weekend | 5 april 2013

THE ECONOMY

THE URGE TO PURGE

Paul Krugman | The New York Times

It turns out that the urge to purge — the urge to see depression as a necessary and somehow even desirable punishment for past sins, while inveighing against any attempt to mitigate suffering — is as strong as ever. Indeed, Mellonism is everywhere these days. Turn on CNBC or read an op-ed page, and the odds are that you won’t see someone arguing that the federal government and the Federal Reserve are doing too little to fight mass unemployment. Instead, you’re much more likely to encounter an alleged expert ranting about the evils of budget deficits and money creation, and denouncing Keynesian economics as the root of all evil.

Now, the fact is that these ranters have been wrong about everything, at every stage of the crisis, while the Keynesians have been mostly right.

THE BEST AWFUL JOBS REPORT I HAVE EVER SEEN

New Deal Democrat | Bonddad Blog

The headlines for most analyses of this morning’s employment report are probably going to be very negative, with only 88,000 jobs added. The darned thing is, when you drill down into the internals of the report, many of them had a real positive jump, and are at their best levels ever since the onset of the 2008 recession.

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ANIMATION

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ECLIPSE

Gobelins | Vimeo

On a distant planet, two scientists from the field to analyze its magnetic characteristics are facing an extraordinary phenomenon related to a lunar eclipse.

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BOOKS

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EGYPT IN THE RAW

Yasmine El Rashidi | The New York Review of Books

thatsmellIn 1966, a little-known young Egyptian named Sonallah Ibrahim self-published his experimental first novel, That Smell, at a small printing press in downtown Cairo. It was a time of crisis and change in Egypt, as the country negotiated a transition from British occupation to Nasserism, much as today it struggles to deal with a shift from the Mubarak era to an emergent Islamist authoritarianism. Ibrahim, a former student activist and journalist who had spent five years in prison on charges related to his activity in the Communist party, was sensitive to the omnipresence of the state in daily life, but also to the inability of Arabic literature to express and capture that reality. That Smell—now published in English in a brilliant new translation by Robyn Creswell—was Ibrahim’s breathtakingly subversive answer to this problem and met with immediate censorship.

Semi-autobiographical, That Smell tells the story of a just-released prisoner as he struggles with the minutiae of day-to-day life: reacquainting himself with his family, friends, and city; seeking employment, trying to write; struggling with a sense of purposelessness, of loss, with feelings of alienation. Conversation hinges around the everyday—health, films, love, consumer goods: the things one talks about when politics cannot be discussed with ease, or to any profitable outcome. There is a lingering sense in these banal interactions of malaise, and an apathy born of pervasive oppression. For a communist, it was the experience of being all but annihilated.

A MAN OF HIS TIME

Jonathan Freedland | The New York Times

marxThe express purpose of “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-­Century Life” is to dispel the dominant notion of a timeless Marx — less man, more ideological canon — and relocate him where he lived and belonged, in his own time, not ours. Standing firm against the avalanche of studies claiming Marx as forever “our contemporary,” Sperber sets out to depict instead “a figure of the past,” not “a prophet of the present.”

And he succeeds in the primary task of all biography, recreating a man who leaps off the page. We travel with Marx from his hometown, Trier, via student carousing in Bonn and Berlin, to his debut in political journalism in Cologne and on to exile and revolutionary activity in Paris, Brussels and London. We see his thought develop, but glimpse also the begging letters to his mother, requesting an advance on his inheritance, along with the enduring anxiety over whether he can provide for the wife he has loved since he was a teenager. We hear of the sleepless nights that follow the start of the American Civil War: Marx is troubled not by the fate of the Union, but by the loss of freelance income from The New York Tribune, which, consumed by matters closer to home, no longer requires his services as a European correspondent. We see the trips to the pawnbrokers, the pressure to maintain bourgeois living standards, “the show of respectability,” as Marx put it to his closest friend and co-conspirator, Friedrich Engels.

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FOOD | COOKING

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THE TRANSFORMATIONAL POWER OF THE RIGHT SPICE

Alex Halberstadt | The New York Times

As a home cook of middling talent and curiosity, I hadn’t given spices much thought, contenting myself with the doleful little McCormick jars in my pantry, some of which were probably getting old enough to drive. In this, I’m apparently not that different from some professional chefs. “Most young chefs don’t know much about spices,” Forgione says, “and they tend to stick to what they know.” Lev Sercarz adds that culinary students “aren’t taught how to taste and smell.” One bright March afternoon at La Boîte, amid several dozen bulk containers of raw spices, Lev Sercarz told me to forget everything I thought I knew, and he set out to re-educate me in the mysterious byways of flavor.

The spices he laid out smelled and tasted nothing like the time-forgotten powders in my pantry. They were steroidally potent, burrowing in my nostrils like tiny aromatic voles. After giving an umber mound of cumin a whiff, I felt as if someone had probed my sinuses with a wire brush. I realized then how ignorant I had been.

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MONEY

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I BOUGHT A BITCOIN: HOW I JOINED A VIRTUAL CURRENCY MEGABUBBLE

Kevin Roose | New York Magazine

Yesterday, I did something entirely irrational – something both my common sense and my work as a business writer should have prevented me from even considering. I decided to buy a Bitcoin.

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LAW | MAGIC

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MAGICIANS WHO RIP OFF OTHER CONJURERS’ TRICKS

Arun Roth | BBC News

Jeff McBride is one of the most accomplished magicians in the world. Seeing him perform, it’s easy to fall under his spell – you half think he might have magical powers.CHis most famous routine is an intricate series of transformations, with a variety of masks, taking the audience through the entire history of magic.

But, one day, McBride discovered he was not the only one performing this particular act. He spotted a clip on YouTube of a Thai magician doing his entire routine on local TV – move for move – along to his music. He’d even cut and dyed his hair to copy McBride. “It’s the most carbon copy sort of duplication I have ever seen,” says McBride. “This was the whole enchilada… It’s not just a duplication of one of my tricks, it’s not just an exact copy of one of my routines – it’s my show, my entire show,” he says.

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URBANISM

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RUIN ACADEMY: URBAN LAB IN AN ABANDONED BUILDING

Web Urbanist

Occupying an abandoned five-story apartment building in central Taipei, Ruin Academy is a living architectural laboratory where holes drilled in the walls let rain inside, plants grow from the floors and the bones of the structure serve as ‘compost’ for the future of the city. A collaboration between Finland-based Casagrande Laboratory and the Taiwanese JUT Foundation for Arts & Architecture, this project aims to “re-think the industrial city and the modern man in a box.”

Ruin Academy serves as a setting for workshops and courses for various Taiwanese and international universities in subjects like architecture, urban design and environmental art. The lines between the city and the building have been blurred with the removal of windows and interior walls, so bamboo and vegetables can be grown indoors. Students and professors sleep in ad-hoc dormitories. The mahogany elements of the interiors, like walkways and steps, are made to be rearranged as the inhabitants’ needs change.

Ruin-Academy-2

Ruin-Academy-1

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LIFE AND DEATH

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THE STORY OF A FAILED STARTUP AND AN OWNER DRIVEN TO SUICIDE

Alyson Shontell | Business Insider

Just a few days after Sherman’s suicide, his company, Ecomom, had a board meeting in which his co-founder and the board found the startup in a startling state. A couple of weeks later, Ecomom closed its doors. The prosaic reason: The company’s liabilities were greater than its assets.

Put more simply, Ecomom was broke. The 28-person startup — which had just raised $5 million six months earlier and more than $12 million total — ran out of cash. And no one left at the company seemed to know where it had gone.

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POLITICS | STATISTICS

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EXPLAINING THE SENATE’S SURGE IN SUPPORTING SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

Nate Silver | Five Thirty Eight | The New York Times

. . . it is plausible that senators are learning from one another’s experiences. If one senator comes out for same-sex marriage and finds that she is getting a favorable response from her constituents, her donors, her colleagues and the news media, she may encourage others to do so as well.

Nevertheless, I’m interested in whether we can replicate the increase in support through a reasonably elegant mathematical model. Same-sex marriage constitutes a very interesting data set for students of the Congress. Through polls and the results of ballot initiatives, there is good data available on public opinion over time — enough that we can develop a good estimate of how many of a senator’s constituents are likely to have supported same-sex marriage at any given point within the last dozen years or so.

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ART

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RAINING PAINT IN NORWAY

TwistedShifter
raining-paint-stencil-street-art-umbrella-kid-playing-skurtur

Created in 2009, this was the first mural done by the Skurtur Design Collective. Entitled CMYK, the piece is located in Svartlamoen, Trondheim, Norway and was created using spray paint, stencil and an umbrella cut in half.

To see more artwork by Skurtur you should check out their website along with Flickr, Facebook and Behance.

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ATHLETICS

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THE BIG DODGER IN THE SKY

Bryan Curtis | Grantland

In the beginning … Tommy Lasorda was managing Spokane, the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. This was during the first Nixon administration. Lasorda was in his early 40s and somewhat slimmer, but already beginning to sneak food off his players’ plates. Lasorda talked a lot about God. The Big Dodger in the Sky, he called him. The Big Dodger was Lasorda’s lodestar, guiding him through a life that would make him the Dodgers’ manager and, now, the team’s greatest salesman.

Lasorda remembers the first time he invoked God in Spokane.

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GUNS

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THE CULTURAL FIGHT FOR GUNS

Adam Gopnik | The New Yorker

One of the oddities of the gun-control debate—apart from ours being the only country that really has one—is that the gun side basically gave up on serious arguments about safety or self-defense or anything else a while ago. The old claims about the million—or was it two million? It kept changing—bad guys stopped by guns each year has faded under the light of scrutiny. Indeed, people who possess guns are almost five times more likely to be shot than those who don’t. (“A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflicts with similarly armed persons,” the authors of one study point out, to help explain that truth.) Far from providing greater safety, gun possession greatly increases the risk of getting shot—and, as has long been known, keeping a gun in the house chiefly endangers the people who live there.

. . . And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”

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NARCOTRAFFICING

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THE MISTRESS AND THE NARCOTRAFFICANTE

Richard Ainslie | Texas Monthly

Elena and Hernán (all the names in this piece are pseudonyms) soon became a couple, of sorts—he already had a wife and children, and other mistresses. But Elena was different than the docile women he was accustomed to. If he pushed her she pushed back. She was not afraid of his violent character—her father was abusive, as were many of the men she’d been with since her adolescence, when she’d discovered her sexuality. That discovery had given her a power she’d never before experienced, as if something unknown and unanticipated had opened up within her. She had felt no fear that night at the bar when she walked across the room to meet Hernán, only a sense of opportunity.

In the cartel culture, braggadocio is the lingua franca, and flash and pretense often mask substance. Elena figured out quickly that Hernán was the real deal. For all his dime-a-dozen narco posturing—the abundance of cash, the ever-present gun, the gold jewelry—there was plenty of evidence pointing to his status as a midlevel narco within the Juárez cartel. Hernán was, in fact, one of many operators who helped the Juárez cartel move product across the border. He was something of an entrepreneur who ran his own crew, recruited his own mules, and sometimes invested his own money in his deals. He operated as a franchise of sorts, although he was under the control of the cartel.

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MUSIC

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KURT COBAIN – THE ROLLINGSTONE INTERVIEW: SUCCESS DOESN’T SUCK

David Fricke | RollingStone | 27 January 2013 | [print]

kurtcatWith all of your reservations about playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and writing the same kind of song over and over, do you envision a time when there is no Nirvana? That you’ll try to make it alone?
I don’t think I could ever do a solo thing, the Kurt Cobain Project.

Doesn’t have a very good ring to it, either.
No [laughs]. But yes, I would like to work with people who are totally, completely the opposite of what I’m doing now. Something way out there, man.

That doesn’t bode well for the future of Nirvana and the kind of music you make together.

That’s what I’ve been kind of hinting at in this whole interview. That we’re almost exhausted. We’ve gone to the point where things are becoming repetitious. There’s not something you can move up toward, there’s not something you can look forward to.

The best times that we ever had were right when Nevermind was coming out and we went on that American tour where we were playing clubs. They were totally sold out, and the record was breaking big, and there was this massive feeling in the air, this vibe of energy. Something really special was happening.


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