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The slogan on Fiji Water’s website—”And remember this—we saved you a trip to Fiji”—suddenly felt like a dark joke. Every day, more soldiers showed up on the streets. When I called the courthouse, not a single official would give me his name. Even tour guides were running scared—one told me that one of his colleagues had been picked up and beaten for talking politics with tourists. When I later asked Fiji Water spokesman Rob Six what the company thought of all this, he said the policy was not to comment on the government “unless something really affects us.” –“Fiji Water: Spin the bottle,” Anna Lenzer, Mother Jones
As everyone knows, Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet is a mess. Big, bloated and mediocre, it is stressed out and flip-flopping, running scared and fundamentally flawed. However, this wretched cabinet contains one apparatus worthy of special mention– the sextet. This is the supreme strategic team consisting of Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. Little is known about the sextet. Nothing leaks from it. The sextet has (almost) no public relations and (almost) no politics. It functions in an orderly, responsible and businesslike manner. It meets several times a week, holds lengthy discussions and navigates Israel’s foreign policy with professionalism that has not been seen for years. –“The Secret Sextet,” Ari Shavit, Haaretz
Because something can be done does not always mean it should be, though. Back in the 1980s, Richard Gabriel, an expert on Lisp programming, noted that quality in software development does not necessarily increase with functionality. “Worse is better” was the phrase he coined in a seminal essay on Lisp. There comes a point, he argued, where less functionality (“worse”) is a more desirable (“better”) optimisation of usefulness. In other words, a software program that is limited in scope but easy to use is generally better than one that is more comprehensive but harder to use. Mr Gabriel’s paradox was really an attack on “bloatware”—in particular, the kind of feature-creep that forced Apple to abandon its Copland operating system and buy NeXT for the Unix software that became Macintosh OS X. In the process, “worse is better” has become one of the pillars of efficient software design and much else. Regrettably, it is not practised as much as it should be. But when it is, the process embodies simplicity, correctness, consistency and completeness. To Mr Gabriel, simplicity—in both the internal implementation and the external interface that greets the user—was the most crucial aspect of any design. Although the design should also be as technically correct as possible, if that made things more complicated then any compromise should favour simplicity. Likewise, consistency was important but could also be sacrificed for simplicity’s sake. Finally, the design should cope with as many situations as practical, and certainly all those normally expected. But completeness should always be sacrificed if it jeopardised any of the design’s other qualities. –“An End, Please, to the Gadget Features Race,” The Economist
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”