Dynamist Blog



Explanation here and here: "Yes, the European Union really does have a law that states that bananas must not be too curved." (Photo via Google Images, from now-defunct site.)


There's clearly something going on in this strange TCS article that I don't understand. If you define "libertarian" narrowly as a philosophy of government, the article is a non sequitur; certainly libertarian philosophy makes room for law enforcement, even if it lets women marry violent men. If you include the classical liberal traditions, running from Smith and Hume through Hayek, which do offer keen insights on culture and society, the piece makes no sense at all. My best guess, and it's only a guess, is that author Douglas Kern is making a veiled argument that a culture of traditional religion, perhaps Catholicism, would prevent domestic violence. I'd like to see the empirical evidence of that--or the empirical evidence that broken noses are more common in liberal societies than in traditional ones. What's Kern's actually existing example of the "enlightened paternalism" that prevents broken noses?


I was wrong about the Ben & Jerry's iTunes promotion. You don't have to buy anything. You just have to promise to vote. And, uh, give them your contact info and your birthday, for unknown reasons. Oh, yeah, and you don't get tunes unless you're one of the first 50,000 entrants, and you don't find out whether you are until you've sent them your info.


CNet reports that Pepsi's iTunes promotion goes flat:

Apple Computer said Wednesday that about 5 million free songs have been given away through a Pepsi promotion, far fewer than the 100 million tracks that could have been redeemed.

An Apple representative said the music giveaway was probably the biggest ever of its kind but admitted that the company gave away fewer songs than it had intended.

"We had hoped the redemptions would have been higher," said Katie Cotton, Apple's vice president of worldwide corporate communications. Customers with winning bottle caps have until Friday to redeem their free music tracks.

I'd love some "free" tunes, but not at the cost of drinking Pepsi or buying Ben & Jerry's.


Just as I'm leaving L.A., the FBI is warning of "unsubstatiated" but worrisome reports that the local mall may be hit by terrorists. MSNBC has a report, though the LAT site doesn't, at least as far as I can tell. [Update: After much scrolling down the California news page, I found the LAT story.]

The cab driver who took me to LAX this morning told me cops had broken up the usual cab stand at the Westside Pavilion (pictured in the MSNBC report). He also said the place was deserted, but since he picked me up at 10:25 and most mall stores open at 10:00, that doesn't necessarily mean much.


Does showing photos of flag-draped coffins, or other signs of war casualties, demoralize the public and reduce support for military action? Maybe, maybe not. Trying to manage which images reach the public is certainly nothing new, as Chuck Freund explains in his latest Reason Online piece:

Three months after the war began, a New York newspaper bitterly attacked the administration's handling of unpleasant military news. "Their 'information' is treacle for children," thundered the angry editorialist, who compared the military's growing edifice of information control to the work of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Other publications agreed that war news was being "dry-cleaned" by the Pentagon, which had yet to release a single image of an American military death. Indeed, there were rumors that a paranoid White House was planting informants in newsrooms, and even tapping reporters' phones. It was 1942.

A year and a half later, the White House and much of the press reversed their views on publishing casualty photos. Why? And what happened? Read the article.


The WaPost has been running a series on the "red America" vs. "blue America" split. The opening piece set out a thesis that will sound familiar to readers who remember my pre-election 2000 Forbes column on regionalism, or other work in which I've cribbed an important insight from John Shelton Reed, the great sociologist of the South. Here's the Post:

At the same time, more and more Americans in a highly mobile society are choosing to live among like-minded people. University of Maryland political demographer James Gimpel has documented the rise of a "patchwork nation," in which political like attracts like, and ideologically diverse communities are giving way to same-thinking islands. A recent analysis sponsored by the Austin American-Statesman, comparing the photo-finish elections of 1976 and 2000, made this clear. While the nationwide results were extremely close, nearly twice as many voters now live in counties where one candidate or the other won by a landslide. Person by person, family by family, America is engaging in voluntary political segregation.

Bush and Kerry embody the role of mobility and personal choices in creating the Red-Blue nation. Two Establishment scions, similar in background and education, who parted ways after being at Yale University together, one headed to Red country and the other to Blue. Millions of voters have now made similar choices, which in turn echo and reinforce their initial beliefs and preferences.

As John Kenneth White, author of "The Values Divide," put it in an interview, "The reds get redder and blues get bluer."

The following two articles are profiles of families in super-red Sugarland, Texas and super-blue San Francisco. What's striking to me is how similar they in fact are, despite their political differences. Even more striking is how happy they are. Neither thinks America is going to hell in a handbasket. Neither engages in the cultural pessimism you hear from more official voices of left and right.

Maybe it's the Post's selection bias, but my sense is that the selection represents something true about the vast majority of American voters right now. They think their political opponents complain too much and perhaps threaten their happiness, but they aren't the angry, fearful voices of politics past.

The danger, of course, is that people will believe the stereotypes of their political opposites, because they don't actually know anyone on the opposite side of the red-blue divide. Why do both families see their political opposites as people who complain all the time, who are (my words) essentially anti-American? They aren't thinking of neighbors or family members they disagree with. They're thinking of the voices they hear on TV and radio, where conflict and explosive, extreme statements sell.


Read this WaPost article on the horrific head wounds suffered by soldiers in Iraq:

While attention remains riveted on the rising count of Americans killed in action -- more than 100 so far in April -- doctors at the main combat support hospital in Iraq are reeling from a stream of young soldiers with wounds so devastating that they probably would have been fatal in any previous war.

More and more in Iraq, combat surgeons say, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes -- injuries that leave soldiers brain damaged or blind, or both, and the doctors who see them first struggling against despair.

For months the gravest wounds have been caused by roadside bombs -- improvised explosives that negate the protection of Kevlar helmets by blowing shrapnel and dirt upward into the face. In addition, firefights with guerrillas have surged recently, causing a sharp rise in gunshot wounds to the only vital area not protected by body armor.

The neurosurgeons at the 31st Combat Support Hospital measure the damage in the number of skulls they remove to get to the injured brain inside, a procedure known as a craniotomy. "We've done more in eight weeks than the previous neurosurgery team did in eight months," Poffenbarger said. "So there's been a change in the intensity level of the war."

Numbers tell part of the story. So far in April, more than 900 soldiers and Marines have been wounded in Iraq, more than twice the number wounded in October, the previous high. With the tally still climbing, this month's injuries account for about a quarter of the 3,864 U.S. servicemen and women listed as wounded in action since the March 2003 invasion.

About half the wounded troops have suffered injuries light enough that they were able to return to duty after treatment, according to the Pentagon. The others arrive on stretchers at the hospitals operated by the 31st CSH. "These injuries," said Lt. Col. Stephen M. Smith, executive officer of the Baghdad facility, "are horrific."

There's no point in pretending that war isn't horrible--flag-draped coffins are, in fact, a rather pristine symbol of those horrors. There's a good reason societies honor their warriors.

An aside: I've long thought that prettifying World War II for domestic consumption contributed to both the media shock of Vietnam and the generation gap. WWII and Korea vets, who knew war first-hand, didn't understand just how shocked their doted-on boomer kids were. "The Good War" wasn't any more pleasant when you were experiencing it.


This LAT article about online matchmaking services provides a nice followup to my recent NYT column. Again, access to variety is the Internet's great consumer benefit, as long as you have the right tools for searching:

WeAttract.com, which developed the personality test for Match.com, takes the view that "lasting relationships are those that can live with quirks ï¿ and those that might even make the partner more adorable to the other," says Mark Thompson, president of WeAttract.com and developer of the test.

"Most of us are 6 or 7s (on a scale of 10), so maybe they're not an A but really a B. But we want to be with someone who thinks we're an A," he adds. "The beautiful thing about the Internet is that even if that person [who appreciates you] is one in a million, you can find [that person]."

He recalls a Rubenesque woman some years ago whom he thought was beautiful ï¿ but who complained that no one wanted to date her. If Internet dating were available back then, she likely would have found plenty of men who appreciated her beauty and personality.

Or, as I wrote in this 1999 Forbes ASAP column:

The Internet means you don't have to be alone -- no matter how unusual you seem to be. On the Internet, people on the tails of the bell curve can find one another.

Every aspect of human identity, from size, shape, and color to sexual proclivities and intellectual gifts, comes in a wide range. Most of us cluster somewhere in the middle of most statistical distributions. But there are lots of bell curves, and pretty much everyone is on a tail of at least one of them. We may collect strange memorabilia or read esoteric books, hold unusual religious beliefs or wear odd-sized shoes, suffer rare diseases or enjoy obscure movies. Our distinguishing trait may be good or evil, important or trivial, transitory or permanent.

Having spent a century discovering the middle of the bell curve -- the mass market, the mass media -- we are only now realizing that this "mass," by its very massiveness, guarantees amazing variety. By lowering transaction costs, the Net makes it easier for businesses to serve the entire distribution rather than just the middle. It can offer every book in print, for instance.

By giving unsual people an easy way to find one another, the Internet has also enabled them to pool rare talents, resources, and voices, then push their case into public consciousness. The response, in many cases, is a kind of hysteria. Media gatekeepers yearn for the good old days of a "common culture," as defined by three TV networks and near-monopoly newspapers -- a culture in which no one could see the outliers. The Internet, we're told, is a place of scary hate groups, strange religions, bizarre sex, and way too little editing.

But far more significant is the happiness engendered by a medium that is sociable even when it is merely supplying passive information. On the Net, the bell curve reclaims its tails. The uncommon is as accessible as the common. The very fragmentation of the Internet allows us to find ourselves in other people--and to know that we are not alone.

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