Saturday, January 31, 2009

Two pictures from yesterday morning


Publicity props

Publishing a book is the new calling card. The self publishing business is really taking off even as mainstream publishing houses are laying off people...
From here: In 2008, nearly 480,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from close to 375,000 in 2007, according to the industry tracker Bowker. The company attributed a significant proportion of that rise to an increase in the number of print-on-demand books.

“Even if you’re sitting at a dinner party, if you ask how many people want to write a book, everyone will say, ‘I’ve got a book or two in me,’” said Kevin Weiss, chief executive of Author Solutions. “We don’t see a letup in the number of people who are interested in writing.” The trend is also driven by professionals who want to use a book as an enhanced business card as well as by people who are creating books as gifts for family and friends.

“It used to be an elite few,” said Eileen Gittins, chief executive of Blurb, a print-on-demand company whose revenue has grown to $30 million, from $1 million, in just two years and which published more than 300,000 titles last year. Many of those were personal books bought only by the author. “Now anyone can make a book, and it looks just like a book that you buy at the bookstore.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Will this bill pass? My guess is no!

Under the terms of a bill introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, no employee of any company that accepts federal bailout money would be allowed to make more than the president of the United States ($400K).
"We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer, They don't get it. These people are idiots. You can't use taxpayer money to pay out $18 billion in bonuses."
McCaskill's proposed compensation limit would cover salaries, bonuses and stock options. I liked the flowery language used, but vested interests will not allow this bill to go anywhere...

Reading

1980's economist Mancur Olson's interest group theory partly helps explain why rich and affluent countries like ours could fail. Excerpted from an excellent article on the looming economic crisis facing the current administration by David Leonhardt here:

Successful countries give rise to interest groups that accumulate more and more influence over time. Eventually, the groups become powerful enough to win government favors, in the form of new laws or friendly regulators. These favors allow the groups to benefit at the expense of everyone else; not only do they end up with a larger piece of the economy’s pie, but they do so in a way that keeps the pie from growing as much as it otherwise would. Trade barriers and tariffs are the classic example. They help the domestic manufacturer of a product at the expense of millions of consumers, who must pay high prices and choose from a limited selection of goods.

Olson’s book was short but sprawling, touching on everything from the Great Depression to the caste system in India. His primary case study was Great Britain in the decades after World War II. As an economic and military giant for more than two centuries, it had accumulated one of history’s great collections of interest groups — miners, financial traders and farmers, among others. These interest groups had so shackled Great Britain’s economy by the 1970s that its high unemployment and slow growth came to be known as “British disease.”

Germany and Japan, on the other hand, were forced to rebuild their economies and political systems after the war. Their interest groups were wiped away by the defeat. “In a crisis, there is an opportunity to rearrange things, because the status quo is blown up,” Frank Levy, an M.I.T. economist and an Olson admirer, told me recently. If a country slowly glides down toward irrelevance, he said, the constituency for reform won’t take shape. Olson’s insight was that the defeated countries of World War II didn’t rise in spite of crisis. They rose because of it.

The parallels to the modern-day United States, though not exact, are plain enough. This country’s long period of economic pre-eminence has produced a set of interest groups that, in Olson’s words, “reduce efficiency and aggregate income.” Home builders and real estate agents pushed for housing subsidies, which made many of them rich but made the real estate bubble possible. Doctors, drug makers and other medical companies persuaded the federal government to pay for expensive treatments that have scant evidence of being effective. Those treatments are the primary reason this country spends so much more than any other on medicine. In these cases, and in others, interest groups successfully lobbied for actions that benefited them and hurt the larger economy.

The gentile giant - a poem


(This is a first draft : With apologies to Oscar Wilde)

Every afternoon, after they
came back from school,
the children would go and
play in the Giant's garden.
It was a beautiful garden,
where the petunia overflowed
amidst lush green grass and
olive trees. The date palms
grew rapidly in spring making
the birds happy and sing
"How happy we are"...
A peculiar tune, I must say.

One day, the Giant came back, and
he had a determined look on his face.
When he arrived, he saw
children frolicking and happily playing.
"What are you doing here?" he sternly asks...
To which the children knew not what
to say, needless, they hastily disappeared.
"My land is my land.. It belonged
to my ancestors and now it belongs to
me and is mine only.
He soon decreed that anyone caught or
entering his land will face consequences.
He built a high wall all round his garden,
a wall so tall, that the children by and by
slowly forgot what secrets lay within.

Every once in a while, when he stood up,
the giant so towered
over the neighborly children
they often cowered and wondered,
why one needed a wall as tall.
The children continued living
and minding their petty
businesses, some in squalor
some in splendor, but commonly shut out
of their childhood garden.

Some of us have naughty neighbors,
others have haughty ones,
this giant too was not spared of such.
His neighbors were children
and like children denied, they
threw the occasional stick, lobbed an
errant stone and every once in a while
using a toy bow (fashioned out of olive
tree branches and goat gut) shot; stray
arrows towards the giant’s home.
Some of the arrows would clear the wall,
and land in the garden, whilst some,
would fall back on the children.
The occasional arrow falling back
resulted in the curious case of a
child blinded by his own arrow.
A self goal, kind of…

And every once in a while, an arrow would
find its mark, lightly poking the giant. Of course,
in cases such as that, his thick epidermal armor
protected him. The giant would roar and bellow,
gnash his teeth and grunt menacingly.
He sometimes would throw little rocks
back at the children. Providence is funny,
he was blessed with deadly aim and every
time he threw those stones, many children
were crushed by its deadly force.

The other day, the children were up to their
tricks, and in the heat of the moment,
they decided to send out a shower of arrows.
Only this time, the giant was asleep.
Unlucky fate. The shower of arrows
happened to chance,
on the giant deep in slumber.
The pinpricks were felt and
an angry awakening ensued.
Insult to injury, he seemed to take notice of
an arrow that lodged itself in his left toe.
He gingerly pulled it out
and let out a murderous shriek. He decided to
teach the little ones a lesson.
One they might never forget.

He went into his large castle,
to his large private room. A dank, musty room
where he stored his weapons. He took
the choicest ones out,
gloating all the time.
He selected gleaming body armors,
adorned with a glittering coat of arms
climbed into his gunship,
and armed his missiles.
He had made sure (previously),
to sharpen the titanium tipped edges
of his steel swords
and properly arm the phosphorous bombs.
He also made sure the cluster munitions
were set to the right charges.
All the while, he was singing a merry tune.

The children on the other side of the wall
(sensing what was coming) cowered
in their little rickety mud homes.
The foolish children, they filled their quivers
full of toy arrows. Hoping to fight back.

The giant casually stepped over the high
stone walls, thinking to himself how easy
it was for him to casually step over.
He stoops to examine the little children,
(who by now) are running helter skelter
between his large, pink toes.
He is surprised to find that
some were blind and weak
some as thin as a rail
and others starving.
A few were holed up in their homes
hoping to defend their little families…

He proceeds to gingerly pick up the
little ones between his index and
middle fingers. He then uses his
opposing grasp to slowly squeeze
their little lungs. And just as they
are about their last gasp,
he lets them go. He drops them on
the ground and using his large toe
proceeds to casually step on their
little skulls. The funny thing was that
he actually seemed to enjoy the urgent
red spurts of blood that seemed to
erupt from their ears. He then wipes
his toes clean on the sand (the sand
between the olive trees) and goes in
search of the next one.

After about a hundred of them were finished
this way, the giant is tired.
He decides to take a break.
He goes into his castle for some
(much needed) food and rest.
The next day it is the same story.
For thirteen days, he walks over the
little homes of his neighbors,
destroying their schools, universities
and play areas.
He took care of their day care centers,
their shelter homes,
the homes of their fathers,
sisters and mothers. He does not spare
their graveyards nor their places of worship.
The mom and pop stores, the cobblers,
the olive oil merchant, the handyman
he manages to attend to them all.
When he is done, nothing is left standing.
Just mud, smoke and dust swirl
amidst the ruins of burning phosphorous.
This time he is really tired.
He decides that he has had enough,
and bellows to his neighbors
that in his well intentioned mind,
the suffering that the children have endured
is enough and he is magnanimous enough
to declare a cease fire.

Distant applause is heard from all
quarters of the world. All the fair and noble
minds applaud the cease fire. They reason that
one can endure only so many toy arrows before
the use of deadly force is sanctioned.
The giant now retires to his private quarters and
plans his next move. As he was stepping
into his home, he looked back and saw
a strange sight. The swans in his garden,
those stately white ones, the ones he
so dearly loved - they were singing,
loud and clear notes in the limpid waters.

Palestinian doctors carry the bodies of children killed by an Israeli tank shell, to the morgue at Shifa hospital in Gaza January 5, 2009. An Israeli tank shell killed three Palestinian children in their home in eastern Gaza City on Monday, medical officials said. They said several other Palestinians were wounded in the incident in Gaza's Zeitoun neighbourhood. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the report. Photo ripped from Reuters Pictures.

Best time to enact a universal health care bill - is NOW!

Paul Krugman on why this might be the best time (between the confusion surrounding the stimulus and the economic crisis) to enact a universal health care coverage bill..
The political argument that this is a bad time to be pushing fundamental health care reform because the nation’s attention is focused on the economic crisis is precisely wrong. Indeed. F.D.R. was able to enact Social Security in part because the Great Depression highlighted the need for a stronger social safety net. And the current crisis presents a real opportunity to fix the gaping holes that remain in that safety net, especially with regard to health care. And Mr. Obama really, really doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of Bill Clinton, whose health care push failed politically partly because he moved too slowly: by the time his administration was ready to submit legislation, the economy was recovering from recession and the sense of urgency was fading.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Contemplating the road ahead...

Greed is good

From here:
Despite crippling losses, multibillion-dollar bailouts and the passing of some of the most prominent names in the business, employees at financial companies in New York, the now-diminished world capital of capital, collected an estimated $18.4 billion in bonuses for the year. That was the sixth-largest haul on record, according to a report released Wednesday by the New York State comptroller.
Many corporate governance experts, investors and lawmakers question why financial companies that have accepted taxpayer money paid any bonuses at all. Financial industry executives argue that they need to pay their best workers well in order to keep them, but with many banks cutting jobs, job options are dwindling, even for stars.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Detainee 063 began to cry - a poem

Detainee began to cry.
Detainee cried.
Visibly shaken. Visibly emotional.
Very disturbed. Detainee sleeps awhile.
Detainee rudely woken up.
Heavy Metal. Judas Priest.
Iced water laced with seaweeds.
Strapped to a metal chair.
Incandescent light bulb overhead.
Detainee began to cry.
Detainee cried.
Detainee bites the IV tube.
IV tube splits in two. Meshuggah.
Injected again intravenously.
Rants and raves. Delirium.
Moaning softly. Detainee mutters.
Curses at the doctor. Lunges.
Visually uncomfortable. Moaning.
Turned his head from left to right.
Detainees clothes changed. Naked.
Someone pokes and prods.
Detainee began to cry.
Detainee cried.
Detainee begins to pray.
Strapped to a plank. Uncomfortable position.
The sounds of flowing water.
Blindfold. Heavy Metal. Steppenwolf.
Detainee wears her panty as crown.
The female orderly sniggers.
Detainee plans on confessing.
Object inserted into detainee’s anus.
Routine body cavity search.
This time a little more painful.
Looks at the corporals eyes.
Remorse and loathing. Spinal Tap.
Detainee began to cry.
Detainee cried.
Plans on making confession.
Urinates on self. Smell of urea.
Falling asleep. Very uncomfortable.
Detainee angry. Struggles.
Agitated and violent.
Wet and soggy pants. Excreta.
Detainee regurgitates food.
Detainee proclaimed his innocence.
Pushed guard. Solitary 24 hours.
The silence hurts and soothes.
No bright lights for 24 hours.
No flowing water for 24 hours.
No nothing for a whole day.
Dizzy. Headache. Near tears.
Detainee began to cry.
Detainee cried.
Yelled at Allah. Yelled for Allah.
Yelled for deliverance. Screams.
The water seems to ride into the lungs.
The fine muslin taut over detainees face.
Near crying. Tears and sweat stream.
Irritated and annoyed.
Attempted to liberate himself.
Plastic hangar too flimsy.
Strapped to links on the wall.
Aeroplane stress position is what this is called.
Made several attempts to stand up.
Unsuccessful.
Detainee screamed....

Note: Poem quickly stitched together after reading this article in the Vanity Fair magazine…

Through the windows of a train the other day





Why it might be a good idea to get a job on Wall Street

I sometimes read reddit, and this morning I ran into a post that was emblematic of the times... Click on the image below to enlarge...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From a recent Salon interview of John Updike (1932 - 2009). He passed on this morning.
When I was a boy, the bestselling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher's shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had, considering how hard he is to read and how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class readership. But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don't feel that now. I don't feel that we have the merger of serious and pop -- it's gone, dissolving. Tastes have coarsened. People read less, they're less comfortable with the written word. They're less comfortable with novels. They don't have a backward frame of reference that would enable them to appreciate things like irony and allusions. It's sad. It's momentarily uphill, I would say.

And who's to blame? Well, everything's to blame. Movies are to blame, for stealing a lot of the novel's thunder. Why read a novel when in two hours you can just go passively sit and be dazzled and amazed and terrified? Television is to blame, especially because it's come into the home. It's brought the fascination of the flickering image right into the house; like turning on a faucet, you can have it whenever you want. I was a movie addict, but you could only see so many movies in the course of a week. I still had a lot of time to read, and so did other people. But I think television would take all your day if you let it. Now we have these cultural developments on the Internet, and online, and the computer offering itself as a cultural tool, as a tool of distributing not just information but arts -- and who knows what inroads will be made there into the world of the book.

Timing

It is amazing how concussion stories like this appear right on cue before every Super Bowl, year after year. This was the lede on CNN this year.

"Dead NFL athletes' brains show stunning damage from concussions..."

A new Conciliatory Phase??

"Too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don't always know all the factors that are involved, what we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs." - Barack Obama in an interview to Al Arabiya on Jan 26 2009
The erstwhile neo-cons who ruled us till recently will not be able to sleep tonight... or possibly for many nights henceforth...

On my mind

Not too sure if one can find another place on earth where the public is taxed, part of the proceeds of public taxation is used to bailout large banks that were on the verge of bankruptcy and then the large banks decide to promptly reward their underperforming bankers with large bonuses. Ah, the joys of capitalism...

Read here and weep...

For Better or for Verse

By chance, of course ---- By Wendell Berry
(while attending the annual convocation of cause theorists and bigbangists at the local provincial research university, the mad farmer intercedes from the back row)

“Chance” is a poor word among
the mazes of causes and effects, the last
stand of these all-explainers who,
backed up to the first and final Why,
reply, “By chance, of course!” As if
that tied up ignorance with a ribbon.
In the beginning something by chance
existed that would bang and by chance
it banged, obedient to the by-chance
previously existing laws of existence
and banging, from which the rest proceeds
by logic of cause and effect also
previously existing by chance? Well,
when all that happened who was there?
Did the chance that made the bang then make
the Bomb, and there was no choice, no help?
Prove to me that chance did ever
make a sycamore tree, a yellow-
throated warbler nesting and singing
high up among the white limbs
and the golden leaf-light, and a man
to love the tree, the bird, the song
his life long, and by his love to save
them, so far, from all the machines.
By chance? Prove it, then, and I
by chance will kiss your ass.

From the February 2009 issue of Harpers Magazine.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mass Migration after India's Independence from British dominion, 1947, by Margaret Bourke-White. (From LIFE Archives)

Three years later, India would celebrate it's first Republic Day.

Quote

David Bromwich, Sterling Professor of English Yale University on the recent events in Gaza in the LRB:
In the United States, since this one-sided war began on 27 December, facts are not suppressed but fiction pervades the commentary. We are offered an analogy: what would Americans do if rockets were fired from Canada or Cuba? The question has been repeated with docility by congressional leaders of both parties; but the rockets are assumed to come suddenly without cause. The choking of the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air, the rejection by the US of the Palestinian Unity Government, the coup launched by Fatah and bankrolled by the US, which ended in the seizure of power by Hamas – all of this happened before the rockets fell from the sky. It is as if it belonged to a prehistoric time. American politicians exhibit an identification with Israel that is now in excess of the measurable effects of the Israel lobby. The blindness of the identification has led the US to respond with keen sensitivity to Israeli requests for assistance and moral support, and to underestimate the suffering caused by the Gaza blockade and by the settlements and checkpoints and the wall on the West Bank. Yet grant the potency of the lobby and the identification – even so, the arrogance with which Israel dictates policy is hard to comprehend on the usual index of motives. Ehud Olmert boasted to a crowd in Ashkelon on 12 January that with one phone call to Bush, he forced Condoleezza Rice to abstain from voting for the UN ceasefire resolution she herself had prepared. The depth, the efficacy and the immediacy of the influence are treated by Olmert as an open secret.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

10 New Yorkers talking about their faces... An art project by Simon Hoegsberg.
Once in a while I see a person on the street who immediately attracts my attention. I’m fascinated by the appearance of the person and feel a strong urge to walk over and say hi. I spent one month, seven hours a day, walking the streets of New York in search for people who had this effect on me. I found ten, and asked each of them the same question: What do you think about your face?
Photograph of Joan Darrow, an image consultant - ripped from the artists website...

When I used to work on face paintings, I tried to do something similar sometime back, but for some reason found it too exploitative and then stopped publishing the pictures I had taken. I liked Simon's work for the nice narrative quality that he brings to his subjects...
It is slowly becoming clear that we have moved from a 'gut based, touchy feely' policy and decision making apparatus to a more rational, 'brain oriented' policy and decision making...

From here: President Obama is expected to sign executive orders today directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. This will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Loved the cover image on the latest New Yorker...


Metro, a free newspaper distributed in New York City had the following insightful words:

Still, as we celebrate this watershed moment, it is important that we not become too self-satisfied, too pleased with our collective maturity. Indeed, it is one thing for a nation to finally accept that a black man can represent its interests. It is another thing entirely to question the nature of those interests. The working poor will be no happier to know that a black man is undermining their prosperity. Gays and lesbians will see no moral victory in having their civil rights stripped away by fellow minority. Continental Africans will find no solace in the fact that one of their sons is aiding and abetting its exploitation. For America to truly mature, we must not only acknowledge its bright light, we must also come to terms with its dark underside. Militarism, violence, consumerism, homophobia, patriarchy, anti-intellectualism, and countless other hallmarks of the American empire must die in order for a new, more mature America to be born. Otherwise, we have done nothing more than put a slave in charge of the plantation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

4 pictures




Quotable

"Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good."
- Barack Hussein Obama, Jan 20, 2009. Full text of his inauguration address here.
I cannot seem to get this image off my mind as Barack Obama prepares to become the next POTUS.

Cartoon ripped from the Fall 2008 issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review magazine.