Month: September 2010

Cineplex hopping, sentences to ponder

The surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard used to enter movie theaters at random and stay only a little while, until the plot became clear to them and the films’ images were drained of their power. In the Cineplex you can do the same thing all in one building. I did that one day this summer. What I saw was not excerpts from ten different movies, but one movie made up of ten interchangeable parts–the imperial power of Hollywood, still alive and well, surviving postmodern fragmentation and resisting détournement

Here is the adventure itself.  For the pointer I thank Paul Sas.

Business is about generating cooperation

Here is an anonymous commentator over at Andrew Sullivan, via Conor Friedersdorf guest-blogging:

1. Business is much more about being organized and managing people than it is about ideas. Past a certain scale, ideas don't seem to matter much (unless you are a once-in-a-lifetime Steve Jobs type visionary). You and your competitors all have a basic concept of what to do. The areas that seem to offer the most scope for creativity are actually the areas where not enough data exists to formulate good ideas, and random guesses are worth as much as multi-million-dollar consultant reports. Much of the time spent discussing "ideas" in a business context is actually time spent slowly maneuvering large groups of managers into a compatible mind-space so that they can work together effectively – the results of the discussion in terms of ideas is worth nothing, whereas the result in terms of bonding, organizing, and motivating can be very valuable.

The post is interesting throughout.

The Canterbury earthquake

The NZX 50 Index of stocks climbed in Wellington, led by building-related companies. Insurers fell. New Zealand’s dollar rose to 72.41 U.S. cents from 72.07 cents in New York on Sept. 3. The nation’s bonds declined, pushing 10-year yields to their highest in more than a month.

Here is more.  The costs of repair are estimated at about two percent of gdp.  Milk supply from New Zealand has not been disrupted.

Western Cape prison gangs during and after apartheid

Have you ever seen a more appealing table of contents?:


Chapter 1: Nongoloza and Kilikijan

Chapter 2: The functions of violence I–Making men (and not children)

Chapter 3: The functions of violence II–Making men (and not women)

Chapter 4: Prison on the streets, the streets in prison

Chapter 5: Warders and gangs

It starts off a little slow and cliched, but picks up.  Excerpt:

Once the drinking rituals have been completed and Kilikijan has discovered that his bandit brother drinks poison, Po instructs the two men to take the hide, drape it over the rock on which the band's diary is inscribed, and press it against the rock, until the diaries are imprinted on the animal's skin. The words of the diary, now duplicated–one on the rock, the other on the hide–are to become the law of the gang. Whenever there is a dispute about what bandits ought to do, Po says, consult the hide or the rock, because they are a record of how things were done at the beginning, and how things ought to be done in the future. Nongoloza rolls up the hide and takes it with him. Kilikijan is left with the rock.

That story is part of the opening myth of the piece.  Read the whole thing, especially if you're into "strange and compelling, while laden with Erving Goffmanesque social science."  It's ideal for Instapaper.  Suddenly there comes:

The notion that order in the prisons was maintained by a delicate system of unwritten rules is one that begs for a control experiment. What happens when one side breaks the rules, when either ndotas or warders threaten to kill one another? Interestingly enough, there was a kind of control experiment in the 1980s: the medium-security, criminal prison on Robben Island.

The original pointer comes from Bamber.

Markets in Everything, Except Greenhouse Gases

In 2002 Time named Richard Sandor a “Hero of the Planet” for founding the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The CCX traded permits based on voluntary but binding commitments from firms to cutback on carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.  Without enforced limits, however, or, if you prefer, without property rights in emissions, the market is not self-sustaining and CCX is cutting workers and may be wound down.

CCX founder Richard Sandor had hoped the exchange would become the hub for a national regulated market for greenhouse gas emissions to be kick-started by a U.S. climate change bill.

But prices for the carbon credits traded on the bourse since its 2003 launch, which were based on voluntary but legally binding emissions reduction commitments by its members, have crashed to around 10 cents a tonne from all-time highs of over $7 in 2008, and trading volumes have largely dried up.

Although the U.S. has vowed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and despite the House of Representatives narrowly passing an ambitious climate bill in June 2008, several similar bills have stalled in the Senate in the past year.

“(The layoffs) seem to indicate that this market player thinks any U.S. climate action is still a way off,” said commodities house FCStone…

Would you like more “plain talk” from airline employees?

Robert, a loyal MR reader, writes to me:

Are there any airlines where the flight staff speak/behave more "naturally," as opposed to the robotic beauty queen default? I don't mean this in a snarky way. I'm just curious, since customers don't seem to be overly fond of the default mode, and some folks actively dislike it. I also imagine the enforced pleasantness to be a relatively tough/emotionally costly act for most flight attendants to keep up. However, I am not sure how customers would react to more natural flight-attendant speech, body language etc., given expectations of default behaviour.

My longstanding view is that half of them dislike or sometimes even despise their customers and that their natural speech patterns, given their true feelings, would come across negatively.  Perhaps Air Genius Gary Leff can comment on the cross-sectional variations vis-a-vis different airlines.  But the problem is a tough one.  They face lots of customers, with varying and often unreasonable expectations, and they have few resources to buy them off with.

In which sectors do the service staff have the highest opinions of their customers?  (Do you have nominations?  How about the old days at Tower Records?  How about an indie bookstore?)  I would expect a greater extent of plain speak in those situations.

What should we infer about doctors?  Ladies of the evening?  Economics professors?

Addendum: Gary responds.

Fiscal stimulus coming to Haiti

Experts said the presidential and legislative elections could very well be the economic stimulus quake-ravaged Haitians have been awaiting since the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake left an estimated 300,000 dead, and wiped-out jobs. The campaigns are expected to hire tens of thousands of Haitians.

“It's like a cash transfer to the population, a sort of cash-for-work program,'' said Leslie Voltaire, a former government minister who plans to hire 10,000 Election Day monitors and a helicopter to get around Haiti's mountainous terrain.

The full story is here.  And was the last election a model of Downsian competition?  Maybe not:

In the 2006 presidential race, which saw Haitian President René Préval beat out 34 other candidates, experts speculated that a candidate needed between $3 million and $6 million to mount a strong challenge.

It is now also believed that the country can no longer afford to have senatorial elections every two years.

Adam Phillips on happiness

For better and for worse, being able to feel our frustration is the precondition for becoming absorbed. When this is impossible the pursuit of happiness tends to take over. The right to pursue happiness may be, at its worst, the right not to feel frustrated. And if frustration is not allowed to take its course, to take its time, there is no absorption, only refuges from unhappiness. The child is fobbed off with happiness when what she really wants is to get her appetite back. The right to the pursuit of happiness can be a cover story for the wish to hide.

Here is much more, hat tip goes to The Browser,

Lester D.: “Science you never knew you needed”

He is possibly Vaughn Bell's favorite psychologist.  Bell links to this blog post:

For example, Lester D. has discovered that:

Mormons view the afterlife as less pleasant than Jews.

On average, there is no difference in the height from which men and women jump to their deaths.

Wives of coast guards and no more likely than wives of firemen to be depressed following a family move, but are more likely to be taking antidepressants.

There is no relation between religiosity and death anxiety in Kuwait.

Both anxiety about computers and internet skills affect how likely you are to buy a textbook online.

Among organ donors, homicide victims were more likely to have blood types O and B. Suicides showed no differences.

Macintosh users have significantly greater anxiety about computers than PC users.

Here is the explanation:

When searching for psychology research, I inevitably come across a study by ‘Lester D’, who is apparently a psychologist in an obscure college in New Jersey who seems to be interested in everything.

Mostly, the things you’ve never thought of, and probably never even thought of thinking of, and perhaps don’t even have the capacity to conceptualise.

To be fair, he has a clear interest in suicide research and does a great deal of important work in this, and other areas, but what consistently amazes me are the diverse topics he investigates.

The ugly carpets of Vegas

I have a friend who teaches at Cornell's famous School of Hotel Administration; she has a lot of casino designer contacts. According to her, the carpets are deliberately designed to obscure and camouflage gambling chips that have fallen onto the floor. The casinos sweep up a huge number of these every night. So the carpets are just another source of revenue.

There is more at the link, including some striking photos.  For the pointer I thank Arun Eamani.