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

31 January 2009

Intergenerational food fight

Gen X vs. Gen Y throwdown over on Metafilter - they agree on nothing except their contempt for the Boomers.

Comments thread is ostensibly a discussion of this video (an AARP ad):

Hat tip: Carrie

30 January 2009

Taleb's rules for successful living

Via BoingBoing's link to an interview in the Times of London, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's top ten rules for living:
1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

2 Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.

3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

6 Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

7 Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

29 January 2009

Run for cold climate!

An Austin road sign meant to warn motorists about road conditions instead read: "The end is near! Caution! Zombies ahead!"

Vandals broke off a lock on the sign in central Austin early Monday and then hacked into the computer to change the words, said Sara Hartley, a city spokeswoman.

caution zombies ahead
When they were done, the sign read: “The end is near! Caution! Zombies ahead! Run for cold climate!”

Before leaving, the vandals reset the password so the city could not easily change the sign. The sign's humorous warning stayed up for several hours before the manufacturer of the computer could reset the password.
Austin road sign warns motorists of zombies (Dallas Morning News, 29 Jan 2009)

I'm sorry, but I must point out that the sign flashes three messages in sequence, not a single line of text:

The End
Is Near


Run For

liberally seasoned with exclamation points.

I know that tampering with signs intended to enhance the public safety is Not Cool but OMG that's funny.

Pick me

As James Fallows observes, "These people are different from the rest of us." [ed - link to original post removed; see update below.]

And how.

Update: This is, um, enhanced - and Fallows has removed the original link from his blog. ;-)

28 January 2009

25 Random Things

[Originally posted @ Facebook]

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “NOTES” under tabs on your "PROFILE" page (you may have to add the tab by clicking on the + sign), click on "Compose New Message" and paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)


I was tagged by SulaAnne Kosacky. (Hi, Sula!)

1. Five adjacent names in my MP3 library when "sorted by artist": George Carlin, George Clinton, George Harrison, George Jones, George Michael. That would be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.

2. I make legendary oatmeal. (Use regular old Quaker oatmeal, although you will not be sorry if you make this with expensive steel-cut whatever, either. Just before removing from pot: add small amt of honey or maple syrup - your choice - to cooked oatmeal, and whip in a raw egg with a whisk; the hot oatmeal cooks the egg quickly and it imparts a silky sort of texture. Top with bananas and raisins if you like - I like that but there's no need; this oatmeal is heavenly unadorned and right from the ladle. The acclaim will be deafening. Trust me on this.)

3. I always overcook fish.

4. I smoke five cigarettes a workday. At this point, the addiction is *clearly* psychological. I go for days on end without smoking. I always smoke at work.

5. Earliest pop-culture memory: my babysitter crying because The Beatles were breaking up (would've been 1970, I think)

6. I will drive long distances and endure considerable hardship for good barbecue.

7. I would like to learn more about wine but am blessed with friends who know lots and the results of letting them order for the table are almost always good.

8. My Shelf of Shame is getting out of control. I am working on reading all the books I bought and haven't read yet before I buy any more books.

9. The first thing I do when I move to a new place is get a library card.

10. The second thing is figure out where I can buy okra.

11. My mother (librarian and Southern cook) is to blame for both #9 and #10.

11. Somewhere, my dear departed father is laughing his ass off because I am now doing for a living what he did for the last ten years of his career, and I never quite believed his stories about how batshit crazy a thing it is to do for a living.

12. I owned not one, but *two*, Apple Newtons.

13. My favorite cheap meal to cook at home: pinto beans, dirty rice, and cornbread.

14. I took a run at teaching myself to cook Indian food (out of a cookbook, a very good one actually) and let it drop a few years back. Goal for 2009: find cooking classes.

15. At some near future point I want to take flying lessons.

16. Playlist for a longish flight (as a passenger!) - a lot of early jazz and hillbilly music interspersed with bad 80s pop tunes.

(Reading back over the list so far... No, I am not attempting to write a bad parody of "Stuff White People Like." It is what it is.)

17. My PC history: 70's hobbyist (dad was an IBM lifer, tried to interest me in building projects involving soldering irons), Apple II at school, TRS-80, IBM PC, original Macintosh, forced over to Windows by work, now (from 2006-present) back to Macintosh.

18. I passed up chances to travel, as a younger person, that I am still kicking myself over. I have tried not to miss a chance to travel since and am trying to make up for lost time as I slide down the banister of life into middle age.

19. Won't keep house without a cat or dog and I prefer at least one of each. My wife and I have one of each in a 400 sq ft NYC apartment, along with the two of us. We're all very close. :-)

20. Guilty pleasures: kung fu movies, Popeye's fried chicken, Billy Joel records.

21. The Billy Joel thing, I had concealed successfully from my wife until just now.

22. Usually I wrote "notes" on Facebook by importing blog posts. This is the first Facebook note that's going in the other direction (cut-and-pasted into the blog.)

23. Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap (liquid) - A big bottle is always sitting on the edge of my tub or hanging from my shower caddy, ever since I first bought some at the original Wellspring Grocery up the street from NCSSM.

24. As a recent North Carolina transplant to New York City, had never been more amazed than the day I saw the Krispy Kreme sign (complete with glowing red neon HOT DONUTS NOW) at their first Manhattan outpost. Major. Cognitive. Dissonance.

25. I'm surprised at how hard it is to come up with 25 random things.

He could tell you what your parents were thinking!

Bunny Smedley, writing at Fugitive Ink, on John Updike:

For me, however, Updike’s passing speeds the end of an era — not my own era, but that of my parents, born 1925 and 1930 respectively, and their contemporaries. Probably, I read more Updike before I turned 18 than I ever have thereafter. The point about Updike, for a bookish child growing up in the South in the 1970s, was that his writing had the reputation of being dangerously, enticingly risqué. He used swear-words (is there anyone alive who’ll believe that the first time I ever encountered the word ‘fuck’ was while taking surreptitious peeps, aged 9 or so, at Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying?), he wrote about sex, his books were full of adultery and divorce and self-doubt. His subject, in other words, was adults and what they did.

And this, more than anything else, was what was both dangerous and enticing in his work. Truly, Updike’s prose (I’m thinking here of the Rabbit books, Couples and also the short stories then available in book form) functioned as the lexicon that rendered a succession of otherwise unintelligible, mysterious events taking place around me all at least a little bit comprehensible. Apparently one can buy, these days, books that purport to tell you what your cat is thinking. Updike, even more miraculously, could tell you what your parents were thinking!

A few thoughts about John Updike (Fugitive Ink, 28 Jan 2009)

Go and read the whole thing.

And: Yes.

As I read Bunny's remembrance of Mr. Updike, the thought occurred to me: one of the reasons that so many Gen X "serious" fiction writers held writers of Mr. Updike's generation in more-or-less veiled contempt might have been that, as the literary avatars of suburban adultery, Updike and his contemporaries were chronicling (if not precisely celebrating) the kind of parental behavior that was causing them direct suffering as children.

Global financial meltdown update

A pair of articles of interest in the Financial Times this morning:
Global unemployment and poverty are set for a “dramatic increase” in the coming year as the world economic crisis deepens, according to a new report.

Projections by the International Labour Organization, a UN agency, on global employment trends predict that on a worst-case scenario, recorded unemployment could rise by more than 50m from baseline 2007 levels to 230m or 7.1 per cent of the world’s labour force by the end of 2009.

In the same scenario the number of people in “working poverty”, earning less than $2 a day, could rise to 1.4bn or 45 per cent of all workers, from 1.2bn in 2007.

This would leave as many people below the poverty line as there were in 1997, wiping out all the gains over the past decade and marking “a return to a situation in which more than half of the global labour force would be unemployed or counted as working poor.”

Juan Somavia, ILO director-general, said its message was “realistic, not alarmist”. “We are now facing a global jobs crisis…Progress in poverty reduction is unravelling and middle classes worldwide are weakening. The political and security implications are daunting.”
Global crisis "could cost 50m jobs" (Financial Times, 28 Jan 2009)
Economists and some policy-makers displayed little confidence that the fiscal stimulus programmes in many advanced countries would be very effective in mitigating the degree of decline in global output in 2009 and no hope that a coordinated strategy would be agreed among rich and poor countries.

The political and business leaders gathered in the Swiss mountain resort would be “very foolish” if they assumed that the crisis was over, [News Corp. chairman Rupert] Murdoch said: The “binge” the western word had been on had come to an end, he added, leaving people around the world “depressed and traumatised” by the damage done to their personal wealth.
Davos kicks off amid deep gloom (Financial Times, 28 Jan 2009)

27 January 2009

In this case, certainly

A friend sends:
Sometimes... the mugshot kinda tells the whole story

Rabbit, R.I.P.

John Updike died today.

A few (not many) of the self-styled literary types I met in New York were kinda snooty about him. 

I loved him and read his books with pleasure, and I think that people who snub him as "middlebrow" are full of shit.

He was the poet and bard of suburbia, which badly needs poetry and lyric ballads.

His commercial success was one of the exceptions proving the "rule" that if lots and lots of people like [some_form_of_artistic_expression] it tends to be some form of debased crap.

Rest in peace, Mr. Updike.

26 January 2009

L'audace, toujours l'audace, et encore l'audace

I have refrained from comment on the Blagojevich matter (except to report on a friend of a friend's genius solution to the problem: if proved guilty in a court of law, Blago must go to prison, but the hair goes free!)

I watched with amusement as he gamed the system and actually got Roland Burris seated in the Senate, through the simple strategy of establishing the procedural upper hand and refusing to be shamed.  An honorable man couldn't have done it, but he did it in style.

But now, as he begins his television campaign tour and starts talking about things like Senator Oprah, I would like to ask a simple question:

What color do you suppose the sun is on Blago's World?

Just the guy to handle your business affairs

A Houston lawyer has taken a home equity loan to repay his law firm for $182,500 lost in a variation of what has become known as the Nigerian e-mail scam.

In the case of lawyer Richard Howell Jr., the scammer claimed to be a Japanese businessman who needed help collecting $3.6 million from four customers in the United States, Texas Lawyer reports. Howell checked and found websites of the collecting company and the four U.S. debtors. His firm Buckley, White, Castaneda & Howell, would get a contingency fee of one-third for any money collected. "To me, it sounded like it could be a potentially lucrative client from Japan," Howell told the legal publication.

The firm received a collections check of $367,500 and, believing the check had cleared, sent $182,500 to the supposed Japanese client in Hong Kong, according to a suit Howell’s firm has filed against Citibank in Houston court. The suit contends the check was labeled "Citibank Official Check" and a Citibank employee verified that the money had been paid, a representation that turned out to be wrong when the check bounced.

Lawyer Says He Is a "Capital-D Dumbass" For Losing $182K in E-mail Scam" (ABA Journal, 26 Jan 2009)

Words fail me.

Hat tip: Carrie, who kindly cc'ed me on this story in an e-mail addressed to every attorney who is a first-degree relative of hers.

Fond memories of early experiments with hypertext

This one will really resonate with Mac users of a certain age -

Miss Hypercard? Try Tilestack.

Stacks can be published to Blogger, Facebook, Wordpress, and your (or somebody else's) iPhone, among other places.

25 January 2009

Yes, we have no free bananas in the kitchen

Misadventures with e-mail distribution lists and reply-all, via PLEASE UNSUBSCRIBE ME FROM THIS LIST!!!!!!!! @ Metafilter:
...some poor underpaid secretary back in the UK had, on finishing her lunch, found that she had some fruit spare. Rather than see it go to waste, she helpfully put it in the kitchen of the floor she was in, and sent an email to everyone on her floor:

"Free bananas in the kitchen!!!"

Sadly, however (and yes - it's obvious where this is going), she sent it to the wrong list.

It didn't just go to her floor.
It didn't just go to her office.
It didn't jusk go to the UK offices.

It went GLOBAL.

What followed was the most ridiculous, slow motion email catastrophe I've ever seen.

First the UK replies streamed in - the standard emails that occur in this situation as already described by many posters above. The Out-of-Offices, the angry threats, the requests for removals, the threats to people requesting removals all - of course - fully utilising the "Reply All" and list functions.

Obviously the system collapsed and for hours the UK IT guys struggled to sort things out - everytime it came back up, email war would break out again and the situation would be repeated.

Finally, at about four in the afternoon, and thanks (I'm reliably informed) to the intervention of several members of the web team (who had been exchange administrators in a previous lives [sic]) they had just about managed to get things going again...

...just in time for the US IT guys to get THEIR servers working for the first time, at which point the flood of mails from US people demanding removal from lists etc. took everything down AGAIN.

This was to be the pattern for the next twenty eight hours or so. Thanks to a ridiculous lack of safeguards and indeed basic communication, every time one office somewhere in the world woke up, or managed to get a server back up it would kick off the whole email war anew and everything, everywhere would die a fiery electronic death.

For three whole days Senior Managers the world over were howling at people to stop sending emails (after about the second day they seemed to cotton on to the fact that doing this by EMAIL probably wasn't helping), IT departments the world over were howling in pain and frantically trying to sort things out and general users were engaging in an email war of global scale, with angry individuals flinging racially dubious emails across nations at each other to the horror of HR departments everywhere.

Finally, finally on the evening of the third day the crisis started to pass.

Workers the world over breathed a sigh of relief and newly calm managers and techies from across the globe sat down together to try and heal their wounds and come up with policies to prevent it from happening again - a kind of Corporate version of Versailles.

By day four, policies had been written and technical plans made, which they would begin implementing on day five. This would not happen again - the world would be saved and civilization would reign once more! "Peace in Our Time!" the newly created Head of Global IT proclaimed, waving a copy of Exchange Server For Dummies enthusiastically above his head...

...as at the same time, in his palatial office in the Headquarters back in the UK, the CEO (the rather old school UK establishment figure who will go unnamed) decided that what everyone needed after recent events was a little joke. Nothing fancy - just something to make everyone chuckle and break the tension caused by the previous few days.

Sitting down to his desk, he casually opened up his email and, chuckling at his own brilliance, typed five, simple words...

"Who ate the bananas then?!"

...and clicked "Reply All"

posted by garius at 6:36 AM on January 12 [243 favorites]

I've had days like that.

Genius list on iTunes

First eleven Genius recommendations, based on Nick Lowe's Cruel to Be Kind:
  1. I Got You -- Split Enz
  2. Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) -- Squeeze
  3. Good Girls Don't -- The Knack
  4. Train In Vain (Stand By Me) -- The Clash
  5. In a Big Country -- Big Country
  6. While You See a Chance -- Steve Winwood
  7. Blood & Roses -- The Smithereens
  8. I Love The Nightlife (Phillip Damien Ext. Vox Mix) -- Alicia Bridges
  9. Harden My Heart -- Quarterflash
  10. Life During Wartime -- Talking Heads
  11. No More Words -- Berlin

Yes, I am the last blogger on earth to post "Genius" playlists from iTunes. Deal with it.

Who reads this blog and also Twitters?

Are you on Twitter? Out yourself in the comments if you like. (No obligation.)

A pilot's-eye view of Flight 1549 [UPDATED]

The BBC commissioned a computer simulation of Captain Sullenberger's miracle "water landing" (always loved that FAA euphemism) of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. It includes some harrowing views from the point of view of the pilot in the cockpit.

(via Kottke)

This would be one hell of a scenario to add to the next version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

Update: Somebody's done it. Well.

Hat tip: Chap (in the comments)

Tough room

...Four or Five Hours After You Report Them
Woman with migraine: Help me! I'm dying! I'm dying!
Triage nurse: Alright ma'am, just calm down and tell me what the problem is.
Woman with migraine: I'm fucking dying, what are you, stupid?
Triage nurse: Well, as soon as you develop some signs or symptoms other than being obnoxious, we'll talk.

--NYU Medical Center ER

Overheard by: Turn their ankles
via Overheard in New York, Jan 25, 2009

Doffing the enrevanche skully (it's COLD outside) to Greg.

24 January 2009

Family truckster

Mazda5 Back
Originally uploaded by enrevanche.
In preparation for the shift of our little family's center of gravity from NYC to RDU...

Bought a car. Parked at Mom's place for now.

Urgent question: Darwin Fish, or Flying Spaghetti Monster emblem, to be mounted on the back?

This is a hell of a trick if you can pull it off

Jim Leff, on reconciling being a professional critic (in his case, a restaurant critic) and accepting things as they are:
...I found the key in a story written by a woman who'd worked as a driver for some Buddhist monks traveling around California for a series of meditation programs. The monks had fallen crazily in love with a certain brand of coffee they'd discovered during the trip. But while they practically jumped for joy whenever they came upon some, she found it interesting that they never showed the slightest trace of disappointment if they failed to find any. Even when days went by without finding their coffee, they were no less happy. It began to dawn on her that if they never drank that coffee again, it wouldn't bother them in the least. Yet each time they found it they positively basked in the delight.
The Monks and the Coffee (Jim Leff's Slog)

23 January 2009

Science: It's back in style

US regulators have approved the first use of embryonic stem cells in humans.

The move raises the prospect of a groundbreaking approach to medical treatment that had been blocked since 2001 by George W. Bush as president. Just two days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, who opposed his predecessor’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, the Food & Drug Administration authorised Geron, a US biotech company, to begin clinical trials for patients with severe spinal cord injuries.
US allows use of embryonic stem cells (Financial Times)

I have my doubts about Obama, but at least he's put an end to the policy of pandering to the Luddites, mouthbreathers and know-nothings on this issue.

Related: Previously on enrevanche (1, 2)

22 January 2009

Do NOT take Colbert's interview with Larry Lessig and remix it with a pumping k-hole groove

Roubini update

From RGE Monitor, Nouriel Roubini's latest analysis of the financial crisis:
RGE Monitor
January 22, 2009

RGE Monitor Estimates $3.6 Trillion Loan and Securities Losses in the U.S.

Nouriel Roubini and Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor release new estimates for expected loan losses and writedowns on U.S. originated securitizations:
  • Loan losses on a total of $12.37 trillion unsecuritized loans are expected to reach $1.6 trillion. Of these, U.S. banks and brokers are expected to incur $1.1 trillion.
  • Mark-to-market writedowns based on derivatives prices and cash bond indices on a further $10.84 trillion in securities reached about $2 trillion ($1.92 trillion.) About 40% of these securities (and losses) are held abroad according to flow-of-funds data. U.S. banks and broker dealers are assumed to incur a share of 30-35%, or $600-700 billion in securities writedowns.
  • Total loan losses and securities writedowns on U.S. originated assets are expected to reach about $3.6 trillion. The U.S. banking sector is exposed to half of this figure, or $1.8 trillion (i.e. $1.1 trillion loan losses + $700bn writedowns.)
  • FDIC-insured banks’ capitalization is $1.3 trillion as of Q3 2008; investment banks had $110bn in equity capital as of Q3 2008. Past recapitalization via TARP 1 funds of $230bn and private capital of $200bn still leaves the U.S. banking system borderline insolvent if our loss estimates materialize.
  • In order to restore safe lending, additional private and/or public capital in the order of $1 – 1.4 trillion is needed. This magnitude calls for a comprehensive solution along the lines of a ‘bad bank’ as proposed by policy makers or an outright restructuring through a new RTC.
  • Back in September, Nouriel Roubini proposed a solution for the banking crisis that also addresses the root causes of the financial turmoil in the housing and the household sectors. The HOME (Home Owners’ Mortgage Enterprise) program combines a RTC to deal with toxic assets, a HOLC to reduce homeowers’ debt, and a RFC to recapitalize viable banks.

What Obama should read

Washington Monthly asks authors, journalists, academics and public intellectuals - what books do you hope President Obama reads in his spare time?

As this article appears in a "progressive" magazine, and the folks polled are mostly self-identifed "progressives", some of the answers are drearily predictable (Debra Dickerson pimps for Howard Zinn... sigh) but many are unexpected and sound interesting as hell. This is going to be an expensive article for me, as I've jotted down notes for a trip to amazon.com.

(via James Fallows)

Meet the BarackBerry

Obama to get spy-proof smartphone (CNN):
Self-confessed BlackBerry addict Barack Obama may not have to kick the thumbing habit after all, despite the concerns of a notoriously technophobic White House.


...[A]ccording to reports Thursday, Obama could now be in line to receive a spy-proof alternative to his favorite toy.

Writing on his blog for the Atlantic magazine, Marc Ambinder reports that the National Security Agency has approved a $3,350 smartphone -- inevitably dubbed the "BarackBerry" -- for Obama's use.

The exclusive Sectera Edge, made by General Dynamics, is reportedly capable of encrypting top secret voice conversations and handling classified documents.

I know just how he feels. I've been using smartphones for a few years now - first Blackberries, now an iPhone - and I'd put up a hell of a fight if you tried to take mine away too.

One problem, though - this looks like it's a Windows Mobile device:

sectera edge

(The little LCD display at the bottom exhorts "Think OPSEC!")


21 January 2009

Random behavior increases evolutionary fitness? Looks that way.

At last, scientists have begun to decipher that most thrilling moment of urban predation: you fix the cockroach in your sights; without taking your eye off him, you slowly remove one shoe; and you stalk, ever so stealthily, toward your quarry.

What you long to know, of course, is which way he will dash. But what scientists have discovered, I regret to report, is that the roach defies such divination. Just as the deadly heel swings down, the roach will make a sudden rotation, then scurry, and that quick swivel is his vital secret.

The turn will position him in one of four orientations: he’ll point himself roughly 90, 120, 150 or 180 degrees away from the wind your shoe creates. But which of the four will it be? Aye, there’s the rub. For that, it turns out, is highly unpredictable.


...[T] the cockroaches got me thinking about cases in which adaptation calls not for perfect tuning or precise definition, but rather for something more like their opposite: an absence of definition, a dash of chance. If that roach were always to flee in one predefined direction, its predators would soon catch on. You’d know exactly where to aim the heel. But in choosing his path at random, the roach achieves an adaptive unpredictability.

Once you start looking for this sort of thing, you find it everywhere. When some animals are searching for food, they make occasional random turns, which take them into fresh territory, and also happen to make their paths look like certain kinds of random walks — probabilistic outcomes for which mathematicians have special names.

And evidently, among some species of prey, the response to an oncoming predator is to do as much unpredictable, weird and pointless stuff as possible, increasing the probability that the attacker will a) be totally confused, b) decide that messing with such a crazy character is too risky, or c) infer that the prey is infected with a strange — and possibly transmissible — parasite. (O.K., I made that last one up, but I bet we could find an example.)
A Dash of Chance (Aaron Hirsh, writing a guest column in The New York Times)

This reminds me, oddly, of something master strategist and systems theorist Herman Kahn is reported to have said - I'm having a bad week with Google and can't find the exact quote, but the gist of it is: in a game of "chicken" (in which two automobiles accelerate towards each other on a long straight stretch of road, until one driver loses his nerve and veers away) the only way to play is to show up drunk, wrench the steering wheel off and toss it out the window.

Word-cloud analysis of inaugural addresses

We ran the full text of the speech through tag cloud generator Wordle.net for one view of the event, and just for the sake of historical context we ran George W. Bush's second inaugural speech through as well. Update: After one reader suggested it, we've also added word clouds from Bill Clinton's second inaugural speech and Reagan's first below. Second update: By reader request, we've added Lincoln's first and second inaugural speeches as well.

The most common words in the Obama and Bush speeches were dramatically different.

ReadWriteWeb: Word Cloud Analysis of Obama's Inaugural Speech Compared to Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Lincoln's

20 January 2009

Scenes from a pre-inauguration party

The prospect of Christopher Hitchens getting down to Biz Markie, is only slightly less improbable than the prospect of a black president.
From the annals of post-racialism (Ta-Nehisi Coates, 19 Jan 2009)

19 January 2009

Morgan Freeman's prom

Morgan Freeman was disappointed to learn that his local high school in Charleston, Miss., still held separate proms, one for black students, one for white. So he offered to pay for a single prom that both could attend.

That was 1997. It took 11 years for the school to take Freeman up on his offer.

Director Paul Saltzman's "Prom Night in Mississippi," premiering Saturday as part of the world documentary competition at the Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the growing pains Charleston went through last year as the community prepared for its first racially integrated senior prom.

The move came 54 years after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education case that struck down school segregation and more than 30 years after black students began attending Charleston High School, which previously had been all-white.

Actor Freeman foots prom bill in Sundance Doc (Associated Press)

Argument vs. persuasion

With Phil's kind permission, I am elevating a rather interesting comment left at this post, to the status of "guest post".

At lunch today I was talking with a new friend about the difference between argument and persuasion.


In the senses we were using, "argument" is about figuring out (or proving) what is correct. Persuasion is about getting people to act in a particular direction.

Successful policy and politics need to succeed at both: knowing what is correct, and persuading people to embrace and act on that position.

A successful populist should have viewpoints developed out of good arguments (i.e., honest and informed analysis), that they then garner support for based on good persuasion.

Without good persuasion, strong ideas are wasted and no populism happens (current Dems might point to the Carter administration as an example of that).

Without good ideas, strong persuasion is a nightmare. (Most current Americans would point to McCarthyism as an example of that.)

[And now, to some stuff that Doc may well comment on].

I also have observations on the way we learn to "argue", and how do it differently in the classroom in comparison to the rest of our lives. As I see it -- loosely speaking, again:

I notice that in formal education, much time is spent -- quite appropriately -- teaching kids to think critically and to create strong and rational argument. (I seem to recall that my freshman comp class at CMU was called "Argumentative Writing".) We recognize students with good grades when they have "argued" well. We can call this "intellectual persuasion."

But everything changes when they leave the classroom and return to the real world of work, family, society, etc.

Outside the space of formal debate, "Argument" takes on three different and sometimes contradictory meanings:

1. Argument (or debate or analysis -- choose your term) for the purpose of discerning truth.

2. Argument for the sake of "winning" a contest in which one party is deemed Right (and victorious) and the other is deemed Wrong (and defeated).

3. Argument with the intent of getting someone to do something (i.e., persuasion).

[BTW -- I know that I'm being horribly imprecise with my language, but I suspect you're following my line of thinking, even if you're substituting your own words.]

What I often wish for people I work with (in volunteer settings or in past work setting) is that people could see honest argument/debate as a means for figuring out what they ought to do as a team (function 1) rather than as a means for figuring out who can claim organizational superiority (function 2) in that particular moment. You know: attack the problem, not the people. Especially when the people are presumably on your team!

The other thing that I want to internalize more into my own days is to remember -- presuming I have an accurate sense of what things need to be done (whether or not other people have thought it through and/or agree with me) -- that I need to spend my energy effectively persuading folks to act in a way that' s useful, instead of spending my energy trying to get them to understand and buy into my line of reasoning.

In other words, I want to learn how to say with a smile, "Jim -- I'd really appreciate it if you could manage Task X and do it with Technique Y. Could you do that for us? Thanks -- we will really appreciate your help, and yes we'll be sure to let folks know you were responsible for that part of our success. There's no way we could pull this off without you."

This is so much better than my natural urge to say, "Jim -- I've heard your proposal, and here is why Tasks A, B, and C are less important to Task X. And now that you understand that, let me tell you why Technique Y is better than Technique Z which is what you've told me you're inclined to pursue. And I hope you'll be able to observe from the team's past behaviors from 2004 to 2008 that we always give proper acknowledgment to people who work on our project. So you're going to do Task X for us now with Technique Y, right?"

Or, as I put it when I was a new engineer, "Is it that people don't like being told they're wrong? Or that people don't like being told they're wrong by someone who's in their face, yelling really loud, and calling them idiots?"

Thought for the day

Part of the debtor mentality is a constant, frantically suppressed undercurrent of terror. We have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world, and apparently most of us are two paychecks from the street. Those in power -- governments, employers -- exploit this, to great effect. Frightened people are obedient -- not just physically, but intellectually and emotionally. If your employer tells you to work overtime, and you know that refusing could jeopardize everything you have, then not only do you work the overtime, but you convince yourself that you're doing it voluntarily, out of loyalty to the company; because the alternative is to acknowledge that you are living in terror. Before you know it, you've persuaded yourself that you have a profound emotional attachment to some vast multinational corporation: you've indentured not just your working hours, but your entire thought process. The only people who are capable of either unfettered action or unfettered thought are those who -- either because they're heroically brave, or because they're insane, or because they know themselves to be safe -- are free from fear.
Tana French, via Bruce Schneier

17 January 2009

Earth, observed: The Big Picture @ Boston.com

Shamelessly stolen from Buck @ Exile In Portales... stunning aerial and from-space photography of Eartn, courtesy of NASA and the Big Picture Blog at Boston.com.

Las Vegas neighborhoods in 2004 (detail from much larger photograph - go!)

Ikonos Imagery of Las Vegas in 2004 - detail from The Big Picture, Earth Observed 14 Jan 2009

Earth, observed: The Big Picture blog at Boston.com

(via Buck)

Sully's LinkedIn page

No, not that Sully.

Captain C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, President & CEO at Safety Reliability Methods:

President & CEO

Safety Reliability Methods, Inc.

(Privately Held; Airlines/Aviation industry)

January 2007Present (2 years 1 month)

Providing technical expertise and strategic vision and direction to improve safety and reliability in a variety of high risk industries.



(Public Company; 10,001 or more employees; LCC; Airlines/Aviation industry)

February 1980
Present (29 years)

Captain for major U. S. passenger airline, serving North America, Europe, Latin America, Caribbean and Hawaii with large jet equipment. Responsible for all aspects of safety and security pertaining to flight, including planning, preparation and aircraft servicing. Leader of crew and responsible for passengers and aircraft. Involved in development and implementation of the first Crew Resource Management (CRM) training course used at the airline. As a Check Airman, was responsible for the training and supervision of other airline pilots transitioning to another aircraft type or upgrading to Captain. Served as an Air Line Pilots Association Local Air Safety Chairman and Accident Investigator and national technical committee member.

Fighter Pilot/Captain

United States Air Force

(Government Agency; 10,001 or more employees; Military industry)

June 1973
February 1980 (6 years 9 months)

USAF officer and fighter pilot on F-4 aircraft. Experience in Europe, Asia and at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where I served as Blue Force Mission Commander in Red Flag joint exercises. Was a member of a USAF aircraft accident investigation board. Served as a flight training officer and unit deployment and war plans officer. Commended for writing wing after action report.

He wasn’t a model populist *because* liberal intellectuals disdained him

From the beginning of [William F. Buckley's] career, he seemed to grasp that any successful right-of-center politics in America would be populist, or it wouldn’t be at all. In post-New Deal America, with the welfare state firmly entrenched and the governing class squarely in the statist corner, conservatism’s obvious constituency was middle-class and put-upon, and its obvious purpose was to defend its constituents’ folkways and pocketbooks against sophisticates and social engineers. The establishment was solidly liberal, so the right needed to be anti-establishment; the alternative was the sidelines, or the fever swamps. The previous generation of conservative thinkers had chosen alienation, resentment, paranoia. Buckley chose populism — and with it, relevance.

The results could be ugly, especially in the movement’s early going: the vocal support for McCarthy, the National Review editorials expressing sympathy for segregationists. But they didn’t have to be. This is the principle [sic] lesson of the Buckley-Reagan relationship, as it played out across three decades — that populism doesn’t have to be stupid or bigoted, and intellectuals who wed themselves to populist figures don’t have to look like fools in the process. The two tempers can coexist and profit from their points of tension. Intellectualism can stand up to populism when necessary, as Buckley did in his late-’70s debate with Reagan over the Panama Canal, in which the Gipper came equipped with the Fox News-ready slogan “we bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours.” And populism can intuit its way to conclusions that intellectuals may not reach — as Reagan did, to Buckley’s initial dismay, in his second-term negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev.

In this sense, the modern right’s current bout of Reagan nostalgia isn’t misplaced. It’s just that conservatives seem confused about what they should be nostalgic for. Reagan was a model populist because he was a smart populist, and because the liberals who disdained him looked like fools in the end. But he wasn’t a model populist because liberal intellectuals disdained him, which is what apologists for Bush’s apparent incuriosity or Palin’s tongue-tied interviews have sometimes tried to claim.
Essay - When Buckley met Reagan - Ross Douthat writing at the New York Times

16 January 2009

Updated: Lazyweb

A "bleg" is a "blog-beg," in which the author of a blog asks his readership for help. deprecated terminology at our place; we're going with "lazyweb" instead.

So here's mine for the day:

Someone famously observed that (this is the gist of it) there is no one quite so artistically/professionally conservative as an avant-gardiste who makes it to the big time.

Is that ringing any bells with anyone? I can't for the life of me remember who said it or exactly how it was said, and my Google-Fu is failing me.

Thanks in advance.

Sometimes there IS a glider pilot in the house when you need one

I got a lot of calls, texts, and emails from friends and even some family members yesterday who know that I travel back and forth to North Carolina often, and were worried that I might have been on the US Airways plane that was en route to Charlotte but had to ditch in the Hudson River shortly after takeoff.  How lucky were those passengers that the captain at the controls of the Airbus was, among other things, a certified glider pilot instructor?  I mean, talk about being in the right place at the right time... he, and the flight crew, are absolute heroes.

Y'all are lovely folks; thank you for your concern.  For the record, we travel between NYC-area airports (LGA, JFK, EWR) and RDU typically on American, Continental or JetBlue.

We are all fine, except for everyday annoyances; a localized (area of a couple of blocks) broadband outage last night rendered us temporarily Amish, at least Internet-wise; all I had for connectivity was the iPhone. 

And this morning, we woke up to a plumbing leak through the ceiling - apparently a pipe burst in the apartment directly above us.

Just minor annoyances in the grand scheme of things - nothing, compared to going for a brief swim in the Hudson when it's 11 degrees outside.

15 January 2009

Nobody's business, or everybody's?

The most indispensable chief executive in the United States, beloved by customers and investors for his magnificent turnaround of the company he founded — and for the amazing gadgets his company produces — can no longer be trusted on the subject of whether he is healthy enough to continue running the company. Although Mr. Jobs says he will return in June, [Needham & Company analyst Charlie Wolf, who follows Apple] wrote in his note that investors were likely to “assume the worst — at the extreme, the possibility that Mr. Jobs will never return to Apple as full-time C.E.O.” And Mr. Wolf has always been a big supporter of Steve Jobs. Incredible.

It is really hard to write about Steve Jobs and his health. Nobody wants to see another human being suffer a recurrence of cancer. Everybody — myself very much included — hopes that Mr. Jobs will get well and come back to work. I can even understand why he doesn’t want to disclose details about his medical problems to the world — it’s very distasteful, and Mr. Jobs also believes strong [sic] that it’s nobody’s business except his and his family’s.

But he’s wrong. There are certain people who simply don’t have the same privacy rights as others, whether they like it or not. Presidents. Celebrities. Sports figures. And, at least in terms of his health, Steve Jobs. His health has become a material fact for Apple shareholders. His vagueness about his health, his dissembling, his constantly changing story line — it is simply not an appropriate way to act when you are the most important person at one of the most high-profile companies in America. On the contrary: it is infuriating.
Joe Nocera: "It's Time for Apple to Come Clean" @ NY Times Executive Suite blog (15 Jan 2009)

Related: Apple's Culture of Secrecy (New York Times, 26 July 2008)

Who shook up the snowglobe?

Battery Park, New York City, 9 AM, from my office window on the 12th floor:

battery park 15 january 2008

Shoulda worn boots today.


Last week I finally caught Patrick Creadon's documentary I.O.U.S.A., in which former comptroller general David Walker and former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson explain why the national debt is 1) so huge, 2) even more enormous than most people realize, 3) not going away anytime soon and 4) actually a threat to the continued viability of the US as a trading partner/solvent nation.

Sobering message notwithstanding, I found the film gripping—in large part because of Brian Oakes's remarkably clear and cogent data presentation throughout.
See What I Mean - Great Moments in Infoviz: I.O.U.S.A.

13 January 2009

If you're a Mac person looking for a laptop, here's a deal

This is not paid advertising, but I've done business with these folks myself, found them to be pleasant and competent, and wanted to bring this to your attention:

Small Dog Electronics (an operation specializing in Macintoshes) has available for sale about fifty refurbished first-generation white MacBooks (with one-year Small Dog warranty) for $599. 1.83Ghz Core Duo, 80GB hard drive, 1 GB RAM. I would add a gigabyte of RAM (cheap these days) and you'd have a very nice machine for not much money.

In fact, you could add a honking big hard disk for not much money, too:
MacBook 13in 1.83GHz 1GB/60/combo/AP/BT white (Used, 1 year Small Dog warranty) $ 599.99
PC5300 SO-DIMM 1GB DDR2-667 - Ram Module (New, never used, 10 year factory warranty) 2 @ 39.99 = $ 79.98
250GB 2.5in SATA Hard Drive 5400 RPM (New, never used, 3 year factory warranty) $ 99.99
($60 more would get you 500 GB - personally I'd go for it.)

Feet of clay in expensive sneakers?

If you don't follow NCAA Division I college basketball, skip to the next post.

The University of North Carolina men's basketball team is usually a good one--historically, it's one of the strongest b-ball programs in the nation--but this year it looked like it was going to be exceptional. Unanimous pre-season Number 1 in the coaches' poll and held the top spot in the actual polls from the beginning of the season...

They went undefeated until the opening of ACC league play.

They're now 0-2 in the ACC, having lost to Boston College and Wake Forest. They are currently in last place in the ACC.

What happened?
What has happened to the former No. 1 team in the nation?


Last night's game against the Demon Deacons wasn't a surprise to me, as North Carolina was on the road, and Wake Forest was hungry to show they were as good as advertised. The game against Boston College was a shock, as I felt that the Tar Heels would play tougher and play smarter than in the previous three games, as this was their home and ACC opener.

Did Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson really buy into the team concept Williams was preaching, or are they trying to prove to the scouts that they are NBA lottery picks? Where is the perimeter defense they both displayed early on in the season, and the good decision making?
UNC Basketball: What Is Going On In Chapel Hill? (Bleacher Report)

Hat tip: deVille

Explaining the VW short squeeze

Porsche’s ownership disclosure sent the hedge funds on such a flurry of purchases for any Volkswagen stock still in circulation that the VW share price jumped from below €200 to over €1000 at one point on October 28th, making Volkswagen for a brief time the world’s most valuable company by market cap.

On paper, Porsche made between €30-40 billion in the affair. Once all is said and done, the actual profit is closer to some €6-12 billion. To put those numbers in perspective, Porsche’s revenue for the whole year of 2006 was a bit over €7 billion.

Porsche’s move took three years of careful maneuvering. It was darkly brilliant, a wealth transfer ingeniously conceived like few we’ve ever seen. Betting the right way, Porsche roiled the financial markets and took the hedge funds for a fortune.

Betting the wrong way, Adolf Merckle took his life.

ivan krstić · code culture: How Porsche hacked the financial system and made a killing

Via Kottke

12 January 2009

Windows 7...

...is a partially decrufted Vista, based on a couple hours of playing around with it.

Don't bother downloading the public beta, unless you're a completist and/or a masochist. Clearly, I'm a bit of both.

Thinking big thoughts is thirsty work

Eight reasons why we are in a depression

1. We have zombie banks.

2. There is considerable regulatory uncertainty in banking and finance.

3. There is a negative wealth effect from lower home and asset prices.

4. There is a big sectoral shift out of real estate, luxury goods, and debt-financed consumption.

5. Some of the automakers are finally meeting their end, or would meet their end without government aid.

6. Fear and uncertainty are high, in part because they should be high and in part because Bush and Paulson spooked everyone.

7. International factors are strongly negative.

8. There is a decline in aggregate demand, resulting from some mix of 1-7.

Marginal Revolution, via Megan McArdle

Thought for the day

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.  - Sir William Drummond

Windows 7 Update

Courtesy of xkcd:

11 January 2009

Just a glutton for punishment, I guess

But VMware Fusion makes this very safe and relatively painless...

Guess we'll give Windows 7 a test drive.

Windows 7 Beta Install

Barnett's principles of grand strategy in an age of globalization

Posted at Thomas P.M. Barnett's blog, a preview of the arguments on offer in his next book (due in February):
  1. To be plausible, grand-strategic vision must combine a clear-eyed view of today's reality with a broad capture of the dominant trends shaping the long-term environment, meaning no sharp detours--much less U-turns--in history's advance.
  1. Grand strategy does not seek to change human nature (which got us to this point quite nicely) but to placate it, thereby ensuring the portability of its strategic concepts (the dos and don'ts) among minds from different backgrounds, cultures, and ages.
  1. Grand-strategic thinking always keeps the U.S. government's role in proper perspective, because globalization comes with rules but not a ruler.
  1. Grand-strategic analysis starts with security, which is always 100 percent of your problem until it's reasonably achieved, because then it's at most 10 percent of your ultimate solution.
  1. Grand strategy is not clairvoyance; it does not seek to predict future events but rather to contextualize them in a confident, opportunistic worldview.
  1. Because we live in a time of pervasive and persistent revolutions, the grand strategist is neither surprised nor dismayed when the awesome force of globalization's tectonic shifts elicits vociferous or even violent friction from locals.
  1. Grand strategy purposefully aspires to be proactive, not merely protecting itself from failure but also exploiting avenues of success as they are revealed.
  1. So grand strategists do not entertain, much less succumb to, single-point-failure doomsaying, because systematic thinking about the future means you're not "for" or "against" issues like peak oil or global warming or resource scarcity but instead accept the implied dynamics of the change that has been triggered and factor them in accordingly.
  1. The grand strategist is therefore interested more in direction than in degree of change, recognizing that politics lags dramatically behind economics and that security lags dramatically behind connectivity.
  1. Grand strategy isn't about keeping it a "fair fight"; the grand strategist desires as many allies as possible and as few enemies as possible, and so he's interested in everything and anything that brings adherents to his cause while sapping his enemy's numbers.

From GREAT POWERS, to be published by G. P. Putnam's on February 5, 2009.

Tom's Grand Strategy beliefs from Great Powers (Thomas P.M. Barnett blog)

Got my copy on pre-order.

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson

Sasha and Malia's maternal grandmother is going to spoil them rotten:

[Mrs. Marian Robinson] has often teased her daughter, Michelle Obama, and the president-elect about their household rules for her granddaughters.

Bedtime at 8:30 p.m.? “That’s ridiculous,” Mrs. Robinson told The Boston Globe last year, suggesting that was too early.

Television for only an hour? “That’s just not enough time,” she said.

As for the healthy, organic foods the Obamas favor? “That’s not my thing,” said Mrs. Robinson, who said she enjoyed salty fried foods and dismissed efforts to make such dishes healthier.

“If you’re going to have fried chicken,” she said, “have fried chicken.”
Now that's a grandma.

The Far Side, in real life

One of the better Flickr pools I've seen in a long time.

Hat tip: Doc, via Chap

Add thick, lightly-salted slices of ripe homegrown tomato and she becomes heaven itself

White-haired man with thick New York accent: She's like a mayonnaise sandwich on Wonder bread.
Younger woman: Ugh, that's awful!

--56th St & 2nd Ave

via Overheard in New York, Jan 11, 2009

10 January 2009

Joe Mitchell introduces us to Joe Gould

Joe Gould was an odd and penniless and unemployable little man who came to the city in 1916 and ducked and dodged and held on as hard as he could for over thirty-five years. He was a member of one of the oldest families in New England ("The Goulds were the Goulds," he used to say, "when the Cabots and the Lowells were clamdiggers"), he was born and brought up in a town near Boston in which his father was a leading citizen, and he went to Harvard, as did his father and grandfather before him, but he claimed that until he arrived in New York City he had always felt out of place. "In my home town," he wrote once, "I never felt at home. I stuck out. Even in my own home, I never felt at home. In New York City, especially in Greenwich Village, down among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has-beens and the never-wills and the God-knows-whats, I have always felt at home."

Gould looked like a bum and lived like a bum. He wore castoff clothes, and he slept in flophouses or in the cheapest rooms in cheap hotels. Sometimes he slept in doorways. He spent most of his time hanging out in diners and cafeterias and barrooms in the Village or wandering around the streets or looking up friends and acquaintances all over town or sitting in public libraries scribbling in dime-store composition books. He was generally pretty dirty. He would often go for days without washing his face and hands, and he rarely had a shirt washed or a suit cleaned. As a rule, he wore a garment continuously until someone gave him a new one, whereupon he threw the old one away. He had his hair cut infrequently ("Every other Easter," he would say), and then in a barber college on the Bowery. He was a chronic sufferer from the highly contagious kind of conjunctivitis that is known as pinkeye. His voice was distractingly nasal. On occasion, he stole. He usually stole books from bookstores and sold them to second-hand bookstores, but if he was sufficiently hard-pressed he stole from friends. (One terribly cold night, he knocked on the door of the studio of a sculptor who was almost as poor as he was, and the sculptor let him spend the night rolled up like a mummy in layers of newspapers and sculpture shrouds on the floor of the studio, and next morning he got up early and stole some of the sculptor's tools and pawned them.) In addition, he was nonsensical and bumptious and inquisitive and mocking and sarcastic and scurrilous. All through the years, nonetheless, a long succession of men and women gave him old clothes and small sums of money and bought him meals and drinks and paid for his lodging and invited him to parties and to weekends in the country and helped him get such things as glasses and false teeth, or otherwise took an interest in him--some simply because they thought he was entertaining, some because they felt sorry for him, some because they regarded him sentimentally as a relic of the Village of their youth, some because they enjoyed looking down on him, some for reasons that they themselves probably weren't all that sure of, and some because they believed that a book he had been working on for many years might possibly turn out to be a good book, even a great one, and wanted to encourage him to continue working on it.

Gould called this book "An Oral History," sometimes adding "of Our Time." As he described it, the Oral History consisted of talk he had heard and considered meaningful and had taken down, either verbatim or summarized--everything from a remark overheard in the street to the conversation of a roomful of people lasting for hours--and of essays commenting on this talk. Some talk has an obvious meaning and nothing more, he said, and some, often unbeknownst to the talker, has at least one other meaning and sometimes several other meanings lurking around inside its obvious meaning. The latter kind of talk, he said, was what he was collecting for the Oral History. He professed to believe that such talk might have great hidden historical significance. It might have portents in it, he said-- portents of cataclysms, a kind of writing on the wall long before the kingdom falls--and he liked to quote a couplet from William Blake's "Auguries of Innocence":

The harlot's cry from street to street / Shall weave Old England's winding-sheet.

Everything depended, he said, on how talk was interpreted, and not everybody was able to interpret it. "Yes, you're right," he once said to a detractor of the Oral History. "It's only things I heard people say, but maybe I have a peculiar ability--maybe I can understand the significance of what people say, maybe I can read its inner meaning. *You* might listen to a conversation between two old men in a barroom or two old women on a park bench and think that it was the worst kind of bushwa, and *I* might listen to the same conversation and find deep historical meaning in it."

"In time to come," he said on another occasion, "people may read Gould's Oral History to see what went wrong with us, the way we read Gibbon's 'Decline and Fall' to see what went wrong with the Romans."

He told people he met in Village joints that the Oral History was already millions upon millions of words long and beyond any doubt the lengthiest unpublished literary work in existence but it was nowhere near finished. He said that he didn't expect it to be published in his lifetime, publishers being what they were, as blind as bats, and he sometimes rummaged around in his pockets and brought out and read a will he had made disposing of it. "As soon after my demise as is convenient for all concerned," he specified in the will, "my manuscript books shall be collected from the various and sundry places in which they are stored and put on the scales and weighed, and two-thirds of them by weight shall be given to the Harvard Library and the other third shall be given to the library of the Smithsonian Institution."

Gould almost always wrote in composition books--the kind that schoolchildren use, the kind that are ruled and spine-stitched and paper-bound and have the multiplication tables on the back. Customarily, when he filled a book, he would leave it with the first person he met on his rounds whom he knew and trusted-- the cashier of an eating place, the proprietor of a barroom, the clerk of a hotel or flophouse--and ask that it be put away and kept for him. Then, every few months, he would go from place to place and pick up all the books that had accumulated. He would say, if anyone became curious about this, that he was storing them in an old friend's house or in an old friend's apartment or even in an old friend's studio. He hardly ever identified any of these old friends by name, although sometimes he would describe one briefly and vaguely--"a classmate of mine who lives in Connecticut and has a big attic in his house," he would say, or "a woman I know who lives alone in a duplex apartment," or "a sculptor I know who has a studio in a loft building." In talking about the Oral History, he always emphasized its length and its bulk. He kept people up to date on its length. One evening in June, 1942, for example, he told an acquaintance that at the moment the Oral History was "approximately nine million two hundred and fifty thousand words long, or," he added, throwing his head back proudly, "about a dozen times as long as the Bible."

In 1952, Gould collapsed on the street and was taken to Columbus Hospital. Columbus transferred him to Bellevue, and Bellevue transferred him to the Pilgrim State Hospital, in West Brentwood, Long Island. In 1957, he died there, aged sixty-eight, of arteriosclerosis and senility. Directly after the funeral, friends of his in the Village began trying to find the manuscript of the Oral History. After several days, they turned up three things he had written--a poem, a fragment of an essay, and a begging letter. In the next month or so, they found a few more begging letters. From then on, they were unable to find anything at all. They sought out and questioned scores of people in whose keeping Gould might have conceivably left some of the composition books, and they visited all the places he had lived in or hung out in that they could remember or learn about, but without success. Not a single one of the composition books was found, or has ever been found.

In 1942, for reasons that I will go into later, I became involved in Gould's life, and I kept in touch with him during his last ten years in the city. I spent a good many hours during those years listening to him. I listened to him when he was sober, and I listened to him when he was drunk. I listened to him when he was cast down and meek--when, as he used to say, he felt so low he had to reach up to touch bottom--and I listened to him when he was in moods of incoherent exaltation. I got so I could put two and two together and make at least a little sense out of what he was saying even when he was very drunk or very exalted or in both states at once, and gradually, without intending to, I learned some things about him that he may not have wanted me to know, or, on the other hand, since his mind was circuitous and he loved wheels within wheels, that he very well may have wanted me to know--I'll never be sure. In any case, I am quite sure that I know why the manuscript of the Oral History has not been found.
Excerpted from "Joe Gould's Secret," by Joseph Mitchell. Originally published in 1964 in The New Yorker; now available reprinted in Up in the Old Hotel.

Gaza as covered by Arab TV

On Arab TV... Gaza has been the only story.

For hours on end, live images from the streets of Gaza are beamed into Arab households.

Unlike the correspondents from ABC and NBC, who have filed their reports exclusively from Israeli cities, Arab crews are inside Gaza, with many correspondents native Gazans themselves.

The images they capture are often broadcast unedited, and over the last week, a grizzly [sic] news gathering routine has been established.

The cycle begins with rooftop-mounted cameras, capturing the air raids live. After moments of quiet, thunderous bombing commences and plumes of smoke rise over the skyline. Then, anguish on the streets. Panicked civilians run for cover as ambulances careen through narrow alleys. Rescue workers hurriedly pick through the rubble, often pulling out mangled bodies. Fathers with tears of rage hold dead children up to the cameras, vowing revenge. The wounded are carried out in stretchers, gushing with blood.

Later, local journalists visit the hospitals and more gruesome images, more dead children are broadcast. Doctors wrap up the tiny bodies and carry them into overflowing morgues. The survivors speak to reporters. Their distraught voices are heard around the region; the outflow of misery and destruction is constant.

Al-Jazeera - War on Gaza - In The US, Gaza Is A Different War (7 Jan 2009)

Doctor, my eyes

The most influential men in America are breaking out of their socks.
What was the chain of logic that led up to the decision to place five nude men in a sock ad?
[Retrospace: Worst Advertisement Ever...]

Hat tip: Chap

08 January 2009

We iz ready 2 b stimulated


In praise of thoughtful speaking

James Fallows, present-day journalist and once-upon-a-time Presidential speechwriter, deplores the rhetorically lazy habit of ending speeches with the phrase "...and God Bless the United States of America" (or its shorter variant, "God Bless America")...and takes the President-Elect to task for same:
I love the Irving Berlin song. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. But a little chunk is hacked away from the national brain each time a president gets out of a speech not with a thought or original phrase but with this mindless pablum. This has become the political equivalent of "Have a nice day!"

Isn't this how presidents have always talked? God, no. You didn't get it from George Washington. You didn't get it from Abraham Lincoln, either in the hands-down winner as Greatest Inaugural Address Ever, his second or in that work of political haiku, Gettysburg Address. You didn't hear it from FDR.

Many of these titans spoke of God -- but when they did so, it was with some actual thought-content. For instance, from the close of Lincoln's Second Inaugural:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in...
Sorry to hear Obama talking this way (James Fallows)

Speaking of intelligent speechifying invoking God, you really should read Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address if you haven't recently (or ever--as was my case.)

It's a corker.

A little more Lincoln:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.