Wednesday, August 27, 2008

worth its weight

Maybe people should say "x is worth its weight in LSD" instead of gold:

If we look at good-quality 1 carat diamonds, we find that they are quite expensive compared to the industrial diamonds we saw earlier. Now, the diamond monopoly hasn't kept prices quite as high as LSD, however they are doing a very impressive job of trying. LSD doses measure in the micrograms, which makes the per-pound "street value" of the stuff astronomically high.

And those LZR swimsuits?

People have been saying that the new industrial grade swimsuits like the LZR Racer are worth their weight in gold. As you can see, this is clearly inaccurate. But such a suit is worth its weight in marijuana or industrial diamonds.

More fun here. (via BB)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Israeli girls in the army

These photos are well-worth checking out (if the link starts working again).

(via clusterflock and BB)

Monday, August 25, 2008

person no more

In the synopsis for the headline "Michelle Obama, Reluctant No More" the New York Times employs a terrible neologistic phrase (italics added):
Michelle Obama is at the center of what may be the most closely managed spousal rollout in history.

The Replacements, "Here Comes a Regular"

Well, a person can work up a mean mean thirst
After a hard day of nothin' much at all
Summer's past, it's too late to cut the grass
There ain't much to rake anyway in the fall

And sometimes I just ain't in the mood
To take my place in back with the loudmouths
You're like a picture on a fridge that's never stocked with food
I used to live at home, now I stay at the house

And everybody wants to be special here
They call your name out loud and clear
Here comes a regular
Call out your name
Here comes a regular
Am I the only one here today?

Well a drinking buddy that's bound to another town
Once the police made you go away
And even if you're in the arms of someone's baby now
I drink a great big whiskey to you anyway
And everybody wants to be someone's here
Someone's gonna show up never fear

Here comes a regular
Call out your name
Here comes a regular
Am I the only one who feels ashamed?

Kneeling alongside old sad eyes,
He says "Opportunity knocks once then the door slams shut"
All I know is that I'm sick of everything that my money can buy
A fool who'll waste his life, God rest his guts

First the lights, then the collar goes up, and the wind begins to blow
You turn your back on a pay-you-back last call
First the plants, then the leaves and at last here comes the snow
Ain't much to rake anyway in the fall


More sad, post-Olympics photos--taken just twelve hours after the closing ceremonies--can be found here.

(via James Fallows)

the beauty of translation

From the New York Times article about Estonian discus gold-medalist, Gerd Kanter:
“For a cracker, the wind was too strong,” he said. “If there was no wind I could probably add a couple of meters. Now it comes backward.”

particularly the Brazilians

The Guardian reports that Father Antonio Rungi, an Italian priest, will host an online nun beauty pageant to prove that not all nuns are, in his words, "elderly, straitlaced and funereal." He goes on to say that "It's no longer that way these days. There are nuns from Africa and Latin America who are really very, very lovely. The Brazilians, particularly." The contestants
will be able to give voters - that is, anyone visiting Rungi's site - an idea of their personalities. Aspirants to the title of Sister Italy will also be expected to reveal something of their "lives and miracles". Contestants can decide whether they appear in wimples.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

table turning*

Everything was going so well in this sweet New York Times story about "tattooed bikers" who rescue animals from abusive caretakers until this sneaked in:
The group was joined by a man from the Humane Society and an investor from Canada, a tall, slim figure with gelled hair who saw Rescue Ink on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in May and flew down from Vancouver to ride along and talk about branding.

The presence of investors and "branding" lends everything else the sour taste of cynical marketing ploys and the ugly, morally decrepit mechanisms of capitalism; the insatiable desire to reduce--in the interest of reducing costs and raising profits--complexity to the greatest degree of singular, universally recognizable graphic simplicity.

*From Karl Marx, "The Fetishism of commodities and the Secret thereof":
The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

seriously, no joke, watch your step

Those "tech-artist" protesters who were detained by the Chinese received a ten-day jail sentence, according to Boing Boing. This doesn't exactly burnish China's free-speech credentials, but, on the other hand, anyone identified as a "tech-artist/student/protester/activist" is probably young, healthy and of at least middle-class origins (also likely annoying). A ten-day stint in a jail surely isn't pleasant for anyone, but it seems like they will get out and probably have a solid support system at home. They can blog/twitter/facebook/myspace and otherwise relate their experience and express their righteous discontent.

But now, reports Deadspin and the New York Times, China has arrested two septuagenarians and sent them to "re-education" camps. No one is happy about this:
The two women, both in their late 70s, have never spoken out against China’s authoritarian government. Both walk with the help of a cane, and Ms. Wang is blind in one eye. Their grievance, receiving insufficient compensation when their homes were seized for redevelopment, is perhaps the most common complaint among Chinese displaced during the country’s long streak of fast economic growth.

But the Beijing police still sentenced the two women to an extrajudicial term of “re-education through labor” this week for applying to hold a legal protest in a designated area in Beijing, where officials promised that Chinese could hold demonstrations during the Olympic Games.

fight and study

A recent BBC article about the ultra-Orthodox Haredim Jews of Jerusalem yields some interesting facts about this community. For instance, because they study at seminaries, the men are exempt from military service:
"It's an ancient concept in Judaism that the spiritual and the physical are united, that to win a war you need both spirit and strength," says Moshe Eliahu, a Haredi father of two and full-time student at a Jerusalem seminary.

"You need people fighting, but you also need people learning and praying."

According to government figures, the majority of Haredi men do not have paid jobs.

The Haredim take studying very seriously:
Mr Eliahu says Israel and the world need the "positive energy" that comes from learning Torah.

"This sounds funny to the western ear - what can a man learning in a yeshiva all day possibly give back to the world?" he says. "Torah learning that we do is the hidden code of the physical existence of all mankind, and if for one single second there is no Torah learning in the air, all the world would go back to chaos."

Mr Eliahu's wife, Miriam, teaches English at two Jerusalem schools and takes care of their children. "There's no point to our physical existence without a spiritual purpose, and I, as the husband who is learning all day, am primarily responsible for that," he explains.

But they still value women:
He also rejects the view that Haredi gender roles are primitive. In Judaism, he says, women are actually considered to be closer to God than men. ''They are the ones who create life, they are the queens."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

better watch your step

A blog called Stryde Hax has done a very thorough job of looking into the whole He Kexin age controversy using "only publicly available, primary, linkable information." The results suggest that she is fourteen and that, possibly, Google has cooperated actively or passively with the Chinese government in hiding this fact.

From the post:
Much of the coverage regarding Kexin's age has only mentioned "allegations" of fraud, and the IOC has ignored the matter completely. I believe that these primary documents, issued by the Chinese state, directly available from China by clicking on the links above rise to a level of evidence higher than "allegation". The following points bear mentioning:

1. Google's cached copy of the spreadsheet does not contain Kexin's age record, and Baidu's does. This does not necessarily imply that Google allowed its data to be rewritten by Chinese censors, but the possibility does present itself.
2. From the minute I pressed the publish button on this blog, the clock is ticking until Kexin's true age is wiped out of the Baidu cache forever. It is up to you, the folks reading this blog, to take your own screenshots and notarize them by publishing them. If you put a link in the comments section, I'll post it.

However, this is minor compared to some other totalitarian moves the Chinese government has been pulling. The government has detained several "tech-art" activists for an attempted LED-based protest, which BoingBoing has been following closely.

More stories of attempted protests and arrests can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

(gymnast age post via Deadspin)

Monday, August 18, 2008

stupid questions

You shouldn't feel bad if you missed all those debates between Obama and Clinton. Scott Horton at Harper's explains, using a memo generated by the Clinton campaign, that those debates contained literally zero substance:
As the authors noted in reviewing some 352 questions asked in 17 debates that involved Hillary Clinton in the 2008 campaign through January, not a single question was asked about the actual operation of the machinery of government.

Almost all the questions that the candidates fielded were either "puff" or "gotcha" questions. Horton provides perhaps the ultimate example of the latter at the beginning of his post. :
In 1988, the decisive moment in the presidential campaign may have come when CNN’s Bernard Shaw asked Dukakis this question, opening one of the Bush-Dukakis debates: “Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”

Needless to say, the response Dukakis provided didn't do him any good.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

the BBC has great headlines sometimes

"Clumsy young 'face obesity risk'"
Clumsy and poorly coordinated children could be at higher risk of obesity in later life, a study says.

eight minutes in hell

Apologies if you actually watched the entire thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

what counts

Hendrik Hertzberg knows how to be a baseball fan:
El Duque, who is my favorite Yankee currently playing (though no longer for the Yankees), has been a Met since 2006. He’s currently on the disabled list with a persistent bunion and hasn’t actually been in an official game yet this season, if you want to get technical about it. But when he suits up he still looks great. It’s all about the socks.

And previously:
To answer my friend’s question, even though I’m not a Yankee fan: my favorite Yankee playing today is El Duque, not only because he’s great but mainly because he wears his uniform the right way, with his socks showing. Not with his trouser bottoms down around his ankles like a schmuck.

Manny Ramirez is the most obvious example of this schmucktastic fashion choice, but, hey, that's just Manny being Manny; he can almost pull it off because it looks like he can't be any other way. Other players, though, would greatly benefit from the socks-up fashion, especially, it would seem, players whose body type isn't flattered by the unforgiving uniforms. Pulling up the socks doesn't hurt players who look like they were poured into their uniform either. Just look at Barry Zito: he might be having a laughably awful year, but at least he looks great doing it.

manga me

If you want minutes of distraction, you can create your own "manga avatar" here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Emily Dickinson, "It was not death, for I stood up"

It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key;
And I was like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped,
And space stares, all around,
Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,
Repeal the beating ground.

But most like chaos,--stopless, cool,
Without a chance or spar,--
Or even a report of land
To justify despair.

(in comic form here)

critique of violence

According to witnesses, the BBC reports, on September 4, 2005, seven New Orleans policemen shot at a group of unarmed* civilians trying to cross the Danziger Bridge in an attempt to get food from a grocery store. Two of the civilians, including "Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19, were shot and killed, and four other people were wounded." The police officers were facing charges ranging from attempted second-degree murder to first-degree murder until the other day when District Judge Raymond Bigelow threw out the charges because "prosecutors had violated state law by divulging secret grand jury testimony to a witness" and that "prosecutors had wrongly instructed the grand jury, and that grand jury testimony by three of the officers was used against them improperly."

Though it seems like The New York Times should have mentioned something about this, searches for "katrina shooting," "katrina police" and other possible terms turn up no relevant results. The misapplication of police violence during a catastrophic natural disaster is no small thing. In his excellent essay "Critique of Violence," Walter Benjamin argues that it is exactly this kind of use of police power that threatens democracy and the rule of law. Yet: nothing.

*Though the officers claimed that they opened fire only after being shot at, "Investigators later revealed that at least some of the shooting was by residents trapped by floodwater trying to attract the attention of rescue parties."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The August 13, 1936 diary entry of Victor Klemperer, "a German-Jewish literary scholar who managed to survive the entire Nazi era in Dresden," offers, by way of George Packer's Interesting Times blog, a cool, damp cloth on the forehead for those suffering from Olympics fever:
I find the Olympics so odious because they are not about sport—in this country, I mean—but are an entirely political enterprise. “German renaissance through Hitler,” I read recently. It’s constantly being drummed into the country and into foreigners that here one is witnessing the revival, the flowering, the new spirit, the unity, steadfastness, and magnificence, pacific too, of course, spirit of the Third Reich, which lovingly embraces the whole world. The chanted slogans on the streets have been banned (for the duration of the Olympics), Jew-baiting, bellicose sentiments, everything offensive has disappeared from the papers until August 16, and the swastika flags are hanging everywhere day and night until then too.

Packer's entire post is worth reading. He doesn't recommend a full-scale boycott of the games or even a principled abstinence from viewing it. It's too late to boycott and not watching would only harm the non-watcher.He just hopes they fail:
When I was in Burma in June, where China is deeply resented for propping up the military regime, an outspoken woman told me, “We hope the Olympics go a-flop.” I love track and field and will be watching the 1500-meter finals. But I also hope the Beijing Olympics go a-flop.


The best thing so far today? The last part of a conversation via instant message with a friend about to leave work:

Friend: Six minutes to go...

me: lucky

Friend: [six minutes later] BONG TIME!!!! Adios muchacho...

me: godspeed

there must be a limit

A conversation has been trickling down the hall for at least the last 15 minutes or so. The dominant voice has been going strong about sugar-free drinks and snacks and other dietary tidbits for the majority of that time. Another voice chimes assent occasionally, displaying a brave modicum of interest. Since full consciousness was not lent to listening, exact details are fuzzy and anxious to be forgotten, but one slipped sadly through the cracks: a "healthier" replacement for Splenda called, if pained memory serves, Splendoid. That might not be the correct name. So much effort seems to be wasted on thinking about these things. Why not just eat more fruits and vegetables?

free and clear

The Washington Post reports that a recent study by a researcher at UCLA--whose previous work was used by "federal health and drug enforcement officials [...]to make the case that the drug is dangerous"--has shown, "against expectations," "that smoking marijuana, even regularly and heavily, does not lead to lung cancer." Although marijuana does contain cancer-causing chemicals, the THC "may kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous."
Tashkin's study, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse, involved 1,200 people in Los Angeles who had lung, neck or head cancer and an additional 1,040 people without cancer matched by age, sex and neighborhood.

They were all asked about their lifetime use of marijuana, tobacco and alcohol. The heaviest marijuana smokers had lighted up more than 22,000 times, while moderately heavy usage was defined as smoking 11,000 to 22,000 marijuana cigarettes. Tashkin found that even the very heavy marijuana smokers showed no increased incidence of the three cancers studied.

"This is the largest case-control study ever done, and everyone had to fill out a very extensive questionnaire about marijuana use," he said. "Bias can creep into any research, but we controlled for as many confounding factors as we could, and so I believe these results have real meaning."

(via Brian Carver)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

just can't win

Some of the factories around Beijing that the Chinese government shut down in order to reduce pollution (an effort that seems to have fallen significantly short of achieving its goal, judging by the murky air seen during the cycling events) were producing chemicals used to produce drugs in India. According to the BBC, this has caused all sorts of problems:
[The shutdown of the factories] has led to a shortage of raw materials, which has pushed up prices everywhere.

"It's not that all the materials used to come from China," he says.

"But because China has stopped, there's pressure on materials coming from Taiwan, Korea, Europe. And everyone's taking a little bit advantage and jacking up their prices."

And if things go on like this, well, don't get sick in India:

J S Shinde, head of the Maharashtra State Chemists & Druggists Association, thinks that manufacturers will simply stop making the drugs that are not profitable and that a shortage of medicines could well be on the cards.

"If the prices of the raw materials for controlled drugs rises any further, there's a chance that the production of such drugs will simply stop," he says.

"I think it's highly likely that after September there'll be shortages of those drugs in India."

"the audacity of bleak despair"

This Modern World breaks down McCain's campaign tactics this week.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"making windows for myself"

John Lurie played music, acted (in, among other films, Stranger than Paradise, one of the best ever made), and made six episodes of a strange and wonderful TV show called Fishing with John. A 1994 diagnosis of late-stage Lyme disease, which is debilitating and currently incurable, left him unable to play music, act or continue making his TV show. Nevertheless, as he tells LA Weekly in a recent interview, he still makes art:
For a little while, I thought I was dying. I was extremely ill, I couldn’t function, and I was stuck in my apartment. And I don’t know if it’s New York City or human nature, but everybody runs from you. So every night I’d be home alone, and I’d just started [sic] painting. It was like making windows for myself. It saved me.

(via murketing)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

the great highway

Pinakothek has yet to publish a disappointing post, but the recent entry titled shroud surpasses even the usual high expectations. A complete reading of the post is necessary, but, for the sake of titillation, an excerpt follows.

On a desultory journey toward an ambivalent goal, the narrator stumbles onto an abandoned house amid the never-ending plains of the midwest:
The parlor was a riot of carpets and overstuffed chairs and draperies and knicknack shelves, all of them variously torn, sagging, broken, and coated with greasy layers of dust. The piano appeared intact, but when I experimentally plunked a few keys, the result was a sound like tearing metal. The dining table was set for six, with cut-glass goblets and gilt-edged plates all strung together with spiderwebs. Astonishingly, it appeared that there had been food on the plates when they were abandoned. The only trace left was a scummy residue on each of the plates, along with a scattering of bones. Even the flies had gone. The kitchen, likewise, was filled with signs of activity--bowls, whisks, roasting pans, cutting boards and knives, all out on the counters, all of them dust-covered and as it were mummified. There seemed to be a yellowish pall in the air.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Pogues, "Dirty Old Town"

I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
Kissed a girl by the factory wall

Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Clouds a drifting across the moon
Cats a prowling on their beat
Springs a girl in the street at night

Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Heard a siren from the docks
Saw a train set the night on fire
Smelled the spring on the smoky wind

Dirty old town
Dirty old town

I'm going to make me a good sharp axe
Shining steel tempered in the fire
Will chop you down like an old dead tree

Dirty old town
Dirty old town

Big Rock Candy Mountain

The World's Ugliest Shirt

(via panopticist)