Links — May 13, 2009, 12:51 pm

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Noted: Harper’s Assistant Editor Christopher R. Beha was on the Leonard Lopate show discussing his book The Whole Five Feet Wednesday, May 13. Listen at www.wnyc.org.

Leaving aside the spurious idea of giving people what they want, reproducing the sound of the internal combustion engine would be ridiculous. It would be a skeuomorph too far– a feature designed to nod back to an earlier functional incarnation, with absolutely no need to. At some point a function has to replaced, and slowly takes its idioms and by-products with it. The car industry is traditionally loath to do this of course. One of the most exciting features of the MIT CityCar project is that in suggesting a new driving experience. it implicitly indicates how little has changed about interface design of cars– ignition, accelerator, throttle, brake, steering wheel etc; all remain essentially unchanged for decades (save a few brave attempts from Citroën et al). This is not an issue of icon design– as with an old telephone handset representing the function to make a call on the iPhone– but an entirely new functional mode. These are new forms of mobility, potentially, and suffuse with possibility– unnecessarily tying them to vestiges of the previous mode may prevent them realising their potential. – “Cars b/w Are Friends Electric,” Dan Hill, City of Sound (via)

And no one was shouting at him, and he was having just a wonderful little time, and everyone—liberal, conservative, politician, journalist—was polite or obsequious to him, and we just didn’t really know what to think or do, in that situation, confronted with a man who’d killed 600,000 Cambodians and then set up the Pinochet coup for good measure. It’s not our responsibility to arrest him, or even yell at him, but it’s nice that someone is at least making these people uncomfortable, when they go out in polite society, where they’re are still welcomed with open arms and free hors d’oeuvres. Even if the person making them uncomfortable is just confirming all their stereotypes about unhinged hippies. – “Hippie Yells At Rumsfeld, We Are Conflicted,” Alex Pareene, Gawker

Last summer, the scientists chose fifty-five subjects, equally split between high delayers and low delayers, and sent each one a laptop computer loaded with working-memory experiments. Two of the experiments were of particular interest. The first is a straightforward exercise known as the “suppression task.” Subjects are given four random words, two printed in blue and two in red. After reading the words, they’re told to forget the blue words and remember the red words. Then the scientists provide a stream of “probe words” and ask the subjects whether the probes are the words they were asked to remember. Though the task doesn’t seem to involve delayed gratification, it tests the same basic mechanism. Interestingly, the scientists found that high delayers were significantly better at the suppression task: they were less likely to think that a word they’d been asked to forget was something they should remember. – “Don’t! The secret of self-control,” Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker (via)

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The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.

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