friday | 26 april 2013



Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

Though the jumble of financial acronyms sounds like gibberish to the layperson, the fact that there may now be price-fixing scandals involving both Libor and ISDAfix suggests a single, giant mushrooming conspiracy of collusion and price-fixing hovering under the ostensibly competitive veneer of Wall Street culture.

Why? Because Libor already affects the prices of interest-rate swaps, making this a manipulation-on-manipulation situation. If the allegations prove to be right, that will mean that swap customers have been paying for two different layers of price-fixing corruption. If you can imagine paying 20 bucks for a crappy PB&J because some evil cabal of agribusiness companies colluded to fix the prices of both peanuts and peanut butter, you come close to grasping the lunacy of financial markets where both interest rates and interest-rate swaps are being manipulated at the same time, often by the same banks.

“It’s a double conspiracy,” says an amazed Michael Greenberger, a former director of the trading and markets division at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and now a professor at the University of Maryland. “It’s the height of criminality.”





Alan Taylor | In Focus | The Atlantic
4 of 20
s_s01_gjestva1A portrait by Andrea Gjestvang, named Photographer of the Year in the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards. The photograph comes from a project called “One day in history” – Portraits of children and youths who survived the massacre on the island of Utoeya outside Oslo (NO) on 22nd of July 2011. “I bear my scars with dignity, because I got them standing for something I believe in,” says Ylva Schwenke (15). Ylva from Tromso, hid by a path called “The love path”. She was shot in the shoulder, her stomach and in both of her thighs. (© Andrea Gjestvang/2013 Sony World Photography Awards)

s_s03_apretty2Winner, Professional Sports. Olympic journey 2012 – A series of sports imagery from Olympic qualifying events and Olympic sports competition during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Melissa Wu of Australia practices during a diving training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Center in Olympic Park on July 25, 2012 in London, England. (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

s_s09_pitalev2Winner, Professional Current Affairs: Personality and society. Reality vs illusions. North Korean Army soldiers and civilians on the stand of the Kim Il Sung Stadium. (© Ilya Pitalev/2013 Sony World Photography Awards)

s_s06_jenjuul2Winner, Professional Portraiture: Six Degrees of Copenhagen – Based on the idea that every person on Earth is connected in the sixth degree, this series of photos depicts human connections through the city of Copenhagen. The set up is that I portray random people that I engage with in the streets, and that these chance meetings end up with me taking highly personal photos of these people, who then each send me on to another person in their network, who I can portray, who then gives me the name of another person. Anonymous woman. (© Jens Juul/2013 Sony World Photography Awards)





Rick Perlstein | The Nation

Bottom line: we know Mitchum and his lawyer are evil—there can be no mistaking that. (“A man like that is an animal,” a character observes. “So you have to fight him like an animal.”) Just as obviously, Gregory Peck is a pure manifestation of goodness. And in a certain way of telling a Hollywood story, knowing that is enough: the plot merely becomes about good guy vanquishing bad guy, it really doesn’t matter how. Just like in Zero Dark Thirty, in which the means happen to be torture.

But here is the moral grandeur, by contrast, of Cape Fear: Peck refuses to surrender to his rage, refuses to cut civil liberties corners, refuses vigilante revenge. That determination structures the entire texture of the second half of the picture—until, by the end, as Mitchum plots the literal abduction and rape of Peck’s pre-teen daughter, Peck cunningly wins the battle by fighting fairly and within the law.

It demonstrates a difference between that time and our own: the simple point that Americans then found the idea of hunting down genuine evildoers without violating due process or constitutional liberties credible. (It was a Cold War thing: civil liberties are what makes America American. Without civil liberties, there was no America.) Even more importantly, it showed that audiences then found such a plot device entertaining. There was pleasure in watching evil being put paid by good guys who didn’t descend to the level of bad guys

. . . Andrew Sullivan has recently pointed out the absurdity of the national pants-pooping that’s been going on after the Boston attacks. Citing the libertarian writer Ronald Bailey, he notes calculations that the “the chances of an American being killed in a terrorist attack over the past five years is one in twenty million. The risk of being struck by lightning is one in five million. The risk of dying in a car accident is one in 19,000. More strikingly, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism found that the number of terror attacks in the US in the decade before 9/11 was forty-one a year. Since 9/11, it has been nineteen a year.” He adds, by way of contrast, veterans are committing suicide now at a rate of twenty-two per day. And yet somehow none of us has seen fit to overturn the Constitution because of any of that.





Haley Morris-Cafiero | Slate

I was traveling with students in Barcelona in the summer of 2011, walking through La Rambla, when I noticed two guys making fun of me. I could see them in the reflection of a mirrored building, making gestures with their hands to suggest how much bigger I was than the thin girl standing next to me, her small waist accentuated by her crop top and cut-off shorts. They painted her figure in the air like an hourglass. Then they painted my shape like the convex curves of a ball. The guys were saying something, too, but there was only one word I could make out: Gorda. Fat woman.

I’ve been hearing comments like this for much all my life. Maybe someone else would have yelled at them, or shrunk inside. But I don’t get upset when this happens.

I pulled out my camera, and set up a shoot.

For about a year, I’d been taking pictures of strangers’ reactions to me in public for a series I called “Wait Watchers.”





Ashley Fetters | The Atlantic

lets exploreThere’s a peculiar author’s note at the beginning of David Sedaris‘s new collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc. In it, the acclaimed essayist explains why some of the book’s vignettes look a little (read: a lot) different from the loosely autobiographical material that’s made him famous over the last few decades.

“Over the years I’ve met quite a few teenagers who participate in what is called ‘Forensics,'” he writes. “Students take published short stories and essays, edit them down to a predetermined length, and recite them competitively. To that end, as part of the ‘Etc.’ in this book’s subtitle, I have written six brief monologues that young people might deliver before a panel of judges. I believe these stories should be self-evident. They’re the pieces in which I am a woman, a father, and a sixteen-year-old girl with a fake British accent.”

Sedaris, in other words, has branched out into writing wacky one-man mini-plays—including one in which he narrates as a high-strung, female, hyper-conservative conspiracy theorist—for high-schoolers to perform at speech-and-debate meets.





Maria Popova | Brain Pickings
cookedThough Cooked is essentially a how-to book, it is also very much a kind of systems-thinking blueprint that illuminates the many interrelated processes, technologies, and social forces that propel and permeate food. To understand those is to reclaim an essential kind of knowledge that we’ve all but forsaken:

Nowadays, only a small handful of cooking’s technologies seem within the reach of our competence. This represents not only a loss of knowledge, but a loss of a kind of power, too. And it is entirely possible that, within another generation, cooking a meal from scratch will seem as exotic and ambitious— as “extreme”— as most of us today regard brewing beer or baking a loaf of bread or putting up a crock of sauerkraut.

When that happens — when we no longer have any direct personal knowledge of how these wonderful creations are made — food will have become completely abstracted from its various contexts: from the labor of human hands, from the natural world of plants and animals, from imagination and culture and community. Indeed, food is already well on its way into that ether of abstraction, toward becoming mere fuel or pure image.

Driving this deterioration of essential knowledge, Pollan contends, is the same byproduct of capitalism that Buckminster Fuller admonished against and that cheats us of doing fulfilling work: specialization. He writes:

Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility.

Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: We’re producers of one thing at work, consumers of a great many other things all the rest of the time, and then, once a year or so, we take on the temporary role of citizen and cast a vote. Virtually all our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another — our meals to the food industry, our health to the medical profession, entertainment to Hollywood and the media, mental health to the therapist or the drug company, caring for nature to the environmentalist, political action to the politician, and on and on it goes. Before long it becomes hard to imagine doing much of anything for ourselves — anything, that is, except the work we do “to make a living.”





Hal Salzman, Daniel Kuehn, and B. Lindsay Lowell | The Economic Policy Institute

Our examination of the IT labor market, guestworker flows, and the STEM education pipeline finds consistent and clear trends suggesting that the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations:

  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.
  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.
  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.

    Analyzing new data, drawing on a number of our prior analyses, and reviewing other studies of wages and employment in the STEM and IT industries, we find that industry trends are strikingly consistent:

  • Over the past decade IT employment has gradually increased, but it only recovered to its 2000–2001 peak level by the end of the decade.
  • Wages have remained flat, with real wages hovering around their late 1990s levels.
  • _________________________________




    Jon Lee Anderson | The New Yorker

    Alfredo Guevara, who died on Friday in Havana, at the age of eighty-seven, was seven months older than his lifelong friend Fidel Castro, whose revolution he served for most of his adult life. Guevara had known Castro since the two were nineteen years old, when both men were attending the University of Havana, plotting together, as Guevara told me once, “to overthrow the government and make revolution.”

    Paradoxically, Guevara was also the preëminent homosexual in a Communist regime where, during the early years of revolution, being gay was regarded as a sign of decadent individualism, and homosexuality was brutally suppressed, complete with humiliating treatment in reëducation camps of the kind the late writer Reinaldo Arenas described in his memoir “Before Night Falls.” (In 1979, homosexuality was decriminalized, and in 2010 Fidel Castro apologized for the persecution, and, assuming historic responsibility for it, he blamed it on being distracted by the need to defend his government from the threats emanating from the C.I.A.) How exactly Guevara personally dealt with the worst period of repression was something he never made public, but in the eighties he spent a significant amount of time abroad, based in Paris; in 1983, while serving as Cuba’s ambassador to UNESCO, he was awarded France’s highest honor, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, by the Mitterand government, for his services to culture.

    Back home in Cuba in the early nineties, following the Soviet collapse and the advent of Cuba’s hard-knocks “Special Period” of economic penury, Guevara resumed his role as the revolution’s film godfather. In 1993, he oversaw the production and release of the movie “Fresa y Chocolate” (co-directed by Alea and Tabío)—in which a gay Cuban man and a Communist party zealot overcome their differences and become friends—and helped usher in an era of gradual sexual glasnost. Afterwards, gay Cubans felt freer and less anxious about needing to conceal their sexual identity.





    Mike Springer | Open Culture

    Evans discusses his creative process in a fascinating 1966 documentary, The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. (See above.) The film is introduced by Tonight Show host Steve Allen and features a revealing talk between Evans and his older brother Harry, a music teacher. They begin with a discussion of improvisation and the nature of jazz, which Evans sees as a process rather than a style. He then moves to the piano to show how he builds up a jazz improvisation, starting with a simple framework and then adding layers of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic variation.

    “It’s very important to remember,” Evans says, “that no matter how far I might diverge or find freedom in this format, it only is free insofar as it has reference to the strictness of the original form. And that’s what gives it its strength. In other words, there is no freedom except in reference to something.”


    Paul Morley | The Observer

    On the synthesiser:

    “Instruments sound interesting not because of their sound but because of the relationship a player has with them. Instrumentalists build a rapport with their instruments which is what you like and respond to. If you were sitting down now to design an instrument you would not dream of coming up with something as ridiculous as an acoustic guitar. It’s a strange instrument, it’s very limited and it doesn’t sound good. You would come up with something much better. But what we like about acoustic guitars is players who have had long relationships with them and know how to do something beautiful with them. You don’t have that with synthesisers yet. They are a very new instrument. They are constantly renewing so people do not have time to build long relationships with them. So you tend to hear more of the technology and less of the rapport. It can sound less human. However ! That is changing. And there is a prediction that I made a few years ago that I’m very pleased to see is coming true – synthesisers that have inconsistency built into them. I have always wanted them to be less consistent. I like it that one note can be louder than the note next to it.”

    On reporting in the 1990s that there was too much music being released and he was not going to add to it any more:

    “I didn’t think it through to be honest.”



    Chris May | All About Jazz | amazon

    Every now and again, a label pulls a previously unissued session out of the vaults and it proves to be a down-by-law number one with a mango. Candid did it earlier in 2006 with Jamaican tenor saxophonist Wilton Gaynair’s Africa Calling (London, 1960). Now it’s Blue Note’s turn with Solomon Ilori’s African High Life (Englewood Cliffs, 1963-64)—or to be precise, the album’s final three tracks, recorded eighteen months after the rest of the set, and which together clock up just under forty minutes of playing time.

    The references to Africa in the two titles are purely coincidental. Gaynair’s album was down-the-line, but massively on-fire and passionate hard bop. Tracks 7-9 on Ilori’s album, on the other hand, anticipate—with great brio and deep grooves—the astral jazz of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and the world jazz which has in turn followed.



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