Saturday, August 30, 2008

President Palin?

Not that I wish him ill, but wouldn't the most surreal outcome of McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate be that McCain gets elected, shortly afterward he dies in office, and the president of the United States becomes a 44 year-old breast-feeding, moose-eating mother of five?
--Emily Yoffe, Slate, on unexpected presidencies

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Listen local

Should we minimize our “music miles” and boycott bands on tour? Thankfully, our next-door neighbors have a band, Dead Larry. We don’t have to go anywhere to hear them.
--Will Wilkinson on consuming locally

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Japanese sadism = humor

In one famously controversial [Japanese game] show, an aspiring comedian named Nasubi was locked naked in an empty apartment and forced to live on winnings from magazine sweepstakes until he earned $10,000. When he finally reached his goal 14 months later, the show's producers gave him some clothes, blindfolded him, and took him on a surprise vacation to South Korea, where he was locked in yet another apartment until he won enough money to buy a plane ticket home. While some vehemently opposed the show, most watched it religiously with delightful horror and amusement. Nasubi wrote a best-selling book about his experience and later became a successful stage actor.

It's the type of comedy that only works in a culture where lawsuits don't take precedent over a nationwide commitment to make fun and have fun.

In a nutshell, a real funny Japanese TV show will have you thinking, over and over:

This is embarrassing to watch.
This is so wrong.
I'm so glad that's not me.
This is f-ing hilarious.
--Lisa Katayama, Boing Boing, on real-life Oldboy scenarios broadcast for giggles

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Human magnetic sense?

The researchers noted that humans and even whales are suspected of having an innate magnetic compass.

Some studies suggest humans who sleep in an East-West position have far shorter rapid eye movement or REM sleep cycles, in which dreams occur, compared with North-South sleepers who got more REM sleep.
--Reuters on a new way to optimize your sleep to the nth degree

Et tu, Australia?

It seems Lin Miaoke, the adorable 9-year-old who perhaps unknowingly lip-synched “Ode to the Motherland” more than two weeks ago, is not alone in the pantheon of “great Olympic musical deceptions of our time,” as The Age termed it. An entire orchestra, in fact, got there eight years ago, we now learn. The Sydney Morning-Herald revealed the secret: “Sydney Olympics faked it too.”

Not only was the Sydney Symphony just going through the motions of a live performance while speakers pumped out recorded versions of its musical selections, some of the recordings were recorded by another group altogether, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Both countries defended the sacrifice of authenticity to avoid putting the nation’s image at risk, and considered the trade-off a no-brainer.
--Mike Nizza, NYT, on how it's not just a Chinese thing

Sunday, August 24, 2008

LinkedIn

[LinkedIn] bills itself as “the world’s largest and most powerful business network” but is known to most people as the Web site they begrudgingly visit every few months to approve be-my-contact invitations.
--Brooks Barnes, NYT, on the sad status of LinkedIn

Monday, August 11, 2008

The freedom to enhance

It’s possible, of course, that gene doping or other techniques could turn out to be much riskier. But is that a reason to ban them? Society has always allowed explorers and adventurers to take risks in exchange for glory. The climbers who died on K2 this month ascended it knowing that one climber dies for every four who scale it.

If elite adult athletes were allowed to push the limits of human performance in return for glory, they might point the way for lesser mortals to coax more out of their bodies. If a 50-year-old sprinter could figure out how to run as fast as her 25-year-old self, that could be useful to aging weekend warriors — or any aging couch potato.

I’d like to see what would happen if someone started a new anything-goes competition for athletes over 25. If you have any ideas for how to run it or what to call it — MaxMatch? UltraSports? Mutant Games? — submit them at nytimes.com/tierneylab. Maybe fans would object to these “unnatural” athletes. But maybe not. The fans, after all, include people with laser-corrected eyes, chemically whitened teeth and surgically enhanced anatomies. Not to mention the pharmacopeia coursing through our veins.
--John Tierney, NYT, on the case for legalizing performance-enhancing drugs

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Market values

A few years after Margaret Thatcher came to power and launched what at the time seemed a futile war to compel the English people to embrace business values, I found myself dazed and confused in a London corner shop.

Down one aisle and up the other, I paced but found no trace of what I'd come for: the world's finest pseudo-cookies. The shelf that once held those delicious McVitie's wafers coated with milk chocolate was now stocked with less desirable items.

At length, I went to the middle-aged shop owner and asked where she'd hidden my favorite treats -- this gift from the gods to those of us who want to pretend our cookies are merely crackers.

"We used to stock those,'' she said, sweetly, "but we kept running out, so we've stopped.''

Right then I thought: Thatcherism is doomed.
--Michael Lewis, Bloomberg, on pre-Thatcher England


In case you missed it, Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president, has decided that the French need to become more productive. He eliminated the law forbidding work weeks longer than 35 hours, and he's making noises about changing the rule that allows unemployed Frenchmen to turn down job offers that they feel are beneath them and remain on the dole instead. ...

Sarkozy's poll numbers have plummeted. The very same middle- class, white-collar workers who elected him have taken to the streets to protest his callous disregard of the role of leisure in French life. ...

Inflicting market values upon the British circa 1980 felt a bit cruel, but visiting it upon the French circa 2008 feels almost like an unnatural act, like forcing a cat to fetch.

Their problem isn't an incapacity for selfishness, or for individual initiative. Anyone who has ever watched a middle-aged Parisian male muscle aside a pregnant lady with a baby and steal her taxi can see that the French have what it takes to succeed in the modern world. They just don't want to.

They want to take all those selfish impulses that might be directed into improving productivity and efficiency and wealth- accumulation and channel it into being ... French.

And if you want to be French -- if you want to be able to describe the smell of thyme or the sound of cicadas or simply to lounge around some tropical island in a disturbingly small bathing suit -- you need time. And not just a little time. You need so much time that when your president puts an end to a preposterous law limiting the work week to 35 hours, you think nothing of going out into the street and marching around for hours protesting.

There is also the question of competitive advantage. Most nations gain their advantage by making things more efficiently, and at lower cost, than their competitors.

To the extent that the French enjoy a natural advantage, it is in their inefficiency: They are the world's most efficient producers of structured indolence. They are the kept women of the global economy; their status depends, in part, on their practical uselessness.

Reinvent the British and you get a global finance center, edible food and better service. Reinvent the French and you may just get more Germans.
--Michael Lewis dissing the French

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What could have been

Elijah Cummings, the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and an early Obama supporter, told me a story about watching his father, a South Carolina sharecropper with a fourth-grade education, weep uncontrollably when Cummings was sworn in as a representative in 1996. Afterward, Cummings asked his dad if he had been crying tears of joy. “Oh, you know, I’m happy,” his father replied. “But now I realize, had I been given the opportunity, what I could have been. And I’m about to die.”
--Matt Bai, NYT Magazine, on lost opportunity