“Germany is Weltmeister,” or world champion, wrote Roger Cohen in his July 2014 New York Times column1—and he meant much more than just the immediate euphoria following Germany’s first soccer world championship since the summer of unification in 1990. Fifteen years earlier, in the summer of 1999, the Economist magazine’s title story depicted Germany as the “Sick Man of the Euro.”2 Analysis after analysis piled onto the pessimism: supposedly sclerotic, its machines were of high quality but too expensive to sell in a world of multiplying competitors and low-wage manufacturing. Germany seemed a hopeless case, a country stuck in the 20th century with a blocked society that had not adapted to the new world of the 21st century, or worse, a society that was not even adaptable.
Things since then have changed significantly. In the summer of 2013, more than a year before the triumph in Rio de Janeiro, the Economist reversed its own verdict—Germany now appeared on the front page as “Europe’s Reluctant Hegemon.”3 In 2014, Germany came out on top for the second year in a row in the BBC’s annual country rating poll as the country with “the most positive influence on the world.”4 Simon Anholt’s annual “Nation Brand Index” also put Germany in the top spot in 2014.5
Like many San Franciscans, overpriced coffee is a considerable portion of my weekly budget. One day in Soma, the industrial district home to many start-ups, I came across a flier advertising a free gift card to Philz, a nearby coffee shop. All that was required was to show up for service at a local church called Epic. I hadn’t been to church in months, and decided to give it a try.
The Bay Area has never been perceived as religious: a 2012 Gallup poll found that fewer than a quarter of residents identify as “very religious” (defined as going to church weekly), as opposed to 40% of the nation as a whole. High salaries have drawn droves of well-educated millennials to the booming tech sector, which correlates with lower religious sentiment. So far afield from the Bible belt, the region is in fact seen as hospitable to all forms of old testament abominations: fornication, paganism – even sodomy.
Between 1971 and 1979 Castro Pacheco completed 27 murals for the governor’s palace in Mérida, Yucatán. These murals depict what some consider the realities of life in the Yucatán after the Spanish conquest as well as images and myths of native Maya tribes indigenous of the Yucatán region. The murals depict scenes of work and torture that the native peoples of the Yucatán endured under Spanish control. The reality of early henequen workers are seen in El henequen. A traditional creation myth of the native tribes is also depicted by Castro Pacheco in his work Hombres de maiz. The murals are oil paintings on large format canvas.
Nothing like driving around your community for the first time in 2 days after an epic city shutdown and seeing abandoned cars still on the road to make you think about velocity increasing after a freeze.
The first month of the year has been a tumultuous one for financial markets. Emerging markets have taken a tumble (see “This Water Lives In Mombasa”). Brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy, Gamestop, and Target have gotten blasted. Yet last night, Facebook reported stellar earnings and its stock sits at an all-time high, as mobile has gone from 0% of its revenues before its IPO to 53% of its revenues today. What we’re witnessing is the breaking down of stability (see “The Trouble With Stability”).
Now that we’re almost 5 and a half years after the fall of Lehman Brothers, there’s been much talk about how far along in the recovery we are, from housing to labor to government finances. But that word, “recovery,” is dangerous, because it implies that we’re simply putting something back where it was before. While some economic actors were destroyed by 2008, others adjusted to what they believed to be a new normal. They cut costs and aggressively managed inventory. Instead of investing profits into new ventures they plowed it into stock buybacks. Others responded to low interest rates by leveraging low yielding positions, or playing a carry in higher yielding emerging markets.
And without Wolfe, we would not understand California—or the California-ized modern world. At the time of his most frequent visits, the state was undergoing a profound change, one that affects it to this day and whose every aspect has been exported throughout the country and the globe. Both have become much more like California over the last 40 years, even as California has drifted away from its old self, and Wolfe has chronicled and explained it all.
It started by accident. Wolfe was working for the New York Herald Tribune, which, along with eight other local papers, shut down for 114 days during the 1962–63 newspaper strike. He had recently written about a custom car show—phoned it in, by his own admission—but he knew there was more to the story. Temporarily without an income, he pitched a story about the custom car scene to Esquire. “Really, I needed to make some money,” Wolfe tells me. “You could draw a per diem from the newspaper writers’ guild, but it was a pittance. I was in bad shape,” he chuckles. Esquire bit and sent the 32-year-old on his first visit to the West—to Southern California, epicenter of the subculture.
First, there’s God’s handiwork so evident on an August evening. A corn crop that appears to be epic, gorgeous hay and soybean fields along with plenty of country miles to be carved by the GTI.
Ah, the destination – the point of the journey. That would be Monticello’s seventeen year young Dining Room.
Lack of planning did not doom our outing. I called to inquire about a table for two on a recent Saturday evening. 7:15? “We can do that but you’ll have to sit at a table adjacent to the bar”. Done.
That table, well served by a veteran waiter, made easy conversation with one of the bartenders (who happened to be a one of the owners). I mentioned that we had been before, one month after it opened and a few times over the years. It has been too long since our last visit.
The food was as remembered: delicious and a great value. A satisfying salad and fresh vegetables accompanied the pork roast and beef tenderloin on our table.
Perhaps most impressive, was the establishment’s “cadence”. The operations expertise was particularly evident when the dining room was full and our entrees arrived at the right time and proper temperature. I mentioned this to one of the proprietors. She said that her husband – the chef – insists that the food is delivered immediately when the correct temperature is observed.
I first noticed the essence of a restaurant’s cadence at La vie est belle six summers ago. Is it still there? Yes, thankfully. Who could forget the farmer delivering a slab of beef as we considered the menu? Nancy enjoyed beef carpaccio that evening.
The chef and his assistant did it all. Menu, drinks, cook, clean and forage. Fabulous. We learned of La vie est belle and Chat Plume via the excellent Le Blanc Manger. (a journey made possible by my generous parents!)
Heady company indeed. These memories and more streamed back while we finished a luscious dinner and conversation at Monticello’s Dining Room. Highly recommended.
Cook explained, “It is a part of the ecosystem. And so just like the App Store is a key part of the ecosystem, and iTunes and all of our content is key, and the services we provide from messaging to Siri and so forth, having something in the automobile is very very important. It’s something that people want. And I think that Apple can do this in a unique way, and better than anyone else. And so it’s a key focus for us.”
That’s certainly a stronger endorsement than Cook’s recent descriptions of the state of Apple TV, which have morphed from a “hobby” to being “a string we keep pulling to see where it takes us.”
The origins of iOS in the Car
iOS in the Car appears to be Apple’s first significant new hardware product that isn’t a standalone device. It’s an outgrowth of the company’s car integration features, which originated as a way to control music playback from the iPod.
Between the iPod’s release in 2001 up until 2003, Apple experimented with basic serial interfaces, starting with iPod Accessory Protocol. This morphed into the more sophisticated Advanced iPod Remote (AiR) with the capacity to depict artist and title information, navigate songs within a playlist, handle shuffle playback and even show album art.
It all happened between the ’50s and ’70s, when Shenzhen was a small fishing village. Every single dark night during that time there were many mainlanders leaving their homeland, diving into the deep and dirty Dapeng and Shenzhen bays, and swimming the deadly four-kilometre journey to Hong Kong. The years 1957, 1962, 1972 and 1979 marked the four major booms in illegal emigration to Hong Kong, as mainlanders had suffered greatly from the Cultural Revolution, which included vast famine.
According to my research and investigations, about two million people flooded into Hong Kong as illegal immigrants, often with great personal loss, and more people died on their way or were caught and repatriated.
Neither East Germans climbing the Berlin Wall nor the tens of thousands of North Koreans crossing the Yalu River to the Chinese city of Dandong could compare to the exodus from the mainland to Hong Kong. It’s an epic account of the fate of communists seeking a better life in a capitalist harbour, at a cost of life and blood. So I called it The Great Exodus to Hong Kong.
The great mystery story in American politics these days is why, over the course of two presidential administrations (one from each party), there’s been no serious federal criminal investigation of Wall Street during a period of what appears to be epic corruption. People on the outside have speculated and come up with dozens of possible reasons, some plausible, some tending toward the conspiratorial – but there have been very few who’ve come at the issue from the inside.
We get one of those rare inside accounts in The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, a new book by Jeff Connaughton, the former aide to Senators Ted Kaufman and Joe Biden. Jeff is well known to reporters like me; during a period when most government officials double-talked or downplayed the Wall Street corruption problem, Jeff was one of the few voices on the Hill who always talked about the subject with appropriate alarm. He shared this quality with his boss Kaufman, the Delaware Senator who took over Biden’s seat and instantly became an irritating (to Wall Street) political force by announcing he wasn’t going to run for re-election. “I later learned from reporters that Wall Street was frustrated that they couldn’t find a way to harness Ted or pull in his reins,” Jeff writes. “There was no obvious way to pressure Ted because he wasn’t running for re-election.”
Kaufman for some time was a go-to guy in the Senate for reform activists and reporters who wanted to find out what was really going on with corruption issues. He was a leader in a number of areas, attempting to push through (often simple) fixes to issues like high-frequency trading (his advocacy here looked prescient after the “flash crash” of 2010), naked short-selling, and, perhaps most importantly, the Too-Big-To-Fail issue. What’s fascinating about Connaughton’s book is that we now get to hear a behind-the-scenes account of who exactly was knocking down simple reform ideas, how they were knocked down, and in some cases we even find out why good ideas were rejected, although some element of mystery certainly remains here.