When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

31 December 2008

I saw my old lover on the street last night

I haven't paid much attention to MetaFilter lately; at one time I spent a substantial amount of time and energy there.

Every now and then, though, I see an FPP that knocks me out of my socks.

Like this one: Delta Blues O.G.'s. Just click it.

From but one of the many links there - Hound Dog Taylor's "Wild About You Baby":

Happy New Year!

Robert Burns forwarded a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man".[3] At the time it was fashionable to claim someone else's work. It was "traditional"; therefore, one should take Burns' statement with mild scepticism. Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem.[2] It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.[3]

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in Scotland and in the rest of the world. [4]

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i' the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
For auld lang syne.


30 December 2008

Freddie Hubbard, RIP

Jazz legend Freddie Hubbard died yesterday, at the untimely early age of 70.

Mr. Hubbard had a long and very prolific career, and the selection that follows--recorded in 1962, when Mr. Hubbard was in his early twenties--is by no means meant to denigrate his later work. But it really, really cooks.

This clip (an excerpt, unfortunately) is Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, playing the Bobby Timmons-penned classic Moanin', featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet; Art Blakey, drums; Wayne Shorter, tenor saxophone; Curtis Fuller, trombone; Cedar Walton, piano; and Reggie Workman, double bass.

Worth at least a thousand words

Over at Carrie's new blog, an intriguing post about how good data visualization can help decision-makers and policy-makers:
As part of his larger mission of promoting "fact-based" public health policy, Swedish physician Hans Rosling founded Gapminder.org, which aims to make world health data available and understandable to everyone. Back in 2006, Rosling gave a well-received TED presentation on the principles of Gapminder, showing, among other things, relative historical changes in life expectancy and GDP. (He spoke again in 2007.)
Hans Rosling and Gapminder (See What I Mean: Information Visualization)

29 December 2008

Also you misspelled "quiet," but that's minor, really

Forced sterilization is rightly regarded as a crime against humanity.

Still, sometimes one understands its appeal:

CHICAGO (AP) — The robber's threatening note made a Chicago bank job easy to solve: The FBI says the suspect wrote it on his pay stub. An FBI affidavit said the man walked into a Fifth Third Bank on Friday and handed a teller a note that read "Be Quick Be Quit (sic). Give your cash or I'll shoot."

The robber got about $400 but left half of his note. Investigators found the other half outside the bank's front doors. Authorities say that part of the man's October pay stub had his name and address.

The suspect was arrested at his Cary home. A judge ordered him held without bond Monday. If convicted of bank robbery, he faces 20 years in prison.

Please, show us some architecture

The (anonymous) commenters on this Architectural Record story about the construction delays at Ground Zero are pretty tired of it:
What is wrong with America??!!.....we all know it but won't touch it with a 10' pole! China had 7 years to build the phenomenal Olympic venues that dazzled the world this summer; we've had 7 years to produce a hole in the ground. Get a grip America.


Put up a memorial to those that perished of an appropriate size in the right place. Build buildings over the holes. But PLEASE - show us some Architecture.

Cable outages and Twitter

We get our Internet connectivity through Time Warner Cable in New York City, and while our cable TV service is out right now, data is chugging right along.

The customer service phone number is overwhelmed, so I suspect this is a major outage. But how can I find out?

Over at Twitter, I searched on "cable" and restricted results to a 25 mile radius of the city.

Yeah, cable's out. Ugh.

Yes, I know that once the cable outage is over the search above will give less interesting results.

Thought for the day

"It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day-to-day basis."  - Margaret Bonnano

28 December 2008

They were happy to get a sweater as a Christmas present

Chickens in hand-knitted sweaters (hat tip: Carrie)

Follow you, follow me

Buck found something very cool: A Twitter/Google Maps mashup callled twittervision.

Why no news scan is complete without Wikipedia

So there's a minor flap (that might break bigger) about a parody song, "Barack the Magic Negro," that was written in 2007 but gained popularity after being aired on Rush Limbaugh's show, and how it was later used by a candidate for RNC chairmanship.

OK, now here's why I love reading the news with Wikipedia open in one window.

None of the mainstream media coverage I've seen (so far) has mentioned the concept of the literary stock character of "the magic negro." I was an English Lit major; I noticed this right away. Others must have too.

Anyway, others did. Wikipedia links to the relevant article in the second sentence of coverage.
Examples of magical negroes as published by social commentators include:
And then, in a list of examples of real-world people who commentators have referred to as "magic negros",

I'm telling you, Wikipedia is a great place to follow breaking news stories.

Not for the facts of the matter, but for the connections and analysis of the hive mind.

(We're back from holiday travels. Happy [&Winter Holiday. where Winter Holiday="Eid al-Adha"; "Hanukkah"; "Christmas"; "Kwanzaa"; "Solstice"; "Festivus" and season as appropriate]... and a happy and prosperous 2009 to all.)

25 December 2008

And there were in the same country shepherds...

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-14 (King James version.)

Happy Christmas, one and all.

23 December 2008


Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.


The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

Now the underground success of Muslim punk has resulted in a low-budget independent film based on the book.
Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book (New York Times, 22 Dec 2008)

Hat tip: Carrie

(And... paging Chap for comment and analysis!)

Shellout falter

Roy Blount, Jr:
It is at this special time of the year, and especially of this extra-special year in particular, that we realize how urgent is our need to foster love and faith and brotherhood and... at any rate, faith, and by that I mean consumer confidence. When Americans, of all people, are afflicted with what the singer-songwriter Roger Miller called “shellout falter” — a reluctance to spend — then the whole world is liable, as Miller put it so well in his song “Dang Me,” to “lack $14 having 27 cents.”

Are we going to let it be said that all we had this Christmas to cheer was cheer itself? No! Let’s put the holly back in shopaholic, let’s get jingle-bullish. We owe it to ourselves, to the world and to future generations. The more presents we spring for now, the lighter the tax burden will be down the line.

22 December 2008

Helpful advice for travelers

If you hold tickets on JetBlue, and your flight is canceled, your choices are as follows: accept a seat on the next available JetBlue flight, or get a refund to your credit card and make your own travel arrangements.  (They do not have reciprocity arrangements with any other airline.)

We discovered this yesterday, when JetBlue cancelled our Sunday flight to RDU well after we had arrived at the airport... and the next available seat on a JetBlue flight was on Tuesday.

The "customer service" people at the airport were of absolutely no help.  The 800 number to JetBlue wasn't being answered.  

So we came back home and managed to claw our way onto a US Airways puddlejumper for Monday night.  I may actually be strapped to the wing on this flight.

I think that's about it for JetBlue and me.

21 December 2008

More from the time capsule

December 1998:

AltaVista is the best full-text search tool on the Web. When you are looking for a site containing a certain word or phrase, go to AltaVista.

Amazon is a great place to buy books, music, and videotapes online. (If you're looking for used or rare books, try BookFinder.)

Ask Jeeves is an amazing search tool that understands plain-English queries. ("Where can I learn about basketweaving?" will produce reasonable results, for instance.) It is a very forgiving search tool for novice users. Highly recommended.

BBC News offers another perspective on the news; great international coverage. Their US coverage is consistently interesting and often provides much-needed counterpoint to our own media. Also audio and video clips.

Breaking News From A.P When the big story breaks, don't go to CNN or MSNBC. The Associated Press have been covering breaking news for decades. They still do it best.

CBS MarketWatch - Front Page Excellent damn-near-realtime coverage of money and markets; quick to update when things move. (For analysis, read the Wall Street Journal, registration required.)

CIA World Factbook A great quick reference for why we're bombing, funding, praising, punishing, etcetera.

CNN is the granddaddy of the news sites. Quality control has suffered somewhat lately, but it's still the one the world watches for breaking news.

The Economist (registration required) The eminent British newsweekly's foray into the Web is not without technical glitches, but persevere! The content's great, and worth the effort (and the money.)

HotBot is Wired Magazine's full-text search engine; claims to index more pages than AltaVista.

MapQuest! will tell you where to go and how to get there.

MSNBC Microsoft and NBC team up to bring you the news. It's better than it sounds like it ought to be.

My Yahoo Customize your search engine, and pick up a free e-mail account that you can use anywhere in the world (as long as there's web access...)

NYC Blue If it's in New York City, this page probably links to it.

NY Daily News New York's Hometown Paper.

NY Post New York's Hometown Travesty.

NY Sidewalk New York's Local Borg Unit.

NY Times The web site of record.

Slashdot "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."

Generous to a fault, with other people's money

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.


“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”
Bleeding Heart Tightwads, Nicholas Kristof, New York Times - 21 Dec 2008


This makes a lot more sense, a little further into the column, when the following information is disclosed:
  • The percentage of philanthropy among regular churchgoers is about the same across both liberal and conservative groups, and significantly higher than average.
  • And donations to one's own church were counted as private charity.
The determining factor here is membership in a community of faith and financial support of same, not "conservative" or "liberal" beliefs per se. That there are more belonging/donating believers among conservatives than liberals is not a terribly surprising thing.

20 December 2008

Credit crunch: The board game

Credit Crunch the Board Game - The Economist - December 2008

From this week's issue of The Economist: Credit Crunch, the board game.
Players start with 500m econos each. One player doubles as banker.

Players move round by throwing four coins and progressing as many squares as they throw heads. If a player throws four heads, he moves forward four spaces and has another turn; if he throws four tails, he throws again. When a player lands on a + square, he collects money from the bank; equally, when he lands on a minus square, he pays the bank.

The aim is to be the last solvent player. In order to achieve this, players try to eliminate the competition. Risk cards encourage players to pick on each other.

Players who cannot pay their fines may borrow from each other at any rate they care to settle on—for instance, 100% interest within three turns. They should negotiate with the other players to get the best rate possible. Players who cannot borrow must either go into Chapter 11 or be taken over.

Players may conceal their assets from each other.
There are PDFs of the game board, in-game currency, and related materials at The Economist's web site.

Hat tip: Carrie

Y'all are an interesting bunch

Among the regular readers of, posters to, and e-mail tipsters of, enrevanche:
This would really be quite a group to get together for drinks and dinner.

19 December 2008

Iz not so wunnerful, ackshually

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.


Take the extended sequence in which George Bailey (James Stewart), having repeatedly tried and failed to escape Bedford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he never been born. The bucolic small town is replaced by a smoky, nightclub-filled, boogie-woogie-driven haven for showgirls and gamblers, who spill raucously out into the crowded sidewalks on Christmas Eve. It’s been renamed Pottersville, after the villainous Mr. Potter, Lionel Barrymore’s scheming financier.

Here’s the thing about Pottersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stultifying Bedford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If anything, Pottersville captures just the type of excitement George had long been seeking.
Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful Dreadful Life (New York Times, 19 Dec 2008)

18 December 2008

The environmental impact statement alone is daunting

"Even in Texas, a license to ignite bears can be hard to come by."

Thought for the day

"The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget." - Thomas Szasz

Psycho T, headed for the record books

Tyler Hansbrough didn’t seem fazed by all the questions about how close he is to breaking the career scoring record that has stood for 30 years at North Carolina. The prospect of giving a speech to the home fans to celebrate the moment, however, is another issue.

“I’m going to have to plan something,” Hansbrough said Wednesday. “It would be pretty bad if I didn’t get the record (with) with all this anticipation.”

Standing nine points away from passing Phil Ford, the senior is likely to set the mark when the top-ranked Tar Heels face Evansville on Thursday night considering he has failed to score in double figures just six times in his career. It would be the latest accomplishment in a career filled with them for the reigning national player of the year, who has already earned the right to have his No. 50 jersey retired when he graduates.

Ford set the record with 2,290 points in 1978. The record has stood despite notable names like Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Antawn Jamison coming through the program in the years since, though Jordan, Jamison and Rashad McCants would have been within reach had they not left school a year early for the NBA.
Hansbrough on cusp of setting UNC scoring record (AP Sports News via Rivals.com)

17 December 2008

I'll take Manhattan (mediated, though)

We’re taken to the Magnolia Bakery, where queues of weirdly excited and messianic women wait impatiently to eat the teeth-meltingly sweet, infantile cupcakes like a votive Communion promising a blessed afterwork life of copious, cool sex, witty friendship, miraculously available taxis, Manolos, Cosmos, and happy-ending aphorisms. We don’t have to line up. Our cakes come with the ticket. Massive trays of cupcakes appear and are offered to us in a tramp’s pissoir alley on slimy benches beside a children’s recreational park. Feeding cake to yearningly single women beside a playground with happy West Village moms and their gilded tots was an act of sadistic patronage. We guiltily stuff our faces, begging the refined calories to transport us into closer connection with the fabled story arc.
Giving no quarter and taking no prisoners, A.A. Gill goes on a "Sex and the City"-themed guided bus tour of Manhattan for Vanity Fair.

(via Kottke)

16 December 2008


As dessert ended, the woman in the red dress got up and stumbled toward the bathroom. Her husband, whose head had been sinking toward the bûche de Noël, put a clumsily lecherous arm around the reluctant hostess. As coffee splashed into porcelain demitasse cups, the woman in the red dress returned, sank sloppily into her chair and reached for the Courvoisier. Someone gently moved the bottle away. “Are you shaying I’m drunk?” she demanded. Even in the candlelight I noticed that the lipstick she had reapplied was slightly to the left of her lips. Her husband, suddenly bellicose, sprang from his chair to defend his wife’s honor. But on the way across the room he slipped and went down like a tray of dishes. “Frank! Are you hurt?” she screamed. Somehow she had gotten hold of the brandy. “S’nothing,” he replied, “just lay down for a little nap. Can I bum a smoke?”

That dinner party was almost 10 years ago; it was the last time I saw anyone visibly drunk at a New York party. The New York apartments and lofts which were once the scenes of old-fashioned drunken carnage — slurred speech, broken crockery, broken legs and arms, broken marriages and broken dreams — are now the scene of parties where both friendships and glassware survive intact. Everyone comes on time, behaves well, drinks a little wine, eats a few tiny canapés, and leaves on time. They all still drink, but no one gets drunk anymore. Neither do they smoke. What on earth has happened?
Susan Cheever - Drunkenfreude - New York Times Proof Blog

What happened, Ms. Cheever?

There's no nice way to say this, but the likeliest explanation is that your age cohort got too old to recover gracefully from this kind of bacchanalia.

15 December 2008

Southern cooking

Meet Sir Shambling:
Due to Sir Shambling’s age, weight and general physical condition the emphasis here is on the slower side of things – not just by way of personal preference for those gritty ballads but also to act as a counter-weight to all the Northern soul and dance sites that exist. And while the great names of Southern soul will all feature here, so will a lot of lesser known artists. Again not just for the thrill of the obscure, but because so many rarer performances deserve to be valued and appreciated properly.

So the aim of the site is to attempt to bring this wonderful music to as wide an audience as possible. But while words and pictures can help this process the best method is obviously to listen to the tracks described here. So highlighted throughout the individual artist and article pages are soundclips of the best tracks concerned. These sound files are not digital copies of recorded works but considerably downgraded representations of the sounds, in lossy, gloriously low-fi MP3 format. The aim of these is to demonstrate the sounds, in order to promote the interest in this music and consequently promote the buying of original copies of the recordings, on vinyl or on CD. They are not meant to, and their low quality does not permit them to, serve as a replacement for the original recordings. Sadly as we all know there is a problem with sharing music via the Net. My own personal view is that the widest possible exposure to music is the best way to keep it alive, to promote interest in the artists themselves and to generate activity in the legitimate reissue business – and I could quote several examples of this taking place, so the soundclips are designed to do just that.

Like blond highlights in the hair of a third rate soccer player, scattered amongst the articles are discographies of sorts. Help with these would be most appreciated.

Welcome To Sir Shambling's Web Site!


Bubbles, Slogs and Selling Out

Today my agreement with CNET Networks has expired. The contract barred me from competing with them or "disparaging" them (how's that for a broad term?) for three years. But, as of today, I'm free. So this seems like a good time to tell some of the story, in the hope that what I've learned is of use to anyone out there. There won't be much juicy disparagement (let's cut to the chase: I'm generally pleased with how the site has fared, am on good terms with Chow.com chief Jane Goldman, and remain convinced it was the right move), but I nonetheless think you'll find the tale edutaining.
Jim Leff is getting ready to tell the tale of CNET's purchase of Chowhound.

Part 1 of the story is a heartfelt description of just what it's like when a labor of love turns into something that flat wears you out and saps your resources, literally and figuratively.

Full disclosure: I was a Chowhound regular, and sometime volunteer, back in the day.

Bubbles, Slogs and Selling Out: Part 1 (Jim Leff's Slog).

14 December 2008

The biggest Ponzi scheme of all?

Wall Street trader Bernard Madoff allegedly defrauds the rich and famous out of tens of billions of dollars. Minnesota businessman Tom Petters allegedly fleeces hedge funds out of $3.5 billion. And socialite New York lawyer Marc Dreier may have duped some hedge funds into giving him hundreds of millions of dollars for an apparently bogus real estate scheme.

All of these scams are a big [sic] and all appear to be some kind of Ponzi scheme, designed to take in money from new investors to pay-off earlier investors. A Ponzi scheme is one of the oldest financial frauds around. And many are referring to the Madoff caper as the biggest Wall Street fraud ever.

But derivatives consultant Janet Tavakoli may be onto something. In a note to her clients, she says the biggest Ponzi scheme of all may be the one that brought the world financial markets to its knees. And that’s the scheme that united Wall Street bankers with mortgage lenders in a bid to funnel more and more money into the market for supbrime homes loans. She says the packaging of iffy home loans into securitized bonds that could be sold to insitutional investors—many of them relying on borrowed money—was a system born to fail.

“The largest Ponzi scheme in the history of the capital markets is the relationship between failed mortgage lenders and investment banks that securitized the risky overpriced loans and sold these packages to other investors—a Ponzi scheme by every definition applied to Madoff,” says Tavakoli. “These and other related deeds led to the largest global credit meltdown in the history of the world.”
Ponzi Nation - BusinessWeek Investing Blog (14 December 2008)

This works on an individual non-packaged basis as well

You can learn a lot about a person by the way they respond when you hand them a baggie full of dead rodents.
Hat tip: Chap

Mister Gato still brings us the occasional dead rodent, but I think he means something different by it than Abby.

Gato on Laundry
You can learn a lot about a cat by the way he responds when you put a bag of clean laundry down.

Google Earth doesn't kill people...

Of course the terrorists used Google Earth. They also used boats, and ate at restaurants. Don't even get me started about the fact that they breathed air and drank water.


...[This is] true for all aspects of human infrastructure. Yes, the bad guys use it: bank robbers use cars to get away, drug smugglers use radios to communicate, child pornographers use e-mail. But the good guys use it, too, and the good uses far outweigh the bad uses.

Bruce Schneier: Mumbai terrorists used Google Earth, boats, food (8 Dec 2008)

13 December 2008

A seat in hell for Blago

A Chicago alderman once complained to me about modern reform hiring laws -- the line was so good, I borrowed it, unembellished, for a novel -- "What's this world coming to when a guy can get a job for a stranger more easily than he can for his brother in law?"

But even those who live by this kind of code are appalled by the allegations against Mr. Blagojevich. [...] But unsubtly putting a senate seat up for personal auction, as if it were a piece of family jewelry, is arrogance that makes even hardened pols shudder.

Yet that's not even the item that angers me most. Among U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's bill of particulars is the charge that Gov. Blagojevich sought to rescind a state payment of $8 million to Children's Memorial Hospital if their CEO failed to organize a $50,000 contribution to the governor.

Many shameless politicians would send free turkeys to a children's hospital. The publicity is good, and it might help them sleep at night. But this governor was willing to stint on their care if a hospital official didn't oblige him with cash.

When I was in high school, a group of friends and I would pass out toys and candy to children in the hospital wards there. It was both the saddest and sweetest event of the season, and the thought that a public official would dare diminish the care of sick, innocent children over a campaign contribution doesn't just deserve an indictment. I think it reserves that politician a seat in Hell.
Chicagoan Scott Simon, writing in The Wall Street Journal: Even Chicago's Crooks are Appalled by Blagojevich (13 Dec 2008)

Unfortunately, it has now transpired that this text contains inappropriate content of a suggestive nature

Chinese-savvy subscribers of the German-language Max Planck Research got a unexpected treat when the magazine featured a cover punting "hot, young housewives" in an ad for a Hong Kong strip club.

The publication apparently believed the text "depicted classical Chinese characters in a non-controversial context" but, as Oz's The Age explains, it was quickly fingered by Chinese net users as "similar to wall posters found in the red light district of Mongkok in Hong Kong".

Specifically, it more or less says*: "We spend a lot of money to have [girls] to be in house during daytime. Our mama sans, Ga Mei and KK**, present you with young and beautiful girls. Stylish and good mannered beauties from the North [of China]. Sexy and hot, young housewives. Flirty and enchanting, available today."

Max Planck Institute punts "hot, young housewives" (The Register - 11 Dec 2008)

The translation of the characters in Australia's The Age comes out a good bit coarser than that.

(via James Fallows)

It's a [bleep] valuable thing, you don't just give it away for nothing

The Blagojevich tapes, animated. ;-)

Favorite bit:
(offscreen voice of Patti Blagojevich): Is that the Cubs? Hold up that [bleep] Cubs [bleep]. [Bleep] them.

Governor Blagojevich, meekly: Yes, Patti, I'm doing that now.
Hat tip: Greg.

Wild dogs, feral cats and homeless people

Almost all the windows in the four- and five-story buildings — thousands of them — are broken. The bricks and masonry are crumbling, and two large enclosed bridges that soar over streets are falling apart. Part of one of the large passageways recently collapsed onto Bellevue Avenue, and still sits there, blocking the street.

Some floors have caved in because metal scrappers have cut out the I-beams. Vast rooms are filled with trash, from old shoes to unwanted pleasure boats.

Nature has reasserted itself: Trees grow on the roof and moss has spread inside. Chalky stalactites hang from ceilings, apparently the result of rain coursing through
the walls.

Water from broken pipes collects into small lakes, freezes during the Michigan winters, then breaks up in spring and runs out of the plant onto neighboring streets. The plant is home to wild dogs, feral cats, homeless people. Arson is a regular event.
-- Detroit Free Press columnist Bill McGraw takes readers on a virtual tour of the Packard factory, shuttered in 1956 and still standing empty in Detroit. "When the cars go away," New York Times op-ed, 13 December 2008.

12 December 2008

A neuropsych application for sarcasm

It's useful in the differential diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease vs. frontotemporal dementia, also known as Pick's Disease:

"One of the things about FTD patients is that they don't detect humour -- they are very bad at double meaning and a lot of humour (other than sarcasm) is based on double meaning," he said.

The research, conducted in 2006-07, put 26 sufferers of FTD and 19 Alzheimer's patients through a test in which actors acted out different scenarios using exactly the same words.

While in one scenario, the actors would deliver the lines sincerely, in others they would introduce a thick layer of sarcasm. Patients were then asked if they got the joke, Hodges said.

For example, said Hodges, if a couple were discussing a weekend away and the wife suggested bringing her mother, the husband might say: "Well, that's great, you know how much I like your mother, that will really make it a great weekend."

When the same words were delivered sarcastically and then in a neutral tone, the joke was lost on FTD patients, while the Alzheimer's patients got it.

"The patients with FTD are very literal and they take what is being said as genuine and sincere," said Hodges.

FTD, often referred to as Pick's disease, is similar to Alzheimer's in that it involves a progressive decline in mental powers over a number of years, but FTD affects different regions of the brain.

"It can be very difficult to diagnose in early stages and to separate from depression or, later on, schizophrenia or personality disorders," Hodges said.

The sarcasm test could replace some more expensive and less widely available tests for dementia, he said.

Sarcasm finds medical use in dementia detection (Agence France Presse via Yahoo! News)

Either way, we're cool

Making the rounds today on the Internets:


Hat tip to Magick Sandwich (where I saw this first); also noticed by Chap at Skippy's place.

Does anyone know the original source? Would love to give credit where credit's due.

Source: The Buffalo Beast

Hat tip: Sissy

10 December 2008

Blogging will be light to intermittent...

...while I run an experiment on the effects of sleep deprivation and work overload on obese middle-aged men, sample size n=1.

See you at the weekend, if not before.

Okay, wasn't as bad as I thought

Hey, by the way - if you aren't following enrevanche in an RSS reader, why the hell not?

Google Reader is a good 'un.

Detroit Free Press on the automobile bailout

Coverage by the Detroit Free Press of the auto bailout legislation, which passed the House tonight and is headed into the Senate, is some of the best I've seen.


The pizza sucks, too

In Brookfield, Wis., no restaurant has triggered more calls to the police department since last year than Chuck E. Cheese's.

Officers have been called to break up 12 fights, some of them physical, at the child-oriented pizza parlor since January 2007. The biggest melee broke out in April, when an uninvited adult disrupted a child's birthday party. Seven officers arrived and found as many as 40 people knocking over chairs and yelling in front of the restaurant's music stage, where a robotic singing chicken and the chain's namesake mouse perform.

Chuck E. Cheese's bills itself as a place "where a kid can be a kid." But to law-enforcement officials across the country, it has a more particular distinction: the scene of a surprising amount of disorderly conduct and battery among grown-ups.

"The biggest problem is you have a bunch of adults acting like juveniles," says Town of Brookfield Police Capt. Timothy Imler. "There's a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there."
Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E Cheese's, Again (Wall Street Journal)

Hat tip: Carrie

07 December 2008

Nassim Taleb on the economy, on Charlie Rose

via deVille:

Haven't had time to watch this yet, but will soon...

Charlie Rose interviews Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the economy (at CharlieRose.com)

Joseph Cao elected to the House

Meet Joseph Cao, the man who just replaced (by special election) disgraced US Congressman William Jefferson (D-Louisiana) in the U.S. House of Representatives:

Born in war-ravaged Vietnam, Cao fled to the United States when he was 8, learned English, earned degrees in physics and philosophy, and joined the Catholic seminary. When his views on how best to serve the poor changed, Cao went to law school, began a practice specializing in immigration, settled in Venetian Isles and started a family.

In his bid to unseat Rep. William Jefferson in the 2nd Congressional District, however, Cao must try to overcome three tall hurdles: He's not a Democrat, he's not black and he has never held public office. Indeed, in his only other election bid, Cao, running then as an independent, finished fifth of six candidates.

Though Jefferson's star has dimmed considerably since federal authorities charged him in a wide-ranging bribery scheme, the nine-term incumbent remains a force in local politics.

New Orleans Times-Picayune via nola.com - Newcomer Joseph Cao hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. William Jefferson

See also:

The Christian Science Monitor: Scandal-Plagued Louisiana Congressman Ousted by Little-Known Republican

It's that time of year...

Big Tree Lighting
Originally uploaded by Kerosene Photography.
...the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is now lit.

Toilet humor

Winning the US presidency has also made Barack Obama the star of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in the Catalonia region of northeastern Spain -- but it's a dubious honour he might prefer not to have.

The US president-elect is the top seller among this year's "caganers", ceramic figurines which show affectionate disrespect for famous personalities from home and abroad.

They have been sold in Catalonia around Christmas since the 18th century, when they were placed in nativity scenes in the hope of bringing good luck and a rich harvest.

But the statuettes show the personalities with their trousers down in the act of defecating.
"Cheeky" Spanish tradition brings toilet humor at Christmas - AFP via Yahoo Philippines News

The picture is... priceless. "Yes we can."

Before you came along, we counted on our fingers and toes

Jazz composer, pianist and singer Bob Dorough turns 85 this week.

If you're a jazz fan, you know him - but likely you know him even if you aren't, in a reversal of the situation that Gary Giddins describes in this Village Voice article from 2000:
I was having a high old time listening to Bob Dorough's new record, Too Much Coffee Man (Blue Note), which may be his best, when my assistant Elora walked in and exclaimed with a slight interrogatory, "Schoolhouse Rock!?" She had never heard of Dorough, but she recognized the voice. I had never heard of Schoolhouse Rock, so she brought in her four-disc Rhino set and played her favorites, including a masterpiece, "My Hero, Zero," noting, "You will not find anyone of my generation who does not know the words to 'Electricity Electricity' and 'Conjunction Junction.' " She proved the point with a recitation augmented by a description of the animation that accompanied the songs when the short instructive cartoons appeared on television. Dorough was the series' music director and wrote most of the songs. "I learned the multiplication tables from him," Elora marveled. "We had great TV then."

Victory City

Victory Cities will be built from scratch in the scenic countryside. The bulk of a Victory City's food supply will come from its own farms in the surrounding countryside just beyond the circular highway, as well as greenhouses, fish tanks and a poultry center next to the cafeteria kitchens. A single Victory City™ would be able to accommodate up to 332,000 people.
[A Tour of Victory City @ Victory Cities website]

Hat tip: Carrie, who picked it up from Metafilter

Orville Simpson II, the self-made millionaire who has been revising his childhood vision of Victory City since 1936 -- do I have your attention yet? -- seems like an interesting fellow. What fun to Think Big Thoughts like this and still manage to make a living.

victory city map

We had to design planned communities for a 7th grade Civics class. Our teacher had read one too many books by Buckminster Fuller, and this is the same man who is ultimately responsible for triggering a mild obsession with design in me as an adult.

I remember it as one of the most entertaining projects I ever had to do in school, and maybe that's why this resonates with me.

A question for the group: Your earliest cultural memories?

Carrie and I were talking about memories, specifically the earliest memories we have as children.

And then we started talking about when children started paying attention to popular culture (in my view: about ten seconds after somebody sings them their first lullaby, credited to "arr. traditional").

My two earliest cultural memories (born 1966):

-- The Apollo 11 moon landing in the summer of 1969.  I was not quite three, and this was a Very Big Deal.  Dad was an engineer, Mom was a librarian, and I also was showing signs of being a geek already, and you had better believe we were spaceflight fanatics in our house, along with pretty much everybody we knew in the neighborhood. :-)  (I also remember the Apollo 13 accident;  I remember my parents quietly explaining to me that we had to pray for the astronauts' safe return.)

-- The breakup of the Beatles in 1970.  Not because I had the faintest idea what a Beatle was (5th grade for that epiphany) but because I was traumatized by the apparent complete emotional collapse of my babysitter, on learning that the Beatles would be no more.

What were your earliest memories of cultural events? 

06 December 2008

Seen Milk?

Carrie and I went on an actual date today: early showing of Milk, the hagiography of Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, followed by a late lunch at Grand Sichuan 24th St.

We enjoyed the movie. Sean Penn's performance was insanely strong and if there's a performance in a movie this year more worthy of an Oscar I do hope you'll point me to it in the comments, because I want to go see it.

The script was good and had some nuance but maybe was not all it could have been.

Hagiographies shouldn't be written for people who weren't saints, and Milk wasn't, but he was (among other things and in rough chronological order) a Naval officer in the Korean War; a veteran of the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign; an actuarial statistician; a small business owner; a gay activist; and ultimately the first openly gay politician elected to significant public office in the United States. He was assassinated in 1978. [Biography of Harvey Milk on Wikipedia]

The movie doesn't tell his entire life story; we meet the man on his 40th birthday and stay with him for the next eight years, until his life meets its untimely end.

We get one brief vignette of Milk the corporation man, when he, on his birthday, wearing a suit and on his way home from work in Manhattan, picks up a young man on the steps of the IND train.

But for most of the movie, we get Harvey Milk the gay activist and politician.

Whatever strengths the movie might have, and they are many, they are dwarfed by how Sean Penn inhabits the role. He is the strongest aspect by far of a very strong movie.

Harvey Milk understood political theater and was also a very brave man, and the complex, powerful portrait that Sean Penn paints of a highly intelligent man who understands a few key truths about leadership is very very convincing.

We talked about the movie all the way to Grand Sichuan, where we enjoyed soup dumplings, dry-sauteed string beans with minced pork and spicy lamb with fresh ginger.

One of the things we were talking about: When the movie ended in 1978, the HIV virus was already circulating worldwide (it is now estimated to have entered the US around 1969):
The disease has an incubation period of several years, and with a small incidence, was not noticed at first. [Link]
AIDS was about three years from being noticed as an epidemiological phenomenon by the CDC.

And a sizable fraction of the young men we had just "met" in the movie would likely contract AIDS and die in the immediate future.

Bambi in the New South

Raleigh, NC, where I was born and raised, was emphatically not a "big city" in the 60s and 70s when I was growing up, but by the time I left, in the mid-1990s, it basically was.

The RTP area of NC has grown dramatically since 1966, when I moved in, and unbroken strands of development connect Raleigh, Cary, Durham, and Chapel Hill along with a host of smaller communities, as well as the actual/aforementioned Research Triangle Park [Google Map link].

Triangle area of NC

Results? Many. Here's one:

Step 1: Development reduces deer habitat, pushing deer and people closer together.

Step 2: State Capitol Police meet an apparently abandoned fawn in the woods near downtown and befriend him - or rather, they seem to befriend each other:
Muller, who often drives from his home in Selma on his days off to visit the deer, runs sprints with Bucky. Muller's wife plays hide and seek with the deer around a tree. "In a screwed-up world, this is one thing that is pure," Muller said. "I go home happy every day."
Fawn captures officers hearts ([Raleigh, NC] News and Observer, 5 Dec 2008)


05 December 2008

Sesame Street Rube Goldberg

via Boing Boing

(previously on enrevanche)

War in cyberspace

The discussion of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare is complicated by widespread disagreement over how to define these terms. Many cyberattacks are really examples of vandalism or hooliganism, observes Bruce Schneier, a security guru who works for BT, a British telecoms operator. A cyberattack on a power station or an emergency-services call centre could be an act of war or of terrorism, depending on who carries it out and what their motives are.

For a cyberattack to qualify as “cyberwar”, some observers argue, it must take place alongside actual military operations. Trying to disrupt enemy communications during conflict is, after all, a practice that goes back to the earliest telecommunications technology, the telegraph. In 1862, for example, during the American Civil War, a landing party from Thomas Freeborn, a Union navy steamer, went ashore to cut the telegraph lines between Fredericksburg and Richmond. The Russian navy pioneered the use of radio jamming in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. On this view, cyberattacks on infrastructure are the next logical step. The attacks on Georgia might qualify as cyberwarfare by this definition, but those on Estonia would not, since there was no accompanying military offensive in the real world. As Mr Schneier puts it: “For it to be cyberwar, it must first be war.”

Not everyone agrees. For years there has been talk of a “digital Pearl Harbour”—an unexpected attack on a nation’s infrastructure via the internet, in which power stations are shut down, air-traffic control is sabotaged and telecoms networks are disabled. There have even been suggestions that future wars could be waged in cyberspace, displacing conventional military operations altogether. Why bomb your enemy’s power-stations or stockmarkets if you can disable them with software? So far there have been no successful attacks of this type, but that does not stop people worrying about them—or speculating about how to launch them.
Do cyberattacks count as war? (The Economist, 4 December 2008)

04 December 2008

03 December 2008

Things I have learned from my cat and Google

"nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn"... is too long a word. Try using a shorter word.

America's banker

China is the key to America getting through the worsening economic crisis. The American ambassador in Beijing (OK, this is a metaphor for all those officials who will be managing this relationship) will need to make sure that China sees its interests as aligned with America's. Or else things could get very, very ugly.

There is a consensus forming that Washington needs to spend its way out of this recession, to ensure that it doesn't turn into a depression. Economists of both the left and right agree that a massive fiscal stimulus is needed and that for now, we shouldn't be worrying about deficits. But in order to run up these deficits—which could total somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, or between 7 and 11 percent of GDP—someone has to buy American debt. And the only country that has the cash to do so is China.

In September, Beijing became America's largest foreign creditor, surpassing Japan, which no longer buys large amounts of American Treasury notes. In fact, though the Treasury Department does not keep records of American bondholders, it is virtually certain that, holding 10 percent of all U.S. public debt, the government of the People's Republic of China has become Washington's largest creditor, foreign or domestic. It is America's banker.
Why America and China Must Hang Together (Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, 1 Dec 2008)

02 December 2008

Thank god they didn't ask about my choice of material at karaoke bars

More adventures with Google Ads.

First, a banner ad promising used Mercedes for people with bad credit.

And now, this:

More unfortunate banner ads

I don't have a man, and if I did I'm pretty sure we'd both be gay by definition, so I asked Carrie to take this test for me.

Some of the questions are... not so subtle. (And would seem to be a better test for tranvestitism than homosexuality.)

test detail

Some, even less subtle than that. (Is your man a gay stereotype?)

test detail 2

What, with that list of musicians, committing ritual suicide isn't an alternative?

The test deemed "Carrie's man" safely heterosexual, although there were dark, suspicious mutterings about my fondness for cooking classes and show tunes.

Breaking into the time capsule

When I say that I've blogged in fits and starts for about ten years now, most people don't believe me.

Here's a representative week from February 1999 on my old web site:

"A New Germ Theory" (Judith Hooper, Atlantic Monthly, February 1999) describes the work of scientists Paul Ewald and Geoffrey Cochran, who have applied the maxims of evolutionary biology to the study of infectious diseases with startling and provocative results. Try this on for size: they hypothesize, and with their colleagues are amassing evidence to prove, that many forms of heart disease, many cancers, and some of the major mental illnesses might actually be caused by pathogens (viruses and bacteria).
(19 February 1999)

Do you like maps? Boy, I do. I was tickled to discover Tiger, a service of the US Census Bureau. Give Tiger the latitude and longitude you need, and Tiger gives you a map. You can even use it from your own web site, passing the query through the URL. Here's Manhattan.
(19 February 1999)

Jean Q. Publique buys his daily loaf: behold the BaguetteCam.
(17 February 1999 - and a tip of the beret to Carrie)

Take a dip in the memepool.

Cool links I found there tonight:

(1) The Air Force wants to develop a ballistic missile defense system involving extremely powerful lasers mounted on 747s.

(2) Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) has a new web site (and it's a more powerful argument against marijuana than any D.A.R.E lecture I can imagine.)

(3) The Museum of Bad Art .

Nice breadth.
(17 February 1999)

Microsoft's webzine Slate just went free again, after an abortive attempt to support itself on a subscription revenue model. Is content dead? No, but people won't pay for it directly unless it's about making money or looking at pictures of naked people. So Slate is going free-content, selling ad space and hoping for the best... the traditional magazine publishing model.
(11 February 1999)

Now that the impeachment's over, what are you going to ignore?
(11 February 1999)

Impressively, in the posts above, most of the links still work ten years later. Except:

(1) The BaguetteCam is no more. (We'll always have Paris, I guess.)

(2) The URL for the Museum of Bad Art returns a 404... but in this case, it just graduated to a URL of its own: MOBA lives here now.

Facebook for golddiggers

Received in e-mail today, after being "recommended for membership" by someone who would barely qualify as an acquaintance:

An invitation to a new social network called (I kid you not) Affluence.org:
Membership to Affluence.org is completely free but requires a demonstratable minimum household net worth of $3 million US; or a minimum annual household income of $300,000; or successful invitation of 5 other people that qualify for membership. Apply today for free.
Oh, where to begin? So many possible responses...

(1) Yeah, right: I'm going to provide full financial disclosure to somebody--on the strength of their ability to cobble a website together. Good luck with that.

(2) Wow, is somebody ever pissed that they couldn't get an invitation to asmallworld.

(3) The word you're groping for is "demonstrable", Richie Rich. More syllables does not equal more eloquence, and "demonstratable" is only used in current American idiom when referring to software and experiments.

(4) It can't have taken y'all that long to go from business plan to site rollout... and we've been in a recession for the last year (officially, now) - what were you thinking, rolling out something called "Affluence.org" in the teeth of a major financial panic? Tin ear, much?

(5) In re "...or successful invitation of 5 other people that qualify for membership..."

Fantastic! If you're the sort of person who makes it his business to know and hang out with rich people but aren't rich yourself, you can still become a member, and hang out with even more rich people! Wow, it's Facebook for golddiggers!

Nothing new under the sun

A finding of profound sociological importance: the ur-LOLcat has been discovered.

30 November 2008

Harm reduction

You know, you really can't blame them for not wanting to attract the drug tourists:
Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved Sunday a move to make permanent the country's pioneering program to give addicts government-authorized heroin.

At the same time, voters rejected a proposal to decriminalize marijuana.

Sixty-eight percent of the 2,264,968 voters casting ballots approved making the heroin program permanent. It has been credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts since it began in 1994.

Some 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana initiative.


Olivier Borer, 35, a musician from the northern town of Solothurn, said he welcomed the outcome in part because state action was required to help heroin addicts, but he said legalizing marijuana was a bad idea.

"I think it's very important to help these people, but not to facilitate the using of drugs," Borer said. "You can just see in the Netherlands how it's going. People just go there to smoke."
Swiss approve pioneering legal heroin program - Associated Press via Yahoo! News (30 Nov 2008)