March 2008
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Month March 2008

“Quote du jour”

Brad Templeton:

Cable is not a monopoly. You can choose from any cable company you want in America, just by moving your house.

@ Freedom to Connect.

Press Coverage & Political Accountability

James Snyder & David Stromberg:

In this paper we estimate the impact of press coverage on citizen knowledge, politicians’ actions, and policy. We find that a poor fit between newspaper markets and political districts reduces press coverage of politics. We use variation in this fit due to redistricting to identify the effects of reduced coverage. Exploring the links in the causal chain of media effects — voter information, politicians’ actions and policy — we find statistically significant and substantively important effects. Voters living in areas with less coverage of their U.S. House representative are less likely to recall their representative’s name, and less able to describe and rate them. Congressmen who are less covered by the local press work less for their constituencies: they are less likely to stand witness before congressional hearings, to serve on constituency-oriented committees (perhaps), and to vote against the party line. Finally, this congressional behavior affects policy. Federal spending is lower in areas where there is less press coverage of the local members of congress.

This is an interesting subject. Locally, I’ve seen very little traditional media coverage of our elected officials actual voting record. Via Tyler Cowen.

How to Disagree: An Attempt at a “Disagreement Hierarchy”

Paul Graham:

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.
Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.
The result is there’s a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn’t mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it’s not anger that’s driving the increase in disagreement, there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.
If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here’s an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy:

MAD Magazine’s Fold-in Illustrator

Neil Genzlinger:

THIS was going to be a simple artist-at-work article about Al Jaffee, a man who could lay claim to being the world’s oldest adolescent and who just now is enjoying a fresh burst of public and professional recognition. The idea was to look in on him as he created the latest installment of a feature he has been drawing for Mad magazine since, incredibly, 1964.
But because that feature is the Mad Fold-In, which embeds a hidden joke within a seemingly straightforward illustration, it should come as no surprise that the simple article ended up being not so simple after all. There were times when Mr. Jaffee, who faced a serious health scare over the last few weeks, thought it might be something closer to a eulogy.
If you were young at any time in the last 44 years, you know the fold-in: the feature on the inside of Mad’s back cover that poses a question whose answer is found by folding the page in thirds. September 1978: “What colorful fantastic creature is still being exploited even after it has wiggled and died?” A picture of a garish butterfly, folded, becomes an equally garish Elvis.

Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies at 65

Douglas Martin:

Dith Pran, a photojournalist for The New York Times whose gruesome ordeal in the killing fields of Cambodia was re-created in a 1984 movie that gave him an eminence he tenaciously used to press for his people’s rights, died in New Brunswick, N.J., on Sunday. He was 65 and lived in Woodbridge, N.J.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, which had spread, said his friend Sydney H. Schanberg.
Mr. Dith saw his country descend into a living hell as he scraped and scrambled to survive the barbarous revolutionary regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when as many as two million Cambodians — a third of the population — were killed, experts estimate. Mr. Dith survived through nimbleness, guile and sheer desperation.
He had been a journalistic partner of Mr. Schanberg, a Times correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia. He translated, took notes and pictures, and helped Mr. Schanberg maneuver in a fast-changing milieu. With the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Mr. Schanberg was forced from the country, and Mr. Dith became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists.

Check the impressive video out here.

Creativity Step by Step: A Conversation with Choreographer Twyla Tharp

Diane Coutu:

The notion that some people are simply born artistic—and that there is a profile that can help organizations identify them—is quite firmly entrenched. All the talk of genetic determination nowadays undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. But the idea that creativity is a predetermined personality trait probably appeals at a psychological level because it gives people an excuse for not innovating or initiating change themselves, reducing the problem of creativity to a recruitment challenge.
Significantly, the people least likely to buy into the idea that creativity is preordained are the creative geniuses themselves. Choreographer Twyla Tharp, for one, doesn’t subscribe to any notion of effortless artistry. As someone who has changed the face of dance, she’s certainly qualified to have an opinion. The winner of a MacArthur fellowship (popularly called “the genius grant”), two Emmy awards, and a Tony award, she has written and directed television programs, created Broadway productions, and choreographed dances for the movies Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. Tharp, now 66, did all this while creating more than 130 dances—many of which have become classics—for her own company, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. The author of two books, she is now in the process of simultaneously developing new ballets for the Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
At her Manhattan home, Tharp met with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu to discuss what it takes to be a choreographer. In these pages, she shares what she has learned about fostering creativity, initiating change, and firing even top-notch performers when push comes to shove. In her suffer-no-fools way, she talks about her “monomaniacal absorption” with her work and the need to be tough, even ruthless, when that work is at stake. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.

Wal-Mart

Bob Lefsetz:

Having become accustomed to the smell, my nose drawn to the flame, after multiple visits I inspected the jars, and that’s when I learned the candles were replicating apple pie, it said so right on them. And for Valentine’s Day, Felice set out to buy me my own apple pie candle, so I could relive the Two Elk experience right here at sea level.
So she called.
That wouldn’t even occur to me. That here in Los Angeles you could pick up the phone and make contact with someone at Two Elk, who ultimately told Felice that they’d purchased the apple pie candles at Wal-Mart.
That’s what led Felice to the two story edifice in Panorama City, a desire to elate me on Valentine’s Day. But while there, she decided to also pick up a PlayStation, and that’s how we ultimately got hooked on Rock Band. But the geek at the counter, outfitting her with all the necessary accoutrements, sold her an HDMI cable, so we could see the Rock Band images in all their Hi-Def glory.
But Felice’s HDTV is from the generation before HDMI. We had to use a component hook-up, which turns out to be quite good. And were left with one HDMI cable, which has a value of approximately $100 if you’re out of the loop. Finally, on Saturday, before going downtown to see Margaret Cho at the Orpheum, we journeyed into the heart of darkness, to Wal-Mart, to return the cable.
Remember that old TV show, “Big Valley”? Well, it is. Took us about twenty minutes to drive to Panorama City. And after passing Galpin Ford and its satellite dealerships, and burned out buildings, we found ourselves at Wal-Mart.
Let’s start with the abandoned buildings. If this is how the richest nation in the world looks, what’s it like in the third world? Is it tents with holes? Or does our media just refuse to expose how bad it is across so much of the U.S. landscape, how much our rich have ignored our poor?

More on Lefsetz here.

Addressing: The Revenge of Geography

Timothy Grayson:

Pondering a future for location intelligence is a speculative journey through geographic permanence and human transience that ends with proving location intelligence to be evermore crucial to businesses and governments.
The Canadian postal context
The post office has a natural connection to location and an unbeatable advantage over geo-matics, spatial mapping and so on: postal carriers go regularly to all locations.
Opened in 1755, the first Canadian post office facilitated commerce and nation-building at a time when locating people and places among the buffalo and beaver was a real challenge. By 2005, Canada Post was delivering 11.1-billion letters and packages – about 37-million pieces every day – to over 31-million individual Canadians plus over 1-million businesses and institutions at some 14-million points-of-call.
Canada Post has established an electronic pedigree as well. epostTM serves about 4-million subscribed Canadians, delivering electronic bills for over 90-percent of Canadian large volume mailers. Canada Post also provides both an electronic courier service to securely transmit large electronic documents and an Electronic PostMark.

Out of East Germany via Bulgaria

Nicholas Kulish:

Two dangling strands of barbed wire have haunted Olaf Hetze for over a quarter century, since his failed attempt to escape from the Communist bloc, not by going over the Berlin Wall but around it by a little-known route through Bulgaria.
Mr. Hetze still believes that he and his girlfriend, Barbara Hille, might have made it if he had managed to cover their tracks better, trimming the loose ends after cutting the top wire of a border fence. If he had, Mr. Hetze said in an interview at his home in Munich earlier this year, he might never have seen the shooting stars of tracer bullets arcing across the night sky, or had to watch his girlfriend twist in the air and fall to the ground, blood rushing out of a life-threatening wound to her shoulder.
But the dangling wire was far from the only reason they failed.
Thanks to the work of a dedicated German researcher, the full extent of the escape attempts through Bulgaria, and the danger, is just now coming to light. At least 4,500 people tried to escape over the Bulgarian border during the cold war, estimated the researcher, Stefan Appelius, a professor of political science at Oldenburg University. Of those, he believes that at least 100 were killed, but no official investigation has ever been undertaken.

The death and life of the American newspaper

Eric Alterman:

The American newspaper has been around for approximately three hundred years. Benjamin Harris’s spirited Publick Occurrences, Both Forreign and Domestick managed just one issue, in 1690, before the Massachusetts authorities closed it down. Harris had suggested a politically incorrect hard line on Indian removal and shocked local sensibilities by reporting that the King of France had been taking liberties with the Prince’s wife.
It really was not until 1721, when the printer James Franklin launched the New England Courant, that any of Britain’s North American colonies saw what we might recognize today as a real newspaper. Franklin, Benjamin’s older brother, refused to adhere to customary licensing arrangements and constantly attacked the ruling powers of New England, thereby achieving both editorial independence and commercial success. He filled his paper with crusades (on everything from pirates to the power of Cotton and Increase Mather), literary essays by Addison and Steele, character sketches, and assorted philosophical ruminations.