Today's News: Colbert, Frogs, Chinese Names, Chinese Floods

By James Fallows

In in-house news (please see UPDATE below):

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1) I will be on the Colbert Report tonight, talking about my book (at right) -- which, just in case you've forgotten, uses China's current all-fronts rush to become an aerospace power as a model for asking whether the Chinese system as a whole is going to "make it."

I assume that the questions from Colbert's character will be more on the lines of, Why did we let these Chicoms learn to fly in the first place?  But fyi that is my plan for the evening.

2) Thanks to many, many, many readers who have alerted me to the latest boiled-frog outbreak. It's in the New York Times, and it contains this gem of insight:

Stuart Crabb, a director in the executive offices of Facebook, naturally likes to extol the extraordinary benefits of computers and smartphones. But like a growing number of technology leaders, he offers a warning: log off once in a while, and put them down....

"If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it'll boil to death -- it's a nice analogy," said Mr. Crabb, who oversees learning and development at Facebook. People "need to notice the effect that time online has on your performance and relationships."

The person in charge of learning at Facebook believes the boiled frog myth? (And, worse, chooses this as the analogy he'll use in his big interview with the NYT?) Boy, I tell you, kids today. On the other hand, it has happened even to a Nobel Prize winner. I'm way behind on the boiled-frog patrol and have many interesting nuggets to share. For now I'll just say that the next thing they might want to "learn" over there at Facebook is that a frog will indeed sit still while you turn up the heat -- as long as it is a frog whose brain has been surgically removed. More on the analogy from Joe Romm of Climate Progress.

3) Thanks to many, many entrants in the "give this book a Chinese title" contest. Some great suggestions; more on this in a day or two. 

4) China itself has been through a tumultuous past week or so of news, most notably the recent disastrous flooding in Beijing. Thanks to many people who have sent fascinating leads on this front. More on that this afternoon, from the train.

UPDATE: It seems that today has brought a plague of boiled-frog mindlessness. From a Politico feature on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, which begins by saying that he has "a way with words":

"As a small boy growing up in a North Texas public housing complex, I overheard the 'big boys' in our neighborhood say that if a frog is placed in cool water that is slowly heated, it will remain in the boiling water as it is cooked alive. The hypothesis is that the frog will immediately jump out of the boiling water, but if the frog does not perceive that it is in jeopardy as the water gradually is heated, it will remain in the water until it dies."

The metaphor? Washington is the pot; the members are the frogs; and Cleaver writes, "It is not too late to hop out of the warming water of pathological partisanship, discord and political tribalism."

"I need to be in elementary school," Cleaver said, laughing about those two examples in an interview last week. "But in my real life, I'm a Methodist pastor, so I'm accustomed to using illustrations to convey a point that is intended to have some kind of moral message. I have come to the conclusion in these many years in the ministry that people will remember a story much easier than they can a hard message."

No doubt he is right. People do remember these stories.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/todays-news-colbert-frogs-chinese-names-chinese-floods/260245/