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8 December 2009


Matins: Just what we all need: China produces and sells more than 12,000,000 cars in a single year. That's not all.

The country's largest carmaker, Shanghai Automotive Industry, sold 2.44 million cars in the year to the end of November, a rise of more than 50% compared with the same period a year earlier, Xinhua said.

State incentives, such as tax cuts on small cars, have boosted sales in China.

Like many other governments around the world, China has also introduced subsidies to trade in older vehicles.

Previously, only the US and Japan had produced 10 million cars in a single year.

Domestic Chinese car sales overtook those in the US for the first time in December of last year.

In a sidebar, Jorn Madslien reports that Shanghai Automotive Industries owns a majority share of Shanghai General Motors's venture in India, leaving (American) General Motors to take "a back seat." (BBC News)

Lauds: A very interesting comment from Felix Salmon, writing about productivity/price differentials between the fine-arts and photography markets. The former has split in two, with mass-marketed items buoying a "an elite circle of valuable works." The dynamic hasn't been tried in photography.

But here’s another paradox of contemporary art: photography has been very hot for some time, and the biggest-name photographers (Andreas Gursky, Wolfgang Tillmans, Cindy Sherman) are just as bona fide art stars as any painter. What’s more, photography is valued by many collectors precisely because it’s fungible — even more than a Warhol flower painting, if you have a given photo, you know it’s worth the same as an identical photo from the same edition. So you’d think that photography would be the obvious medium where you’d get runaway art stars making enormous amounts of product and selling for ever-increasing sums. Yet that hasn’t really happened.

It’s almost as though photography is still suffering from an inferiority complex, and photographers feel the need to prune their work down to a relatively small number of pieces in order to be taken seriously.

Prime: Alex Tabarrok writes about Project Cybersyn, an economic regulator waaaaay ahead of its time. (Marginal Revolution)

Although some sources at the time said the Chilean economy was "run by computer," the project was in reality a bit of a joke, albeit a rather expensive one, and about the only thing about it that worked were the ordinary Western Union telex machines spread around the country. The two computers supposedly used to run the Chilean economy were IBM 360s (or machines on that order).  These machines were no doubt very impressive to politicians and visionaries eager to use their technological might to control an economy (see picture at right.)  Today, our perspective will perhaps be somewhat different when we realize that these behemoths were far less powerful than an iPhone. Run an economy with an iPhone? Sorry, there is no app for that.

Tierce: How to account for same-sex liaisons in terms of natural selection? The investigation promises to be complex and counterintuitive. Also: resistant to cross-species generalizations!

Besides, as far as we know animals do not form sexual self-identities in the way humans do, he adds. That is why he and Zuk prefer to use the more objective term "same-sex sexual behaviour", which they define as behaviours found in two animals of the same sex that you would find in opposite-sex pairs during courtship, copulation or parenting.

Same-sex behaviour is not necessarily synonymous with same-sex preferences, which have been observed in only a handful of animals. In 2005, for example, Hans Van Gossum from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and colleagues found that damselflies kept in all-male groups subsequently preferred to court other males rather than females, though this preference could be reversed simply by housing them with females

Gore Vidal has always insisted that there is really no such thing as homosexuality; perhaps he's right after all. (New Scientist)

Sext: What you need to know in order to navigate the tricky holiday shopping season: it will cost $395. (The Onion; via The Morning News

Able to remain operational for longer periods of time and occupy a demonstrably smaller three-dimensional space, the new device is so advanced when compared to the old device that it makes the old device appear much older than it actually is. However, the new device is reportedly not so radically different as to cause confusion or unwanted anxiety among those familiar with the feel of the old device.

"Its higher price indicates to me that it is superior, and that not everyone will be able to afford it, which only makes me want to possess it more," said Tim Sturges, owner of the old device, which he obtained 18 months ago when it was still the new device. "I feel a strong urge to purchase the new device. Owning the new device will please me and improve my daily life."

Nones: New, and with more than T-shirts: Ottomaniacs!

“We Turks are tired of being treated in Europe like poor, backward peasants,” he said.

The Ottoman renaissance is equally prevalent in the nation’s highest political circles, where the Muslim-inspired Justice and Development Party government has been aggressively courting former Ottoman colonies, including Iraq and Syria, in at least a partial reorientation of foreign policy toward the east that Turkish analysts have labeled as “Neo-Ottoman.”

That shift has alarmed officials in Europe and Washington, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to reassure President Obama when he meets him at the White House on Monday that Turkey has not abandoned its Western course.

One thing seems clear: Turkey is finally emerging from Atatürk's secular tutelage, a nation with imperial memories. (NYT)

Vespers: At HuffPo, Alexander Nazaryan proposes Joseph O'Neill's Netherland as the American novel of the passing decade.

Netherland has been called a post 9-11 novel, but that isn't quite true: it is a post-American novel, announcing the conclusion of what Time founder Henry Luce called in 1941 the American Century. His magazine revisited that claim in 1990 and suggested American dominance would continue into the new millennium. It located the reinvigoration of the American spirit in New York, whose grittiness was not yet an asset to bohemians and developers: "even in New York City, alongside the decay and decline, the irrepressible drive, the jackhammer energy, the ambition as high as the builders' cranes, the opportunities as exciting as the turbulent street scenes."

Hans refutes this argument with his bleak vision of the city. In Midtown he is "seized for the first time by a nauseating sense of America, my gleaming adapted country, under the secret actuation of unjust, indifferent powers. The rinsed taxis, hissing over fresh slush, shone like grapefruits; but if you looked down into the space...where icy matter stuck to the saw a foul mechanical dark." By the end of his sojourn in New York, he only finds solace in traveling -- via Google Earth -- to the outer atmosphere, until "the USA as such is nowhere to be seen."

We heartily concur, and we nominate Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End as runner-up.

Compline: Witold Rybczynski reports that academic architects still don't like Christopher Alexander's patterns. (Slate; via Arts Journal)

Alexander's ideas have taken root in unexpected places. His early books, especially Notes on the Synthesis of Form and A Pattern Language, influenced computer scientists, who found useful parallels between building design and software design. The New Urbanism movement also owes him a debt, as a new book by Andres Duany and Jeff Speck makes clear. The Smart Growth Manual consists of 148 principles—patterns, really—that add up to a language for community design, from entire regions to neighborhood streets. "We believe that new places should be designed in the manner of existing places that work," the authors write, a concept straight out of Alexander. Curiously, the one place that Alexander, a lifelong professor, has had the least influence is in academia. The theories that are taught in architecture schools today are of a different sort, and in the belief that the field of architecture should be grounded in intellectual speculation, rather than pragmatic observation, students are more likely to be assigned French post-structuralist texts than A Pattern Language. Which is a shame.

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