Issue 001

These Can Be Yours

From things to help you see better, to those that make you move.

Herrlicht glassesfashionMade entirely from wood-even the screws and hinges are precision-cut from maple or cherry pieces-Herrlicht glasses are like no spectacles you've ever seen. The price may blur your vision.$1,160, herrlicht.de

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Nic Harcourt on music

Nic Harcourt on the failing recording industry. PLUS: GOOD Video Feature

Earlier this year I made my first visit to MIDEM, an international music industry conference that takes please each year in Cannes, France. At the conference, just like at every other recent industry shindig, from South by Southwest in Austin, to CMJ in New York City, the overwhelming majority of panel discussions, and conversations in bars and clubs, focused on one thing: how will things shake out in the music business as new technologies remove control of music delivery from record labels and radio stations? Notice that I didn't mention MTV. The station pretty much removed itself from the music game several years ago, largely dropping videos in favor of game shows and dubious reality programming. MTV says that it made the programming switch because no one wants to watch music videos anymore. Fair enough. Generation (fill in Madison Avenue's current half-decade demographic description here) isn't watching videos. They're not listening to commercial radio because it (A) doesn't play the music they want to hear and (B) pretty much sucks anyway. They're not buying CDs because they can download the music they want (sometimes paying, mostly not) or rip it from a friend. So where is the music business heading? Can it actually survive the current chaos and uncertainty in any recognizable form? The simple answer is that the jury is on a long sabbatical, and nobody knows. What we do know is that the internet and digital revolution have thrown almost every aspect of the music business into the air and the chips are yet to fall.In the '90s, the record and radio industries systematically squeezed any last vestige of creativity out of their respective businesses in a constant kowtow to the bottom line. The record industry focused on divas (Christina Aguilera), boy bands ('N Sync), and alternative rock one-hit wonders (The Verve Pipe). As a result of federal deregulation, corporations gobbled up large numbers of radio stations, and the once eclectic landscape of radio became a wasteland of homogenized jingles, shortened playlists, and beer and mattress commercials. By the end of the decade, tuning across the radio dial for anything remotely original became a futile exercise. Drive across the United States and you'll find the same cookie-cutter radio formats in every market. Noncommercial radio (i.e. public and college) has become the last bastion of original music programming on the dial, as the audience has turned away from commercial radio in droves. Listeners have found other alternatives as well. Internet and satellite radio now attract significant audiences because they offer a choice. And that's really what the current state of play is all about: consumers having the freedom and technological resources to make their own choices.The industry is still grappling with the fact that music lovers will no longer be spoon-fed whatever flavor record labels are pushing that month. Do the labels have a future? Yes they do, but it will involve a very different way of doing business. Early adopters have moved forward in their embrace of digital streaming and new media, and are using technology to make their own playlists. The record industry must adapt or die. Radio advertisers are beginning to shift their budgets to target new media consumers. As for satellite radio, I've always believed that there are only enough potential subscribers to support one company. Both Sirius and XM spend more money than they make. I failed math badly, but I still know that only the U.S. government can get away with a financial plan like that. There are more choices around the corner. Digital radio, a new technology that allows existing radio frequencies to be split into up to six streams, is becoming more and more accessible, and it's only a matter of time until the web becomes truly wireless and you'll be able to listen to web radio in your car.Bad news for the music industry is, paradoxically, good news for artists. The web has allowed them the freedom to develop and find a fan base in a way they could never have before (see "Breaking it down," right). In recent years, I've known several musicians who refused traditional major label contracts (Damien Rice, Bright Eyes, Jem) in order to retain control of their musical visions, instead cutting deals that gave them access to marketing and promotional support. I'm sick of hearing boomers bemoan the lack of exciting new artists while they drop a couple hundred bucks to see (enter old-fart band name here) in concert. The truth is that there are many vital young musicians writing and recording important songs today, but you have to look for them. Corporate America isn't going to discover them for you. The world has changed; there are no pop stars anymore. But there is a wealth of amazing music that you can discover. For a music fan, there's never been a more exciting time.

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Buzzworthy

Conscious Consumption: Is fair trade coffee a tradeoff?

The concept of fair trade is simple: give small farmers direct access to international markets so they can compete with larger companies. As the idea catches on, coffee beans branded with the fair trade label are becoming ever-present. But is fair trade coffee as good on your taste buds as it is on your moral compass?We asked Siel Ju-a fair trade coffee aficionado who writes on the web as Green LA Girl-to try a spectrum of six different coffees, and compared her results to those of our own crack panel. Everyone then voted for a favorite and least favorite cofee. Our samples included Folgers, Yuban, Dunkin' Donuts, fair trade and regular varieties from Starbucks, and an organic blend from the Fair Trade Coffee Co. In a blind taste test, we determined if helping family farmers to compete in the world market actually makes coffee taste better.1. Fair Trade Java Organic$10 / lb.fairtradecoffee.orgSiel says:A yummy fruity aroma. The best tasting of the bunch.good says:The Platonic ideal of coffee. Creamy and thick.favorite votes:GOOD GOOD GOODworst votes:BAD2. Yuban Dark Roast$4.39 /11oz.yuban.comSiel says:A bit too much smoke. A slightly sour aroma.good says:Good. Strong. Mellow. Like Michael Clarke Duncan.favorite votes:GOOD GOODworst votes:3. Starbucks French Roast$9.99 / lb.starbucks.comSiel says:Not too acidic. Smooth and earthy.good says:Kind of floral. Kind of spicy. Kind of gross.favorite votes:GOODworst votes:4. Folgers French Roast$3.99 / 11.5oz.folgers.comSiel says:The aroma isn't too interesting, but it's not bad, though a little acidic.good says:Very mild. Not boring, but unimpressive.favorite votes:GOODworst votes:

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Look at Me

Am I American enough for you? asks Uzodinma Iweala.

Am I American enough for you? asks Uzodinma Iweala

I'm tired of Americans questioning my "Americanness."In March of last year, I flew into the United States via London on British Airways. After landing in Washington, D.C., I found myself face to face with a U.S. Customs Service officer. His shoulders slouched. His belly hung over a belt heavy with a radio, shiny handcuffs, and a black gun. Even his handle bar mustache seemed to sag."Passport," he said, without looking at my face.I handed him my navy blue American passport with its golden eagle stamped on the cover. He opened it, flipped through, and then said rather rudely, "So why are you here?""Excuse me?" I asked, unsure of how to respond to his question. "Uh... I live here?""Look, son. Why are you here?" he asked again with more of an edge to his voice. My passport quivered in his hand.I tried again, "I live here."It's only when his fleshy fingers slid along his belt and came to rest just atop the black handgrip of his gun that I realized he was asking a very different question. He had seen the name of a foreigner stamped inside an American passport and wondered why I had citizenship in his country.On the surface, the immigrant or children of immigrants from the developing world may seem to face the same challenges as the wave of European immigrants who came before us. Differences in language and culture provide an obstacle to assimilation into mainstream American society, but there is one issue that makes our immigrant experiences profoundly different than those of European immigrants of the early twentieth century: the way we look. Unlike white Europeans, many of whom look just like white Americans, the African, Asian, Latin American or Middle Eastern immigrant, for the most part, does not fit America's picture of itself. Thus we have a much harder time gaining acceptance into this supposedly welcoming country.America definitely has difficulty accepting non-white Americans as real Americans. No matter how long you have lived in the States, if you don't have white skin, the public automatically assumes you aren't fully American. During the 1998Winter Olympic Games, MSNBC ran a headline announcing Tara Lipinski's win over Michelle Kwan: "American Beats out Kwan." Never mind that Michelle Kwan was born in Torrence, California. Never mind that she had never lived in any other country. What makes Tara Lipinski more American than Michelle Kwan? Both come from immigrant families. Both represented the United States very well in the Olympics. And yet the media, which ran a similar headline during the 2002 Salt Lake City games, seems to have a different idea.On a personal note,I have been told countless times, when I've been critical of the United States, "If you don't like it, you should just go back to where you came from." My response: "You mean to Potomac, Maryland?"Granted, new immigrant families complicate matters by holding on to cultures and traditions from abroad. I have often heard other Americans say of people like me, "They don't want to be like us. They just want to use what we have without giving anything back." While I will be the first to admit that immigrant communities need to reach out to other Americans, it's a little absurd to expect us to do all the work. As has been said before, the ideas that we bring from abroad help to make America great. Furthermore, the majority of immigrants who come to the United States, whether legally or illegally, make major contributions to the country, economically and otherwise. The founder of Ebay - now an American - was born in Paris to Iranian parents. And how many immigrants have become citizens after giving their lives fighting for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan? How many immigrants would do that for any other country?Immigration is a wonderful thing that must, of course, be managed properly. I understand that all countries need to regulate the influx of people. But America is strong because its policy of acceptance has allowed different people with different languages, cultures, and ideas to exist together in society.So to get back to the officer and his question: "Why are you here?"I said, "Sir. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I just want to go home."
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The American Family Grows Up

The American family is under attack, but not for any reason you might think. Neal Pollack traces the arc of young parenthood, toeing the delicate line between fun and responsibility.

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Minister of Information

Jimmy Wales is putting all of human knowledge at our fingertips-with your help.

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