Katie Baker

Stories by Katie Baker

  • Italy Scores Poorly On World Gender Gap Report

    Thanks to the antics of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi--his excursions with escorts, his insistence that beauty queens be included in his Parliament, his description of his country as a land of "beautiful secretaries"--Italy's getting slammed often these days for its culture of chauvinism. Now, the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Gap Report gives heft to those accusations. This year, Italy places a dismal number 79 (out of 134 ) on the ranking of nations by gender equality, falling five places from 2008. By contrast, the rest of Europe scored well: Scandinavian countries took the first four spots again this year, and eight other European nations placed in the top 20. Even Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan bested Italy, by 32 and 21 places, respectively. ...
  • Foreign Oil May Be Next Target of Iraq's Violence

    Bombings in Baghdad last week--the latest in a spate of deadly attacks around the country--spell trouble for Iraq's tenuous peace. For now, the resurgent violence has been aimed mainly at government ministries. But some worry that the next target could be foreign oil companies--a move that would be disastrous for the country's economic development. A recent memo from PFC Energy warned that a new round of civil violence in Iraq could "seek to target international oil companies." So far, foreign oil has been a negligible presence in the country, says PFC analyst Raad Alkadiri. But an uptick in visits from oil executives earlier this year suggests that companies are starting to cautiously venture into Iraq. Now oil companies represent an increasingly high-profile target, and an attack on them would be a significant coup against the central government, which is looking to oil production to fill its coffers and prop up its power. Alkadiri draws the parallel with...
  • Most Global Protectionist Measures Target China

    Ever since the global recession began, China and the U.S. have been swapping accusations of "unfair trade practices," culminating in a tussle last month over tariffs on tires and chickens. But a new report from the Centre for Economic Policy Research shows that China is the greater victim. The study looked at 425 protectionist measures that nations have passed since November 2008. Out of those, 176 target China, compared with 105 that target the U.S. A whopping 56 countries have moved to harm China's commercial interests during the economic crisis, while 49 have tried to tilt the playing field against America.  ...
  • Why We Love Teen Musicals

    There are many charming things about Glee, Fox TV’s quirky new fall comedy about a troupe of high-school misfits with gorgeous voices and hearts of gold. There are the one-liners that cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester lobs like poisoned pom-poms at her colleagues. There’s the winsome Afterschool Special sincerity of teachers Emma and Will. Best of all, there’s the glee club itself—baby diva Rachel, budding gay Kurt, artsy jock Finn—those fresh-faced kids with the fantastic vocal cords whose renditions of songs both retro and rap make for some serious chills down the spine.Of course, Glee isn't the first show to figure out that teens and musical numbers make for a potent combination—the pairing is practically ubiquitous these days (who among us, oh lucky one, hasn’t confronted the phenomenon that is High School Musical?) And it’s not just sappy Disney flicks: the breakout stage hit Spring Awakening, about sexually repressed teens and their erotic stirrings in 19th-century Germany...
  • Why Jonathan Groff Is Our Best Stage Ingenue

    Many of the young actors landing leading roles on the New York stage nowadays are of the silver-screen breed, stars with blockbusters to their names and guaranteed audience pull. For the most part, they play their Hamlets and Violas and Alan Strangs better than expected, which is saying neither very little nor very much. The mediums are different enough that those who give the greatest movie performances often appear too milquetoast for the Great White Way. Still, of the Anne Hathaways and Katie Holmes and Julia Stiles, the critics agree: they handle their roles "with neither distinction nor embarrassment"; they give "solid, committed" performances. They're occasionally charming; they're always quite safe. Not so with Jonathan Groff. He's the cherubic actor with that dangerous energy who earned a Tony nomination as Spring Awakening's Melchior and who wowed audiences last summer as Claude in The Public's production of Hair, one of the more...
  • Why the Ladies Love Jon Hamm of 'Mad Men'

    The other day, I saw Don Draper in a restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Or rather, I saw Jon Hamm, the award-winning actor who plays the ad exec anti-hero on AMC's Mad Men which kicked off its third season Sunday night. He was dining with friends in a quiet corner of the bar, his broad shoulders hunched over his appetizer, thinly disguised by a pair of nerdy glasses that Draper wouldn't be caught dead in. Despite his unobtrusive air, Hamm was causing quite the stir. The hostesses stared. The waitresses giggled and gaped at him. Female patrons sized him up like tigresses in heat. Even the manager was giving him her best seductress eyes. ...
  • Comparing Obama's First Six Months

    With a new president, it’s easy to indulge in superlatives: Barack Obama has been said to have the highest approval ratings, but the worst fiscal situation on his hands. A new report from the Brookings Institution, however, adds a little nuance to the picture. Called “How We’re Doing,” it stacks Obama’s first six months against his five most recent predecessors to give an overall view of the world Obama inherited; our opinions of him; and how they compare with presidents past....
  • Reconsidering Manual Labor

    For years, American educators have been touting the rise of the "knowledge economy" and shifting focus away from the manual trades, encouraging teens onto the four-year college track in preparation for our supposedly postindustrial society. Meanwhile, cubicle jobs are increasingly going the route of manufacturing work as corporations outsource any task that can be delivered over a wireless connection. And thanks to the financial crisis, that drain is only likely to accelerate. So perhaps it's time to reconsider where the future of work is headed as the century unfolds. It's a subject that's starting to gain traction, first in the writings of Princeton economist Alan Blinder and most recently in a clever book called Shop Class as Soulcraft, by philosopher (and motorcycle repairman) Matthew Crawford. ...
  • Consumerism: It's An Evolutionary Urge

    Marketers understand that humans, like other animals, have evolved finely tuned mechanisms for competing for status—and that our choice of a consumer brand is less about the material item itself and more about advertising our wealth, beauty and power to (hopefully jealous) onlookers. But in his new book, Spent, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that our species is also driven to show off such characteristics as agreeableness (see Whole Foods and Fair Trade coffee) and conscientiousness (see a well-maintained lawn). While Miller thinks it's improbable that humans will ever give up "their runaway quest for self-display," he notes that our instincts to show off, say, kindness and intelligence can privilege different forms of consumption. For example, we're already seeing a shift away from items that scream "I can afford to waste outlandish amounts of resources!" (big yachts, caviar-and-champagne blowouts) to items that trumpet "I'm ecoconscious!" (electric cars, organic...
  • Books: Simon Schama's "The American Future"

    Obama's America is facing some worrisome questions: whether to encourage the globe's best and brightest to flock to our shores, or to save American jobs for American workers. Whether the military should focus on bombing terrorists or building schools. Whether religious beliefs should dictate laws, such as on abortion and gay marriage. Whether the American dream of plenty has finally been exhausted. The issues are so daunting, it's easy to worry that the United States has never faced such insurmountable problems.So leave it to a historian to remind us that even the Founding Fathers grappled with similar debates. In his new book, The American Future, professor and critic Simon Schama traces the four motifs of war, religion, immigration and American bounty as they stretch across our national history like Lincoln's mystic chords of memory, firing each generation's imagination—and, consequently, its politics. Some of the parallels that Schama unearths are striking: here's Jefferson,...
  • Reza Aslan's "How to Win a Cosmic War"

    In "How To Win a Cosmic War," Reza Aslan explains why George W. Bush's war-on-terror rhetoric played right into Al Qaeda's hands—and how Barack Obama might be the best weapon yet against global jihadism.The idea: Groups like Al Qaeda believe they're fighting a take-no-prisoners war between the forces of good and evil. By adopting the same crusader mentality, Bush and U.S. evangelicals validated Al Qaeda's claim that the West and Muslims are engaged in an end-times battle.The evidence: Cosmic warriors have several defining features: they're not out to achieve specific political agendas; they want apocalyptic global transformation. They use a "with us or against us" mantra that justifies killing innocents. So how to fight such zealots? Refuse to use their us vs. them terminology. Allow Islamist parties political participation, which tends to moderate them and counterbalances the lure of jihadism. In the case of Europe, home to the vast majority of Qaeda recruits, stop forcing Muslims...
  • A Love Letter to Vonnegut

    When an ex-lover sells her story to a tabloid, it's usually called trash. But if the ex is a writer who pens a memoir, it's art. Why the difference?
  • Pageturner: Mahmood Mamdani on Darfur

    Say "Darfur" and ugly images leap to mind: the Janjaweed, rape, genocide. But most of us would be hard pressed to explain the violence there, beyond the popular notion that it's ethnic cleansing of Africans by Arabs. Columbia University scholar Mahmood Mamdani's new book, "Saviors and Survivors," explains why this assumption is faulty, and why it's foiling peace efforts. ...
  • U.S. Immigration Is Holding Steady Despite Crisis

    Ever since 9/11, the general perception has been that America is over-building walls—both real and regulatory—to keep out immigrants. Horror stories about Indian engineers getting strip-searched as suspected terrorists provoked business leaders like Bill Gates to argue that the U.S. is scaring away talent, to its own disadvantage. Now the storyline has shifted, to focus on immigrants who are voluntarily leaving or avoiding America because the global financial crisis has tarnished its reputation as a land of growth and opportunity.But the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), total migration flows have been steady throughout the current decade, despite tighter background checks and interior crackdowns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and despite the slowdown of the economy starting in 2007. Every year since 2000, the U.S. has attracted more than 1 million legal immigrants, including more than 1.1 million last year,...
  • More Etiquette Woes for Aloha President

    U.S. President Barack Obama may want to consider signing up for some hush-hush lessons on head-of-state protocol. He set the Anglo press aflutter last month with his gifting snafus—bum DVDs to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, mistranslated RESET buttons to Russia. On top of that, he keeps meeting political power players in all the wrong order: Obama rubbed shoulders with former British prime minister Tony Blair at a Washington prayer breakfast in early February, weeks before Brown came to town. Then, he wandered into a mid-March White House meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, even as his first face-to-face with Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev was scheduled for April 1. To top it all off, the French paper Le Figaro caught wind of a lighthearted letter exchange between Obama and former presIdent Jacques Chirac, and claimed current President Nicolas Sarkozy should take offense at the snub. To be fair, all of these rendezvous have...
  • U.S. Military Adopts Green Initiatives

    Remember when green evoked granola-munching, Birkenstock-clad activists hanging in Santa Cruz? Now even the Pentagon is getting its green on. The military is eagerly adopting energy-saving initiatives, installing wind turbines and solar-cell systems and investing in alternative fuels like geothermal power, according to the Center for American Progress. Some projects are radically innovative: last year, U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad used generators that run off food waste, shredded documents and ammunition wrappers. The military has also pinpointed alternative energies as critical to cutting costs and beefing up national security. In October 2008, the Army unveiled a Senior Energy Council to fund programs like a solar thermal plant at Fort Irwin, California, which will supply renewable power for the base's grid in case of a terrorist attack or blackout. Of course, the most promising aspect of the military's new green identity is the likelihood that its innovations will...
  • Silver Is Set To Outperform Gold

    Good old atomic number 79 has always been the safe haven of choice for skittish investors, but gold is about to get a run for its money. Despite the fact that the gold-to-silver ratio is at its highest point since 2004, New York-based hedge-fund adviser the Hennessee Group says silver is poised to outperform its glitzier counterpart.Even though silver initially suffered as the global financial crisis deepened and investors fled to gold and Treasuries— in 2008, gold gained about 6 percent; silver plummeted more than 25 percent—it's now seriously undervalued, says Hennessee. At the same time, demand for silver is expected to grow over the long term. Unlike the majority of precious metals, silver is as vital to industrial applications as it is to the luxury trade—more than 50 percent of silver demand comes from industrial sectors as diverse as imaging, electronics, coinage, superconductivity and water purification. And while these sectors are currently taking a hit, their inevitable...
  • Humanitarian Dating Hooks Up Social Consciences

    Are you an SWF at the WFP, looking for an LDR with an FWB who might be WTR to Angola or Brazil? If so, Humanitarian Dating could be the social network for you. The site's the brainchild of veteran aid worker Robert Simpson; several years back, he decided to vent work frustrations in typical style—by starting a satirical blog about an incompetent humanitarian worker. On it, he posted phony adverts, including one for a singles service. When the fake ad started getting real traffic, he realized he'd stumbled upon an untapped need in the development community—hooking up lonely-hearts with social consciences. Simpson launched Humanitarian Dating in 2007 with his partner, Tamara Prinsenberg (they carried on an e-mail courtship while he was in Ethiopia and she was in Burma). For aid workers, dating can be "a little bit difficult," Prinsenberg says. "You're always moving." The site's 4,500 members are mostly expats and community organizers, though anyone with a social conscience can join ...
  • "Stuffed" Takes On America's Fat Industry

    Sixty-four-ounce soft drinks. Monster Thickburgers. Unlimited refills. Americans are overstuffed, no doubt about it: two thirds of the nation is overweight and the number's ballooning as fast as our waistlines. Consumers blame food companies who bombard us with advertisements to eat, eat, eat; companies blame consumers who say they want healthier fare and yet continue to supersize. The truth? The responsibility lies all around, says Hank Cardello in his new book "Stuffed." A former exec at General Mills and Coca-Cola, Cardello had an epiphany about a decade ago (involving, naturally, a personal health scare). Now, he's at the forefront of obesity awareness and trying to get disparate interests—food CEOs and lobbyists on the one side, FDA watchdogs and nutritionists on the other—to come up with creative, profitable solutions to our public health crisis.That's easier said than done, as Cardello acknowledges. From pork-barrel farm bills that penalize non-corn vegetable crops to...
  • Worth Your Time: Animated Short "Oktapodi"

    Since Pixar burst onto the animated-short scene in 1986, it's always been the flashiest and funniest competitor in the Oscar category—until now. Sure, "Presto" has all the glossy panache we've come to expect from the studio. But the real gem this year is "Oktapodi," a student-made film from Paris. The plot is simple: the film opens on two octopi caressing each other with tender tentacles. Romantic violin music plays. Suddenly, one of the squid is snatched from the water (a fish tank, it turns out). As its lover watches, the creature is packed on ice and loaded into a restaurant van. The tank-bound puss's eyes bulge, in classic animated-critter style, as the fate of its paramour becomes ominously clear. But love knows no obstacles, and the little fella (or lass?) flaps and flops its slimy way to the rescue.The creators deftly exploit the comic possibilities of octopus form, with squelches and suction cups galore. And they've hit upon an apt villain in the van driver—like so many...
  • Worth Your Time: Greg Gibson's 'It Takes a Genome'

    The clash between our genes and our contemporary lifestyle is making us sick. That's the premise of "It Takes a Genome," which examines how the slow pace of genetic evolution and modern environmental stresses have left us susceptible to diseases like cancer, asthma and depression. Turns out, we 21st-century humans are exposing our cells to unprecedented historical extremes—longer life spans, sugary diets, cigarette carcinogens, earlier menses for women. Our genes are "outside their comfort zone" and haven't had time to adapt to higher levels of insulin (which can lead to diabetes), strange new viruses (HIV) and more exposure to estrogen (a prime culprit behind breast cancer). The reasons for our vulnerability are complex. Most diseases are influenced not by one gene, but by dozens if not hundreds of them. Each genetic variation may increase an individual's risk by a tiny percentage, but it's the cumulative effect that tips the scale into illness. These riskier gene varieties often...
  • Google Earth Gives Close-up To Prado Masterpieces

    Google Earth has already wowed amateur cartographers with its 3-D street grids. Now, aspiring art historians can join the fan club: Google is partnering with Madrid's Prado to give 14 masterpieces an extreme close-up. The new application is breathtaking—Google Earth zooms in close enough to see the cracks on the canvas. Sumptuous details emerge: the candy-colored jewels dripping from the brooch on Rembrandt's "Artemis"; dimples in the derrières of Rubens's three "Graces." Google Earth gets the colors right, mostly, although its "Annunciation" by Fra Angelico can't do justice to the original's sheen. But the same painting flourishes under the microscope. (One of the most beautiful parts is in the tiny upper left corner, where an angel with sunset robes banishes Adam and Eve from Eden.) Museumgoers would never get close enough to the real canvas to drool over such hidden gems. So while Google Earth's "Las Meninas" will never rival the real one, it gives satisfaction to those of us who...
  • Which Countries Will Miss George W. Bush?

    Most nations will bid a jubilant goodbye to George W. Bush, it's true. The Pew Global Poll last month found that majorities in 20 of the 24 nations surveyed have little or no confidence in him, with his negative ratings topping 80 percent in major powers like France and Germany. But given his press, what's more surprising is how easy it is to find nations where Bush is still popular.The three nations where Pew found a majority with confidence in Bush included India, thanks to Bush's willingness to admit it into the club of nuclear-armed nations; and Tanzania and Nigeria, where his confidence ratings reached 60 and 55 percent, respectively. Africa, in fact, has often looked like one giant red state: a 2007 Pew survey found popular support for the U.S. at close to 80 percent across the continent, even in Muslim countries like Mali. The reason? The Bush administration lavished billions on aid to Africa, and to fight HIV/AIDS and other fatal diseases.Bush also had large minorities in...
  • Robert Burns: A Poet For The Recession

    Barack Obama's already picked a poet for his Inauguration—but considering the grim times, a reading of Robert Burns would be just as apt. The national bard of the Scots (they're celebrating his 250th birthday on Jan. 21), Burns is known as the "poet of the poor" for his chronicles of life among the country's farmers and wayfarers. Born into poverty himself, and raised to do backbreaking agricultural work, Burns lived fast and loose before dying a near pauper at the age of 38. At times, the poet lamented his meager finances ("The prosperous man is asleep, nor hears how the whirlwinds sweep; but misery and I must watch the surly tempest blow: And it's O, fickle Fortune, O!"). But Burns was also a lifelong skeptic of wealth and rank. In "My Father Was a Farmer," he wrote of being taught as a young boy to "act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing ... for without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding." Later, he told the rich and powerful: "A cheerful honest-hearted...
  • Hilary's Next Four Years With China

    The global response to team Obama's nomination of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state has been largely positive, thanks in part to fond memories of Bill and in part to an "anybody but Bush" mentality. But one nation may soon find itself longing for the Bush fils years: China, long a target of Clinton's because of its economic practices and human-rights violations."Clinton's focused a significant portion of her campaign rhetoric on China's economic impact on the U.S., which she says is causing a 'slow erosion of our own economic sovereignty'," says the Council on Foreign Relations' Joanna Klonsky. Klonsky notes that Clinton cosponsored the Foreign Debt Ceiling Act of 2005, which the senator said would "start breaking our reliance on China"; and in April of this year, she released a plan to crack down on China's "unfair" trade practices. She's also said she would consider a tariff on Chinese goods. For Beijing, the next four years look a whole lot chillier.
  • The Winner Of 2008's Campaign Style Race

    The style race between Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Cindy McCain this campaign cycle was as hotly contested as the presidency, with fashionistas and talking heads endlessly analyzing the subtext of their looks. So who won the fashion election?Palin was as much 2008's stylistic wild card as its political one. For every man who loved her coquettish sexuality (red peep-toe pumps, clingy pencil skirts), there was a female critic slamming her clothes as blandly middlebrow and gal-next-door generic. Palin's half-up mop and rimless glasses meant to evoke harried hockey mom, but ended up (when coupled with that wink) exuding a secretary-in-a-porno air. When Palin plays out her next tour on the national stage—and there will inevitably be one—she should ditch the suburban vibe and go high-powered seductress: Versace suits, Louboutin heels. The voters will forget how much she's spending on the threads because she'll look so damn good.Need proof? McCain hardly caused a stir when she wore ...
  • Worth Your Time: Clive James as Poet

    In Britain, Clive James is known as a Union Jack of all trades: TV presenter, critic, radio host, novelist. He's also been churning out poems for the past 50 years, but by his own admission, the designation of "proper professional poet" has been late in coming.This oversight will surely be corrected by James's latest poetry collection, "Opal Sunset." Part anthology of his best, part showcase for his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuses James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson. His early works are reminiscent of his transatlantic counterpart, the former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins—particularly James's oft-quoted "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" ("The book of my enemy has been remaindered/And I am pleased/In vast quantities it has been remaindered/Like a vanload of counterfeit that has been seized") and the Wimbledon-inspired "Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela...
  • Clive James' "Opal Sunset": A Master Poet At Work

    In Britain, Clive James is known as a jack of many trades: TV presenter, critic, radio host, novelist. He's also been churning out poems for the past 50 years, but by his own admission, the title of "proper professional poet" has been late in coming—his small gems overshadowed, no doubt, by his successful work in television and journalism.James's latest poetry collection, "Opal Sunset," will surely change that. Part anthology of his all-time best, part showcase of his new verse, the book displays the same formidable erudition and giddy love of pop culture that infuse James's prose: in his stanzas, Hamlet and Plato get equal play with Elle Macpherson. James's early works recall American poet Billy Collins in their sparkling humor, like the oft-quoted "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered" and the Wimbledon-inspired "Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini." The volume's latter half tilts at Auden in his morally urgent later years, with poems that lambaste suicide bombers and...