Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Tom Friedman's Windbaggery: A Critic's Dream

“Thomas Friedman is a sentient TED talk who writes credulous columns about taxi drivers and ideas conferences for the New York Times.” So begins “Naïveté is the New Realism,” a masterful takedown of Friedman’s recent book Thank You for Being Late. Justin Peters continues:  

Friedman writes in a voice that is simultaneously folksy and ostentatious. He has always written this way, but it seems worse than before in Thank You for Being Late, as if his style is devolving, as if he has reached such complacent professional heights that his prose is now cranked out by a Tom Friedman-sentence generator. He has gone kicker crazy in this book. The book is larded with incongruously punchy asides: at the end of chapters, at the beginning of chapters, randomly in the middle of chapters.

Peters follows a celebrated tradition of dumping on Friedman. McSweeney’s has published the classic guide to writing your own Friedman op-ed. Gawker’s “Friedman Writes His Only Column Again” is peerless. Last month, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, a long-standing Friedman nemesis, offered his latest take: “Whenever Friedman uses the phrase ‘In short…’ he’s about to take a short form of an idea and make it longer.”

2. Super Bowl Primer: Yell at the Refs

A FiveThirtyEight investigation – replete with data, charts, and film clips – appears to prove that NFL coaches can influence penalty flags by yelling at refs:  

Sideline bias in the NFL is real, and it’s spectacular. Refs make more defensive pass interference calls on the offensive team’s sideline but more offensive holding calls on the defensive team’s sideline. What’s more, these differences aren’t uniform across the field. The effect only shows up on plays that run, roughly, between the 32-yard lines, the same space where coaches and players are allowed to stand during play.

3. Iran's Inside Man

The Former Iranian President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, died earlier this month, leaving a ruthless, sinister, and Machiavellian legacy in a country where political rivalries are blood sport. The Economist obituary makes for great reading: 

His instincts were finely tuned. As the occasion required, he could be steely, charming, witty or lachrymose (especially in response to his own rhetoric). He held court in lavish public buildings, while living in the same house as before the revolution. His family thrived: a business empire reputedly included the second-biggest airline, a near-monopoly on the pistachio trade and the largest private university. In 2003, Forbes magazine put his personal wealth at over $1 billion. Lies, said his fans. An underestimate, said his foes.

4. Managing Teenagers: A Social Policy That Works

For the past two decades, no country has matched Iceland’s success in tackling teenage drinking and drug use. The results are a direct result of a years-long program for teenagers that not only imposes curfews and bans tobacco and alcohol, but also offers opportunities to engage socially and help teens manage stress. The results are eye-popping:

Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens. The percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 per cent in 1998 to 5 per cent in 2016. The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 per cent to 7 per cent. Those smoking cigarettes every day fell from 23 per cent to just 3 per cent.

5. Military-Industrial Complexity

Stephen Hess, veteran chronicler of presidential administrations and former Eisenhower speechwriter, recalls how Ike put together the famous “military-industrial complex” farewell address. Great insight on how the speechwriting operation worked:  

The President liked to start with a full text version of a speech and would become more and more involved, draft after draft, until it took on his character. A major speech might go through ten drafts. A draft only changed its number after it had been edited by the President. Because of Ike’s famously awkward responses at press conferences, it always surprised my friends when I told them that he was a superb editor, and had once even been a speechwriter (for Douglas MacArthur).

6. Amazon Echo and the Future of Music

Two speeches this week suggest that the music industry is set for another disruption, just as some stability set in following the Napster and piracy revolt. Industry insider Karim Fanous argues that while “streaming has become the dominant revenue stream for all major labels,” he wonders if we have hit a ceiling:

32 digital music services have shut down in the last five years: 53% wound down, 22% have been acquired, and 13% went bankrupt.

Universal Music’s Jonathan Dworkin sees the industry being shaped by the way we connect to music:

Google Home, Amazon Echo, and others are competing for our attention through voice interactivity, taking the very welcome form of a speaker. Speakers and music go together like guns and drugs.


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