Friday, December 30, 2011

The Power of Ideas

Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea. Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea.

-Grant Morrison

Quote of the Day

“Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.
-Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005

List of Best of Lists 2011

A non-exhaustive, highly idiosyncratic list that will be expanded as new lists are encountered:
  1. Best of The Morning News
  2. Top 10 Longreads
  3. Marginal Revolution's most popular posts
  4. Kirkus Review's best books
  5. Tom Eisenmann's favorite posts on running startups
  6. Mark Morford's favorite albums
  7. lesswrong's rationality quotes
  8. The Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of best blog posts
  9. Everything is Miscellaneous' Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten Lists

The Year in Reading 2011

Since 2006, I've been keeping a list of all the books I've read. I don't know whether I want to keep doing this, as it makes me feel like I'm reading less rather than more, trying to finish books that might just as well be left aside, and leaving aside critical books that really ought to be read immediately. The quality of reading takes a backseat to the quantity. Meh.

On the other hand, it's great to look back on the list itself for surprises and reminders. Can it really be that I hadn't read Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear or Helen DeWitt's amazing book The Last Samurai until this year? (If you haven't read these yet, go get them.) Other highly recommended fiction includes Lev Grossman's The Magician King, Eleanor Henderson's Ten Thousand Saints, and Neal Stephenson's Reamde.

This was also the year when I read Tim Ferriss's two books, and tried a lot of the self-help methods described in The Four Hour Body. Most of his recommendations still sound like hucksterism but actually work, as opposed to most books on similar topics, which sound reasonable but turn out to be bushwah. Also, Ferriss makes you want to get up and do something about your life. Other excellent books that made me want to get up and move were The Chairs are Where the People Go by Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti, a book about a man who teaches people how to play charades and how to get your neighbor's bar to be quiet, or something like that; and Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, on how to stop procrastinating (become a professional) and start writing.

Speaking of procrastination and other low-level personality issues, and also speaking of writing, check out Alice Flaherty (The Midnight Disease), Kay Redfield Jamison (Touched by Fire, Exuberance), and John Gartner (The Hypomanic Edge) on how hypomania, temporal lobe epilepsy, and other disorders made writers, scientists and entrepreneurs a bit more of what they are, and will make you wish you were a tiny bit mad. For the film version of this, go see Limitless. Grant Morrison's Supergods is a hypomanic book as well.

Other notable books on economics, psychology and entrepreneurship: James Gleick The Information, Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow, which may well be the most important book of the year, Kevin Kelly's What Technology Wants, Steven Johnson's The Innovator's Cookbook.

Four tremendous books on people: Edmund DeWaal The Hare with Amber Eyes, Alexander Theroux The Strange Case of Edward Gorey, which I haven't seen in anyone else's Best Of list, but which quite frankly belongs on everyone's, and Derek Jarman's diaries from the end of his life: Smiling in Slow Motion. If you want to read someone's thoughts on living and loving while dying, all in lapidary prose and great good humor, this one is the book for you.

Kelly Link & Gavin Grant

Two very good interviews with Small Beer Press's Kelly Link & Gavin Grant have surfaced lately: one from 2010 on some of Kelly's writing methods that she's adopted from other writers (ask your subconscious for ideas, put in things you like from other stories, write a lot of first sentences and select the best), and the other from author Alma Katsu (endpaper notes) with both Grant and Kelly about how to run a small press ("odd-shaped books" that others won't publish, but that match your taste are a good bet [if you've got good taste].)

I really like the list of things to put in stories: "fraught family dynamics", "people who make things", "electrical outages". The fifty first lines idea reminds me of the pottery class described by Malcolm Gladwell where the professor grades by the number of pots made, rather than the quality, and ends up with better results.

I also think that Small Beer is one of the most interesting publishers in America, both from the standpoint of the many great books they've brought onto the market, but also in their overall business model as an indie publisher. They produce quite a lot for their size, seem to be profitable, and have a good reputation with both customers and authors.

More: I don't remember whether I have already posted this interview with Link called "All Books are Weird"from Weird Fiction Review.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Incense Game

Now there is a perfume I’m working on that’s inspired by The Tale of Genji that will be made from extremely rare ingredients. It will be fabulously expensive because they’re incredibly hard to get. Much of it has to do with the Japanese ritual of burning incense. There are two words for it: one’s the ritual of burning incense and the other is a game where incense is burned and people are asked either to identify or they’ll burn various things and try to combine a smoke that’s really beautiful. Or people will talk about poetry or literature or what the smell the smoke inspires in them. That was very popular at the time that The Tale of Genji was written.

-Christopher Brosius
about his perfume "In the Library"

Winter is Coming

(via rcs)

Hello, Old Sexy!

She's wearing a TARDIS.
(via f-yeah Grant Morrison)

Monday, December 26, 2011

DJ Earworm - United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom)

Mashup king DJ Earworm presents the year of pop music, compressed, remixed and summarized.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Links for Later 12-21-11

  1. The Power of Living in Truth: a Vaclav Havel appreciation
  2. Mark Thoma: The Economic Divide Makes Everyone Poorer
  3. Adam Savage on SOPA/PIPA
  4. Al Jazeera on Bradley Manning
  5. How hard does James Franco work at Yale?
  6. Neal Pollack knew Christopher Hitchens better than you
  7. More on the Egyptian library fire
  8. Yet more

1% Feeling Put-Upon

Max Abelson reports some solipsistic quotes from members of the 1% who are quite unhappy with their lot in life. Income inequality will do that to a person, especially at the top. The more you make, the more insecure you are that you're going to be able to keep making it--your income volatility goes through the roof, and small changes in your relative ranking have big impacts on how well you do.

Nassim Taleb's fragility of the power law hits hard no matter where you sit. Joshua Brown (Reformed Broker) sees this other side of inequality. Being smart about investing (or anything) is no longer any guarantee of success. The market will eat your lunch.

This common problem of the rich and poor under conditions of high inequality is an idea I'll be working with over the coming year.

Egyptian Scientific Institute Burns Down

In a bizarre modern reinactment of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the Egyptian Army and police fired on protestors who attempted to rescue some of the 198,000 volumes contained at Egypt's largest library as the library building burned down. Other protestors had previously thorwn Molotov cocktails onto the neighboring Shura Council building.

Photo: unknown, citation wanted.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Very Calvin & Hobbes Christmas

"We miss you, Bill." Jim Frohmmeyer and Teague Chrystie discuss the snowman recreation process here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Looking Toward 2012

I really don't like that my choices in the upcoming election will be between one candidate who will betray the things I believe in, civil liberties, progressive taxation, etc., etc., etc., and a crazy person from the other side (take your pick) who will be even worse.

on the Caver in Chief

also: This.

Links for Later 12-16-11

  1. A sampling of Japanese kamon (family crests)
  2. A selection of Christopher Hitchens articles and talks from The Browser
  3. Slate's collection of Hitchens articles
  4. Hitchens' Mark Daily memorial article
  5. A short Kelly Link interview
  6. SOPA markup delayed indefinitely
  7. SOPA only supported by astroturfers and industry flacks?
  8. Bradley Manning pre-trial hearing begins
  9. Gingrich proposes abolishing Article III of Constitution to save America from having judges

RIP Christopher Hitchens

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Links for Later 12-11-11

  1. Kay Nielsen's fairy tale illustrations are beautiful
  2. Basquiat's hair 
  3. Charlie Hoehn on working for free to work the way you need to
  4. Growing frankincense
  5. Update on the Bradley Manning trial: military objects to 38 of 48 proposed witnesses, tries to select "embedded" journalists. Who's running the prosecution of this thing, Vladimir Putin?
  6. "Full Unconcealed Panic"
  7. SOPA and Protect IP Act explained again
  8. LAPD acts illegally against Occupy LA

Quote of the Day

The Socratic method, of which the Platonic dialogues are the chief example, is unsurpassed as a discipline for correcting the errors, and clearing up the confusions incident to the intellectus sibi permissus, the understanding which has made up all its bundles of associations under the guidance of popular phraseology. The close, searching elenchus by which the man of vague generalities is constrained either to express his meaning to himself in definite terms, or to confess that he does not know what he is talking about; the perpetual testing of all general statements by particular instances; the siege in from which is laid to the meaning of large abstract terms, by fixing upon some still larger class-name which includes that and more, and dividing down to the thing sought -- marking out its limits and definition by a series of accurately drawn distinctions between it and each of the cognate objects which are successively parted off from it -- all this, as an education for precise thinking, is inestimable, and all this, even at that age, took such hold of me that it became part of my own mind. I have felt ever since that the title of Platonist belongs by far better right to those who have been nourished in, and have endeavoured to practise Plato's mode of investigation, than to those who are distinguished only by the adoption of certain dogmatical conclusions, drawn mostly from the least intelligible of his works, and which the character of his mind and writings makes it uncertain whether he himself regarded as anything more than poetic fancies, or philosophic conjectures.    
-JS Mill

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Your Christmas Shopping List

"Eye removal kit, daddy butter, caramel yak, Fancy Boy lip glitter"
Wonderfully silly--I laughed until I cried. Still, I think the pre-made toast could be a big seller.
(via boingboing)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Foster the People - Helena Beat

Just passed the 2000th post on this blog since moving to the new platform. I know you're as thrilled about this as I am.

A Modest Proposal

Any member of Congress who votes to lock up American citizens without charges or trial should themselves be locked up without charges or trial under the terms of the law, as they are clearly terrorists intending to subvert the American way of life.

By extension: any member of Congress who votes for any prima facie unconstitutional measure should be immediately subjected to the penalties for such a measure.

Links for Later

  1. What Tim Tebow can't do
  2. Cutbacks demolishing the New York Public Library
  3. Lunch with Stewart Lee
  4. Any member of Congress who votes to lock up American citizens without charges or trial should themselves be locked up without charges or trial
  5. Time for me to fly
  6. SOPA compromise in the wings?
  7. Matt Damon talks about
  8. Lululemon lives to regret those stupid John Galt bags
  9. Automating your startup with Wicked Start
  10. Your smartphone is tracking your every move. Lawsuits pending
  11. Military spending multiplier < Domestic spending multiplier
  12. Mohawk Movember with Kellan Lutz

Asset Diversification Fail

Since 2000, according to a Morgan Stanley review, excess return of hedge funds (alpha) has dropped from 16% to -1%, while correlation of hedge funds with stock indices has gone from ~0.5 to ~0.9 (from moderately to highly correlated). In other words, except for global macro funds, hedge funds are no longer beating index funds, and in fact are no longer really hedging much of anything.

We always used to joke that "hedge fund" wasn't really a separate class of assets, but just a marketing strategy that allowed managers to extract 2 and 20 from their customers. With numbers like these, those extracting days are numbered.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Utilitarianism Revisited

This new Sam Harris interview of Daniel Kahneman about Thinking Fast and Slow has a high density of good material for such a short sample. All of it is worth reading. Of particular interest is the impact of "the experiencing self and the remembering self" on conceptions of utility and the good life.

Some conceptions of the good life take the Aristotelian view to the extreme of denying altogether the relevance of subjective well-being. For those who do not want to go that far, the distinction between experienced happiness and life satisfaction raises serious problems. In particular, there appears to be little hope for any unitary concept of subjective well-being. I used to hold a unitary view, in which I proposed that only experienced happiness matters, and that life satisfaction is a fallible estimate of true happiness. I eventually concluded that this view is not tenable, for one simple reason: people seem to be much more concerned with the satisfaction of their goals than with the achievement of experienced happiness. A definition of subjective well-being that ignores people’s goals is not tenable. On the other hand, an exclusive focus on satisfaction is not tenable either. If two people are equally satisfied (or unsatisfied) with their lives but one of them is almost always smiling happily and the other is mostly miserable, will we ignore that in assessing their well-being?
I love this. It gets at the root of a very long argument in a new way by looking at the texture of thought and consciousness. The Thinking book (and Kahneman's body of research) is full of exactly this sort of insight, and is one of the few books I've read on the subject that treats with decision-making and strategy while avoiding beginners mistakes in understanding general psychology. One of the best books of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Archaic Revival Revived

The psychedelic brew ayahuasca, developed by the indigenous people of South America and used as a sacrament by the syncretic Santo Daime religion, is gaining in popularity in the US. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) has a memoir on the subject coming out next year, spiritual searchers are holding shamanic sessions with the drug in New York yoga studios. The McKenna brothers would be proud. Alistair Appleton, TV presenter, meditation teacher and ayahuasca enthusiast, did a 30 minute documentary, "The Man Who Drank the Universe", and condicts regular retreats in Brazil to experience the drug. He's uploaded a "shiny, new" digital print to Vimeo:
The Man Who Drank the Universe from alistair Appleton on Vimeo.

Links for Later 11-28-11: Polyglots

  1.  Vladimir Skulkety speaks 11 languages. Here's his blog
  2. Mike Campbell ("Glossika" on YouTube) is learning 18 indigenous Taiwanese languages in 4 months, and speaks a number of others
  3. "Charley Cheer" speaks 6 languages
  4. A forum for polyglots & language students
  5. Alexander Arguelles reads/speaks a phenomenal number of languages present and past within the Germanic and Romance language groups, as well as a smattering of others 

Friday, November 25, 2011

For my Brother Esau is an Hairy Man

Alan Bennett - "Take a Pew" In which an Anglican priest delivers a most remarkable sermon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saved by an Idea

Grant Morrison, in Supergods and elsewhere, says that the idea of The Bomb nearly drove him to despair, but that the idea of Superman saved him by being a better idea. Helen DeWitt, in today's interview with the LA Review of Books, says that she was saved by the idea of Oxford in a similar way:
When I started college I thought I would now lead the life of the mind, rather than making good grades. It wasn’t like that. I hated the intellectual mediocrity, I did not know how to find something better; I attempted suicide for the first time at 19. Afterwards I asked myself: Is there anything, anything at all, that would make it a good thing that I did not die? And I thought: If I could go to Oxford, where the life of the mind is taken seriously, that would make it a good thing. Years later a psychologist told me it was not necessary to commit suicide when alienated by intellectual mediocrity: He had gone to Cornell, with its frat culture, but he had found one friend and it had been all right. He asked me why dealing with my publishers had led to a suicide attempt, and I said, well, if a book is technically challenging it is hard to get it through the machine, but if you want to write a work of genius it is necessary to take risks. He said: Your sanity is more important than writing a work of genius. I thought: Nobody who thinks that will ever write a work of genius. I thought: We all die sooner or later.

What I mean is. The Oxford of my imagination was not the Oxford of the actual world. But going to Oxford did transform me intellectually; it was the absolute impossibility of staying where I was, the ability to imagine something better, and the ability to work very hard for it, that took me there. In that sense the Oxford of my imagination was more powerful than the real university: I was trying to live by the standards of something that I had made up in my head, a place where everyone had read Proust in French, every classicist read the whole of Greek tragedy in the original….
Go and read the whole thing. Perhaps you will be saved by it. Who can tell? We are fortified in this life by the strangest and most happenstance of things.

Stanford Open Classes

What a great lineup of classes from Stanford, all available for free. I'm taking the Lean Startups one with Steve Blank, and maybe the Graphical Models one.

Links for Later 11-22-11

  1. Jeremy Renner's weird career
  2. Unemployment by college major (don't worry about it)
  3.  Rep. Joe Walsh is clueless about vets, OWS, child support, etc.
  4. Best review of Breaking Dawn to date
  5. New info on cancer causing airport scanners
  6. Fred Wilson on the difference between copyright infringement and theft

Umberto Eco on Conspiracies

Umberto Eco's latest novel, the Prague Cemetary, deals with the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and related conspiracy theories. The phantom, or non-conspiracy is an ongoing theme in his work. Here, he's interviewed by Tablet magazine:
Karl Popper, the philosopher, has written a beautiful essay on the plot-paranoia syndrome. He said it starts with Homer. Everything that happens at Troy is decided the day before on Olympus with the gods. So, he says, every society in a way elaborates the paranoia of somebody on their shoulders, deciding their fates. First, it’s a way to escape responsibility. It’s not me, it’s not my fault. Second, it’s very useful, especially for dictatorships. All my youth, until the age of 10, I was educated under the fascist dictatorship. And they said there was the demo-pluto-judo-cratic plot—democracies, plutocracies, and the Jews. It was a general plot in the world to humiliate Italy. And until yesterday Berlusconi continued his campaign about the communist plot against Italy. We have no more communists! Not even with a candle can you find them.

Touching the Owl

This owl looks adorable when you pet it, but it's really thinking that you look like a giant mouse.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chancellor Katehi Walks to her Car

Following the UC Davis pepper spray incident, Chancellor Katehi held a press conference this weekend. The students surrounded the building, waited for her to come out, and greeted her with eerie silence.

Links for Later 11-21-11

  1. Texas drought reveals ghost towns beneath man-made lakes
  2. Svante Paabo finds out about your Neanderthal ancestors, and what Fox2p does for you

Saturday, November 19, 2011

UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident

Casual cruelty on display.

These examples of police brutality are beginning to have an iconic quality not seen since the 60's. A lot of people are getting pepper sprayed, truncheoned, and dragged off to jail, and each incident just feeds energy into the protests. A lot of people need to be fired over this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Links for Later

  1. "If the human brain — with 100 billion neurons forging trillions of connections — were not complicated enough, research now suggests that every neuron may have its very own genome." (via marginal revolution)
  2. How, why and when cold calling beats AdWords
  3. Are heroin-addicted rats just unhappy with their lives? (via eli)
  4. Supercongress won't succeed
  5. Return of a 30's haircut
  6. James O'Keefe accused of doing political dirty work
  7. Against SOPA / Protect IP

Simpsons Made Real

From Reddit:

My grandma died, and a good friend asked: "Is there anything you need?" As a joke, I said, "A single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man's hat."

 This person's friend is a national treasure.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What I'm Reading

Marsilio Ficino, Platonic Theology. Ficino kicked off the Renaissance with his translation of Plato and the neo-Platonists from Greek into Latin, and was Lorenzo di Medici's go-to intellectual: physician, astrologer, and head of the Florentine reincarnation of the classical Academy. He was later charged with heresy, sodomy and what-have-you, but seems to have successfully defended himself. The Theology is what you end up with when a fearsomely intelligent and erudite man pulls out all the rhetorical stops and attempts to prove the immortality of the soul and the underlying unity of all religions using logic and the best science of the day. Like Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life , you may find the whole effort unconvincing, but you've got to admit that the man gave his best effort.

Edward Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. A deeply satisfying book, despite the occasional irruption of Luttwak's views on modern geopolitics into narratives about the first millennium CE, which mar an otherwise excellent, erudite and enjoyable book. Basic premises: unlike the Roman Empire and many contemporary powers, the Byzantines believed that prevarication, bribery and gradual attrition of the enemy is the least risky course; behind each defeated enemy is another enemy ready to take their place; and there is always someone who can be induced to attack your enemies, thus sparing your own resources. Fascinating view of the near 1000 year history of a civilization that I'd only read one set of books about previously (the John Julius Norwich triple decker).

North Morgan, Exit Through the Wound. I laughed out loud over the SAD therapy light sequence and the line about the typing fetish. Just a tremendously fun read, though I kept imagining a movie where main character Maine, played perhaps by Ryan Gosling, spends scene after scene staring listlessly at computer screens, family members, romantic partners, and hospital rooms. Make an iPod list of all the songs you listened to when you had a soul, consume 10mg Valium (if you have any. All I could find was a linty Midol tablet) and read this on the way to the gym.

The Lonely Forest

"Turn Off This Song And Go Outside"

Thinking about the Great Stagnation

fig 1: Technology adoption rates 1900-present, from this New York Times story, graphed by Nicholas Felton.

How Howard Sapolsky Writes

For someone who claims not to be a writer, he writes very well and with surprisingly little effort.

Links for Later 11-9-11

  1. Bacon's Four Sources of Error and Two Sources of Knowledge from Opus Majus
  2. Grand takedown of Anonymous (via Greer Gilman)
  3. Call Me Hope 
  4. The 300 look in Lightroom
  5. Why there are so many loons in the Republican nominating race: pandering, not running
  6. Union busting bill in Ohio repealed. There was much rejoicing.
  7. The six faces people make when being photographed
  8. Bill Daley being eased aside as WH Chief of Staff
  9. Agent-publishers

Monday, November 07, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Today's events include a swim meet, a football game, a book reading, a gallery tour and a funeral. Somehow, this seems like a good inventory of life.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Amanda Palmer - Science Fiction/Double Feature

with Moby, Stephin Merritt and Neil Gaiman on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dennis Calvert's Light Paintings

Dennis Calvert does some wild, fantasy/horror/scifi inspired light paintings, as shown in this Slate slideshow or on Calvert's own page and flickrstream.

Quote of the Day

Mark your calendars: The corporate media died when it announced it was too sophisticated to understand simple declarative sentences. While the mainstream media expresses puzzlement and fear at these incomprehensible “protesters” with their oddly well-worded “signs,” the rest of us see our own concerns reflected back at us and understand perfectly.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

William Black's Big Idea: "Use RICO on the banks."

The One Day Republic

Norman Davies has a fascinating book list and interview up, dealing with lost nations, past, present and most likely future. In among Poland-Lithuania and the fate of the Eurozone, there's a nice tidbit about a country with a tiny lifespan:
The past is full of everything. Great powers, obscure powers – which may have other achievements to their name. There are powers which last for centuries, but I found a republic which lasted for one day.
Goodness me. Which day?

March 15, 1939. The republic of Subcarpathian Ruthenia. It was the day that Hitler marched into Prague. The Germans swallowed Bohemia and Moravia, formed a protectorate and Slovakia became a client statelet of the Reich. And the third part of Czechoslovakia, this Subcarpathian Ruthenia, was left with nobody to tell it what to do. So it declared its independence at around 10 o’clock in the morning. And by the evening the Hungarian army arrived and swallowed it up. Fortunately there was a British travel writer – or someone posing as such – there at the time who described all this.
Read the whole thing, and then buy all of the books on the list.

(via bookslut)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Hexayurts
  2. John Crowley on how to predict the real future: reverse your assumptions
  3. Publishing: "there are really only two major players, Amazon and Google. Everyone else is trying to figure out the best way to go bankrupt or to become something else"
  4. Kaliber10K closes

Friday, October 21, 2011

Links for Later 10-21-11

  1. Edward Luttwak on geopolitical strategy and the implications of scotch prices in Tehran
  2. Henry Rollins interview
  3. Cantillation
  4. Cantellation
  5. Steve Yegge talks about how to present to Jim Bezos or other "hyperintelligent aliens"


Rick "Zombieboy" Genest becomes the spokesmodel for a very special makeup product. Weird to see what he looks like without the tattoos.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Michael Winslow

Mouthsounds legend Michael Winslow does Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" complete with Jimmy Page-style electric guitar noises.

(via kottke)

Monster Feet

And here is a man sitting in a size 1,450 slipper he ordered, which was supposed to be size 14.5. I wonder how much it would cost to get one of these?

Links for Later

  1. The death of ROE
  2. Sculptures made from bicycle chains
  3. The 147 interconnected companies that run the economy
  4. Nenets, a pair of rare Uralic languages with ten or more grammatical moods, the only word of which (other than "Nenets") to be adopted in English is the word "parka"

Monday, October 17, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Amazon trying to disintermediate publishers now
  2. "In ten or twenty years, we will be able to completely regenerate the face"
  3. UK anti-smut filters are ineffective and wasteful. No, really
  4. Animoog, a pro-quality synth for the iPad
  5. Michael Greer, bookbinder
  6. Bindery in a box
  7. Book reviews on the market by "the Carouser" show remarkably good sense
  8. Yes, William Shakespeare wrote his own plays
  9. Traveling like a Victorian
  10. Helen DeWitt interviewed at Bookforum
  11. Bookplates by Yuri Yakovlenko

Friday, October 14, 2011

Max Udargo's Response to the 53% Guy

From Max Udargo at the DailyKos, reprinted in here in full because it's worth keeping, and should probably be reprinted in high school civics textbooks and such:


I briefly visited the “We are the 53%” website, but I first saw your face on a liberal blog. Your picture is quite popular on liberal blogs. I think it’s because of the expression on your face. I don’t know if you meant to look pugnacious or if we’re just projecting that on you, but I think that’s what gets our attention.

In the picture, you’re holding up a sheet of paper that says:

I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!

I wanted to respond to you as a liberal. Because, although I think you’ve made yourself clear and I think I understand you, you don’t seem to understand me at all. I hope you will read this and understand me better, and maybe understand the Occupy Wall Street movement better.

First, let me say that I think it’s great that you have such a strong work ethic and I agree with you that you have much to be proud of. You seem like a good, hard-working, strong kid. I admire your dedication and determination. I worked my way through college too, mostly working graveyard shifts at hotels as a “night auditor.” For a time I worked at two hotels at once, but I don’t think I ever worked 60 hours in a week, and certainly not 70. I think I maxed out at 56. And that wasn’t something I could sustain for long, not while going to school. The problem was that I never got much sleep, and sleep deprivation would take its toll. I can’t imagine putting in 70 hours in a week while going to college at the same time. That’s impressive.

I have a nephew in the Marine Corps, so I have some idea of how tough that can be. He almost didn’t make it through basic training, but he stuck it out and insisted on staying even when questions were raised about his medical fitness. He eventually served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has decided to pursue a career in the Marines. We’re all very proud of him. Your picture reminds me of him.

So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong. I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays. I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too. I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.

I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.

Do you really want the bar set this high? Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week? Is that your idea of the American Dream?

Do you really want to spend the rest of your life working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week? Do you think you can? Because, let me tell you, kid, that’s not going to be as easy when you’re 50 as it was when you were 20.

And what happens if you get sick? You say you don’t have health insurance, but since you’re a veteran I assume you have some government-provided health care through the VA system. I know my father, a Vietnam-era veteran of the Air Force, still gets most of his medical needs met through the VA, but I don’t know what your situation is. But even if you have access to health care, it doesn’t mean disease or injury might not interfere with your ability to put in those 60- to 70-hour work weeks.

Do you plan to get married, have kids? Do you think your wife is going to be happy with you working those long hours year after year without a vacation? Is it going to be fair to her? Is it going to be fair to your kids? Is it going to be fair to you?

Look, you’re a tough kid. And you have a right to be proud of that. But not everybody is as tough as you, or as strong, or as young. Does pride in what you’ve accomplish mean that you have contempt for anybody who can’t keep up with you? Does it mean that the single mother who can’t work on her feet longer than 50 hours a week doesn’t deserve a good life? Does it mean the older man who struggles with modern technology and can’t seem to keep up with the pace set by younger workers should just go throw himself off a cliff?

And, believe it or not, there are people out there even tougher than you. Why don’t we let them set the bar, instead of you? Are you ready to work 80 hours a week? 100 hours? Can you hold down four jobs? Can you do it when you’re 40? When you’re 50? When you’re 60? Can you do it with arthritis? Can you do it with one arm? Can you do it when you’re being treated for prostate cancer?

And is this really your idea of what life should be like in the greatest country on Earth?

Here’s how a liberal looks at it: a long time ago workers in this country realized that industrialization wasn’t making their lives better, but worse. The captains of industry were making a ton of money and living a merry life far away from the dirty, dangerous factories they owned, and far away from the even dirtier and more dangerous mines that fed raw materials to those factories.

The workers quickly decided that this arrangement didn’t work for them. If they were going to work as cogs in machines designed to build wealth for the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies, they wanted a cut. They wanted a share of the wealth that they were helping create. And that didn’t mean just more money; it meant a better quality of life. It meant reasonable hours and better working conditions.

Eventually, somebody came up with the slogan, “8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of sleep” to divide the 24-hour day into what was considered a fair allocation of a human’s time. It wasn’t a slogan that was immediately accepted. People had to fight to put this standard in place. People demonstrated, and fought with police, and were killed. They were called communists (in fairness, some of them were), and traitors, and many of them got a lot worse than pepper spray at the hands of police and private security.

But by the time we got through the Great Depression and WWII, we’d all learned some valuable lessons about working together and sharing the prosperity, and the 8-hour workday became the norm.

The 8-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek became a standard by which we judged our economic success, and a reality check against which we could verify the American Dream.

If a family could live a good life with one wage-earner working a 40-hour job, then the American Dream was realized. If the income from that job could pay the bills, buy a car, pay for the kids’ braces, allow the family to save enough money for a down payment on a house and still leave some money for retirement and maybe for a college fund for the kids, then we were living the American Dream. The workers were sharing in the prosperity they helped create, and they still had time to take their kids to a ball game, take their spouses to a movie, and play a little golf on the weekends.

Ah, the halcyon days of the 1950s! Yeah, ok, it wasn’t quite that perfect. The prosperity wasn’t spread as evenly and ubiquitously as we might want to pretend, but if you were a middle-class white man, things were probably pretty good from an economic perspective. The American middle class was reaching its zenith.

And the top marginal federal income tax rate was more than 90%. Throughout the whole of the 1950s and into the early 60s.

Just thought I’d throw that in there.

Anyway, do you understand what I’m trying to say? We can have a reasonable standard for what level of work qualifies you for the American Dream, and work to build a society that realizes that dream, or we can chew each other to the bone in a nightmare of merciless competition and mutual contempt.

I’m a liberal, so I probably dream bigger than you. For instance, I want everybody to have healthcare. I want lazy people to have healthcare. I want stupid people to have healthcare. I want drug addicts to have healthcare. I want bums who refuse to work even when given the opportunity to have healthcare. I’m willing to pay for that with my taxes, because I want to live in a society where it doesn’t matter how much of a loser you are, if you need medical care you can get it. And not just by crowding up an emergency room that should be dedicated exclusively to helping people in emergencies.

You probably don’t agree with that, and that’s fine. That’s an expansion of the American Dream, and would involve new commitments we haven’t made before. But the commitment we’ve made to the working class since the 1940s is something that we should both support and be willing to fight for, whether we are liberal or conservative. We should both be willing to fight for the American Dream. And we should agree that anybody trying to steal that dream from us is to be resisted, not defended.

And while we’re defending that dream, you know what else we’ll be defending, kid? We’ll be defending you and your awesome work ethic. Because when we defend the American Dream we’re not just defending the idea of modest prosperity for people who put in an honest day’s work, we’re also defending the idea that those who go the extra mile should be rewarded accordingly.

Look kid, I don’t want you to “get by” working two jobs and 60 to 70 hours a week. If you’re willing to put in that kind of effort, I want you to get rich. I want you to have a comprehensive healthcare plan. I want you vacationing in the Bahamas every couple of years, with your beautiful wife and healthy, happy kids. I want you rewarded for your hard work, and I want your exceptional effort to reap exceptional rewards. I want you to accumulate wealth and invest it in Wall Street. And I want you to make more money from those investments.

I understand that a prosperous America needs people with money to invest, and I’ve got no problem with that. All other things being equal, I want all the rich people to keep being rich. And clever financiers who find ways to get more money into the hands of promising entrepreneurs should be rewarded for their contributions as well.

I think Wall Street has an important job to do, I just don’t think they’ve been doing it. And I resent their sense of entitlement – their sense that they are special and deserve to be rewarded extravagantly even when they screw everything up. Come on, it was only three years ago, kid. Remember? Those assholes almost destroyed our economy. Do you remember the feeling of panic? John McCain wanted to suspend the presidential campaign so that everybody could focus on the crisis. Hallowed financial institutions like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch went belly up. The government started intervening with bailouts, not because anybody thought “private profits and socialized losses” was fair, but because we were afraid not to intervene - we were afraid our whole economy might come crashing down around us if we didn’t prop up companies that were “too big to fail.”

So, even though you and I had nothing to do with the bad decisions, blind greed and incompetence of those guys on Wall Street, we were sure as hell along for the ride, weren’t we? And we’ve all paid a price.

All the” 99%” wants is for you to remember the role that Wall Street played in creating this mess, and for you to join us in demanding that Wall Street share the pain. They don’t want to share the pain, and they’re spending a lot of money and twisting a lot of arms to foist their share of the pain on the rest of us instead. And they’ve been given unprecedented powers to spend and twist, and they’re not even trying to hide what they’re doing.

All we want is for everybody to remember what happened, and to see what is happening still. And we want you to see that the only way they can get away without paying their share is to undermine the American Dream for the rest of us.

And I want you and I to understand each other, and to stand together to prevent them from doing that. You seem like the kind of guy who would be a strong ally, and I’d be proud to stand with you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Brakebills Alumni Portraits

Cecelia B did some great portraits of Alice and Quentin from Lev Grossman's The Magicians.

Jesse LaGreca, Hero of the Week

Occupy Wall Street participant and DailyKos contributor Jesse LaGreca continues to speak with greater clarity and moral authority than anyone on the Sunday morning talk shows. Stop that, Jesse LaGreca, or you will make George Will cry!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Links for Later

  1. Jacob Soll, one of this year's crop of MacArthur Fellows, talks about the history of accounting, how Machiavelli helped found political science, and what a library's good for.
  2. Three from Krugman: the eurovenn, Was Failure Inevitable? & the basics of the IS-LM
  3. Love for a wounded soldier
  4. Kiana Davenport's struggles with her publisher, and her publisher's struggle with self-publishing on Amazon
  5. Neal Stephenson: Innovation Starvation

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Peak Piano 1900

Nexcerpt cites piano manufacturing as an area where there's been technological regression since 1900:

The finest pianos in the world were built about a hundred years ago. Due to evolution in engineering, exhaustion of raw materials, and flagging business standards, we will never see their like again. Some people may build very good pianos; new forms of the instrument may exceed (in narrow ways) the magnificent machines built a few decades either side of the year 1900. But, from a musical perspective, there will never be a “better” piano than the typical concert grand of a century ago.

RIP Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs passed away today.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Centrism Really Means

There is a third party already, and it is the Democrats.

Paul Krugman:

Greg Sargent touches on a point I’ve been meaning to make; he does it in the context of third-party fantasies, but it’s true more broadly of calls for “centrism”. Namely, the hypothetical position self-proclaimed centrists want somebody to take — Michael Bloomberg, a chastened Obama, whatever — is almost always the position actually held by the Democratic party. But to seem “balanced”, the pundits involved have to ignore that inconvenient fact.

Links for Later

  1. Brad DeLong on Suskind & good economic policy

  2. The search for the orang pendek

  3. Topological Isomorphisms of the Human Brain and Financial Markets (via marginal revolution)

  4. Firefly's Sean Maher comes out


"Dreams are Gone" (demo)

The Millennium Dish

The beautiful enamel- and silver-work of Jane Short.

John Lilly Interviewed

Not only a fascinating discussion, this is also a rare implementation of the coonskin hat as adult headwear. Top shelf thinking.

Lost Books

Along with the never written books and the utterly forgotten, there are the lost books that reach us only as shadows, reflections and fragments in other books, rumors and legends and hand-me-down tales. Megan Gambino talks about ten of these at Smithsonian:

4. Inventio Fortunata

In the 14th century, a Franciscan monk from Oxford, whose name is unknown, traveled the North Atlantic. He described the geography of the Arctic, including what he presumed was the North Pole, in a book called Inventio Fortunata, or “The Discovery of the Fortunate Islands.” He gave King Edward III a copy of his travelogue around 1360, and some say an additional five copies floated around Europe before the book was lost.

What followed next was a game of telephone that stretched across centuries. In 1364, another Franciscan described the contents of Inventio Fortunata to Flemish author Jacob Cnoyen, who, in turn, published a summary in his own book, Itinerarium.

Unfortunately, Itinerarium also went missing—but not before Gerard Mercator, one of the most prestigious cartographers of the 16th century, read it.

Mercator, writing to an English scientist named John Dee in 1577, cribbed word for word from Itinerarium’s description of the North Pole: “In the midst of the four countries is a Whirl-pool, into which there empty these four indrawing Seas which divide the North. And the water rushes round and descends into the Earth just as if one were pouring it through a filter funnel. It is four degrees wide on every side of the Pole, that is to say eight degrees altogether. Except that right under the Pole there lies a bare Rock in the midst of the Sea. Its circumference is almost 33 French miles, and it is all of magnetic Stone.”

When Mercator published a world map in 1569, he used this description as the source for his illustration of the Arctic—based upon the third-hand summary of a lost book written by an unknown monk 200 years earlier.
(via boingboing)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren talks clearly about taxation and the social contract. "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

REM Calls it a Day

I'll miss them. Several years of my life were fully upholstered in REM's music. After 31 years, REM retires as a band. From their website:

"A wise man once said--'the skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.' We built something extraordinary together. We did this thing. And now we're going to walk away from it.

"I hope our fans realize this wasn't an easy decision; but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way.

"We have to thank all the people who helped us be R.E.M. for these 31 years; our deepest gratitude to those who allowed us to do this. It's been amazing."
Play us out, guys:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goodbye, DADT

A soldier comes out to his father on the day of repeal of DADT.

Hard to watch. Good to see.

Links for Later

1. Notes toward an understanding of Obama's economic policy decisions
2. Germanic neopagan denominations
3. A soldier comes out to his father on the day of repeal of DADT. Hard to watch. Good to see.
4. Dave Staley: ways to become Renaissance Florence today
5. A member of the House of Representatives so poor that he cannot feed his family on $200k/year (or maybe $600k)
6. Tennis union may go on strike over too-long season
7. Ryan Gosling

Crystal Baschet

As many of you know, I have a fondness for unusual musical instruments. While listening to Cliff Martinez's excellent 80's-inflected soundtrack to excellent Ryan Gosling-containing action movie Drive, I heard many things that were a joy to my ears. Not only did the soundtrack make use of tasty, tasty modular analog synthesizers, it was also made liberal use of the crystal baschet, an instrument invented in 1952 by Bernard and Francois Baschet. It's a sculptural instrument played by stroking glass rods which are bound to metal bars, and which resonate through a set of plexiglass and metal resonators. According to the Baschet website, only 67 of the instruments have been made since the 1950's.

Martinez saw it first as a child, and has used it in a number of movies, where it “works marvelously during crime scenes, especially those featuring huge plumes of blood on the walls.”

When I was 10 years old my parents took me to the Museum of Modern Art to see an exhibit entitled Structures for sound. It was a collection of "musical sculptures" created by Francois and Bernard Baschet and it permanently reupholstered my brain. From that moment on, I knew that I not only wanted to be a musician, but a weird musician.
I love that. I've always wanted to be a weird musician, too.

Now, listen to this:

and this:

and this, which also features the glass armonica and the Ondes Martinot, as played by Thomas Bloch:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Anna Meredith

Anna Meredith starts her Black Prince Fury EP with a fanfare and goes on from there.

(As recommended by Warren Ellis)

Black Prince Fury by Anna Meredith

Ohimè ch'io cado

Musical genres you never knew existed.

Monteverdi done cool on period instruments, with a bit of jazz, pizzaz and a countertenor.

More: The whole concert can be viewed here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Supercongress Meets the Cold Hard Facts

Doug Elmendorf, head of the CBO, laid out the simple truths of the budget situation for the Supercommittee members: 1) Austerity has produced poor results in other economies, and should be avoided if at all possible. 2) Either taxes must go up to pay for the social safety net, or the net must be radically cut to support tax cuts. 3) Spending now is a good idea, even if it produces larger deficits. 4) Obama's job plan is a good and popular proposal for helping the economy.

The Republicans on the committee are buying none of this.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

“You were free to choose and you did. Now lie in it.”

-Mark Twight

Links for Later

1. Paul Krugman on the post-9/11 shame
2. Gym Jones, where the 300 actors went to train
3. Frank Netter
4. Agent trys to de-gay YA lit
5. Andy Whitfield (Spartacus) dies at 39 of lymphoma
6. Fr. Mychal Judge a remembrance
7. Economics doubles match: Barro/Cowen vs. Krugman/DeLong

The Laughing Heart

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.


Eugene Gendlin developed a set of techniques called Focusing in collaboration with Carl Rogers and others which are used for dealing with implicit knowledge, knowledge viewed in terms of preconceptual experiences stemming from the body itself as a living process. Now, I've used something like this technique for years without knowing about his work or the formal system he's built around it. I recognize it without being able to precisely describe it, which is a very Focusing thing itself.

In this month's Tricycle, he discussed the method and uses of the Focusing techniques. It is a difficult interview to get through, because it is clear that a lot of the information Gendlin conveys happens via non-verbal channels.

One useful passage, relating to embodied consciousness:

The body includes behavior possibilities. It has the sense of space in which you can do things, not just move around. The possibilities of “what we can do from here” is the space that we really live in; we don’t live in empty, abstract, geometric space.

And then on top of that, you have your thinking capacity. The thinking that you are doing varies your behavior possibilities. You might think of something and then see that you can do such and such, which you hadn’t seen before. So the thinking changes the behavior possibilities, and that in turn is reconstituting your body in various ways.

Your body takes everything you learn with you. But your body understanding is more than what you learned. It absorbs what you learn, and then it still implies further. A body isn’t only an is; it is an is and implies further.
A further explication of the body feeling concept can be found here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Star Wars Cast

Merlin Mann:


The cast of the original Star Wars trilogy
“ARB,” I believe the parlance goes.

Thing is: we should store copies of this photo in every library and every time capsule.
Because, I think this may be very important.

And Now...

A message from five years ago from Ze Frank talking about ten years ago (or another five years from his perspective). Oh, how I miss The Show.