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30 November 2007



The New York Times/14 November 2007


‘Seaweed’ Clothing Has None, Tests Show

by Louise Story


Lululemon Athletica has been a standout performer on Wall Street since it went public in July, thanks to the popularity of its costly yoga and other workout clothes, which are made with unusual materials, including bamboo, silver, charcoal, coconut and soybeans.

One of its lines is called VitaSea, and the company says it is made with seaweed. The fabric, according to product tags, “releases marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins in the skin upon contact with moisture.”

Lululemon, which has received positive media coverage for its fabrics, also says the VitaSea clothing, made from seaweed fiber supplied by a company called SeaCell, reduces stress and provides anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, hydrating and detoxifying benefits.

There is one problem with its VitaSea claims, however. Some of them may not be true.

The New York Times commissioned a laboratory test of a Lululemon shirt made of VitaSea, and reviewed a similar test performed at another lab, and both came to the same conclusion: there was no significant difference in mineral levels between the VitaSea fabric and cotton T-shirts.

In other words, the labs found no evidence of seaweed in the Lululemon clothing….




The New York Times/8 November 2007


Cast Aside Underarm Protection, if You Dare

by Anna Jane Grossman


…Americans spent more than $2.3 billion on deodorant and antiperspirant in 2006, according to Euromonitor International, a market research firm. Yet few people stop to consider the rationale for performing their morning elbow dance.

Advertisers would have consumers believe that simply washing their armpits isn’t enough to stave off embarrassment and attract mates. But considering the lackluster efficacy of many gels and sticks, deodorants and antiperspirants may be nothing more than security blankets against the social ostracism some fear.

“Most people who are not in constant high-stress situations could get away with wearing a lot less than they do.” said Dr. Jeanine Downie, a dermatologist in Montclair, N.J. “They’d probably be fine just using a little powder.”

Six other dermatologists interviewed for this article echoed Dr. Downie’s comments.

“Those shelves and shelves of antiperspirant and deodorant at drugstores would be put to better use if they were filled with sunblock or even lotion,” she said. “There are a lot more people with dry skin than with serious body odor or sweat issues.”

People’s fear of sweating is usually far greater than how much they actually perspire, said Dr. David Bank, a dermatologist….”Fewer than 5 percent of people really suffer from debilitating sweating, “ he said. “That’s called hyperhidrosis. But I’ve found 50 percent of individuals think they sweat excessively.

People who suffer from extreme malodor are even rarer, said George Preti, an analytical organic chemist who studies body odor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute financed in part by corporations (including manufacturers of deodorant and antiperspirant).

So why the fear of dampness and smell?

Gabrielle Glaser, the author of “The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty and Survival,” argues that the phenomenon started in the early 1900s when marketers urged immigrants to eliminate their body odor to become more American….




The Discovery of France

by Graham Robb

Copyright © 2007 by Graham Robb

W.W. Norton

A hundred and fifty years had passed since Louis XIV’s chief minister, Colbert, had dreamt of a road system that would unite and energize the kingdom, yet, in June 1837, when Henri Beyle—later known as Stendhal—stepped out of the public coach to stretch his legs at a tiny staging-post called Rousselan, thirteen miles from the city of Bourges, he was struck by a sense of “complete isolation.” (This was a man who had trudged across the endless Russian steppes with Napoleon’s retreating army.) Apart from the post-house itself and the towers of Bourges cathedral on the edge of the wooded plain, there were no signs of human life. A few hours later, beyond a marshy belt of cabbage fields, in Bourges itself, the only faces to be seen were those of a group of soldiers and a sleepy servant in the hotel.

The city at the geographical centre of France seemed to be quite dead. And in the town Stendhal had left that morning, La Charité-sur-Loire, there was so little traffic that everyone had known where he was going and why he was forced to stop there (a broken axle) before he had spoken to a soul. Ahead of him lay an eight-hour journey on the overnight diligence [a public stagecoach] to Châteroux, forty miles to the west. He left Bouges at 9 p.m. At midnight he was in Issoudun, a proudly somnolent town which had won a battle to maintain its economic and social stagnation by forcing the Paris-Toulouse road to be built twelve miles to the west….

Stendhal’s discovery of solitude was not unusual. To travelers stunned by hours of monotony and desolation, a small provincial town like Châteroux was an oasis of noise and colorful inconvenience. Later tourists in search of picturesque isolation would be amazed by the din of tiny places, putting up their bulwarks of noise against the surrounding silence: bells ringing on the slightest pretext, unoiled pump handles screeching, and normal conversations being carried on at a volume that would now seem deliberately offensive. At the gates of Châteroux began a region of marshes and moors known as the Brande. Some of the younger inhabitants of the Brande had never seen a paved road, let alone a four-wheeled carriage lurching through the countryside like an enchanted house. Renegade priests who had marooned themselves in the Brand during the Revolution had freely given themselves up after a few days.

Beyond the squares, the monuments and the rooms of state that form the backdrop of most French history lay a world of ancient tribes and huge vacant spaces. Anyone heading north of the Paris-Toulouse road had to spend at least eleven hours crossing a pestilential, undrained region of stagnant ponds and stunted woods called the Sologne: “a desolate country, on a difficult, sandy, deserted road; not a single château, farm or village in the distance, just a few lonely, wretched hovels.” The main road east from Paris to Strasbourg and Germany passed through the almost featureless plains of the Champagne, where settlements were so rare that single hawthorn bushes were preserved as precious landmarks.

When the Romantic poet Alfred de Vigny expressed the seemingly un-Romantic wish “Never leave me alone with Nature,” he was writing as a man who had traveled widely in France….


pages 8-9




EACH WEEK we scan ads from an actual catalog, a catalog selling junque. (That's junk with cachet.) These ads are real. Maybe they don't seem real, but they are.

This week we are honored (humbled?) to present items from a Neiman-Marcus holiday catalog. Several items are included, all interesting in the category of either miscellaneous grotesqueries or "The rich, they are different, etc." But may I call your attention particularly to the dyed (dead) rabbit thing, immediately below, the scarf. It has to be among the ugliest objects I have ever seen—animal, mineral or political. Neiman Marcus is out of Texas, you know; and it is at this point that we could discourse on wealth and taste and, yes, Texas. But you know all that. One other matter: there are times when I really love California and am proud to live here. Note please (the red circles) that the python-skin obscenities cannot be sold in California.


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