By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

2 of 2iconview all
  • "It would be a mistake to think of outsourcing as simply an economic transaction; it is a universal tendency, like gravity, that exerts a pull on everything," writes Cullen Murphy, in one of his delightfully wry essays for the Atlantic Monthly. He proposes a fourth law of thermodynamics, which states "that outsourcing—getting others to do things for you—is the intrinsic vector of all human activity." In Iraq, "core military functions such as building bases, guarding depots, and conducting surveillance are increasingly private-sector affairs," and selling the idea of democracy has been outsourced to a British public-relations firm. In Hollywood, the job of playing New York has been outsourced to Toronto. The job of waiting in line can be outsourced to the "service expediter" industry, which offers "human substitutes (for up to $30 an hour) who will save a place until your turn arrives." The job of writing wedding toasts can be outsourced to And moral responsibility can be outsourced to blood sugar levels, childhood trauma, and genetics. Essay
  • What's the deal with premium gas? Does it really help your car run better? Is it an oil company scam? Chicago Reader answer man Cecil Adams wraps his head around the physics of engine combustion and concludes that premium gas is only for premium cars. "Using high-octane gas in a car designed for regular accomplishes little except more rapid combustion of your money," he writes, in a startlingly detailed technical analysis of engines. In fact, "Some automotive types claim that using premium in a car designed for regular will make the engine dirtier—something about deposits on the back side of the intake valves. … Believe what you like; the point is, don't assume 'premium' means 'better.'" Article
  • Want to write fortune cookie sayings for a living? Apply to Golden Bowl, which churns out four million fortune cookies a day from its Queens warehouse, which the New York Press toured recently. What makes a good saying? "Basically it's got to be happy," a salesman says. Golden Bowl tends to stick with bromides such as, "Nothing gets in they way of your vision of yourself in the future." There's a theory that fortune cookies were invented when 14th-century Chinese soldiers hid secret messages in moon cakes, but that's probably a tall tale, the Press says. In fact, fortune cookies are probably less than a century old, and started when Los Angeles noodle manufacturer David Jung started selling cookies with uplifiting messages (the Press just says the cookies "contained" the messages—it doesn't say how). So don't think that eating a fortune cookie is a cross-cultural experience. In fact, ten years ago, the Press says, "Golden Bowl tried—and failed—to sell fortune cookies in China." Article
  • Miscellaneous: How to estimate the total death toll and price tag in Iraq, from the Economist and Martin Marty's Sightings—Why are we short on flu shots? from The Week—Why are they rioting in the Ivory Coast? from the Guardian - It's not just the U.S., the E.U. is polarized, too, from Business Week - The myth about "crack babies," from the Columbia Journalism Review - Independent scholars gather, from the New York Sun - Why we romanticize the Amish, from Washington Monthly - A tribute to Solzhenitsyn, from First Things
    *Requires free registration, or log in with user name and password of "bcread"
  • Previous/Archive/About/Feedback/Links/CT blog

Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture. He writes the weekly "On Language" column for the Chicago Tribune.

2 of 2iconview all

Most ReadMost Shared

Seminary/Grad SchoolsCollege Guide