Archive for June 2008

#  Black Muslims: Sunni or Shia? →

June 30th, 2008 at 21:06 // In Worth Knowing 

According to Slate’s Explainer, most African-American Muslims — who actually identify as one or the other — are Sunnis.

A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that among the several million Muslims in America, 20 percent are native-born African-Americans. Among those black Muslims, half identified themselves as Sunni—as Ellison does—and another third said they had no affiliation. There are a handful of predominantly black Shiite mosques in the United States, though they represent a small minority of all black Muslims.

#  Town Underground →

June 30th, 2008 at 20:47 // In Worth Seeing 

Coober Pedy, South Australia is a cool place. (SWIDT?)

(via Coudal)

#  Books in the Bin →

June 30th, 2008 at 20:28 // In Worth Considering 

Tyler Cowen (he of Marginal Revolution fame) thinks you should throw out less-than-great books you’ve read.

If you donate the otherwise-trashed book somewhere, someone might read it. OK, maybe that person will read one more book in life but more likely that book will substitute for that person reading some other book instead.

…A lot of books don’t make the cut of “above average to those readers they will attract” and of course since you’ve spent some time with the volume you ought to be in a position to know. (But note the calculation is tricky. Sometimes a very bad book can be useful because it might appeal to “bad” readers and lure them away from even worse books. Please make all the appropriate calculations here.)

The worst thing you can do is to give such a book to a friend or family member. You are tempting them, but with mediocrity.

So all you altruists out there, ready your trash can and exercise your elbow. See if you can toss a book into the bin with one fell swoop from across the room. The love of humanity demands it.

#  Early Color Photography →

June 30th, 2008 at 19:35 // In Worth Seeing 

Like Mr. Kottke, I’m fascinated by color photos from an era usually seen in black-and-white. After explaining autochrome, he offers these links:

Here’s a slideshow of some photos taken by this process. Here’s some autochromes of Mark Twain from 1908.

More early color photography (not necessarily autochromes): Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii’s stunning photographs of Russia circa 1909-1915, photos of WWI, photos of WWII, and photos of America in the late 30s/early 40s (color corrected).

#  Sexual Hypocrisy →

June 30th, 2008 at 19:18 // In Worth Reading 

The consistently interesting William Saletan points to — and considers — an innovative argument about sexual propriety:

The defendant is accused of purveying obscene material from a Florida Web site. To be judged obscene, the material has to be found patently offensive or prurient by “contemporary community standards.” According to Matt Richtel of the New York Times, the defense attorney in the case, Lawrence Walters, will use Google Trends to argue that the community’s standards are lower than advertised. Walters “plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like ‘orgy’ than for ‘apple pie’ or ‘watermelon,’” Richtel reports. (Evidence here.) The point is “to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics—and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.”

…[Th]is case is more than a titillating gimmick. It’s an early attempt to think through human duality in the age of the Internet. In the old days, there was a private you that lived in your head, a semi-private you that lived in your house, and a public you that lived in your community. You could commit adultery in your fantasies, try bondage with your spouse in the bedroom, and sing about purity in church. The Internet has confused these distinctions. Now the private you can sneak around the semi-private you and become semi-public. (I doubt those folks in Pensacola have talked to their spouses about orgies.) Your fantasies are no longer confined to your head. They’re visible, in the aggregate, on Google Trends.

…And don’t judge a porn site operator by the open-air standards of his geographic community. That’s not where he peddles his smut. He peddles it online, where the standards, as we now know from Google, are different.

#  A New Milk Jug →

June 30th, 2008 at 19:07 // In Worth Considering 

I’ve not encountered this new way of packaging a gallon — non-Americans wonder: what’s a gallon? — of milk, but I’m interested to try it after seeing the decidedly mixed reviews so far.

The jugs are cheaper to ship and better for the environment, the milk is fresher when it arrives in stores, and it costs less. […]

“I hate it,” said Lisa DeHoff, a cafe owner shopping in a Sam’s Club here.

“It spills everywhere,” said Amy Wise, a homemaker.

#  “Because” →

June 25th, 2008 at 18:38 // In Worth Knowing 

Tyler Cowen points to another astounding fact from this book:

Behavioral scientist Ellen Langer and her colleagues decided to put the persuasive power of this word to the test.  In one study, Langer arranged for a stranger to approach someone waiting in line to use a photocopier and simply ask, “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”  Faced with the direct request to cut ahead in this line, 60 percent of the people were willing to agree to allow the stranger to go ahead of them.  However, when the stranger made the request with a reason (“May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), almost everyone (94 percent) complied…

Here’s where the study gets really interesting…This time, the stranger also used the word because but followed it with a completely meaningless reason.  Specifically, the stranger said “May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”

The rate of compliance was 93 percent.

#  My Son’s Flaw →

June 25th, 2008 at 18:08 // In Worth Distraction 

Sarah Bird desperately wishes that she could change her son’s sexual orientation: she wants him to be gay.

How could I not dream of having a son who cared deeply about all the right things: fashion, musical theater, interior décor? But mostly a son who cared deeply about the most right thing of all: his mother? How could I not yearn for a son who would tell me that the bias cut emphasized my saddlebag thighs, that no one was staining concrete anymore, that the tiniest bit of white on the upper lids would open up my eyes and make me look 10 years younger? And now that California is handing out marriage licenses, what mother could resist the opportunity to micromanage a union in which both participants would obsess with her about whether the color theme celadon and peach or apple green and hot pink best expresses their love?

Not unrelated: William Saletan discusses a feasible genetic cause of male homosexuality.

#  When Bill Gates Hates Microsoft →

June 25th, 2008 at 17:10 // In Worth Reading 

This may be the greatest thing I’ve seen today.

From: Bill Gates
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 10:05 AM
To: Jim Allchin
Cc: Chris Jones (WINDOWS); Bharat Shah (NT); Joe Peterson; Will Poole; Brian Valentine; Anoop Gupta (RESEARCH)
Subject: Windows Usability Systematic degradation flame

I am quite disappointed at how Windows Usability has been going backwards and the program management groups don’t drive usability issues.

He goes on — and on and on — to personally make just about every gripe that every other user of Microsoft software has.

(via BBGadgets)

#  The Princess Bride Game →

June 25th, 2008 at 16:54 // In Worth Distraction 

This game looks decidedly “meh.” Mostly it’s just that I can’t resist an opportunity to reiterate the point that The Princess Bride may well be the greatest movie ever.

(via BuzzFeed)

#  Why don’t we hear more about Equatorial Guinea? →

June 24th, 2008 at 19:26 // In Worth Reading 

Peter Maas argues that Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang — nope, never heard of him either — is actually worse than the far-more-famous Robert Mugabe. Obiang’s qualifications:

Years of violent apprenticeship in a genocidal regime led by a crazy uncle? Check. Power grab in a coup against the murderous uncle? Check. Execution of now-deposed uncle by firing squad? Check. Proclamation of self as “the liberator” of the nation? Check. Govern for decades in a way that prompts human rights groups to accuse your regime of murder, torture, and corruption? Check, check, and check.

He goes on to speculate that no one criticizes the reign because, like the Saudis, they worry about access to the country’s (rather modest) oil reserves.

#  The Failed State Index →

June 24th, 2008 at 17:42 // In Worth Knowing 

Foreign Policy’s annual figures about the risk of states disintegrating is out. I must say I’m surprised by the rather good scores of Chile and Mauritius.

(via The Economist)

#  All 49 US States →

June 24th, 2008 at 17:07 // In Worth Considering 

A MetaFilter post — I don’t care about your “not credible source” nonsense — raises the interesting spector of Hawaii ceasing to be a member of the United States. The comments are also typically good.

#  No iTunes for Weapons Makers →

June 24th, 2008 at 16:49 // In Worth Distraction 

The New Scientist’s Technology blog point to some odd facets of the iTunes EULA:

“Licensee also agrees that Licensee will not use the Apple Software for any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.”

(via Freakonomics, who found another odd clause in a different iTunes EULA)

#  The McDonald’s Diet →

June 23rd, 2008 at 18:07 // In Worth Distraction 

Chris Coleson lost 86 pounds eating only at McDonald’s. Take that Jared.

(via Neatorama)

#  Traffic in Iran →

June 23rd, 2008 at 15:03 // In Worth Seeing 

Though quotidien chaos in the streets is hardly unique to Iran, this video certainly makes me glad that I don’t have to drive there.

(via Donklephant)

#  Gas vs. Charcoal →

June 23rd, 2008 at 14:43 // In Worth Considering 

In pure combustion terms, propane always wins. If you add enough other factors, you may be able to excuse your preference for the taste of charcoal.

…because the substance is made from trees, it can actually be carbon neutral in the end. They contend that the harvested trees, if taken from well-managed timberlands, are presumably replanted. So, while the felled trees are emitting carbon on barbecues nationwide, the new trees are sucking that carbon right back up. Gas, on the other hand, can’t be replenished—or at least not for the millions of years it takes for organic matter to break down into fossil fuels.

#  Neighbors →

June 23rd, 2008 at 14:38 // In Worth Considering 

I’m personally torn about whether I’d find Peter Lovenheim a clever or annoying neighbor, but he’s got some interesting — right is another issue — things to say about the state of the American living.

The previous evening, as I’d left home, the last words I heard before I shut the door had been, “Dad, you’re crazy!” from my teenage daughter. Sure, the sight of your 50-year-old father leaving with an overnight bag to sleep at a neighbor’s house would embarrass any teenager, but “crazy”? I didn’t think so.

There’s talk today about how as a society we’ve become fragmented by ethnicity, income, city versus suburb, red state versus blue. But we also divide ourselves with invisible dotted lines. I’m talking about the property lines that isolate us from the people we are physically closest to: our neighbors.