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Tag Archives: economics

Food for a Dollar

What!? Blueberries, even in multiples of ten, for a dollar.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl

If Sturrock does not dwell on these interior darknesses, it may be in part because the life affords so much external drama. Interestingly, Dahl does not emerge as a particularly reflective individual: his puerile humor, his lively imagination, his rebellious zeal and his determination were all strongly at odds with any analytical bent. It’s no surprise that “Get on with it” was one of his favorite phrases.

Hidden Tigers

In the early 1990s, when Sony was still digesting Columbia Pictures and Japan was seen as an economic threat to the United States, I was urged by my father to learn to bow and wear a kimono, because we were all going to be working for Japanese companies one day. The cultural artifact of the moment was Michael Crichton’s borderline racist novel “Rising Sun,” which became a film starring Sean Connery and warned of Japanese corporate imperialism and the menace it posed to our way of life.

The business writer Eric J. Weiner offers a different sort of road map for a strangely parallel time in his dense and disturbing new book, “The Shadow Market: How a Group of Wealthy Nations and Powerful Investors Secretly Dominate the World.”

Alien Nation

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history,” notes the central character in Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague,” “yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” The surprise is in the epidemic’s egalitarian choice of victims, in the unraveling of civic order and in the discovery that a just God may not be so just after all. This is why an epidemic makes such a great backdrop for a novel.

Birth Pangs

But in the decades since our children’s birth, results from research studies have suggested that we do not put fetal life so readily behind us. Rather, as Annie Murphy Paul writes in her informative and wise new book, “fetal origins research suggests that the lifestyle that influences the development of disease is often not only the one we follow as adults, but the one our mothers practiced when they were pregnant with us as well.” This hypothesis was initially put forth by David Barker, a British physician who in 1989 published data indicating that poor maternal nutrition put offspring at risk for heart disease decades later.

We

Theodore Rockwell, who served as technical director for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program in the 1950s and ’60s, shared a telling anecdote about his onetime boss, the famously irascible Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. “One time he caught me using the editorial we, as in ‘we will get back to you by… .’ ” Rockwell recalled in his memoir, “The Rickover Effect.” “He explained brusquely that only three types of individual were entitled to such usage: ‘The head of a sovereign state, a schizophrenic and a pregnant woman. Which are you, Rockwell?’ ”

Being Glenn Beck

In the middle of his analogy to me about his own personal crash and the country’s need to heal itself, Beck looked at his publicist with a flash of alarm about how I might construe what he was saying. “He is going to write a story that I believe the whole country is alcoholics,” he said. And then he went on to essentially compare his “Restoring Honor” pageant at the Lincoln Memorial to a large-scale A.A. meeting. “When I bottomed out, I couldn’t put it back together myself,” Beck told me. “I could do all the hard work. I could do the 12 steps. But I needed like-minded people around me.”

I Hate Everything!

“Everyone is essentially either sad, angry or afraid,” Mike, my best friend, said. We were sitting on the linoleum floor in my college dorm room. It was 1990. It was 3:45 in the morning. We were down to brass tacks.J

“I’m definitely sad, then,” I said.

“Well, I’m angry,” he said.

As a dutiful sad person, I felt instantly defeated. Anger seemed like something that lean, focused, going-places people had, especially men — rage and fury and indignation. Anger meant glory. Where depression would just mean shame and Dove Bars. How horrible to be essentially sad. Why couldn’t I be essentially angry?

Enter the Finnish video game Angry Birds. Angry Birds HD for iPad has finally filled my life with the wrath I’ve long aspired to.

Is Michelle Rhee’s Revolution Over?

Around the country, supporters of education reform — or at least of the test-scores-driven, tenure-busting, results-rewarding sort of reform epitomized by organizations like Teach for America and championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan — gave a collective gasp of dismay last month when voters in a number of districts handed primary defeats to candidates closely associated with just this type of reform.

A Prison-Library Reunion

I stopped in the park and held out the money, two crisp $20 bills, plus a few singles, all folded up to seem like more. I was calm, but my hands were shaking. I looked at the ground and caught a glimpse of his weapon — not a gun, but a six-inch knife, barely concealed under a shredded sleeve. I sensed he was looking at me. He took the money, but didn’t move.

Why isn’t he leaving?

“Hey,” he said. There was a new tenor in his voice. “You work at the Bay?”My body tensed. It was true: my work was following me home.

Found in Translation

— I’ve come to understand that all literature is a product of translation. That is, translation is not merely a job assigned to a translator expert in a foreign language, but a long, complex and even profound series of transformations that involve the writer and reader as well. “Translation” as a human act is, like so many human acts, a far more complicated proposition than it may initially seem to be.

Film Version of Zuckerberg Divides Generations

“When you talk to people afterward, it was as if they were seeing two different films,” said Scott Rudin, one of the producers. “The older audiences see Zuckerberg as a tragic figure who comes out of the film with less of himself than when he went in, while young people see him as completely enhanced, a rock star, who did what he needed to do to protect the thing that he had created.”

The actual Facebook has been playing clumsy defense against the film, including having the real Mr. Zuckerberg pop out of nowhere on “Oprah” to donate $100 million to the schools of Newark, but my hunch is that the company doesn’t have much to worry about.

More States Allowing Guns in Bars and Restaurants

Freakonomics

Mr. Spurlock’s segment, “A Roshanda by Any Other Name,” is a facetious contemplation of baby names in the age of branding. Does a child’s name determine his or her adult destiny? The answer is, probably not, although the downward spiral of one girl unfortunately named Temptress might suggest otherwise. An opposite message is gleaned from the biographies of two boys, one named Winner, the other Loser. The segment addresses the widening gap between the names of white and black babies, which began with the black power movement in the late 1960s. It can barely contain its amusement at the many variations of the name Unique.

Arthur Penn, Director of ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ Dies

“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ’60s European art films to American movies,” the writer-director Paul Schrader said. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”Many of the now-classic films of what was branded the “New American Cinema” of the 1970s — including “Taxi Driver,” directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Mr. Schrader, and “The Godfather,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola — would have been unthinkable without “Bonnie and Clyde” to point the way.

MacArthur Foundation Honors 23

“Obviously, I’m very grateful but I have a vague sense of not belonging,” Mr. Simon said in a telephone interview about his grant. He said past winners had done “tangible things to improve conditions.”

Still, storytellers can also make a difference, said Mr. Simon, who now splits his time between Baltimore and New Orleans. He expects the MacArthur imprimatur to help move the discussion of the ideas in his work from the “entertainment pages to the op-ed pages,” he said. “One overt argument that ‘The Wire’ was making is that the drug war is amoral and untenable,” Mr. Simon added.

Let Me In (2010)

Vampire romanticism is nothing new, of course. Millions of us, not just teenage girls, have followed the courtship of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen through every deep breath and smoldering glance. But the love story in “Let Me In,” between two 12-year-olds, one of them a blood-craving undead pixie named Abby, is both more intense and more innocent.

The subtext of the relationship is not sexuality, as it is in “Twilight” or “True Blood,” but rather the loneliness of children and their often unrecognized reservoirs of rage. Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her pal, a trembling, big-eyed boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are fragile and quiet but also capable of horrifying violence.

My favorites from the New York Times. This last couple weeks have been pretty transitional, so I’ve been slow—you’ll probably need a NYT account (free) to view the archived articles.

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

Documentary? Better Call It Performance Art

At least one element in the film was genuine, Mr. Affleck said. That was a snippet of a home movie that showed Mr. Phoenix and his very young siblings performing, Jackson Five style, on the streets of Los Angeles.

The rest, Mr. Affleck said, clearly requires a bit more understanding than he has allowed the viewers to date. “It is a hard movie to watch,” he said.

A Dictionary of the Near Future

DENARRATION The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

CLOUD BLINDNESS The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.

Take a Look at Him Now: Questions for Phil Collins

But now you’re divorced from her. Did I read somewhere that your divorce settlement was $50 million and, at the time, the largest paid by an entertainer in British history?

I think Paul McCartney’s was the largest.

Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend

Chances are, if you are taking the time to read this advice, you already have the quality necessary to undertake the intellectual challenges of a college education — a seriousness of purpose.

Carrot Talk

In the study, children from the ages of 3 to 5 tasted five pairs of identical foodstuffs (including, as it happens, carrots). In each pair, one item was offered in plain, unmarked packaging — and the other was in McDonald’s packaging. The kids, on average, said they preferred the stuff they thought came from the fast-food chain, which of course is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. They thought McDonald’s fries tasted better with branded packaging than without it; they preferred milk in a McDonald’s cup to milk in a plain cup. This, the study noted, “was true even for carrots,” a food they are unlikely to have experienced at the fast-food chain.

The Empowerment Mystique

“Free to Be” was foremost about vanquishing gender stereotypes. By choosing girls to liberate from the tyranny of antimaterialism, Target implied that buying its wares was part of thevictory. That’s part of a trend I’ve noticed across a whole range of sectors over the last several months from big-box stores to high-end fashion to wireless-phone services to politics: all have discovered the sales potential in female pride.

Phys Ed: Looking at How Concussions When Young Influence Later Life

But when researchers looked at the electrical activity of the students’ brains, they found that the concussed athletes showed noticeably less activity in portions of the brain associated with attention. ‘‘They had suppressed attentional resources,’’ said Steven Broglio, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues speculated that, as a result, the injured athletes most likely were devoting a greater percentage of their total mental reserves to each task than the uninjured athletes in order to achieve similar intellectual results. The effort wasn’t obvious. ‘‘These were high-performing college students,” Dr. Broglio said. ‘‘They were succeeding in school.’’

Time Is Money

Maybe I’m the only one who still sees time-shifting as all upside — working your own hours, reading a news story two weeks late, watching TV and movies only on disk, DVR or download. Time-shifting is the enemy of advertising, after all; it may also be the enemy of communal experience.

The Ethicist: Father Exposure

Here’s the key question: Would your acquaintance want to know about the affair? Some children crave a deep understanding of their late parents; some cling to an idealized version. If your acquaintance is among the former, give him the letter. If not, or if you are simply unsure, consign it to the flames. Or frame it on your bedroom wall as a reminder of the labyrinthine recesses of the human heart.

Kafka’s Last Trial

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.”

A New Kind of Cineaste

Over the past quarter century or so, Assayas has emerged as a mainstay of what might be called the middle generation of post-New Wave French auteurs — filmmakers who still labor in the shadow of a heroic band of ancient young rebels, many of whom have shown remarkable, even maddening longevity. Erich Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, part of the groups that burst out of Cahiers in the late 1950s and early ’60s, died this year, at 89 and 80. Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais are all still around, in their 80s, as is Jean-Luc Godard, perpetual imp and inscrutable sage of le cinéma français, who may or may not show up to collect an honorary Oscar in November.

They Did What?

“All the self- examination in the world isn’t going to help anyone bent on self-deception,” she writes, “which is no doubt true of any of us at least some of the time.”

When Life Gets in the Way of Art

But beyond issues of personal betrayal, the news raised much more difficult and fundamental questions — ones central to photography and documentary work but to the history of art and popular culture as well — about artistic intent, about the assumptions and expectations of the viewing public and about the relationship between artists and their work.

The Temporary Vegetarian: Roasted Mushrooms With Goat Cheese and Grits

A Teenager Flying Over a Cuckoo’s Nest

WHEN thinking of the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, light comedy may not be the first thing to come to mind. The team’s first movie, “Half Nelson,” examined the life of a drug-addicted schoolteacher, while the follow-up, “Sugar,” tracked the trials of a Dominican baseball player who joins a minor-league team in Iowa. But the filmmakers have a message for audiences: They do have a sense of humor. And they love John Hughes.

Enter the Void (2009)

More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!

Sunday Book Review: Fairer Deal

Reich insists instead that American consumers, and particularly the middle class, have been buying too little. For years, the United States has consumed more than it has produced; the excess demand has sucked in products from abroad, which is why the nation has run a trade deficit. The idea that the economy has suffered from a lack of demand is, shall we say, eccentric. But Reich declares repeatedly that the stagnation of middle-class buying power has been a drag on growth. “If earnings are inadequate,” he asserts, “an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.” If that sentence described the American condition in the 1990s and the period leading up to the crash, Reich’s predicted excess output would have gone abroad and the United States would have run a trade surplus.

Festivals Grow Up, Even as Screens Grow Small

It may be that the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the biggest, most influential festivals in the world specifically because it learned how to bridge that art-cinema world and those conglomerate-owned movie studios we nostalgically refer to as Hollywood. (Other factors doubtless have played a role, including support from the Canadian government and the festival’s location: it’s an easy flight for New York journalists.) To judge from the Lightbox, this balancing act has paid off nicely. It remains to be seen whether the Lightbox, like the new film complex at Lincoln Center, can fill its theaters year-round with viewers who are as eager to dig into cinema’s past as they are to take part in its uncertain future.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we’ve been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands — food for which humans don’t compete — meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it’s a significant net gain.

Simon Fairlie via Kottke (and The Guardian)

Link: Conspicuous Authenticity

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is “a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it.” By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls “conspicuous authenticity,” by which the well-heeled embark on a “perpetual coolhunt,” whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the “natural building” movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

(see also a discussion here.)

A reporter for the Toronto Star handed out prepaid credit cards to panhandlers and waited to see what happened.

“Can I trust you with this?” I said, handing him a $50 card and telling him to buy what he needs, but that I need it back when he was done. He nodded and scrambled to his feet. He said he would be back in a half-hour.

He came back right on time, slurping from a large McDonald’s soft drink cup — root beer — and with sweat on his brow. He wanted to have pork and rice from a Vietnamese noodle joint on Spadina but they wouldn’t take the card. So, he scrambled to McDonald’s. Lunch was a double quarter-pounder with cheese.

The reporter’s offer was frequently declined, which seems surprising at first. But panhandlers are savvy businesspeople. They didn’t want a short-term and potentially risky venture interfering with their main panhandling income stream. Eyes on the prize.

(kottke)

The State of New Orleans

I’ve been visiting Greenville for a few days, staying with my girlfriend Monica, but the first thing I noticed when I got here was the brown water. It took me a few days to find the time to figure out what the deal is. Apparently, it’s just cypress roots.

For years, Greenville, Miss., has struggled with the yellowish-brown water that flows from its taps. Although the water meets federal and state standards, city leaders believe that it has hampered the community’s economic development. They hope to install a filtration system to take care of the problem, but have yet to receive federal stimulus money for their proposal.

(via The Washington Post)

However, I think Monica’s landlord may also be working with some kind of water softening system. Mainly because the water is sort of slimy, or silky, depending on how you look at it. But, I have no proof as of yet. Apparently, the water is safe to drink, as I have been the last few days, and taking showers in it, with no problems. But, I agree it’s not helping the image of the town, but with all of the lost industry (which the landlord, Jack, says is caused by cheap labor in China, at least in the case of Schwinn bikes), it’ll be a long time before they can afford any kind of filtration system.

In other Greenville historical news: Jim Henson was born here. In fact, Kermit the frog was allegedly named after Jim Henson’s childhood friend, Kermit, who would hang out with Henson at Deer Creek in nearby town Leland. Also, famous civil war historian Shelby Foote literally wrote in Monica’s current room! Shelby Foote was instrumental in the creation of the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War, which is certainly worth checking out—and will exemplify, through proxy, how cool it is to stay in the cottage where he wrote.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

Google Vs. Apple: By The Numbers

(I still think Google is a better long term investment, case in point: Google Energy)