Friday, June 29, 2007

That sounds right.

The Big Calabaza says: "Finding a good wine shop is like finding a good hairdresser."

Nature builds structure algorithmically.

David Owen describes the creation of a temporary pavilion commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery for Kensington Garden, designed by architect Toyo Ito and engineer Cecil Balmond:
Ito had said that he wanted to build "a box that is not a box," and he proposed a rectangular building that would have an orderly colonnade around the perimeter but roof beams positioned randomly, as though scattered from above. Balmond disapproved. "It just didn't look right," he said last fall, in a well-attended lecture at Cooper Union, in New York. "It looked precious, in a way."

The pavilion as it was built was a typically Balmondesque transformation of the architect's original concept. Balmond began by drawing a square. Then he superimposed a second square, somewhat smaller and turned slightly askew, and then a third square, and so on, until he had filled the sheet. Then he extended all the lines until they reached the edges of his sketchbook. When he finished, the page looked like a pane of glass fractured into asymmetrical trangles and other polygons, but the underlying pattern was actually regular: a spiralled square. For the pavilion, Balmond and Ito folded the pattern to form a box, turned the lines into steel plates, and filled in roughly half of the polygonal openings with panels. The interior looked a little like a three-dimensional projection from a broken kaleidoscope -- a box that, to people sitting at café tables inside it, didn't appear to be a box. The building was described by the Financial Times as "one of the most beautiful and delicate structures seen in London in recent years" . . . .

For Balmond, the Ito Serpentine pavilion was a telling example of what he calls the power of algorithm, of a simple mathematical rule repeatedly applied. Nature builds structure algorithmically -- one call becomes two, two become four, four become eight -- and Balmond allowed the pavilion's design to generate itself in an analogous way. . . . A member of the A.G.U. who worked on the pavilion told me that the load path created by the algorithm had serendipitously turned out to be just as efficient as a traditional grid: despite its apparent complexity, the pavilion stood up by itself and was easy to construct. During assembly, a workman, using wooden blocks, propped up one of the corners, which looked precarious to him because it didn't touch the ground -- entirely unnecessarily, as Balmond was able to show him by kicking away one of the blocks.
David Owen, "The Anti-Gravity Men," The New Yorker 76-77 (June 25, 2007) (not available on-line, though an abstract is).

Owen's article cries out for more pictures, but The New Yorker is not That Kind Of Magazine. The interwebs come to the rescue, here and here. If you want to read more about Cecil Balmond but can't find the June 25 New Yorker, here's a 2003 article by Justin McGuirk in the Guardian (UK)., in which McGuirk suggests Balmond is "a brilliant, mad, mystic pervert," or at least perceived as such by the world's leading architects. Balmond's novel Number 9: The Search for the Sigma Code will cost you $129.43 on Amazon.

The Unitary Shadow-Executive.

The indispensable Marty Lederman:
[F]or all practical purposes the [Office of the Vice President] is the Bush Administration, and its views become the official views of the Administration, no matter what others in the Administration think. Call it the Unitary Shadow-Executive.
He then picks up where we previously left off:
A couple of days ago, I asked the befuddling question left unanswered by Gellman and Becker: Why? After all, there are extremists and hard-liners in every Administration, and they are often at the table, and even influential. But the internal Executive branch process is designed to ensure that multiple perspectives are considered, and therefore the most extreme and most uncompromising positions rarely prevail. In this Administration, the OVP almost invariably wins. Indeed, the VP wins after cutting everyone else out of the loop altogether. And everyone else is incredulous at this radical departure from the ordinary modes of decision making. (I know from experience that this was so at OLC early in the Administration, and not only among us Clinton holdovers -- and we know from Becker/Gellman and others that it was also true at DoD, State, CIA, NSC, etc.) And yet the pattern continues apace, even to this very day, with David Addington apparently feeling free to simply ignore the ordinary methods by which an Administration typically arives at a legal interpretation.

Part of the explanation is, of course, that Addington and Cheney win because they are unrelenting. Everyone else in D.C., i.e., the other players in the Executive branch, have gotten to where they are today by learning to compromise and negotiate, to play the give and take of institutional decision making. These guys, however, don't give an inch, while everyone else is still in the reality-based community that they know and love. In most institutions, such stubborness and unwillingness to compromise would lead to marginalization. But in this one, the Vice President and Addington simply wear people out -- no one relishes the fight, and so they simply give up. Victory by attrition and intimidation. (It also helps, of course, that Rumsfeld, Cambone, Gonzales, Flannigan and Miers were complicit . . . .)

But a larger part of the explanation is simply that Cheney always wins because, for some reason, the President has decided that that is how it should be. Which only clarifies that the real question is why the President allows this to happen.
Publius offers an answer:
The reason Cheney’s Office got to dominate the executive branch is because we -- America -- elected a neophyte who lacked the experience, knowledge, and judgment to be president. . . . Our nation’s political machinery elevated a grossly inexperienced and ignorant man to the Oval Office. The entirely predictable result is that he would be forced to rely on someone else to make the decisions he wasn’t able or willing to make. . . .

It’s pretty simple. When you elect someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, you’re essentially electing someone else to be president. Kerry and Gore had their flaws, but they would have been the Deciders. They certainly would not have tolerated a lawless, out-of-control operation such as Cheney’s Office. At the very least, they would have, you know, been aware of the debates and had some pre-existing knowledge to inform their judgment. Bush, by contrast, was simply no match for Cheney and Rumsfeld’s decades of experience. Thus, the failure that is Cheney is not merely an individual failure on the part of Bush. Cheney is an institutional failure -- a failure of our political system. That’s the key to understand. The rise of Cheney is itself an indictment of our political institutions and culture.
Or, as Walt Kelly put it:

In fact, it seems they still have other priorities.

Mark Graber is not happy with the conservatives who redefine the civil rights movement:
Today’s opinions in the Seattle school case feature the too usual lectures from conservative justices on the meaning of the “good” civil rights movement, the one which asserted that “the constitution is color-blind.” Of course, neither Chief Justice Roberts nor any other member of the majority were actually members of that “good” civil rights movement. To paraphrase Dick Cheney, they had other priorities at a time when police dogs were being set upon African-American children who dared insist on the right to drink at the same water-fountains as white children. Indeed, Roberts, Alito, and Scalia were proud to be in the vanguard of the movement that pried from the Democratic Party those who set the dogs upon the children (and those who applauded that behavior). They could do so in good conscience because somewhere in the late 1960s, the “good” civil rights movement was replaced by the “bad” civil rights movement, a movement which insists that persons of color be actual as well as pro forma, legal equals. Curiously, this transition took place even though the vast majority of participants in the “good” civil rights movement remained in the “bad” civil rights movement, included almost the entire leadership. By comparison, on this history, George Wallace became the person who best understood that the central principle of BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION was that no “innocent” white person could ever be harmed in the effort to secure racial equality and any person of color who claimed covert race discrimination would have to produce a smoking gun the equivalent of the smoking guns which convinced the Burger Court that the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1900ish was committed to race supremacy. Recognizing that George Wallace and Strom Thurmond are the true heirs to Martin Luther King, Justice Roberts and his allies feel the need to direct lectures on BROWN to the “bad” civil rights movement in the hope that we may be converted.

There is, of course, something deeply hypocritical about persons who, at best can be called conscientious objectors during the Civil Rights movement, lecturing the actual participants on the true meaning of their cause. But if one remembers that Roberts and Alito were probably hand picked by Dick Chaney, hypocrisy is exactly what we should expect of them.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's the matter with Hungary?

Hungary in the 1930s:
The words people, popular, populist, which had been monopolies or near-monopolies of the Left for one hundred and fifty years at least (in Hungary "people" had been a Leftist and "nation" a Rightist term), now became adopted by the a new radical "Right." This development had begun in Germany a few decades earlier (assisted by the peculiarly tribal and mystical German word Volk). It was taken up by Mussolini in 1914 when he called his radical nationalist new newspaper Il Popolo d'Italia. Twenty-five years later, when the Second World War began in Europe, folkish and populaire became the favorable designations of Fascist and Nazi sympathizers throughout the Continent. These, as indeed the newfangled nationalist populists in Hungary, began to attack those men in the establishment and government who were "old-fashioned" (that word, in Hungary as well as in the United States, had a definitively pejorative connotation at that time), "reactionaries," that is, ossified representatives of an antiquated order.
John Lukacs, Confessions Of An Original Sinner 21-22 (Ticknor & Fields, 1990).

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Explaining Cheney.

Everyone is talking about the Washington Post's series on Vice President Cheney, but Marty Lederman at Balkanization does the best job I've seen of painting the big picture:
[A]s Gellman and Becker relate, the Vice President consistently prevails in the internal debates. He wins virtually every battle -- or at least bollixes things up sufficiently to prevent others from prevailing. (A good example was last week's short-lived story, when certain high-level officials leaked word of a meeting the next day at which the fate of Guantanamo was to be decided, and a consensus to close it had all but been reached -- a leak obviously designed to make the closure virtually inevitable. By that very evening, Cheney had successfully caused the meeting to be cancelled, and had stopped the "Close GTMO" forces in their tracks -- forces that included high-level players such as the Secretaries of State and Defense.)

This is the great mystery of the Bush Administration, and the question that no one, including Gellman and Becker, has answered: It's not very newsworthy that the Vice President has strongly held views, and that he fights hard for them. (So did Vice President Gore.) Nor is it even terribly notable that he is constantly opposed by others in the Administration. What is remarkable is that time and again, Cheney wins. And in so doing, he makes mincemeat of Powell, Ashcroft, Gates, Rice, etc. They are constantly beaten back -- indeed, in many cases, they're not even briefed into the process or the substance of the decision making.

Why do strong figures such as Rice, Gates, et al., continue to allow the Vice President to run roughshod over them and make them look like fools?
Read the whole thing, as they say.

That long tail.

As a kid, I listened over and over to Impossible Dream, a LP about the 1967 Red Sox team. For a while now, I've been keeping my eyes open for a copy, and there was one auctioned in the last few days on eBay, but I was distracted and didn't get my bid in, alas. It turns out, though, that the original recordings have been digitized and are on sale as CDs. I didn't wait -- my order is in. If you want your copy, click on the photo above, or check out these recordings about sports teams from the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s (Celtics fans, take note).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Less Superior.

As we all know, global warming leads to higher sea levels. But not on Lake Superior, which is as low as it has been for 81 years, thanks to drought and a warmer winter, which reduces ice coverage, allowing more water to evaporate. The manager of one marina says, "It seemed normal last October. Then it dropped and never came back."

Some people have their own theories about what's going on:
Many people living near Lake Superior don't buy drought or warm weather as the reasons for dropping water levels — a conspiracy theory is more popular. They say Lake Superior was drained through the St. Mary's River to raise the levels of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
The Army Corps says not.

#3 with a bullet.

Apple's iTunes trails only Wal-Mart and Best Buy as a music retailer.

What on Earth is this about?

Lafayette St., within a block or so of Houston, June 24.

I don't get it.

Headlines For Stories That Can't Possibly Be As Good As The Headlines So We Didn't Read Them Dept.

NYT: "Giant Penguins May Have Roamed Peru".

Putting the "pie" in "PowerPoint."

I know that I have been harsh about PowerPoint in the past, but Megan's friend has the bestest .ppt presentation I've ever seen.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Justice is blind.

Read this and then try and pretend that the military justice system is trying to figure out whether the people we have locked up are terrorists.

Laugh-out-loud funny.

I heartily recommend Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris. Here are the book's official web site, a glowing review by James Poniewozik in the New York Times Book Review, and another by Carrie O'Grady in The Guardian (UK).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A million little pieces.

JT LeRoy testifies.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Now hear this.

Posting will be light -- I'm going to the beach.

An Updike obsessive.

Dwight Garner heard me, and posted about a book he's read. So that's a start.

Wake turbulence.

h/t RP.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

About books, but without reading.

The New York Times has launched a new book blog, Paper Cuts, written by Dwight Garner, senior editor of the NYTBR. "A blog about books," says the sub-header. In the first post, he explained:
Paper Cuts will be a daily round-up of news and opinion about books and other printed matter. Make that an almost daily round-up. There won’t be posts on weekends. Or holidays. Or on the mornings after the Book Review’s bimonthly drinks nights at Jimmy’s Corner, a bar in midtown Manhattan.
In the first eight posts, there's some interesting stuff, such as this post about Tony Millionaire's review in The Village Voice of Christopher Hitchens' new book, God Is Not Great, something I might well have otherwise missed. And today there's the news that Chinua Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize.

What there isn't, so far, is any post showing that Dwight Garner has ever read a book himself. I don't know anything about him, and I would hope that you can't become a senior editor of the NYTBR without reading some books, but it seems like a rather crucial omission.

This is excellent.

In Glasgow, the city council has long sought a way to beat back the countless concert advertisements that are stuck and stapled to every spare, flat, and visible surface, but without luck. At least until they started slapping "CANCELED" stickers across the advertisements, prompting hordes of angry phone calls to concert promoters and turning away others who would be interested. Chris Uggen: "I give them 10 out 10 for style, 10 out of 10 for creativity, and maybe 3 out of 9 zillion for enforcement priorities. but dang that's clever."
Ezra Klein.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back in the USSR.

The precise nature of the darkening of Russian politics under President Putin has been too little noticed in the West, and too little understood. The West has worried too little, in part because the Russian economy has been doing so well thanks to high oil prices. The assumption has been that rising living standards and foreign investment will encourage a more liberal political order, though there is no sign of this yet. The West has also had other things to worry about -- such as the Iraq war and the rest of the Middle East, global warming, and the rise of China. Its governments hesitate to speak badly of Russian policy when they need Russia's cooperation in the "war on terror," as an ally against nuclear proliferation, and as an exporter of energy. And, crucially, there have been few domestic critics of Putin equipped with the authenticity and charisma needed to hold the world's attention. One of that small number was Anna Politkovskaya, an American-born journalist who was a special correspondent for an independent Russian newspaper called Novaya Gazeta. She was a dogged critic of Putin and of the antiliberal political system he favored. And she was shot dead in the entrance to her apartment building, seemingly by a professional assassin, on October 7, 2006.
Robert Cottrell, "Death Under the Tsar," The New York Review of Books 42 (June 14, 2007) (a review of Politkovskaya's A Russian Diary).

Pretty in pink.

An arty prank, Swedish style.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

After the spin cycle.

Debunking five myths about the Libby case.

Lost in translation (Food Dept.).

It's hard to read the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's dislocating novels without occasionally wondering what's lost in translation. . . . On Murakami's Web site, you can read an e-mail exchange between a few of his translators; they discuss the joy and heartbreak of getting his work into English. Food seems to be a special problem. Jay Rubin writes: "In general, the Japanese have a far more sensitive and sophisticated awareness regarding food than most Americans. ... So when a Murakami character makes himself an egg salad sandwich, Japanese readers are going to feel something a little different from what American readers are going to feel about it. There is no way to convey the cultural context regarding that sandwich in a translation, except perhaps through some scholarly footnotes." (That must be some egg salad sandwich!) Another Murakami translator, Philip Gabriel, writes that when he was working on Murakami's novel "Sputnick Sweetheart," he had to deal with a scene in which a character was eating a "Mont Blanc" in a Tokyo cafe. "I originally just left this as 'Mont Blanc,'" Gabriel writes, "but Murakami was worried that people in the West would think she was eating an expensive fountain pen instead of a type of cake, so we decided to make it a generic 'cake' instead." A Japanese Mont Blance cake, by the way, is usually topped with sweet chestnut cream extruded to resemble noodles. . . .
TBR: Inside the List, New York Times Book Review 22 (June 10, 2007).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Your media, worth what you pay for it.

SFGate's lead story at this hour is an AP piece by Linda Deutsch about Paris Hilton's appearance in court today:

Paris Hilton was taken from a courtroom screaming and crying Friday seconds after a judge ordered her returned to jail to serve out her entire 45-day sentence for a probation violation in a reckless driving case.

"It's not right!" shouted the weeping Hilton. "Mom!" she called out to her mother in the audience.

Hilton, who was brought to court in handcuffs in a sheriff's car, came into the courtroom disheveled and weeping. Her hair was askew and she wore a gray fuzzy sweatshirt over slacks. She wore no makeup and she cried throughout the hearing.

Her body also shook constantly as she dabbed at her eyes. Several times she turned to her parents who were seated behind her in the courtroom and mouthed the words, "I love you."

Many of Hilton's several dozen supporters outside the courthouse appeared devastated.

"No! No! No!" Jake Byrd of Chino screamed as a court spokesman delivered the news to reporters outside court.

It continues, but I didn't. I thought, "what a loser," and wondered about Jake Byrd of Chino. With some help from Google, it turns out that Wikipedia has the story:

Anthony Barbieri

Anthony ("Tony") Barbieri is an American comedy writer whose work has appeared on television programs such as Crank Yankers and the Jimmy Kimmel Live show.

Born in Framingham, Massachusetts, his long-running Monroe series has appeared in more than 100 issues of Mad Magazine.

Jake Byrd

On the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, one of the things Barbieri is best known for is insinuating himself into major news stories, as a fictitious character. Among other names, he has called himself Jake Byrd when doing this. He has successfully fooled major media outlets, including The New York Times and Court TV.

One of his most recent famous stunts was posing as an obsessed fan at the 2005 trial of Michael Jackson. During the arraignment of Michael Jackson he fooled The New York Times. During jury deliberations, he similarly fooled Court TV, as the same character, with the same back story ([1]). The Jake Byrd character ostensibly works in a pet store in southern California.

He was heard screaming "No, No, No, No!" at the Paris Hilton News conference, when Paris Hilton was sent back to Jail for driving on a suspended License, on June 8th, 2007 and was referred to in news reports (without any mention of the fact that he was "performing") ([2]).

Nice work, Mr. Barbieri. Ms. Deutsch, try again.


Bill Clinton gave a terrific speech at Harvard yesterday. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Markets in everything.


At least justice is blind.

Alan Simpson then:
"There is only one question here," says the former senator. "Did he raise his right hand and lie about it and then lie again? Lying under oath -- that to me is all there is. Did this man, whether he is head of the hardware store or the president or applying for a game and fishing license, raise his hand and say, 'This is the truth'?"
Alan Simpson now:
Scooter is not some hard-hearted partisan who delights in subterfuge, or "cover-up" or mendacity. He is a splendid human being.

I shall always remain puzzled how the situation ever "came to this." Some are of the opinion that he has 'fallen upon his sword" and yet, it is my perception that the sword has fallen on him.

When I think of what had happened to him --- words fail me (and who of my friends would believe that one?!) because all of this is so totally inconsistent with the basic attributes and the reputation of the man I know... From my knowledge of him, I say without equivocation or hesitation whatsoever that he is a very good man.
Digby has more.

Going away.

Scott Shrake covered Scooter Libby's sentencing.

Gnostic children's books.

Waggish recommends two:
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater. Not only does Pinkwater leave the whole Mars business mostly unexplained, but the central device in the book is that famous “lost” places like Atlantas and Mu exist in the same physical space as our world, and through various techniques, the two fat Jewish teenagers who are the stars of the book can travel between them by tuning out our world and tuning in the other. There’s a wildly psychedelic scene where they’re halfway between one and the other and everything in our world becomes transparent and permeable.

Figgs and Phantoms, by Ellen Raskin., by Ellen Raskin. This one went completely over my head when I read it as a kid. Raskin did the far more normal Westing Game, but this one, about a family of eccentrics who have had their own personal afterlife (Capri, they call it) for hundreds of years, bears little similarity to it, or to anything else I read as a child. You do get to see Capri—sort of—but the ultimate message is that we make our own afterlife. Haunting.

Needless to say, these both read well at any age, and they’re far easier than Finnegans Wake.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Dreaming things that never were.

Thirty-nine years ago today, Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert F. Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy died the next day. He would have been 81 years old now, and he surely would have accomplished quite a bit since then.

Taking the long view.

Ray Troll's EvolvoVision.

In and out, $30.

James Fallows visits the Shanghai Skin Disease and Sexually Transmitted Disease Hospital.

And now for something completely different.

A young David Letterman on Mork & Mindy:

Via Bill Simmons.

Monday, June 04, 2007

At ten pages a night, Against the Day is a long book.

Jessica Francis Kane finds parenting and reading don't mix:
Last night I fell asleep reading. By my calculation, this has happened approximately 1,000 times since my daughter was born. She’s four years old, so I get the thousand nights by subtracting from her total days all the holidays, sick days, and visits with family and friends when I would have been too busy to read. Then I estimated the number of nights I’ve been too tired to even try and subtracted that. What is left, I believe, is about 1,000 nights I’ve tucked her in, reheated some morning coffee, and settled down with a book. With few exceptions, I almost always fall asleep before I’ve read a satisfying amount.

What is a satisfying amount? Let’s say 10 pages. I’m not trying to set any records.
Two nights ago, I managed 17 pages of Roberto Bolano's By Night in Chile. Last night: not so much.

The problem.

Technology isn’t destroying journalism. “It’s simply destroying the business that subsidized journalism.” Finding another source of subsidy is what [journalists] should all be doing....
Scott Karp via Brad DeLong.

How Massachusetts are you?

You Are 60% Massachusetts

You're likely a Massachusetts transplant. Big rotaries still scare you, and you probably live outside of 495.
How Massachusetts Are You?

Via 10 lbs of awesome. Big rotaries scare me? My ass. That test is defective.

Router city.

My router has expired, so it's time for a new one. This is what I'm figuring I'll get, but I'll happily take input through the comments or via e-mail.

Q. Where is the island of Sodor?

A. In the Irish Sea, halfway between the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian coast:
During Viking times, the islands of the Norse Kingdom of Mann and the Isles were called the Súðreyjar or Sudreys ("southern isles") in contrast to the Norðreyjar ("northern isles") of Orkney and Shetland. This became Sodor. The Church of England diocese is still called the Diocese of Sodor and Man although it only covers Mann. When the Rev. W. V. Awdry wrote The Railway Series, he invented the island of Sodor as an imaginary island located between the Isle of Man and the Cumbrian coast.
Much, much more here.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce.

"Marilyn on Long Island (New York) Reading James Joyce's Ulysses" by Eve Arnold (1955)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lions and crocodiles and buffalo, oh my.

Don't give up on this one too soon....

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