Dice-K and his “Spouse”

July 29, 2007

I was watching Red Sox-Devil Rays a few minutes ago, and the sideline reporter said the Japanese media members were all excited because today is the first game Daisuke Matsuzaka has pitched where the catcher has been someone other than Jason Varitek (who is getting a day off after playing 12 innings last night). The reporter informed viewers that in Japanese culture, the catcher is considered to be the pitcher’s “spouse.” Then they go back to the booth, and Jerry Remy says, “So Daisuke today is cheating on Jason Varitek?”

Dice-K and Varitek

I’m guessing the Japanese have some other connotation for “spouse” that gets lost in the translation.

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“I thought it handled great…”

April 25, 2007

The news that Toyota has overtaken GM as the world’s top seller of automobiles is touching off an emotional response in Detroit.

On message boards, some voiced support for Detroit by criticizing Toyota.

“Toyota takes their profits and invests it in their country, not ours,” a post on the Detroit Free Press Web site said. The author, who used the screen name Americanmade, added, “Wake Up America and Buy American!”

Others showed their support for the Japanese company. “Nice Job Toyota! Your cars are great! Too bad we can’t say that about the Big 3,” said one reader in a posting on the Detroit News Web site Tuesday, signed by R.C. of Kalamazoo, Mich.

This seems like as good a time as any to bring up memories of the economic nationalism that fueled the backlash against Japanese automakers in the 1980s. Since I am too lazy to make a substantive argument right now, here’s a clip from the 1986 film Gung Ho that feels appropriate for the moment.


Tom Friedman Likes Visiting Call Centers in Other Countries

April 4, 2007

Tom Friedman’s Wednesday column is another example of the man’s self-parody. In this episode, Friedman gets excited about the fact that operators in Kenya, working near an “abandoned avocado processing plant,” answer 1-800 calls from Americans.

This schtick sounded familiar to me, and sure enough Friedman wrote about an Indian call center in 2004. He also talked about a call center located in Bangalore in one of those Discovery Channel documentaries and in his book The World is Flat, leading to this response:

Friedman completely ignores the problems created by the Indian call center industry, such as the imposition of fake Western identities and the harshness of constantly working at night. He talks to timid employees and industry flacks and comes to the conclusion that all is well. In Friedman’s world, “Indian call center operators adopt Western names of their own choosing.” And the night shift fits “in very nicely with the Indian day,” as he told Terry Gross of Fresh Air. He would have had a much less one-sided evaluation if he had talked to people like Arjun Raina, a call center trainer and theater performer featured on 60 Minutes who has written a play, A Terrible Beauty Is Born, on the plight of call center workers.

None of these factors are even hinted at in Wednesday’s column either. Instead, Friedman discusses the politics of getting the higher bandwith that makes the call centers  in Kenya possible. He concludes with classic Friedman silliness in the final paragraph.

Don’t give up on Africa. KenCall is a reminder that with a little less government regulation, a little more democracy and a lot more bandwidth, African entrepreneurs can play this game too. “In the old days, ‘landlocked’ meant you didn’t have a harbor,” said Mr. Nesbitt. “In the new days, it means you don’t have fiber broadband to the rest of the world. This whole market here is just waiting for that.”

Kind of like in the 1990s, this kind of writing actually seemed somewhat original. Not so much any more.