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What happens to the brand promise of heroic death once you surrender? Credit:rudall30

After a humiliating battlefield defeat in 425 BC, the Greek city-state of Sparta needed to restore its swagger in the Greek World. What would a modern branding team have advised?

Ancient Spartan warriors generated what modern communications’ experts call “brand heat”. Known for being disciplined, dutiful, brave, fit, and fearless, Spartan soldiers lived for battle, their fellow Spartans, and masculine military virtue. Respected for their stamina and stealth, and feared for their pledge to never surrender, they forged a formidable war machine.

They also looked the part. Caped in identical red cloaks, they wore their hair long and braided. And, unlike other Greeks, all of whom they considered inferior, they shaved their upper lips. …


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Our pandemic present looks a lot different through history’s eyes

Before Corona — or BC, for short — has now entered our lexicon. No wonder. The world has been knocked off course and irretrievably changed in ways we can’t yet even imagine. But as we look for solace, there’s one place that’s been largely ignored: Archaeology.

I know. It sounds crazy. How could discoveries about old worlds — the other BC — help us solve the problems of the new? Well, maybe in addition to solutions, we need some reassurance. Maybe knowing more about our historical legacy can connect us to our bigger selves and provide some much-needed perspective on…


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An unnamed artist creates Nazca-like drawings that endure only until the next high tide.

Finding treasure in the sand


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Could architectural ornamentation become a new sign of non-conformist resistance?

It may seem a ludicrous and inconsequential question when millions of Americans are unemployed and when despair chokes our dreams like the smoke from a thousand dumpster fires. But step aside from the horror for just a moment and imagine that you’re an architect with a superior flair for design. Then ask yourself, if money were not a concern and you could customize your own dwelling from the ground up, what would you include? And as you fill that thought-bubble, consider if you would add decorative flourishes to the exterior.

Why does that last question matter? More on that in…


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People of the sand question everything

Paleontologists relish finding ancient footprints in dried volcanic ash.

Cyber sleuths celebrate when they discover digital fingerprints hiding in the code.

Ocean Beach regulars revel in something far more prosaic — toes and fingers in the soft sand, impressions from the original digital world.

High tide might wash these impressions away, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t come to Ocean Beach to make our mark; There’s a whole City devoted to that.


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We are guests not gods

Ocean Beach is like an unpredictable friend you can’t quit. It doesn’t care if you’re annoyed by its capricious winds or exasperated by its swirling dampness. It teases you with sun and fog in the same minute and dares you to complain. It scares you with its sneaker waves even as it lures you toward them with rivulets of sea water shimmering in the dull light. It sits at the City’s western border, but it refuses to be domesticated like Pismo or Santa Barbara. Serious beachgoers can sense its willful and wild energy lurking just beneath the waves, a peevishness…


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Tree Braids sculpted by Kirk Maxson

San Francisco’s Far West makes you wonder about everything

I wondered if they’d missed the turnoff to Santa Monica. The two young women, skin the color once known in the crayon box as Burnt Sienna, pinned down their towels with a beach bag bursting with water bottles and lotions. Their bikinis offered little protection against the windblown sand that nipped at their skin like biting ants. They giggled and shivered. Too late they’d learned one of Ocean Beach’s first lessons. With a few annual exceptions, this three-mile stretch of sand is not for sunbathers. …


Ecotopia, Pacifica, something else — you tell us

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Photo: Didier Mart/Moment/Getty Images

When I first read the novel Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach in the late 1970s, I was enthralled by its realignment of America’s political geography. The story is told by a journalist in 1999 — a year that once seemed impossibly distant — and involves Northern California, Oregon, and Washington forming their own country with its own social rules (including a health system for all citizens), locally focused government, a strong sense of environmental sustainability, and some very cool technology to keep the rest of the U.S. at bay.

Now, with the current coronavirus crisis, regionalism is ascendant again. California Governor…


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Jeff & Jeff — in Paris & SF — compare notes on daily life within a corona-virus boundary

France requires that its citizens limit their outdoor exercise to an area within a one-kilometer radius of their residence. While San Francisco has yet to impose similar restrictions, the recent clamor over crowded beaches, parks, and hiking trails has triggered some closures and warnings that more strict, anti-corona measures could be in the offing.

To test what that restriction would look and feel like, I’ve teamed up with my former writing colleague, Jeff Ballinger, who now lives in Paris’ Marais District, to impose a similar limit on my daily-and-exercise-life in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset neighborhood. …

Jeff Miller

Culture writer with an eye for history, science, sports, art, politics, photography, travel, and the original story between the lines.

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