Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Storied Rembrandt to Be Shown at the Getty
An early Rembrandt portrait that has not been on public view for more than two decades and has a lively criminal past will re-emerge for several months, beginning on Tuesday at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Tchotchkes from the '80s
In light of the discovery that items are missing from the Reagan library, a business proposal.
By John Kenney
November 17, 2007
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is unable to find or account for tens of thousands of valuable mementos of Reagan's White House years because a "near universal" security breakdown left the artifacts vulnerable to pilfering by insiders. ...

-- Los Angeles Times

A loan officer's office. Wells Fargo. Simi Valley.

LO: So what brings you in today?

APP: I'd like to open a small business. Antiques. Collectibles.

LO: Weird. You're the third person this week. So, like, furniture?

APP: Some furniture. Mostly other things.

LO: Such as?

APP: Plates, lamps, crocheted flags . . .

LO: Bizarre. A guy yesterday had the same stuff.

APP: Did he have a dive bell from the last Soviet nuclear submarine to patrol off U.S. waters?

LO: That he did not have.

APP: It's amazing what people throw out.

LO: Tell me about it. My wife and I have a gorgeous coffee table that our neighbors were throwing out just because there are two cracks and their dog chewed the ends.

APP: Little elbow grease.

LO: Bingo. OK, so antiques . . .

APP: Antiques, yes, but also trinkets.

LO: Trinkets. Great. And a trinket is what, exactly?

APP: A trinket could be . . . say . . . a coaster from Air Force One. It could be, ohhh . . . I don't know, a woodcarving of the Constitution signed by the Iran hostages in 1980. It could be belt buckles.

LO: You're joking? Like, five different applicants have had belt buckles. They're not Western-themed, are they?

APP: They are.

LO: Uh . . .

APP: I feel that I'm not painting a clear picture. Yes, we're about hostage woodcarvings. And yes, we're about cowboy belt buckles. But we're also very much about the Cold War. Soviet memorabilia. Specifically the period from, say, January 1981 to January 1989.

LO: The '80s.

APP: You understand, I can tell. I was thinking of calling it "That '80s Store."

LO: So was this other guy. Swear to God. And this one woman, last week, wanted to call her place "The Ronald Wilson Reagan Gift Shop."

APP: Coincidence is funny.

LO: Not so much in business loans. OK, so it's a boutique, then? Like those places on Melrose. Vintage mittens for $200.

APP: Yes and no. High-end junk. Eccentric. Far-out gifts.

LO: Like those stores on Melrose. With the weird clothes. Old stuff.

APP: Exactly. Except I have interesting stuff.

LO: Besides the belt buckles and the dive bell.

APP: I happen to have stumbled on some flags that flew above the White House in the 1980s.

LO: So did the other folks.

APP: (awkward laugh) And I suppose they're all Pisces too!

LO: I don't understand.

APP: Nothing.

LO: Sounds like there may be a glut of these . . . '80s items.

APP: Not of a hundred pieces of the Berlin Wall, there isn't. I've already had a chat with the Sundance catalog.

LO: That's interesting.

APP: It's very interesting. These are good pieces, lots of graffiti. Also the last tactical nuclear missile built under communism. I see your expression, and I can assure you that it's not armed.

LO: Well, that's quite a . . .

APP: Oh, and I also happen to have come across this . . . this letter from Mikhail Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan. Do the others have that?

LO: Gorbachev? Letter? No, no Gorbachev that I remember. But one guy had an Idi Amin. The woman had a very funny one from the shah of Iran. That guy was hilarious.

APP: Huh. Do they have a racy one from Margaret Thatcher where she uses the word "honcho," or one from Jimmy Carter explaining to Reagan how the presidency works? To be honest, I can envision a whole "Reagan Letters" section. I have that many.

LO: And you "found" these where?

APP: Different places. Library books. A Dunkin' Donuts.

LO: Was he gay, Reagan? I'd heard he was secretly gay. Any truth to that?

APP: Who knows? Anything's possible, right? I saw a note from John Major that could be easily misconstrued. There's a letter from a young Dick Cheney asking him to be his Valentine.

LO: I kissed a man once.

APP: Sorry?

LO: Have you owned a business before?

APP: No.

LO: Any background in business?

APP: I went to the Harvard Business School.

LO: Wow.

APP: That was a lie.

LO: (laughing) You had me. I swear you had me.
One Market Remains Sound: Money Is Still There for Best Art

Published: November 17, 2007

Never mind the gyrations on Wall Street or the subprime mortgage and equity crisis. There’s still plenty of money out there and an unquenched appetite for art. At least that seems to be the verdict after a two-week round of auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Company, with bidders paying record prices for everything from a rare Matisse to a red heart sculpture by Jeff Koons.

Those with long experience in the art world can tick off other uncertain times: the recession in the early 1970s, when prices for every kind of collectible plummeted; the period after Black Monday in the fall of 1987, when prices of Impressionist paintings leapt to unimaginable heights on the strength of Japanese buying power; the Persian Gulf war, when appetites soured, and distress sales predominated; and the November after 9/11, when the market just about limped along.

Despite all the theorizing that the new rich in Europe, Russia and the Middle East would capitalize on the weak dollar and snap up prized artworks, Americans ended up being the dominant buyers.

“Everyone was expecting bumps, but there weren’t many,” said Allan Schwartzman, a Manhattan art adviser after Sotheby’s sale of contemporary art on Wednesday evening. “The amount of money out there is staggering.”

So are the numbers of art dealers and advisers counseling the rich. Taking their advice, collectors tended to go for works that were top-rate, and these brought the highest prices. When something had been quietly shopped around, was overpriced or second-rate, it either did not sell or sold below its estimate.

In the first week of sales of Impressionist and modern art, for instance, Christie’s was able to pull off a successful night on Nov. 6 because it had the goods — and at the right estimates. Its star, Matisse’s 1937 painting “L’Odalisque, Harmonie Bleue,” a richly patterned canvas depicting Lydia Delectorskaya, a Russian émigré and one of the artist’s preferred models, brought a record price of $33.6 million.

Sotheby’s sale the next night was doomed by mediocrity. Two of the priciest works had problems. While a stunning Gauguin from this artist’s Tahitian period normally brings big prices, “Te Poipoi” (“The Morning”), an 1892 painting of a woman squatting in the water with her dress hiked up around her waist, failed to pass muster. The painting barely sold. A lone telephone bidder, the Hong Kong collector Joseph Lau, bought it for $39.2 million, including Sotheby’s commission.

At the same sale, a sun-dappled work, “The Fields (Wheat Fields),” one of the last painted by van Gogh before he died in 1890, went unsold. The word on the street was that it had been offered to collectors by two dealers for months before it went to auction. It was an expensive round for Sotheby’s, which acknowledged that it had lost $14.6 million in guarantees. (To win consignments, auction houses often issue guarantees to prospective sellers, agreeing to fork out a minimum sum even if the work does not sell.)

Popular taste these days still gravitates toward postwar and contemporary art. Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s were able to post impressive results over the two weeks of sales with works by artists like John Chamberlain, Richard Prince, Mr. Koons and Lucian Freud selling well beyond their estimates. Still, some works failed to sell or drew only one bidder, and often the result was expensive for the auction house. In the heat of competition, auction houses had granted guarantees that exceeded estimates, a highly risky strategy.

As always, rumors have been flying about who bought what. Appropriately enough, Laurence Graff, the London jeweler, is thought to have bought Jeff Koons’s “Diamond (Blue),” a monumental sculpture of a diamond resting on four gold prongs that went for $11.8 million. The British artist Damien Hirst scooped up a 1969 self-portrait by Francis Bacon for $33 million; the Los Angeles financier Eli Broad took home Mr. Koons’s “Hanging Heart” for $23.5 million.

Steven A. Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire, did a bit of shopping too. Bidding through several different art dealers, he is said to have bought several artworks, among them Francis Bacon’s 1969 “Second Version of Study for Bullfight No. 1,” for $45.9 million.

The mystery is half the fun. It is also part of the problem. As the auction houses continue giving sellers undisclosed guarantees, as well as a percentage of the fee they charge buyers, it is hard to pin down what kind of profits they will ultimately make. Complicating the situation, when Sotheby’s or Christie’s is nervous that a work will not do well, it is not unusual for the house to contact potential buyers and offer special payment terms.

Although the relatively strong results brought a flood of relief to the auction houses, the fear is still palpable. Had buyers been scared off by the rocky financial markets, these companies would be facing losses of millions of dollars and warehouses of scorched art.

There is certain to be more caution the next time around. The auction houses may not be so quick to offer sellers such risky incentives. Collectors fearing that the market has passed its peak may be more reluctant to part with the treasures on their walls unless they have no choice. The result could be a more sober market.

Pictures imperfect
Amateur war photos snapped by participants have a certain immediacy, but they lack the punch and power of work done by pros.
November 17, 2007

Readers of this newspaper were mesmerized this week by staff photographer Luis Sinco's two-part series about Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the man behind his now famous portrait, "Marlboro Marine." Taken in 2004 during the battle of Fallouja, the photograph shows a weary Marine staring into the morning sun. His face is smeared with mud, the bridge of his nose is bloodied, and a cigarette dangles from his lips with a Bogart-style insouciance we rarely see anymore.

Sinco's photograph, which appeared on the front pages of 160 newspapers and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, is among the most celebrated photographs from the Iraq war to date. It is also, to my mind, the least consistent with the predominant aesthetic of the images that define this war. And that may be why we like it so much.

Despite all the professional "shooters" doing their best to cover the war, much of the action we see is brought to us by the people doing the fighting. Soldiers record artillery fire with hand-held digital video recorders and post the clips on YouTube. Snapshots taken with cellphones -- some as innocuous as tourist photos, others downright gruesome -- abound on the Internet. In other words, to look at photographs of the Iraq war is, quite often, to see guerrilla photojournalism.

In fact, it's worth noting that many of the war's most memorable photographs have come from nonprofessionals who, in true 21st century fashion, just happen to carry cameras with them most of the time. While certain recognizable moments -- the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003, for example -- were well documented by the pros, there are other familiar images that look as though the person who took them was more interested in having a souvenir than producing a historical document. Sure, we remember the news photos of the dapper, combative Hussein at his trial. But who can forget the infamous images of the imprisoned Hussein in his underwear, which appeared to have been taken by someone who just wanted some really cool pictures to e-mail home?

Then, of course, there are the Abu Ghraib photos. They may permanently remain the most iconic images of the war, and a few in particular will likely become signature documents of the 21st century. But what are we to make of the fact that the images came out not because a photojournalist was there and made a decision -- used his or her trained eye -- to take pictures, but because a handful of very disturbed people decided to show off?

Historically speaking, the images from Abu Ghraib are every bit as important as the most famous images from the Vietnam War -- for example, Nick Ut's photograph of a naked girl running down the road after a napalm attack on her village in 1972, or Eddie Adams' photograph of Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in 1968. But they don't look as important. It's not just that everything has more gravitas in black and white. It's that the people taking the Abu Ghraib pictures were not doing so as witnesses or communicators or artists (a professional photojournalist is all three at once) but as gloaters. The result is that a human rights debacle is documented in a style more appropriate to spring break beer-chugging contests in Cancun.

As for a lot of the other footage from Iraq, it too embodies a mise-en-scene that might be described as the YouTube New Wave. When I called Sinco to ask why this was, he pointed out another piece of this equation, which is that the Pentagon is now running a much tighter public relations ship than it did during Vietnam. Between that and the dangers to journalists in general in Iraq, the professionals can't always get to where the most effective shots might be, and they aren't taking or transmitting as many pictures as they might otherwise.

"From colleagues I've talked to, it sounded like in Vietnam you could catch a helicopter anywhere in the country," Sinco told me. "It's a totally different deal now . . . there's a censorship mechanism in place. [The military] does not want another shot of a kid crying over his dead parents."

As for the Marlboro Marine photo (which prompted the military to offer Miller an early discharge, lest this poster boy ended up wounded or dead; Miller refused), Sinco suggests that people love it because the subject's face shows the full spectrum of emotions and they can pick and choose from any of them. "The pro-war crowd saw patriotism," he said. "The antiwar crowd saw a damaged person."

But I'm still inclined to think that many of us, regardless of our position on the war, were drawn to the photograph simply because it looked so different from what we're used to seeing from Iraq. Unlike a seat-of-the-pants snapshot from a cellphone, it bore the hallmarks of a photographer who, even in the heat of battle when he's shooting like crazy, knows what he's doing. In a war in which people increasingly seem to feel they don't know what they're doing, that's a powerful message, a powerful illusion. And what is great photography if not that?
Barnum & Bailey & CNN
By Tim Rutten
IF you're one of those dutiful souls who felt that the responsible exercise of citizenship required you to watch Thursday's debate among the Democratic candidates on CNN, you probably came away feeling as if you'd spent a couple of hours locked in the embrace of a time share salesman.

books & authors
Writers puzzle out Mailer's legacy
The provocative author isn't as widely read as other leaders of New Journalism. But the literary world says he's a tough act to follow.
By Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 17, 2007

Norman Mailer, who died last weekend at 84, was incontestably one of the titans of American letters: novelist, journalist, essayist, would-be politician and overall provocateur. Whatever the genre, he was a powerful writer -- New Yorker editor David Remnick calls his a "locomotive prose style" -- who could combine sheer intellectual force with great literary finesse. As Peter Kaplan, editor in chief of the New York Observer, put it, Mailer "made nonfiction writing into an intellectual and soulful exercise," in the process transforming American journalism with his "pyrotechnic" style and "massive, cosmic" ideas.

And yet in the past week the literary world was not just mourning him but also grappling with his complicated legacy.

"If there's a conventional wisdom over the last week, it seems to be that his great literary talent was always at war with his judgment and exhibitionism," Remnick said. "And there is no doubt in my mind that some of his political judgments, especially early on, were foolish.

"But if you were to judge all literary reputations on consistent liberalism, and even temper, you'd have a very small canon, wouldn't you? It wouldn't just eliminate people like Pound and Eliot and the obvious people who were edging toward fascism, but even people I know now -- I wouldn't want them to be president of the United States."

Remnick added that besides the acknowledged classics such as "The Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song," such books as "Harlot's Ghost," the 1,300-page novel inspired by the CIA, have a lot of Mailer's strengths.

Still, for all of his importance to what's known as New Journalism, Mailer is not as widely read as the other lions of the movement, according to Marc Weingarten, author of "The Gang That Wouldn't Write Straight: Wolfe, Thompson, Didion, and the New Journalism Revolution," and he lacks the following those iconic three have among the current crop of younger writers.

Sexual politics may have often kept this supposed sexist off college reading lists, said his friend and fellow writer Gay Talese. "With feminism so powerful in the academic world, he was not up there with Toni Morrison."

Similarly, said culture critic Lee Siegel, who praises the late work, including the recent "The Castle in the Forest," as well as the early, Mailer was the object of envy throughout his life. He was also disliked by many fellow Jewish writers and critics, Siegel said, because he didn't write about Jewish life, and didn't effect their gentility. "His personas were usually redneck Texans or tough Irish cops, and that alienated a lot of Jewish critics."

His work was more difficult, with fewer surface pleasures, than the other writers who merged journalistic and fictional techniques, Weingarten said. "Hunter was a comedian, in a way, and Wolfe was a deconstructor of a specific time in our social history. While Mailer was sort of a dark skeptic of everything going on in that era, neither a cheerleader nor a funny debunker." Thompson's books, he said, became "self-help guides to personal desecration. And Wolfe was more fun to read."

And especially as the nation's gender politics changed in the '60s and '70s, he became harder for men and women to like because of a machismo widely interpreted as misogyny. Though he was a founder of the alternative press -- Mailer helped establish the Village Voice in 1955 -- he was not often claimed by a subculture that went in a very different direction than he did.

"His propensity toward violence, the fact that he stabbed his wife Adele, the Jack Henry Abbott stuff" -- in which Mailer lobbied for the parole of a prisoner who killed a waiter soon after his release -- "left a bad taste in people's mouth," said Weingarten. "That's why they embraced Didion the way they couldn't embrace Mailer."

It's a shame, he said, because despite spotty recent novels -- "The last decade has been a lost decade for him" -- Mailer's best nonfiction work can compare with anyone's. (Weingarten is fond of Mailer's writing about Los Angeles, as when he described the city, in a piece about the 1960 Democratic National Convention, as looking like it "was built by television sets giving orders to men.")

" 'The Armies of the Night' to me was the best examination of the counterculture I've read -- anything that was wrong and right about it. How the counterculture had alienated the civil rights movement. By making himself a flawed character, with self-doubt and his own divided loyalties, he made himself a conduit for all these questions. It's more insightful than the books of Thompson and Wolfe."

Influence on writers

Remnick thinks Mailer continues to be "a big influence" on writers.

"As a young reader," Remnick said, "excited by the world for the first time as a teenager and as someone who had it in mind to be a journalist and writer, Mailer's work, particularly his nonfiction, and his self-advertisements, were thrilling to me: The taking of ads, the running for mayor, the essays assessing the other talents in the room as he put it . . . the insistence on being at central events, from political conventions to a heavyweight fight."

Novelist Marianne Wiggins said she had feminist problems with Mailer, but that she admired his insistence on being "larger than life, pugnacious, politically vigorous" and added that now "no one on the American landscape" is doing what he did.

"We celebrate anemic, cautious writers in a time that needs more Mailers," said Wiggins, author of "The Shadow Catcher." "Bless his misogynist, much-missed, heroic bones."

Talese, who praised Mailer's endless curiosity and a graciousness that was rarely remarked on, said his influence in journalism is negligible.

"I don't think he had any influence at all," he said. "What he had was a healthy disrespect for journalism. He once compared journalism to a goat: Every day you had to feed the goat, and the goat would eat anything. It would eat tin cans, you can throw junk, all kinds of stuff into the mouth of the goat. That's really a Mailer way of looking at things."

Maybe tellingly, the great Mailer achievement of the last decade, said Weingarten, is 1998's "The Time of Our Time," a career-spanning doorstop of an anthology that shows the writer's incredible range and power -- and recently went out of print.

Novel's declining power

Mailer sometimes wrote about the way the literary novel, and the literary novelist, moved offstage during the course of his career. It wasn't that the American novel had declined from its postwar heights "so much as that the people we knew seemed to care much less about novels," he wrote in "The Spooky Art." "One hardly heard one's friends talking about a good new novel anymore."

This marginalization makes it hard to find a similar figure.

Ed Park, a founder of the Believer, saw a parallel in William T. Vollman, who shares Mailer's wide range of interests. Weingarten nominated Christopher Hitchens, because of his provocative opinions and integrity.

Several others pointed to Dave Eggers, whose writing includes memoir, novel and biography, and who runs a publish- ing cottage industry around McSweeney's and the coast-to-coast educational effort 826 Valencia.

But Eggers is a subcultural figure who seems comfortable on the indie-alternative edge: Despite his rabid following, it's hard to imagine him running for mayor of San Francisco as Mailer once did for New York.

Or, say, head-butting Jonathan Franzen on national television, as Mailer did to Gore Vidal.

Nobody, said Siegel, would have the guts to do that now. "I found that absolutely thrilling. I'd love to see someone be himself as much as Mailer was." With one gesture he cut through all the cocktail passive-aggressiveness of the literary culture.

"Speaking as an editor, I don't think young novelists lack ambition; look at Michael Chabon," said Remnick. "But they're not inclined to do this other thing. They don't rotate their crops in quite the same way, don't generally see it as their literary business to go to war, to immerse themselves in a political campaign. I think that's too bad."

Can a literary figure be so central again?

Vidal, who discussed the literary writer's loss of prestige with Mailer, doubted anyone would be read in 50 years since movies and pop culture have captured people's attention.

But he said he'd miss Mailer's sense of fun. "He had radical notions about everything. And whether they were correct or not was not important: They were invigorating and life-enhancing and good for others to hear." Vidal called "Barbary Shore" among his favorite of Mailer's novels.

Talese said Mailer was more accessible and wide ranging than the generation of writers who came after. "Don DeLillo would give an interview to the Paris Review. Mailer would give an interview to Hustler, and the Paris Review. Mailer would have a lot to say to anybody. He thought a writer should have in his collection of friends a range of classes. He would know cops, he could know prizefighters, he would know secretaries of state."

"What I loved about Mailer was his fearlessness, his bravery," said Weingarten, adding that the writer's belly-flops came from that same courage. "Where do you see that now? There's a timorousness. I don't think we'll see the likes of Mailer again."


The only downside to the new toys? Kids might actually want to grow up to be rock stars, with all the baggage that entails. The chief executive of Toys “R” Us, Gerald L. Storch, is unperturbed. “What could be more wholesome than music?” he said.


MERRY MARKDOWNS What is bad for retailers — a tough economy — is good for bargain hunters, in stores and online.

After the weakest fall shopping season in a decade, retail analysts predict the return of deep desperation discounts this holiday. The worse a store’s performance, the steeper the markdowns.

Here are the chains with weak sales so far: Macy’s, Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch, Chico’s, Ann Taylor, and Limited, the owner of Express and Victoria’s Secret.

In a reversal from years past, reliable price slashers like Gap and Aéropostale have cut their orders, anticipating a slowdown, so discounts will be sparse.

“But don’t kid yourself,” said John D. Morris, an analyst at Wachovia Securities, “it is still going to be a more promotional Christmas season.” Mr. Morris, who keeps a running tally on discounts, says markdowns are already up more than 7 percent this holiday season over last year, “and rising fast.”

The big online discount this season is free shipping, with no conditions, for many Web sites the Monday after Thanksgiving, known as Cyber Monday, because consumers return to work from a weekend of mall browsing and buy online.

This year, an estimated 25 percent of Web retailers will offer free shipping, no matter how small the order, on Nov. 26. Among them are Joann.com, the Web site of Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts; HSN.com, the home shopping network Web site; and Giftcertificates.com, a site that sells gift cards from hundreds of stores.

Most retailers provide free shipping for orders $50 or higher. Doesn’t it seem that stores lose money on $10 online orders, shipped from New York to California?

“The number of sales it generates more than offsets the cost of free shipping,” said Laura Thorpe, the e-commerce manager for marketing at Bealls, a department store offering no-condition free shipping next Monday on its Web site, www.Bealls.com


Adding Math to List of Security Threats

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Published: November 17, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 16 — One of the world’s most prominent cryptographers issued a warning on Friday about a hypothetical incident in which a math error in a widely used computing chip places the security of the global electronic commerce system at risk.
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Gabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Adi Shamir, a cryptographer and professor in Israel.

Adi Shamir, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, circulated a research note about the problem to a small group of colleagues. He wrote that the increasing complexity of modern microprocessor chips is almost certain to lead to undetected errors.

Historically, the risk has been demonstrated in incidents like the discovery of an obscure division bug in Intel’s Pentium microprocessor in 1994 and, more recently, in a multiplication bug in Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet program, he wrote.

A subtle math error would make it possible for an attacker to break the protection afforded to some electronic messages by a popular technique known as public key cryptography.

Using this approach, a message can be scrambled using a publicly known number and then unscrambled with a secret, privately held number.

The technology makes it possible for two people who have never met to exchange information securely, and it is the basis for all kinds of electronic transactions.

Mr. Shamir wrote that if an intelligence organization discovered a math error in a widely used chip, then security software on a PC with that chip could be “trivially broken with a single chosen message.”

Executing the attack would require only knowledge of the math flaw and the ability to send a “poisoned” encrypted message to a protected computer, he wrote. It would then be possible to compute the value of the secret key used by the targeted system.

With this approach, “millions of PC’s can be attacked simultaneously, without having to manipulate the operating environment of each one of them individually,” Mr. Shamir wrote.

The research note is significant, cryptographers said, in part because of Mr. Shamir’s role in designing the RSA public key algorithm, software that is widely used to protect e-commerce transactions from hackers.

“The remarkable thing about this note is that Adi Shamir is saying that RSA is potentially vulnerable,” said Jean-Jacques Quisquater, a professor and cryptographic researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium.

Mr. Shamir is the S in RSA; he, Ronald Rivest and Leonard Adleman developed it in 1977.

Because the exact workings of microprocessor chips are protected by laws governing trade secrets, it is difficult, if not impossible, to verify that they have been correctly designed, Mr. Shamir wrote.

“Even if we assume that Intel had learned its lesson and meticulously verified the correctness of its multipliers,” he said, “there are many smaller manufacturers of microprocessors who may be less careful with their design.”

The class of problem that Mr. Shamir described has been deeply explored by cryptography experts, said Paul Kocher, who is president of Cryptography Research, a consulting and design firm in San Francisco. However, he added that it illustrated how small flaws could subvert even the strongest security.

An Intel spokesman noted that the flaw was a theoretical one and something that required a lot of contingencies.

“We appreciate these and we look at everything,” said George Alfs, an Intel spokesman.

In e-mail correspondence after he sent the note, Mr. Shamir said he had no evidence that anyone is using an attack like the one he described.


NBC Acquires ‘Quarterlife’; Internet Series Will Run First Online
With Mustache, Without Arrow

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Published: November 17, 2007

BOSTON — In person, Steve Martin, now 62, is far from a wild and crazy guy — if he ever really was one. His hair is snow white. Though still youthful, his famously mobile face is mostly in repose. He’s a lot like your tax accountant, only a little shyer.
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Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Steve Martin (in hat and sunglasses), now back in New York, has published a memoir of his stand-up years.
First Chapter: ‘Born Standing Up’ (November 16, 2007)
'Born Standing Up,' by Steve Martin: Even When You’re a Star, Comedy Isn’t Always Pretty (November 15, 2007)
From “Born Standing Up”

In the 1970s dressing for comedic success meant balloons.

Lately, however, he has been sporting a mustache that you would hate to see on your accountant: a little pair of sleazy Gallic brackets outlining his lip and the groove beneath his nose. This is part of his get-up for his role as Inspector Clouseau in “Pink Panther Deux,” a sequel to his 2006 remake of the classic Peter Sellers film. “It’s growing on me,” Mr. Martin said of the mustache last month. “In both senses.”

For much of the autumn, Mr. Martin was living in Boston — the new Toronto of the film industry — where “Pink Panther Deux” was being filmed. He and Wally, his yellow Labrador retriever, shared a trailer equipped with a flat-screen television, a gas fireplace and a couple of industrial-size dog dishes.

Mr. Martin is also publishing two books this fall: “The Alphabet from A to Y With Bonus Letter Z!” (Flying Dolphin Press), illustrated by Roz Chast, which is just what the title suggests, and “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life” (Scribner), a memoir of his years as a stand-up comedian.

Reviewing the second book for The New York Times, Janet Maslin called it a “lean, incisive” work that was “smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin.”

Mr. Martin discussed the memoir on set on a recent Friday when the script called for Clouseau to marry his colleague Nicole (played, as in the first film, by Emily Mortimer) at a ceremony conducted by John Cleese as Chief Inspector Dreyfus. His wedding uniform consisted of red-striped trousers and a tunic with epaulets the size of scrub brushes, which kept getting knocked off as Mr. Martin walked through the trailer door.

“I’m not used to ones this big,” he apologized to the wardrobe assistant, who sewed them back on.

Mr. Martin’s career as a stand-up comedian lasted roughly 18 years, from the early 1960s when he was performing sketches at the Bird Cage Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm in California, to 1981, when he was the most successful comic in America. He had such a following that, wearing a mock arrow through his temples, he could, and did, lead audiences out of the theater and ask them to pick him up and pass him over their heads. He made so much money that, as he used to say, he could afford a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater. In a foreword to “Born Standing Up,” he notes, “In a sense this book is not an autobiography but a biography, because I am writing about someone I used to know.”

He says now that that part of his life seems part of another era, almost ancient history. Recently he came across a photograph of the sign outside the Bird Cage, which he had with him in the trailer: It says, “World’s Greatest Entertaiment.”

“Look at that,” he said, pointing to the missing n. “I don’t think anyone ever noticed.”

The book came about, Mr. Martin said, because he felt the urge to write something, and following his two best-selling novellas, “Shopgirl” and “The Pleasure of My Company,” he had temporarily run out of characters and ideas. “It’s the old adage: write what you know,” he said. “I realized that I had had this unique experience, and then I happened to see the show ‘Jersey Boys,’ which reminded me that it’s the years before you make it that are interesting. And then it all seemed navigable to me. I always like to begin with an ending, and I had one: it was when I quit stand-up.”

Mr. Martin, who says he is “neurotically punctual” about turning up at the set, had to break off so he could head over to the Sûreté for his wedding. He crossed a parking lot, entered the warehouse and made his way through castoff scenery (bushes, walls, a giant backdrop of the Eiffel Tower) to the Chief Inspector’s Office, already packed with dignitaries, including the pope.

A makeup assistant dabbed powder on Mr. Martin’s forehead and fussed with his hair; another groomed his mustache with a tiny comb, and then Mr. Martin took his place at the front of the room. A bell rang, the cameras rolled, and as Ms. Mortimer, in a strapless gown, walked toward him up the aisle, a little leer crept over Mr. Martin’s face, and he gave a shudder of pleasure and pomposity. He half-turned to whisper something to Mr. Cleese, and his voice came out in that famously fractured French accent, with gargling r’s, and vowels so ripe they lingered in the air like little zeppelins.

“I really like the collegiality of movies,” Mr. Martin said, back in his trailer, and speaking unaccented English again. He insisted that he didn’t miss stand-up. “It’s really, really hard,” he said. “The solitude, the traveling, the sense that every night you’re being judged.”

The appeal of writing, he added, was that “I feel like I can get to the point where I know I did the best I can. I really love the sense of finality in writing, the sense of getting it right in a way that only I can know about. In comedy, if they’re not laughing, there’s no doubt.”

In the book Mr. Martin describes a career that seems more accidental than ordained, the story less of an irrepressible, Mel Brooksian sort of funnyman than of a shy, introspective young man looking to find a place for himself. He grew up, in a not terribly happy family, in Orange County, Calif. For most of his childhood, he and his father, a failed actor, barely spoke. Like a lot of sensitive, gifted boys — Johnny Carson and Woody Allen, for example — he drifted into magic.

His early acts were a hodgepodge — some juggling, some magic, some balloon tricks, some banjo-playing — and to a great extent his style remained eclectic, with the crucial addition of irony; the act became in some ways the parody of an act, with no punch lines, and audiences found it even funnier.

“It was a great discovery,” Mr. Martin said. “There I was making fun of what I was doing, and yet I was still getting to do it.”

The only relic Mr. Martin keeps from those days is his banjo, which he taught himself to play as a teenager from a Pete Seeger instruction book, practicing alone in his car with windows rolled up even on hot summer nights. Waiting for the knock on the trailer door, and the summons to don his epaulets and marry again, he picked up the banjo and played a bluegrass song he had been learning. “When I play music, it’s like an alternate form of living,” he said.

A little later he remarked: “Every now and then I suppose I get a little nostalgic for the stand-up days. They were so — redolent, I guess you could say. I can still smell those hot, smoky clubs, the cigarettes, that awful nightclub wine. It was years before I learned there was such a thing as good wine.”

----------------------------------------------------------OP-ED COLUMNIST
Hillary Fries the Waffle
When it’s time to take on the Republicans, I would prefer the Democratic candidate who knows how to change the subject and stack the deck.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
With so much at stake, Hillary Clinton used her voice, gaze and body language to such punishing effect that Barack Obama looked as if he had been brought to heel.
Clinton's debate 'success'
By Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm
Also: What the polls measure, and don't; Gore Watch: Is it the end?; Rudy goes up; and Arnold brings the heat.
Channeling Dick Cheney
In engaging Iran, Barack Obama’s gift for outreach would be more effective with a Dick Cheney standing over his shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm.

Beware of pitches for distressed property
By David Lazarus
As the sub-prime mortgage mess continues taking its toll on home buyers and financial institutions, thousands of distressed properties are hitting the market at bargain-basement prices. Savvy buyers can pick them up cheap and resell them for a tidy profit.
Test-driving hands-free texting services
By David Colker
Britney does it.
'The Looking Glass Wars' takes Alice, er Alyss, to the dark side
Brian Flora / Automatic Pictures Inc.
Of course the plant life is otherworldly too. Consider a visit to "Valley of Mushrooms" by artist Brian Flora.
Hollywood producer Frank Beddor reimagines Lewis Carroll and creates a Wonderland all his own -- on the page.
By Scott Timberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 18, 2007

Frank Beddor -- a successful Hollywood producer with an oddball book idea he was burning to write -- thought he knew how this game was played.

The Looking Glass Wars
Photo Gallery
The Looking Glass Wars

"I was really excited because my agent said, 'I can put you intheroom,' " Beddor recalled from a room of his own, papered with whimsical graphics, in his Wilshire Boulevard production office. "And I took the Hollywood approach: I would get into the room and pitch them. I thought it was gonna be great. You know how in Hollywood you want to go to the studio head, go over all those layers?"

Beddor, 48, has the energy and zealous confidence you'd expect in a former actor, world-champion freestyle skier and stuntman, as well as the kind of bland, blue-eyed handsomeness that Greg Kinnear has spent much of his career undercutting. He managed to sell the idea for "There's Something About Mary," which he produced, in a Sundance ski lift.

But his charms weren't, in the end, enough: New York publishers listened politely and handed his projects to their editors, who were resentful at being passed over. "An editor wants to discover someone. Not only that, I was from Hollywood -- and I was a producer! I mean, I couldn't have had more strikes against me. They decided it was garbage, I'm sure, before they even read it."

It's all guesswork, of course, why he was rejected. But whatever the reason, he ended up getting shut down more than a dozen times. Undaunted, he did what Robert Frost and Jimi Hendrix before him did after struggling for attention in the States: He went to England, where the book found a publisher and became a critical and popular sensation.

That battle won, seven years later, Beddor is about halfway into the design of a fantasy-fiction empire called "The Looking Glass Wars." The series, which extends and inverts the work of Lewis Carroll, includes the eponymous initial volume, published in the U.K. in 2004 and in the States, where it became a bestseller, in 2006; a second novel in a projected trilogy called "Seeing Redd"; the graphic novel "Hatter M."; and a scrapbook called "Princess Alyss of Wonderland." (The scrapbook, in pink, looks as girl-targeted as the ultraviolent, dark-shades-of-blue graphic novel is testosterone-drenched.)

These last two offer alternate ways to get into the series, as will an online game called the "Card Soldier Wars," which came out this month, and a CD soundtrack.

Amazingly, given all this Hollywood-style spinning off, which might suggest a cynical franchise, "The Looking Glass Wars" books are intelligently and briskly written, and don't read like they were written by a movie producer trying to cash in.

What's most impressive about them is that the novels seems to be recounting a universe fully imagined ahead of time. Beddor admires what he calls "the epic world creators" such as J.R.R. Tolkien, "Dune's" Frank Herbert and Philip Pullman of "His Dark Materials." Beddor's books seem tailor-made for kids who've completed the "Harry Potter" series and are looking up, a bit dazed from the experience, eager for somewhere else to go.

Like "Potter," it's made of conventional elements: The reluctant hero, tussles over royal succession, a magic with a good and evil side. "Basically I flipped all these conventions on their ear, to make them relevant and darker, for a contemporary audience. And by the way," he said, still stung from a battle of his own, "this is what the public domain is made to do."

An Alice in exile

THE conceit of "The Looking Glass Wars" is that Carroll's Alice books were a sanitized, watered-down version of the "real" story: the truly harrowing tale of a princess who flees Wonderland when her parents are killed in a palace coup by her evil aunt. Escaping through a looking glass, Alyss -- even her name was scrambled in Carroll's telling -- ends up an orphan on the dirty streets of London, pining to return to Wonderland's armies of cards and chess pieces and the family's ace bodyguard, Hatter Madigan. If she returns, she and the "Alyssian" rebels must fight the bloodthirsty Queen Redd.

"This ingenious reworking," wrote the Times of London, "is powerful, eventful and dark. Which is entirely legitimate, given the surreality of the original."

Beddor, who'd disliked the Alice books when he was forced to read them as an outdoorsy, "Treasure Island"-loving kid in Minnesota, was introduced to a new way of seeing them on a trip to London for the premiere of "Mary." After catching a display of playing cards at the British Museum, he met an antiquarian dealer who showed him a set of Alice-themed cards from the 19th century.

"He said the cards had been handed down to him over generations," recalled Beddor, "and that this story was handed down with them -- a different interpretation of where Lewis Carroll was coming from. That someone had created these cards to tell a deeper, darker story. It was like Grimm's fairy tales, oral storytelling."

Struck by this scenario in which Alice was a princess from another world, Beddor immediately thought it would make a great movie. But while sketching it out, he became obsessed.

"It took me a couple of years, simply working on the logic, the rules, the back story, to create the world so I could work on the narrative. And then I thought, 'I want to live in my world: I want my own private Wonderland. And I don't want to share it with anyone else.' " And he wanted the depth a movie wouldn't provide.

He wasn't sure where it would lead, so he took a smaller load of film jobs and worked on this a few hours a day. His previous writing experience was limited to penning back stories, for the sake of motivation, for the Pinter and Stoppard plays he was acting in.

"I'm his best friend, I play golf with him all the time," said Ed Decter, a "Mary" co-writer. "And I think there was probably two years where he didn't even mention it. He was probably nervous whether he could pull this off." But, he added: "I think anyone who can go down a hill on fiberglass and flip around in the air three times has some kind of entrepreneurial spirit."

Said Beddor: "I wanted it to be under the radar, so I wouldn't feel the pressure or expectations. And in Hollywood, a book's kind of considered a step down."

On a well-worn path

THE technique of taking a classic literary text and inverting or rethinking it -- which predates Shakespeare -- has become almost familiar over the last few years, including reimaginings of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Gone With the Wind."

In the "Wizard of Oz" world alone, a manga retelling is due shortly, and the Sci Fi Channel has a new show called "Tin Man," which appears while the musical "Wicked" is still packing 'em in. Alice has been riffed on by Jefferson Airplane, Vladimir Nabokov and "Donnie Darko." Esquire magazine once called the '80s "The 'Re' Decade," but the process has only picked up speed since.

But when Beddor arrived in England for his book tour, he found some Carroll enthusiasts weren't exactly on the bandwagon.

"Off with Beddor's head!" said the signs hoisted by four members of the Lewis Carroll Society who met the author at Heathrow Airport in 2004. At first, Beddor thought they were joking, and approached them, laughing. They weren't.

"You know the Brits, they're very nonconfrontational. It was a pretty brief interaction, but they wanted me to know that it wasn't cool. That my books wouldn't make it, that they sucked. There are four Lewis Carroll societies and that's their job, to protect the integrity of Lewis Carroll's work. But remember: Everybody has adapted Lewis Carroll. I am so at the end of the line."

Beddor also ran the gantlet on several radio programs, and got caught in some controversy in the British press.

"This reporter said, 'This American is taking on our classic, and he's rewriting it.' He calls up the children's laureate, and Jacqueline Wilson, the biggest children's author in England . . . Jacqueline said, 'That is outrageous, can't he come up with his own story?' And the children's laureate was quoted as saying it was a terrible idea."

The controversy burned hot but not long.

Britain's then-children's laureate, Michael Morpurgo, came around when he saw the finished novel; it now includes a blurb from him calling the book imaginative and well-researched. "What Frank has done is he's interwoven the history . . . of Alice and then told his own extraordinary, and believably visual and fast-moving tale."

And the current chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society, Mark Richards, said the flames have died down. "I have a copy myself, but I must confess, I have never got around to reading it. Well, there are a lot of adaptations, it's hard to read them all."

The irony is that Beddor, despite sharing characters and a taste for bad puns with Wonderland's Victorian creator, is mostly addressing a different version.

"I'm trying to break the preconceived notions from Walt Disney," he said. "Everyone knows the mythology from Disney, not from Lewis Carroll. To start fresh, to pull them into the story, I wanted to break the preconceptions any way I could, to have a better chance for the suspension of disbelief."

Persistence pays off

AFTER trouble with the gatekeepers of the publishing world, and a tangle with the Carroll purists, Beddor, who now lives in Bronson Canyon with his pregnant wife and 2-year-old son, has reached his audience in a big way.

He often goes into schools, where he gives a high-spirited, barnstorming presentation -- acting out characters, asking the kids to help cast the movie with him -- that is in part responsible for his sales.

"This is a book for boys, it turns out," he said of his school appearances. "But it's all about women. Women have power, they're forceful, they rule. But boys are the main audience. I was a little surprised because I thought it was a slam-dunk for the girls -- I thought it was a girl empowerment story."

He's already spoken to thousands of kids in far-flung places -- Edinburgh, Scotland; Atlanta; Pasadena -- in the last two months alone, doing as many as four middle schools a day, often five days a week, averaging more than 200 kids for each visit.

Beddor has so far kept the quality up for each element of the "Looking Glass Wars" franchise: The first graphic novel, for instance, which chronicles Hatter's very violent lost years wandering the globe searching for Alyss, was illustrated by Ben Templesmith, a well-regarded comics artist, and would appeal to anyone who enjoys the form.

As Beddor spins off more projects, though, the appendages may suffer, much as beloved restaurants that expand too quickly lose their distinctiveness. As he works on the third novel, which he'll turn in next June, he's planning out two more graphic novels and working on scripts for three movies with the young British writer Jamie Mathieson.

The second, more gadget- and science-fiction-heavy novel, "Seeing Redd," has not drawn the reviews the debut did. "While the scientific possibilities are interesting," judged Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News, "there is no balance between the violence and the daily castle life. The attacks of vengeance and war are vicious and become tedious."

But Beddor's supporters say he's too passionate to let the project slide.

"He didn't create this bloodlessly, out of 'This might sell,' " said Decter. "He cares about it the way he cares about his son."

Beddor's passion may be as much about Hollywood as Wonderland, said Decter, who's been inspired by him to write his own series of children's books.

"He's like this leader of taking back your intellectual property, because we're all doing franchises for the studios. Every single day it moves forward, which is so rare in Hollywood. Here we are in the middle of the writers strike: Normally as an independent producer, he'd be out of work. But here he is, he's got this industry going."


Skid row in rehab
After decades of squalor, the area is finally changing thanks to the LAPD's new tactics.
By Heather Mac Donald
November 18, 2007
Until this year, skid row presented a scene of squalor and depravity that had no equal across the country. Sidewalks were impassable, covered with bodies, human waste and infectious bacteria. Makeshift tents and cardboard-box encampments lined the streets. Prostitution and drug use and trafficking were open and shameless.

Even addicts were amazed at the scene. Fifty-year-old Vicki Williams arrived from Las Vegas in December 2005 with a heavy habit. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," she said. "People getting high on the streets like it was legal. Anything you can imagine, I've observed: Women walking down the street buck naked; people stabbed in front of me."

Employees of the area's export-import businesses and food-processing plants often had to step around feces, discarded hypodermic needles and hostile encampment residents in order to enter their workplaces.

Yet for 25 years, homeless advocates and civil liberties groups fought every effort to restore sanity to the 50-square-block area. Any time the police embarked on a law enforcement campaign, anti-police litigators hauled the LAPD into court. In 1999, the doyenne of downtown homeless agitators, Alice Callaghan, picketed the opening of a skid row drop-in center intended to provide the homeless a path to rehabilitation. Callaghan likened the facility to an internment camp. Officers who tried to get mentally ill, diseased addicts into treatment were accused of harassing the homeless. It was hard not to conclude that the advocates wanted the homeless to stay maximally visible.

Now, the situation has changed. The Los Angeles Police Department's Safer City Initiative -- under which 50 additional police officers were assigned to the neighborhood to reduce crime, fight drug dealing and crack down on quality-of-life offenses -- has begun to bring safety and assistance to people living on the streets and in the SROs and missions. The number of people sleeping on downtown streets declined from a peak of 1,876 in mid-September 2006 to just over 700 in recent months, according to police. "We've broken the back of the problem," says LAPD Chief William J. Bratton.

Yet the homeless industry and lawyers who specialize in taking on the LAPD continue to attack the initiative as a cruel effort to punish the poor. This charge is a grotesque misrepresentation of what is really happening, a mythology that is utterly unsupported by the facts.

Myth: The police are criminalizing homelessness and poverty. Reality: The police are targeting crime.

Before the Safer City Initiative began, skid row was a place of ruthless predation and violence. In May 2006, for example, a mentally ill woman who had repeatedly resisted offers of housing and services was stomped to death by a homeless parolee. Every time addicts trying to break their habit stepped outside, they entered a drug carnival of shameless proportions. Dealers fought for control of turf and terrorized the elderly.

In recent months, under Safer City, that atmosphere has been changing. During the first half of 2007, there were 241 fewer victims of violent crime in skid row, and over 12 months, serious crime dropped by 32%.

Most skid row arrests result from aggravated assaults and drug trafficking -- not from violations of the city ordinance banning sleeping or lying on the sidewalk. Moreover, the police offer everyone picked up for a misdemeanor the option of entering rehabilitation instead of going to jail, as part of a program called Streets or Services, or SOS. (Arrestees who have been convicted of violence in the last five years, are registered sex offenders or have outstanding warrants against them are not eligible for SOS. This modest safety precaution disqualified three-quarters of the misdemeanor arrestees over the last year, a measure of the true nature of the skid row street population.)

Amazingly, almost a quarter of eligible arrestees opt for jail, even though SOS requires a mere three weeks in a rehab-and-housing program in order to purge an offense from one's record. Why? Because the lure of the streets is simply more powerful. Of those who did enroll over the course of the last year, only 16% stayed for the offense-clearing 21 days, and only 1% lasted 90 days.

Myth: The police are abusing the homeless. Reality: The police are the most constant source of help in the area, and the homeless know it.

If the Safer City Initiative were in fact the travesty that critics claim, the reception that Cmdr. Andrew Smith and his officers get when they travel the streets would be far different from the love-fest that currently greets them. One afternoon this August when I walked through the streets with Smith, a wizened vagrant on 5th Street shouted: "Hey, man!" and gave him a fist-to-fist handshake. As a drug bust was enfolding on Crocker Street, a middle-aged woman, reeking of beer, approached Smith. "You got promoted," she beamed. "I thought you did wonderful. The next step is chief."

The foot soldiers of downtown's Central Division enjoy a similar rapport with the street population. An alcoholic woman smiles at Officer Deon Joseph as he ambles down San Julian Street, once the heart of skid row depravity. "How are you, Officer Joseph?" she says. He asks her, "What are you seeing down here?"

"Everyone but the right guy," she responds. "The streets are getting a little cleaner, though." Many vagrants call officers by their first names, part of the complex web of formal authority and personal connectedness that defines police-community relations on skid row. Since Safer City began, the homeless have started approaching officers on the street or in the station house to seek assistance, a mark of how the officers are perceived.

Myth: People live on the streets because they can't find housing. Reality: Many people are there because they choose to live without responsibilities.

"If someone wanted to get off the streets, they could," said a supervisor at the Volunteers of America drop-in center who asked not to be identified. "They're out there by choice."

Robert Tapia, a former methamphetamine dealer who now works security at the Union Rescue Mission, said: "They don't want to abide by the rules -- no hats, no alcohol." Tapia encourages mission "guests" to enter rehabilitation, but they usually refuse. Ken Williams, now in recovery, came from Long Beach to skid row a decade ago to indulge his crack and alcohol habits. "I didn't want to get off the streets because I didn't want to conform to any rules," he recalled.

The LAPD estimates that there are between 50 and 140 empty shelter beds on a typical night on skid row. But outreach workers who try to persuade people to use the shelters say they are turned down more often than not. Advocates for the homeless have crafted a series of dodges to deny this fact. UCLA law professor Gary Blasi claims, for instance, that it's unfair to expect someone to take up the offer of shelter when doing so requires "splitting up with your spouse and giving up everything you have." But by all accounts, the number of married couples on skid row is extremely small. And the Central City East Assn. funds and operates a warehouse where people can store nearly every kind of possession for free.

Myth: The homeless oppose the Safer City Initiative. Reality: Although the civil liberties groups and homeless advocates clearly oppose the police presence in skid row, many of the people I met on the streets want more policing, not less.

Jimmy, a middle-aged ex-convict, says he has "seen a lot of things change" since getting out of prison in 2003 for attempted murder. "There's less crime; women are not getting harassed the way they used to." But he'd like even more law enforcement. "They're missing some things that are going on," he said.

The Safer City Initiative has saved more lives in a year than decades of litigation by homeless advocates ever achieved. Skid row's officers are dislodging a culture of anarchy that allowed crime and violence to flourish at the expense of people trying to get back on their feet. Halting Safer City would return skid row to the brutal law of the jungle and help only drug lords and other predators.

Heather Mac Donald is the author of "Are Cops Racist?" and is a contributor to City Journal, from which this article is adapted.

"I don’t have a problem. Seventeen hours a day online is fine."
LEE CHANG-HOON, 15, at a camp for compulsive Internet users in South Korea.
In Korea, a Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession
Seokyong Lee for The New York Times

Students spend their time exercising and doing group activities to wean them from the Internet. More Photos >

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Published: November 18, 2007

MOKCHEON, South Korea — The compound — part boot camp, part rehab center — resembles programs around the world for troubled youths. Drill instructors drive young men through military-style obstacle courses, counselors lead group sessions, and there are even therapeutic workshops on pottery and drumming.
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Seokyong Lee for The New York Times

Lee Chang-hoon, 15, runs an obstacle course at the Jump Up Internet Rescue School. He spent almost all of his time online before his mother sent him to the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine,” he said at the camp. More Photos »

But these young people are not battling alcohol or drugs. Rather, they have severe cases of what many in this country believe is a new and potentially deadly addiction: cyberspace.

They come here, to the Jump Up Internet Rescue School, the first camp of its kind in South Korea and possibly the world, to be cured.

South Korea boasts of being the most wired nation on earth. In fact, perhaps no other country has so fully embraced the Internet. Ninety percent of homes connect to cheap, high-speed broadband, online gaming is a professional sport, and social life for the young revolves around the “PC bang,” dim Internet parlors that sit on practically every street corner.

But such ready access to the Web has come at a price as legions of obsessed users find that they cannot tear themselves away from their computer screens.

Compulsive Internet use has been identified as a mental health issue in other countries, including the United States. However, it may be a particularly acute problem in South Korea because of the country’s nearly universal Internet access.

It has become a national issue here in recent years, as users started dropping dead from exhaustion after playing online games for days on end. A growing number of students have skipped school to stay online, shockingly self-destructive behavior in this intensely competitive society.

Up to 30 percent of South Koreans under 18, or about 2.4 million people, are at risk of Internet addiction, said Ahn Dong-hyun, a child psychiatrist at Hanyang University in Seoul who just completed a three-year government-financed survey of the problem.

They spend at least two hours a day online, usually playing games or chatting. Of those, up to a quarter million probably show signs of actual addiction, like an inability to stop themselves from using computers, rising levels of tolerance that drive them to seek ever longer sessions online, and withdrawal symptoms like anger and craving when prevented from logging on.

To address the problem, the government has built a network of 140 Internet-addiction counseling centers, in addition to treatment programs at almost 100 hospitals and, most recently, the Internet Rescue camp, which started this summer. Researchers have developed a checklist for diagnosing the addiction and determining its severity, the K-Scale. (The K is for Korea.)

In September, South Korea held the first international symposium on Internet addiction.

“Korea has been most aggressive in embracing the Internet,” said Koh Young-sam, head of the government-run Internet Addiction Counseling Center. “Now we have to lead in dealing with its consequences.”

Though some health experts here and abroad question whether overuse of the Internet or computers in general is an addiction in the strict medical sense, many agree that obsessive computer use has become a growing problem in many countries.

Doctors in China and Taiwan have begun reporting similar disorders in their youth. In the United States, Dr. Jerald J. Block, a psychiatrist at Oregon Health and Science University, estimates that up to nine million Americans may be at risk for the disorder, which he calls pathological computer use. Only a handful of clinics in the United States specialize in treating it, he said.

“Korea is on the leading edge,” Dr. Block said. “They are ahead in defining and researching the problem, and recognize as a society that they have a major issue.”

The rescue camp, in a forested area about an hour south of Seoul, was created to treat the most severe cases. This year, the camp held its first two 12-day sessions, with 16 to 18 male participants each time. (South Korean researchers say an overwhelming majority of compulsive computer users are male.)

The camp is entirely paid for by the government, making it tuition-free. While it is too early to know whether the camp can wean youths from the Internet, it has been receiving four to five applications for each spot. To meet demand, camp administrators say they will double the number of sessions next year.
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Campers are under constant surveillance, even while they sleep. More Photos >
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During a session, participants live at the camp, where they are denied computer use and allowed only one hour of cellphone calls a day, to prevent them from playing online games via the phone. They also follow a rigorous regimen of physical exercise and group activities, like horseback riding, aimed at building emotional connections to the real world and weakening those with the virtual one.

“It is most important to provide them experience of a lifestyle without the Internet,” said Lee Yun-hee, a counselor. “Young Koreans don’t know what this is like.”

Initially, the camp had problems with participants sneaking away to go online, even during a 10-minute break before lunch, Ms. Lee said. Now, the campers are under constant surveillance, including while asleep, and are kept busy with chores, like washing their clothes and cleaning their rooms.

One participant, Lee Chang-hoon, 15, began using the computer to pass the time while his parents were working and he was home alone. He said he quickly came to prefer the virtual world, where he seemed to enjoy more success and popularity than in the real one.

He spent 17 hours a day online, mostly looking at Japanese comics and playing a combat role-playing game called Sudden Attack. He played all night, and skipped school two or three times a week to catch up on sleep.

When his parents told him he had to go to school, he reacted violently. Desperate, his mother, Kim Soon-yeol, sent him to the camp.

“He didn’t seem to be able to control himself,” said Mrs. Kim, a hairdresser. “He used to be so passionate about his favorite subjects” at school. “Now, he gives up easily and gets even more absorbed in his games.”

Her son was reluctant at first to give up his pastime.

“I don’t have a problem,” Chang-hoon said in an interview three days after starting the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine.” But later that day, he seemed to start changing his mind, if only slightly.

As a drill instructor barked orders, Chang-hoon and 17 other boys marched through a cold autumn rain to the obstacle course. Wet and shivering, Chang-hoon began climbing the first obstacle, a telephone pole with small metal rungs. At the top, he slowly stood up, legs quaking, arms outstretched for balance. Below, the other boys held a safety rope attached to a harness on his chest.

“Do you have anything to tell your mother?” the drill instructor shouted from below.

“No!” he yelled back.

“Tell your mother you love her!” ordered the instructor.

“I love you, my parents!” he replied.

“Then jump!” ordered the instructor. Chang-hoon squatted and leapt to a nearby trapeze, catching it in his hands.

“Fighting!” yelled the other boys, using the English word that in South Korea means the rough equivalent of “Don’t give up!”

After Chang-hoon descended, he said, “That was better than games!”

Was it thrilling enough to wean him from the Internet?

“I’m not thinking about games now, so maybe this will help,” he replied. “From now on, maybe I’ll just spend five hours a day online.”


Digital Domain
What to Do When Goliaths Roar?
Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse-Getty Images

The day after Thanksgiving is the traditional start of holiday shopping. A Wal-Mart store in Duarte, Calif., above, was packed on Nov. 25, 2005.

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Published: November 18, 2007

AS shoppers arm themselves for post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting later this week, they’ll also indulge in another, newer annual tradition: surfing the Web for advance information about Black Friday retail sales. By organizing sale prices from scattered newspaper circulars into a single database, the Internet has made it easy to search for particular items and compare prices — too easy, at least in the eyes of many major retailers.
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BFAds.net, a Web site that gives shoppers a preview of planned sales, is not always appreciated by retailers. Best Buy, though, welcomes the attention.

For the last several years, Wal-Mart Stores and other large chains have threatened legal action to intimidate Web sites that get hold of advertising circulars early and publish prices online ahead of company-set release dates. The retailers’ threats rest upon some dubious legal arguments, however, which may be the reason they haven’t shown a keen interest in actually going to court over the issue.

Wal-Mart has been among the most aggressive retailers in trying to cow consumer Web sites. Last month, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to BFAds.net, a site devoted to publishing Black Friday ads. Wal-Mart sent the letter even before BFAds had published Wal-Mart’s sale prices, so the cease-and-desist letter would be more properly called a “don’t even think about it” letter.

Wal-Mart asserts that its sales-price data are “protected by copyright and other laws.” The “other laws” were never identified or explained in the letter, and the claim of copyright protection for facts themselves, like sales prices, that exist separately from their original expression was rejected by the courts long ago. In a 1991 case, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that names and phone numbers in a telephone directory could not be copyrighted and thus could be freely copied.

BFAds operates two months a year, as a sideline for a 20-year-old college student, Michael Brim, and his business partner, Dan Silvers, also a college student. The Wal-Mart letter posed a quandary for Mr. Brim. Should he assert his rights as a publisher who believed he had broken no laws? Or should he acknowledge that Wal-Mart (with revenue last year of $349 billion) and its law firm of Baker Hostetler (600 partner attorneys) had the resources to litigate him out of existence?

Mr. Brim chose the latter. He announced on his site that he had no other choice but to heed Wal-Mart’s letter. When Macy’s sent a similar letter, he gave ground again, under protest. BFAds did not post sale prices early for Wal-Mart and Macy’s this year.

Wendy Seltzer, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said she believes that companies like Wal-Mart dispatch the letters without intending to pursue the matter in court, where their claims would be put to a test before a judge. “It’s cheap to send out lots of letters,” she said. “If many sites take the material down, that’s good bang for the buck.”

Ms. Seltzer oversees the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a Web site that publicizes what it calls corporate misuse of cease-and-desist letters to curb legally protected speech on the Internet. The clearinghouse, sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the clinics of seven law schools, posts copies of cease-and-desist letters that Wal-Mart, Macy’s and others send to Web publishers. One aim of the project is to publicly shame companies that casually dash off the letters.

Wal-Mart defends its practice. “All retailers are harmed in the same way when this information is leaked — it tips off competitors,” said John Simley, a Wal-Mart spokesman.

But he also said he was unaware of any time when Wal-Mart had taken a Web site to court for divulging Black Friday sale prices prematurely. I was curious to learn what criminal statutes Wal-Mart referred to when it alerted BFAds’s principals in its letter about the possibility that they may have engaged in “criminal activity.” Mr. Simley declined to be specific, other than to say that “there are laws to protect advertisers.” Baker Hostetler didn’t respond to my requests for a similar tutorial.

If early disclosure was indeed a grave concern of everyone in retailing, why has Best Buy come around to the idea that Black Friday sales sites, above all else, offer an opportunity for free advertising, whetting appetites with a sneak preview of what will be officially announced? At present, Best Buy’s only concern is that inaccurate information may circulate on the sites, so it encourages customers to verify prices on its own site before going to the store. Brian Lucas, a Best Buy spokesman, said, “We don’t want people to wait in a line all night for a deal that doesn’t exist.”

Best Buy’s stance has changed considerably since 2002, when, like other retailers, it sent threatening letters to Web site publishers. In 2003, it did the same — and one site, FatWallet.com, struck back with a lawsuit asking a judge to declare that sale prices cannot be copyrighted. The case was dismissed on a technicality, but Fat Wallet is now happy to dare retailers to give it a chance to go to court again. Tim Storm, FatWallet’s founder and chief executive, said his company tells any retailer who makes threats, “Are you guys sure you really want to do this?” To date, he says, no company has answered yes.

TWO years ago, the young entrepreneurs at BFAds tried a linguistic ploy to avoid legal difficulties when companies complained about posting of sales data. As soon as Office Depot, for example, dispatched a cease-and-desist letter, its name was removed from BFAds’s site. But visitors could still look for sale prices from a company BFAds had renamed “Office Despot.”

Office Depot was not amused. It sued Mr. Brim and sought a temporary restraining order. The court turned down the request, and the company withdrew the suit 14 months later, before a trial could take place.

Shoppers clearly appreciate the convenience of looking at sale prices online. Last November, BFAds served up 55 million page views, and this year, traffic has increased by a multiple of three. Wal-Mart, unwilling to forgo a chance to engage those prospective customers, maintains an “affiliate” relationship with the site, paying a commission to BFAds for linking to Wal-Mart’s site.

Yes, Wal-Mart welcomes referrals from BFAds, where visitors come for nothing other than the earliest possible word of sale price information. Wal-Mart’s lawyers, meanwhile, are ordering BFAds to keep Wal-Mart’s own sales prices hidden. “They want the best of both worlds,” Mr. Brim said.

* Retail Sales Slip, Signaling Cutback in Holiday Spending (November 15, 2007)
* Unseasonably Higher, Gas Prices Add to Strain On U.S. Consumers (November 8, 2007)
* Canadian Exporters Hurt By a Soaring Currency (November 2, 2007)
* ADVERTISING; Wal-Mart Wants to Carry Its Christmas Ads Beyond Price
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Some public high schools are giving students lab experiences that approach, or even exceed, those found in university settings.


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