Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Furious Magician

Or, a Conversation with Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve.

Dooce sez:

Jon heard me playing it on my computer and was so disturbed by the sound of it that he walked over and we watched it together, over and over again, and then we spent the next eight hours quoting it to each other and laughing until we cried. And then late last night we both reached the conclusion that this is a pretty good litmus test for relationships, because you're either going to love this video or despise it. And I could see someone going, you know what? I can't believe you think that this piece of crap is funny, and the fact that you do makes everything else you do so much more annoying. ... And everything that has ever gone wrong between this someone and their significant other comes right up to the surface, all because these two kids had to go and give the world this present:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Best Thing of the Week: Wade Davis

Wade Davis on the diversity of human culture, a tribe that must marry outside of its language, the seventeen keys that the ayhuasca plant sings in during the full moon, the people who enjoy spearing each other and get frightened by photography, and the story of the shit knife.

(via boingboing)

Friday, September 26, 2008


Photos: Platon, for the New Yorker

Who serves and why? One of the big questions that's been fascinating me for the past couple of years is: why do people make the decisions that they make? In particular, why do some people choose to do something life changing, often with long-term consequences; for example, why join the army, or become a priest, or get married?

The theory I've settled on is that there are always three kinds of reasons, and that the outcome is overdetermined by a combination of three clusters of answers to this question:
  1. Strategic: patriotism, service to country, adventure, self improvement, "wanted to make a difference", tradition*
  2. Tactical: escape from a dead end job, access to job training or healthcare
  3. Logistic/Opportunistic: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

The reasons people give will often fall under #1, but the longer I look at it the more I think the core reason for any big decision is #3.


*Bonus quote from the photo essay thumbnailed above:

Sergeant John McKay, a marine whose uncle and grandfather were marines, and whose three-year-old son posed in uniform at the wedding of a cousin, also a marine, said, “He’s just waiting till he’s eighteen.” He went on, “I’m scared for him, but if he wants to do it I’ll support him.”

How strange in 21st century America to have your path in life picked out from birth.


Sarah Palin on Alaska's relationship to Russia:

Or is that this clip?

Not only is she not qualified to be Vice President, she's not qualified to be Miss Teen USA.

Wanda Sykes, the Bailout and Palin

"I don't want oversight, I want receipts."

Lotta Hydrogen

Early 20th Century Russian Dirigibles

Thursday, September 25, 2008

UK History as a Loaf of Bread

House Porn 6

Jay Walker has ignited by booklust with this dreamy library, as profiled in Wired. This multilevel room forms the core of his house, and collects works important to the history of thought and innovation. Sputnik, Chinese philosopher's rocks, Hooke's Micrographia and

several early-20th-century volumes with jeweled bindings—gold, rubies, and diamonds—crafted by the legendary firm Sangorski & Sutcliffe. On the table (first row, from left) is a 16th-century book of jousting, a Dickens novel decorated with the author's portrait, and (open, with Post-it flags) an original copy of the 1493
Nuremberg Chronicle, the first illustrated history book. Second row: the 1535 Coverdale Bible (the first completely translated into modern English), a medieval tome with intricate illustrations of dwarfs, a collection of portraits commissioned at a 17th-century German festival ("Facebook in 1610!"), a tree-bark Indonesian guide to cannibalism, and a Middle Eastern mother goddess icon from around 5000 BC.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

House Porn 5

Photographer Jay Maisel bought a disused bank building in 1966 and lives there with his wife and daughter today. It's 35,000 sq ft and worth something like 400x what he paid for it. But the real joy is to have a lot of space for workshops and living space in Manhattan.

Maisel uses the first, second, and third floors as gallery spaces for his photography and art projects. (This magazine’s first cover was a Maisel photograph.) The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. The fifth has various workshops, like the Mylar-window-shade room.

But there have been no major changes to the interior. It’s essentially unchanged from the Germania Bank that architect Robert Maynicke designed for the then-bourgeois neighborhood (it cost $200,000 to build). The original safe-deposit vault, still in the basement, is the size of a generous studio apartment; the marks on the main floor where the teller booths once stood are still clearly visible.

The building is its own mini-frontier, and, as of 2005, an official landmark. “Here’s the deal,” Maisel says. “If you have a window that needs fixing, you fix it. If I have a window that is broken, I have to repair it, with approval, the way it was done in 1898.”...

Keith Haring used to cover the exterior in chalk babies, says Maisel, and that he liked, both for the spirit of the images and because they washed off so easily.

The building is still giving up its secrets. About a month ago, Amanda discovered a room she never knew existed. “It’s kind of in the mezzanine between the first and second floors,” she says. “It’s a cool little room. I don’t know why they don’t use it. It is just kind of full of pieces of mirror.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deathbed Conversion

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have applied to change status from investment banks to bank holding companies. It's a little like the Pope going Lutheran.
The lights are back on. If this had gone on much longer, what with Hurricane Ike and the DFW suicide and the Trillion Dollar Bailout (tm) and whatnot, I'd have been reduced, like Job, to sitting among the rubble of my house and scratching my boils with a potsherd.

Luigi Zingales Gets It Right

The Paulson Bailout Plan will be a disaster of fatal proportions. Why Paulson is Wrong:

As during the Great Depression and in many debt restructurings, it makes sense in the current contingency to mandate a partial debt forgiveness or a debt-for-equity swap in the financial sector. It has the benefit of being a well-tested strategy in the private sector and it leaves the taxpayers out of the picture. But if it is so simple, why no expert has mentioned it?

The major players in the financial sector do not like it. It is much more appealing for the financial industry to be bailed out at taxpayers’ expense than to bear their share of pain. Forcing a debt-for-equity swap or a debt forgiveness would be no greater a violation of private property rights than a massive bailout, but it faces much stronger political opposition. The appeal of the Paulson solution is that it taxes the many and benefits the few. Since the many (we, the taxpayers) are dispersed, we cannot put up a good fight in Capitol Hill; while the financial industry is well represented at all the levels.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shabby phonecam photos of the large turkey buzzard that visited our back yard yesterday, probably searching for the whatever-it-is that smells like a dead thing hidden somewhere under the ivy. Turkey buzzards have very good eyesight, so it was able to detect me through three layers of screens & windows as I would crouch slightly, as if about to attack. It would also crouch, and be ready to take flight, which it eventually did. It's impressive to watch such a large bird flying in an enclosed area.

Meanwhile, it is day 6 of the blackout, and I'm ready for a return to the 21st c. .

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More David Foster Wallace Remembrances

Slate has a remembrance.

McSweeney's Memories, McSweeney's Tributes

KCRW has a page of Bookworm audio interviews with DFW

The Howling Fantods has a master list of additional items.

Teh Quotable Interwebs

you know it was a good party when, next day, you find Scrabble tiles in your stool.

Treasury has Used Most Available Capacity

Jon Taplin has the score. We are in deep trouble. One of the money market funds broke the buck yesterday, and investors are fleeing to treasuries (some of which sold at 0% yield, meaning that someone would just like to keep their money safe for a couple of months).

Mr. Black Swan Does the Math

NNT runs 18MM pieces of macro data (98% of available trading data), and discusses the impact of the unpredictable on the meltdown, and on the future direction of risk management practices.

Looking Good in Black

Cintra Wilson on the perennial nature of goth. Verrrry funny:

We lived in squalid tenements and worked until 4 a.m. Goth was a fashion response to doing infrequent laundry and never seeing the sun. A Northern California anti-tan could be an advantage if you made yourself even paler. On the bright side, our new monochromism was helpful to community building: We were able to recognize our neighbors as well as if we had all adopted regional folk costume. You knew you could rely on your blackly attired ilk to answer questions like, Hey, where should I go to get my 1978 Triumph Bonneville repaired/get green dreadlocks/get the word Golgotha tattooed in five-inch letters across my back/buy jimson weed/cast a reverse love spell for under $14/(insert your vaguely but harmlessly sinister demimonde activity here)?

...I just wore black, but Danielle Willis was a Satanic blood fetishist who had her own 19th-century phlebotomy kit, permanent fangs dentally bonded to her eyeteeth and serious drug problems. I once teased her about her decorative penchant for red velvet chaises, heavy curtains, ball-and-claw side tables, stigmata and other forms of morbid opulence, saying that they didn’t necessarily mean she was goth, just Italian. She clocked me pretty hard.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Damage

Power is still out, and will probably be out for the rest of the week. Four people died in the area due to falling branches or trees, including one woman killed in her own house.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Condition my Condition is in

I'm feeling better about the elections. The polls appear to be rebounding in the correct direction.

On the other hand, Ohio comes off pretty badly in this article in Salon, about race and the race in Ohio.

I had dinner last night with a friend of mine from Ohio who describes himself as "not a conservative", who's thinking about voting for McCain because of the fear of socialized medicine and whatnot. In the same breath, he cursed the people who elected Bush twice, for being stupid. When he says this, I want to take a picture of someone who's holding mutually contradictory ideas in his head simultaneously.

In other news, power is out across the state., and may be so for the next week or so. I'm holed up in a library that miraculously still has power. My usual coffeehouse is thickly encrusted with slackers on laptops.

Also, Lehman's blown up, Merrill just got sold at a 50% discount (and counts itself lucky), AIG just borrowed a bunch of money from its subsidiaries (but is probably next to go down), and UBS just announced another $5B in markdowns (so I'd put that in the second slot for failure). Somebody's on the other end of all of their trades, and that somebody's now in trouble. Any guesses which of the >$1B hedge funds are gonna blow in the next week?

But don't worry, John McCain says it's all in your imagination. Why not lie about that, just like everything else.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace Dead at 46

It is the curious quality of an unexpected death that you look for a while at the spot where the person's life stood, in hopes that there will be a sequel, as though death were only one in a long series of plot developments. So it is when DFW killed himself Friday. A long list of commenters have expressed dismay, rather than disbelief, at this sudden turn of events. He was, as we should probably have discerned from his writing, and as he himself would have put it, a Depressed Person. He was also, in his writing at least, a joyful person, delighting in long, exuberant sentences that banked and swerved like jazz solos (with footnotes and hyperlinks).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dmitry Maksimov

Dmitri brings the awesome in his art blog. Fifty mile high giants deliver rain using watering cans buildings extrude bioelectric creatures that check their cellphones, and constellations appear in clouds. He blends drawings into photographs to produce a unique effect that resembles, but is not identical to, humor. It is too wistful to be funny, too lively to be sad.

(via Siege via Raffael Regis)

Election Forecast

Place your bets. Here's my picture of the outcome on 11/4.

Black Umbrellas

On a rainy day in Seattle stumble into any coffee shop
and look wounded by the rain.

Say Last time I was in I left my black umbrella here.
A waitress in a blue beret will pull a black umbrella

from behind the counter and surrender it to you
like a sword at your knighting.

Unlike New Englanders, she'll never ask you
to describe it, never ask what day you came in,

she's intimate with rain and its appointments.
Look positively reunited with this black umbrella

and proceed to Belltown and Pike Place.
Sip cappuccino at the Cowgirl Luncheonette on First Ave.

Visit Buster selling tin salmon silhouettes
undulant in the wind, nosing ever into the oncoming,

meandering watery worlds, like you and the black umbrella,
the one you will lose on purpose at the day's end

so you can go the way you came
into the world, wet looking.

-Rick Agran

Nobody's Fault but Mine

Somebody's going to be singing this come November 5th, and it won't be Robert Plant.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Interview Magazine Relaunches

New design, updated for the modern era, and chockablock with good interviews taken from slightly odd angles. This is what they've got, this is what they need: profiles of eccentric Italian heirs by 11th graders, a talk with Lord Whimsy, a page of real-life science fictional women's shoes, discussions of the artistic process with actual artists, brilliant photography of largely unwearable clothing.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Then she walked out onto Bleecker Street and discovered her life had changed. The flowers in front of the Korean deli in their green plastic vases, the magazine covers in the news shop window, the buildings, cars—all took on a sharpness beyond anything she had imagined. The sharpness, she said, "of present time." A wavelet of energy swelled through the center of her being. She could see the hidden life in things, their detailed brilliance, the funneled genius that went into making them what they are.

(via Siege)

Dream Journal

Frederico Fellini named the corners of his bed after four different movie theaters. He dreamed frequently of gargantuan women.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fear of Crunchy

Justin Smith, in his Imaginary Tribes describes the curious beliefs of the Vendyak about postmenstrual women and food preparation:

By the third week of her fieldwork, the elder Vendyak sent Hünn-Tuk to her with a request: during the preparation of meals, might the anthropologist be willing to stand waist-deep in the lake, 50 meters or so from their encampment?

“Why do I have to wait in the lake?” Pombo asked. “There are many other post-menopausal women in the encampment who only have to stay in their tents.”

“The elders say they aren’t as za’laq as you are,” Hünn-Tuk explained to her in Russian, leaving the key concept untranslated from the original Vendyak. “They say that in all the history of the Vendyak, no woman has ever possessed za’laqtak to such a dangerous degree as you.”

Friday, September 05, 2008

Building a story with Wikipedia

The Benandanti "Good Walkers":

The Benandanti, which included both male and female members, were a small group of anti-witches that ensured the protection of the crops and villagers. Unlike most other occult organizations, the Benandanti were born, not made: only children born with "the caul," or the amniotic sac partially covering their face were destined to join the ranks of the Benandanti.
On Thursdays during the Ember days, ...the Benandanti claimed their spirits would leave their bodies at night in the form of small animals (wolves, butterflies and rats in the Friuli). The spirits of the men would go to the fields to fight evil witches (malandanti). The Benandanti men fought with fennel stalks, while the dark
witches were armed with sorghum stalks (sorghum was used for witches' brooms, and the "brooms' sorghum" was one of the most current type of sorghum [1]).
If the men prevailed, the harvest would be plentiful.

The female Benandanti performed other sacred tasks. When they left their bodies they traveled to meet a Goddess, who was known by a variety of names, such as Abundia, Irodiana, or simply "the Abbess". Thus, the Benandanti were related to the cult of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and her Wild Hunt. The cult of Diana
was present in septentrional Italy since at least the end of the 14th century [1]
There they danced, ate and drank with a procession of spirits, animals and faeries, and learned who amongst the villagers would die in the next year.

The themes associated with the Benandanti ... are found repeated in other testimonies: from the armiers of the Pyrenees, from the followers of Signora Oriente in 14th century Milan and the followers of Richella and 'the wise Sibillia' in 15th century Northern Italy, and much further afield, from Livonian werewolves, Dalmatian kresniki, Hungarian táltos, Romanian căluşari and Ossetian burkudzauta.


According to Roman Catholic priest Arnold Ipolyi, in his book "Magyar mitológia" (Hungarian Mythology) from 1854, a táltos was in direct contact with God during the prenatal period. Once born, the táltos had a special mission in life to cure both body and soul of other members of society. The táltos could be either male or female, and should be born with unusual features, like six fingers (altogether 11 or 12 fingers) or already-grown-in teeth.

During their childhood, they had to be brought up in secret to learn everything to be some kind of shaman. The táltos was able to go into a deep meditation called "révülés", and in such a state could cure sickness of any kind. The táltos also had a mission to communicate with the entire Hungarian nation in a time of danger, to warn against invading armies or an impending cultural collapse.

According to general consensus, the táltos were considered as part of pagan religion, and were persecuted in a witch-hunt during the reign of King St. Stephen. There is evidence, though, that the táltos were still existing until the Habsburg era, when this tradition was terminated. Maria Theresa made a law requiring that all babies born with teeth or with six fingers be reported and killed, a deliberate act against surviving táltos.[1] The painted ceiling of the church of Székelyderzsi had a figure with six fingers, it was renovated, "correcting" the picture to five fingers.[2]

According to legends, the two most famous táltos were called Göncöl and Kampó.
Kampó had "iced body" ("jégtestű"), he was short and had thick legs, he lived in Temesvár (present-day Timişoara). He ate lunch in Buda at the same table as King Matthias, he was always poorly dressed so the king was asked several times why he is eating in the same table as the king, but King Matthias insisted on this tradition. When the Turkish army attacked the Kingdom of Hungary, he spilled fire from his mouth and he "fought with his iced body against metal Turkish", and he redeemed the "moonly" ("holdas") horse of King Matthias from the Turkish.

Göncöl, (also Döncöl, Güncü) on the other hand, had tremendous knowledge. He spoke with animals, and he understood the meanings of the stars, he invented the coach, and he had a coach which was driven by not one horse, and had its perch broken and bended. His death was not seen, but thought that he disappeared into the stars. All Hungarians see the "coach of Göncöl" at the sky which is commonly known in astronomy as "Ursa Maior" (Great Bear), where the tail of the bear is the perch of the coach.

In the Chronicle of the Hungarians by Johannes de Thurocz, Attila of the Huns asked several táltos to foresee the outcome of Battle of Chalons, where they predicted that the war would be lost.

Maria Theresa:

During the reign of Maria Theresa, infant mortality was a big problem in Austria. And, after calling in a renowned Dutch physician Gerard van Swieten to study the problem, she followed his recommendation and made a decree that autopsies would be mandatory for all hospital deaths in city of Graz--Austria's second largest city. This law--still in effect today--combined with the relatively stable population Graz, has resulted in one of the most important and complete autopsy records in the world.

...Other important reforms included outlawing witch-burning and torture, and, for the first time in Austrian history, taking capital punishment off the penal code...

So, if you're John Crowley or Steven Brust, you could mix all of this up into a very interesting story about what exactly Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and ruler of Austria-Hungary might have been up to when she banned witch burning, reduced infant mortality and also promoted infanticide of infants with the taltos marks. You could tie this in with Hungarian history and the story of the Night Battles of the Benandanti. Or, you could go in a completely different direction altogether....

Why the Daily Show is America's Most Trusted News Source

Whatever a petard is, there are some Republicans being hoisted by it. John Stewart is on a roll this week.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Who are these people?

Agents provocateurs at the RNC counterprotests? The tactics seem to indicate that this is at least possible, and possibly likely.
As I watch the Republican convention, I think: here are a bunch of people who, if they were granted a wish to fulfill any dream in the world, would choose to shoot their neighbor's goat.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Police Raid Homes of "Potential Protestors" in the Twin Cities

What the hell is going on in Minneapolis? Who is the government official sanctioning and coordinating the SWAT raids on the homes of "potential protestors"? Why isn't this on every TV channel?

Oddest Book Title Prize

Confessions of a Pagan Nun, Fabulous Small Jews, Rural Greek Postal Workers and their Cancellation Numbers and other great titles

Why Does John McCain hate Sarah Palin so?

Ken Layne makes a funny, as usual:

She ate "mooseburgers." She played basketball. Her husband was some bum with a little fishing boat. Her kids had crazy names. Her office was filled with comical dead animals.

Whenever times are bad -- and the past eight years have been horrific -- it's nice to have a Happy Subject to write about, something harmless and nice to look at. That was Sarah Palin.

Now it's over, because of John McCain's outrageous selfishness. As a cheap political stunt, McCain dragged this nice lady he doesn't even know into his doomed campaign, and already the TV commentators and op-ed writers are calling her a dimwit, an amateur, a hapless tool. McCain is such a cruel creep that he's making Sarah Palin debate Joe Biden.

Not very nice. Oddly, he seems to have also never met her, nor had any of his people vet her in any serious way, by talking to Alaskan Republican officials or the local papers, for example. There are already zany Desperate Housewives-style rumors flying around the backroads of the Interwebs like ghosts among the trees. I wonder how long and hard he actually thought about this choice.

The Quotable Karl

“I have no problem with journalists – many are friends,” he says. “Only if they are really stupid, or if they’ve got bad breath, or if they smell. Yesterday I had a problem. I said, ‘I’m sorry, you’ve got to tell this woman that she needs to be taken away. Her smell is not possible.’ ”