Several systems on the market can create water through condensation, but the process requires a high level of humidity.

Aqua Sciences' machines only require 14 percent humidity, Roy said. "That's why this technology is superior and why they are getting the contracts."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Americas

Will Ecuador Join the Axis of Outcasts?
October 6, 2006
What do you get when you cross a Venezuelan Bolivarian with an Argentine Peronist? Answer: a power-hungry demagogue who doesn't believe in paying debts.

That would be funnier if just such a hybrid -- Rafael Correa -- hadn't recently popped up as Ecuador's leading presidential candidate for the Oct. 15 election. Polls out this week show that Mr. Correa has surged from a distant third place only one month ago to first place, 10 percentage points ahead of his closest competitor. He is shy of what he needs for victory in the first round of balloting, and 40% of the electorate remains undecided. But Ecuadoran democrats have good reason to fear his growing popularity.

The 43-year-old Mr. Correa, who has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois, has railed against the cost of servicing Ecuador's foreign debt, the dollarized economy and free-trade talks with Washington. If he makes it to the seat of power in Quito, he has made it clear that Ecuador will join the Latin American axis of outcasts -- Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Argentina -- and make the U.S. an official enemy. A Correa presidency would be a negative for Colombia too, which would have to deal with hostile states on two borders along with home-grown narcoterrorism.

Yet what is most troubling is Mr. Correa's pledge to raze the political system and rebuild it to ensure his long-term agenda. If that sounds familiar, it may be because it is precisely what Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez promised to do when he took office in 1999. Since then Mr. Chávez has demolished any independence in the country's institutions, seized control of the economy, militarized the government and run the private sector into the ground. He says he plans to remain in power until 2021. If some Ecuadorans are frightened by Mr. Correa, it's because he has made so clear his intention to follow Mr. Chávez's path to unchecked power.

The candidate's appeal is easy enough to understand. In a country where more than 45% of the population still lives below the poverty line, many voters are out to punish the established political class. Their anger is rational. When Ecuador dollarized in 2000, the country experienced stability for the first time in decades. But, bowing to special interests, politicians stopped there, failing to modernize the financial system and further open and deregulate the economy. The end of inflation has been a boon to the poor, but with mediocre economic growth rising expectations have not been met. Along comes the charismatic Mr. Correa, billed as an "outsider" to the political system and threatening to trash the capitalists. At least some voters are enthralled.

As it turns out, though, Mr. Correa has had his hand in Ecuadoran politics more than he wants to admit. He did, after all, hold the job of minister of the economy for a short time last year until his resignation was accepted when he visited Mr. Chávez in Caracas without the permission of President Alfredo Palacios. During his tenure there was a rapid deterioration in the country's relationship with foreign investors and the international financial institutions. He also raised salaries for public-sector employees, surely helping his poll numbers in bureaucracy-bloated Quito. After he left his post in the ministry, his replacement followed through on the Correa plan to expropriate Occidental Petroleum's Ecuadoran assets.

Dollarization, which brought inflation down to 3.1% last year from persistent double-digit levels in the 1990s, is so popular -- 70% of Ecuadorans love it -- that Mr. Correa has had to tone down his hostility. Whereas he used to say that dollarization ruined the economy, he now claims to be agnostic about it. Yet all his other policies, which are designed to choke off foreign investment, close down international commerce and increase government spending, will ensure that in the end dollarization cannot survive. Once he reclaims control of money creation, devaluations, inflation, exchange controls and price controls won't be far behind. As the owner of the country's largest source of hard-currency revenues -- oil -- the government will have little trouble destroying the private sector and controlling dissent. This is a page out of his Venezuelan guru's playbook, as is his promise to hold a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.

On the campaign trail Mr. Correa has become a caricature of his more experienced teacher. After Mr. Chávez made a fool of himself at the United Nations two weeks ago in a rant calling President Bush the devil, Mr. Correa rushed to outdo him. In a nationally televised interview in Ecuador a week later the presidential candidate said that Mr. Chávez had insulted Satan.

University of Illinois professor Werner Baer, who was on the committee to approve Mr. Correa's doctorate, told the Associated Press last month that Mr. Correa's anti-Americanism is probably just a ploy to help him get votes, not the way in which he would govern. But Prof. Baer might be underestimating his former student's ambition. Markets are not nearly as sanguine. When the polls showing Mr. Correa's 10-point lead came out on Tuesday, investors dumped Ecuadoran bonds and the country's risk premium shot up.

The immediate concern is his pledge, if elected, to break contracts with foreign bondholders and demand a negotiated restructuring. In August Mr. Correa took a trip to Buenos Aires to meet with the dean of deadbeats, Argentine President Néstor Kirchner. If you're planning to stiff creditors, Mr. Kirchner is the go-to guy.

There is some speculation that Mr. Correa's campaign is peaking. If he doesn't get 50% plus one, or 40% with a 10% spread over the second-place finisher, on Oct. 15, there will be a second round. In that event, the more sensible, less interventionist Álvaro Noboa, a wealthy businessman from Guayaquil who defends dollarization, free-trade agreements and good relations with the U.S. and is now polling in a statistical tie for second place, could upset him. That's because, despite all the blather from the left about anti-Americanism in Latin America, a majority of voters may be more worried about Venezuelan imperialism and the return of inflation than a Yankee invasion.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A New Cold War

October 3, 2006

In the September 19 Le Figaro, French philosophy teacher Robert Redeker wrote a 1,140- word op-ed, "In the face of Islamist intimidation, what must the free world do?" The soundbites made news, but his argument got lost in the din. So readers can make up their own minds, we offer a longer excerpt:

"The reactions aroused by Benedict XVI's analysis of Islam and violence are an attempt by that Islam to destroy that which is precious in the West and doesn't exist in any Muslim country: freedom of thought and of expression. Islam tries to impose on Europe its rules: opening swimming pools at certain hours exclusively for women, forbidding the caricaturing of this religion, demanding a special diet for Muslim children in school cafeterias, fighting to wear the veil in school, accusing free-thinkers of Islamophobia....

"Islam wants to force Europe to bend to its vision of man. As once with communism, the West is under ideological surveillance. Islam presents itself, like defunct communism, as an alternative for the Western world. It asserts a legitimacy that troubles the Western conscience, which is attentive to other people: It claims to be the voice of the poor of the planet. Yesterday, that voice claimed to originate in Moscow, today it comes from Mecca! You are excommunicated for Islamophobia, as once for anti-communism. As then, Islam sees generosity, the openness of spirit, tolerance, sweetness, the freedom of women and morals, democratic values, as signs of decadence....

"Where Judaism and Christianity are religions whose rites forsake violence and remove its legitimacy, Islam is a religion that, in its very sacred text, as much as in some of its everyday rites, exalts violence and hatred. Hatred and violence dwell in the very book that educates any Muslim, the Koran. As in the time of the Cold War, violence and intimidation are the methods used by an ideology with hegemonic ambitions, Islam, to suffocate the world."

A day after this commentary appeared, the prominent Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi attacked Mr. Redeker on al-Jazeera and Tunisia banned Le Figaro, followed soon after by Egypt. By the end of that week, Mr. Redeker was in hiding and under police protection -- and remains so -- after he and his family received numerous death threats from Islamists.

Mr. Redeker deserves to be argued with. But thus silenced and intimidated, he has strengthened his own case.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Paris la Nuit

BY day, the Pont Royal, in the middle of Paris, is little more than an unremarkable stone bridge streaming with motorists making their way from the Left to the Right Bank. At night, though, this 17th-century structure is transformed into a platform of visual seduction.

As you stroll north across the Seine, the imposing facade of the Louvre dominates the foreground. To the right, in the distance, the gently lighted towers of Notre Dame and the dome of the Institut de France, home of the Académie Française, suddenly appear through the trees. To the left, you can make out the outline of the vast Tuileries Garden, locked tight behind iron gates and shrouded in darkness. Farther on, the illuminated curves of the Grand Palais’s glass roofs beckon. From behind, the twin clocks of the Musée d’Orsay burn bright; the tip of the Eiffel Tower peeks through.

Then, as you approach the end of the bridge and look up, you catch a glimpse of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s small sculpture on the Flore Pavilion of the Louvre, with its laughing, naked nymph. It is a moment of magic. You look around. No one else seems to notice — and at that moment, no matter the weather or your mood, the city seems to be yours.

Late-night Paris belongs to the stroller, the idle walker with no purpose except to roam. There is always beauty to be discovered, and perhaps even adventure and love. “The night suggests, it does not show,” wrote Brassaï, the 20th century’s best-known photographer of Paris at night. “The night disquiets and surprises us with its otherness. It releases forces within us which by day are dominated by reason.”

That’s true because nighttime Paris operates on different levels. There is a constant interplay between the permanence and grandeur of monumental Paris and the serendipity and surprise of intimate Paris.

Paris is, after all, a small city, only 40.5 square miles — slightly smaller than the Bronx and much smaller than London, Madrid, Berlin and Rome. Eleven miles wide, almost six miles long, Paris can be walked from one end to the other in hours. Even Paris, Tex., is about the same size as Paris, France. Yet Paris has perhaps the densest population of any major city in Western Europe. By day, its streets are clogged with too many people in a hurry. Traffic snarls the intersections and circles. Shoppers lead with their elbows at the bargain stalls in front of the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores. Bicyclists compete with motorcyclists to frustrate even the most determined pedestrians.

At night, though, the streets empty, the pace slows. Inhibitions evaporate. The later the hour, the fewer the people, the better. I started strolling at night in the late 1970’s as a correspondent for Newsweek, hopelessly fantasizing that one day I would finish a doctoral dissertation on Louis Sébastien Mercier. Mercier was the ultimate 18th-century wanderer and the first real street reporter of Paris. His best-selling 12-volume “Tableau de Paris” deciphered the habits and customs of everyday Paris in the years before the revolution. “This city,” he once wrote, “eternally rivets the gaze of the entire world.”

Mercier was fascinated not by the city’s monuments but its inhabitants — its police and prostitutes, its street vendors and beggars. If he were strolling the Pont Royal today, he would focus on the scene below, on the bank of the Seine.

There, a group of homeless people has pitched two dozen camping tents in a neat row. One recent night after midnight, all was still, except for the silhouette of one man hanging his laundry on a clothesline strung between trees. Bathed in the yellowish glow of the streetlights, the encampment looked like a tiny, peaceful village.

But then, the Seine has the power to romanticize even the darkest sides of city life. Because of its current, it perpetually shimmers with strips of light reflected from traffic lights and stoplights. It is also narrow — the Thames and the Danube are wider — which gives it a manageable scale and a feeling of safety.

The river’s many bridges serve as a magnet, for both visitors and Parisians. I can hardly remember ever walking over a bridge at night without seeing couples in passionate embrace. Maybe that explains why even the hokiest movie scenes on the Seine never seem completely absurd.

There’s that scene toward the end of the film “Something’s Gotta Give” when Jack Nicholson, thinking he has lost Diane Keaton, stumbles out of the Grand Colbert restaurant and past the Hôtel de Ville to find himself reflecting on life midway across the Pont d’Arcole. “Look who gets to be the girl,” he laments out loud to no one in particular, turning teary-eyed. Ms. Keaton suddenly pops out of a taxi to proclaim her love.

An even better Paris-at-night-along-the-Seine scene comes at the end of “Everyone Says I Love You” when Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn, their characters divorced long ago, dance on the bank of the river beneath the Pont de la Tournelle. This is not just any dance. This is Fred and Ginger topped with Peter Pan. What woman wouldn’t want to be Goldie Hawn at that moment, in her strappy high-heeled pumps and perfect flowing, long-sleeved black cocktail dress, her strawberry blond hair ever so slightly windblown, literally floating on air?

Indeed, Paris at night has the irrational power to trigger the imaginations of even ordinary folks. There are always Parisians who leave open the window shutters of their living rooms, allowing passersby to peek inside. The often high ceilings and tall windows offer glimpses of crystal chandeliers and fanciful moldings and projections about the lives of the inhabitants. What are they serving for dinner? And do they sleep in canopied beds?

So the real secret to Paris’s beauty at night can be described in one word: light.

In some cities, lampposts are designed to light only the sidewalks and streets, so that surrounding buildings recede into darkness. In much of Paris, however, streetlights are attached to the sides of buildings, highlighting the curves and angles of the structures themselves.

Much like an ordinary-looking woman who turns beautiful in candlelight, unremarkable buildings in Paris glow. Architectural details that are lost by day suddenly proclaim themselves. My 16-year-old daughter, Gabriela, passes Le Bon Marché department store every day to and from school. But walking home in the dark after soccer practice one evening, she suddenly saw something different: the store sign and upper windows framed in an eerie light. She later shot it in black and white for her photography class.

Even the most jaded walkers are never bored. As I strolled with a French foreign ministry official after dinner one evening, we found ourselves in front of the Madeleine church, whose Greek-temple design and imposing scale makes it a nighttime showstopper.

But it was another church that caught the ambassador’s eye. Looking up the Boulevard Malesherbes, he spotted St.-Augustin, a gray 19th-century eyesore by day. “Ahh!” he proclaimed. “Even the ugly St.-Augustin looks beautiful at night.”

Lighting the monuments, churches, bridges and public buildings of Paris is not left to chance. The project to adorn the Eiffel Tower with 20,000 flashing lights (they dazzle for 10 minutes every hour on the hour until after 1 a.m.) cost $5 million and involved 40 mountaineers, architects and engineers who had to endure high winds, raging storms, pigeons and bats.

An entire lighting division in City Hall is responsible for choosing the design, style, color, intensity and timing of the lighting for nearly 300 structures.

And there are even two separate “schools” when it comes to the science (or is it art?) of lighting the city’s public buildings. There is the Paris school, a holistic approach that bathes a structure in a warm, even glow. The Conciergerie, the one-time medieval prison on the Île de la Cité, and Palais Garnier, the extravagant 19th-century opera house, are lighted this way.

Then there is the Lyon school, a pointillist approach that uses small spotlights to highlight the elaborate decorations and details of buildings for more drama. The balconies and niches of the Hôtel de Ville, Paris’s City Hall, and the Pont Alexandre-III, with its candelabras, cupids, sea monsters and other elaborate decorations, are lighted in the Lyon style.

The city turns off the lights on most public structures at about 1 a.m. It is a Cinderella moment in which suddenly, they seem to disappear. The bridges and banks of the Seine, still lighted by streetlamps, take on a muted, more distant look.

THE seasoned stroller, then, is familiar with the rhythm of both natural and artificial light. That’s the best way to see one of the hidden gems of Paris in the evening, the perfectly proportioned, 16th- and 17th-century square courtyard at the east corner of the Louvre known as the Cour Carrée.

Accessible through archways from each of its four sides, it offers an oasis of calm in the heart of Paris. Peeking through each of the archways from inside the courtyard, the visitor can see the Louvre’s brightly illuminated pyramid on the west, the St.-Germain l’Auxerrois Church on the east, the Rue de Rivoli on the north and the Institut de France on the south.

But the courtyard closes at 10 p.m. The lighting system is undergoing renovation, so the only light comes from beyond the walls, or the few lighted offices of the Louvre or perhaps from the moon. You must sit on one of the cool stone benches for several minutes before your eyes adjust to the darkness

If you’re lucky, Nicolas Lemaire will be playing his cello near the pyramid under the west arch.

Music-making is banned from the inner courtyards of the Louvre, but the security guards make an exception for Mr. Lemaire, a professional musician, as soon as the museum closes. The archway makes for a tiny, acoustically perfect concert hall that amplifies the sound. “There is hardly an auditorium in all of Paris with such a beautiful sound,” Mr. Lemaire, 44, said at the end of an all-Bach concert. “There’s something very spiritual about playing here.”

There are countless other discoveries while navigating Paris after dark: on the Left Bank, the narrow Rue Mazarine, which ends in a covered archway opening out onto the Seine and a view of the wooden pedestrian bridge known as the Pont des Arts; the sudden appearance of the Eiffel Tower at the end of the Rue Monttessuy; the dome of the Invalides from a picnic blanket on the lawn of the esplanade; the Champs-Élysées from the top of the Arc de Triomphe; the colored neon of restaurants and cafes from a perch on the steps of the Opéra Bastille. (Sometimes seeing Paris at night isn’t totally voluntary. As the Métro shuts down at 12.30 a.m., those who cannot afford a taxi often have to make it home under their own power.)

Beauty doesn’t necessarily mean quiet, however. On weekend evenings throughout the year, the Champ de Mars, the vast lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower, for example, is clogged with hundreds of visitors.

In warm weather, families take picnic baskets and coolers, and dine on the lawn. Young people party. In France, drinking alcohol in public is allowed, and the drinking age is 16, which means that a lot of drinking goes on.

There are no public toilets, so designated bushes give some cover. There are also, my teenage daughters tell me, peeping Toms, drug dealing, hashish smoking and the occasional mugging and purse snatching. The neighbors living in the elegant private houses nearby are driven mad by the music — particularly the bongos. The police, who are out in force, seem to see and hear little.

In the end, what makes Paris so special at night is more than its physical beauty. Even more memorable, perhaps, are the encounters with Parisians who revel in their own experiences with the city.

One recent Friday evening, I went walking with Dominique Bertinotti, a deputy mayor, through the Fourth Arrondissement, the district she administers that covers much of the Marais, the Île St.-Louis and half of the Île de la Cité.

On the Rue des Barres, she pointed out a private garden through a wrought-iron gate of a building under renovation. On the Quai d’Orléans at the tip of the Île St.-Louis, she shared one of her favorite night-time views: the flying buttresses on the back of Notre Dame visible through the trees,and lamented the addition of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s spire to the cathedral in the 19th century.

On the Rue du Temple, she led me into Le Latina, a Spanish- and Portuguese-language movie theater-bistro-art gallery. We climbed up a flight of stairs to a small dance floor where tango music was playing.

A pair of aging women dressed in black and sensibly heeled dancing shoes owned the floor. They seemed to be a couple. They also seemed as if they had been dancing the tango together forever.

ELAINE SCIOLINO is chief of the Paris bureau of The Times.