Sunday, July 31, 2011

Racial differences in facial aging

Dr. Julius W. Few, a plastic surgeon in Chicago, said there was a “holy trinity” of changes in the face that made a person look older. First, there are wrinkles, age spots and other superficial changes, often worsened by sun exposure and smoking. Then, there is what plastic surgeons call “loss of volume,” the shrinking of the fat layers in the cheeks, which can create a gaunt or deflated look and cause bags under the eyes to stick out more. Finally, there is plain old drooping.

“Darker skin tends to show aging changes less obviously,” Dr. Few said. “The biggest reason probably has to do with the skin being able to shield itself from the harmful effects of the sun.”

He and other doctors said darker skin also tended to be oilier and somewhat thicker than pale skin; this makes it more supple and less prone to wrinkles. Blacks and Asians have still another advantage, Dr. Few said: they start out with fuller cheeks than do whites, so the fat loss that comes with middle age is less noticeable, and the face remains younger looking.
--Denise Grady, NYT, on why black don't crack and Asians don't raisin

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chinese immigrants in Italy

Chinese laborers, first a few immigrants, then tens of thousands, began settling in Prato [a city outside of Florence] in the late 1980s. They transformed the textile hub into a low-end garment manufacturing capital — enriching many, stoking resentment and prompting recent crackdowns that in turn have brought cries of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The city is now home to the largest concentration of Chinese in Europe — some legal, many more not. Here in the heart of Tuscany, Chinese laborers work round the clock in some 3,200 businesses making low-end clothes, shoes and accessories, often with materials imported from China, for sale at midprice and low-end retailers worldwide.

It is a “Made in Italy” problem: Enabled by Italy’s weak institutions and high tolerance for rule-bending, the Chinese have blurred the line between “Made in China” and “Made in Italy,” undermining Italy’s cachet and ability to market its goods exclusively as high end.

Part of the resentment is cultural: The city’s classic Italian feel is giving way to that of a Chinatown, with signs in Italian and Chinese, and groceries that sell food imported from China.

But what seems to gall some Italians most is that the Chinese are beating them at their own game — tax evasion and brilliant ways of navigating Italy’s notoriously complex bureaucracy — and have created a thriving, if largely underground, new sector while many Prato businesses have gone under. The result is a toxic combination of residual fears about immigration and the economy.
--Rachel Donadio, NYT, on becoming more Italian than the Italians

Friday, July 29, 2011

Just a garden-variety political showdown

Dire warnings of a crisis serve the interests of both Democrats and Republicans as they try to bludgeon one another into a last-minute deal on the debt ceiling. But that doesn't mean the warnings are valid. There is zero—and I mean zero—chance that the United States will default on its debt even under the worst-case scenario. More fundamentally, it is wrong to look upon the current impasse as a symptom of a deeper "crisis of governability."

Despite claims to the contrary, this standoff is not unprecedented. It is a pale rerun of the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton confrontation over the federal budget in 1995 and 1996. ...

In contrast to 1995-96, the government can still spend all the tax revenues it collects, and it will be up to the president, and his secretary of the Treasury, to establish payment priorities. Under the Constitution, the first priority must be the payment of interest on the national debt—which the 14th Amendment states "shall not be questioned." Since the Treasury will be receiving about $172 billion in revenues in August, it will have no trouble paying the interest of $29 billion due during the month. There is no reason for the bond markets to panic.
--Bruce Ackerman, Slate, on why the debt ceiling debate is more about a government shutdown than a debt default

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Norway's penal philosophy

Norway's newest jail may hold rapists and murderers, but Halden Prison -- the country's second largest and most secure facility -- looks more like a posh sleepaway camp. In fact, architects say they purposely tried to avoid an "institutional feel." ...

Indeed, one of the many perks at Halden is flat-screen televisions in inmates' rooms. There's no HBO, though, so reruns of Oz and The Wire are contraband. Still, prisoners get private cells with mini-fridges and large windows to let in more sunlight. ...

Prisoners spend a lot of time out of their cells; exercise is encouraged. And in Halden, not only is there clean air but personal trainers. ...

At Halden, the inmates can form their own band. And what's more, they can lay down an album in the prison's professional recording studio. ...

The well-stocked library at Halden contains not only books but magazines, CDs, and DVDs. ...

Inmates share common kitchens and living rooms. Some common areas are designated as places where both inmates and guards can meet and mingle -- or, you know, just hang out.

The prison boasts a state-of-the-art gym, complete with a rock-climbing wall. ...

An inmate in his private bathroom -- one of many amenities that make Halden feel more like a college dorm than a prison.

An inmate learns to ride a unicycle in the prison gym. Seriously.

Dolk, a Norwegian Banksy-style graffiti artist, was commissioned to create art for the prison -- at a price tag of $1 million.
--Foreign Policy on a not-bad place to hang out for 21 years

Monday, July 25, 2011

The problem with moral relativism

Relativism about morality has come to play an increasingly important role in contemporary culture. To many thoughtful people, and especially to those who are unwilling to derive their morality from a religion, it appears unavoidable. Where would absolute facts about right and wrong come from, they reason, if there is no supreme being to decree them? We should reject moral absolutes, even as we keep our moral convictions, allowing that there can be right and wrong relative to this or that moral code, but no right and wrong per se. ...

What’s essential to “right” and “wrong” is that they are normative terms, terms that are used to say how things ought to be, in contrast with how things actually are. But what relativistic cousin of “right” and “wrong” could play anything like such a normative role?

Most moral relativists say that moral right and wrong are to be relativized to a community’s “moral code.” According to some such codes, eating beef is permissible; according to others, it is an abomination and must never be allowed. ...

The trouble is that while “Eating beef is wrong” is clearly a normative statement, “Eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus” is just a descriptive remark that carries no normative import whatsoever. It’s just a way of characterizing what is claimed by a particular moral code, that of the Hindus. We can see this from the fact that anyone, regardless of their views about eating beef, can agree that eating beef is wrong relative to the moral code of the Hindus. ...

There is no half-way house called “moral relativism,” in which we continue to use normative vocabulary with the stipulation that it is to be understood as relativized to particular moral codes. If there are no absolute facts about morality, “right” and “wrong” would have to join “witch” in the dustbin of failed concepts.

The argument is significant because it shows that we should not rush to give up on absolute moral facts, mysterious as they can sometimes seem, for the world might seem even more mysterious without any normative vocabulary whatsoever.
--NYU philosophy professor Paul Boghossian, NYT, on nihilism being the only coherent alternative to moral absolutism

Friday, July 22, 2011

Larry Summers on the Winkelvoss twins

But the remarks that have had the most play were ones in which he responded to the question "So was that scene in 'The Social Network' true?"

"One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at 3:00, there are two possibilities," Summers said. "One is that they're looking for a job and have an interview. The other is that they are an asshole."

"This was the latter case," he said.
--Leanna Ehrlich, Harvard Crimson, on what not to wear as an undergrad

Sunday, July 3, 2011

How the Fresh Prince became Will Smith

True story: When [Will] Smith was trapped on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set in the early-'90s, dreaming of starring in movies instead of selling Alfonso Ribiero's jokes, Smith and his manager, James Lassiter, studied a list of the top-10 grossing films ever. Here's what Smith told Time Magazine in 2007: "We looked at (the list) and said, O.K., what are the patterns? We realized that 10 out of 10 had special effects. Nine out of 10 had special effects with creatures. Eight out of 10 had special effects with creatures and a love story."

Pretty shrewd. Smith established himself as bankable with 1994's Bad Boys, then went right after that top-10 list, starring in 1996's Independence Day and Men In Black one year later. Those two films grossed nearly $1.4 billion worldwide. Will Smith was right. ...

In that 2007 Time Magazine feature, he freely admitted to studying box office patterns much like Theo Epstein studies XFIP and BABIP, saying that he and [his manager] Lassiter got together every Monday morning to look at "what happened last weekend, and what are the things that happened the last 10, 20, 30 weekends."
--Bill Simmons, Grantland, on calculating your way to stardom