Centuries of economic theory have been based on one simple premise: when given a choice between two items, people make the rational decision and select the one they value more. But as with many simple premises, this one has a flaw in that it is demonstrably untrue.
The fields of psychology and behavioral economics have experimentally identified a laundry list of common biases that cause people to act against their own apparent interests. One of these biases -- the mere fact of possessing something raises its value to its owner -- is known as the "endowment effect."
A new interdisciplinary study from the University of Pennsylvania has delved into whether this bias is truly universal, and whether it might have been present in humanity's evolutionary past.
The study was led by Coren Apicella, an assistant professor in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychology, and Eduardo Azevedo, an assistant professor in Wharton's Department of Business Economics and Public Policy. They collaborated with Yale's Nicholas Christakis and the University of California, San Diego's James Fowler.
It will be published in the American Economic Review.
A classic endowment effect experiments involves giving participants one of two items, such as a chocolate bar and a mug, and then asking whether they would like to trade for the other. As the starting item is selected at random, there should be a 50 percent chance that participants initially receive the item they like best and thus a 50 percent chance that they will trade.
"What we see, however, is that people trade only about 10 percent of the time," Azevedo said. "Simply telling someone they own something makes them value it more. That is, the way you ask the question changes what item people prefer, unlike what you would expect from rational economic behavior."
One problem with these experiments is that they generally involve participants from so-called "WEIRD" -- western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic -- societies. Apicella drew on her decade-long study of the Hadza people of Tanzania to provide a new perspective. The Hadza are one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on Earth, living in small, nomadic camps that communally share nearly all their possessions.
"We wanted to examine whether the endowment effect was something that occurs in non-WEIRD societies, since they represent the vast majority of human populations that have ever existed," Apicella said. "Even if it's not a perfect window into our past, it's at least a different perspective than what you get when you study your average college student. The fact that the Hadza remain relatively isolated from Western culture, media and ideals makes them a good group with which to investigate the history and universality of biases like the endowment effect."
The history of the endowment effect is of particular interest to evolutionary psychologists, as experiments to test its presence in non-human primates, such as orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas, has been met with mixed results. That some non-human primates exhibit the bias could mean that it was present in the last common ancestor between them and humans, but it could also mean that they learned the behavior by participating in other reward-based studies.
The area of North Tanzania where the Hadza live provided a natural way to further investigate the role of culture in transmitting this bias, as a large lake separates some, but not all, of the camps from a nearby village. People living in the camps on the near side of the lake have much more frequent interactions with tourists and commerce, often buying items from stores in the village, or selling bows and arrows to visitors.
The researchers conducted versions of the endowment effect experiment in several different camps, and compared the results.
In order to avoid bias from items that might be more or less valuable in the environment the Hadza live in, the researchers constructed the experiments so that participants chose between items that had only cosmetic differences. Participants would be given either a package of cookies, with the option to trade it for a different flavor, or given a lighter, with the option to trade it for a different color. They also ensured that the participant knew that the variety he or she received at the start was a random choice, and varied whether the participant got to physically hold the item before given the option to trade it for another variety.
"We wanted to use both food and tools, as experiments with non-human primates show an endowment effect for the former but not the latter," Apicella said. "However, we saw that it didn't make a difference whether a person was choosing between cookies or lighters. The difference-maker was their relative level of isolation from modern life."
"The more isolated Hadza traded about 50 percent of the time -- which is what rational people should do," Azevedo said. People near the village traded about 25 percent of the time, which is much closer to the 10 percent we see with Western students."
"To make sure this wasn't a case of the more capitalistic people moving closer to the village, we also asked the people about their social networks," Azevedo said. "The percentage of people who named someone in a distant camp was very small. Quantitatively, it seems impossible that the difference in endowment effect between two camps could be explained by migration."
With that potential caveat accounted for, one explanation for the apparent lack of an endowment effect in the more isolated camps is that the bias is a learned behavior that comes with exposure to capitalistic societies. However, an alternative explanation could be that both groups experience the effect, but it is suppressed in the more communal groups by social pressures.
"We need to study this further to see which explanation holds," Apicella said. "Either way the results suggest that these isolated hunter-gatherers are more rational than the average western consumer when it comes to economic decisions."
Awhile back there was a study that came out dealing with Tibetans, how they adapted genetically to live at such heights with such thin air. Now someone's studied Siberians, and sure enough, they have genetic changes that help their metabolism to burn fat and keep warm. Humans are very adaptive creatures.
As part of an effort to catalog genetic diversity in Siberia, Alexia Cardona of the University of Cambridge and collaborators sampled DNA from 200 Siberians representing 10 native groups. The team looked for genes that have more changes in Siberians than would be expected by chance — a sign that the genes evolved rapidly in the 24,000 years since people settled the frigid land. Rapid changes suggest that a gene is important for adapting to an environment.
Several of the Siberians’ genes have variants that may help keep Arctic dwellers warm during the long winters, Cardona reported October 24 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics. Among the candidates for genetic heaters are genes involved in metabolizing fats. Some Siberian groups eat mostly meat, so genes that help convert animal fat to energy are important for creating heat.
Another gene with variants unique to Siberians is called PRKG1; it helps regulate body heat by controlling muscle contraction and the constriction and dilation of blood vessels. Muscle contractions are an important part of shivering, which can raise body temperature.
Mexican-style South of the Border Justice has arrived in America with a vengeance, and is on display in a courtroom in Miami where three members of New York’s Gambino Family, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, and James "Pudgy" Fiorello, are on trial for the murder of Suncruz Casino tycoon Gus Boulis.
The Boulis trial confirms the appearance on these shores of the kind of blatant immunity from prosecution that Mexican gangsters, politicians, drug cartel bosses and Generals—many of whom wear more than one hat—have long taken for granted in our neighbor to the South. Given the continuing devolution of the formerly-great superpower, this should not be considered an especially surprising development.
Yet it is still a shock to realize how much justice in today’s Miami resembles that in, say, Tijuana, fabled home of risque sex acts and now “stewmasters” making “Mexican meat soup” by dissolving bodies in 55-gallon industrial drums in auto repair shops placed strategically across the dusty landscape.
Tijuana is located in a semi-failed state that you could call a banana republic, if that weren’t a slur on nutritious fruit.
Guess what? So is Miami.
Maybe Miami and Tijuana should be sister cities. Because Gus Boulis' murder trial is almost too spookily similiar for words to a trial which took place in Tijuana twenty years ago.
Gus Boulis was a casino cruise operator who had recently sold his 11-ship operation to Jack Abramoff, the big-time Republican lobbyist who was at the time one of America’s most powerful men. After Abramoff and Kidan “forgot” to pay Boulis for the purchase of his casino cruise line, his continued existence almost instantly became inconvenient.
Héctor Félix Miranda was a well-known journalist in Tijuana. When he wrote something unflattering about one of Mexico’s most powerful men, his continued existence also became inconvenient.
Both suffered the same fate, in the same way. Also, the aftermath of the murders played out almost identically.
Hector Felix Miranda was ready to go to work. On a rainy morning in April, 1988, he left his house and climbed behind the wheel of his Crown Victoria LTD to drive to his job as co-editor of ZETA, a widely-read muckraking newspaper.
Across the street from Hector that morning sat a man watching from a black Pontiac TransAm with its engine running. Victor Medina was a burly former state policeman, an expert marksman, and a professional bodyguard to Jorge Hank Rhon, the son of Carlos Hank González, the most powerful man in Mexico at the time.
Parked facing Hector, maybe 150 feet away, was a brown Toyota pickup truck with two men aboard. One wore Levis and work boots, while the other, the shooter, Antonio Vera Palestrina, who had been Carlos Hank González’ personal bodyguard when Hank was Mexico City’s mayor, was decked out in cowboy boots, cowboy hat, an expensive suit, and a belt with a gold belt buckle.
The black TransAm pulled out in front of Hector, then suddenly stopped. Coming up behind him was the brown Toyota pickup, which pulled up beside Hector.
Gus Boulis was ready to go home. Finished with a later meeting that lasted until 9:15 p.m. on a cool breezy night in February 2001, he walked outside to his BMW, and pulled out of the parking lot and turned south, towards home.
Watching Boulis drive away, according to his testimony at the trial, was James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, described as a "dog-walking, food-fetching, car-washing, and baby-sitting wanna-be Mobster from New Jersey.” Pudgy got his nickname back in high school, where he stood 5’6” while weighing 260 pounds.
Prosecutors used to think Pudgy had been the gunman who killed Boulis. But they accused him only of spying on Boulis and reporting his movements to “Little Tony” Ferrari on the night of the murder. Two years ago, he pled guilty to murder and conspiracy charges, and got a light sentence in return for testifying for the prosecution.
Boulis had only driven a few blocks before a car pulled in front of his BMW, forcing him to slow down, and then stop. The car in front of him didn't budge. Boulis slammed on the brakes to avoid a collision. Just then, witnesses told police, a second car, a black Mustang drove up and pulled alongside him in the oncoming lane.
The Mustang's driver opened his window. Boulis turned to look, and made a grim discovery. The man in the Mustang was pointing a gun right at him. Boulis raised his hand as if to shield himself, but it wasn’t enough to stop three hollow-tip bullets from burrowing deep inside his chest when the driver opened fire, shooting Boulis at least three times with a semi-automatic weapon.
As the black Mustang front of him sped away, Boulis screamed, a loud blood-curdling animal sound that eyewitnesses said they will never forget. Bleeding and barely conscious, Boulis pressed the accelerator, headed south a few blocks, then turned a corner and blacked out, spinning across a median into oncoming traffic and crashing into a tree next to a Burger King.
Professional bodyguard Antonio Vera Palestrina rolled down his window and pulled out a powerful shotgun and shot Hector twice. The impact of the first shot threw Hector off his seat to the other side of the car, where his head bounced off the door as a second shot pierced his ribs, ripped his arm and almost tore it away. His body was left slumped under the dashboard, his gray “Members Only” jacket shredded, smelling of gunpowder, and soaked in blood and flesh.
In Tijuana, there were daily demonstrations. The public and independent newspapers across Mexico expressed skepticism of the investigation into Hector’s murder, and called for justice. “Unless politics or publicity interferes, money can buy innocence and freedom,” explained a journalist in Mexico City.
Authorities in Mexico soon arrested the two Jorge Hank Rhon bodyguards, Medina from the TransAm, and Vera from the Toyota pick-up truck, who they also identified as the shooter.
Despite persuasive evidence to the contrary, prosecutors theorized Vera’s motive for murdering the journalist was rage over something Hector had written about him. This mystified Hector’s co-workers at the newspaper, who could find no evidence that Hector had ever even mentioned him in his column.
Jorge Hank Rhon was known to have been incensed about Hector’s last columns, in which Hector had ridiculed him as a spoiled rich kid. Yet the relationship between Hector and Rhon went unexplored. The bodyguards' boss, Jorge Hank Rhon, was never even questioned.
And, most tellingly, on the day of the murder Vera—who was Jorge Hank Rhon’s head of security as well as his personal bodyguard—had cashed a $10,000 check from Rhon at Rhon’s Aqua Caliente racetrack.
Despite these major loose ends, authorities began to act as if the crime had been solved. There was an inexplicably long delay before the trial began, during which it was continually postponed. Slowly, the story began to disappear from newspapers. People no longer demonstrated. Journalists stopped showing up at noon every day outside the prosecutors office demanding justice.
When the trial finally commenced, witnesses had become considerably less certain of their facts than before.
After Greek tycoon Gus Boulis was gunned down in his BMW, Fort Lauderdale police immediately began scrutinizing SunCruz Casinos. Suspicion focused on the recent sale of his casino fleet, for a very good reason: Boulis, Jack Abramoff, and Adam Kidan had been carrying on a very public feud.
“We certainly aren't lacking in suspects,” said a Fort Lauderdale homicide detective with admirable understatement.
Later, detectives said they had basically solved the crime within 48 hours. However, they offered no explanation for why it took four years before three men who they had believed were involved in the murder since the day after the crime were finally arrested and charged.
Nor have prosecutors, since the trial began two weeks ago, taken the jury into their confidence about why—after taking an impossibly slow four years to bring charges—they took an additional eight years to bring the case to trial. Safe to say, something highly irregular was clearly going on.
Adam Kidan, a defrocked attorney who had gone bankrupt in both a bagel shop and a mattress store, became Jack Abramoff'spartner in what prosecutors say was a totally fraudulent purchase of Fort Lauderdale-based SunCruz casinos from Boulis.
Kidan and Jack Abramoff partnered to buy SunCruz from Boulis for $147.5 million, then reneged on paying as soon as the deal was final. Instead of paying Boulis, Kidan and Abramoff used $300,000 of SunCruz money for a luxury skybox at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., where Abramoff entertained politicians and GOP fat cats.
Abramoff and Kidan also helped themselves to $500,000 salaries, as well as lots of expensive perks. But the best part of the deal was that the two men took control of the casino line without ever putting down a dime of their own money.
No wonder Boulis was suing to regain control of the business when he was killed.
Both men were later jailed after pleading guilty to defrauding lenders in the deal. As part of his plea agreement, Kidan pledged to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
“Mr. Boulis, who owned the casino boat fleet, was shot and killed in 2001,” reported the New York Times. “Mr. Kidan may be able to help state prosecutors who are investigating the slaying of Konstantinos Boulis.”
“Mr. Kidan may be able to help prosecutors investigating the Boulis hit” is like authorities asking O.J. Simpson for help figuring out who murdered Nicole. It's almost too droll for words. And far too ironic for the NY Times.
Now that the government shutdown is over, if you’re looking for a fresh source of outrage to bring a healthy flush to your face, try this: By stepping forward and bravely pointing an accusing finger at Gus Boulis’ "real" killer, who turned out, alas, and all too conveniently, to be already dead, Adam Kidan got his federal prison sentence cut… in half.
Despite having a string of well-documented character defects that mark him as a prime candidate for an invitation to Michael Milken's Sociopaths Ball, somebody in our government clearly wanted Adam Kidan to really really like him.
In an opening statement lasting over an hour, prosecutor Gregg Rossman described a scenario right out of a Hollywood movie — shady financial deals, powerful Washington D.C. interests, mob figures, convicted felons…All he left out was the real reason for the terrifying end of one of South Florida's most prominent businessmen.
Prosecutors said they "didn't believe" Kidan or Abramoff played any role in the murder of Boulis.
Because I found the statement so amazingly unbelievable, I collected examples of how various national newspapers had phrased it.
“Abramoff had nothing to do with Boulis' death,” said prosecutor Brian Cavanaugh, in a straighforward, if unconvincing, explanation. He went on to say he can understand why defense lawyers would want to look into it. "They have a right to investigate their case," Cavanaugh said. "They perceive things differently than we do."
"Prosecutors said they believe Moscatiello, Ferrari and Fiorillo had Boulis killed without Kidan's knowledge," read another, "then pressured the lad to continue paying protection money."
Elsewhere, prosecutors theory of the case suggested the Goombah Gambinos had killed Boulis to "encourage" Kidan to keep paying protection money.
“According to prosecutors, “Big Tony” Moscatiello saw Kidan and SunCruz as a continuous income stream. Boulis was a threat to that income. Boulis’ attempt to regain control over SunCruz, threatened lucrative contracts they had with the new owners.”
The prosecutor’s reasoning made no sense. Compared to the real stakes involved in controlling SunCruz, the Gambino torpedoes bodyguard contracts were strictly penny ante. Also, since Kidan was ostensibly paying for their bodyguard services because he was worried about being “rubbed out’ by Boulis, wouldn't eliminating the threat posed by Boulis also eliminate the need for the "lucrative" bodyguard contract?
Recall for a moment Tijuana prosecutors claim that Jorge Rhon's bodyguard killed journalist Hector Felix over something the journalist hadn't written about him. Jack Abramoff and Jorge Hank Rhon must have something powerfully compelling in common.
Determined to shield jurors from realizing that the people responsible for ordering the murder of Gus Boulis are not sitting in the dock—and never will be—prosecutors since the trial began have engaged in tortured reasoning that would be right at home in courtrooms in Tijuana.
They believe the gunman who shot Boulis to death was a man named John Gurino, who was killed in a dispute with a Boca Raton delicatessen owner two years later.
Eight years ago, some believed the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office was about to charge Jack Abramoff and Adam Kidan, then on trial for fraud for stealing the SunCruz line through blatant financial fraud, in the murder of Gus Boulis.
Wrote one optimistic pundit, “Murder trumps fraud in the prosecutorial world.” But neither Abramoff or Adam Kidan was ever named as a suspect. The answer to “why not Kidan?” is easy.
No one would be able to convince a jury that the buck stopped with him. (Kidan was the man, after all, who wrote checks(totaling $200,000) to pay for the hit.) That meant charging Abramoff.
The kid glove treatment both men received illustrated how little reason there was for ever believing that the result of the Abramoff Scandal would be a big broom sweeping everything clean.
The Abramoff Scandal, like the Jorge Rhon murder scandal in Tijuana, and like Iran Contra and every other recent American scandal,is deemed too big to ever be allowed to break.
Moscatiello told detectives that Kidan had ordered the hit. Prosecutors apparently don't believe him. Anyone doubting his assertion should perform a simple thought experiment:
“You’ve just bought a life insurance policy for $10 million on your spouse, who is then shot three times at close range with hollow point rounds by people authorities identify as Gambino hit men who recently cashed big checks from you.
Is writing a quarter million dollars worth of checks (for no discernible purpose) to Mafia hit men later charged with the murder of the check-writer’s biggest enemy just another in the long line of "freak coincidences" for which Florida is justly famous?
Nearly half of young Americans eligible to buy insurance on HealthCare.gov could pay $50 or less a month for coverage, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a reportreleased Monday. HHS is touting the affordability of insurance on the exchanges in part because young adults are crucial to making the health care reform law's finances work.
The conclusion was based on data from the 30-plus states where insurance is being sold through HealthCare.gov, for adults ages 18 to 34, who qualify for tax credits through the law. The analysis found that 46 percent could pay $50 or less for a bronze plan (which covers 60 percent of costs), and 66 percent could pay $100 or less.
“The health care law is making health insurance more affordable for young adults,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
The administration has said it hopes to enroll 2.7 million age 18 to 34 (out of 7 million total) in the first year.
Lou Reed was a pioneer for countless bands who didn't worry about their next hit single.
Reed, who died Sunday at age 71, radically challenged rock's founding promise of good times and public celebration. As leader of the Velvet Underground and as a solo artist, he was the father of indie rock, and an ancestor of punk, New Wave and the alternative rock movements of the 1970s, '80s and beyond.
He influenced generations of musicians from David Bowie and R.E.M. to Talking Heads and Sonic Youth.
"The first Velvet Underground record sold 30,000 copies in the first five years," Brian Eno, who produced albums by Roxy Music and Talking Heads among others, once said. "I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!"
Reed and the Velvet Underground opened rock music to the avant-garde -- to experimental theater, art, literature and film, from William Burroughs to Kurt Weill to Andy Warhol, Reed's early patron. Raised on doo-wop and Carl Perkins, Delmore Schwartz and the Beats, Reed helped shape the punk ethos of raw power, the alternative rock ethos of irony and droning music and the art-rock embrace of experimentation, whether the dual readings of Beat-influenced verse for "Murder Mystery," or, like a passage out of Burroughs' "Naked Lunch," the orgy of guns, drugs and oral sex on the Velvet Underground's 15-minute "Sister Ray."
Reed died in Southampton, N.Y., of an ailment related to his recent liver transplant, according to his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who added that Reed had been in frail health for months. Reed shared a home in Southampton with his wife and fellow musician, Laurie Anderson, whom he married in 2008.
His trademarks were a monotone of surprising emotional range and power; slashing, grinding guitar; and lyrics that were complex, yet conversational, designed to make you feel as if Reed were seated next to you. Known for his cold stare and gaunt features, he was a cynic and a seeker who seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and '70s and was as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. Reed's New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Reed's songs explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.
He had one top 20 hit, "Walk On the Wild Side," and many other songs that became standards among his admirers, from "Heroin" and "Sweet Jane" to "Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties." An outlaw in his early years, Reed would eventually perform at the White House, have his writing published in The New Yorker, be featured by PBS in an "American Masters" documentary and win a Grammy in 1999 for Best Long Form Music Video. The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in 1996 and their landmark debut album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico," was added to the Library of Congress' registry in 2006.
Reed called one song "Growing Up in Public" and his career was an ongoing exhibit of how any subject could be set to rock music -- the death of a parent ("Standing On Ceremony), AIDS ("The Halloween Parade"), some favorite movies and plays ("Doin' the Things That We Want To"), racism ("I Want to be Black"), the electroshock therapy he received as a teen ("Kill Your Sons").
Reviewing Reed's 1989 topical album "New York," Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that "the pleasure of the lyrics is mostly tone and delivery -- plus the impulse they validate, their affirmation that you can write songs about this stuff. Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation -- all that's missing is a disquisition on real estate."
He was one of rock's archetypal tough guys, but he grew up middle class -- an accountant's son raised on Long Island. Reed was born to be a suburban dropout. He hated school, loved rock 'n' roll, fought with his parents and attacked them in song for forcing him to undergo electroshock therapy as a supposed "cure" for being bisexual. "Families that live out in the suburbs often make each other cry," he later wrote.
His real break began in college. At Syracuse University, he studied under Schwartz, whom Reed would call the first "great man" he ever encountered. He credited Schwartz with making him want to become a writer and to express himself in the most concrete language possible. Reed honored his mentor in the song "My House," recounting how he connected with the spirit of the late, mad poet through a Ouija board. "Blazing stood the proud and regal name Delmore," he sang.
Reed moved to New York City after college and traveled in the pop and art worlds, working as a house songwriter at the low-budget Pickwick Records and putting in late hours in downtown clubs. One of his Pickwick songs, the dance parody "The Ostrich," was considered commercial enough to record. Fellow studio musicians included a Welsh-born viola player, John Cale, with whom Reed soon performed in such makeshift groups as the Warlocks and the Primitives.
They were joined by a friend of Reed's from Syracuse, guitarist-bassist Sterling Morrison; and by an acquaintance of Morrison's, drummer Maureen Tucker, who tapped out simple, hypnotic rhythms while playing standing up. They renamed themselves the Velvet Underground after a Michael Leigh book about the sexual subculture. By the mid-1960s, they were rehearsing at Warhol's "Factory," a meeting ground of art, music, orgies, drug parties and screen tests for films that ended up being projected onto the band while it performed, part of what Warhol called the "Floating Plastic Inevitable."
"Warhol was the great catalyst," Reed told BOMB magazine in 1998. "It all revolved around him. It all happened very much because of him. He was like a swirl, and these things would come into being: Lo and behold multimedia. There it was. No one really thought about it, it was just fun."
Before the Velvets, references to drugs and sex were often brief and indirect, if only to ensure a chance at radio and television play. In 1967, the year of the Velvets' first album, the Rolling Stones were pressured to sing the title of their latest single as "Let's Spend Some Time Together" instead of "Let's Spend the Night Together" when they were performing on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Doors fought with Sullivan over the word "higher" from "Light My Fire."
The Velvets said everything other bands were forbidden to say and some things other bands never imagined. Reed wrote some of rock's most explicit lyrics about drugs ("Heroin," ''Waiting for My Man"), sadomasochism ("Venus in Furs") and prostitution ("There She Goes Again"). His love songs were less stories of boy-meets-girl, than ambiguous studies of the heart, like the philosophical games of "Some Kinda Love" or the weary ballad "Pale Blue Eyes," an elegy for an old girlfriend and a confession to a post-breakup fling:
It was good what we did yesterday
And I'd do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you're my best friend
But it's truly, truly a sin
Away from the Factory, the Velvets and were all too ahead of their time, getting tossed out of clubs or having audience members walk out. The mainstream press, still seeking a handle on the Beatles and the Stones, was thrown entirely by the Velvet Underground. The New York Times at first couldn't find the words, calling the Velvets "Warhol's jazz band" in a January 1966 story and "a combination of rock 'n roll and Egyptian belly-dance music" just days later. The Velvets' appearance in a Warhol film, "More Milk, Yvette," only added to the dismay of Times critic Bosley Crowther.
"Also on the bill is a performance by a group of rock 'n' roll singers called the Velvet Underground," Crowther wrote. "They bang away at their electronic equipment, while random movies are thrown on the screen in back of them. When will somebody ennoble Mr. Warhol with an above-ground movie called 'For Crying Out Loud'?"
At Warhol's suggestion, they performed and recorded with the sultry, German-born Nico, a "chanteuse" who sang lead on a handful of songs from their debut album. A storm cloud over 1967's Summer of Love, "The Velvet Underground & Nico" featured a now-iconic Warhol drawing of a (peelable) banana on the cover and proved an uncanny musical extension of Warhol's blank-faced aura. The Velvets juxtaposed childlike melodies with dry, affectless vocals on "Sunday Morning" and "Femme Fatale." On "Heroin," Cale's viola screeched and jumped behind Reed's obliterating junkie's journey, with his sacred vow, "Herrrrrr-o-in, it's my wife, and it's my life," and his cry into the void, "And I guess that I just don't know."
"'Heroin' is the Velvets' masterpiece -- seven minutes of excruciating spiritual extremity," wrote critic Ellen Willis. "No other work of art I know about has made the junkie's experience so horrible, so powerful, so appealing; listening to 'Heroin' I feel simultaneously impelled to somehow save this man and to reach for the needle."
Reed made just three more albums with the Velvet Underground before leaving in 1970. Cale was pushed out by Reed in 1968 (they had a long history of animosity) and was replaced by Doug Yule. Their sound turned more accessible, and the final album with Reed, "Loaded," included two upbeat musical anthems, "Rock and Roll" and "Sweet Jane," in which Reed seemed to warn Velvets fans -- and himself -- that "there's even some evil mothers/Well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt."
He lived many lives in the '70s, initially moving back home and working at his father's office, then competing with Keith Richards as the rock star most likely to die. He binged on drugs and alcohol, gained weight, lost even more and was described by critic Lester Bangs as "so transcendently emaciated he had indeed become insectival." Reed simulated shooting heroin during concerts, cursed out journalists and once slugged David Bowie when Bowie suggested he clean up his life.
"Lou Reed is the guy that gave dignity and poetry and rock 'n' roll to smack, speed, homosexuality, sadomasochism, murder, misogyny, stumblebum passivity, and suicide," wrote Bangs, a dedicated fan and fearless detractor, "and then proceeded to belie all his achievements and return to the mire by turning the whole thing into a monumental bad joke with himself as the woozily insistent Henny Youngman in the center ring, mumbling punch lines that kept losing their punch."
His albums in the '70s were alternately praised as daring experiments or mocked as embarrassing failures, whether the ambitious song suite "Berlin" or the wholly experimental "Metal Machine Music," an hour of electronic feedback. But in the 1980s, he kicked drugs and released a series of acclaimed albums, including "The Blue Mask," ''Legendary Hearts" and "New Sensations."
He played some reunion shows with the Velvet Underground and in 1990 teamed with Cale for "Drella," a spare tribute to Warhol. He continued to receive strong reviews in the 1990s and after for such albums as "Set the Twilight Reeling." And "Ecstasy" and he continued to test new ground, whether a 2002 concept album about Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven," or a 2011 collaboration with Metallica, "Lulu."
Reed fancied dictionary language like "capricious" and "harridan," but he found special magic in the word "bells," sounding from above, "up in the sky," as he sang on the Velvets' "What Goes On." A personal favorite was the title track from a 1979 album, "The Bells." Over a foggy swirl of synthesizers and horns, suggesting a haunted house on skid row, Reed improvised a fairy tale about a stage actor who leaves work late at night and takes in a chiming, urban "Milky Way."
I spent my day watching football. Unfortunately, neither the Niners nor the Raiders were on the networks up here in Portland. You'd think in a week where Seattle plays on Monday that they'd show Bay Area games up here.
So I spent the day watching The Red Zone, which switches from game to game to catch when someone scores in one of the NFL games. It's sort of like eating the frosting off a dozen cakes without eating any cake. Not enough and yet too much.
The good news is that both the Niners and Raiders won, but it would have been nice to actually see an entire game instead of just morsels.