Oracle Bones

I’m in the process of reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. Hessler was a Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Boston Globe, and National Geographic and also spent time in China with the Peace Corps.

If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it; even though I’m not finished with it the book presents a captivating look at aspects of Chinese society and history on a more personal level.

Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler: a great read.

The anecdotes and experiences related by Hessler show a side of China that I think sometimes gets lost in the talk of international trade and human rights. By telling stories that focus upon Chinese individuals Hessler does a brilliant job of portraying life in Beijing and throughout China.

Below is the description from Amazon:

A century ago, outsiders saw China as a place where nothing ever changes. Today the country has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. In Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler explores the human side of China’s transformation, viewing modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes.

Bookmarks for May 29th

In order to share what I’ve found to be useful/interesting/etc. while browsing around below are my links for May 29th. You can find my full set of bookmarks at my Delicious account.

Bookmarks for May 19th through May 21st

In order to share what I’ve found to be useful/interesting/etc. while browsing around below are my links for May 19th through May 21st. You can find my full set of bookmarks at my Delicious account.

  • Twitter passes Bebo and Linkedin – A in-depth and statistical look at Twitter's growth (and the correlating Myspace decline). Surprising since it's coming from the MSM. American news organizations could learn something from The Guardian.
  • jQuery Sparklines – Interesting jQuery plugin that allows for some pretty cool graphs to be created. Would be interesting to use for stocks and/or local temperature.
  • – A great rebranding of what was already a good service. Appears that they're now making a small profit as well. Good to hear.

Dowd, gender, and a horrible Guardian article

With the recent news that Maureen Dowd of the New York Times plagiarized Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo there have understandably been a slew of article about the topic. Unfortunately, a columnist at the usually stellar Guardian writes this:

Dowd, with her valley-girl accent, was always going to stand out from that pool, and the fact that she is one of the few women swimming in it is her least attention-grabbing quality. [emphasis added]

What may I ask is the point of that emphasized portion? Does Dowd’s gender and status as one of the few truly high profile national columnists really have anything to do with the fact that she 1) apparently plagiarized a well-known blogger and 2) made a pretty flimsy excuse as to how it happened?

No, it doesn’t and because of the irrelevancy of Dowd’s gender a serious columnists at a major media outlet should not try and draw a connection where none exists. This seems to be a shameless way to attempt to stoke even more controversy into an already controversial subject.

The reality is that this issue has not risen to controversial popularity because of some twisted national gender bias. Dowd is not under the microscope because she is a woman. Instead, this is an issue because it shows that some national columnists (irrespective of gender) believe that they can get away with anything, including treating bloggers and those outside the halls of midtown Manhattan like crap.

Shame on you Guardian for bringing gender controversy into a issue that is devoid of gender! Sorry, end rant.

Bookmarks for May 18th through May 19th

In order to share what I’ve found to be useful/interesting/etc. while browsing around below are my links for May 18th through May 19th. You can find my full set of bookmarks at my Delicious account.

  • 8 CSS tips for better linking – Good tips on designing links to be more user-friendly and informative. Some interesting examples and practices.
  • The Dollar Redesign Project | The Ministry of Type – Interesting summary of the Dollar Redesign Project. I agree that it's far past time for our banknotes to get a fresh face. I also like the example given in the article that uses colour to denote value.
  • China at the crossroads – A fascinating series by The Guardian about China and the troubles it's facing as a result of the environment and the global financial crisis.

Bookmarks for May 16th through May 18th

In order to share what I’ve found to be useful/interesting/etc. while browsing around below are my links for May 16th through May 18th. You can find my full set of bookmarks at my Delicious account.

Expanding on

After watching the Us Now documentary this morning I started thinking about how participatory journalism could be improved upon. Here’s what I came up with:

One of the big things they emphasize in Us Now is the ability that the owners of Ebbsfleet United have to vote for not only who plays, but where they play. What if this notion were carried over to journalism?

The standard pitch page on
The standard pitch page on is already doing a great job of creating a model within which people can decide what stories get covered, but I don’t think it does enough.

The current model allows for journalists to pitch story ideas that they would cover. The community then contributes until one such idea is funded. While definitely better than a traditional model couldn’t this be taken one step further?

What if we were to open a news organization completely up to a community? The people involved get to pitch story ideas and vote on which journalist they would like to see cover a story.

This could even be a way to generate revenue. A news organization could offer a premium subscription that would allow you access to these story pitches and newsroom decisions.

In my mind this would be a much better way to stimulate revenue than simply paying for the news to be delivered to you. Instead of being a passive consumer the reader would be engaged with the news process and would have a deep connection to what stories are covered and what perspective they are given.

Furthermore, by allowing the community to decide which journalist covers a story there’s a whole new range of perspectives that would be opened up.

For example, say I want to see more coverage of a sectarian conflict in South America, the traditional coverage would mean dispatching whoever the news organization’s specialist in that area is. What if instead I wanted the perspective of someone familiar with sectarian wars but who had experience in a different region of the globe? Maybe I would want Thomas Ricks to cover it because of his expertise in covering the conflict in Iraq. Who knows what this kind of new perspective might create.

There would certainly be downsides to such a model. For one, it would be a necessity for journalists to share and collaborate on their contacts. Ricks probably couldn’t just jump in and cover the conflict without first talking to the South American specialist about who he may want to talk to.

Ultimately though, I see a tremendous potential for allowing news coverage like this and I think that the types of stories covered could be quite fascinating.

Arguing against the supremacy of democracy

Having taken a course this semester titled “Democratic Theory” I spent at least a couple hours every week discussing with others the merits and downsides to different democratic theories. We covered everything from Aristotle and Plato through Putnam and his “Bowling Alone” theory.

During this class I frequently found myself arguing against everyone else’s belief in the supremacy of democracy. The belief that democracy is the political cure-all for society is still pretty dominant in society today and it was frustrating to try and form an argument as to why I didn’t think so.

The video below helped me to better put in perspective some of my reasons for why a society doesn’t need democracy in order to be stable, happy, and successful.

Continue reading Arguing against the supremacy of democracy

Why not a free market for sports?

In a recent post on his blog at Think Progress Matthew Yglesias quotes Malcolm Gladwell and wonders why the professional sports industry is still run in such a closed manner.

Part of what makes this interesting is that it’s one of only a few examples that I know of where European countries have more fewer market regulations than the United States. From the time I spent in Scotland as a kid and from what I’ve read since then it seems as though most sports teams are able to have complete freedom in signing and moving players. This is what results in the massive transfer fees that have become more common.

Concerning this Yglesias writes that:

Right now, the New York City Designated media area contains 6.5 percent of households. LA has 5 percent. Chicago has 3 percent. Philadelphia has 2.6 percent. Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta all have about 2.1 percent. And things taper off from there. But considering that New York City has a media market three times the size of large cities like Dallas and Atlanta (and especially considering that it’s nearby to the Hartford media market with 0.9 percent of the population) why doesn’t New York have three baseball teams instead of two?…I think our sports would be a lot more interesting with more free movement of teams, more freedom to negotiate salary arrangements, more freedom to sign whichever young players you can persuade to join you, promotion and relegation of teams that can’t cut the mustard, etc.

Here’s why I don’t think American sports will move to a more free market system in which teams become largely unrestricted in terms of where they play and who they sign: we still like to think of our sports as games. Continue reading Why not a free market for sports?