Friday, May 29, 2009

For some reason I thought about this...

Bing it on

Gawker has a field day on Microsoft's latest attempt at playing catch up with Google... Judging from Microsoft's past showing, this new venture promises to be as pathetic... I guess if this fails they can name their next search offering Crosby... 

On Thursday Microsoft unveiled BING, its new search engine thingie. They're hoping that before long you'll forget how to "Google it" and will instead "Bing it." Unfortunately we think the name reminds us mostly of Sopranos strippers and the guy who knocked up Elizabeth Hurley.
... Meanwhile, some tech people were already noting that Bing is also an unfortunate acronym: "But It's Not Google."


ABRACADABRA by Jamrach Holobom

  By Abracadabra we signify
      An infinite number of things.
  'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why?
  And Whence? and Whither?--a word whereby
      The Truth (with the comfort it brings)
  Is open to all who grope in night,
  Crying for Wisdom's holy light.

  Whether the word is a verb or a noun
      Is knowledge beyond my reach.
  I only know that 'tis handed down.
          From sage to sage,
          From age to age--
      An immortal part of speech!

  Of an ancient man the tale is told
  That he lived to be ten centuries old,
      In a cave on a mountain side.
      (True, he finally died.)
  The fame of his wisdom filled the land,
  For his head was bald, and you'll understand
      His beard was long and white
      And his eyes uncommonly bright.

  Philosophers gathered from far and near
  To sit at his feet and hear and hear,
          Though he never was heard
          To utter a word
      But "Abracadabra, abracadab,
          Abracada, abracad,
      Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!"
          'Twas all he had,
  'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each
  Made copious notes of the mystical speech,
          Which they published next--
          A trickle of text
  In the meadow of commentary.
      Mighty big books were these,
      In a number, as leaves of trees;
  In learning, remarkably--very!

          He's dead,
          As I said,
  And the books of the sages have perished,
  But his wisdom is sacredly cherished.
  In Abracadabra it solemnly rings,
  Like an ancient bell that forever swings.
          O, I love to hear
          That word make clear
  Humanity's General Sense of Things.

Honore Sharrer (1920 - 2009), 'Resurrection of the Waitress', 1984, Oil on canvas, 22" x 22"

A word list

A list of the winning Bee words from 1953... This made me insecure... Link to Webster in case you need it... Kavya Shivashankar won it this year with the first word below...

laodicean, guerdon, serrefine, ursprache, appoggiatura, autochthonous, pococurante, prospicience, succedaneum, demarche, logorrhea, chiaroscurist,euonym, vivisepulture, xanthosis, antediluvian, kamikaze, lyceum, antipyretic, fibranne, spoliator, elegiacal, staphylococci, odontalgia, milieu, luge, purim, psoriasis, sarcophagus, elucubrate, maculature, deification, cambist, narcolepsy, incisor, hydrophyte, vouchsafe, macerate, shalloon, croissant, interlocutory, abalone, chihuahua, ratoon, eczema, sycophant, equipage, esquamulose, esquamulose, smaragdine, eudaemonic, catamaran, syllepsis, schappe, schappe, condominium, crustaceology, transept

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Prison diary

Roxana Saberi on her imprisonment in Iran for 100 days at the Evin prison... 

I was under severe psychological and mental pressure, although I was not physically tortured. The first few days, I was interrogated for several hours, from morning until evening, blindfolded, facing a wall, by up to four men, and threatened, as I said, that I would be put in prison for 10 to 20 years or more or even face execution. And I was in solitary confinement for several days. The really difficult thing was they didn't let me tell anyone where I was.

... Well, when I was in solitary confinement was probably the most difficult time for me. And I prayed a lot — I prayed more than I ever have in my whole life. At first, I used to worry a lot about my parents not knowing where I was. At first, I just felt very afraid. But then I realized that I need to turn this challenge into an opportunity, and maybe this challenge can make me stronger, mentally and spiritually. And when I made the false confession, after that, I realized that I had made a mistake and I needed to try to right my wrongs, even if it meant that I would suffer. As long as I did the right thing, in the long run, in the end, I would be victorious.

This was one of the lessons I learned there. And also, I learned that maybe other people can hurt my body, maybe they could imprison me, but I did not need to fear those who hurt my body, because they could not hurt my soul, unless I let them. So I think these experiences, they taught me a lot and I learned a lot from the other political prisoners there, too — the other women — because after several weeks, I was put into a cell with them. Many of those women were there because they are standing up for human rights or the freedom of belief or expression.

Many of them are still there today; they don't enjoy the kind of international support that I did. And they're not willing to give in to pressures to make false confessions or to sign off to commitments not to take part in their activities once they're released; they would rather stay in prison and stand up for those principles that they believe in.


From here.

Some recent photos

While walking along the intersection of Broadway and Canal Streets in NYC.

How they work...

How Wikipedia makes the cut...

... One of the remarkable achievements of Wikipedia is to show that on the internet Gresham’s Law can work in reverse: Wikipedia has turned into a relatively reliable source of information on the widest possible range of subjects because, on the whole, the good drives out the bad. When someone sabotages or messes with an otherwise sound entry, there are plenty of people out there who see it as their job to undo the damage, often within seconds of its happening. It turns out that the people who believe in truth and objectivity are at least as numerous as all the crazies, pranksters and time-wasters, and they are often considerably more tenacious, ruthless and monomaniacal. On Wikipedia, it’s the good guys who will hunt you down.
Jimmy Wales thinks this tells us something surprising and reassuring about human nature. ‘Generally we find most people out there on the internet are good,’ he says. ‘It’s one of the wonderful humanitarian discoveries in Wikipedia that most people only want to help us and build this free, non-profit, charitable resource.’ But in truth it’s a bit more complicated than that. Wikipedia works because it is highly distinctive in the way it pulls knowledge together from many different sources. Most internet-based techniques for gathering information are aggregative, in that they try to pool as much information as possible, allowing all the prejudices and random bits of disinformation that attach to individual opinions to cancel each other out. This is true of the many different kinds of polling that take place on the internet, which use the wisdom of crowds to produce answers far more accurate than any individual can give. It’s also pretty much what happens at Google, where everybody else’s searches are monitored to help filter the information that you might find useful. Aggregative methods minimise personal responsibility for what is produced and place all the emphasis on collective outcomes – after all, who knows, or cares, what their own Google searches are adding to the sum of knowledge (or subtracting from it)? However, Wikipedia’s approach to knowledge gathering is not aggregative but cumulative. It builds up information bit by bit, edit by edit, and it never stops. It also leaves a virtual paper trail for every entry, so that it is possible to trace the various steps by which an article has reached its current form.

A coup for Sri Lanka...

Great news. I was happy to read this... The Tigers needed to be crushed and the Sri Lankan government has done the right thing... Remember, this was the terrorist group that assassinated Rajiv Gandhi brutally 19 years ago.

Sri Lanka last night scored a major propaganda coup when the UN human rights council praised its victory over the Tamil Tigers and refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final chapter of a bloody 25-year conflict. In a shock move, which dismayed western nations critical of Sri Lanka's approach, the island's diplomats succeeded in lobbying enough of its south Asian allies to pass a resolution describing the conflict as a "domestic matter that doesn't warrant outside interference". The Geneva council session, called because of alarm over the high number of civilian casualties as well as the island's treatment of displaced Tamil civilians, also condemned the Tamil Tigers for using ordinary people as human shields. In another controversial development, it supported the Sri Lankan government's decision to provide aid groups only with "access as may be appropriate" to refugee camps.

Old ghosts

There seems to be explicit reasons why Obama backtracked  and planned not to release the additional torture photos from Abu Ghraib... 

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee. Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

.. Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] fucking a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his dick in the little kid’s ass…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.” The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US. Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

Healthcare readings...

Excerpts from Atul Gawande's fantastic article on health care costs, unscrupulous doctors who game the system and the need to look at health care holistically.

Health-care costs ultimately arise from the accumulation of individual decisions doctors make about which services and treatments to write an order for. The most expensive piece of medical equipment, as the saying goes, is a doctor’s pen. And, as a rule, hospital executives don’t own the pen caps. Doctors do.
If doctors wield the pen, why do they do it so differently from one place to another? 
... you come to realize that we are witnessing a battle for the soul of American medicine. Somewhere in the United States at this moment, a patient with chest pain, or a tumor, or a cough is seeing a doctor. And the damning question we have to ask is whether the doctor is set up to meet the needs of the patient, first and foremost, or to maximize revenue. There is no insurance system that will make the two aims match perfectly. But having a system that does so much to misalign them has proved disastrous. As economists have often pointed out, we pay doctors for quantity, not quality. As they point out less often, we also pay them as individuals, rather than as members of a team working together for their patients. Both practices have made for serious problems.
Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.
This last point is vital. Activists and policymakers spend an inordinate amount of time arguing about whether the solution to high medical costs is to have government or private insurance companies write the checks. Here’s how this whole debate goes. Advocates of a public option say government financing would save the most money by having leaner administrative costs and forcing doctors and hospitals to take lower payments than they get from private insurance. Opponents say doctors would skimp, quit, or game the system, and make us wait in line for our care; they maintain that private insurers are better at policing doctors. No, the skeptics say: all insurance companies do is reject applicants who need health care and stall on paying their bills. Then we have the economists who say that the people who should pay the doctors are the ones who use them. Have consumers pay with their own dollars, make sure that they have some “skin in the game,” and then they’ll get the care they deserve. These arguments miss the main issue. When it comes to making care better and cheaper, changing who pays the doctor will make no more difference than changing who pays the electrician. The lesson of the high-quality, low-cost communities is that someone has to be accountable for the totality of care. Otherwise, you get a system that has no brakes.

Annals of political correctness

Euphemisms abound in the hope that putting new names on old problems will magically make them more palatable...

Decades ago, someone decided that people without a dime in their pocket wouldn’t feel so bad about being poor if they were described as “disadvantaged.” And poverty-stricken countries, we’ve been led to believe, do better when they are called “developing nations.” Lost your job? The company didn’t fire you; it laid you off. The economy isn’t shrinking; it’s experiencing “negative growth.” When American soldiers accidentally kill their buddies, it is called “friendly fire.” Horses that go lame are “euthanized.” Prisons morphed long ago into “correctional facilities.” Pouring water over a terror suspect to make him fear he will drown is called “waterboarding”; it sounds like something they might do off the Malibu coast. Also, don’t call it torture. It is an “enhanced interrogation technique.” The list could go on. Nor is the euphemizing confined to this city or this country. One of my favorites was a phrase used by Emperor Hirohito of Japan to describe his country’s brutal occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. The emperor referred to it 25 years ago as “an unfortunate past.” Quite. 
In much the same way, the efforts under way now to rename swine flu and the others amount to little more than trying to put lipstick on a pig.

Republican Party death watch

David Brooks on the crisis facing the Republican Party...

The party sometimes seems cut off from the concrete relationships of neighborhood life. Republicans are so much the party of individualism and freedom these days that they are no longer the party of community and order. This puts them out of touch with the young, who are exceptionally community-oriented. It gives them nothing to say to the lower middle class, who fear that capitalism has gone haywire. It gives them little to say to the upper middle class, who are interested in the environment and other common concerns. The Republicans talk more about the market than about society, more about income than quality of life. They celebrate capitalism, which is a means, and are inarticulate about the good life, which is the end. They take things like tax cuts, which are tactics that are good in some circumstances, and elevate them to holy principle, to be pursued in all circumstances. The emphasis on freedom and individual choice may work in the sparsely populated parts of the country. People there naturally want to do whatever they want on their own land. But it doesn’t work in the densely populated parts of the country: the cities and suburbs where Republicans are getting slaughtered. People in these areas understand that their lives are profoundly influenced by other people’s individual choices. People there are used to worrying about the health of the communal order.
... If the Republicans are going to rebound, they will have to re-establish themselves as the party of civic order. First, they will have to stylistically decontaminate their brand. That means they will have to find a leader who is calm, prudent, reassuring and reasonable. Then they will have to explain that there are two theories of civic order. There is the liberal theory, in which teams of experts draw up plans to engineer order wherever problems arise. And there is the more conservative vision in which government sets certain rules, but mostly empowers the complex web of institutions in which the market is embedded.

Sign o' the times..

Hugging - the new handshake...

There is the basic friend hug, probably the most popular, and the bear hug, of course. But now there is also the bear claw, when a boy embraces a girl awkwardly with his elbows poking out. There is the hug that starts with a high-five, then moves into a fist bump, followed by a slap on the back and an embrace. There’s the shake and lean; the hug from behind; and, the newest addition, the triple — any combination of three girls and boys hugging at once.
.. Girls embracing girls, girls embracing boys, boys embracing each other — the hug has become the favorite social greeting when teenagers meet or part these days. Teachers joke about “one hour” and “six hour” hugs, saying that students hug one another all day as if they were separated for the entire summer.
.. As much as hugging is a physical gesture, it has migrated online as well. Facebook applications allowing friends to send hugs have tens of thousands of fans.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Painting Post

'Leda, After the Swan', Oil on canvas, 52" (width) X 68" (height), 2009

Debunking myths

As the Obama administration begins work towards universal health care, there is an underground movement that is slowly taking root purporting the fallacy that patients who live in countries with universal health care are less satisfied because of government based inefficiencies and mandates. The denialism blog in a series that started last week seems to show that the above is very much untrue. 

From the article, a nutshell recap of healthcare experiences in the US as opposed to universal healthcare systems in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

  • the US is a non-universal patchwork of public and private spending, drugs and procedures may be subsidized by insurance
  • the UK is completely single-payer with private care as an option, all drugs and procedures are paid for
  • Canada is single-payer with provinces deciding how health care is spent and strict limits on private care, prescription drugs are heavily subsidized,
  • Australia has a public baseline access to physicians with subsidization of private insurance and option of private care, prescription drugs are heavily subsidized,
  • New Zealand has universal public health care, primary care and prescription drugs are subsidized with some cost sharing, and private care is an option
  • the Netherlands has a system of obligatory private health insurance (like a nationwide Massachusetts system), premiums have a flat rate for all citizens, with subsidies for poorer people who can't afford insurance premiums. Individuals pay for about half, and employers pay for about half, with government making up the difference.
  • Germany has a system of mandatory insurance with purchase of access to one of several hundred "sickness funds" paid for by employers, there is a private option for those who afford it, and those who cannot or are unemployed are subsidized by government.
Each of these systems is very complex, most are a mixture of public and private hospitals, and public and private insurance. Universal health insurance, it should be clear does not mean we have to have a single-payer system like Canada, or like Britain as the anti-reform ads would suggest.

iPhone art

The New Yorker decided that it needed to show that they were in lock-step with all things digital - the latest issue's cover has art drawn with an iPhone app

From here: Mr. Colombo bought his iPhone in February, and the $4.99 Brushes application soon after, and said the portability and accessibility of the medium appealed to him. He began the scene by beginning with the buildings’ structure, then layering on the taxis, neon lights, hot-dog stand and people. It “made it easy for me to sketch without having to carry all my pens and brushes and notepads with me, and I like the fact that I am drawing with a set of tools that anybody can have easily in their pocket,” he said. There is one other advantage of the phone, too: no one notices he is drawing. Mr. Colombo said he stood on 42nd Street for about an hour with no interruptions.

Satire break

An art gallery press release that references the go go times of hedge fund managers buying up meaningless Jeff Koons to the current art market pessimism that hangs over Chelsea like a dark ominous cloud...

Art-Pocalypto 2012
April 10 - May 23, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, April 10, 6-8pm

SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery is pleased to present “Art-Pocalypto 2012,” organized by guest curators Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida. This exhibition will be on view from April 10 – May 23, 2012. Since the gallery is one of the only outlets for contemporary art related products remaining in New York’s fabled Chelsea art district, we will be exhibiting artworks by whoever we want.
As everyone knows by now, artists have not been able to produce any new art since the crash of 2009 due to shortages of art supplies as well as basic necessities. Dalton and Powhida will therefore be exhibiting 8" × 10" printouts of our very large stable of artists' pre-crash greatest hits which will be laminated on-demand. Make our day and ask if they are archival, that word helps us remember what used to pass for problems back in the day.
This exhibition is organized around the theme of, fuck everyone, we are still here! Conceptual consistency - can you eat that? Can you shit in it and flush it down and make it go away? Can it keep the rain off you when you are sleeping? We didn't think so! So come on over and see how thin everyone's gotten!
Prints will be on sale for the low price of $500,000*. If we are lucky and supplies are available, we hope to be able to print in color. However, if we run out of fuel for the generator, the co-curators will make themselves available on selected Saturday hours to copy images by hand. Since child labor was decriminalized last year, we might even have the kids help out! You'd be surprised what they'll do for a cracker. Actually, by now you probably wouldn't.
And save the date! SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWilden - RosenGosian Gallery will be exhibiting at ArtBaselMiamiDocumentaSiteSantaFeWhitneyBiennale - VeneziaNadaPulseScope this December. Don't believe the Mayan hype, civilization will go on - it better, we just paid our booth deposit!

Contact: SchroRoWinkleFeuerBooneWildenRosenGosian Gallery
Phone 212.630.0722

*This is $20 in Spring 2009 dollars.

The Virgin Mother by Damien Hirst inside the Lever House, 390 Park Avenue (E54th St), in midtown Manhattan. Image from here.


A story from One Story.
"Eraser" by Ben Stroud
I lift up the lid of the livewell and look inside. A couple fish—bass, largemouth—sit in place, not really swimming.
"What's up, fish?" I say.
The fish open their mouths and close them, which is about all they do. You can't tell by looking at them, but they're poisoned—like, if you eat too many, you go blind, or crazy, or you become sterile or someshit. They've got signs at the pier and boat ramp, no more than two fish a week. It's their revenge, I guess, even though it's really the big power plant that sits on the side of the lake that does it.
"Fish don't need hassling," my stepfather says to no one, meaning me.
I close the lid.
Usually, whenever my stepfather wants to tell me something, he'll make some general comment or filter what he's got to say through my mom instead of just talk to me. Not that I'm complaining.
I go sit behind the steering wheel and look at the screen mounted there. It shows how deep the lake is below the boat, and the size of any fish passing below. I wonder if it would show a dead body, if there's a picture programmed in it for that. See, son, a dad'll say, tapping on the screen, that's a child. We only need the small net.

On Sotomayor

Get ready for a nasty confirmation process. Happy for what hopefully will be our first Hispanic Supreme Court judge. Of course, undercover campaigns to short circuit her nomination was well underway much before the announcement... Best of luck to her.

Art by Alan Cedeno.

Image from here via Bookslut.

Duly noted

Health care reform is high on Obama's priority list. Here in a comment in the Times, a reader lays bare the 'want my cake and eat it too' quandary facing the conservatives... 
The column by Paul Krugman that sparked the comment here.

Conservatives consider government too incompetent to run anything, and would outsource all public administration to the private sector given the chance. But these same conservatives declare government-sponsored health insurance to pose unfair competition with private insurers. If such a government enterprise would be, by its nature, inefficient and incompetently administered, how could it be unfair competition and a threat to private enterprise? Which is it? Is government an inefficient monolith, or a more effective conduit of health care for the American people? Conservatives cannot have it both ways.

As the dollar falls...

Last week saw quite a drop in the dollar's value. Is this a harbinger on things to come? Two op-eds in the Times from last week come immediately to mind...

From here: Now, imagine a world in which China could borrow and lend internationally in its own currency. The renminbi, rather than the dollar, could eventually become a means of payment in trade and a unit of account in pricing imports and exports, as well as a store of value for wealth by international investors. Americans would pay the price. We would have to shell out more for imported goods, and interest rates on both private and public debt would rise. The higher private cost of borrowing could lead to weaker consumption and investment, and slower growth. This decline of the dollar might take more than a decade, but it could happen even sooner if we do not get our financial house in order. The United States must rein in spending and borrowing, and pursue growth that is not based on asset and credit bubbles. For the last two decades America has been spending more than its income, increasing its foreign liabilities and amassing debts that have become unsustainable. A system where the dollar was the major global currency allowed us to prolong reckless borrowing. Now that the dollar’s position is no longer so secure, we need to shift our priorities. This will entail investing in our crumbling infrastructure, alternative and renewable resources and productive human capital — rather than in unnecessary housing and toxic financial innovation. This will be the only way to slow down the decline of the dollar, and sustain our influence in global affairs.

From here: No one knows for sure when the tide started to turn, or the exact moment when American gold started its slow but seemingly irreversible loss of luster. But now, many shops in China no longer accept dollar-based credit cards issued by foreign banks (the customer pays in dollars, but the shopkeeper is paid in renminbi) and foreigners cannot convert American dollars into renminbi beyond a given quota. In the past, people held dollars for no immediate purpose. Today, they are more likely to keep them only if they need them to send their children abroad for school, travel or to do business in another country. Over all, the government is becoming more worried about the safety of its investments in the United States, which are largely in Treasury bonds and quasi-sovereign securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Beijing recently called for a greater role in international trade for the special drawing rights currency of the International Monetary Fund. But China is also fully aware that the United States can veto an I.M.F. decision. China’s call was more meant to sound an alarm to the United States.
Image from here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Painting Post

'The Vrindavan Wait', Oil on canvas, 52" (width) X 68" (height), 2009

Under the hood

A great story on how Google makes its money...

Why does Google give away products like its browser, its apps, and the Android operating system for mobile phones? Anything that increases Internet use ultimately enriches Google, Varian [Google's chief economist] says. And since using the Web without using Google is like dining at In-N-Out without ordering a hamburger, more eyeballs on the Web lead inexorably to more ad sales for Google.
... The across-the-board emphasis on engineering, mathematical formulas, and data-mining has made Google a new kind of company. But to fully understand why, you have to go back and look under AdWords' hood.
Most people think of the Google ad auction as a straightforward affair. In fact, there's a key component that few users know about and even sophisticated advertisers don't fully understand. The bids themselves are only a part of what ultimately determines the auction winners. The other major determinant is something called the quality score. This metric strives to ensure that the ads Google shows on its results page are true, high-caliber matches for what users are querying. If they aren't, the whole system suffers and Google makes less money.
Google determines quality scores by calculating multiple factors, including the relevance of the ad to the specific keyword or keywords, the quality of the landing page the ad is linked to, and, above all, the percentage of times users actually click on a given ad when it appears on a results page. (Other factors, Google won't even discuss.) There's also a penalty invoked when the ad quality is too low—in such cases, the company slaps a minimum bid on the advertiser. Google explains that this practice—reviled by many companies affected by it—protects users from being exposed to irrelevant or annoying ads that would sour people on sponsored links in general. Several lawsuits have been filed by would-be advertisers who claim that they are victims of an arbitrary process by a quasi monopoly.
You can argue about fairness, but arbitrary it ain't. To figure out the quality score, Google needs to estimate in advance how many users will click on an ad. That's very tricky, especially since we're talking about billions of auctions. But since the ad model depends on predicting clickthroughs as perfectly as possible, the company must quantify and analyze every twist and turn of the data. Susan Wojcicki, who oversees Google's advertising, refers to it as "the physics of clicks."


An interview with Leonard Mlodinow who teaches randomness and probability at California Institute of Technology... 

Assuming one is correct about the proper way to “live right” — and I’m not convinced that a straight vegetarian diet is the healthiest — it is possible to decrease the odds of bad outcomes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t occur. Anything that is possible eventually will occur, which means that some healthy-living people will get cancer, and some chain smokers won’t. I once read a story about a church group that was supposed to meet at a certain time. Ten minutes after the appointed time, due to a gas leak, the church blew up. If they had not showed up late, all 10 would have been killed. Some see that as evidence that God was watching over them. Others might conclude that you should always show up to church late. All I learn from that is that it is a big country, and if you ask around enough, you’ll hear some pretty improbable stories.
Another example, which I analyze in “The Drunkard’s Walk,” is the time Roger Maris, a very good but not great player, broke Babe Ruth’s beloved record, hitting 61 home runs in 1961. Maris had never came close to that output before, nor did he after. What happened? We all know that players will hit a few more home runs than usual in some years, and a few less in others. But the mathematics of chance also predicts that some years they’ll hit a lot more, and some years a lot less. Those large fluctuations are rare, and wouldn’t be record-breaking for most players, in any case. But the historical statistics of baseball show that there were enough players with excellent, but sub-Ruthian, ability that over the years that it was probable that, by chance alone, one of them would have a single standout year in which they tie or break Ruth’s record. In fact, every stand-out record in any sport that has ever been analyzed has always been found to be consistent with the patterns produced by random fluctuations. Performance over time comes mainly from talent and practice. But achievements that stand out from an athlete’s usual performance — hot streaks or record years — happen with patterns that match the patterns of chance. Just wait long enough, and strange things will happen.

... I find that predicting the course of our lives is like predicting the weather. You might be able to predict your future in the short term, but the longer you look ahead, the less likely you are to be correct. In my own life, many things that seemed to be very bad at first actually had good consequences. For example, just as I had begun making a living writing in Hollywood many years ago, the Writer’s Guild called a strike. I thought it was awful for my fledgling career, not to mention financially ruinous. But as it turned out, the strike gave busy producers a chance to catch up on their reading, and the day the strike ended I got a call from the show runner at “Star Trek: the Next Generation,” who said he read a “McGyver” script of mine he had found lying around, loved it, and wanted to hire me on the show’s writing staff. It was a plum job and a boost to my career, and it would have never happened if not for the strike. So I try to relax, and work on making the best of whatever develops, rather than worrying about how awful it is.

Photos: In the garden

Annals of idiocy

On Aung San Suu Kyi's idiot admirer who swam to her home making an already volatile situation worse...

On the southern shore of Inya Lake, in the middle of Rangoon, there is a large white colonial house in a state of genteel decay. At dusk, the view from across the lake dissolves in a humid mist and the house seems enshrouded in an air of beautiful sadness. The house and its melancholy atmosphere belong to Aung San Suu Kyi, who lives there as a prisoner: the Burmese regime has kept her under house arrest in near-total isolation, surrounded by security police, for thirteen of the past nineteen years. She sees no one except the two relatives who live with her, her doctor, and—every year or two—visiting dignitaries. In September 2007, when monks and other Burmese rose up in peaceful demonstrations for democracy, a handful of monks wishing to pay their respects to the woman all Burmese call the Lady were able to make it as far as her front gate, where Suu Kyi met them with tears in her eyes. Otherwise, year after year she is entirely alone, reading and meditating, her health failing, her slender body wasting away. And yet she remains the single greatest threat to the continued rule of the generals.
A few nights ago, a fifty-three-year-old American named John William Yettaw—a Mormon father of seven and a diabetic, from Falcon, Missouri—showed up at the Lady’s house. He had swum the mile-plus from the other end of Inya Lake, with plastic bottles as buoys, breached the supposedly tight security, and arrived at her residence hungry and exhausted. Suu Kyi tried to send him away, because his presence was a violation of her house arrest, but apparently she took pity on him after he begged to be allowed to stay until he was strong enough to swim away again. Her visitor left the next day, or the day after, depending on whether the government’s or the opposition’s version of this strange encounter is correct. He was picked up by the police in the middle of Inya Lake. And now Suu Kyi has been locked away in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison. The authorities have announced that they will try her for all kinds of security violations. Her current six-year house arrest, which was due to end later this month, will probably be renewed. And John William Yettaw will have given the nasty Burmese authorities exactly the pretext they needed to keep Suu Kyi cut off from the world as they prepare for next year’s sham elections.

Sunday music

via Three Quarks...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Defining America

Schotts has a 'define America' post going for Memorial Day and invites comments. In between the claptrap, we find some interesting ones... 

"America was a natural utopia that belonged to a group of natives. “We The People” felt it was too valuable to continue to be “their land.” In order to further develop this land we permitted “slaves” to enjoy it using their sweat to help it grow. Over the years immigrants sought to take advantage of its promise. We became rich, powerful, warlike and arrogant. We created bitter divisions between races, religions, and classes — in fact, anything where disagreement is possible we came down on all four sides. America was, in reality, a dream called “Humpty Dumpty” yet if people ever could understand (with empathy) what it could be — we could put it together again." — E V (Gene) Keith
We are a country defined by the two traits along the same spectrum - hope and amnesia. We are a country whose institutions have thrived despite the traumas of slavery, civil war, the genocide of Native peoples, world wars, the Cold War, and social revolution. By allowing ourselves to forget many of the ghosts of these events, we have remained strangely optimistic about a future we have the power to control yet with little power to understand. Our greatest threat as a nation may be history’s habit of repeating. — T. Connelly
America is Le détour grand - an orange, blinking diversion on the trip from human misery to human perfection. We know we’ll get there, the signs tell us so, but the potholes nevertheless make us doubt as we press the accelerator, uncertain but exhilarated! - Jesse Chandler

Sexting - what one needs to know..

The parents guide to sexting... (via Andrew Sullivan)...

  • IMEZRU - I Am Easy, Are You?
  • FMLTWIA - Fuck Me Like The Whore I Am
  • IWSN - I Want Sex Now
  • NIFOC - Nude In Front Of The Computer
  • PAW - Parents Are Watching
Andy Warhol (1928 - 1987), 'The Scream (After Edvard Munch)', synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen inks on canvas, 51" X 38", 1984


Matthew Crawford, a Ph.D in political philosophy on the joys of working with one's hands and on his passion - motorcycles.. Another related essay here.

A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to “keep things on track.” I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work. The trades suffer from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience. I have a small business as a motorcycle mechanic in Richmond, Va., which I started in 2002. I work on Japanese and European motorcycles, mostly older bikes with some “vintage” cachet that makes people willing to spend money on them. I have found the satisfactions of the work to be very much bound up with the intellectual challenges it presents. And yet my decision to go into this line of work is a choice that seems to perplex many people.
... Put differently, mechanical work has required me to cultivate different intellectual habits. Further, habits of mind have an ethical dimension that we don’t often think about. Good diagnosis requires attentiveness to the machine, almost a conversation with it, rather than assertiveness, as in the position papers produced on K Street. Cognitive psychologists speak of “metacognition,” which is the activity of stepping back and thinking about your own thinking. It is what you do when you stop for a moment in your pursuit of a solution, and wonder whether your understanding of the problem is adequate. The slap of worn-out pistons hitting their cylinders can sound a lot like loose valve tappets, so to be a good mechanic you have to be constantly open to the possibility that you may be mistaken. This is a virtue that is at once cognitive and moral. It seems to develop because the mechanic, if he is the sort who goes on to become good at it, internalizes the healthy functioning of the motorcycle as an object of passionate concern. How else can you explain the elation he gets when he identifies the root cause of some problem? This active concern for the motorcycle is reinforced by the social aspects of the job. As is the case with many independent mechanics, my business is based entirely on word of mouth. I sometimes barter services with machinists and metal fabricators. This has a very different feel than transactions with money; it situates me in a community. The result is that I really don’t want to mess up anybody’s motorcycle or charge more than a fair price. You often hear people complain about mechanics and other tradespeople whom they take to be dishonest or incompetent. I am sure this is sometimes justified. But it is also true that the mechanic deals with a large element of chance.


Maine last week became the fifth state in the United States to legalize gay marriage. For gay individuals who have changed genders before or after they got married to a person of the same sex (yes, strange as it may sound, these things happen), the gender law is still a work in progress as this quote from a lawyer for a transgendered plaintiff shows...

“Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Tex., is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Tex., and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”


Photos of the Indian elections on Big Picture here. The photo above depicts voters showing their ink-marked fingers (proof of voting) after casting their ballots at a polling station at Pargi village near Hyderabad, India on April 16, 2009.

Requiem for Shanno Khan

Last month, 11-year-old Shanno Khan died in Delhi, India after falling into a coma following an episode where her school teacher made her stand outside in the hot Indian summer sun with bricks on her shoulders after she had failed to recite the alphabets properly. 

Here, an onlooker's reflections on the 'seven bricks' carried by poor children in India.

Since I read about you this morning, I see your eyes everywhere, even when I look at my own two little boys. It feels like I know you. Perhaps I only know the fear that I see in your eyes. But I do know the bricks. I definitely know the seven bricks that were placed on your back while you crouched in the murga position for those two hours under that burning sun. In fact, I see those bricks everyday. I see them everyday when I talk to people, when I read the newspaper and when I watch television. 
The first brick is the parents who are keener on their children learning discipline than learning fun. The second brick is your schoolmates who have learned to stare at injustice but not to act against it. The third brick is your teachers who do not realize that they can learn more from a child in one day than they will ever be able to teach. The fourth brick is the politician who calls a bandh for every tiny issue that is in his party’s interest, but not when a child gets tortured to death at a Delhi school because she wasn’t able to recite the alphabet. The fifth brick is the police that will not call a teacher’s corporal punishment a crime, simply because they themselves believe in violence. The sixth brick is the Indian upper class, who, since India’s independence, have seen the poor as the main problem for the nation (and not the poor children’s school). I hate to tell you what the last brick is, little Shanno. But I think I recognize the seventh one too. That brick is your guardian angel, who gave you the strength to endure all this, but not the courage to walk away. You must have been afraid that worse would happen to you. You never imagined your obedience would kill you.
Dear Shanno, I feel so sorry about your death, so sad that you had to die for the stupidity of grown-ups.
John Bates Bedford, 'Elijah and the widow of Zarephath - and Elijah took the child, and bought him out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, see Thy son liveth', oil on canvas, 1862, 44" X 29"

Bacon Porn

A great video on Bacon... 

In conjunction with the Met’s newly-opened Bacon retrospective it’s good to have a look at this BBC documentary. The program consists of a series of conversations between Bacon and interviewer Melvyn Bragg, starting with commentary during a side-show presentation at the Tate Gallery in London. Later in the evening, Bacon is followed through various bars hanging out, drinking, and gambling. In another segment, Bacon provides a tour of his painting studio and a glimpse at his reference photographs of distorted humans. The artist discusses his theories, influences, and obsessions.

I loved his views on Mark Rothko:

"Rothko completely escaped me. I mean I always used to think that abstract painting might at least bring you the most lovely, vibrant colors... but they... you know they've got a room of them here [at Tate] - if you want to be really depressed for the rest of the day, you could go into that room. I suppose you could say that is a quality. It's just that I hate that dirty maroon color he has used in those things and if I wanted really to be depressed, I would go in for a few hours into that Rothko room just to look at maroon, I could go and look at the art of maroon they could roll out for me. I think they are just the dreariest paintings that have ever been made..."
I agree completely!!

Laugh break

David Rees' take on the Cheney speech yesterday is hilarious...

As far as I could tell, his speech was actually some weird kind of mouth-yoga where you keep returning to "9/11" position every thirty seconds.
Cheney: "For me, one of the defining experiences was the morning of 9/11 itself. As you might recall, I was in my office in that first hour, when radar caught sight of an airliner heading toward the White House at 500 miles an hour."
Actually, no, Mr. Face-sliding-off, I don't recall that on 9/11 you were "in your office" (at the RadioShack where you work?). You could have been bussing tables at Applebee's, or stuffing envelopes from home, or drinking a protein shake made of your own bile. How would I know? I have no idea who you are. Why are you on my television?
But then Cheeny started talking about how "rounding up random Afghan teenagers and torturing them in Cuba's armpit has saved trillions of American lives," and "if we let a bunch of scraggledy-bearded douchebags into the American penal system, somehow they'll hypnotize the guards and convert the wardens and build a mustard-gas-Islam-fart-bomb," or whatever, and I started thinking, "Wait a minute, this guy looks familiar."
Then he started in about "dark days" and "gathering threats" and "nefarious enemies" and "the desert-people are scheming" and "even a piece of cheese can be a mighty weapon" and then I remembered:
This is the guy everyone in America deemed a total asshole and decided to ignore about five years ago.

Expanded vigilante alert??

In the recent Bronx terrorist bomb case, what was initially a knee jerk reaction to classify the perpetrators as Muslim seems to be taking a back seat. It now seems that some of the plotters were Catholics and Baptists... What is even more troubling is the fact that we will now have to start getting serious about vigilante Catholics and Baptists with a passing interest in the Koran and who were not too happy with US actions in the Middle East... (not to speak of the vigilante Muslims). 

Law enforcement officials initially said the four men were Muslims, but their religious backgrounds remained uncertain Thursday. Mr. Payen reported himself to be Catholic during his 15-month prison sentence that ended in 2005, according to a state corrections official. Mr. Cromitie and Onta Williams both identified themselves as Baptists in prison records, although Mr. Cromitie changed his listed religion to Muslim upon his last two incarcerations; David Williams reported no religious affiliation. The men never served in the same prison together. Three of them regularly lunched together at Danny’s Restaurant in Newburgh, chatting over plates of rice and beans, said Danny DeLeon, the owner. Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque.                     ...All of this came as a shock to Mr. Cromitie’s mother after his arrest on Wednesday. Adele Cromitie, 65, said her son was raised a Christian, and that neither she nor his father, who left the family when Mr. Cromitie was a young child, had lived in Afghanistan. She said Mr. Cromitie visited her, at her apartment in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, for the first time in nearly 15 years about three years ago, after getting out of prison, and announced he had converted to Islam.

Painting Post

'Performance Artist - No. 2', Oil on canvas, 52" (width) X 68" (height), 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009


A diabetic for 22 years, Kerri Morrone Sparling says it like it is... (via Grand Rounds).
"Why, Insurance Company, are you so against proactive care? Why do I need to pay more for a brace or a shot or an extra visit when you're more content paying for a several thousand dollar surgery instead? Not enough bang for your buck? Why do you fight me tooth and nail against coverage for a continuous glucose monitoring device? Is my life not worth the investment to keep my legs on instead of paying 100% to amputate them in a few decades? I know I'm expensive as a chronic disease patient, but I'm healthier than 85% of the people I know. I eat well, I exercise regularly, and I am on top of my disease. Yet you deny me life insurance, you won't let me purchase a private health insurance policy, and you would rather see me on an operating table than taking up a doctor's time in an office visit. (And it's not like I'm taking up more than 5 - 7 minutes of a doctor's time, because that's about all we get, on average. Pathetic.) I am ashamed sometimes to admit that the reason I don't have the money to go out is because I spent it on a dental cleaning or a follow up visit to my doctor.  I'm embarrassed that proactive patients are the ones going broke.  I hate the healthcare system, and its backwards way of punishing me for thinking ahead and celebrating any decisions to let things deteriorate until I require more "procedures" than "maintenance."

Art as Science or Science as Art?

The 2009 Art of Science competition winners are in. My favorite below.

Uncovering Lost Painting of Vincent van Gogh, Andrei Brasoveanu '09 (undergraduate) and Ingrid Daubechies (faculty), Department of Mathematics, Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics.
Around 1885, Vincent van Gogh painted the portrait of a woman and then later reused this canvas, painting over her portrait to create "Pasture in Bloom," a painting found today in the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands. Following X-ray and chemical analysis performed at a laboratory in Delft, The Netherlands, a fragment of the original portrait was revealed. Our work was to first reconstruct digitally the gray-scale version of this portrait, by registering it to the pasture painting, by identifying and removing grass and flower traces, and by filling in the regions lacking content. Afterward, we needed to bring the portrait to life by coloring it using local pigment information and color distributions from similar portraits produced in the same period by the artist. 
(via Bioephemera)...

Etiquette break

On the clichéd 'have a nice day'...
It makes me crazy when someone musters a wan smile and coos "Have a nice day". Even worse is the more contempo version of that, namely "Have a good one." I'm sure the sentiment is sincere, but I just find those utterances so lame and banal that they make me want to throw things. Who gave these cretins the right to assume that "a nice day" would be the best thing for me? I mean, a 24-hour session of smelling pansies, waving at babies, and picking up litter? That would be utter hell on a cracker, and I would suffocate from the deadening boredom of it all. Even if they're just offering their kind hope that things will work out my way, it seems so hocus-pocusy and unreal, especially coming from low-level shop clerks. Is their wishing I'll have "a good one" supposed to automatically bring it on? Are they holding a rabbit's foot and some prayer beads under the desk when they so optimistically say that? Why not keep their goodtime voodoo hijinks to themselves and just THINK "I hope he has a nice day"?

When O' When?

Reading this bit of news, I was thinking at what point of time will it dawn upon this individual

  • that he was the former vice President?
  • that he is no longer running for any elected office..
  • that he makes sane Republicans (the few left) look unhinged..
  • that waterboarding is torture and it is illegal and un-American..
  • that it is about time to retire and try his hand at fishing or something (not hunting!)..
  • that he has had his moment in the sun and maybe it is time to get the new guy to try his gig..
  • that he is starting to make Mr. Bush look like a saint!
Image from here.


Pictures of Danish photographer Jacob Holdt who chronicled compelling stories of American racism here. He participated in the recently concluded NY Photo Festival. (via Lens).

His Web site, American Pictures, contains thousands of photographs documenting the lives of both black and white Americans, the underclass and the privileged. He has befriended and lived with his subjects; the poorest and the wealthiest, the migrant workers and the members of the Ku Klux Klan. He has become intimately involved in his subjects’ lives and photographed them in a fresh, direct style that turned out to have been years ahead of its time. From 1971 to 1975, he hitchhiked across America, a penniless vagabond who said he sold his blood twice a week to pay for film for the inexpensive half-frame Olympus camera that his parents had given him. Mr. Holdt has traveled tens of thousands of miles across this country, staying with his subjects and often eating in soup kitchens. 
This picture appears in Chapter 41 of his book and is titled 'Why we opressors love roses and tell endless rosy fables about them':
"For me, such a rose was Merrilyn. When I first met her she was a heroin addict although her habit was not too serious. She was only shooting up a couple of times a week and could therefore kick the habit when she finally managed to get a job downtown. Her situation in the little one-room apartment was despairing and I admire her for being able to get out of it, for I myself sank deeper and deeper while I lived with her. Never in my life have I lived in such oppressive and annihilating conditions. I was able neither to think nor write in the apartment. The reason was not only the constant housebreakings; it was rather the fear of them and the fear of what might happen next time as well as the fear of walking out in the hallway or in the street, where you could be attacked by knife- and gunmen. Narrowness you can become accustomed to. You soon get used to a dinner table which also functions as a bathtub in the kitchen such as thousands of people in New York have. You can also get used to having a wire fence between the kitchen and the bedroom so that the rats will not get in and bite you in the face. And it very soon becomes a habit to brush all the dead cockroaches on which you have lain during the night out of the bed in the morning. Even the constant shootings and police sirens from the oppressive, misanthropic and violent American TV-empire knocking through the walls from adjacent apartments can be a pleasant relief from the similar sounds from the street. But the persistent fear of that moment when you yourself might get stabbed in the stomach - that you can never get used to. Even on Christmas Eve I was attacked by three gunmen. How I survived it, you must not ask me. It is a paradox that in the richest country in the world the word "survival" (which I had never even heard before coming to America except in connection with Darwin) has become a daily standard concept. But ask rather how Merrilyn survived it - not only in body, but also in mind. Not only did she survive, but she was even able to wrench herself out of the ghetto. Today she is an actress and often comes around to introduce my slide show for my American audiences. Yes, she was a rose who managed to shoot up through the asphalt."


Daniel Gilbert explores uncertainity... one will be surprised by new survey results from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showing that Americans are smiling less and worrying more than they were a year ago, that happiness is down and sadness is up, that we are getting less sleep and smoking more cigarettes, that depression is on the rise.
...people feel worse when something bad might occur than when something bad will occur. Most of us aren’t losing sleep and sucking down Marlboros because the Dow is going to fall another thousand points, but because we don’t know whether it will fall or not — and human beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about.
...researchers at the University of British Columbia studied people who had undergone genetic testing to determine their risk for developing the neurodegenerative disorder known as Huntington’s disease. Those who learned that they had a very high likelihood of developing the condition were happier a year after testing than those who did not learn what their risk was.
Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it? Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior, we change our attitudes. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Sunrise over Redhook Terminal, Brooklyn from the Staten Island Ferry


On the mathematics of cities... and living beings... and the underlying order...

For instance, if one city is 10 times as populous as another one, does it need 10 times as many gas stations? No. Bigger cities have more gas stations than smaller ones (of course), but not nearly in direct proportion to their size. The number of gas stations grows only in proportion to the 0.77 power of population. The crucial thing is that 0.77 is less than 1. This implies that the bigger a city is, the fewer gas stations it has per person. Put simply, bigger cities enjoy economies of scale. In this sense, bigger is greener. The same pattern holds for other measures of infrastructure. Whether you measure miles of roadway or length of electrical cables, you find that all of these also decrease, per person, as city size increases. And all show an exponent between 0.7 and 0.9.
Now comes the spooky part. The same law is true for living things. That is, if you mentally replace cities by organisms and city size by body weight, the mathematical pattern remains the same. For example, suppose you measure how many calories a mouse burns per day, compared to an elephant. Both are mammals, so at the cellular level you might expect they shouldn’t be too different. And indeed, when the cells of 10 different mammalian species were grown outside their host organisms, in a laboratory tissue culture, they all displayed the same metabolic rate. It was as if they didn’t know where they’d come from; they had no genetic memory of how big their donor was. But now consider the elephant or the mouse as an intact animal, a functioning agglomeration of billions of cells. Then, on a pound for pound basis, the cells of an elephant consume far less energy than those of a mouse. The relevant law of metabolism, called Kleiber’s law, states that the metabolic needs of a mammal grow in proportion to its body weight raised to the 0.74 power.
... These numerical coincidences seem to be telling us something profound. It appears that Aristotle’s metaphor of a city as a living thing is more than merely poetic. There may be deep laws of collective organization at work here, the same laws for aggregates of people and cells.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Weekend Photo

Wooden Bridge in Holmdel, NJ

In the wake of the recession

The recession and its effects on professional jobs...

While recession has hit hardest at blue-collar workers, it is taking its toll on professional jobs as well. Unemployment for professionals overall increased by roughly four percent between August 2008 and April 2009. But the recession is hitting much harder at certain types of professionals. Computing and mathematical jobs (heavy on software engineers, computer scientists, and systems analysts) are down 9.3 percent; engineering and architectural jobs (two-thirds engineering) are down 10.3 percent; and "creative professional" jobs - working artists, musicians, dancers, entertainers, reporters, editors, writers, and other media types - are down 11.3 percent.

Image from here.

Rummy's crusade - disturbing reminders

Peddling the holy war - a slideshow of the first pages of top-secret intelligence briefings produced by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon trying to drum up support for the Iraq war. In retrospect, one is almost glad that worse things did not befall the world. 

In the days surrounding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, cover sheets began adorning top-secret intelligence briefings produced by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon. The sheets juxtaposed war images with inspirational Bible quotes and were delivered by Rumsfeld himself to the White House, where they were read by the man who, just after September 11, referred to America's war on terror as a 'crusade'.


This one reminded me of the time I ran into someone who was walking her rodent (or so it seemed)... From here.

Can Banksy keep it real any longer?

Now that Banksy is making actual money off his fame, some of his fans are reconsidering...

But the Banksy buzz is getting old. For years, we’ve debated the identity of this British graffiti artist, whose work began appearing on Bristol streets in 1993 and now sells for record prices. (Though his auction prices have fallen between 30-50% in the recession.) Is he a talented prankster from Bristol? A subversive art collective? A dinner guest at Joan Collins’s house? A man named Robin Gunningham? Did he just paint his own self-portrait? And what do his spray-painted stencils really mean, anyway? Do we give him too much credit? Not enough? These riddles have long been fascinating, largely for their Rorschach-worthiness: Banksy's anonymity has allowed us to turn him into what we want him to be.
... I’m bored of Banksy. Sure, I enjoy stumbling across his work in alleys and splashed on buildings throughout London. And occasionally the artist has created work both bracingly timely and incisive (”NOLA", is a particularly good example). But it is impossible to contain the raw energy of street art in a formal art space, where any anti-establishment strains in his work are bled away beneath the expensive track lighting.

'Keep it Real', Banksy, Stencil and spraypaint on canvas, 2002, 8" x 8"

From here: The Banksy show now on at the Andipa Gallery in posh Chelsea, until May 16th, rekindles the conversation. Acoris Andipa, director of the tiny gallery, has gathered his personal collection of 35 Banksy originals (some signed) together with several more common prints. Andipa told me he’s paid up to six figures for Bansky works, which he describes as “brilliant” with a “poignant social narrative.”


Now that it is commencement season and speeches are all the rage, it was good to read David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College.

... But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Shylock's pound of flesh (new and improved ideas)

From the annals of usury, news that credit card predators are looking to cardholders who make their payments on time as a prime source of revenue going forward.

Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.
...Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.

Fun credit card company facts and a gentle reminder on how unfettered capitalism basically screws the consumer: 

  • The amount of money generated by penalty fees like late charges and exceeding credit limits should top $20 billion this year.
  • 70 percent of card issuers’ revenue came from interest charges, and the portion from penalty rates appeared to be growing

'Suburb Train', 1988. From the works of Ukrainian-born photographer Boris Savelev. More here.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have fled fighting between the army and Taliban militants in a northwestern valley, moving to camps like the Chota Lahore Refugee Camp in Swabi, Pakistan. This portrait by Mohammad Sajjad of The Associated Press from a new NYTimes photography blog.