Thursday, December 31, 2009

Most memorable amateur music videos of the 2000s. (via).
“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world”: Is too much optimism too bad?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One possible vision of reading magazines in the future. (via).
A gallery of strange books. The wackiest title arguably was 'Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Mind Power' by Donald L. Wilson. (via)
The Things - a poem by Donald Hall
"If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?" - Maureen Dowd
Why do so many terrorists have engineering degrees? (via).
Democratic or Republican - it does not change things: This analysis talks about how Wall Street manages to win and get its way every time in Washington...
Scienceblog tackles the raw milk versus pasteurization debate. Should you drink raw milk?
There is a story in today’s NYT about how we spend our taxpayer monies to secure Afghanistan while China extracts copper from that country. So, lets put this in perspective: We spend deficit monies to secure a corrupt foreign country while another foreign country talks advantage of that security to enrich itself. Again, what are we doing there?
Great dudes from history according to dudesim.com. Charlie Brown's dog, Buddha and Christ are in there amongst others. A new academic study of dudeism here. (via)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Today, the neurosciences enjoy a similar prestige as psychoanalysis in the twentieth century ... In a performance-driven society that confronts the self with its own shortcomings, neuroscience serves an expanding market.'
Rolling Stones 100 best music albums of the decade. Village Voice chimes in with the worst. Personally, I prefer the Billboard list.
On palliative sedation or as some may call it 'terminal sedation' for critically ill patients - the ethics and the issues behind putting someone to sleep - forever...
I guess airline security search will enter a whole new realm after the release of the 'undie bomb' pictures... Like someone on the Daily Dish commented - these martyrs need to decide between the bomb in their undies versus the promise of an unspecified number of virgins supposedly waiting for them... Can't have the cake and eat it too... Of course, some studies refute the 'Muslim martyr virgin' complex...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cheap Chinese nutcrackers: a risk to the woodcraft of Germany's Erzgebirge region (also known as Christmas country).
Dumb passwords.
"We didn’t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources". The Faith Instinct reviewed...
No internet sex please, we're Indian. Yahoo, Flickr and Microsoft introduce access filters to prevent Indian users from accessing sexual content. Indians made these too (NSFW)...
The NYT called it the big zero. The New Yorker calls it a 'hard-to-name' era. Looking back, I still remember thinking that at the end of this decade we will see a Bush-free White House. It did happen! On a serious note, this graphic puts some things in perspective.
An essay on Avatars from 1839 in American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, Vol. 2. This one talks about the original Hindu kind...
Private Circulation, distributed solely by email, is a monthly bulletin featuring proposals, unrealized art projects, brief histories, photo collections, large posters, and essays.
Daily Show presents the decade in review. 10 shows, about 3 minutes each from 2000 to 2009. Need I say more?
Norwegian photojournalist Jonas Bendiksen spent six weeks living in the slums of Nairobi, then Caracas, Mumbai, and Jakarta. Photos here. His book here. His pictures of Dharavi slum in Mumbai here.
An internet entrepreneur steamrolled by the Google juggernaut calls for search neutrality in addition to net neutrality. Some aspects in Ken Auletta's book on the inherent 'evil' in Google resonates.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

New TSA rules in the wake of their latest stupidity. Meanwhile today [Mon Dec 28], only this fact made the most sense: Only two things have made flying safer since 9/11: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.
The heroes of his new book, “The Department of Mad Scientists,” work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as Darpa, a secretive arm of the United States government. A book review...
Live blogging the Ashura. The Iranian authorities does not see that as a reason to hold back.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

If air travel worked like health care - a timely shout out from David Brooks as he surveys the years best magazine essay writing...
“Instead of buying stuff for people who don’t need it and will probably return it anyway, I’m going to take all the money that I would have spent on presents, find some needy people — not a charity — and give the money directly to them
Today's stock market has become a world of automated transactions executed at lightning speed. This high-frequency trading could make the financial system more efficient, but it could also turn small mistakes into catastrophes.
Helia LaJeunesse, a freed slave talks to Peggy Callahan about her story for Free the Slaves project.
Birds of Papua New Guinea - a photo essay. More of the artists work here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

6 new financial websites.
McSweeneys presents the conflicted existence of a female porn writer. (via).
When my dad found out about my mischief, I got a lecture. It was one big “I told you so,” because, well, he had told me so. “Stick with the sardines,” he’d said. “Cheap sweets are empty promises.” - a financial parable.
India provides an astonishing variety of calendrical systems, with respective histories that stretch over several thousand years - an overview of Indian calendar systems by Amartya Sen. The yuga based calendar system closely approximates the scientific age of the earth.
Notes on pimps from Delhi, India. It is interesting to note that in an 1861 survey of occupations of people (English census of the North Western Provinces of India) one finds 321 self professed pimps and 26,806 prostitutes. 226 people were listed as 'flatterers for gain'.
When should parents come clean about Santa - viewpoints...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kos features a post devoid of politics! A rarity but this one talks about the recently discovered exosolar water world peppered with imagination of how that planet might feel if one tried going there...
Steve Yegge's blog is closing down (it seems). Here is one of his less technical posts on partitioning credit limits into "buckets".
Gifts for cool nerds: An USB Hourglass that flips itself, generating random numbers in the process...
A TED talk for Christmas.
3D on Blu-ray...
Kara Miller, a teacher at Babson College talks about her lazy American students. (via).
A humanist reviews On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Convinces me that the book is a must buy...  (via)
The 2008 financial meltdown was more than a failure of markets, it was a failure by government to understand its proper role in markets - an unnecessary abandonment of a sensible system of rules and boundaries that had served well for six decades.
Wall Street fat cat bonuse watch: David Tepper - a former Goldman Sachs employee who rubs a pair of brass testicles for good luck rakes in $2.5 billion this year.
What do Tiger Woods, Bernie Madoff, Wall Street and Enron have in common? - Their ability to make people believe in what they want to believe... on greed, cheating and morality.
From 'ethical vegans' to 'eat fish only vegans' to arguments that 'plants have feelings' -  this science column shows the difficulties of being a committed vegetarian...
On dissecting HM's brain. Project HM blog here. More on Henry Gustav Molaison (HM) here.
In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. David Brooks on brains versus brawns i.e Smart World vs. Shopclass.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A record of ocean crossings are maintained at Oceanrowing. Hopefully, Katie Spotz has the guts to make it even bigger.
Another Christmas story.
Is Avatar a product of the white man's guilt?
Could Saab yet be saved?
We still have some cheerleaders for capitalism... Coming to think about it, we don't have a viable alternative...
One of those whose who held out in Iran has passed on...
Gurcharan Das talks about his book The Difficulty of Being Good ; the book uses the Mahabharatha to explore the idea of dharma and the challenges of living a good life. A WSJ essay by him here.
After reading about the painter Carmen Herrera, I have hope.
The NYT magazine section asks a tough question with respect to organ donation - when does death actually start?
I guess the execution bit is going too far, but Wall Street could use some variations...
China sentenced Wu Ying to death for defrauding investors of more than $100 million, the China News Service reported today, citing a court ruling. Wu, born in 1981, raised 773 million yuan ($113 million) with promises of high returns... 
Could this news from Mozilla be the beginning of the end of the iPhone app store?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It might be difficult to top the Indian Santa song from last year, but Finnish Bhangra comes close... (via).

I believe this about Avatar. Web was never the same after this...

Saturday song



via

Friday, December 18, 2009

Linkage

Martin Machado writes on Fecalface about living and working on a container ship. Someday, I hope to travel on one.

Paul Rudnick explains how to have a Happy Interfaith Holiday Season. Notice the PC wording...

The backlash against Lady Gaga begins.. I love her music, personally...

The Charcuterie Underground of outlaw bacon curers and sausage grinders... (via)

The case for breaking up Goldman Sachs

Bloomberg News opines that a simple reinstatement of Glass-Steagall (as proposed by McCain and Co) would not be enough. If there needs to be sincere reform of the vampire squids on Wall Street, then it better be a proper, clean divide of banking responsibilities...

Simply saying that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are no longer bank-holding companies (a coveted status they received last fall that allows them to borrow at the Federal Reserve’s discount window), as would likely happen under a Glass-Steagall-like split, won’t go far enough. A newly reconstituted Wall Street would need to be further divided. As things now stand, Wall Street and big banks are bundles of conflicts that too often pit firms against their customers. That led to some of the riskier practices that helped fuel the financial crisis. Investment houses underwrote and sold investors complex bundles of mortgages, for example, even as they bet the housing market would crater. This needs to change. Either a firm is an adviser, a broker, an asset manager or a hedge fund. It can’t be all things to all customers. Nor can a firm be all those things and not create the kind of linkages that threaten the stability of the financial system. So firms should have to choose between being, say, brokers and investment bankers versus proprietary trading shops or asset managers. In that case, if Goldman Sachs wants to be a giant hedge fund, that’s all it should be. After all, some smaller, focused players such as hedge funds failed during the crisis but didn’t require taxpayer bailouts. Splitting up Wall Street would also make finance easier to regulate. In their current agglomerated state, too many firms are impenetrable black boxes. Regulators don’t really know what’s going on inside. Neither do investors. And it often seems management is clueless as well. To be sure, changes along these lines would be painful and bitterly opposed by banks and Wall Street.

Friday rap

Rapping the differing viewpoints between Keynes' (government intervention in economy for common good) and Hayek's (government considered evil as soon as they touch the economy) economic philosophies.


via
Could Kerala be the next Dubai? The state government there plans to issue sukuks (Shariah blessed Islamic bonds), those funny financial instruments that Wall Streeters sold (read this NYT article and it will tell you how Wall Street hoodwinked them) and got Dubai into so much trouble...

Kerala, the communist-ruled Indian state that relies on Middle East remittances for a quarter of its economy, plans to sell the nation’s first Islamic bonds next year to help pay for infrastructure projects. “The way we see it it’s another form of venture capital,” Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said in an interview in Thiruvananthapuram, the southern state’s main city. “We need long-gestation funds to build airports, high-speed trains and expressways. Islamic finance promises unexplored potential in that context.” Kerala’s government is helping start Al-Barakah Financial Services Ltd. to sell the rupee-denominated bonds and create investment funds that comply with Shariah law’s ban on interest, Isaac said. The venture will tap Indian Muslims and money sent home by workers living in Gulf countries even as a debt crisis in Dubai threatens to shrink the remittances, he said.

Easy ways to make a billion dollars.

Yes, they actually pull this s*** off on Wall Street. In the process they hoodwink the rest of us and call it creating wealth!!! Here in 11 easy steps.

STEP 1: Form a bank.
STEP 2: Round up a bunch of unemployed friends to be "bankers."
STEP 3: Raise $1 billion of equity.  (This is the only tricky step. And it's not that tricky. Basically, you'll have to tell a few investors about your awesome new business plan that will earn them returns of at least 20% on their equity from Day 1.  A 20% return on equity is a lot, especially when the return is largely risk free.) So you should have no problem raising that $1 billion of equity.
STEP 4: Borrow $9 billion from the Fed at an annual cost of 0.25%.
STEP 5: Buy $10 billion of 30-year Treasuries paying 4.45%
A former Indian diplomat talks about the lessons that Turkey can teach India in multilateralism...

Is Turkey under Mr. Erdogan moving away from the West? He recently quoted the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi: “In my religion one end of the compass needle is fixed, but with the other end of the needle, I roam the 72 nations.” He elaborated: “Turkey is exactly in this position. Our doors are wide open. Turkey cannot lose the West while looking towards the East; cannot lose the East while looking towards the West; cannot lose the South while looking towards the North; cannot lose the North while looking towards the South. Turkey has the power to take a 360-degree look at the entire world.” Mr. Erodgan’s “Nehruvism” comes alive with startling freshness.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Science Times talks about a bicycle that works via the regenerative braking concept (like a Prius). I also found a blow-by-blow account of a 43 hour, $300,000 surgery in the same section. The surgery makes one think - how far will we go to save a human life? (the 59 year old man with five children and nine grandchildren undergoing a tumor extraction said the following before the surgery...“I can’t leave yet, I’ve got too much fun ahead of me.”)...

Thursday photo

This was my favorite photo from among the dozens posted by the photo site bigpicture as they chronicled the year in pictures. Part 1, 2 and 3 here.


The photo shows an Iranian supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi beaten by the Basiji in Tehran, Iran on Sunday, June 14, 2009.

Thursday video

More from the charming onion... on the 'friendster civilization'...


Internet Archaeologists Find Ruins Of 'Friendster' Civilization
Path Lights is a short comedy that puts a human side to the clichéd ‘hero as detective’. It is now making its way to the 2010 film festival circuit. Behind the scenes footage here. New Yorker story here.

Readings

Yesterday was a holiday of white conquest over ethnic Zulus in South Africa. The story involves the European Church, so called 'God's will' and of course, apartheid...

Afrikaners, the descendants of white settlers, celebrated the Day of the Vow, a covenant said to be made between their ancestors and God in 1838 that led to the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus. ... Preceding the Zulu attack that was sure to come, the trekkers came together to recite a vow. In part it read, “If he will protect us and give our enemy into our hand, we shall keep this day and date every year as a day of thanksgiving like a Sabbath, and that we shall erect a church in his honor.” The Afrikaners chained their covered wagons together, placing barbed shrubs beneath them. Wave after wave of Zulus charged, trying to use their short spears in close combat, but instead dying in heaps as smoke rose from muskets and cannons. As the story goes, 3,000 Zulus died while the trekkers suffered only three injuries.

From the archives... (more from that bigot - Winston Churchill)

I spent most of my life growing up in the city of Bangalore, India. Every once in a while I read news of that city burgeoning and making its way through the technology world - the one place where large companies can reliably find low paying English speaking technology workers. To my chagrin, I also recently discovered that being 'Bangalored' was fast becoming part of the lexicon. I was amused this morning when I read that the venerable beeb recently unearthed news of unpaid dues that Winston Churchill had owed towards a club in Bangalore when he was stationed there as an young office in the 1890's. This is what he had to say about the city...
.... Churchill, by his own account, found the city boring. He spent most of his time reading and collecting butterflies. In his memoir, My Early Life, he describes Bangalore as a "third rate watering place" with "lots of routine work" to do and "without society or good sport". In such circumstances, it is assumed that Churchill spent many an evening in the Bangalore club, drinking whisky which cost seven annas (less than 50 paise, or half a rupee) for a large drink and four annas (25 paise) for a small peg. And perhaps that is how he accumulated the debt of 13 rupees - a considerable sum in those days.
Of course, let us also not forget - this is how Churchill (who in my view was just a common racist) described Gandhi...
"It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organizing and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor." - Winston Churchill, 1930

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top videos of 2009 here.  This remains my favorite - followed by this.

Wednesday video

Physicist Richard Feynman thinks aloud on science from a 1983 BBC TV series 'Fun to Imagine'.



(via)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Toon


(via)

The Republicans (and Lieberman) finally kill the public option...

Yes, the public option is dead but if the conservatives did not have the public option to chew on, the healthcare options available to the uninsured would have been much worse...

The public option is dead this morning. And this time, it isn't coming back to life. The Senate isn't going to include any version of the idea in its bill. And while the House can still demand a public option in conference, nobody I know expects the House to prevail. The primary causes of death were the fierce opposition of special interests and the institutional habits of the United States Senate, in which a clear majority of senators representing an even clearer majority of the people lack the power to pass a bill. The time of death? Somewhere around 6:30 p.m. last night, during a meeting of the Democratic caucus, in which Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the votes for a public option just weren't there--and that passing a health care reform bill, as quickly as possible, was too important to risk further debate and delay. ...

Tuesday video

Channeling Matthew B. Crawford book 'Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work' via the making of an Eames fiberglass chair... (via)

Meanwhile

An interesting viewpoint on net neutrality...

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed new regulations to force broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) like Time Warner and Verizon to adhere to "net neutrality" mandates. The FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and other net neutrality advocates contend it is necessary to put in place the new regulatory regime to promote free speech values, and Tuesday the agency holds a forum designed to further this notion. Just one big problem: This view turns the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment on its head. If the government enforces its version of neutrality on the Internet, it almost certainly will violate the Internet service providers' First Amendment rights. Here's why. Read more... 

Consider...

A note on climate change, 'tiger widows' and divine help. Just wehn you thought the three cannot come together, in India they do...

Readings

From a book review of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran.

The old internal mantra of the reformer, “If they only knew, they would change,” beats throughout Eating Animals. This is where I disagree. All people, with few exceptions, understand the inherent cruelty of killing for food, whether in farms or in factories or in the wild. Most who know about industrial meat farms also know that they are ghastly for the animals and employees alike. People know, but still they do not want to change. This is because people need more than education to act ethically — they need reward. Humans have the capacity for good, but we are also scoundrels. Nobly intentioned as we are, we are creatures of appetite. Honorable as we can be, we are perhaps the cruelest of God’s little creatures.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Time magazine calls Jenny Sanford 'the savviest spurned woman in history'. Good call!
Now, if only Eliot Spitzer's wife could take some hints... Not to mention Tiger's...
Stephen Walt at FP urges us to be careful about what we wish for with respect to regime change in Iran...

I'm not so sure. On the one hand, I agree that the current regime is chaotic, corrupt, and deplorable on human rights grounds (though far less brutal than some governments with which the United States has had close relations). The regime's treatment of women is deplorable and the crackdown following the bogus election last summer is indefensible, and its support for groups like Hezbollah is hardly consistent with U.S. interests.  Judged on purely human rights grounds, a more democratic and/or liberal government would clearly be preferable.
HBO shines some light on domestic violence tonight with a documentary named "Every F---ing Day of My Life"

Minutes after smashing her husband’s skull with a hammer, Wendy Maldonado of Grants Pass, Ore., called 911. The operator asked: Did he try to hurt you? Ms. Maldonado replied: Every day of my life.

Full review here.Trailer here. HBO schedule here.
City Journal on homegrown terrorism... Creatively called Apple-Pie Jihad. The Pew poll finding in the paragraph below is chilling.

They are named David. They are clean-shaven dental students and attendees of community colleges. They study hard, play sports, and open Facebook accounts. Their friends call them “normal Joes.” And they’re being arrested in ever-growing numbers, would-be terrorists plotting to kill their fellow Americans and conduct “holy war” at home and abroad. Wednesday’s arrest in Pakistan of five Muslim-American men attests to a growing phenomenon: the radicalization of young American Muslims on American soil. ... I was reminded of a Pew poll of American Muslims three years ago that showed that a third of American Muslims between the ages of 18 and 29 said that they supported suicide bombings.
Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker on Wall Street compensation. Is Obama listening?

Well, I have been around the financial markets for 60 years, and how many responsible financial leaders have we heard speaking against the huge compensation practices? Every day I hear financial leaders saying that they are necessary and desirable, they are wonderful and they are God’s work. Has there been one financial leader to stand out and say that maybe this is excessive and that maybe we should get together privately to think about some restraint? I hear about these wonderful innovations in the financial markets, and they sure as hell need a lot of innovation. I can tell you of two—credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations—which took us right to the brink of disaster. Were they wonderful innovations that we want to create more of? You want boards of directors to be informed about all of these innovative new products and to understand them, but I do not know what boards of directors you are talking about. I have been on boards of directors, and the chance that they are going to understand these products that you are dishing out, or that you are going to want to explain it to them, quite frankly, is nil.
I mean: Wake up, gentlemen.
Jhumpa Lahiri talks about rice and her father's pulao...

... pulao, a baked, buttery, sophisticated indulgence, Persian in origin, served at festive occasions. It involves sautéing grains of basmati in butter, along with cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, and cardamom pods. In go halved cashews and raisins (unlike the oatmeal raisins, these must be golden, not black). Ginger, pulverized into a paste, is incorporated, along with salt and sugar, nutmeg and mace, saffron threads if they’re available, ground turmeric if not. A certain amount of water is added, and the rice simmers until most of the water evaporates. Then it is spread out in a baking tray. (My father prefers disposable aluminum ones, which he recycled long before recycling laws were passed.) More water is flicked on top with his fingers, in the ritual and cryptic manner of Catholic priests. Then the tray, covered with foil, goes into the oven, until the rice is cooked through and not a single grain sticks to another.
Be on the lookout for social networking viruses- no, not the ones you meet at parties - these are online...

Malicious programs are rampaging through Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, spreading themselves by taking over people’s accounts and sending out messages to all of their friends and followers. The result is that people are inadvertently telling their co-workers and loved ones how to raise their I.Q.’s or make money instantly, or urging them to watch an awesome new video in which they star. “I wonder what people are thinking of me right now?” said Matt Marquess, an employee at a public relations firm in San Francisco whose Twitter account was recently hijacked, showering his followers with messages that appeared to offer a $500 gift card to Victoria’s Secret. Mr. Marquess was clueless about the offers until a professional acquaintance asked him about them via e-mail. Confused, he logged in to his account and noticed he had been promoting lingerie for five days.

Curbing Wall Street fat cats - ideas that will go nowhere.



(via). WSJ brings us a video feed of this little old lady castigating Wall 'fat cats' and supports a 75% bonus tax. Of course, any little hope of the same was quashed by all of the Republicans and some Democrats voting against modest efforts to curb Wall Street last Friday.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weekend story...

Only in New York City would a story unfold this way...

A Buddhist taxi driver about to be deported tries to kill another Buddhist taxi driver who is in the process of being assimilated - the killer fails and falls to his death in the East river. The taxi driver who escapes with his life attends the killers wake - in true Buddhist style... All the person who lived had to say at the wake was “There was never any problem between us, we are both Nepali, but we never had much to say to each other — he kept to himself.” (via)

Ideas

On why the Obama administration would not tax Wall Street bonuses... I agree with the first and last thoughts.

Cognitive capture. In Calvin Coolidge’s day, people in Washington believed that what was good for General Motors was good for America. Today, many insiders, including some of Obama’s economics advisers, believe that what is good for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup is good for America. The guts of this (dubious) argument is that we don’t manufacture very much these days and our competitive advantage is in things like entertainment, information technology, and financial engineering. Therefore, anything that hobbles Wall Street threatens the future prosperity of the country.

Trends

Is art becoming beautiful again? Oh no!! What will happen to abstracts?

Do you remember the days when the Turner Prize ignited a firestorm of controversy? When the fag butts, empty vodka bottles and used condoms that surrounded Tracey Emin's notoriously unmade bed had the nation up in arms – even though it didn't win? Well, not any more. This week, the artist Richard Wright won the £25,000 cheque that accompanies Britain's most prestigious annual art prize. His contribution to this year's exhibition? An incredibly intricate painting in gold leaf that covers an entire wall of a gallery inside Tate Britain like a bolt of the finest damask wallpaper. A glorious, eminently civilised work, it looks gossamer-delicate, as though it has been woven out of sunbeams. For anyone who thinks that contemporary art is nothing but the dreck and detritus of perverted imaginations, Wright's painting provides a beautifully lucid counter-argument. It speaks of the exaltation of the human spirit, of our finer instincts and loftier ambitions, of the ability of the soul to soar and sing. It heralds nothing less than the return of beauty to modern art.

Channeling O'Keeffe









Pictures of petals that had fallen off a day lily flower bouquet that my wife had received as a gift last week...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

POV

On being asked to be professional...

I can't quite remember when this highest form of praise was introduced. I do remember it was around some time in the late eighties when, as schoolteachers, we were exhorted to be professional at all times. And then, when I moved into higher education, some senior member of the college came in to welcome us as professionals and academics, people with proper professional pride. 'So and so is a true professional' was the equivalent of five gold stars. We were doing things properly, by the book. We were 'of the professions'. We were truly, as Márai might have said, not just, 'respectable citizens' of the republic of something but, most importantly, professional respectable citizens. To act professionally was not necessarily to act kindly, to act with understanding, to act according to conscience or to act with devotion to the underlying cause, but to be proper, to act by the book according to the current conception of the book.

Readings

10 ideas on not wasting food...

1. Eat leftovers regularly, and develop recipes that use small amounts of leftovers. For example, when we have leftover rice, we often make fried rice or rice pudding with it. Stale bread gets made into chocolate-banana bread pudding ... or croutons or panzanella (tuscan tomato and bread salad). A few extra stir-fried veggies go straight into the soup. We also have regular leftover lunches and dinners. Remember, just because it isn't enough for a whole meal for everyone doesn't mean you can't portion it out or send it as a lunch with someone.
2. Be realistic about what you will consume - don't order the giant sandwich if you don't ever finish it. Don't fill your cup to the brim at the drink fountain just because you paid for it. If you never eat the rice with your takeout chinese, tell them not to send it. If you don't want extra ketchup packages, don't take them - give them back.

Ideas

NYT unveiled its annual column highlighting ideas, notions and discoveries...  Some of them were quirky like this study that talks about the skull cracking potential of empty versus full beer bottles...

Full bottles shatter at 30 joules, empties at 40, meaning both are capable of cracking open your skull. But empties are a third sturdier. Why the difference? The beer inside a bottle is carbonated, which means it exerts pressure on the glass, making it more likely to shatter when hitting something. Its propensity to shatter makes it less sturdy — and thus a poorer weapon — than an empty one. As for the ubiquitous half-full bottle, if you hold it like a club, Bolliger says, "it tends to become an empty bottle very rapidly." Now that we have scientific proof of the skull-crushing potential of glass beer bottles, should breweries switch to softer materials, like aluminum or plastic? Bolliger says he hopes not. "Beer," he says, "just tastes better out of glass."

On Obama's Waterloo

Obama's Waterloo will be his coddling of Wall Street and its snake oil salesmen... I am convinced. Matt Taibbi (the man who coined the now famous 'vampire squid' reference to Goldman Sachs) makes the case here in Rolling Stone.

The point is that an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes has absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place. "You can't expect these people to do anything other than protect Wall Street," says Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida. That thinking was clear from Obama's first address to Congress, when he stressed the importance of getting Americans to borrow like crazy again. "Credit is the lifeblood of the economy," he declared, pledging "the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money." A president elected on a platform of change was announcing, in so many words, that he planned to change nothing fundamental when it came to the economy. Rather than doing what FDR had done during the Great Depression and institute stringent new rules to curb financial abuses, Obama planned to institutionalize the policy, firmly established during the Bush years, of keeping a few megafirms rich at the expense of everyone else.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Linkage

The much hyped Rachel Maddow interview destroying a homophobe. One hopes that she puts Cheney, a Wall Street Banker and Greenspan through this process next...

American's now have an additional consumption factoid to tack onto our already bloated selves: Americans consume 3.6 zettabytes of data...

Meanwhile in Karnataka, India baby tossing may be banned...

A photo timeline showing the evolution of the hipster...

Top 10 China myths of the year 2009

American writer Jonathan Lethem writes a short tribute to his father...

Sign o' the times: 13-year-old girl commits suicide after classmates spread nude photos...

More Todd Fisher's kissing pictures here.

Depression's evolutionary roots.

Peeling back the onion...

Asif Ali Zardari, on why the people of Pakistan still mistrust the United States...

Many Americans still wonder, despite our sacrifices, if Pakistan is doing all it can to fight terrorism. Some resent what they believe is an absence of gratitude in Pakistan for American aid. But consider the history as seen by Pakistanis. Twice in recent history America abandoned its democratic values to support dictators and manipulate and exploit us. In the 1980s, the United States supported Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’s iron rule against the Pakistani people while using Pakistan as a surrogate in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decade turned our peaceful nation into a “Kalashnikov and heroin” society — a nation defined by guns and drugs. In its fight against the Soviets, the United States, as a matter of policy, supported the most radical elements within the mujahedeen, who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Sunitha Krishnan's fight against sex slavery on TED



Yet another powerful TED video...

Wednesday music


I'll be gone from KORB on Vimeo. (via)

Ideas

Britain has an idea... levy a one-time tax on banker bonuses...

Banks will be charged a 50 percent tax on 2009 bonuses of more than £25,000, or $40,800. It will be imposed on the pool of bonuses paid by a bank, rather than individual payments, and it will be paid by the bank — not by the recipient of the bonus. It will take effect immediately and will affect banks’ 2009 profits.
The powerful banking lobby in Washington will prevent our legislators from even thinking about such a thing... By the way, the Guardian says that when in America, if you wish to describe something as bad, you can just call it 'European'...

Toon



Click on image to enlarge. From here.

Readings

From the Nobel speech of German author Herta Müller, winner of the Literature prize for 2009. (via)

DO YOU HAVE A HANDKERCHIEF was the question my mother asked me every morning, standing by the gate to our house, before I went out onto the street. I didn't have a handkerchief. And because I didn't, I would go back inside and get one. I never had a handkerchief because I would always wait for her question. The handkerchief was proof that my mother was looking after me in the morning. For the rest of the day I was on my own. The question DO YOU HAVE A HANDKERCHIEF was an indirect display of affection. Anything more direct would have been embarrassing and not something the farmers practiced. Love disguised itself as a question. That was the only way it could be spoken: matter-of-factly, in the tone of a command, or the deft maneuvers used for work. The brusqueness of the voice even emphasized the tenderness. Every morning I went to the gate once without a handkerchief and a second time with a handkerchief. Only then would I go out onto the street, as if having the handkerchief meant having my mother there, too.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Linkage

Go fug yourself tells cosmo readers to worry about things more serious...

Is Manmohan Singh underappreciated? I think so.

What is an Andy Warhol? How a foundation controls the price of Warhols worldwide...

Ayesha Saldanha chronicles the plight of western women in Muslim lands. Works both ways, I guess...

The New York Science Times on circles and why life as we know it must be lived in the round.

An Indian Hindu-Muslim wedding dissected.

If one gets turned off by the Dawkins brand of visceral atheists, here is an alternative. Gentle female ones who coax/coach you through the process. (via)

This series of photographs documents the lives of the Gwich’in, whose millennia-old culture is threatened by climate change.

Wondering about the history of minarets (esp. after the Swiss f****d up that referendum). Read it here.

Comment

When Bush would go on regular vacations to Crawford, Texas in between irregular appearances at the White House, many said that while US forces in Iraq died, most Americans were really oblivious of the fact that we were fighting two wars on borrowed money simultaneously and that was why Bush and company could get away with what he had done. Recently, the national malaise regarding our international responsibilities was again in sharp focus when a couple of two-bit party crashers to the White House and domestic disturbances in the Tiger Woods household got more press than the fact that we are committing 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. I would never have thought to see this cartoon in a leading newspaper in the age of Obama, but it was printed in the Times just this weekend...


From here.

Quotable

Senator Harry Reid finally says what has been on my mind all along regarding Republican obstructionist tactics played out over passing comprehensive health care reform. Thank you!

“You think you’ve heard these same excuses before? You’re right. In this country, there were those who dug in their heels and said, ‘Slow down, it’s too early, let’s wait, things aren’t bad enough’ — about slavery. When women wanted to vote: ‘Slow down, there will be a better day to do that, the day isn’t quite right.’ And when this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today.”

POV

The cardinal archbishop of LA has an excellent point to make about the negative aspects of denying healthcare for illegal immigrants (esp. in the cases where the illegal immigrant is ready to pony up the costs but our Senate seems hellbent on not allowing them the privilege) in today's Times op-ed...

Most studies estimate that more than 10 million undocumented immigrants live in our country. Many have been here for decades. The majority of these immigrants live in “mixed families” — some members of the family were born here, while other relatives are here without documents. It is unrealistic to think that these millions of people with roots deep in their communities are somehow going to pack up and move back to their country of origin — whether that is Korea, the Philippines, Russia, England, France or Mexico.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Photo diary

Photos of a freak city here...



Above photo shows workers in the Sonapur labor camp (a collection of tenements housing more than 150,000 workers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis) outside Dubai who have not been paid in the last seven months... Ironically, Sonapur translates roughly from Hindi to 'Gold town'.

Tech watch



Ge Wang talks about the ideas behind the Stanford Mobile Phone Orchestra, a chamber music ensemble whose instruments are Apple iPhones attached to small speakers. More details here.


Meanwhile news from Google that slowing a user's search experience down even a fraction of a second results in fewer searches and less customer satisfaction. Yes! According to them, half a second delay caused a 20% drop in traffic. Man, are we getting impatient... (via)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Big Brother watch

This is truly shocking... (via)

From here: Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers. The evidence documenting this surveillance program comes in the form of an audio recording of Sprint's Manager of Electronic Surveillance, who described it during a panel discussion at a wiretapping and interception industry conference, held in Washington DC in October of 2009. 

In the name of art

rotating kitchen from Dutch Artist Zeger Reyers on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Anniversary thoughts...

On the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India the very same questions arise in the usual online forums. Of course, fundamental amongst them is this one: How much cheaper is the life of a human being in a so-called 'third world' when compared to the so-called industrialized world? A lot, I guess... judging from the response of a Dow spokeswoman below.

In 2001, the maker of napalm married the bane of Bhopal: Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $11.6 billion and promptly distanced itself from the disaster. If Union Carbide was at fault, that was too bad; it had just ceased to exist. In 2002, Dow set aside $2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide’s American asbestos production. By comparison, the total settlement for Bhopal was $470 million. The families of the dead got an average of $2,200; the wounded got $550; a Dow spokeswoman explained, that amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” As Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey observed in 2006, “In Bhopal, some of the world’s poorest people are being mistreated by one of the world’s richest corporations.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Question





I found this picture of Sarah Palin in a recent New Yorker magazine book review with one of the most apt titles that they came up with... It read "she represents the erasure of any distinction between the governing and the governed".

Hmmm… Makes one think - now is that a good thing or a bad thing - “erasure of any distinction between the governing and the governed”. Sarah Palin would doubtless resonate with a portion of those people with the mindset that revolves around the fact that even a two bit hockey mom who claims that she can protect our country from Russian missiles just because she can see Russia from her home (purportedly) and who shoots moose from airplanes as sport is eminently fit to be the president of this country. When one encounters individuals like Palin being touted as one of the 'contenders' for that office, then one desperately desires a definite difference between the people who are supposed to be governed (the likes of Palin and her followers) and the people who are supposed to do the governing (the likes of an Obama).
On the other hand, America is also supposed to be a glorious union (or an experiment?) of people who had explicitly decided to shun the outward trappings of power, pageant and pomp when it comes to governance and establish a level playing field between the governed and the governing. Reports of Presidents throwing the first pitch at baseball games and of Presidents being lampooned and roasted at White House Correspondents dinner are legion. America also is supposed to represent an ultimate democratization of people's ambitions where just about anyone can aspire to be the next millionaire provided they work at it and children are taught from an early stage that they can be anyone they want to be. This lends to the argument that there should not be any outward difference between the governing and the governed. I am still unsure.

Science watch

This report underscores the fact that human beings are born with a desire to help - it does not need to be taught - we have an altruistic gene...

... helping is a natural inclination, not something imposed by parents or culture. Infants will help with information, as well as in practical ways. From the age of 12 months they will point at objects that an adult pretends to have lost. Chimpanzees, by contrast, never point at things for each other, and when they point for people, it seems to be as a command to go fetch something rather than to share information. For parents who may think their children somehow skipped the cooperative phase, Dr. Tomasello offers the reassuring advice that children are often more cooperative outside the home, which is why parents may be surprised to hear from a teacher or coach how nice their child is.

Drudge retort

In order to get at the Republican spin to any of Obama's initiatives it is instructive to pay a visit to the Drudge Report website. Most of messages are crafted with an extreme right wing slant designed to stoke the egos of the rabid Palin/Beck/Limbaugh crowd. Every once in a while to amuse myself, I go off to Drudge's site and see what he has cooked up. Yesterday, I was sure that I would run into more amusement on his site after Obama's announcement that he was planning a troop increase of 30,000 soldiers (human beings offered as fodder to the Afghanistan war machine in a fight we cannot hope to win). The site does not fail. Only this time I decided to create a graphic that speaks to the actual...


This was the lead banner this morning:


This might be more like the truth:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sign o' the times...

The Israeli military creates a new unit to combat enemies on Facebook, Twitter and other social media applications. Enter the virtual warrior (or an online Predator drone).

The new unit, as well as an initiative by the Information and Diaspora Ministry to train people to represent Israel independently on the Internet and in other arenas, were presented Monday at the conference during a panel discussion on Israeli public relations abroad. Responding to criticism of Israel's ability to face hostile entities on the Web, Benayahu said the new program would be able to deal with the problem. He said that from each group drafted to the Army Spokesman's Office, between eight to 10 young people who are experts in Web 2.0 - YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - to be identified before induction, would be assigned to the new department. The new recruits would be put to work in the new media unit after undergoing a general Army Spokesman's Unit training course.

Monday, November 30, 2009

POV

Blogger Penelope Trunk on why she tweeted about her recent miscarriage...  The tweet that caused some brouhaha went as follows: "I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a fucked-up three-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin."

Some people say that a miscarriage is too private to discuss at work. But why? It's an important part of a woman's experience. It is not dirty or evil or shameful. A large number of women will have miscarriages in their lifetime. It's part of being a woman. And most men at the office have lived through the miscarriage of a significant other. It's an experience that happens over weeks, not hours. And it happens at work. We talk about death at work. We talk about violence at work. We talk about emotional problems such as breakups and mishaps and major disappointments. Why can't we talk about miscarriage?

From the archives...

Chapter 24 titled 'Treblinka' from the book: A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army by Vasily GrossmanToday, the trial of another German Nazi monster (probably the last such trial) gets underway in Munich...

Inside the women's barracks was a hairdressers. Naked women's hair was cut with clippers. Wigs were removed from the heads of old women. A terrible psychological phenomenon: according to the hairdressers, for the women, this death haircut was the most convincing proof of being taken to the banya. Girls felt their hair with their hands and sometimes asked: 'Could you cut it again here? It is not even.' Women usually relaxed after their hair was cut, and almost all emerged from the barracks with a piece of soap and a folded towel. Some young women cried, mourning their beautiful long plaits. What were the haircuts for? In order to deceive them? No. Germany needed this hair. The hair was a raw material. I've asked many people, what did Germans do with these heaps of hair cut from the heads of the living dead? All the witnesses told me that the huge heaps of black, blonde hair, curls and plaits were disinfected, pressed into sacks and sent to Germany. All the witnesses confirmed that the hair was sent in the sacks to Germany. How was it used? No one could answer this question. Only Kon stated in his written evidence that the hair was used by the navy for stuffing mattresses or making hawsers for submarines.

Consumerist watch

Aren't we ashamed yet of our freewheeling ways? Here are some spending numbers from the Black Friday madness that pervades the store fronts of Wal Marts and the Circuit City's all over the nation every Thanksgiving...

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, issued a gloomier report, estimating with its survey partner, BIGresearch, that shoppers spent $343.31 per person, versus $372.57 per person a year ago, a 7.9 percent decrease. Total spending reached $41.2 billion, versus an estimated $41.0 billion in 2008. But traffic increased to 195 million shoppers visiting stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year.

Notes

A British actor talks about domestic violence... (memories from his childhood)...
Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulance men, standing in our house, say, "She must have provoked him," or, "Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight."

Science watch


For science nerds who love history, the Royal Society has put online 60 of its most memorable scientific papers. (via)

Below: James Clerk Maxwell's paper on the electromagnetic theory... (pdf here)

On Muslims in Europe

NYRB highlights the issues behind Muslim integration here. The following passage (paradoxically) illustrates how Italy's agriculture, food, and its landscape are largely the work of Muslim immigrants:

Italy has lately received more than half a million immigrants a year from Africa and the Middle East, mostly to work in its farms, shops, and restaurants. The market price of certain kinds of Italian produce, so Italian farmers say, is in danger of falling below the cost of bringing it to market. Under conditions of globalization, Italy's real comparative advantage may lie elsewhere than in agriculture, in some high-tech economic model that is remunerative but not particularly "Italian."...Traditional ways of working the land may be viable only if there are immigrants there to work it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Readings

Paul Graham on some of the reasons why Google might have adopted the 'Don't be evil' mantra (the article is a little bit on the wonkish side, but if one persists then there are lessons for a larger world)...

Should Apple care what people like me think? What difference does it make if they alienate a small minority of their users? There are a couple reasons they should care. One is that these users are the people they want as employees. If your company seems evil, the best programmers won't work for you. That hurt Microsoft a lot starting in the 90s. Programmers started to feel sheepish about working there. It seemed like selling out.

A new order in Europe?

Swiss voters approve ban on construction of mosques (minarets on mosques actually, but the message is clear)...

 Swiss voters approved a proposal to outlaw the construction of mosque minarets, from where Muslims are called to prayer, the government said. The ban, sponsored by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, was approved by “a majority of the Swiss people,” the government said in a statement from the capital Bern today. It didn’t give a breakdown of the vote.

Chart porn




Across USA, food stamp usage soars. Full article here.

Sunday video

We are all quasi Keynesians now...right?

The WSJ profiles yet another Keynesian (Arthur Cecil Pigou) - looks like that is in vogue now (also a bit of populist writing from a newspaper who breathes and quacks like Ayn Rand should curry favor with its left leaning readers)...

Mr. Pigou pioneered the study of market failure—the branch of economics that explores why free enterprise sometimes. But while Mr. Pigou believed capitalism works tolerably most of the time, he also demonstrated how, on occasion, it malfunctions. His key insight was that actions in one part of the economy can have unintended consequences in others. Thus, for example, a blow-up in a relatively obscure part of the credit markets—the subprime mortgage industry—can undermine the entire banking system, which, in turn, can drag the entire economy into a recession, as banks refuse to lend.

Consider...

the costs in Afghanistan... (via)

The White House is suggesting the price tag (is) ...$1 million per new soldier per year. ...That means that a surge of 40,000 troops will cost approximately $40 Billion on top of the $65 billion/year the US is currently spending on its military deployments. The health care bill that is being considered by the Congress now costs approximately $85 billion/year -- just to set some context. For more context, Afghanistan's nominal GDP was $11.7 billion last year. That's right. . .$11.7 billion -- and we are considering spending ten times that on this military engagement.

Readings

This bit in the Sunday Times explains the clear and present danger of economic overcapacity in China and the lessons they could learn from previous missteps of the kind that have happened to growing Western economies in the 1900s...

 China uses American spending power to enlarge its private sector, while America uses Chinese lending power to expand its public sector. Yet this arrangement may unravel in a dangerous way, and if it does, the most likely culprit will be Chinese economic overcapacity. China has had a 30-year run of stellar economic growth. But it’s only human nature for such expansion to breed too much optimism, overextending an entire economy. Americans have found this out the hard way in their own financial crisis. History has shown that no major economy has grown into maturity without bubbles, crises and possibly even civil strife or civil wars along the way. Is China exempt from this broader pattern?

Three trees