Monday, December 29, 2008
When I return home, I get a sense of how bad things are getting in parts of the US- there are at least four foreclosures on my mother's block right now and more than I can count in her county. Places like Haymarket, Virginia, became enclaves for huge houses that their owners could hardly afford after the tech programmers got sick of trying to squeeze into the Dulles Corridor, and the foreclosures have been growing in number for at least the past two or three years now. People who are hanging on to their homes by their fingernails are not likely to go to the small mom and pop grocery store when the big chain store down the street is cheaper. And a population on the move doesn't make for loyal customers anyway.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
When I think of the Chesapeake Bay one of the first things that comes to mind is the blue crab, and not just at Christmastime. As a young man, I remember that you could go into any Maryland beachfront bar and, for about ten dollars, purchase a large bag of crabs and a wooden mallet, as well as a pint of beer, and lounge in the sand feasting on crustaceans until early evening. It was heaven.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that the major commercial fishing operation of the region until the mid-1980s was harvesting the Crassostrea virginica, or the Eastern Oyster, the breed of oyster most eaten in the United States. Oysters thrive in a constant and alternating mixture of fresh and salt water; the Chesapeake Bay is situated just in from the Atlantic, but fed by dozens of rivers across the watershed. When John Smith sailed into the Bay in 1608 he found the oysters thick enough to make sailing troublesome. Between the Civil War and 1980 the majority of oysters swallowed in the United States were from the Bay.
Oysters have a strange and brackish taste that the poet Léon-Paul Fargue compared to ''kissing the sea on the lips''; probably not the intimate act I would first associate with eating oysters. No matter. One of the pleasures associated with having a taste for oysters is that it's never entirely possible to explain that taste to those who don't have it; enjoying oysters seems illogical somehow.
The Chesapeake Bay oyster population declined in the 1980s due to two entirely predictable factors: more people moved into the area and the Bay was overfished. The population is down to 1% of the pre-1980 level. This is a problem and not just for shuckers: oysters are great for filtering nitrogen from the water. A single oyster can filter almost 50 gallons a day. So a body of water with a good oyster population will be cleaner, allowing other species, such as crabs, to thrive. It used to be that scientists believed that oysters chose clean water for their habitat; now, many think that oysters turn their habitat cleaner.
Maryland is getting the message. Numerous farms are raising oysters to place in the Bay and the state will likely move towards private ownership of the beds; formerly, open to the general public and their pails. The state is also mapping the oyster beds and looking for sites for new beds. one group, the Oyster Recovery Project, planted over 450 million hatchery-raised oysters this year alone. This is good, not only for oysters, but for the environment as well as the economy of the region. It's also good for those of us who like Chesapeake Bay seafood.
''This painting illustrates some of my fancies about human communication in a higher age of human evolution. I dream of communicating "empathically" through technological enhancements to our abilities. Empathy is superior to telepathy, and certainly to verbal language. It is to communicate with emotion. This would be a grand language! There would be little chance of misunderstanding.''
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, but you left me for some dick. So, this year, I'm dating a guy.
The weird thing about George Michael/ WHAM songs is that they're incredibly catchy, but have the worse instrumentation imaginable. Actually, the videos are pretty cheesy too. Damn you 1980s!!!!
A break from all the rocking- here's a song that I have been driving Claire nuts with for some time now- Crabs for Christmas. You hear this every year in Baltimore and its radio space, and if I'm not mistaken, David DeBoy wrote the song as well as performing it.
Admittedly, you need to have spent some time in Baltimore, or be familiar with the way they talk there, to really enjoy it. But, since Baltimore is the best city in America, after all, I thought it was worth posting here. Sorry, Claire.
Okay, so obviously none of us really want to know what Gary Glitter wants for Christmas this year... But, they still play his music at sporting events [he's popular with both the NBA and NAMBLA apparently], so I don't feel too terrible about posting this.
Just remember, people- keep him away from your kids. Merry Christmas!
SLADE were one of the big glam bands of the 70s, and actually, I think they're still together. Anyway, their best remembered song, at least on this side of the pond, is Cum on Feel the Noize, which was covered by the band Quiet Riot in the 80s and is, for some reason, used in a ton of commercials today. But, in the UK, their hit Merry Christmas Everybody is still played every year. Here 'tis.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Here's some interesting reading from Robert Paterson, the organizer of the Boyd 2008 session in Prince Edward Island. It details just how bad the ''econolypse'' is going to get. Short answer: ''We are not in a recession. We are not even in a depression. We are at the end of an era.'' It's pretty amazing stuff, to say the least.
Here's the rub:
''What got us to this place?
''The Dark Side of a Mindset. The Machine/Institutional/Newtonian/Engineering Mindset that created most of the wealth of the 19th and 20th century tipped over into the dark side. Where not only did we give up all our power to institutions but gave the few that ran them the license to use these institutions for their own benefit.
''So we spend nearly a trillion on defense but not on what the troops really need. We spend billions of health and America is on a par with Cuba. We spend billions on education and more than 50% of Americans are functionally illiterate. We spend billions on food and we eat crap. We see that the leadership of these institutions live in a bubble. The gap between the rich and poor has never been greater. The middle class is being squeezed. We don't make anything anymore. We make no progress toward energy independence.
''Nearly every citizen now lives in dread. Will I keep my house, my job, my pension? Do you feel safe? Everything that people have worked for and hoped for now is at risk.''
The only answer Paterson gives for all these problems might be considered ''radical'', although its not historically so- namely, he suggests returning to almost completely self-sufficient tiny communities, not just in terms of food and energy, but also in terms of credit and security. In other words, we need to start dismantling the state, and a number of other huge global institutions while we're at it. Or, really just replacing them and allowing them to wither away. Somebody fetch me my axe.
And what's crazy about all of this- aside from hearing economists talking like anarchists- is that it might actually be impossible to go back to the old way of doing things, even if we want to. It's already occurred to me that the people who are talking about how we have to get back to the ''normal'' economic world we had back in 2006 are fucking insane. The world we live in today might already be extinct.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
''“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.''
-Wendell Jamieson, in this very entertaining article.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Timothy Leary says it happened.
The story is included in a new collection of Leary's writings out from RE/Search, purveyors of legally mind-altering media.
I'm still trying to absorb Paul Krassner's claim that he dropped acid with Groucho Marx. If I could have been present during any event in history...
The Economist says, ''Don't bail out the carmakers''.
A slight majority of the American public agrees with them.
As for me, I think the Economist makes a sound argument here. It really does send a lousy message to tout ''free markets'' as the be-all end-all, but switch to syndicalism every time a big corporation screws up.Who knows how President Obama will handle all of this. Sure, he's maybe inclined towards ''big government''. But, he's also really big on ''consensus'', and the idea of alienating a majority of Americans with his first choice upon taking office can't be particularly thrilling.
I suspect some sort of semi-bankruptcy is in the works.
About that last post, I imagine there are two problems with treating academia as an industry:
1. We have a monopoly- we produce a product- educated people- and then we're the ones that get to decide if that product is faulty. Even if our students couldn't add 2 and 2, we could still give them a degree saying that they were college-educated. This is why grade inflation is the unofficial norm at universities like mine- who could stop it? Who would want to? Certainly not professors, the students, or the parents. And really there's no outside assessment. I can't think of any equivalent to this in any other field.
2. When I say that ''this will not last'', it implies that we all understand that a failing industry will eventually have its day of reckoning. This doesn't seem to be the belief in the US anymore. We're moving towards something like syndicalism, in which failing industries are ''rescued'' by the state until they can return to the free market. A truly failing industry would just become a ward of the state in that situation. And, indeed, public universities are already wards of the state. We basically have the situation that GM is looking for: we get bags of money from the government to produce a product that we assure the public is top notch, with no outside assessment whatsoever. So, caveat emptor, I guess...
Speak of the devil- here's an article that reads like a parody of what I was just talking about a few days ago: colleges spending parents' money on amorphous ''value'' luxuries instead of focusing on actually educating their students.
Finals week is stressful. So, colleges ''have long evolved beyond handing out free cookies or ice cream come finals time, offering massages, free apparel, and small doses of (legal and mild) stimulants.'' Also some universities have ''free'' caricature artists and a ''Sandy Candy station''. Yippee!
There's also a comment from a ''Director of Involvement Services'' who hired a Pet Therapy program, just like they do in nursing homes. You have to wonder what Director of Involvement Services pays. What's the job security like? What is their operating budget, and what amount of that comes out of tuition, per student? Lastly, has anyone measured to see whether or not exam scores actually rose after the introduction of all these perks? Just out of curiosity...
Look, people, here is Rufus' General Business Advice, and it applies to every sort of business or institution, which all seem to be failing about the same way these days....
1. Figure out what it is that your organization produces. Is it widgets? Automobiles? Magazines? In our case, it's simply educated young people. And the problem, quite frankly, is that we no longer produce that many of them.
2. Stop throwing money at unnecessary, ''outside-the-box'', add-ons that have nothing to do with your organizational mission. This doesn't come across as ''innovative'' or ''exciting''. It comes across as what it is- trying to placate your customers with a bunch of bells and whistles because you've lost all sight of your original mission.
3. Return to the original mission with new found determination. This is a constant process. You always have to return to that original mission. Universities need to figure out why our graduates can't read or write at a college level. That's it. As the world around us is always changing, the organization will always have to adapt; but the core mission remains the same. A university that no longer produces educated young people is a failure, regardless of whether or not their students are well-massaged. Every study I've seen of college graduates seems to indicate that a hell of a lot of universities are failing. American companies spend billions of dollars annually on ''remedial education'' for new hires who just got out of college. And, every time I talk to executives from the companies that hire our graduates, I hear the same thing: ''What are you teaching these people?'' Nobody ever asks whether we've considered hiring a pet therapist.
4. Focus seriously on that mission. This is hard work, and it's boring at times, and it's ''not for everyone''. But, again, this is the key to why organizations succeed or fail.
Now, imagine if Detroit had focused on making really good cars and finding a sustainable model to continue making really good cars; instead of spending a fortune on SUVs that nobody will want as soon as gas prices spike, adding a bunch of ''options'' to badly-designed SUVs, proliferating into god knows how many ''lines'', and using whatever leverage they have to enforce their monopolies. Imagine if newspapers had focused on reporting the events accurately and quickly, instead of adding on countless unnecessary sections, trying to please every political ''bias'' they can, and attempting to morph into lifestyle magazines. And just imagine if universities returned to giving students a well-rounded classical education; instead of breaking into a thousand different electives with no known center, and trying to replicate the experience of a pleasure cruise in order to keep the students from wondering why nobody on campus seems to have any idea what it means to be ''college educated'' anymore.
When I look at most universities, what I see is Enron a few years before the crash. It's not that there's a problem with them trying to do all of these other things to make life more pleasant; life should be more pleasant. The problem is that they no longer know how to ensure that they do, and will continue to do, what it was that they were established to do- educate young people. There's a tremendous amount of obfuscation going on. And it will not last.
The Onion AV Club has an interview with a member of Toronto's own Fucked Up, a remarkably creative hard-core punk band. Hard-core music generally sounds about like you would expect it to from the name, but when it's good, it can be really good. Here are two reasons that I'm noting this interview:
1. On their latest album, the band recorded 70-plus tracks per song, which is fairly mindboggling for this sort of music. I mean, it starts out as a ''stripped down'' musical form, so taking it in these expansive directions is pretty fascinating. I'd love to see someone try a punk rock symphony.
2. It's just sunk in with me that a lot of the really interesting music being made these days is coming out of Canada. And this is a problem with Canada- they'll be leading the world in something, and none of them will want to say anything about it because they're afraid they'll come across as ''arrogant''. But, since I'm not a natural-born Canuck, I can blow their horn for them- Canadian punk, folk, and 'indie rock' is way more interesting than the music being made anywhere else right now. So there.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I only noticed them because local dancing sensation Mike Long made a video to one of their songs (and that video pretty much encapsulates Hamilton in a little over three minutes!); but I'm guessing the Sweet Divines from Brooklyn, New York are having little trouble getting attention. They're a traditional soul band and it seems to me that the trick to playing ''old school'' music is that you have to actually love the stuff, or it'll come off as totally fake. Now, I don't think it has to be exact- The Cramps don't really sound like they belong on Sun Records, but they still sound like real rockabilly to me. The Sweet Divines sound closer to authentic soul than anything else, but I think what really matters is that they seem like they feel the music, which is what strikes me as lacking in some of the ''retro'' acts on the radio. They clearly love soul music and the songs on their website are solid material.
So, if you actually live in Brooklyn, check them out live!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A great column in the Huffington Post recently by Gina Nahai, entitled The Shame of America's Colleges. It begins:
''Imagine working for the same institution for thirty years, always earning below minimum wage, never getting any benefits whatsoever, then being let go without notice, without an explanation, without a severance package or a retirement fund or even a $.50 pen from Staples as a souvenir.''
''You think Wal-Mart employees are exploited?''
[Her audience here is progressives, so all of this is good. Someone's being exploited, Lassie? Let's get help!]
''What if I told you that all over this country, major institutions created and sustained with a mission to pursue the betterment of mankind, colleges and universities that sit on billion dollar endowments are using the current economic crisis to further enrich themselves at the expense of the meager livelihood of long-time faculty? That at the same time as they claim to be the guardians of knowledge and the champions of the arts, they treat their faculty to the legal and financial equivalent of what migrant day laborers earn by standing outside Home Depot?''
[This is okay, in that it reminds us of the educational mission of universities. I'm not sure that bringing up day laborers is a good tactic. A large number of Americans work labor jobs, or are unemployed, so telling them that the eggheads deserve better might not be the best approach here.]
''Freeway Flyers: aka "adjunct professors", aka "teaching professionals." They're the dirty little secret of universities and colleges all around the United States. They're the PhDs with decades of teaching experience, award-winning artists, published authors whose names and reputations draw students to the universities, whose work justifies the $50,000/year tuition, raises the million-dollar donations, earns the sought after rankings in USA Today's annual poll.''
[Again, most people don't care about published authors or USA Today polls. She needs to emphasize the tuition. More about that later.]
''In exchange for all that, they are hired only on a part-time basis, made to sign a pledge that they will not work more than twenty hours a week and will not--not now, not ever--have a claim to health or retirement or any other kind of benefits, not even a parking pass. That they are "at will" employees who can be let go at any time, for any reason. Their salaries are so meager, they have to teach two, three, sometimes five classes a semester, at five different universities, just to pay their rent. That's why they're called Freeway Flyers. One writer I knew taught for twenty years at a Southern California college with more money than the GNP of a small country. He was paid so little, he had to supplement his income by working the graveyard shift at airport gift shops. He was the author of one of the biggest literary novels of the 20th century; when he died, his family couldn't afford to bury him. Another guy--a teacher of mine from the days when I was a student of writing--drove four hours each way to teach the same class for twenty-seven years. He made something near $3,000 a semester. He was recently let go because the school could take advantage of the rising unemployment rates to hire a younger person for less than $3,000.''
''I could go on, but it's too depressing.''
The article does go on. What needs to be pointed out here is the fact that universities have turned their courses over to adjuncts, or in our case grad students, in order to save money; and yet parents are still paying through the nose for their kids to go to school. These university administrators care so little about anything but making money that they screw over both their employees and their 'customers' to keep their profit margins one iota higher.
So, you might well ask where the money from these record tuitions goes. I have three answers:
1. The salary of presidents, deans, administrators and so forth. The president of a typical American university has a salary higher than that of the President of the United States.
2. Many universities, including mine, have a top-heavy administrative structure. What this means is that bureaucratic jobs that could be handled by one or two secretaries are actually handled by ten or twelve secretaries in two or more offices. At our university, we have an official 'department' with its own office that does nothing but sell tee-shirts in the Student Union- even though the same tee-shirts are also sold in the book store about 200 feet away. And the students pay to maintain that tee-shirt store, in spite of the fact that none of them seem to shop there.
3. Perks for the students- little extras that are intended to add some vague 'quality' to the 'educational experience'. Our university also has a state of the art gym that stays open 24 hours a day. We have an office that gives free copies of a few different newspapers to any student who wants them each morning. We have luxury condos for them to live in, and free buses that will take them one block down the street so they can avoid the sidewalks. And, of course, none of this is actually free because parents pay for these things without having any choice not to.
The point of all of this is to impress prospective students. The 'educational experience' has come to resemble a four-year pleasure cruise in order to keep universities that offer a third-tier education competitive with each other. However, I'm willing to bet that you could open a university that made the argument- ''We closed the tee shirt shop and now the gym closes at 9 pm; we did away with the luxury condos and the sidewalk bus; so our university isn't as luxurious. However, by doing this, we were able to reduce the price of going here by a few thousand bucks a semester.'' And I'm guessing that most parents who are sending their kids to college would be okay with that. Seriously, someone is going to get rich with a ''no frills'' university.
But, it says quite a lot about universities that they consider the extra tee-shirt shop to be a necessity and the educators to be an indulgence.
Monday, December 15, 2008
''Reading literature can change their lives — and ours. The thing is, we don't quite understand how this process works — nor will we ever understand. Certainly we can't predict it past a certain point. That's why reading literature can't be a discipline. I, a straight white American male, can see myself in a black character or a female one, understand a point made by a dead Russian or a living Albanian, meditate on an abstract point made by an anonymous author. But that equally means that an X reader (say, black, gay, Albanian) need not read an X author (or character?) to get something from a work. Reading literature doesn't require us to check our list of identifying adjectives to see if we'll understand. Instead, we just have to dive in. Maybe we'll sink, maybe we'll swim. Nobody can tell beforehand. That's the beauty of books.''
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Book of Proverbs, or Mishlei, is a book of the Hebrew Testament, and its sayings are often attributed to Solomon, the King of Israel, and father of David, who is mentioned in the beginning of the book. In my opinion, it reads like a father's advice to an adolescent son. Many of the words of advice are useful today, particularly those that warn of the dangers of a hot temper or dishonest speech.
One major theme is the search for wisdom. Seeking wisdom is akin to loving one's soul. Wisdom is portrayed as a woman calling out in the public square. She was born at the creation of the earth, and leads to riches and honor. One must approach study with humility. Appropriately, the Book of Proverbs is considered an example of wisdom literature. Famously, it is said here that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
In fact, I would say the paramount virtue, according to this book, is humility. Everything else in the text comes from that.I also find fascinating the idea that foolishness is literally life-threatening. The fool is not just mistaken or silly here; they're actually tending towards death, and so their company must be avoided at all costs. ''As a dog returns to his vomit, so does a fool repeat his folly''. My first thought would be to simply correct a fool, but I think this book is intended for a young person who hasn't the knowledge yet to correct anyone.
A second theme is discipline, which is seen as the first step towards knowledge. There are proverbs making the age-old point that a man who plows his fields in the winter has food in the next year. The son should accept the discipline of the father. Humility is good also- before honor there is humility. One should accept the council of a wise man as well as his criticisms. Haughtiness is an abomination. The father who fails to discipline his son hates him.
A third theme is to avoid the company of bad people. Forsake the foolish and avoid scorners. Do not take up with thieves or wicked people. Do not associate with immoral or strange women- their words are sweet like honey, but the aftertaste is like wormwood. Harlots lead men to death, calling to them in a parallel to the way Wisdom is a women calling to them. Adultery, of course, is forbidden. Harlots occur frequently here, leading me again to think this is intended as a father's advice to his son. Interestingly enough though, there are warnings about both harlots and foreign women. I think context is important for understanding what threat foreign women posed.
Violent or scornful people should also be avoided. Do not quarrel without cause and do not imitate a man of violence. Do not have violence in your own heart. A quarrelsome wife is a curse. He who is slow to anger is of great understanding. One who conquers himself is greater than he who conquers a city. Again, these seem like proverbs most suited to an adolescent male.
Charity is important. He who favors a poor man honors the Lord, but he who oppresses a poor man offends the Lord. Being gracious to a poor man is like lending to the Lord and will be repaid by the Lord. It's complex though, because a lazy man will become impoverished, which may well explain why so many religious people seem to feel secure in giving very little to the poor. But social justice is a major theme here, and I would imagine it's arrogance to scorn or avoid the poor. From what I've read of these books- the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran- I'd think that if I was a believer, I'd be tithing like crazy.
Another theme is the dangers of speech. The mouth of the foolish man pours out dangerous words- there are quite a few metaphors here about honey or water flowing from the mouth. The fool's mouth is his snare. An evildoer hearkens to the language of violence. The wise man is often silent. He who has knowledge keeps back his words. This reminded me of the parable of Jesus and the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karama. But pleasant words are healing. There is a sense that the words of a wise man are a balm and an incentive to learning. Again, the company you keep is important here.
Overall, there isn't much here that strikes me as bizarre or wrongheaded, like in some other books of the Old Testament. It's hard for me to imagine what they mean about these harlots who roam the streets looking to bring men to death- although given the time, this could refer to prostitutes and thieves as easily as to wanton women. And there are bits of prophecy towards the end that are a bit confusing. What the book reminds me of more than anything is Confucius, in that it tends towards vague suggestions as to the character of a good or bad person, as opposed to laying out clear-cut rules. In that, I think there is much room for interpretation here.
Last night, I found myself at a very nice party in which Claire and I were the youngest people there by quite some bit. There were a few people there involved in the financial world, including a fellow whose job regularly brings him to China. Understandably, much of what we talked about was related to the ongoing financial crisis.
I did, however, ask them Holly's question about Ecuador's high interest rate. Their answer was, roughly ''Ecuador would have such a high interest rate because they have lousy credit. And by the way, defaulting on that debt is only going to make their credit worse and make it impossible to get loans.''
Their belief was that what Rafael Correa has done is unbelievably stupid and most likely driven by the hope that Hugo Chavez will do more to help the country than is reasonable to expect. They attributed a lot to Chavez's influence, and to give an idea where these fellows are coming from, they referred to him as a ''countrywrecker''. However, they're Canadians, and basically Tories, so they weren't exactly positive about many of the things the US has done in recent years either. These guys are not neocons.
An interesting thing to note here is that Venezuela has extremely thick oil, which means that there's really only one country with the refineries to handle it- you guessed it, the United States. This is why the US and Venezuela, who play arch-enemies in the papers, actually do so much business together.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I saw this article about how Ecuador won't be paying interest on foreign debt, because it is "immoral and illegal". The center of the complaint seems to be that they've paid $7 million dollars so far on $4 million of loans, but the principle is untouched. And I thought... well, shit. That sounds like most mortgages. I realize that I surely don't understand much of the financial world, but doesn't it just seem wrong somehow, to pay more than twice your principle in interest, without ever touching the principle? I don't mean wrong for Ecuador, I mean, wrong for a basis of major financing? Obviously, US$4M and US$7M are small change in the international finance universe... but what is going on here? Why did Ecuador ever agree to that? Surely they didn't sign some paper without realizing what the payback terms were? Why does anyone ever agree to that? I can believe a lot of people who want to buy homes sign the paper without reading or understanding, but... is this NORMAL? Will little countries never get ahead (of...what?) because of outrageous loan-sharking?
Someone tell me what the heck, please?
Friday, December 12, 2008
Does history repeat itself? Not really; but the fact that people make mistakes and live to see the failed results of those mistakes does not prevent the people who come after them from making the same mistakes.
Arundhati Roy is unhappy with the intellectual laziness that leads some in the media to call the recent massacre in Bombay, 'India's 9/11'. She writes:
November isn't September, 2008 isn't 2001, Pakistan isn't Afghanistan, and India isn't America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.Her conclusions are grim: India is wracked by fighting between various religious/ethnic bigots, crimes by Hindu nationalists are ignored, the partition was a bloody caessura that hasn't healed, Pakistan is ready to collapse, terrorism has no goals aside from creating these bloody caesurae, Indian elites are calling for a police state, something like that already exists in the country, and minority groups in the country have their backs to the wall.
So, not the same; just worse.
''By and large in today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate rules. This is something that the public really doesn’t understand. If you read things in the newspaper and you see somebody violate a rule, you say well, they’re always doing this. But it’s impossible for a violation to go undetected, certainly not for a considerable period of time. And when you consider the volumes of trading, the trillions of dollars of trading that go on today in Wall Street—I mean, our firm, for example, we trade an excess of $1 trillion dollars a year and that’s one firm—and you look at what we would consider to be the infractions, they’re relatively small, primarily because of all the regulation.''
-Hedgefunder, and former Nasdaq chairman, Bernard Madoff, during a panel discussion in October, 2007. Madoff was arrested yesterday for perpetrating a massive $50 billion fraud- essentially using the money of new investors in his exclusive hedge fund to pay high ''returns'' to older investors, or as he called it, ''a big lie'' and a ''Ponzi scam''. He was turned in by his sons.
Pinup icon Betty/Bettie Page has passed away at age 85.
My favorite quote in the AP article was from a fellow who arranged an autograph signing with Ms. Page:
He said she was a hit and sold about 3,000 autographs, usually for $200 to $300 each.
"Eleanor Roosevelt, we got $40 to $50. ... Bettie Page outsells them all."
Admittedy though, Eleanor Roosevelt bondage pics sell pretty well...
Update- What is Pop, whose film blog is always interesting and entertaining asks if Ms. Page was in any mainstream movies. I'm not sure- I can't think of any, but she has been in mainstream documentaries about her modeling days, and she herself went more mainstream after becoming a born again Christian. Does anyone else know if she ever made any mainstream movies?
She was, however, in a movie called Striporama, and I bought one of the original posters for the movie about a decade ago- once upon a time, movies actually travelled from town to town, as did the posters for those movies; so I imagine the thing is valuable. However, I haven't had any luck whatsoever in finding out what it's worth. Anyone know about that?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
So, I'm guessing that the sheep sacrifice in Morocco must be for a feast related to the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the 'hajj'. Millions of Muslims are completing the hajj this week. Every Muslim is required to make the pilgrimage at least once in their life, if at all possible. The Qur'an does say that Muslims who absolutely cannot make the pilgrimage can do other things to make up for it.
In his own life, Muhammad made the pilgrimage from Medina to Mecca not long before his death. If I remember this right [I'm no Islamic scholar] he was originally a fairly successful merchant in Mecca, which was a thriving trading center of the Arabian peninsula. Anyway, when he was about middle-aged, Muhammad found himself spiritually unsatisfied and retreated to a cave to fast and pray to God. This is when he started having visions of the Angel Gabriel giving him the revelations that make up the Qur'an. The book is meant to be taken as the third book of God, after the Jewish Torah and the Christian Bible.
Anyway, Muhammad finally told his tribe about these visions, and they accepted them as truth; but the other people of Mecca did not. The early Muslim community was ridiculed, boycotted and attacked. Finally, an attempt was made on Muhammad's life, so the group moved to a city called Yasrib in the north- a competing trading city. They were much better accepted here- in fact, the city was renamed ''Medina'', or ''city of the prophet''. But, the Meccans were still hostile and there was eventually a series of wars between the Muslims and the Meccans. In the end, the Muslims won and, by the time of Muhammad's death, the religion was accepted throughout the peninsula.
So, this was the setting for Muhammad's pilgrimage to a holy site in Mecca- a building called the kaaba, which I think tradition holds as dating back to Abraham. If you remember, in the Old Testament, Abraham was supposed to kill his son at God's command. He was ready to kill the boy, but God intervened at the last moment and allowed him to sacrifice a sheep instead. I think this might have something to do with the sacrifices taking place this week. Also, as I remember it, Muhammad cleansed the kaaba of idols when he returned with tens of thousands of his followers as a conqueror.
Again, my Muslim history is cursory at best. My assumption though is that the feast taking place in the city my sister lives in is related to Eid al-Adha, the feast that traditionally ends the pilgrimage.
My prediction so far has been that this whole Canadian kerfuffle will end with the Conservatives getting rid of Stephen Harper and the Liberals getting rid of Stéphane Dion, and then maybe the two of them will tour the country as a comedy revue.
Harper's still around, sadly, but it sure looks like the Liberals are getting rid of Dion [no relation to Céline Dion], and replacing him with Michael Ignatieff. If the name sounds familiar, he used to teach at Harvard and has written a whole bunch of books, before returning to Canada and getting into Canadian politics. Clearly, academia wasn't quite as dull and petty as the House of Commons.
Anyway, Dion looked bad in the 'coalition incident' because it seemed as if he was trying to crown himself Prime Minister after the election. And most people prefer a fellow named Bob Rae to Ignatieff; but he's said 'screw you guys'. Apparently, you can't give away leadership of the Liberal Party these days.
Okay, you guys know the drill. I'll try not to post these all at once this time. It's probably a bit blasphemous to watch Bergman on litte Youtube videos. But, our video store doesn't have this one and I've never seen it. For the record, Persona is probably my favorite movie of all time.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
as a Canadian--the only Canadian I might add-- that posts here, let me clarify some things about what's been going on up here.
1. Our situation was caused, in order, this way. Please notice the U.S. role in all of it.
i) the ridiculous (and in my opinion, unnecessary, foreseeable and preventable) financial crisis in the United States that echoed pretty much all over the world, including up here. Keep in mind that the U.S. is our primary trading partner and therefore industries like manufacturing have basically disappeared up here. We have definitely felt the effects of what has happened down south, something we had nothing to do with.
ii) around the same time we happened to elect a new government. Some notes about Canadian government: it does not operate the way a U.S. government does. Our PM came in with a minority lead, which means that his govt has to work a lot harder to get things done, AND his govt could get a no confidence vote at any time which would mean parliament could get dissolved at any time, say when they present the budget or anything stupid. This would force another election. One thing about this past election is the leader of the opposition did so badly that he announced that in May, his party would elect a new leader. What does this mean? This means that the two main parties had tenuous holds on where they sat, not to even mention what was going on with the remaining parties. Confidence in what was going on in the House of Commons was extremely low; not very many Canadians were happy with the turnout of the election.
ii) Our PM goes ahead and makes the boneheaded move of proposing to take away the public funding of all parties, I believe as a goodwill gesture to Canadians to show they are willing to work with less money in hard times. This forces the other parties to form a coalition, because the Conservative Party of Canada has all the access to corporations and private money and would do fine without public funding, but the other parties would not. They could not operate, see this as a super-controlling move (which it is) and propose to take over parliament--meaning PM would get a no confidence and he'd be out of there after just 6 weeks leading the country. This may sound strange, and it's unusual in Canadian politics, but it's definitely fair play.
iii) PM goes to our Governor General, who has the power to dissolve government, to ask for a prorogation (suspension of parliament) until stuff blows over and he can present a budget. This is a pansy move, however, there are a lot of Canadians that don't want the leader of the opposition acting with a coalition leading the government. He gets his prorogation, which is precedent setting, because now when a PM is in power they may be able to just go to the GG. Both the PM and his party and the coalition will present budgets if I am correct, in January. Polls show that no one really knew what they wanted in this situation. Having a stupid PM isn't an awesome choice, but neither is a coalition with a leader who has already announced he is leaving. The third choice is an election but, really? After 6 weeks and during financial crisis? What would you choose?
iv) Let me emphasize, this has been kind of crazy, but nothing even close to what the U.S. has dealt with at all in the past 8 years. In our constitution we honor "Peace, order and good government." whereas the U.S. has written "Life, Liberty and the Pusuit of Happiness". There are fundamental differences there, and I am confident that in a few months, this will get wrapped up and be one exciting chapter in an otherwise extremely boring history of my country. I think everything would have been fine, if the financial crisis in the U.S. had not happened. We might still have had issues with our government, but nothing to the likes of this. And for the record: we're not looting or burning anything, people aren't going crazy because the politicians are behind closed doors thinking of how to fix things. It's fine, but we're all definitely talking about it. No offense meant, but these are the ripple effects that you are seeing of the U.S.s' actions. Statements to the effect of "oh well i can't really feel sorry for them cause they're so high and mighty and now look what happened." don't really hold water because a) we aren't, first of all, if you hold that perception come up here and meet a few of us and b)second of all, it started in your house and moved to ours. Thanks for that.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
My sister, who lives in Rabat, Morocco, informed us that Rabat was briefly mentioned in the news, via this CNN story. They're gearing up in Morocco for Aid El-Kebir, the Feast of the Lamb, a religious holiday in which about five million sheep will be sacrificed. Their neighbor has offered to kill a lamb in their backyard for free for my sister and her husband- apparently, this can be costly. I think she intends to be out of the house when this happens!
Some people say that the Internet is making us all a bunch of dullards. Others claim that is producing a master race of freakish geniuses. What if the truth lies somewhere in the middle? Jon Parker points to a sharp increase in people [in Britain] going to the opera, reading challenging novels, and seeking out activities that are intellectually and culturally stimulating, to suggest there's been a growth of ''mass intelligence''. Parker
Surely both things are happening at once: part of the population is dumbing down, part is wising up. But something has changed. H.L. Mencken, the so-called sage of Baltimore, said: “No one in this world...has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” A growing number of people are proving him wrong.
I suspect that there are lots of people using the net to discover things that stimulate their brains. But how to hook up with them in the real world? Lately, I've been wondering if it wouldn't be worthwhile to share my work digging into the history of western civilization on the net. My problem is that I share it only with a few professors, and undergrads who are generally non-plussed. Surely, there must be people out there who are interested in these things.
The problem, in my mind, and it's discussed in the article, is that the net is best for a certain kind of communication, rather like broadcasting, in which you get to the damn point quickly. But the sort of study I like is the direct opposite of that- it's long and difficult and hard to tell where it ends. I'm just now starting to understand what Wittgenstein meant in his Tractatus... and I've been working on that thing for about three months now! And, you know, that wasn't thrilling to read about here, I'm guessing. This stuff is not immediately exciting, I'm not brilliant, and more often than not it's very frustrating. But, I love it to the point of bursting. Glad to see this sort of love blooming in the digital age.
A Rolling Stone article on California's Proposition 8 states the obvious about the 'No on Prop 8' campaign:
"This was political malpractice," says a Democratic consultant who operates at the highest level of California politics. "They fucked this up, and it was painful to watch. They shouldn't be allowed to pawn this off on the Mormons or anyone else. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, and now hundreds of thousands of gay couples are going to pay the price."No kidding. I remember wondering why they weren't running a heck of a lot more ads back before the vote. And, frankly, the ones they were running were just lame. Now that the proposition has passed, everyone's riled up, and Jack Black has played a singing Jesus, which isn't likely to work, but made me chuckle. I think gay marriage is an inevitability at this point. But the gay rights people need to be persuasive. Avoid all this nonsense about ''hate'' and demonizing the Mormons, which will never work; and pretend like they're selling a used car: ''What am I going to have to do to get you into gay marriage today?''
Remember, folks, the people you're trying to convince aren't hatemongers; they just have yet to be won over. And then go crusing for their votes.
[Although in terms of boycotts, they couldn't find a better theme song than The Dwarves' poppy 'Salt Lake City']
Friday, December 05, 2008
Holy Moses! Something's happening in Canada!
The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has suspended Parliament until the end of January. It's crazy- everyone showed up at the House of Commons and found they were locked out. You'll remember that this is exactly how the French Revolution started. They now cannot meet to discuss the budget or figure out what to do about the Canadian economy, which is supposedly in trouble like every other economy. But, more importantly for Stephen Harper, they can't have a no-confidence vote to get rid of him, which was surely going to happen. So, he has brought the entire government to a halt in order to avoid getting ousted. Next week, he's going to declare himself Dictator for Life. He's currently shopping for epaulets.
This doesn't happen very often here. Actually, nobody can remember it ever happening before. Harper was inspired to pull this shit by the opposition parties, who recently formed a coalition government, something else that very rarely happens around here. In fact, they tried this unpopular and unnecessary power grab after they had all promised not to form a coalition government. They did this because the Tories' proposed budget wasn't very good, and there was a clause cutting all public funding to their parties. Imagine Obama trying to pass a law that Republicans could no longer accept any public funds, included in a budget that nobody really liked. It didn't go over well. The other big problem with the budget is that it will include deficit spending, a huge taboo in Canada. Can you imagine living in a nation sane enough to make deficits a taboo?
Anyway, this coalition is freaking a lot of Canadians out, especially in the plains, because it includes the dreaded Bloc Québécois, who officially want more sovereignty for Quebec, but probably want to separate. Having a country that includes Quebec is a bit like having a really beautiful girlfriend who is incredibly insecure and needs constant reassurance that you really love her. It's worth the trouble though because Montreal really is more fun than any other Canadian city.
Putting pressure on a Canadian fault-line in order to rile up his base, Harper has responded to the coalition with a bunch of adverts demonizing the party that ''wants to tear Canada apart'' and the entire province for good measure. They don't vote for him anyway, and I guess this gets Alberta united behind him. But it's not clear how long playing American-style politics will work. He recently accused the other parties of not having enough Canadian flags in their commercials. The saddest thing is that Harper has always struck me as taking all of this crap seriously.
As for the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc Québécois, they're still pretty much a mess, and at least Harper has some sort of vision. So, most Canadians prefer the Tories, or at least, don't want to see Stéphane Dion and the Liberals in power right now. I'm skeptical that they're really more conservative though. It's like when you date some really nice person only because your true love can't get over their personal problems. If the Liberals straighten themselves out, the Tories are in trouble. When it sinks into the Canadian mind just how stupid Harper is acting right now, they're in trouble anyway.
So, everyone's acting bad here. Currently, the divide-and-conquer crap seems to be working for Harper because the other parties really are a mess, and he's got the advertising budget to accuse an entire province of being traitors. If he comes back in January with a brilliant budget, he might be able to pull this scam off. The Liberals are willing to cooperate, although at this point, it's a long-shot.
But don't bet on it. A lot can happen in seven weeks.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Bombay or Mumbai?
I've been wondering that quite a bit lately as we've been talking about the horrible terrorist attacks in that great city. News writers call it Mumbai, but many of the local papers call the city Bombay. They're really variations on the same word- it was originally called Mumbai by some residents and Bombai by others. The Portuguese called it Bombaim and the city was later named Bombay by the British. It was later changed to the Marathi pronounciation Mumbai in 1996. What you'll notice if you watch the interviews on the news is that most people in the city still call it Bombay.
And, according to one of the professors in our department, who was born and grew up in the city, it should be called Bombay. She argues that this is what all the locals call it and the name is more evocative of its status as, in her words, ''a city that belongs to the world''. And of course it is. It still is; a handful of psychos with machine guns can't change that.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I came across this indirectly from the latest set of Dark Roasted Blend's links. This site contains a series of photos taken of bureaucrats in situ from various parts of the world. Frequently it explains what they do, how much they get paid, how many hours they work, and sometimes, what they did before their current job. For some reason, I find it kind of fascinating.