Dynamist Blog

Bad Design

I've never liked the design of Diet Coke's citrus line extensions-- Diet Coke with lemon and Diet Coke with lime--because they look way too much like the real thing. More than once, I've bought the wrong kind. Amazingly, I didn't this time. Look closely (click the photo for a full-size version):


The second row from the left is regular Diet Coke, sandwiched between rows of Diet Coke with Lime. The green cap is part of a promotional sweepstakes.

Required Reading

The associate provost of SMU sent out the following memo today (boldface in the original):

The Selection Committee to determine the common reading for students arriving fall, 2005 finished its work in fine style at the beginning of this semester. We have now formed an expanded committee to lay plans for implementation. The committee has representatives of all four undergraduate schools, and includes faculty and staff members as well as students. The group's excitement about the selection is best expressed by Selection Committee Chair Tom Stone, who wrote,

In Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Barbara Ehrenreich tells the story of her first-hand investigation into what it takes to survive "on the wages available to the unskilled." She tries to "get by" as a waitress in Key West, a worker for a "maid service" in Maine, and an "associate: at a Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, facing in the process all the obstacles confronted by millions of Americans who struggle every day to "look for jobs, work those jobs, try to make ends meet." The selection committee was drawn to the book by its potential to familiarize our incoming students with an aspect of American life to which, we suspect, they have had limited exposure, and to provoke discussion of issues associated with the day-to-day lives of those Americans who can easily remain "invisible" to many of us: the working poor.

We are grateful to all those faculty and staff who suggested so many fine books; we gave serious consideration to each suggestion. In the end, we were won over by the seriousness of Ehrenreich's subject and the quality of her writing, which manages to be engaging and provocative without trivializing the issues or preaching to the converted. Our hope is that her book will begin within the university community a dialogue that lasts well beyond the first week of fall semester."

A bonus for us is that Barbara Ehrenreich will be on campus this month as featured speaker for this year's Women's Symposium (February 22). Faculty and staff can attend either the lecture or the lecture/lunch for $10.00. [Emphasis added.--vp] Students can get in for free. Faculty/staff who are actively involved in the first-year reading project can get in for free if they contact Rebecca Bergstresser ahead of time. This will be an excellent opportunity to see and hear the author.

As the Implementation Committee proceeds we will know better the ways in which the book will be used in the fall. One thing we know already is that we will need as many faculty discussion leaders as will volunteer. Last fall we had 35 faculty members leading small discussion groups during the Week of Welcome event, which turned out to be a lively, substantive, and enjoyable way to meet and greet our new students. You'll receive more details as they are determined. Meanwhile, thanks for your interest in this important campus-wide project.

For obvious conflict-of-interest reasons, and because I haven't read the book, I have no comment, except to say that SMU is the only university I've ever heard of that routinely charges faculty to attend public lectures. Nickled and dimed, indeed.

Professor Postrel had recommended Vladimir Bukovsky's great work To Build a Castle: My Life as a Dissenter, which would have given students an important look at the world before they were born.

Can Farm Subsidies Be Cut?

In his MSNBC column, Glenn Reynolds takes up the cause. Who's next? Maybe Hugh Hewitt (your one-stop source for Easongate coverage) would like to hit the LAT for its negative take on the subject. Unlike the NYT, the LAT didn't bother to include the international or environmental angles. God forbid Westside liberals might hear something good about the Bush administration.

I remember when Barney Frank and Dick Armey used to team up on this issue, for all the good it did. Beating back the welfare queens of agribusiness takes more than a couple of congressional iconoclasts. For one thing, it requires senators.

UPDATE: Fritz Schranck of Sneaking Suspicions weighs in. Data from his state back up charges that subsidies go to only a small percentage of farmers: "The Environmental Working Group's subsidy pages for Delaware show that in 2003, over $17 million in USDA payments went to over 1500 recipients, and that about 26% of all Delaware farms received some kind of federal payment. Only one such entity received over $250,000; however, the EWG notes that their database has its own limitations, and it's probably safe to assume that the actual number of those given more than $250 large is more than the one shown in that report."

Under Construction

One of the great contrasts between LA (where I am at the moment) and Dallas is how long it takes to build anything in Los Angeles. I'm not talking about the years and years it takes to get permission to build but the actual construction time once you've got approvals. Whether public or private, construction projects here drag on endlessly. Why, I have no idea. There do seem to be a lot fewer people working on any given project, and sometimes no one at all.

Taking on Farm Subsidies

The Bush administration is going to take on farm subsidies, the NYT reports. If they thought Social Security was tough, wait till this firestorm hits. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochrane says he'll "work as hard as I can to oppose any changes." Will other Republicans stand up for fiscal responsibility and market principles? Will conservative pundits make a big deal of this issue? Will the libertarians and liberals who've scored the Bush administration for its earlier fiscal (and trade) foolishness? In other words, is there any kind of vocal, principled coalition to balance the concentrated interests of subsidized agriculture? A few environmental groups can't do it alone.

Book Orders

Thanks to everyone who ordered signed copies of The Substance of Style. All the orders I've received to date have been shipped. You can still order a copy, but I'm off on a reporting trip and won't be mailing any more books until February 15.

The Cost of Blogging

Andrew Sullivan, who was blogging before blogging was cool, announces that he's giving up the Daily Dish--for reasons I completely understand:

Much as I would like to do everything, I've been unable to give the blog my full attention and make any progress on a book (and I'm two years behind). It's not so much the time as the mindset. The ability to keep on top of almost everything on a daily and hourly basis just isn't compatible with the time and space to mull over some difficult issues in a leisurely and deliberate manner. Others might be able to do it. But I've tried and failed.

Even the few brilliant scholars (Tyler Cowen, Eugene Volokh, Grant McCracken) who make blogging seem like it should foster serious thought limit their posting to topics they want to mull over in public. Current-affairs blogging of the Sullivan/Instapundit/name your favorite type is inherently quick, dirty, and disposable. It may add to the public discourse, but it doesn't tend to deepen the blogger's own thinking. That, plus sheer laziness, is why this blog has never promised more than a few posts a week, and why I've given up my think-magazine-editor instincts to voice an opinion on everything. For a full-blown argument, I want to write something for a sizable audience and get paid. And I don't really want to post half-baked ones.

Right now, I'm researching a couple of long-term projects--one on variety and one on glamour--and (barely) financing the research, which involves some travel and reporting, with article assigments. Blogging will be quite light through February.

UPDATE: Austin Bay, who's recently added blogging to his writing portfolio, has some further thoughts. And speaking of professional writers who've recently become bloggers, check out my old friend and WaPost writer Joel Achenbach's Achenblog. Be sure to scroll down to read his advice for aspiring journalists, with a priceless anecdote about Orrin Hatch.

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