A collection of items I found insightful, thought-provoking, or just plain funny.

China? What China?

Whereas China doubled its share of global production to almost 7% in the decade to 2003, most of the G8 saw their shares fall. Interestingly, only the United States and Canada saw their shares rise - with just over a quarter between them. Most things nowadays might seem to be made in China, but North America remains the true workshop of the world.

On nostalgia for a paradaisical past

There is no Eden. There never was. When was that Eden of the wonderful mythic past? Was it the time when infant mortality was 80 percent, when four children in five died of disease before the age of five? Was it a time when one women in six died in childbirth; when the average lifetime was 40, as it was in America a century ago? ...

And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony in the Eden-like environment? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge from Asia set about wiping out hundred of species of large animals... The people of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare... those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs...

from Michael Crichton's speech to the Commonwealth Club, September 15th, 2003. Incidentally, the people he is castigating for these beliefs are modern environmentalists.

On the evolution of rock and roll

Punk was also the first white rock music to confront the racial divide and take it as a fact of life. Though scarcely a racist, Joey Ramone was nonetheless the first white rock singer to not even pretend to be black.

from Condon Sanitaire by Seth Sanders and Mike O'Flaherty, in The Baffler #15.

Tokyo Pop Wisdom

from TokyoPop magazine, July 1999

Three Laws of Behavorial Genetics

The First Law: All human behavior traits are heritable.

The Second Law: The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.

The Third Law: A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behaviorial traits is not accounted for by the first or second laws.

Written by Eric Turkheimer in his article that begins with the sentence "The nature-nurture debate is over"; as quoted by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate. In explaining the three laws, Pinker notes that the second law is quite generous; the effect of being raised in the same family on adulthood behavorial traits is actually close to zero.

"I remember feeling very odd catching snippets of the Madison Square Garden benefit concert, watching bands that had once scoffed at the integrity of any culture, let alone their own. Rock, since it's inception with Elvis, has always undermined the foundations upon which a culture can claim its coherence. … if the concert signified anything to me in terms of music it was the end of rock."
"While Pizacatto Five, Cibo Matto, and Cornelius continue to release records here, the sort of fascination they elicited from Americans mesmerized by the distorted reflections of their own culture has thinned in a world where the integrity, not distillation, of culture has become essential. This might partially explain why a collection of Despression-era folks songs, the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou, outsold pop divas and princes … "

– Yuji Oniki, from PULPman Profiles 13: Buffalo Daughter, Aug. 2002 Vol. 6 No. 8 issue of PULP magazine, alas the final issue for the publication.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

– Hunter S. Thompson, as quoted in the March 2000 issue of Business 2.0

On Immigration to America

Legions of Italian, Irish, Poles, Jews from all over, were in place, relying for work and shelter not on the public purse but on support groups of earlier arrivals from their home country, region, or town.

Many native-born citizens thought them dangerous, crowded together in ghettoes, clinging to their exotic religions - even, for a time, languages - and carrying the whiff of socialism. A centry later, their descendants, living now in detached houses in tree-dotted suburbs, filled all branches of government and dominated the country's culture, a culture known worldwide as "American".

from The Economist Volume 353 Number 8151

A Tale of Consultancy

It's said the in the early years of this century, Charles Steinmetz, the great electrical engineer, was brought to General Electric's facilities in Schenectady, New York.

GE has encountered a performance problem with one of its huge electrical generators and had been absolutely unable to correct it.

Steinmetz was brought in as a consultant – not a very common occurrence in those days. Steinmetz also found the problem difficult, but for some days he closeted himself with the generator, its engineering drawings, pencil, and paper. At the end of the period he emerged, confident that he knew how to correct the problem.

After he departed, GE's engineers found a large "X" chalked on the side of the generator casing. There was also a note instructing them to cut the casing open at that location and remove so many turns of wire from the stator. The generator would then function properly.

And indeed it did. Steinmetz was asked what his fee would be. Having no idea in the world what was appropriate, he replied with the absolutely unheard-of answer that his fee was $1,000.

Stunned, the GE bureaucracy then required him to submit an itemized invoice. They soon received it. It included two items:

Marking chalk X on side of generator...$  1
Knowing where to mark chalk X..........$999

Adapted from Charles Vest's MIT Commencement address of 1999

Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.

Benjamin Franklin 1706 - 1790


This is a actual picture from the Wilshire Grand in Los Angeles (contrast tweaked for legibility).

Last updated January 2007