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HLG Notebook | June 2013

Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Don’t Put Another Shrimp on the Barbie

Over the last few years, vicious restaurant reviews have become the platform-of-choice for angry critics, failed novelists, and dissatisfied gluttons. And the results have been splendid. This seething knock-down of Outback Steakhouse by an Australian ex-pat is the latest brilliant installment:

Despite its marketing, nothing about Outback Steakhouse, home of the Bloomin Onion, is Australian… Just the name “Outback” makes me angry – in the cynical hands of public relations professionals, it’s lost all meaning. The dry center of Australia is many things: an inhospitable desert, a wonder of nature, sacred land to our indigenous population. In America it’s just a word attached to all things Australian to conjure a dumb guy in a funny hat who says “bloke.”

2. What Is the Cost of Recycling?

Another libertarian critique of recycling. But the logic is hard to resist. “Recyclists,” writes Michael C. Munger of the Cato Institute, “seem to believe that everything should be conserved, except time.” And the results are often wasteful:

When I was working on recycling policies for cities…the duties of good citizens came down to three things: (1) recycle everything; (2) sort it assiduously; (3) wash it carefully. This whole approach is isolated from costs or the logic of price….The result is that people drive, sometimes several miles or more, to sort their garbage into little bins like they were playing demented Tetris….The important thing is the moral act of recycling, not the saving of resources.

3. In the Future, There Will Be Lots of Revolutions

The peerless Evgeny Morozov has written a deeply cynical and lengthy review of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s book on the future of technology. The sarcasm is relentless:

Important changes lie ahead. First, a “smart-phone revolution,” a “mobile health revolution,” and a “data revolution” (not to be confused with the “new information revolution”) are upon us. Second, “game-changers” and “turbulent developments” will greet us at every turn. Your hair, for example, will never be the same: “haircuts will finally be automated and machine-precise.” Anyone who can contemplate ideas this bold deserves immediate admission into the futurist hall of fame.

4. The Politics of Political Baseball

In Washington everyone is a politician. Even those managing the Congressional baseball team, apparently. Terrific Atlantic essay on why Republican members of Congress have been failing at the plate:

Under the direction of Rep. Joe Barton of Texas – a manager who has been accused of abandoning free-market competition in favor of giving everyone playing time – the GOP team has suffered a four-year losing streak….the Democrats only let you play if you’re good enough, but Barton gives everyone a chance. One disgruntled Republican, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear that he might lose playing time, referred to Barton’s coaching style as “socialist baseball.”

5. The Commencement Season’s Best

Mental Floss compiles the best quotes from this season’s commencement addresses. A few highlights:

Dick Costolo, CEO, Twitter: “When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet in our pants. We didn’t have the Internet NOT in our pants. That’s how bad it was.”

Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE Euronext: “My advice to you is to be afraid of old ideas, not new ideas.”

Jon Lovett, former presidential speechwriter: “You are smart, talented, educated, conscientious, untainted by the mistakes and conventional wisdom of the past. But you are also very annoying. Because there is a lot that you don’t know that you don’t know. Your parents are nodding. You’ve been annoying them for years. Why do you think they paid for college? So that you might finally, at long last, annoy someone else. And now your professors are nodding.”

6. The Prophet of Unintended Consequences

Malcolm Gladwell’s elegant appreciation of social scientist Albert O. Hirschman. Hirschman, he writes, “was a planner who really didn’t believe in planning”:

He became fascinated with the functional uses of negative emotions: frustration, aggression, and, in particular, anxiety. …In the field of developmental economics, this was heretical. When people from organizations like the World Bank descended on Third World countries, they always tried to remove obstacles to development, to reduce economic anxiety and uncertainty. They wanted to build bridges and roads and airports and dams to insure that businesses and entrepreneurs encountered as few impediments as possible to growth. But Hirschman became convinced that his profession had it backward. His profession ought to embrace anxiety, and not seek to remove it.