Ramblings & ephemera

6 reasons why “content” has been devalued

From Jonathan Handel’s “Is Content Worthless?” (The Huffington Post: 11 April 2008): Everyone focuses on piracy, but there are actually six related reasons for the devaluation of content. The first is supply and demand. Demand — the number of consumers and their available leisure time – is relatively constant, but supply — online content — […]

More on Fordlandia

From Mary A. Dempsey’s “Fordlandia” (Michigan History: July/August 1994): Screens were just one of the Yankee customs transported to Fordlandia and Belterra. Detroit physician L. S. Fallis, Sr., the first doctor sent from Henry Ford Hospital to run the Fordlandia medical center, attempted to eradicate malaria and hookworm among Brazilian seringueiros (rubber gatherers) by distributing […]

Henry Ford’s debacle in the jungle

From Alan Bellows’s “The Ruins of Fordlândia” (Damn Interesting: 3 August 2006): On Villares’ advice, [Henry] Ford purchased a 25,000 square kilometer tract of land along the Amazon river, and immediately began to develop the area. … Scores of Ford employees were relocated to the site, and over the first few months an American-as-apple-pie community […]

Dead five years before he was discovered

From Reuters’s “Body found in bed 5 years after death” (4 October 2006): Austrian authorities have discovered the body of a man who apparently died at home in bed five years ago, a Vienna newspaper reported on Wednesday. The corpse of Franz Riedl, thought to have been in his late 80s when he died, went […]

What can we learn from Scooby-Doo?

From Chris Suellentrop’s “Scooby-Doo: Hey, dog! How do you do the voodoo that you do so well?” (Slate: 26 March 2004): The Washington Post‘s Hank Stuever concisely elucidated the “Scooby worldview” when the first live-action movie came out: “Kids should meddle, dogs are sweet, life is groovy, and if something scares you, you should confront […]

More on Slab City

From Evelyn Nieves’s “Slab City Journal; For Thousands, a Town of Concrete Slabs Is a Winter Retreat” (The New York Times: 18 February 2001): Every winter, when the Winnebagos and pickups shake the desert off Beal Road like a small earthquake, Ben Morofsky gets wistful for the 120-degree days of summer, and the peace of […]

The end of days in Slab City

From Charlie LeDuff’s “Parked in a Desert, Waiting Out the Winter of Life” (The New York Times: 17 December 2004): Directions to purgatory are as follows: from Los Angeles drive east past Palm Springs into the bowels of the Mojave Desert. Turn south at the stench of the Salton Sea. Proceed down Highway 111 to […]

A prison completely run by the inmates

From Mica Rosenberg’s “Guatemala forces end 10-year prisoner rule at jail” (The Washington Post: 25 September 2006): Guatemalan security forces took over a jail run for over 10 years by inmates who built their own town on prison grounds complete with restaurants, churches and hard-drug laboratories. Seven prisoners died when 3,000 police and soldiers firing […]

Neil Postman: the medium is the metaphor for the way we think

From Tom Stites’s “Guest Posting: Is Media Performance Democracy’s Critical Issue?” (Center for Citizen Media: Blog: 3 July 2006): In late 1980s the late Neil Postman wrote an enduringly important book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it he says that Marshall McLuhan only came close to getting it right in his famous adage, that […]

The real purposes of the American school

From John Taylor Gatto’s “Against School” (Harper’s Magazine: September 2003): Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and […]

Media & culture’s emptiness encourages cynicism

From John Twelve Hawks’s “ How We Live Now” (2005): Instead of resisting the Vast Machine, many of us have given into cynicism and distraction. Our contemporary culture has become a brilliantly colored surface without a deeper spiritual meaning. We care more about celebrities than our own neighbors. Are Nick and Jessica getting divorced? Is […]

Cultural differences between Unix and Windows

From Joel Spolsky’s “Biculturalism” (Joel on Software: 14 December 2003): What are the cultural differences between Unix and Windows programmers? There are many details and subtleties, but for the most part it comes down to one thing: Unix culture values code which is useful to other programmers, while Windows culture values code which is useful […]

India’s transgendered folks

From Henry Chu’s “Bullied by the Eunuchs” (Los Angeles Times: 7 June 2006): I was being hit up for a handout by one of this country’s many hijras. They are eunuchs or otherwise transgendered people by birth, accident or choice. Something between male and female, they are shunned by Indian society as unclean. Many make […]

Ways different cultures view technology

From Spare me the details (The Economist: 28 October 2004): Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist who works for Intel, the world’s biggest semiconductor-maker, has been travelling around Asia for three years to observe how Asians use, or choose not to use, technology. She was especially struck by the differences in how westerners and Asians view their […]

A profile of phishers & their jobs

From Lee Gomes’s Phisher Tales: How Webs of Scammers Pull Off Internet Fraud (The Wall Street Journal: 20 June 2005): The typical phisher, he discovered, isn’t a movie-style villain but a Romanian teenager, albeit one who belongs to a social and economic infrastructure that is both remarkably sophisticated and utterly ragtag. If, in the early […]

Japan’s 99.8% criminal conviction rate

From Hiroshi Matsubara’s “Trial By Prosecutor” (Legal Affairs: March/April 2003): In 1990, a retired high-court judge gave an influential speech that indicted the criminal justice system [of Japan], citing the nation’s 99.8 percent conviction rate as evidence that prosecutors, not courts, decide the fate of criminals. Criminal trials, he declared, are merely “formal ceremonies” en […]

Colonialism at its most obvious

From Adam Goodheart’s “The Last Island of the Savages” (The American Scholar, Autumn 2000, 69(4):13-44): Then [in the 1860s], suddenly, the hostilities [by the Andaman Islanders] ceased almost entirely. There was one cataclysmic battle – fifteen hundred naked warriors came charging out of the jungle, straight up against the guns of a British warship, with […]

Lost tribe hoaxes

From Adam Goodheart’s “The Last Island of the Savages” (The American Scholar, Autumn 2000, 69(4):13-44): Even so, every few years there is a report of one “lost tribe” or another – usually in the Amazon rain forest or the highlands of New Guinea – staggering naked from the jungle into the dazzling glare of modernity. […]

The Mann Act as problematic law

From Roderick M. Hills, Jr.’s “The Federalist Capers” (Legal Affairs: May/June 2005): BY CONTRAST WITH THE COURT’S RECORD IN ECONOMIC MATTERS, the pre-New-Deal court was oddly reluctant to impose any limits on federally sponsored cultural conservatism. The Mann Act, which prohibited any person from aiding in the interstate transportation of a “woman or girl” for […]

Bird in Flight, Brancusi, & US Customs law

From Stéphanie Giry’s “An Odd Bird” (Legal Affairs: September/October 2002): After a weeklong journey from France, crates of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi arrived in New York harbor on the steamship Paris, escorted by the artist Marcel Duchamp. It was October 1926 and the sculptures were to be exhibited in the city at the avant-garde Brummer […]