Hello Kitty is British — and is Not a Cat

Anthropologist Christine R. Yano, who has studied the history of Sanrio’s Hello Kitty:

“I was corrected — very firmly,” Yano said. “That’s one correction Sanrio made for my script for the show. Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”

And:

Hello Kitty may not be a cat but she has a surprisingly specific backstory: she is British, her real name is Kitty White (no relation to Breaking Bad’s Walter White), and she’s the daughter of parents George and Mary White. She has a twin sister, is stuck in time as a third grader (even though she turns 40 this year), and lives outside of London. She has a horoscope sign, too: she’s a Scorpio.

There’s more from the Los Angeles Times here.

Via my colleague @shibanimahtani, who summed up, in this tweet, what I’m sure has been a common reaction to the story:

Audio of the day

There is something oddly calming — despite the underlying menace — of this Death Star ambient audio, which lasts for no less than 12 hours:

This is the classic Death Star sound from Star Wars for 12 hours. Perfect for imagining that you are a Jedi working towards justice in deep space. Also great for meditating, relaxing, sleeping, or drowning out other annoying sounds.

Oh, and YouTube user crysknife007 has more where that came from. Check out the “Extended Star Wars Sounds” playlist.

Joel Mokyr on Tech, Innovation and Economic Growth

Joel Mokyr, a Northwestern University economist and author, in a WSJ op-ed:

There is nothing like a recession to throw economists into a despondent mood. Much as happened in the late 1930s—when there was a fear of so-called secular stagnation, or the absence of growth due to a dearth of investment opportunities—many of my colleagues these days seem to believe that “sad days are here again.” The economic growth experienced through much of the 20th century, they tell us, was fleeting. Our children will be no richer than we are. The entry of millions of married women into the workforce and the huge increase in college graduates that drove post-1945 growth were one-off boons. Slow growth is here to stay.

What is wrong with this story? The one-word answer is “technology.” The responsibility of economic historians is to remind the world what things were like before 1800. Growth was imperceptibly slow, and the vast bulk of the population was so poor that a harvest failure would kill millions. Almost half the babies born died before reaching age 5, and those who made it to adulthood were often stunted, ill and illiterate.

What changed this world was technological progress. Starting in the late 18th century, innovations and advances in what was then called “the useful arts” began improving life, first in Britain, then in the rest of Europe, and then in much of the rest of the world.

An Excellent New Post-Apocalypic Thriller: ‘Snowpiercer’

Snowpiercer” — a 2013 sci-fi film, directed by South Korean Bong Joon-ho, about people stuck aboard a train circling a frozen-over earth — is just as good as Kottke says.

Embedded above and on YouTube here: the trailer.

More from Grantland here.

If, like me, you enjoy post-apocalyptic thrillers, you should most certainly watch it.

Our Stories on Anti-Coup Protests and Social Media in Thailand

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I’m here in Bangkok helping out with our coverage following Thursday’s military coup. Here’s our main story as of Sunday early evening local time:

Pop-up protests are spreading around Thailand’s capital in a growing show of dissent against the latest in a long line of military juntas here.

The rallies, lasting an hour or two at a time, aren’t what the generals had in mind when they staged the 12th successful coup d’état in Thailand’s modern history Thursday. Troops seized one pro-democracy leader at a protest site in western Bangkok that day, firing shots in the air to disperse the crowds. Elsewhere in the city, soldiers detained four leaders of populist Red Shirts movement as the coup unfolded and later held two former prime ministers.

Separately, I penned a story yesterday about how social media is flourishing here despite warnings from the army:

In the early days of Thailand’s first coup in the smartphone age, social-media outlets appear to be ignoring warnings not to allow criticism of the military—and users aren’t holding back.

Meanwhile, my advice for following the news remains the same: Keep an eye on our home page and live stream. And check out my Twitter list of Bangkok journalists.

In addition, I’ve been Tweeting text and images, as ever, at @Newley.

‘City of Imagination: Kowloon Walled City’

That’s the name of a new Wall Street Journal documentary:

The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy 20 years after its demolition.

The link above leads to the doc on WSJ.com, and there’s also a YouTube version.

Very much worth a watch.

Some favorite albums, books, TV shows, movies, and in-depth stories from 2013

Here’s a look back at some of my favorites from last year.

Albums

My pick: “Modern Vampires of the City,” by Vampire Weekend.

Here’s “Obvious Bicycle“:

And “Diane Young“:

Runner-up album:

Beta Love,” by Ra Ra Riot. Here’s the title track.

Honorable mentions: Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine.”

Books

Of the books I read last year, two stand out, not least because they were written by pals.

First: Matt Gross’s “The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.”

2014 01 08 turk who loved apples

This may not come as a surprise, since I’ve written about Matt’s work before.

The New York Times called the book “a joyful meditation on the spontaneity and unpredictability of the traveling life,” and said:

Gross ruminates on the loneliness of the road, the evanescent friendships that occasionally blossom into something deeper, the pleasures of wandering through cities without a map. Now settled in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters, he leaves little doubt that all his years of near-constant travel have only whetted his appetite for more. “The world,” he writes, has become “a massively expanding network of tiny points where anything at all could happen, and within each point another infinite web of possibilities.”

Worth checking out.

And second: “The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned,” by Dan Campo.

2014 01 08 accidental playground

The Times included the book in a piece called “Suggested Reading for de Blasio,” and wrote:

Daniel Campo, a former New York City planner, considers the serendipitous development of Williamsburg and concludes: “In contrast to urban space produced through conventional planning and design, the accidental playground that evolved on the North Brooklyn waterfront generated vitality through immediate and largely unmeditated action. The waterfront was there for the claiming, and people went out and did just that without asking for permission, holding meetings or making plans.”

Indeed, it’s worth a read.

TV shows

2014 01 09 breaking bad

There can be only one.

Movies

I haven’t yet seen many of the year’s most talked-about films, but I liked “Gravity” and “This is the End.” 2013 films I still intend to watch: “12 Years a Slave,” “The Act of Killing,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Computer Chess.”

Stories

And finally, here are some in-depth stories, blog posts, reviews, and other pieces of writing I liked this year: