Comics are brain food

March 26th, 2002 § Two comments § permalink

This week’s installment of Cat and Girl is dead-on (and smart and funny, as always). Nine-tenths of artistry is the mastery of form.


March 22nd, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

On March 10, 1945, American airplanes killed 100,000 Tokyo residents with 1,665 tons of napalm bombs. More people died in Tokyo than in Nagasaki, the second city on which the United States military dropped an atomic bomb.

The stories of the survivors are devastating.


March 18th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Perhaps it was overly optimistic to go to Target looking for a mortar and pestle.

But checking to see whether they had a copy of My Dinner with André–well, that was just dumb.


March 16th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Guess who wrote this:

There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.

Give up? It was written by (or ghostwritten for) John Ashcroft in 1997, when he was a United States senator. (The full article is online.)

I guess civil liberties are important only if Democrats are threatening to take them away.

Straw man

March 14th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

The United States Senate just voted to let the Bush administration choose mileage standards for automobiles. Talk about letting the fox guard the henhouse.

Here’s an example of the fine reasoning that led to the passage of this bill:

“This is still America,” said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who illustrated his point with a photograph of a bright purple European-made minicar. “We should be able to make our choices. We shouldn’t have the federal government saying you’re going to drive the purple people eater here.”

My goodness, Senator Lott is witty! And he is certainly devoted to my freedom to pollute!

If you’re interested, you can read more of the floor debate in the Congressional Record (click on “Page: S1825″).

The utility of it all

March 10th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

The March issue of Metropolis featured an article (not online) about collectors of African utilitarian objects, including ladders made from forked tree trunks. Collectors pay $250 or more for these ladders. The art dealers who bought them from African farmers paid about $5 apiece:

So if you buy a Tamberma ladder, you are certainly purchasing a utilitarian object with an authentic connection to the rhythms of life in a premodern society. You are also helping to fetishize those objects such that, when sold to Westerners, they are worth vastly more than anything the people who actually use them could ever produce from them.

That’s not intrinsically wrong; most aesthetic judgments fetishize their subjects to some extent. The problem is the unequal distribution of benefits. The solution, obviously, is to pay the farmers more for their ladders.

It’s not a bad model for globalization as a whole. In a recent American Prospect article, Amartya Sen argues that

the main issue is how to make good use of the remarkable benefits of economic intercourse and technological progress in a way that pays adequate attention to the interests of the deprived and the underdog. …It is not sufficient to understand that the poor of the world need globalization as much as the rich do; it is also important to make sure that they actually get what they need.

That goal doesn’t seem like it should be difficult to achieve. Which shows you what I know.

My weekend

March 10th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Cigar-shaped stuffed grape leaves, sea bass in tomato-onion-garlic sauce, an island of lamb cubes and rice in a sea of cream.

Hawaiian dancers, Michael Graves, cart escalators; inexpensive cosmetics, flimsy furniture, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. More groceries than I expected. The vaguely seedy feeling I get from shopping at a category killer.

Back to work tomorrow.

Mind the gap

March 7th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Why does it take so long to mend an escalator? The London Review of Books examines the intersection of technology, transportation planning, and human behavior:

“As more and more architecture is finally unmasked as the mere organisation of flow—shopping centres, airports—it is evident that circulation is what makes or breaks public architecture,” Rem Koolhaas has written in another context. “Two simple, almost primitive, inventions have driven modernisation towards mass occupancy of previously unattainable heights: the elevator and the escalator.” Of these, the escalator is the winner in places where large crowds have to be taken up or down moderate heights over short distances. The reason for this is clear: a lift leaves people waiting in impatient groups; an escalator lets them stream. In most situations it is the short-distance vertical mass-transport system of choice. Those who design and manage escalators must keep the cost of the machine’s tendency to hurl, pinch and grab at a level acceptable in terms of injury and damaged machinery.

Keeping O’Reilly afloat

March 6th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Areas in which I will gain experience in the next few months:

Amount of reading I need to do outside of the office:

  • Lots

TV is my anti-drug

March 3rd, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

From Scientific American, a remarkable article about why television is addictive—it grabs your attention by taking advantage of your biological response to novel stimuli, then lulls you into relaxation. From the article:

What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue. Survey participants commonly reflect that television has somehow absorbed or sucked out their energy, leaving them depleted. They say they have more difficulty concentrating after viewing than before. In contrast, they rarely indicate such difficulty after reading. After playing sports or engaging in hobbies, people report improvements in mood. After watching TV, people’s moods are about the same or worse than before.

Where am I?

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