Friday, May 21, 2010


Michael Pollan on the food movement:
Besides drawing women into the work force, falling wages made fast food both cheap to produce and a welcome, if not indispensible, option for pinched and harried families. The picture of the food economy Schlosser painted resembles an upside-down version of the social compact sometimes referred to as “Fordism”: instead of paying workers well enough to allow them to buy things like cars, as Henry Ford proposed to do, companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s pay their workers so poorly that they can afford only the cheap, low-quality food these companies sell, creating a kind of nonvirtuous circle driving down both wages and the quality of food. The advent of fast food (and cheap food in general) has, in effect, subsidized the decline of family incomes in America.

The New York Times has a very thorough report on the messed-up state of New York’s pension funds.

Their magazine also has an in-depth article about the Stieg Larsson situation. I find the guy’s story—he’s the one who’s written “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” et. al.—a very interesting one, but I’m surprised no one has made this comparison: Larsson’s life story like Kafka’s. Like Kafka, Larsson used writing fiction as a sideline and a hobby while focusing on another job; like Kafka, Larsson’s fame has exploded after his death, specifically with an editor doing the work after his death. Probably Larsson isn’t in the same caliber of artist as Kafka (I haven’t read the series), but the contours are still the same, I think.

n+1 has a persuasive piece on the changing role of highbrow TV today:
On television, serial narrative has been successfully deployed across many genres—police drama, medical drama, political drama, science fiction, fantasy, legal drama, family chronicle, sports drama—and yet the form has developed to include some common traits that must speak to the post-industrial era just as the nineteenth century novel’s figures of circulation spoke to its newly industrial readers. To put it concisely: the last three decades’s worth of serial drama have given us fictional worlds that are increasingly, often exclusively, professionalized. Think about the sly joke embedded in the double meaning of the word “family” in The Sopranos. For thirty years, we’ve been watching television in which characters turn to their coworkers, not their families, for empathy, love, and support. To the extent that their relatives do come on screen they often feel like intruders. When Chief of Staff Leo McGarry’s marriage collapsed in the fourth episode of The West Wing, it was supposed to be a terrible blow, but viewers felt it as a relief: finally, Leo would be able to focus on what mattered. He even said as much. “It’s not more important than your marriage,” Leo’s wife says, meaning his job. “It is more important than my marriage, right now,” he says. “These few years while I’m doing this, yes, it’s more important than my marriage.” His coworkers—also his only friends, because of the hours they all work—were attractive, articulate people who always had time to check in on one another as they rushed from one crisis to the next. Who could possibly disagree with Leo’s decision? Who wouldn’t give up everything to work in that White House?

Tea time with Mikhail Prokhorov.

Whee Facebook privacy!! Apparently a loophole allows advertisers to see what users are clicking on their ads, which would obviously be very profitable.

The modern fetish for “bipartisanship” and “consensus” as principled ends in themselves reflects what might be called the Clay Fallacy, which is the preference for process over substance, the assumption that there always must be a right answer in the middle ground between the two sides. Actually, sometimes the right answer is entirely on one side. Sometimes it is somewhere else entirely. Sometimes no answer is the right answer. William Seward was silly to declare in 1850 that “I think all legislative compromises radically wrong and essentially vicious,” but it is just as silly to assume that any compromise that can command a veto-proof majority is a deal worth doing. And as the rancorous debate over health care reminded us, the belief that the reasonable must always find common ground tends to empower the intransigent and the unprincipled.

Europe’s real problem: Germany.

The man who beat Federer 6-0, 6-0.

The resurgence of Shanghai.

Pursuant to my earlier point about the medical worth of fancy toys, here’s a NYT blog post about joint replacement:
Hip and knee replacements have increased dramatically among older patients, statistics from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons show. Between 2002 and 2007, the 65- to 84-year-old population saw a 16 percent increase in hip replacements and an almost 44 percent rise in knee replacements. Among patients over 85, the increases were higher still: 21 percent for hips, 54 percent for knees.
Sadly they don’t reference their own article a few months ago on joint replacements:
… orthopedic patients here are twice as likely to require an earlier-than-expected replacement procedure for a hip or a knee than in countries, like Australia, that have registries.
And then one of the hyped techniques to get them in isn’t too great either:
(A caution about so-called minimally invasive joint replacement surgery: the American Academy warns that there’s insufficient evidence that this approach, the subject of much media attention, produces quicker recoveries or better results.)

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