Friday, December 14, 2012

The Moral Supremacy of Capitalism

The New York Times reports this week that megabank HSBC has escaped criminal prosecution for money laundering that probably funded terrorists and narcotics traffickers. Why? Because regulators and prosecutors were petrified that an indictment would undermine the entire financial system. TheTimes quotes anonymous government sources who confessed fears about bringing formal charges because doing so would be a “death sentence” for the bank. So they let it off the hook.
That’s right, HSBC is officially above the law. Too-big-to-fail has become too-big-to-prosecute.
Salon reports. Via GC.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Expertise and Politics

The shadow contest of the 2012 election was waged between two elements of the American news media.  On one side stood a pundit class, whose currency has always been oracular.  On the other stands a new class of data-based prognosticators, whose currency is empiricism.  The arguments between these two classes in the last weeks of the election, for me at least, have framed an important subtext of recent American politics as a whole.  It is not, as defenders of Nate Silver will say, a question of math.  It is, rather, a question of expertise--finding real, empirical answers to real, empirical problems through innovative, empirical methods.  This shadow contest is meaningful because it underscores in dramatic fashion a division between a traditional way of doing politics that is grounded in rhetoric, and one that address broad political problems unencumbered by those political narratives that would deny the reality of problems and solutions.

So, it was nice to see Rachel Maddow calling this election what it is--the failure of an ideological bubble that would mistake science for rhetoric, and expertise for punditry.  Problems beget paranoia--easy to sustain in the short term, but a clear underdog in any contest with the real.

Skip to 12:50:

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Monday, November 5, 2012

I dream of hidden doorways

Mostly in bookcases.  Everything about Secret Bookcases is a Tumblr to just that. Via BB.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


In case you missed it, two members of the Russian punk protest group, Pussy Riot, have been sentenced to hard labor.  Via the Guardian:

Two members of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot have been sent to remote prison camps to serve their sentences, the group has said. 
Maria Alyokhina, 24, will serve the rest of her two-year term at a women's prison camp in Perm, a Siberian region notorious for hosting some of the Soviet Union's harshest camps. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, has been sent to Mordovia, a region that also hosts a high number of prisons. 
"These are the harshest camps of all the possible choices," the band said via its Twitter account on Monday. 
Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for performing an anti-Putin "punk anthem" in a Moscow cathedral in February. They argued that their conviction was part of a growing crackdown on free speech and political activism in Russia. 
They are expected to serve the rest of their sentences, which end in March 2014, in the camps, where conditions are reportedly dire.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

NPR is a pack of gum

Let's talk about NPR.

As the Lede reported this week, Mitt Romney's targeting of the NPR budget reflects a widespread misunderstanding of how little the US government gives to public broadcasting.  While $500 million dollars sounds like a lot of money, this is only the case because most of us (myself included) don't easily differentiate between a million, a billion, and a trillion.

So, what is $500 million dollars in the grand scheme of things?  I have occasionally returned to a little economic metaphor that I posted last year, from Harvard economist Philip Greenspun. He cancels out some zeros and explains the US debt in these terms.
If we divide everything by 100,000,000, the numbers take on more sensible proportions.

We have a family that is spending $38,200 per year. The family’s income is $21,700 per year. The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills. 
At the time, he explained that the "historic" budget cut of $38 billion dollars was actually nothing at all.
After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated. So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.
Putting aside the suitability of the family or the household as a metaphor for the economy, I find this method of understanding large numbers very helpful.  In this context, how much does NPR cost the government?  The massive figure of $500 billion is the equivalent of $0.50.  Cutting funding for NPR is the equivalent of foregoing a pack of gum when your house is underwater.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The Atlantic has a nice list up of 19th century British slang for "sex."  Here are the best ones:

  • Amorous congress: 
  • To say two people were engaged in the amorous congress was by far the most polite option on the list, oftentimes serving as the definition for other, less discreet synonyms.
  • Basket-making: 
  • "Those two recently opened a basket-making shop." From a method of making children's stockings, in which knitting the heel is called basket-making .
  • Bread and butter: 
  • One on top of the other. "Rumor has it he found her bread and butter fashion with the neighbor."
  • Face-making: 
    Aside from the obvious, this also comes from "making children," because babies have faces.
  • Blanket hornpipe: 
  • Green gown: 
  • Giving a girl a green gown can only happen in the grass.
  • Lobster kettle: 
  • A woman who sleeps with soldiers coming in at port is said to "make a lobster kettle" of herself.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Breaking Badder

Gag real from Season Four.

Happy Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Turns out, I'm not the only one.

The NYT documents the triumphant return of the Rubix Cube.  Here's an image of my cube, bought last summer in the depths of dissertation writing.  I can reliably solve it in about two minutes.

Monday, July 23, 2012


Friday marked the 43 anniversary of the first lunar landing.  Here, in commemoration, is the long lost audio:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Punk lives in Russia

Yet another reminder, punk rock is alive and well (and still dangerous) in certain parts of the world.

MOSCOW — In a sign of Russian authorities’ determination to clamp down on dissent, a court extended for six months on Friday the detention of three punk rockers who had staged a protest performance in a cathedral. 
The three young women were among a group of five mask-wearing singers known as Pussy Riot who took to the altar of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February and chanted what they described as a punk prayer. In it, they called on divine intervention to drive then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin from office two weeks before his election as president. 
The women — Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 23, Maria Alekhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29 — were arrested shortly afterward. In a preliminary hearing Friday, prosecutors said they needed more time to investigate and asked for an extension until January. By then the women will have been behind bars for a total of 10 months, accused of blasphemy and offending Orthodox believers. They are being held on hooliganism charges, which can bring up to seven years in jail.
Last December, concert-goers at a punk show in Indonesia were arrested and forced to undergo "re-education."

VICE has a nice interview up with Pussy Riot, which describes itself as a "militant, punk-feminist, street band."  Here's a video of them performing on the roof of a building, facing a detention center housing political dissidents.

UPDATE: Gawker has a nice piece up detailing Pussy Riot and their legal predicament: "The Know-Nothing's Guide to Pussy Riot, the Realest Punks Around."

UPDATE 2: Russian authorities are seeking a penalty of three years against the band.

Monday, July 2, 2012


A Redditor has posted a short, concise, and accurate account of everything that the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") is and does. Check it out.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Automatic Modernism

Here's a Wordle of my ready-to-defend dissertation.

I actually find the size of "political" a little disturbing. What about "automatic" and "modernism"?

Monday, March 19, 2012


New Santigold album will be out in about a month. I've been looking forward to this one for awhile. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Muppet Lab

I humbly submit that the next Muppets film center on Bunsen and Beaker.  Any traditional SF theme would work.

This deleted scene comes via the lovely Kendra, reposted from io9.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bitter Laughter

I found this by total accident: a fairly long wikipedia page of Russian political jokes.

A few examples:
A knock knock joke about KGB. The "knocker" knocks on the "knockee"'s door (the joke receiver). The door answerer asks the questions "who is it". The knocker replies stating that he is the KGB, (knocker only says "KGB"). The answerer replies by saying "KGB who" as with all knock knock jokes. The knocker slaps the answerer before allowing the answerer to finish saying the previous line of "KGB who". Then the knocker yells "WE WILL ASK THE QUESTIONS!"
A frightened man came to the KGB and said, "My talking parrot disappeared."
KGB: "This is not our case. Go to the criminal police."
Man: "Excuse me. Of course I know that I have to go to them. I am just here to tell you officially that I disagree with that parrot."
I think there's a fairly good chance Zizek himself wrote some of this.