Friday, July 15, 2005

"Knowledge is good" - Emil Faber, 1904

Coming to a couple of things late. I tend to read the Sunday New York Times in a few spurts spread over the course of the week – and sometimes the book reviews and magazines lie around even longer. Eventually I get to them, or give up, or just leave the ones I feel obliged but not motivated to read: anything about terrorism, refugees, the EU or Iraq by David Rieff or Michael Ignatieff, who I think may be the same person.

Ignatieff, BTW, appears to have written his own Wikipedia entry:

In 2003 Maclean's also named him Canada's "Sexiest Cerebral Man" because of "his made-for-TV looks and effortless eloquence."

This piece by the authors of “Freakonomics” argues that our current beliefs about child safety seats are simply wrong. Despite the name, and the legal and regulatory apparatus that forces parents to contend with systems of straps, hooks and buckles worthy of the space shuttle, the seats are no safer than ordinary seatbelts for children over 2. Yet the federal, state and local governments are constantly hectoring us: Not only must carseats be appropriate to the age and weight of our children, but 80 percent of us don't have a clue how to secure them and we must all attend remedial carseat installation clinics.

The rules on safety seats are a symptom of our cultural and political obsession with minimizing risk by creating largely pointless bureaucratic and physical restrictions – the backseat version of the airport security routine.

This piece, inexplicably written by Jake Tapper of ABC News, laments the decline of the National Lampoon magazine. I was just entering my teens when the Lampoon was big, and it was crude, offensive, twisted, stupid – but subversive and always surprising. As the article notes, it was an Anglo-Irish response to the Jewish humor that dominated up to that time – instead of being self-deprecating it was angry, mean-spirited, always in-your-face. Its influence lingers -- from Letterman to the current crop of men-behaving-atrociously comedies to the Rove/Plame scandal (double super secret background!). Now - is this ironic, or just the inevitable end of a process? - the name has been completely cheapened and debased, used mainly as a brand for boob raunch fests of considerably lower quality than “Wedding Crashers.”