Friday, July 31, 2009

Aerial Boundaries

The late, great Michael Hedges.

Bonus Quote of the Day

"When you’re sitting in the back of a stolen Bentley trying not to spill your cocktail as you barrel down a country rode at 120 and the driver screams, “everyone shut the fuck up I am driving with one eye open and need to focus” things are either going incredibly awesome or terribly wrong"

Quote of the Day

“Sometimes I’ve dialed the wrong telephone number, and the people say, ‘You know, you sound like Karl Lagerfeld!’”

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Ezra Klein on why Max Baucus is the wrong man for the healthcare negotiations:
The Missoula Independent has a long and thorough profile of Max Baucus. The conclusion is particularly trenchant:

No one doubts that Baucus is putting in the necessary work to accomplish it. In fact, observers say that he thrives in the difficulties posed by these complicated negotiations, that he's a "glutton for punishment," that bloodying his face during a marathon and then continuing to run reveals the nature of his work ethic. But there's a distinction to be made, some say, between what Baucus brings to the table and what the situation calls for—namely, leadership.

"I think we've reached a juncture, probably in history, where there's a difference between hard work and leadership," says Dave McAlpin, a member of the Montana House of Representatives who worked on Baucus' re-election campaign in 1990 and in his Bozeman office from 1992 to 1995. "Mike Mansfield passed historic legislation because of his leadership ability. And Max needs to exhibit that he can bring this issue to the fore and get a good bill passed to solve an enormous problem—probably the biggest policy problem and issue of our time—through leadership, not just hard work. I think it's too soon to tell whether Max will be successful."

When I was researching my own profile of Max Baucus, a Finance Committee source made an interesting point to me. Baucus, she said, has a very similar legislative approach to Ted Kennedy. He has long relationships with Republican senators. He has an overwhelming instinct to cut a deal. But they are viewed differently. If Baucus had been President Bush's partner on No Child Left Behind, for instance, it would be part of the case against him. But Kennedy was the president's partner on that, and suffered no blow to his liberal credibility. Kennedy is beyond reproach because he's Kennedy.

This, however, gets to this question of work and leadership. Kennedy has, over the years, given people on both sides of the aisle a pretty clear sense of his core values.

Oprah Neurons

On the neural representation of people, places and things.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Magister Ludi

Brad DeLong uncorks a showstopper of a post on efficiency of labor, with references to Oliver Wendell Holmes on eugenics, EE Smith, Cyteen and the inventions of Nicola Tesla.
Unfortunately, I only have half an hour of lecture--1/6 of one week--to talk about Tesla and company this fall--and I now easily have enough material outlined that I could now lecture for three weeks on science, invention, technology, popular culture, eugenics, and the idea of progress at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries. God knows if I will ever teach it or write it up--or if anybody would be interested if I did...


xkcd does another classic.

Miles Fisher

Patrick Bateman sings a David Byrne cover.

(A bit NSFW in the middle)

Miles Fisher is multitalented. Check out his site here.

Best of the Sarah Palin Resignation Parodies

William Shatner/Tonight Show

Steven Colbert

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Lucas Kavner/McSweeney's
Generally, I now think I can do more for the planet as just a guy who used to be God instead of the guy who currently is God, you know what I mean by this? Life is too short to compromise time and may be tempting and more comfortable to keep your God-head down, plod along, and appease those who demand, "Sit down and shut up," but that's the worthless, easy path − that's a quitter's way out. You can't sit down and shut up when you're God, which is why when I'm not God anymore, I can stand up and do other stuff, like not doing stuff, which is also important, yes?

You betcha.

And besides, a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic for me to just hunker down and "go with the flow." So by stepping down as God I'm avoiding the flow, which makes me a better God. This makes sense for a lot of reasons, reasons of which I will not go into now for fear of giving in to pressure. And I am not one to "give in to pressure from other people."

I'm not really a "person" anyway.

So, as of tomorrow, my assistant Ashley will step in as God.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Primary Them

Honestly, it's not hard. Any Blue Dog who's fighting against healthcare reform is vulnerable to a primary challenge. There is nowhere in America where the healthcare issue polls below 60%. Primary their asses until they fall in line. It worked on Specter, who's a tougher nut than any of these people.

Expert Intuition in Battle

Gut feelings and pattern recognition save lives:
“We had indicators we’d look for, but you’d really have to be aware of everything, every detail,” said Sergeant Tierney, whose unit was working with the Iraqi police in that summer of 2004.

In recent years, the bombs have become more powerful, the hiding places ever more devious. Bombs in fake rocks. Bombs in poured concrete, built into curbs. Bombs triggered by decoy bombs.

“On one route sweep mission, there was a noticeable I.E.D. in the middle of the road, but it was a decoy,” said Lt. Donovan Campbell, who in 2004 led a Marine platoon for seven months of heavy fighting in Ramadi and wrote a vivid book, “Joker One,” about the experience. “The real bomb was encased in concrete, a hundred meters away, in the midst of rubble. One of my Marines spotted it. He said, ‘That block looks too symmetrical, too perfect.’ ”


Itzhak Bars thinks there may be an extra dimension of time that we haven't noticed yet, as part of a 6-D universe. Six dimensions, twelve dimensions, who's counting?

Take the Blue Pill

The Nedergaard lab at the University of Rochester has successfully treated spinal cord injury in rats using Brilliant Blue G, a food dye that operates by blocking secondary cell death in the cord.

Of course, there are about 50 treatments already that can fix SCI in the rat. As long as you haven't severed the cord completely, scientists have been able to get rats up and moving since the days when I used to study this. The problem lies with transfering any of these treatments up to humans, who depend more heavily on sophisticated pathways to manage movement.

Still, this turns rats blue, so that's something.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Old Maid and International Trade

Interesting comments from John Mauldin and the Zero Hedge crew on the potential China bubble, which ask the question: where's all the money going? There's a heck of a lot of copper being warehoused at the moment, and the Chinese are apparently gearing up for a spending spree with all those greenbacks we've been giving them. So, what happens next?

The 12 Skills You Should Practice

Josh Kaufman (Personal MBA) and Lloyd Morgan (lonegunman) suggest that there are twelve core skills "that we should strive to become very good at (Top 25%)" to succeed.

  • Information-Assimilation
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Mathematics
  • Decision-Making
  • Rapport
  • Conflict-Resolution
  • Scenario-Generation
  • Planning
  • Self-Awareness
  • Interrelation
  • Skill Acquisition
I like the "Top 25%" concept, but I wonder if being in the top quartile of the general population is enough. To succeed, you've got to be in the top of the selected sample, wherever sample you may find yourself in. (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.) Also, its unclear whether these particular skills line up well on either a theoretical or practical basis.

There seem to be four clusters here:
  • Communicate Well
  • Play Well with Others
  • Keep Learning
  • Plan for the Future

Maybe that's more useful advice? I don't know.

RIP Merce Cunningham

John Cage & Merce Cunningham.
Photo: John Mitchell
A very Impossible Cool style image.

NPR on Merce: he would still take the stage [when older]. Some people were very glad to see him. Others wished he would stop waving his arms

Silver vs. Barone on the Blue Dog Problem

Michael Barone says that the Blue Dogs are pushing against healthcare because their constituents are against it. Nate Silver says that's counterfactual thinking:
In this poll, 79 percent of liberals agreed with the statement as did 77 percent of Democrats -- not a very big difference. Since almost all liberals are Democrats and about half of all Democrats are liberals, that suggests that support for health care reform among non-liberal Democrats is something like 75 percent.

But suppose that Barone is right, and that health care -- or at least the current Democratic version of it -- indeed is unpopular in these districts.

Well, then, Mr. Blue Dog, you have a problem on your hands.

You're going to lose anyway.

If these voters are not capable of supporting health care, what other planks of the Democratic agenda are they going to support?

The carbon tax? Not rural, energy-intensive districts.

Maybe your constituents liked the bailout? Didn't think so.

Perhaps they're waiting for Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act? Um, probably not.

The fact is, Mr. Blue Dog, there's a good chance that the reason you're in power is because George W. Bush was in power. When Bush was in power, you didn't have to advance your party's own agenda -- you just had to block some of the more unpopular elements of his.

But you don't have that advantage anymore. You're going to have to endure at least two more elections with Obama as your President -- and since the Republican candidates in 2012 are Dopey, Sleazy and Romney, probably four. You're going to start having to find at least a few things to vote for.

And if health care isn't one of them, it's hard to see what else is, at least in your sort of district.

Maybe you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. But the only world in which you are popular enough to get re-elected is one which this bill is popular enough for you to vote for.


This sort of thinking is why we at brs love Nate Silver.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Future is Now, Vol LXXVI

Researchers in Shanghai have converted mouse fibroblasts (skin cells) into pluripotent stem cells, and then used the stem cells to clone fertile offspring.

"One line can generate such competent mice that the longest living one we have is nine months," Zeng told Reuters.

"It has generated now more than 100 of second-generation (mice) and more than 100 third-generation (mice). It really demonstrates how fertile and strong the system is."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Kuroshio Sea

Kuroshio Sea - 2nd largest aquarium tank in the world - (song is Please don't go by Barcelona) from Jon Rawlinson on Vimeo.

This was shot at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.

The main tank called the ‘Kuroshio Sea’ holds 7,500-cubic meters (1,981,290 gallons) of water and features the world’s second largest acrylic glass panel, measuring 8.2 meters by 22.5 meters with a thickness of 60 centimeters. Whale sharks and manta rays are kept amongst many other fish species in the main tank.
Jon Rawlinson shot this with a Canon 5DMKII. Allow to load before watching.

This deserves the full screen treatment.

(via kottke)

De-Anonymizing the Model

Jenna Sauers writes a kaleidoscopic farewell to her life as a model, and then eats some French fries.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy modeling. In point of fact, what kept me in the industry for so long was the constant contact with lovely women, smart women, talented women, hard-working women, inspiring women, women of the sort I wanted to grow up to be. (I met some nice men, too, but, in this industry, there are just fewer of them — fashion is a powerful global business that has the quirk of being thoroughly gendered.) In fact, fashion is the world's largest employer of women; it's an industry of women, by women, for women. I felt like I was always meeting the best of them: Foodie art directors who advised me on which East Village deli secretly sells the best $3 goat tacos East of the Mississippi. Prop stylists who went to RISD, emerged only with an ingrained loathing of the art world old boys' club, and decided to fuck it and paint hay bales odd colors and source antique books for editorial spreads. I remember walking 20 minutes from a train station to get to a photographer's apartment, and then talking for an hour about Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Cindy Sherman, over tea, while she intermittently remembered to take my picture. (She drove me home, and we worked 12 hours together that weekend.) It took me a very long time to reconcile the apparent disconnect between the consistent wonderfulness of the many people I was working with, and the persistent awfulness of the position of abject and total disempowerment that I, like any non-super model, occupied — to realize that the problems of the modeling industry are not in fact personal, but structural.

It is worth clicking through to read the whole thing.

Colbert takes on Torture, Cheney & Todd

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

32 Euro

John Aravosis on the horrors of socialized French medicine.

Try Them All

Based on this week’s Newsweek report, the Obama Administration appears to be committed to reproducing the failed Bush Administration policy of indefinite detention. The remarkable consensus among Administrations occurs in part due to the declining force of fundamental moral arguments, a trend that characterizes our postmodern era.

I will largely allow others to make the simple and entirely reasonable argument that giving everyone a fair trial is the morally correct thing to do because it is entirely obvious to anyone who still agrees with the argument, and totally futile against anyone who does not. The judicial apparatus of this country, whatever its faults, is the institution resulting from a history of evolution dating at least back to English common law, during which time it has had the rough edges polished by a wide variety of circumstances and participants. The open and fair trial system has worked for Tories, Confederates, Anarchists, Communists, Fascists and common criminals. Six hundred plus years of precedent cannot be set aside easily.

What results instead is a broken process. It has no exit, either for the detainees or for the Administration that oversees it. The longer it continues, the worse it gets; it does not go away by declaration, because there is no way to declare it into compliance with basic Constitutional or judicial law, and there is no way to reach a stable end state.

The real alternatives, as we already know but may not wish to admit, are to either try the detainees in an actual Federal court or to deport them back to the theater of conflict. It is now time to take one of these ways out, and find our way to a successful exit.

The Birth of Cool

These Miles Davis Quintet boards by Ian Johnson make me want to start skating.

The New Defense Strategy

It seems that General Mattis and Secretary Gates have been taking a page from the John Boyd playbook, pushing for small, flexible forces and decentralized command over big tech and monolithic C&C structures.

In a speech in early June, U.S. Marines Gen. James Mattis called for an end to the so-called “capabilities-based” approach* to military planning, where the Pentagon strove to have the best possible forces for every imaginable threat, regardless of cost — rather than emphasizing the forces deemed most necessary for the most likely threat. It’s capabilities planning that produced small numbers of super-capable, and super-expensive, weapons like the F-22 fighter, at the expense of more mundane infantry battalions, trainers and logistical forces.

That’s about to change, if Defense Secretary Bob Gates has his way. On Monday, Gates announced plans to add more than 20,000 active-duty soldiers to the Army’s ranks, for three years. If and when the boost happens, the Army will have around 570,000 active troops, up from just 480,000 before 9/11. (These figures don’t include the approximately 500,000 reservists and Guardsmen.) It’s a temporary increase, for now, but Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Defense News that a larger Army could be permanently codified in the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.

The boost is driven by Gates’ vision of “hybrid” war, where enemy forces shift fluidly between insurgent tactics and tech-heavy, traditional warfare. Hybrid threats are best defeated by “high-performing small units capable of operating independently at increasingly lower echelons,” Mattis said. A larger army will also eventually allow troops to take two years off between combat deployments, instead of the one year off that is the current standard.
Closing down the F-22 program frees up the necessary funds for the extra ground troops all by itself. It's good to see that the Senate did the right thing today.

*From the speech:

Mattis is determined to bury that notion. “Defense planners will not be allowed to adopt a single preclusive view of war,” he said. ”War cannot be precisely orchestrated. By its nature it is unpredictable. You cannot change the fundamental nature of war.”

The military has swung too far in its embrace of high-technology, Mattis said, using as an example what he called “over-centralized” command and control. That over-centralization can create a “single point” of failure, he warned. “The U.S. military is the single most vulnerable military in the world if we overly rely on technical C2 systems.” In future wars, technical systems will be under attack and will go down, he said, so forces must disaggregate authority and decision-making to much lower levels. “We’re going to have to restore initiative” among small units and individual leaders.

Tasked with crafting a force for the “combatant commander after next,” Mattis is striving to prevent the military from repeating past mistakes such as “grabbing concepts that are defined in three letters, and then wondering why the enemy dances nimbly around you.” He recently decreed that EBO be dropped from the American military lexicon. The rhetorical battle over EBO was largely between those who see troops on the ground as the linchpin of future conflicts, versus airpower enthusiasts, who believe just the right amount of precision weaponry applied at just the right point can produce, well, most any desired effect.

In future wars, ground forces — supported by aviation and naval forces — will be the linchpin, Mattis said. It is on the ground, in complex terrain, mixed in with the civilian population, where today and tomorrow’s enemy will confront U.S. forces. “These wars will be fought among the people… we’re going to have to deal on human levels with human beings and not think that technology or tactics by targetry will solve war.”
This is classic Boyd maneuver warfare doctrine. People, not technology. Localized, dynamically responsive control over strict central planning. Small, mobile, and difficult to hit units. Good stuff.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Library Porn 2

(via mr)

More Audacity, Please

Miles Mogulescu makes the case that Obama needs to stop with the half-a-loaf efforts, and get with the program.

Why We Should Not Ration Healthcare, Part II

The other chief reason we should not ration health care is that it is immoral to do so. As my friend Eric put it yesterday, selecting who gets what treatment on the basis of age or health status "smells a little too much of Auchwitz" for comfort. The value of a life becomes less than the value of our life.

I am happier with the principle that we're not going to leave anyone on the battlefield. Anything less is unworthy.

Why We Should Not Ration Healthcare

Peter Singer’s provocative NYT op-ed “Why We Must Ration Health Care” suggests that we can get more for our healthcare dollar by using rationing to explicitly limit the treatments and patients that we are willing to cover for specific ailments.

You have advanced kidney cancer. It will kill you, probably in the next year or two. A drug called Sutent slows the spread of the cancer and may give you an extra six months, but at a cost of $54,000. Is a few more months worth that much?

If you can afford it, you probably would pay that much, or more, to live longer, even if your quality of life wasn’t going to be good. But suppose it’s not you with the cancer but a stranger covered by your health-insurance fund. If the insurer provides this man — and everyone else like him — with Sutent, your premiums will increase. Do you still think the drug is a good value? Suppose the treatment cost a million dollars. Would it be worth it then? Ten million? Is there any limit to how much you would want your insurer to pay for a drug that adds six months to someone’s life? If there is any point at which you say, “No, an extra six months isn’t worth that much,” then you think that health care should be rationed.

Further, rationing might be done on the basis of age, life expectancy, current health status, or dollar cost of a given treatment. If we’re truly dealing with a resource of limited quantity, one where there’s just not enough to go around, rationing is one possible response. In certain carefully delineated areas, treatment really is scarce: there are only so many donated organs to go around, and these must be allocated carefully to obtain the maximum benefit. But, most healthcare does not face a hard supply limit—it is merely expensive. Expensive healthcare is a problem, for the individual and for society, but it is not solved by rationing (limits on quantity), any more than it is solved by artificial price controls. Rationing is a solution to a different problem.

The first problem is that Singer conflates rationing with allocation. We can and do allocate, on the basis of need and on the basis of ability to pay. That’s led to a lot of unfortunate outcomes: potentially catastrophic bills, large numbers of people uncovered or undercovered, and a lot of non-optimal behavior (e.g., forgoing inexpensive prevention, resulting in expensive emergency visits). The solution to the unthinkable outcomes resulting from the current system is not rationing, which results in more unthinkable outcomes. To do so is to let the problem win; this is a poor response to a large challenge; this mismatch between the complaint and the prescription is the second problem with Singer's argument.

There are three potential complaints one might have with a good: 1) there isn’t enough of it, 2) it costs too much relative to income, or 3) it costs too much relative to the benefit it delivers. Rationing helps with (1), but actually makes the other complaints worse. Why? If we restrict the quantity available below the free market solution, we will also tend to increase the price, both explicitly due to greater scarcity and smaller scale. We will also pay implicit welfare costs by the inability to obtain a freely chosen alternative. We're not dealing with a group (1) situation. Healthcare is merely very expensive relative to both income (group (2)) and in places relative to the quality of the care (group (3)); these problems require a totally different response.

The better response to problem groups (2) and (3), where there are either poor solutions or exceptionally costly solutions, is to use the expensiveness as a guide of where to attack and direct our research dollars against these areas. We may then end up paying a lot in the short run, but driving costs down sufficiently over time. This will tend to happen as procedures become routine, drugs slip into the public domain and more cost effective processes and policies are put into effect. Currently, there are large potential cost savings for many of the top 10 chronic ailments, including various organ failures and deficiencies that currently require lifelong medication and or equipment support. Diabetes, kidney disease, obesity and heart disease represent nearly three quarters of healthcare expenditures and can be usually be prevented. Further research is needed to make treatment of the remainder of these problems less expensive than they currently are--but there's a lot of built in room for improvement.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RIP Frank McCourt

"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood

"People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty, the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years."

He became a highly successful teacher almost by accident, and then a successful author by even greater accident. Didn't he do it well though?

I'm Getting an Unusual Flavor from this Piece

Some art is for the ages, some for the afternoon:

“In our rush, our naïveté, it seemed clear that this work was going to change—I mean, it was made of ashes and chocolate. And collectors would later come and say, ‘This broke, can you fix it?’ ” Peres recalls. “Now, no work of Terence leaves my gallery without a release, because his materials are quite unusual. We just don’t know what will happen to a piece made out of chocolate and Terence’s come.”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Phineas Gage

The above photo is believed to be the only known image of Phineas Gage, who had the misfortune of having a tamping iron blown through his skull in 1848 resulting in a number of personality changes and the delight of generations of freshmen psychology students.
It also appears that Mr. Gage was something of a hottie, once apon a time.

Lily Blogging

I love the fact that these photos are not enhanced, and yet manage to come close to clipping the camera's color saturation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arthur Cravan

Arthur Cravan was a very strange man. Nephew to Oscar Wilde. Poet, boxer, Dadaist. Dismissed from a military academy for spanking an instructor. Used to deliver lectures where "he insulted, mooned and fired gunshots at the audience". Disappeared off the coast of Salina Cruz, presumed dead. If not back then, then certainly by the present day.

Hilzoy's Greatest Hits

Now that Hilzoy is off on safari for the elusive Bare Faced Go Away Bird (and supposedly done blogging), Brad DeLong has collected some of her greatest hits under the title "If Immanuel Kant had a Weblog".
Back in 1983, I sat in on a conference on women and social change.... [T]here was a recurring disagreement about the role of violence in fighting deeply unjust regimes.... [T]he South Africans... "We need to win our freedom as quickly as possible," they seemed to say. "We realize that it would be preferable to win that freedom in the best possible way. If we could win it just as quickly through non-violent means, we would surely do so. But you would not ask us to wait if you really understood what it is like to live in slavery." By contrast, many of the arguments made by the Indians turned on the effects that achieving self-government through violence had on one's own people. "Don't do this, they seemed to be saying: once you win your freedom, you will find that you and your people have grown accustomed to settling disputes by force and to demonizing your opponents. Think now about how to use the struggle you are waging to teach yourselves how to become citizens and to practice self-government. Do not wait until you win your independence to discover that self-government requires not just political power, but political responsibility."

What made this argument so fascinating and painful to watch was that it was so easy to see both points of view. Who could possibly deny the justice of either side? And yet I thought the Indian women were right. I did not think that they had forgotten what it was like to be oppressed. I thought they were warning the others off a mistake that they knew would be tragic, however comprehensible it might be. And I had just returned from Israel, where I had spent a lot of time thinking about the many, many ways in which completely comprehensible failures can echo down through the generations.

While I was in Israel, I had also wondered what would happen to all those Palestinian kids who had grown up in refugee camps in Lebanon, who had, as best I could tell, been taught a lot about RPGs and nothing whatsoever about how to function in a world in which conflicts are not settled by violence. I found it unforgivable that the Palestinian leadership that ran the camps seemed to have given no thought to the question: how can we bring these children up to be responsible citizens of any future state?...

So one thing I thought that the Indian women saw was this:

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.
And another was this:

Liberation is not just a matter of removing an oppressive government. It can seem that way when you live under tyranny. Nothing is more comprehensible than people living in apartheid South Africa, or under Saddam, thinking: if only that government were removed from power, things would be better. They would have to be. After all, how could they possibly be worse? Unfortunately, there are almost always ways in which things could be worse.

When the world has gone insane, we look around ourselves for those who remain sane. Come back soon.

Effluvia of the Super Sargasso Sea

A 12 mile long, black slick of something has been detected off the coast of Alaska.

Say, does anyone know what happened to the Intrepid?

If You Don't Want It...

Senator Kyl says that the stimulus isn't doing any good, and that we should just cancel the rest of it. The Obama administration says, fine, we'll let Arizona cancel the rest of its incoming funds if that's what they want. After all, we don't want to burden you with the rest of this useless money.

Kyl maintains this year's stimulus law isn't working as advertised and argues that taxpayers shouldn't have to stay on the hook for money that hasn't been spent or won't be spent until years from now.

On Monday, four Obama Cabinet secretaries sent letters to Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer asking if she, too, wanted to shut off the spigot of federal stimulus cash.

“I believe the stimulus has been very effective in creating job opportunities throughout the country,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wrote to Brewer. “However, if you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to the state, as Senator Kyl suggests, please let me know.”


Monday, July 13, 2009

Worst. Ending. Ever.

I know I'm not the only one still feeling cheated about the Battlestar finale last winter. Brad Templeton goes into it far more than I did at the time, but basically comes up with all the critiques I did. IO9 has more. The shame of it is that it was such a great series that had no reason whatsoever to end as it did.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bond Market

Jon Taplin on the phony inflation scare. The yield curve is mostly normal (or low on the short term), and demand for Treasuries is still high.

Gothic High Tech and Favela Chic

Bruce Sterling at Reboot

"These are people who position themselves in the narrative rather than building any permanent infrastructure."

(via Jamais Cascio)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Quant Weather Report

Zero Hedge features a detailed report from Matt Rothman of Barclay's on the currently prevailing conditions in the market from a quant perspective. The summary: market dispersion has been unusually low for the past several months, which means that diversification has been relatively useless. Most of the other major strategies have also had major problems on a mathematical basis; the risk management models that the big traders use are not able to cope with the conditions in which we find ourselves, but it appears that we are slowly returning to a more normal regime.

Run Time

John Branch has an article in the NYT today, about a long distance runner with a partial right temporal lobectomy, obtained due to a long-term seizure disorder. As a result, she's lost her awareness of time and her ability to read maps.
She used to run away from epileptic seizures. Since brain surgery, she just runs, uninhibited by the drudgery of time and distance, undeterred by an inability to remember exactly where she is going or how to get back.

“It used to be, call for help if Mom’s not back in five hours,” Van Deren said. She laughed. “That rule has been stretched. I’ve got a 24-hour window now. Isn’t that sad?”

Van Deren, 49, had a lobectomy in 1997. She has become one of the world’s great ultra-runners, competing in races of attrition measuring 100 miles or more.

...Van Deren “can go hours and hours and have no idea how long it’s been.” Her mind carries little dread for how far she is from the finish. She does not track her pace, even in training. Her gauge is the sound of her feet on the trail.

“It’s a kinesthetic melody that she hits,” Gerber said. “And when she hits it, she knows she’s running well.”
So, it isn't time that she's lost. She can still sequence and maintain rhythm. Those capabilities are served by areas of the cerebellum, thalamus and hypothalamus, among others. It's the awareness and comparison of the passage of time or space that's missing, the cortical and limbic internal maps that have gone awry.

Jonah Lehrer makes a very perceptive comment: on the one hand, she seems like someone who has an idealized flow, but it's a flow without end or control, so it comes at a tremendous price.

Trent Reznor on Strategy for Small Bands

Trent Reznor's success as a major recording artist who broke away from the major labels has lead to questions from fans who are themselves (less well known) recording artists. How can the little guys benefit from the NIN model?

  • If you are an unknown / lesser-known artist trying to get noticed / established:
    Establish your goals. What are you trying to do / accomplish? If you are looking for mainstream super-success (think Lady GaGa, Coldplay, U2, Justin Timberlake) - your best bet in my opinion is to look at major labels and prepare to share all revenue streams / creative control / music ownership. To reach that kind of critical mass these days your need old-school marketing muscle and that only comes from major labels. Good luck with that one.
  • If you're forging your own path, read on.

    Forget thinking you are going to make any real money from record sales. Make your record cheaply (but great) and GIVE IT AWAY. As an artist you want as many people as possible to hear your work. Word of mouth is the only true marketing that matters.
    To clarify:
    Parter with a TopSpin or similar or build your own website, but what you NEED to do is this - give your music away as high-quality DRM-free MP3s. Collect people's email info in exchange (which means having the infrastructure to do so) and start building your database of potential customers. Then, offer a variety of premium packages for sale and make them limited editions / scarce goods. Base the price and amount available on what you think you can sell. Make the packages special - make them by hand, sign them, make them unique, make them something YOU would want to have as a fan. Make a premium download available that includes high-resolution versions (for sale at a reasonable price) and include the download as something immediately available with any physical purchase. Sell T-shirts. Sell buttons, posters... whatever.
This is the best advice regardless of the business you're in. Decide what you want to be, get to the customers you want to reach, and then pump the product through the best channel you can find.

Reznor's additional advice: Take advantage of the technological and business services advances the cut the cost, time and difficulty of operating your business. Be user friendly. Know your customers.

Also implied in the "premium" model that NIN used for its most recent album: partner with other good artists who work in other media (packaging, stagecraft, web) to provide engaging user experiences. The important thing about the music is not just the music itself; it's what you're doing when you listen to the music.

This is readily apparent if you go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You will find a lot of old guitars behind glass, together with a lot of costumes designed for people who are shorter than you think they were when you saw them on stage at the music festival. What you won't find is the inspiration to get up there and make some music on stage yourself, nor the feeling you get from the music that you loved when you were sitting in someone's bedroom going through their record collection.

There's one more thing you need to think about that Reznor doesn't provide: a model of how the money comes in and where it goes out (what the VCs call a Sources & Uses statement). What are the big ticket items? What costs you a fixed fee (recording costs), no matter how well you do, and what's variable (total expenditures on CDs)? What costs do you need to watch closely (marketing budget or gas money)? How do you know when you're doing well, or need to change, or when to stop?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Received my copy of the BLDG BLOG BOOK today. I wonder if I'll ever get the coveted Lebbeus Woods autograph in my copy...

I Would Have Got Away with It

If it weren't for those meddling kids. Police foiled a jailbreak that involved a remote-controlled zeppelin:

Three people have been arrested after their plan to aid the escape of an inmate from prison in Las Palmas on the Canary Islands was discovered by police. They planned to use a 13 foot long remote-controlled airship to deliver night vision goggles, climbing gear and camouflage paint to the Italian convict who would then use the equipment to escape from prison.

(via jwz)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Death Race

What should have been a 24-hour endurance and puzzle race, finished in only 12 hours. They don't make them like they used to.

Someone's idea of a good day.

Monday, July 06, 2009


"Life should NOT be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in sideways,
chocolate in one hand,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
"WOO HOO what a ride!"

(via JC)

C'était un rendezvous

Claude Lelouch's Rendezvous... from Dat on Vimeo.

Slate's liner notes:

C'était un rendezvous: A 1978 short film by New Wave director Claude Lelouch may be the most thrilling single piece of driving ever filmed. The director, who had no permits to film or to stop traffic, hooked a camera to the front bumper of a Mercedes-Benz (in the only bit of film trickery, the sound of the motor was played by a five-speed Ferrari) and filmed the entire movie in a single cinema-verité take: He drove through the streets of Paris at five in the morning, through red lights, around the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, against one-way traffic, over sidewalks, at speeds up to 140 miles per hour. The film ends after nine terrifying minutes when the driver parks the car in Montmartre and a blonde comes up the stairs toward Sacre Coeur. (It was a date.) After the first showing, the director was arrested for endangering public safety.

Pink Boxer Soldier Comes Home

Zachary Boyd returns from Afghanistan

Quants on the Run

Tyler Durden discusses the strange case of espionage that happened to Goldman Sachs over the past few months, in which a senior VP allegedly ran off with some of GS's high frequency trading prop models.
In a nutshell, on Friday, one Sergey Aleynikov was arrested at Newark airport by FBI agents, as he was coming back from a trip to Chicago (maybe visiting his new employer), on what are basically industrial espionage charges. ...

If the allegations are true, it looks like Goldman's hi-fi quant trading desk was thoroughly penetrated by a "spy", and as readers will recall, Serge(y)'s description of his job duties mirrors what Mr. Ed Canaday conveniently provided to Zero Hedge as a description of Goldman's SLP program. (Sources connected with the office of the United States Attorney have confirmed to Zero Hedge that Aleynikov was at one time or another a Goldman employee.")

Brad DeLong refers to this as a "Burning Chrome" scenario. The Gibsonian nature of the caper us pretty unavoidable.

Well, That Explains the Pottery

Acephalous addresses Rob Liefield's assertion about one of his characters being a "non-gay Spartan".
The Spartans are still not homosexual in the manner of the Boetians, Eleians, or a host of my closest friends; however, on their wedding nights they gave the bride a man's haircut, dressed her up men's clothes, did their thing, then "retired to [the] usual apartment, to sleep with the other young men." Lycurgus seems to have mandated that all young men need and must be double-super-secret beards, which means that because no one is gay, everyone is; or that because everyone is gay, no one is—or maybe they were Heisenbergian beards, in that no Spartan could be measurably gay while being observed and vice versa because we have inadequate tools.
This may well be the first appearance in print of the term "Heisenbergian beards", which deserves a notice all of its own; this should not be confused with the related Schrödinger's beard, which simultaneously exists and does not exist until the bedroom door is opened.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Max Beerbohm

Dandy, Humorist and Character.

Joseph Epstein has a tremendous essay on Beerbohm, later quoted in Chandler Burr's You or Someone Like You

Beerbohm "took out Freud with a single sentence: 'They were a tense and peculiar family, the Oedipuses, weren't they?'"

elsewhere in the essay itself;
How might one describe Max Beerbohm to someone who knows nothing about him? Well, for a start, one might imagine D.H. Lawrence. Picture the shagginess of Lawrence, his thick beard, his rough-cut clothes, his disdain for all the social and physical niceties. Recall his passionateness—his passion, so to say, for passion itself—his darkness, his gloom. Think back to his appeal to the primary instincts, his personal messianism, his refusal to deal with anything smaller than capital “D” Destiny. Do not neglect his humorlessness, his distaste for all that otherwise passed for being civilized, his blood theories and manifold roiling hatreds. Have you, then, D.H. Lawrence firmly in mind? Splendid. Now reverse all of Lawrence’s qualities and you will have a fair beginning notion of Max Beerbohm, who, after allowing that Lawrence was a man of “unquestionable genius,” felt it necessary to add, “he never realized, don’t you know—he never suspected that to be stark, staring mad is somewhat of a handicap to a writer.”

Vieux Farka Toure

Son of Ali

A Capella Extreme

Perpetuum Jazzile, a Slovenian a capella group, does Toto's Africa. Love the thunder.

The Decline and Fall of the Dandy

In the good old days, you could dress exceptionally well (and boldly) and get well known for it. These days, it just looks like you're trying too hard. Michael Mattis gives a rundown of the current crop of dandies, including BRS favorites Sebastian Horsley and Lord Whimsy. The verdict: nice tie, but there's something missing in the personality department.

The Regency got Brummell, a true sartorial innovator whose wit was as crisp as his country-washed linen. Count D’Orsay alleviated Victorian stuffiness with his manly charm, and the Edwardian Era was graced by Saki and Max Beerbohm, who all but reinvented the rapier wit. The Deco era had thoroughly modern Noel Coward, Lucius Beebe appeased Atomic Age anxiety with quaint anachronism as well as a poisoned pen, and the big-money ’80s saw the rise of another dandy satirist, Tom Wolfe.

Though they had different personalities and temperaments, these great dandies all shared certain qualities, including style, wit, aplomb and often a mild eccentricity. Many also enjoyed some measure of celebrity — how should we have known them otherwise? And while some dandies of the past certainly enjoyed their fame, the artists among them put their work first and did not pursue celebrity for its own sake. “L’homme est rien,” said Flaubert. “L’oeuvre est tout.”

But who in our present era is celebrated for his dandyism? When the words “dandy” and “dandyism” appear in print, what names are written in conjunction with them? Who, in the eyes of the media and public, are the successors of Brummell, D’Orsay and Beerbohm?

In a 2006 article, The Guardian attempted to answer these very questions. Published in light of Ian Kelly’s Brummell biography and the BBC miniseries “This Charming Man,” the article cites as Brummell’s successors, among others, two pop stars: Brian Ferry, a self-proclaimed “pimpernel” who, the author gushes, “now wears Prada, Hedi Slimane and Kilgour,” and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, whose “ghetto fabulous” look consists of “jeans and $10,000 worth of jewelry around his neck.”

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Quote of the Day

What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald