03 November 2011

Catching Up

Posting has been light while I completed a big chunk of work, and now that things are lightening up I have mountainous backlog of things to post. Let the tab clearing begin.

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Washington City Paper: City Desk | Michael Schaffer | Farewell, Mac

Mac McGarry is finally leaving It's Academic, a (very!) long-running quiz show in the Mid Atlantic. I'm a little surprised he's made it this long; he was beyond venerable a decade ago when I was competing on the show. I wish him all the best.

(BTW the format of It's Ac would be a more challenging test of IBM Watson than Jeopardy, since it allows interruptions, provided the input was provided to Watson at the same speed and pacing as it is to humans.)

The Unbroken Window | wintercow20 | Rich Man Scorn
In any case, imagine that by today no one had ever walked on the moon, and that no one in governments around the world had any ambitions about actually doing it. Now imagine Sergei Brin or some similarly wealthy dude proclaiming, “By the year 2015, I will spend every dollar that I have to in order to ensure that an American walks on the moon.”

What would our response be? Some might be bemused, delighted, strangely intrigued, indifferent, etc. But I would bet that a considerable share of the population (say 20% or more) would be appalled. “How could someone display such an arrogant disregard for their fellow humans!”
Great point. Somehow when we're coerced into spending money on white elephants they're noble endeavors that uplift the human spirit.

The Economist: Prospero | MJ | Money and Beauty: The benefits of early money-laundering
The Medici bank was supreme for almost a century, till its collapse in 1494 when the family was ousted from political power.

The Church deemed it sinful to charge interest on loans, viewing it as profit without labour.
And yet the Papal States were the Medici's single best customers. (Or perhaps that's not an anomaly, but partial cause of the Church's animus towards interest.)
As bankers fretted for their souls, funding religious art began as a form of penance, like spiritual money-laundering. But as revealed in “Medici Money”, Mr Parks’s 2005 book about 15th-century Florence (reviewed by The Economist here), patronage also projected power. Pious frescos were stamped with the patron’s family crest, and the medium was the message: costly paints in gold, cochineal red and lapis blue were conspicuous signs of wealth. Upwardly mobile patrons even appeared in some biblical scenes. In the Ghirlandaio workshop’s “Adoration of the Shepherds with Filippo Strozzi”, for example, a kneeling banker in a mud-brown tunic basks in the infant Christ’s gaze (pictured).
This is no different than what statesman and clergymen demanded from artists they patronized. Private citizens having themselves or their interests promoted through art seems vulgar, but people love the idea of government-funded patronage.

BTW, art-as-penance is one explanation for this phenomenon. Another is the basic ego-boost to the patrons. But another, unmentioned here, is that this serves to signal that private families are willing to take on the cultural care of their cities in a way previously reserved to the state. (These are not mutually exclusive.)

Kevin Karsch | Rendering Synthetic Objects into Legacy Photographs

Wow. Ignore the dry academic title and watch this.

The Gormogons | 'Puter | E.J. Dionne: Wrong Again

When was the last time Dionne wasn't wrong? That's not a rhetorical question. I mean it. When was the last time one of Dionne's column had insightful analysis or informative factual knowledge?

I digress. 'Puter discusses how relabeling "fair" as "economically just" doesn't change the basic notion that they both mean "whatever I think ought to happen."

Watts Up With That? | Anthony Watts | Replicating Al Gore’s Climate 101 video experiment shows that his “high school physics” could never work as advertised

This is my most basic problem with Al Gore. It's not his policy proposals, or his analysis, or his "science." It's that he's willing to lie to lead people to the "right" conclusion. It's one thing to disagree about the appropriate gas tax, it's another to disagree about what Truth means.

Bloomberg | Frank Bass and Timothy R. Homan | Beltway Earnings Make U.S. Capital Richer Than Silicon Valley

Not good. (Although I will add my usualy caveat that the average DC/Federal worker is not the same as the average worker in the private sector or rest of the country in terms of education, experience, job field, etc.)

Remind me again why Occupy Wall Street isn't Occupy Capitol Hill?

The Av Club | Noel Murray | Defending the Matrix sequels

I'm happy to read this. I've always rather liked the sequels. Not as good as the original, but I don't think they deserve the reputation they've gotten. Their biggest flaw is that they were released as two independent movies. If it was one 4.5 hour epic it would have been stronger. (Okay, maybe the single biggest problem is the Wachowskis took all the philosophical uncurrent and made it explicit. That's a problem.)

The AV Club | Nathan Rabin | My World of Flops, Case File #1: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

I'm also happy to read this because I couldn't stand this show or Sorkin's sanctimonious sermonizing about how important screenwriters are. Insufferably boorish.

Reason: Hit & Run | Peter Suderman | Farm Subsidies II: The Revenge
A few days ago, news reports began to appear suggesting that members of Congress might be nearing a deal to cut tens of billions in planned spending from farm subsidies. [...] But as is so often the case in Washington, the proposed cuts aren't really cuts, at least not if you look at the larger spending picture; instead, they're a form of budgetary sleight of hand, in which Congress makes spending disappear from one program and then hopes no one notices when it reappears later in a different form. [...]
It is a modification of the ACRE program that pays farmers a subsidy when the revenue per acre for a particular crop falls below recent statewide historical averages. Since crop prices are at, or near, all-time record highs [...]
Profit and loss, you knuckle-dragging bandits. Profit AND LOSS! You're trying to outlaw losses for agriculture! Screw you and the combine harvester you rode in on, you spineless rent-seeking (and -granting!) halfwits.

WSJ Opinion | Douglass Schoen | Polling the Occupy Wall Street Crowd
Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence.
As an aside, I'm actually fine with the disobedience/violence stuff. You can either believe violence is occasionally legitimate for political purposes, or you can refuse to celebrate July 4th. I can only imagine what people would have been saying about the Tea Party if 31% of them had said violence is acceptable.
What binds a large majority of the protesters together—regardless of age, socioeconomic status or education—is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies to keep American jobs from going overseas.

Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost
No matter the cost? So trade-offs don't exist? Good to know. And to think I was always taught it was those nasty right-wingers who had the black-and-white, detached-from-reality opinions.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Noses

If you haven't seen this yet do yourself a favor.

Rhymes with Cars and Girls | | Occupy Wall Street us an incipient Fascist movement
Let’s run down some of the bullets.
  • Inchoate demands and lack of concrete proposals, justified by declaring that ideology and policies are less important than unity and the act itself of protesting.
  • Emphasis on ‘action’ and organization over reason, deliberation, open debate, democratic institutions.
  • Pedestalization of youth. Young voices (regardless of whether they have anything to say) must be heard, they can’t be wrong, their actions are self-justifying expressions of axiomatically-valid griefs.
  • Scapegoating of a hated subgroup, who don’t count as ‘real’ members of the nation, painted as parasites.
  • Everpresent undercurrent of appropriation; I want what I want because I want it, so give it to me.
I don't think OWS is Fascist so much as it's a mass movement. Fascist, Communist, Nationalist, Religious, Class-based, Race-based, whatever. This is how populist movements always work.

Occupy Herbstreit

Don't miss the "demands"
1. Equal pay for all SEC Quarterbacks
2. Schools may only purchase Fair Trade Gatorade for use on sidelines
3. Guaranteed Bowl appearances regardless of won-loss record
4. Let the mascots unionize
5. All sidelines must be made Segway-accessible so Ralph Friedgen can return to coaching
6. One trillion dollars so the Big East can buy some new teams
7. Free nachos
8. Conferences with numbers in their name must have that many schools in them
9. Open border migration for all Texas high school athletes
10. Must see physical documentation of Dr. Lou’s Phd in Football philosophy
11. Notre Dame’s TV appearances must depend on whether they are a good team
12. Outlaw all strength of schedule reporting agencies (We allowed Boise State to make one demand)
13. Penn State must reveal its secret for keeping Joe Paterno alive

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