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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The whole story behind the most famous #selfie - @AFP Correspondent

The story behind "that selfie"

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a picture with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt next to US First Lady Michelle Obama during the memorial service for South African former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. (AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)

By Roberto Schmidt

So here’s the photo, my photo, which quickly lit up the world’s social networks and news websites. The “selfie” of three world leaders who, during South Africa’s farewell to Nelson Mandela, were messing about like kids instead of behaving with the mournful gravitas one might expect.
In general on this blog, photojournalists tell the story behind a picture they’ve taken. I’ve done this for images from Pakistan, and India, where I am based. And here I am again, but this time the picture comes from a stadium in Soweto, and shows people taking a photo of themselves. I guess it’s a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure.

Anyway, I arrived in South Africa with several other AFP journalists to cover the farewell and funeral ceremonies for Nelson Mandela. We were in the Soccer City stadium in Soweto, under a driving rain. I’d been there since the crack of dawn and when I took this picture, the memorial ceremony had already been going on for more than two hours.
From the podium, Obama had just qualified Mandela as a “giant of history who moved a nation towards justice." After his stirring eulogy, America’s first black president sat about 150 metres across from where I was set up. He was surrounded by other foreign dignitaries and I decided to follow his movements with the help of my 600 mm x 2 telephoto lens.
So Obama took his place amid these leaders who’d gathered from all corners of the globe. Among them was British Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as a woman who I wasn’t able to immediately identify. I later learned it was the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. I’m a German-Colombian based in India, so I don’t feel too bad I didn’t recognize her! At the time, I thought it must have been one of Obama’s many staffers.
Anyway, suddenly this woman pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president. I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.

(AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)

I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.
I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have. At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. The AFP team worked hard to display the reaction that South African people had for the passing of someone they consider as a father. We moved about 500 pictures, trying to portray their true feelings, and this seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work.

(AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)

It was interesting to see politicians in a human light because usually when we see them it is in such a controlled environment. Maybe this would not be such an issue if we, as the press, would have more access to dignitaries and be able to show they are human as the rest of us.
I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance.

During Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg. (AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)

The story behind "that selfie" - Correspondent

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#Surf's Up: #Thundercloud

You've never seen a wave like this!

The Thundercloud crowd funding campaign has been launched as a means of securing the needed funds to finish this independent surf documentary. Based around one of the most spectacular days in surfing history, June 8th 2012, when a swell of massive proportions arrived at Cloudbreak, in Fiji, right in the middle of the ASP World Championship Surfing Tour Event.
You've probably seen the pictures in the magazines about this day but Thundercloud is the full story in motion picture, going deeper than you think. With interviews and accounts from the world's best surfers, that challenged themselves in the South Pacific Ocean that day and survived. Thundercloud shines a light on the dark history of the area, re-enacting the murder of King Ratu Imanueli, that lead to the island of Tavarua being handed over to the opposing tribe as a peace offering and how that would effect course of surfing history for years to come, as USA investors sought to create an exclusive surf resort in the area.
We hear from Tavarua Island's Jon Roseman, the Attorney General of Fiji and the man that lobbied the government to change the decree in 2010, Ian Muller, leading to the liberation of the exclusive wave rights in Fiji.
As Thundercloud Reef was open for the world to enjoy, we recount the awesome swells of 2010 & 2011. And of course, all the drama and action of the WCT event and subsequent free surfing session that re-wrote the rule book and set the bar for paddle surfing into the future. All this and more in a 60+ minute documentary called Thundercloud.
To help make this ground breaking story grace the big screen the world over. Go to Pledge your donations there for rewards and support an independently produced documentary about one of the most prestigious waves in the world and all the history associated with it.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Smarter People Stay Up Later, Do More Drugs and Have More Sex - Esquire

What do you think?

Smarter People Stay Up Later, Do More Drugs and Have More Sex
Sex. Drugs. Late nights. 
You may be reading the first four words of my memoir. Or you could be simply listing three things that show signs of being a genius, according to various studies. There's evidence that shows that if you're spending less of your nights hitting the books and more time smoking weed and getting laid until 3am, then you're probably wiser than the rest of us. The three things that got me kicked out of college are apparently the things that the people at the best colleges do all the time. 
Researchers in England have found that students studying at prestigious universities such as Oxford and Cambridge spend more on sex toys than their peers at other universities. Cambridge and Oxford's sex toy sales on just one website ( funded the research) totaled a staggering $31, 461. No word on what products they ordered, nor whether they kept their glasses on while they used them. 
"The correlation probably has something to do with the open-mindedness that comes with intelligence," says Annalisa Rose, 23, who works at Honey, a high-end sex shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "I think that the ability to engage in an open sex life comes with the abilities of introspection and logical thought, and those require some level of intelligence. If we're talking about an open sex life that comes from an emotionally healthy place, sexual mores are mostly made up anyway and intelligent people can rationalize past them," she continued.
The 2nd part of our "genius trifecta" is drugs. Smarter people are more likely to smoke pot or do a line than the average simpleton. This is because, according to many studies, a smarter person isn't more likely to choose the "smarter" choice of not doing drugs but is instead more likely to pursue the more evolutionary novel choice, one that would inherently expand their horizons. Smarter people don't necessarily 'think smarter' - they simply rationalize where they're supposed to "feel." So while a less intelligent person is less likely to pick up a heroin habit in the first place, the more intelligent person will rationalize it. (This explains every good jazz album ever made and also every Christian rock album ever made in the same sentence.)
2010 study that ran in Psychology Today (what, you don't subscribe?) also states that those with an IQ of 125 or higher are exponentially more likely to use drugs. Says the study: 
Net of sex, religion, religiosity, marital status, number of children, education, earnings, depression, satisfaction with life, social class at birth, mother's education, and father's education, British children who are more intelligent before the age of 16 are more likely to consume psychoactive drugs at age 42 than less intelligent children. 
... there is a clear monotonic association between childhood general intelligence and adult consumption of psychoactive drugs.  "Very bright" individuals (with IQs above 125) are roughly three-tenths of a standard deviation more likely to consume psychoactive drugs than "very dull" individuals (with IQs below 75).
Late nights, too, play a leading role in that of the smart person: an academic paper entitled "Why The Night Owl Is More Intelligent," published in the journal Psychology And Individual Differences, says that for several millennia humans have been largely conditioned to work during the day and sleep at night. Those that buck the trend, the paper suggests "...that more intelligent individuals may be more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel values and preferences than less intelligent individuals." The paper goes on to say that those who are more liberal and more inclined towards atheism are more likely to be intelligent, too. 
Essentially, if you're more of a forward thinker, if you're trying something new and pushing your boundaries, you're most likely more intelligent. This doesn't mean that Toronto mayor Rob Ford is some kind of lucid genius, however. It merely suggest that smarter people are more likely to have more sex, do drugs, and stay up late.  
So if you're getting laid at 3am on Sunday morning and have a full bowl packed beside the bed and you aren't going to church the next day, you're probably a genius.
Either that or you're incredibly good at living your best life, as Oprah says.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Suds for #Drugs: #Tide: Works on tough stains -can now also be traded for crack

Pretty crazy! A case study in American ingenuity, legal and otherwise

Suds for Drugs
By Ben Paynter
Published Jan 6, 2013

(Photo: Victor Prado/New York Magazine. Typography by Kevin Dresser.)

The call that came in from a local Safeway one day in March 2011 was unlike any the Organized Retail Crime Unit of the Prince George’s County Police Department had fielded before. The grocery store, located in suburban Bowie, Maryland, had been robbed repeatedly. But in every incident the only products taken were bottles—many, many bottles—of the liquid laundry detergent Tide. “They were losing $10,000 to $15,000 a month, with people just taking it off the shelves,” recalls Sergeant Aubrey Thompson, who heads the team. When Thompson and his officers arrived to investigate, they stumbled onto another apparent Tide theft in progress and busted two men who’d piled 100 or so of the bright-orange jugs into their Honda. The next day, Thompson returned to the store’s parking lot to tape a television interview about the crimes. A different robber took advantage of the distraction to make off with twenty more bottles.

Later, Thompson reviewed weeks’ worth of the Safeway’s security footage. He found that more than two dozen thieves, working in crews, were regularly raiding the store’s household-products aisle, sometimes returning more than once the same day and avoiding detection by timing their heists to follow clerks’ shift changes. Owners and managers of other area stores, having seen Thompson on the news, reached out to him to report their own vanishing Tide bottles. Since then, the oddly brand-loyal crime wave has gone national, striking bodegas, supermarkets, and big-box discounters from Austin to West St. Paul, Minnesota. In New York, employees at the Penn Station Duane Reade nabbed a man trying to abscond with Tide bottles he’d stuffed into a suitcase. In Orange County, an attempted Tide theft led to a high-speed chase that included the thief crashing his SUV into an ambulance. Last year, for the first time, detergent made the National Retail Federation’s list of most-targeted items. Says Joseph LaRocca, founder of the trade group RetailPartners, who helped compile the report: “Tide was specifically called out.”

As the cases piled up after his team’s first Tide-theft bust, Thompson sought an answer to the riddle at the center of the crimes: What did thieves want with so much laundry soap? To find out, he and his unit pored over security recordings to identify prolific perpetrators, whom officers then tracked down and detained for questioning. “We never promised to go easy on them, but they were willing to talk about it,” Thompson says. “I guess they were bragging.” It turned out the detergent wasn’t ­being used as an ingredient in some new recipe for getting high, but instead to buy drugs themselves. Tide bottles have become ad hoc street currency, with a 150-ounce bottle going for either $5 cash or $10 worth of weed or crack cocaine. On certain corners, the detergent has earned a new nickname: “Liquid gold.” The Tide people would never sanction that tag line, of course. But this unlikely black market would not have formed if they weren’t so good at pushing their product.

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30 percent of the liquid-detergent market.

Before the advent of liquid detergent, the average American by one estimate owned fewer than ten outfits, wearing items multiple times (to keep them from getting threadbare too fast) before scrubbing them by hand using bars of soap or ground-up flakes. To come up with a less laborious way to do the laundry, executives at Procter & Gamble began tinkering with compounds called surfactants that penetrate dirt and unbond it from a garment while keeping a spot on a shirt elbow from resettling on the leg of a pant. When the company released Tide in 1946, it was greeted as revolutionary. “It took something that had been an age-old drudgery job and transformed it into something that was way easier and got better results,” says Davis Dyer, co-author of Rising Tide, which charts the origins of the brand. “It was cool, kind of like the iPod of the day.” Procter & Gamble, naturally, patented its formula, forcing competitors to develop their own surfactants. It took years for other companies to come up with effective alternatives.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Real-Life Stories Told in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ @NYTimes

the facts of the era have been burnished and improved on extensively enough... that hardly anyone knows what actually happened anymore.“It’s been so mythologized,” 

The Real-Life Stories Told in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’

Snagged from among the thousands of condolences, recollections, posthumous mash notes and encomiums launched into the Twitter slipstream last week was a message from the actress Virginia Madsen to her 74,656 followers. Lou Reed was a “cool cat,” the award-winning indie star observed. What is more, Ms. Madsen wrote, the singer’s biggest hit and most famous lyric, “Walk on the Wild Side,” once served as “encouraging words for a young Virginia.”
Encouragement is where you find it. Plenty about Mr. Reed’s 1972 song, from the David Bowie-produced album “Transformer,” flouted convention, beginning with the lyrics’ overt reference to prostitution, transsexuals and oral sex. Released as a single, the song went on to unlikely success as the biggest mainstream hit of the singer’s long career; more curious still, the ballad of misfits and oddballs — a hustler, a speed freak, a passel of drag queens — became an unlikely cultural anthem, a siren song luring generations of people like Ms. Madsen to a New York so long forgotten as to seem imaginary.
Yet those people existed, a ragtag band of “superstars” and assorted cosmic trash spinning in Andy Warhol’s orbit in the late 1960s. As Mr. Reed himself once said of the era and milieu evoked in “Walk on the Wild Side,” it “was a very funny period with a very funny group of people doing almost the same thing without anyone knowing anybody else.”
One of those strangers was Holly Woodlawn, the drag-queen eminence whose loopy hegira is recounted just after the hypnotic, elastic bass opening lines of Mr. Reed’s song: “Holly came from Miami, F.L.A./Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A./plucked her eyebrows on the way/Shaved her legs and then he was a she.”
Speaking from her home in West Hollywood last week, Ms. Woodlawn said, “Paul Morrissey made me a star, but Lou Reed made me immortal.”
Ms. Woodlawn was one in a ceaselessly fluctuating cast of Factory characters — Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Ondine, Brigid Berlin, Rotten Rita, Andrea (Whips) Feldman, Ultra Violet, Taylor Mead — each a creation of a time that seems increasingly distant from the New York of today.
Even were another Candy Darling miraculously to appear, hair dyed ash blond (or “Blonde Cendre” as she liked to say); husky, affectless purr aping Kim Novak’s in “Picnic,” it is hard to imagine where she would find a place, as she did working at the Factory taking messages for Mr. Warhol from people like Luchino Visconti.
There is nothing, for that matter, resembling the Factory or Max’s Kansas City, Mickey Ruskin’s fabled nightclub and restaurant on Park Avenue South. There are no longer even the “rich people parties” that, as the Warhol superstar Viva explained last week, “were where we were supposed to go every night to ‘bring home the bacon’ ” — business art being, as Warhol always said, the best art.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, Viva added. Hardly anyone but Warhol himself brought home any bacon: “The bacon stayed in the fridge.”
For the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, a Reed intimate who came on the scene as a young Columbia student and went on to become its essential documentarian, this was substantially so. “Lou is probably the one person from the Warhol Factory who survived to become a great star in his own right,” Mr. Greenfield-Sanders said by telephone following Mr. Reed’s cremation. “If Lou hadn’t written that song, none of these characters would be remembered.”
By “characters,” Mr. Greenfield-Sanders meant the performers who appeared in underground films directed by Mr. Morrissey and generally credited to Warhol — evanescent creatures like Ms. Darling, né James Lawrence Slattery, or Jackie Curtis, né John Curtis Holder Jr., or Joe Dallesandro, who entered pop cultural history (not altogether wittingly) as the male hustler Little Joe.
“That’s not the truth about me,” Mr. Dallesandro said this week. “Lou took my character from “Flesh” and wrote about it in the song,” he added, referring to a 1968 film. “He didn’t know me. He hadn’t even met me yet when he wrote that song.”
Just as fiction became a kind of truth, the facts of the era have been burnished and improved on extensively enough, say those who were part of the scene, that hardly anyone knows what actually happened anymore.
“It’s been so mythologized,” Viva noted from her home in Palm Springs.
Still, she said, who ever heard of anybody running around with an inkpad saying unzip your pants, dip your penis and make a print — referring to a tome compiled by the Warhol intimate Brigid Berlin (the book was later bought by the artist and bibliophile Richard Prince for $175,000). “Nobody would ever do that anymore,” she added.

“That was the era of fun for fun’s sake — fun art,” Viva said, referring to the world and city of “Walk on the Wild Side.” “I have no idea what kids do for fun anymore.”

The Real-Life Stories Told in ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ -

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

#Uruguay official: legal pot for $1 per gram #Cannabis

Marijuana in the medical dispensaries typically ranges from $8 to $14 per gram in Washington depending on quality

Uruguay's drug czar says the country plans to sell legal marijuana for $1 per gram to combat drug-trafficking, according to a local newspaper.
The plan to create a government-run legal marijuana industry has passed the lower house of Congress, and President Jose Mujica expects to push it through the Senate soon as part of his effort to explore alternatives in the war on drugs.
The measure would make Uruguay the first country in the world to license and enforce rules for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana for adult consumers.
Marijuana sales should start in the second half of 2014 at a price of about $1 per gram, drug chief Julio Calzada told a local newspaper, El Pais, on Sunday.
That's an eighth or less of what marijuana costs at legal medical dispensaries in some U.S. states.

See the whole story here: Uruguay official: legal pot for $1 per gram

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why are no-frills #airlines so cheap? @TheEconomist

In 1952 a trip to New York would set the average Englishman back a five months’s wages
IN THE 1950s flying was a privilege enjoyed by only the wealthiest. The costs of flying were simply too high for most ordinary folk. In 1952 a London-to-Scotland return flight would set the average Englishman back a week’s wages; a trip to New York might require saving up for five months. But in 2013 flying is a mass market, due in no small part to the growth of “no-frills” airlines offering flights at very low prices. Ryanair, an Ireland-based no-frills airline, has even been known to give tickets away for free. How can no-frills airlines be so cheap?

Southwest Airlines, the world’s first successful no-frills carrier, pioneered ways of reducing operating costs that are now used all over the world. To reduce costs Southwest filled its planes with more seats, made sure each flight was packed and flew its aircraft more often than full-service airlines. No-frills airlines also cut costs by using only one type of aeroplane. Both Southwest and Ryanair fly only Boeing 737s, whereas British-based easyJet flies mainly Airbus planes. Business class was abolished. Fees for non-essential services like carrying luggage in the hold were introduced. Innovative sales strategies also helped. When easyJet was founded in 1995 it accepted only direct bookings. This cut out the fat fees charged by travel agents. Ingenious use of yield-management systems—which raise ticket prices when demand is high and reduce them during quiet periods—also increased efficiency.

Ryanair has taken the no-frills concept further. The airline is not known for its glamorous waiting-rooms, nor for dazzling customer service. And it has used fees to manage passenger behaviour more than other airlines. For example, to reduce ground-staff numbers, it is now prohibitively expensive to check in at the airport or to store luggage in the hold when travelling with Ryanair. Aggressive in-flight sales strategies have also reduced ticket prices through cross-subsidy. Such tactics may not make for a pleasant travel experience, but Ryanair remains popular. Indeed, it is Europe's biggest airline. And it has even used its slightly dour reputation to cut costs further. Taking to heart the mantra that “all publicity is good publicity”, it has sometimes made provocative announcements—such as a plan in 2009 to charge passengers to use aircraft toilets—apparently with an eye on maximising the number of column inches it receives while keeping its advertising budget to a minimum.

Prompted by unease from shareholders that the firm’s reputation would hamper growth in passenger numbers, Ryanair announced in September that it would smooth its rougher edges to improve customer satisfaction. Does this mean we have seen the back of no-frills strategies in the transport industry? Probably not. Borrowing parts of the no-frills formula, such as stripping out non-essential services and introducing yield-management systems to ticket pricing, companies like SpeedFerries and Megabus have slashed ticket prices on Britain’s cross-channel ferry and on inter-city coaches in America. Oliver Wyman, a management consultancy, has even predicted that the introduction of airline-style yield-management systems to train travel will be one of the next great innovations in the American railway industry. Analysts say this is likely to spread to Europe and Asia too. No-frills airlines, it seems, have the power to transform the entire transport system, not simply the way we fly.

The Economist explains: Why are no-frills airlines so cheap? | The Economist

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sample Reel for 'Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force' - #IAF

These volunteers from the US were the IAF's first pilots; part of the Machal division of foreign fighters.

Sample Reel for 'Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force' - Playmount Productions from Katahdin Productions on Vimeo.
Sample Reel for forthcoming documentary feature "Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force" currently in production by Playmount Productions.

Help us make the film! Make a tax deductible donation at
Sample Reel for 'Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force' - Playmount Productions on Vimeo

________________________ The MasterLiving Blog

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The #cannabis #business: Here come the suits, man | The Economist

D'you think he's a real cop?

Here come the suits, man

EVERY stoner has been there. You are sprawled on the couch, smoking trees of the finest Super Lemon Haze, when the phone rings: a friend needs picking up from the station. Happily, help is on the way: pop a Buzzkill, one of several products in development by the masterminds at Hudson Nutraceuticals, and the metabolising of tetrahydrocannabinol in your liver is accelerated, helping you sober up.
Such is the claim of Mike Schreibman, a former NBC executive who co-founded Hudson last summer. He understood he was on to something, he says, when he ate too much cannabis-infused chocolate sauce one day and realised he would do anything to stop the room from spinning.
Mr Schreibman was one of many entrepreneurs peddling their wares this week at a cannabis jamboree in Denver organised by ArcView, an angel-investment group. Together they raised over $1m. But bar the large pot plants on the stage, in many respects the meeting was no different from other gatherings of American investors and businessfolk. Ties, women and non-white faces were scarce. Pitches were peppered with jargon and cheerfully optimistic revenue projections, though not always a clear indication of the product or service on offer. But there was also a strong atmosphere of camaraderie, a sense that here there was an industry to be built rather than turf wars to be fought.
That is because the ground at last appears to be clearing for the cannabis industry in America. In 1996 California became the first state to legalise the drug for medical use (19 others, and Washington, DC, followed). But aggressive enforcement of federal law, under which pot remains illegal, and unpredictable regulatory regimes have made life miserable for growers and dispensary-owners. Investors have largely stayed on the sidelines.
Yet in November 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first states fully to legalise the drug. And last month the federal government indicated that it would not stand in the way of their experiments so long as they were properly regulated. Soon afterwards, says Steve DeAngelo, one of ArcView's founders, he was contacted by three well-known investors who had previously been unwilling to countenance cannabis. Now they wanted in.
With several more states likely to legalise cannabis in the coming years it is little wonder gold-rush metaphors are being thrown around. The legal cannabis market was worth $1.2 billion in 2011, reckons ArcView. By now it will be much bigger. Some look forward to a fully legalised industry worth $100 billion or more.
Still, says Steve Berg, an adviser to ArcView, investors remain wary of any outfit that "touches the leaf" directly. Thus the heavy presence at ArcView of ancillary businesses in which risks as well as returns are lower: from cannabis-oil extractors to electronic plant-trimmers. Some have built their business models around regulatory schemes: the pitch of Canna Security America, which is seeking $2m to expand, is that it helped write Colorado's security regulations. Who better to help a dispensary implement them?
Participants in the conference speculated about the shape the industry might take as it develops. One day rolling a spliff from home-grown weed will seem as quaint as baking one's own bread, suggests Mr Schreibman (who despite his chocolate-sauce experience has never smoked). Cosmetics and herbal remedies will be huge with soccer moms, muses another attender. Adam Cohen, who set up a cannabis-investment fund last year, thinks that once the full extent of the drug's medicinal uses becomes clear the federal government will be forced to reclassify it.
Inevitably something is lost as Wall Street steps in. A veteran ArcView investor recalls a charming but hopeless presentation by two stoner entrepreneurs who had built a device to convert Starbucks coffee cups into water pipes. Not only might a spruced-up cannabis business have no room for such innovations, he feared, it would be much less entertaining.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How Damon Dash Launched Jay-Z And Roc-A-Fella Records Then Blew Through A $50 Million Fortune

In the late 90s and early 2000s, hip hop entrepreneur Damon Dash was on top of the world. At the time, Dash was the CEO of the hottest rap label in music, Roc-A-Fella Records, with powerhouse roster artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, DJ Clue and Juelz Santana. Dash was also the CEO of the wildly successful Rocawear clothing line which was reportedly generating annual revenues of $350 – $450 million. As if this wasn't enough, Dash was testing the waters in Hollywood by executive producing the critically acclaimed 2004 Kevin Bacon film "The Woodsman". Perhaps most importantly, without Dash, the world would likely never have heard the name Jay-Z at all. With the above resume, you'd have to assume that today Damon Dash must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is presiding over a dynasty that rivals Russell Simmons, Diddy or Dr. Dre, right? Unfortunately that is not the case. Today Damon Dash is not only broke, but he owes millions of dollars to the IRS and has had several properties seized through foreclosure. How did this happen? The story of how Damon Dash launched Jay-Z's career and Roc-A-Fella Records then blew through a $50 million fortune is a sad and shocking cautionary tale.

Read his story online here:  How Damon Dash Launched Jay-Z And Roc-A-Fella Records Then Blew Through A $50 Million Fortune | Celebrity Net Worth

Monday, September 16, 2013

Billionaire Sound Pioneer Ray #Dolby Dies, Age 80 - Forbes

A pioneer in the field of sound, Dolby will be remembered as the man who took the hiss out of sound recordings. With a fortune of $2.4 billion at his death, Dolby truly did make silence golden.

Billionaire Sound Pioneer Ray Dolby Dies, Age 80 - Forbes

Ray Dolby died Thursday in San Francisco, age 80. He suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and acute leukemia.
A pioneer in the field of sound, Dolby will be remembered as the man who took the hiss out of sound recordings. With a fortune of $2.4 billion at his death, Dolby truly did make silence golden.
He founded his namesake Dolby Laboratories DLB +2.95% in 1965. His work revolutionizing the immersive experience of movie theater sound started with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in 1971 and matured with Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.
Over the years Dolby earned 50 patents, two Oscars, multiple Emmys and a Grammy.
He first entered the billionaire ranks in 2005 when Dolby Laboratories went public. The company’s revenues last year were in excess of $900 million. Last year it issued a special dividend to shareholders. Dolby, with more than 56 million shares got $200 million.
With his death, Dagmar, Dolby’s wife of 47 years, assumes his fortune and place on the Forbes 400 list. They have two sons Tom and David. (Of no relation is the musician Thomas Dolby, who recorded the hit “She Blinded Me With Science.”)
Ray Dolby. (Courtesy Dolby Laboratories)
Dolby was born in Portland, Ore. He first became fascinated with sound when studying the vibrations of his clarinet reeds as a child. At 16 he started work at Ampex, a videotape recording company. After studying electrical engineering at Stanford he earned a PhD in physics from Cambridge in 1961 and even consulted to the U.K.’s Atomic Energy Authority. After two years as a United Nations advisor in India he founded Dolby Laboratories in London, later moving to San Francisco.
Though Dolby retired several years ago, his company has continued to make innovations, with the new Dolby Atmos system using 64 speakers — with some sounds programmed to come out of just one speaker. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was one of the first to use the new system.
At a ceremony honoring Dolby last year film editor Walter Murch said, “you could divide film sound in half: there is BD, Before Dolby, and there is AD, After Dolby.”Dolby had donated more than $35 million to fund stem cell research at the University of California. He is the second billionaire sound engineer to die this year. Loudspeaker innovator Amar Bose died in July; Fritz Sennheiser passed in 2010.
The Dolby Laboratories website posted a tribute to its founder yesterday, including these quotes from Dolby summing up the passion of inventing and the meaning of success.

On Inventing:
“I’ve often thought that I would have made a great 19th century engineer, because I love machinery. I would have liked to have been in a position to make a better steam engine, or to invent the first internal combustion engine; to work on the first car. All my life, I’ve loved everything that goes; I mean bicycles, motorcycles, cars, jeeps, boats, sail or power, airplanes, helicopters. I love all of these things, and I just regret that I was born in a time when most of those mechanical problems had already been solved and what remained were electronic problems.”
“Remember that most of my life was that of an adventurer, not of somebody who is trying to invent something all the time. I wanted the experience of traveling to many parts of the world. Inventions were part of my life, but they didn’t overtake everything that I was doing.”
“To be an inventor, you have to be willing to live with a sense of uncertainty, to work in this darkness and grope towards an answer, to put up with anxiety about whether there is an answer.”
On Success:
“I was never a gold-digger, or an Oscar-digger, or anything like that. I just had an instinct about the right sort of things that should be done in my business. So all these things just fell into place.”
“I think I was both lucky and I was also straightforward with people, and I think they liked that attitude.”
“There is no major next step. It’s a matter of constantly being aware of one’s environment, of keeping track of what’s happening in the various industries that we’re operating in and just sort of sensing what’s possible and what’s not possible, what’s needed, what’s not needed-just having all your antennae going, sensitized to all the signals that are out there.”

Ray Dolby


Billionaire Sound Pioneer Ray Dolby Dies, Age 80 - Forbes

________________________ The MasterLiving Blog

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The #Netherlands isn’t the permissive society. It’s the pragmatic society

Policy makers in Holland aren’t hippie potheads. They legalised dope because they are cold-headed realists

Bicycle paths, gay marriage, legal soft drugs, what the world today considers normal, the Dutch showed the way in the past, will they also show the way for the future?

How we all went Dutch
By Simon Kuper
Financial Times
Read the full article at:

Sunday, August 11, 2013

#Spain: #skyscraper missing elevators: sign of current decline- @NYDailyNews

This story says it all about Spain's construction boom.

Spanish skyscraper missing elevators in monster goof: ‘Standard for the Future’ or sign of current decline?

 An apartment building under construction is seen in Benidorm November 26, 2012. Spain is considering offering rich investors from countries such as Russia and China the right to settle in return for them buying up property worth 160,000 euros ($200,000) or more in the stagnant housing sector, the country's commerce secretary Jaime Garcia-Legaz said November 19. REUTERS/Heino Kalis
What goes up must walk down.
In what will surely go down in history as one the greatest architectural blunders, the town of Benidorm in Alicante, Spain, had almost completed its 47-story skyscraper when it realized it excluded plans for elevator shafts.
Despite its name, the InTempo skyscraper was, seemingly rushed through the blueprint process, and its attempted message of prosperity through the country's economic tumult has become one that is more fitting to the current state of things in Spain as a whole.
As El País headlines, "InTempo, an incompetence of high stature," the construction of the massive building has been plagued with problems beyond the oversight of being inaccessible. The construction was initially funded by the bank Caixa Galicia, but as of December 2012, financing for the project was taken over by Sareb, which is "known as the bad bank" in Spain.
The construction of the massive building has been plagued with problems beyond the elevator shaft oversight.

© Miguel Vidal / Reuters/REUTERS

The construction of the massive building has been plagued with problems beyond the elevator shaft oversight.

The notorious title of "bad bank" was bestowed upon banks created by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund to focus toxic estate assets. The bad banks would be entitled to bailouts from the European Union for payments of their purchased assets that are damaged. Essentially, "bad banks" are like real estate paper shredders.
With an initial investment of $4,140, construction company Olga Urbana promoted the project as "an unquestionable standard for the future" that would stretch 200 meters into the clouds. The now-extinct Caixa Galicia had lent $122.8 million in 2005, and when the bad bank took the reins of InTempo, it did so for 50% of that price and an arbitrary $14.7 million. 
The bizarre nature of the practices put in place in the construction of InTempo doesn't stop at bad banks and missing elevator shafts. The initial backer of the project, Caixa Galicia, stopped paying workers for four months around the time it realized — after about 23 floors had been completed — that a service elevator hadn't been installed for the 41 workers who had been hauling materials up 23 flights of stairs.
The most likely solution for the missing shafts would be series of external elevators — which would add a significant increase to the price tag.

The most likely solution for the missing shafts would be series of external elevators — which would add a significant increase to the price tag.

Today InTempo has 94% of its structure completed and 35% of its apartments sold. The building is currently scheduled to be finished in December, but the project is beset with allegations of fraud from both customers and suppliers, who are owed $3.3 million.
As for the elevator issue, there is still a solution to be found. Because of the way the building was constructed, there is no space for a shaft anywhere. The most likely solution, given the circumstance, is a series of external elevators like those found on the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, which would add a significant increase to the price tag.
The building that was set to be a "standard for the future" has instead become a terrible reminder of the present age of decadence and excess.

Spanish skyscraper missing elevators in monster goof: ‘Standard for the Future’ or sign of current decline? - NY Daily News

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#Israeli #Chefs Bring a New Spin on Middle Eastern #Food to American Diners – Tablet Magazine

Shakshuka is on menus all over the country, and za’atar appears in Rachael Ray’s recipes. Can America love Israeli cuisine more?

Israeli cuisine and chefs are the new hip thing in the US.

Israeli Chefs Bring a New Spin on Middle Eastern Food to America
Einat Admony at Balaboosta, Aug. 2, 2013. (Tablet Magazine)
By Leah Koenig — Aug 7, 2013

Einat Admony is gearing up for a busy autumn. The Tel Aviv native and longtime New York-based chef already runs two bustling eateries: Taïm, a celebrated Greenwich Village falafel restaurant with a partner food truck, and a Middle Eastern trattoria in SoHo called Balaboosta, which does wonderful things like top-grilled lamb chops with Persian lime sauce, and nestle-fried olives in a pool of creamy labneh.

But next month, Admony’s life will kick into warp speed. That’s when her cookbook, also called Balaboosta, drops—a vibrant and inviting collection of personal stories and recipes designed, as the book puts it, “to feed people you love.” Shortly after that, Admony will add a new restaurant to her mini-empire, Bar Bolonat in Greenwich Village. As is the case with Taïm and Balaboosta, its menu will center around the Israeli flavors that Admony has said “are my comfort zone, my heart and core.” But it will be the most playful of the three restaurants, deconstructing familiar Israeli flavors and liberally incorporating ingredients from other ethnic cuisines. Case in point: a dessert of tahini cookies that she will serve alongside green-tea gelato. “I want to put the gelato in those gold-rimmed Moroccan tea glasses, which will look beautiful without being gimmicky,” she said.

Admony is an established champion of “new Israeli cuisine,” a term that refers to Israel’s emerging food scene and vigorous recent embracing of its many overlapping food cultures. And she is far from alone. Over the last decade, a new crop of wandering Israeli chefs and food purveyors has begun to make a significant mark on the way Americans cook and eat. The vision of Israeli food that they are bringing moves far beyond falafel or the Sabra brand hummus that sell like gangbusters across the country; it is fine dining—elevated and innovative.

Consider the following: Admony’s first restaurant, Taïm, opened in 2005. Three years later, the Israeli-born, Pittsburgh-raised chef Michael Solomonov launched his restaurant Zahav in the heart of Philadelphia. Within months, his inspiring take on new Israeli cuisine—dishes like fried haloumi cheese with carrots and pine nuts, grilled ground lamb served with pickled ramps, and halvah mousse with chickpea praline—was being lauded on must-eat lists in Philadelphia and beyond.

The trend has only accelerated over the past two years. There’s Zizi Limona, an inventive Middle Eastern-inspired Brooklyn eatery launched in late 2012 by a trio of Israelis, two of whom are also behind New York’s popular chain Hummus Place. Not far away in Manhattan, two bakeries opened by Israeli pastry smiths—Zucker in 2011 by a chef named Zohar Zohar, and a New York outpost of baker Uri Scheft’s successful Tel Aviv bakery Breads earlier this year—are turning customers on with clove rugelach and multiseeded challah, respectively. The Wall Street Journal recently described the “cult following” forming around Breads’ brioche-light, syrup-painted, chocolate babka.

Across the country in Portland, Ore., the city’s thriving food-cart scene has welcomed two businesses selling elevated Israeli street food. There’s Wolf and Bear’s, which has sold its grilled eggplant sandwich with labneh, caramelized walnuts, and kalamata tapenade, among other dishes, since 2009; and Gonzo, which launched a locavore’s take on falafel and shawarma in 2012. In 2011, chef Micah Wexler opened Mezze in Los Angeles, garnering a “Chef of the Year” title from Los Angeles Magazine for his imaginative riffs on Mediterranean classics: dishes like tabbouleh with fava beans and green garlic, and braised Moroccan chicken wings with olives and golden raisins. (Despite the rave reviews, Mezze closed a year later, ostensibly over a dispute with a noisy construction site next door.)

Last month, a company called Brooklyn Sesame launched at The Brooklyn Flea—an established hotbed of emerging food trends. There, Israeli native Shahar Shamir sells his deconstructed halvah, a sultry spread of tahini and honey studded with roasted sesame seeds or pistachios, raw almonds, or toasted coconut. At The Flea, he joined other Israeli and Middle Eastern-inspired vendors like upscale schnitzel makers Schnitz NYC and an artisanal couscous vendor, NY Shuk. Appetizing legend Russ & Daughters also recently started selling Brooklyn Sesame’s halvah spread, which, for a food purveyor, is equivalent to being knighted by the queen.

Then, of course, there’s Yotam Ottolenghi—the charismatic and immensely talented Israeli-British chef who has captured the imagination of this country’s food lovers. He’s the author, along with his Palestinian collaborator Sami Tamimi, of Jerusalem: A Cookbook—a book that chronicles the chefs’ shared love of their holy city and its “tapestry of cuisines.”

Since being published in the United States in late 2012 as a follow up to Ottolenghi’s similarly Middle Eastern-influenced book, Plenty, Jerusalem has solidified his status as a one-name culinary icon. More important, it marks a tipping point in Americans’ cultural awareness of new Israeli cuisine—and their wholesale embrace of the complex palette of flavors and ingredients that come from the country and region. “More than anyone, Ottolenghi has opened the doors to Israeli and Middle Eastern foods to so many people,” Admony said.


Like Admony and Ottolenghi, nearly all the chefs mentioned above were born or raised in Israel, and could ostensibly be sharing their talents there. That is particularly true now, as Israel’s food scene comes into its own as a dense melting pot of Iraqi, Persian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian, Yemenite, Eastern European, Ethiopian, and a number of other cuisines. “Israeli cuisine has matured [in Israel] over the last couple of years,” said Naama Shefi, a food writer and founder of the wildly successful New York pop-up restaurant The Kubbeh Project. “It’s only a recent thing for Israeli chefs to be proud of their own Jewish ethnic foods or interested in exploring the country’s terroir and the foods of their Palestinian neighbors.”

But Admony explained that there are compelling reasons for chefs to leave. “Finding a good space to rent is impossible,” she said, an impressive statement considering she has battled New York’s real-estate hell three times over. More to the point, she said that Israel is a small country and does not yet have a robust dining-out culture that can adequately support its chefs’ passions.

Shefi also explained that distance in itself can offer reason enough for some of Israel’s culinary finest to head abroad: “Cooking outside of Israel allows chefs the freedom to define Israeli cuisine in playful ways, without the pressure to stay overly traditional,” she said. That is certainly true for Admony, who writes in Balaboosta how she felt a “slight twinge of shame” opening Taïm, which at the end of the day was merely a falafel joint. Balaboosta, and now Bar Bolonat, allow her to fully flex the innovation muscle found in all good chefs.

Whatever the reason, the American palate has benefited enormously from these Israeli arrivals—and not just the name-brand stars. “There are so many Israelis working in restaurants all over the country as sous chefs and line cooks right now,” Shefi said. They may not be calling the shots, she added, but they “absolutely influence what is happening in those kitchens.”

Amid all the recent hype around Ottolenghi, and the increasing attention from national magazines on Israel’s food—like a spread in Saveur this past May on the cuisine of the Galilee—it’s easy to forget that this country’s Middle Eastern food consciousness actually goes back decades. “By the time we opened Taïm, falafel had been around for two decades,” said Admony. As a child of the 1980s, I am old enough to remember the time before falafel, as well as hummus, tabbouleh, and baba ghanoush. Back then, those foods could be found in Middle Eastern eateries, and were touted by health-food advocates as nutritious alternatives to the meat-and-potatoes status quo. But they were hardly mainstream.

Today you’re as likely to find hummus and pita on a random bar menu as mozzarella sticks, and Israelis are a large part of the reason why. None of these foods is explicitly Israeli in origin, but Israelis’ love for them, and America and Israel’s close relationship helped facilitate their widespread recognition here. As Gil Marks writes in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, “it was Jews returning from Israel, along with wandering Israelis, who initially popularized hummus [and many Middle Eastern foods] in the West.”

In some ways, then, the food world’s current preoccupation with new Israeli cuisine is just an extension of what came before. But there are important differences. More so than in the past, it’s not just particular dishes that are being embraced, but a whole philosophy of eating. “Americans love the Israeli-style dining experience,” said Shefi. “People get excited about straightforward meals where everyone shares plates across the table and where dining is more communal.”

They also love the vast array of new flavors these chefs have introduced. “We use nigella seeds and sumac in our chopped salad and pomegranate molasses in our dressings,” said Jeremy Garb, a Ra’anana native who runs Wolf and Bear’s with his partner Tanna Dolinsky. By doing so, these and other ingredients that never had an audience in the United States before—za’atar, labneh, silan (date syrup), and harissa (Tunisian chili sauce), among others—are slowly entering our country’s culinary lexicon.

Subtler still is Lior Lev Sercarz’s work. The kibbutz-born, French-trained spice monger sells custom spice blends—a number of which, like the “Tangier” (rose petals, cumin, cardamom) and the “Mishmish” (crystallized honey, saffron, lemon) feature Middle Eastern flavors—to many of America’s most influential chefs. Regardless of how Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, or Sercarz’s other clients use them, their essence infuses the food and opens up opportunities for creativity and fusion.

According to Shefi, who until 2012 worked as a cultural ambassador for the Israeli Consulate, in recent years Israel’s government and tourism boards have begun to understand the PR power behind their dense culinary heritage and now actively promote Israel’s food scene abroad. “When I first started my job in 2006 and suggested that we show the world our amazing cuisine, everyone looked at me like I was crazy,” she said.

These days, largely thanks to Shefi’s work, the tourism boards often sponsor guest-cooking spots for Israel’s best chefs at restaurants in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. They also work in the opposite direction, inviting writers, bloggers, and other influential taste-makers, including none other than Martha Stewart, to take culinary tours of the country.

I attended one of these trips in the spring of 2010. Sponsored by the American-Israel Friendship League and hosted by the inimitable Joan Nathan, our culinary delegation spent the week dining in Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s most boundary-pushing restaurants, touring the Galilee’s verdant farms, and hearing the country’s food luminaries share their take on new Israeli cuisine.

We ate many wonderful meals during the week, and a few superb ones. But what struck me most, and what has stuck with me since, was the dizzying number of new region-specific flavors we experienced: green almonds with their peach-fuzz skin and lemony flavor, geranium leaf-infused syrup drenching a semolina cake; the nutty, roasted young wheat called freekeh; and bundles of fresh za’atar laid out at the Arab market in Nazareth. I came home inspired, with bags of toasted sesame seeds and spices in my suitcase and, just as the trip’s hosts undoubtedly hoped, with stories to share.

With za’atar appearing in Rachael Ray’s recipes, and shakshuka popping up as a brunch option at restaurants around the country, the only question is, how big can America’s love of new Israeli cuisine grow? A recent article in New York magazine suggested that it is “unlikely that modern Israeli cooking will ever bump New Nordic or Asian Hipster” from their current zeitgeist-y reigns. Shefi disagrees. “Look at Denmark’s government and what they have done for Danish food here,” she said. “I went to a dinner several years ago where Ruth Reichl [then of Gourmet] interviewed René Redzepi of Noma and was blown away.” Shefi believes that all the pieces are in place—the creative chefs, the rich mix of historical and contemporary culinary influences, and the diverse regional bounty—for new Israeli cuisine to have a similarly powerful impact. “If we would invest a little bit more funds and energy, it could be the most exciting thing of our time.”


Israeli Chefs Bring a New Spin on Middle Eastern Food to American Diners – Tablet Magazine

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tweeting for Room Service: Introducing The First #Twitter #Hotel | Fast Company


The Sol Wave House is an upscale beachfront hotel in Majorca, Spain sporting two surfable wave pools, spa services, six restaurants, bars, and lounges. If that's not enough, it has just rebranded to become the first "Twitter Experience Hotel."
As this promotional video, scored with some serious Eurodisco, shows, hashtags and smartphones are currently providing silicon lubrication for sunburned Brits to flirt from cabana to cabana. If you ever visited the late, lamented Remote Lounge in New York City, or the telephone bars of the 1960s as featured in Mad Men, you'll get the idea.
Also, you can summon room service for more beers with the hashtag #fillmyfridge. And there will be something called "Twitter Party Lounges."
As a slightly English-challenged "Twitter concierge" explains to HospitalityNet, "our main client profile, young and social, is always looking for new experiences and emotions shared with a growing virtual community; With #SocialWave we wanted to meet this aspiration, which binds to the quality and striking design of our product and the outstanding beauty of the environment." - [MasterLiving Note: Whatever that means!]
Doubling down on its online presence looks like a smart way for this European hotel chain to build its profile. But it @Solwavehouse has a way to go, with currently fewer than 200 followers.

Tweeting for the Weekend: Introducing The First Twitter Hotel | Fast Company | Business Innovation

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sabra's Quest To Push #Hummus Mainstream Is About Much More Than Chickpeas

Sabra strives to make its chickpea dip as popular as bagels, burritos and other foreign-born fixtures of the American diet

Sabra's Quest To Push Hummus Mainstream Is About Much More Than Chickpeas

Last winter, executives from the snack-food empire Frito-Lay invited Ronen Zohar, the Israeli head of America's biggest hummus company, to watch the Super Bowl from a luxury suite at the Superdome in New Orleans.
For the snack-food industry, the Super Bowl amounts to something like Christmas and every kid's birthday party wrapped into one, a day on which the average American consumes the caloric equivalent of 20 servings of Utz's sour cream and onion dip. For Sabra, whose red-rimmed tubs of hummus are increasingly found inside American refrigerators, the stakes were particularly high.
"People are dipping in Super Bowl," Zohar said. "They are looking for what to dip. Unfortunately they are dipping in the wrong product. But we try to change this. And we are doing okay."
Around Sabra's offices just outside New York City, employees are fond of saying that they hope to put their Middle Eastern chickpea dip "on every American table." Though that mission is far from achieved, the company is off to an impressive start. In the last half-decade, overall sales of hummus have climbed sharply in the United States, with Sabra capturing about 60 percent of the market, according to the Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources, Inc. This spring, Sabra announced an $86 million dollar expansion of its Virginia factory, a move that the company says will create 140 jobs.
As the company's leader during this stretch, Zohar has overseen a wide-ranging publicity effort aimed at simultaneously coaxing Americans to open their minds to a new taste of foreign origin while downplaying controversial aspects of the product's provenance. In an age of significant spending by America's pro-Israel lobby, even chickpeas have been swept into the debate over Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, its attitude toward its Arab neighbors and its reliance on American support.
Pro-Palestinian activists have in recent years organized boycotts of Sabra's Israeli parent company, Strauss, for providing care packages to the Golani Brigade, a branch of the Israeli army that has allegedly committed human-rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza. Groups in Lebanon have criticized Sabra for reaping the spoils of what they say is an intrinsically Lebanese dish. To quote a saying that has surfaced on the Internet, "First our land, then our hummus."
sabra hummus
Ronen Zohar, the CEO of Sabra, is the leader of an effort to put hummus "on every American table."
Zohar, a blunt-spoken man of 52 who rose through the industry by persuading more Israelis to consume American corn products, dismisses both groups of critics as irrelevant. The Palestinian boycott amounts to mere "noise," he says. As for the argument that hummus belongs to Lebanon: "I am very happy if Lebanon is going to fight about the hummus and not about anything else."
Like any businessman, Zohar likes to talk about his product's promising future. But hummus has a long history. And in the Middle East, history has a way of intruding upon the present, shaping questions about the legitimacy of what Sabra has been adding to the American table.
"The history of this food is that of the Middle East," writes Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-Jewish cookbook author who has been credited with introducing Middle Eastern food to the West. "Dishes carry the triumphs and glories, the defeats, the loves and sorrows of the past."
No one knows for sure how far back the history of hummus goes, but traces of chickpea, the key ingredient, have turned up in Middle Eastern archeological sites dating to 7,500 B.C. In his bestselling book, Guns, Germs, And Steel, the anthropologist Jared Diamond identifies the chickpea as one of several hardy, nutrition-packed food crops that grew in the Fertile Crescent and enabled its people to develop agriculture and, in turn, cities, armies, systems of taxation and governments.
As civilization spread outward, chickpeas did, too, becoming garbanzos in Spain and chana in India. In the Middle East, they were boiled, mashed and mixed with the sesame paste known as tahini, becoming "hummus bi tahini," more commonly known as hummus.
In recent years, the growing popularity of hummus has made the dip an object of controversy. Sabra instigated one of the fights at a publicity event in New York in 2007, where it served several hundred pounds of hummus on a plate the size of an above-ground swimming pool, prompting its executives to boast that they had produced the largest dish of hummus in the history of the world.
A year later, an Israeli competitor, Osem, responded by serving 881 pounds of hummus at an outdoor market in Jerusalem. The event took place on Israeli Independence day, or as Palestinians call it, Al Nachbar, The Disaster. A Guinness representative was there to document the victory.
Lebanon entered the fray about a year after that, doubling Osem's record at a cook-off in Beirut. The chefs, who had been convened by a pair of Lebanese business associations, used spices to decorate what was now the world's largest hummus plate with a picture of the Lebanese flag. While they were at it, they also broke Israel's record for the largest bowl of of tabouli, a bulgur and parsley dish. According to The Daily Star of Lebanon, the groups that organized the event had a more grandiose goal than merely notching a volume record: They hoped to promote the idea that the Lebanese had invented both tabouli and hummus.
In the months after that feat, Lebanon and Israel traded shots, with Lebanon delivering what has so far proved the victorious blow, serving 23,042 pounds of chickpea dip at a weekend-long gathering in 2010. On the eve of the event, Ramzi Nadim Shwaryi, a Lebanese TV chef and one of the festival's coordinators, told the Lebanese press that he and his allies were in it for Lebanon's honor.
"We will stand together against this industrial and cultural violation and defend our economy, civilization and Lebanese heritage," he said.
At about the same time the hummus wars were playing out in Lebanon, a group of Palestinian-sympathizers in the United States tried to call attention to Israel's military activities in the West Bank and Gaza by pressing for boycotts of two Israeli-owned hummus companies -- Sabra, and one of its larger competitors, Tribe.
The boycotters identified themselves as supporters of a broader movement called Boycott, Divest and Sanctions. Launched by Palestinian activists in 2005 following failed peace negotiations, the organization aimed to apply economic pressure on the Israeli government to end its 46-year occupation of Palestinian territories.
YouTube video produced by protesters in Philadelphia who were part of the movement caught the attention of student activists at Princeton and DePaul universities in 2010. They tried to persuade their schools' dining services to stop offering Sabra. Although they didn't succeed, activists in the movement are still trying to garner support for their anti-Sabra efforts.
Still, Zohar does not seem particularly distressed by the potential implications for Sabra's sales.
"The protesters make noise, but they make noise to themselves," he said. "It doesn't have any influence on our business."
As the protests played out in the margins, Sabra aimed its product at the American mainstream. It deployed volunteers in trucks to hand out free samples of hummus in cities around the country, and expanded its product line to include more familiar dips, including guacamole and salsa.
It launched a national television ad campaign, exhorting people to "taste the Mediterranean," and moved its staff in 2011 from an old industrial building across the street from a Queens cemetery to a sleek suburban office park, where the company heads plotted the conquest of the American marketplace in conference rooms named after touristy, exotic destinations like Madagascar and Morocco. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the rooms were named after Lebanon or Israel.)
At the root of Sabra's success was an influx of corporate money and resources. Strauss, an Israeli snack-food giant, bought half of Sabra in 2005, and Frito-Lay, the snack-food division of Pepsico, entered a joint-partnership agreement with Strauss in 2008. Zohar worked closely with the Frito-Lay people, who had scored a big victory for a foreign dip in the early '90s, when Tostito's salsa beat Heinz Ketchup to become America's best-selling condiment.
With Frito-Lay and Strauss' investments, Sabra built its Virginia factory, where it developed flavors intended to appeal to the average American consumer: Spinach and Artichoke, Pesto, Buffalo Style. As Arabs and Israelis quarreled over the origins of hummus, Sabra was putting out a product that bore about as much resemblance to the authentic dish as a Domino's BBQ Meat Lovers pie does to a genuine Italian pizza.
In Israel, meanwhile, yet another hummus debate was raging, and although it was the least overtly political of the controversies, it was no less capable of provoking feelings of hostility and anger. As the celebrated British-Israeli chef and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian-born business partner and co-author Sami Tamimi wrote in the 2102 cookbook Jerusalem, "Jews in particular, and even more specifically Jewish men, never tire of arguments about the absolute, the only and only, the most fantastic hummusia."
A hummusia is the Israeli equivalent of a New York pizza parlor, a cheap establishment that usually serves only hummus and a few other dishes. But the debates about hummusias are more intense than even the most impassioned pizza threads on Yelp.
"The hummusia fetish is so powerful that even the best of friends may easily turn against each other if they suddenly find themselves in opposite hummus camps," Ottolenghi and Tamimi wrote. The arguments "can carry on for hours," they noted, with the debaters delving into the minutia of whether hummus is better served warm or at room temperature, smooth or chunky, topped with fava beans or cumin and paprika, or nothing at all.
In a letter to The New York Times at the height of the hummus wars, Israeli food writer Janna Gur went even further, calling Israel's fascination with hummus a "religion." She noted that the most treasured restaurants are invariably owned by Arabs, a phenomenon she traced to the early Zionist settlers who arrived in the Holy Land determined to put the customs of the Diaspora behind them, while embracing a new identity in the Levant. They traded Yiddish for Hebrew, yeshivas for plowshares, and matzoh balls and tsimmis for falafel balls and hummus. "This love affair, that has been going on for decades, shows no signs of dying," Gur wrote.
Last summer, while traveling in Israel, I visited as many of the hummusias as I could, hoping to come to my own conclusions about the craze. I was joined in this mission by my father, who moved from Israel to New York in the early 1970s and has griped about the quality of America's hummus offerings ever since. Like many Israelis, he looks down not just on corporate hummus brands like Sabra and Tribe, but also on local shops that package their own hummus in take-out containers. As far as he is concerned, the religion of hummus forbids packaging of any kind.
In the Middle East, hummus is served fresh from the pot, on a big communal plate dripped with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and cumin. The plate has to be big enough and flat enough so that you can comfortably wipe up the hummus with a pita, an activity that my father refers to as "swiping." He insists that hummus should have a subtle, earthy flavor, and disdains spicy hummus, lemony hummus, hummus with chipotles, hummus with artichoke, hummus with basil, sun-dried tomato or spinach, and most of all, the dip referred to as "black bean hummus."
As he has pointed out many times, hummus is the Arabic word for chickpea; by definition, hummus made of black beans isn't hummus.
In Israel, my father and I ate at Abu Hassan, a bare-tabled hummus den in the seaside town of Jaffa, where the staff starts serving early in the morning and shuts down the shop after the pot runs out, often in the early afternoon. We wandered the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, past the pilgrims crowding into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, until we reached a tiny hummus shrine adorned with black-and-white pictures of people sharing a meal at the shop sometime in the 1930s.
One day we drove to a city in Palestine's West Bank known for its tahina factories and uprisings. By law, Israelis are forbidden from entering the Palestinian territories, except to travel to the Jewish settlements, but we felt that no hummus pilgrimage would be complete without a trip to Nablus.
At the checkpoint, an Arab cab driver pulled over and said he hoped, for our own sake, that we wouldn't enter the city in our Israeli rental car. We thanked him and drove past the Israeli guards, through the rounded hills studded with olive trees. My father grew quiet. When he'd first traveled those hills, in 1967, he was in a tank, pushing forward toward the Jordan River as thousands of Palestinian refugees streamed down the sides of the road. The Six-Day War had broken out and the Israeli army had conquered the Palestinian villages.
After a while we reached the outskirts of Nablus, parked and made our way through the maze-like casbah, to a dim, windowless hummus restaurant with electrical wires hanging from the ceiling. A teenage boy strolled into the room with an unmarked bottle of olive oil, tipping it onto people's plates. After a few minutes of "swiping," my father announced that this was the best hummus he'd tasted on the trip -- though he also remarked that the excitement of entering forbidden territory had enhanced the flavor. By that point I knew that my hummus palate wasn't refined enough to discern the subtle differences between the various hummusia offerings, but I liked them all better than any hummus I'd ever had in America.
Toward the end of our stay, we traveled to the fertile hills of the Galilee region, where an Arab chef named Husam Abbas had been garnering praise for his gourmet take on Arab food, defying a number of Israeli assumptions about Palestinian culture.
Abbas, who has been described as a leading figure of Israel's Slow Food movement, broke ground at his chain of high-end restaurants by showing Israelis that Arab cuisine isn't just hummus and kebab. His specialties include a spicy watermelon salad with diced mustard stems and stuffed summer squash in a tomato bisque, and he uses produce grown in fields that his family has tended, by his account, for 1,700 years.
Abbas met us by the side of the road in his pickup truck and led us into his fields. A gruff man with a leathery face, he tramped down the leafy aisles with a cigarette lodged in his mouth, stooping to gather purple-tipped string beans, young cantaloupes that looked more like cucumbers, several kinds of summer squash, and beautifully misshapen heirloom tomatoes.
Later, in the dining room of one of his restaurants, he explained that when the growing season ends, he and his children go into the hills to gather wild herbs with names like "olesh" and "aqab" and "hobeza." The herbs grow only locally and only in the winter.
"But because hummus is dry, it can be used throughout the year," he said.
When I asked how he accounted for the dip's popularity, he kept his answer short: "Low cost, high calorie." He seemed a little annoyed at the need to deliver this dictum.
As Sabra strives to make its chickpea dip as popular as bagels, burritos and other foreign-born fixtures of the American diet, it is employing a flavor palette that would test the limits of acceptability in the Middle East.
One recent day, Mary Dawn Wright, Sabra's executive chef, stood before an array of hummus containers at the company's Virginia factory, discussing these techniques. She popped open a tub labeled Asian Fusion.
"Israelis would never ever think it's considered to be hummus," she admitted.
A glistening spoonful of some brightly colored carrot and ginger mixture distinguished the dip from anything you'd find in a hummusia. Sabra collaborates with outside "flavor houses," whose scientists also help develop classic American products like Doritos, she explained.
Asian Fusion is just one of more than a dozen flavors that Sabra has invented in its effort to convert more Americans to hummus, and Wright was almost certainly correct in her frank assessment of what Israelis might think of them. Even Zohar didn't bother to feign enthusiasm for Sabra's Buffalo Style flavor. "I detest it," he said.
But for Zohar, and presumably for the rest of Sabra's executives, personal feelings about the flavors are as irrelevant as hummus' place of origin. What matters are the cravings of the average American consumer, and Zohar seems to think that no American is beyond the company's reach.
At the Superbowl, he noticed that many of the tailgaters were eating Louisiana fare -- "all kinds of crabs and shrimps, whatever it is."
He didn't see any hummus containers amid the jambalaya and gumbo.
"Maybe in New Orleans they are eating hummus not as much as people in New York are eating hummus," he said recently. "But give us two years. They are trying it, and when they try it they become a lover."

Sabra's Quest To Push Hummus Mainstream Is About Much More Than Chickpeas


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