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Assorted Links (1/30)

Posted by Josh Rothman  January 30, 2012 10:28 AM

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Made better in Japan: Inside Japan's inspiring culture of quality and perfection. "'My boss won't let me make espressos,' says the barista. 'I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos.'" Meanwhile, across Tokyo, the Star Bar features "a bartender so masterful and revered that fellow bartenders are often too intimidated to enter his place." (Wall Street Journal)

Visions of the Arabian Nights: Elizabeth Lowry reviews a new history of the way the Nights have been illustrated. Eighteenth and nineteenth century illustrations tended toward safety and prudishness (picture a "demure-looking Shahrazad, in a French gown of fashionable eighteenth-century cut"); only in the nineteenth century were illustrators free to imagine the tales in all their "heroic, fantastical, comic, pious, obscene, tragic, didactic, brutal and sentimental" glory. (Times Literary Supplement)

The politics of the call center: Great post. Considered structurally, as institutions, call centers are not just inefficient and enraging, but actually perverse! While on hold, "you're providing unpaid labour" to a firm that's hired too few employees; the queueing of calls is used to put operators under "permanent pressure to speed up," rather than solve your problem; the call center has no memory, as it's "assumed that this interaction has never happened before, [and] will never happen again." The failure rate is astonishing: in many call centers, 50% of all calls are "generated due to a prior failure to serve." Call centers are monuments to the stupidity of our civilization. Part one, part two, part three. (The Yorkshire Ranter)

Do people get more conservative as they age? Conservatives like to say this is true, because it suggests that conservatism is a kind of inevitable realism born of experience. But, "in fact, research shows that seniors become more tolerant and more open-minded in their later years." The apparent conservatism of older voters is really a historical artifact: Your political views are largely determined by the events which unfolded when you were young, and "our modern elders likely came of age at a time when the political situation favored more conservative views." (Discovery News)

Inside the mind of a sniper: Chris Kyle is the deadliest sniper in U.S. history -- known as "The Devil" among Iraqi insurgents, he estimates he's killed 255 people. What is he thinking when he pulls the trigger? Snipers are "rational and intelligent," one psychologist says; later, they "struggle with having killed in such an intimate way." At the same time, a sniper can understand what's going on with relative clarity -- down to the grenade in a suicide bomber's hand. (BBC)

Lover's eyes: Wonderful post from one of my favorite blogs, Salon's Five-Minute Museum, on the history of "eye-miniatures" -- "love tokens so clandestine that even now, in the majority of cases, it is impossible to identify their recipients or the people they depict." The miniatures show only the eyes, making it possible to celebrate your forbidden romance without revealing who, exactly, your secret lover was: "Only someone with really intimate acquaintance — a lover, a spouse, a close family member — would recognize an individual’s eye, so they could be worn in a more open way." (Salon)

The Muppets attack Fox News: At a press conference in London, Kermit and Miss Piggy respond to Fox's claim that the new Muppet movie promotes a "dangerous liberal agenda." (">According to the MuppetWiki, the movie's villain is an oil billionaire named Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper, who "devises a plan to raze the Muppet Theater and drill for oil beneath it.") For the record -- I am very much in favor of more Muppet press conferences.

[Image: "The Flying Carpet," by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880).]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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