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Current Topic: Miscellaneous

You Wouldn't Call It Classy
Topic: Miscellaneous 2:08 pm EST, Dec 30, 2010

Andrew Rice:

"Because it was a place that always drew visionaries and big thinkers, it has always showed the way that the nation is going," said Strand. If economic stagnation and distrust of government are the defining features of this American moment, Niagara Falls charted the way to the bottom.

You wouldn't call it [the Canadian side of Niagara Falls] classy; you wouldn't call it impoverished, either.

Mark Greif:

It's a superficial topic, yet it seemed that so much was at stake. Why? Because struggles over taste (and "taste" is the hipster's primary currency) are never only about taste.

The things you prefer -- tastes that you like to think of as personal, unique, justified only by sensibility -- correspond tightly to defining measures of social class: your profession, your highest degree and your father's profession.

Satoshi Kanazawa:

There is a clear monotonic association between childhood intelligence (measured before the age of 16) and the frequency of alcohol consumption in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. "Very bright" British children grow up to consume alcohol nearly one full standard deviation more frequently than their "very dull" classmates.

The more intelligent Americans are in their childhood, the more alcohol they consume as young adults.

Robert Lane Greene:

Steve Jobs says that the most important class he took in college (before dropping out) was calligraphy.

Ben Smith:

Writing a blog has become this very old-fashioned thing. It is like calligraphy or something.


As Obama has been repeating, the American middle class has been thrown under the bus.

Jonathan V. Last:

Politicians as a class are particularly susceptible to mirror-gazing. But Obama's vanity is overwhelming. It defines him, his politics, and his presidency.

Not On The Level
Topic: Miscellaneous 2:02 pm EST, Dec 30, 2010

Peter Baker:

What you hear Obama aides talking about is that the system is "not on the level." That's a phrase commonly used around the West Wing -- "it's not on the level." By that, they mean the Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems. The challenge, as they see it, is how to rise above a town that can obsess for a week on whether an obscure Agriculture Department official in Georgia should have been fired.

As Brands, the historian, put it, "It'll be really interesting to see if a president who is thinking long term can have an impact on a political system that is almost irredeemably short term in its perspective."

Bruce Sterling:

They're just living, mortal human beings, the kind of geeky, quirky, cyberculture loons that I run into every day. And man, are they ever going to pay.

The politics of personal destruction hasn't made the Americans into a frank and erotically cheerful people. On the contrary, the US today is like some creepy house of incest divided against itself in a civil cold war.

It is a godawful mess. This is gonna get worse before it gets better, and it's gonna get worse for a long time.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri

What happens when an industry concerned with the production of culture is beholden to a company with the sole goal of underselling competitors?

Most customers aren't aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data.

Edward Said:

Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that - to borrow a phrase from music - is contrapuntal. For an exile, habits of life, expression or activity in the new environment inevitably occur against the memory of these things in another environment.

Clay Shirky:

That giant sucking sound you hear is a billion putatively shared documents being slurped back into their silos, and even now, somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon, there is doubtless a Powerpoint deck being crafted whose title is "Need to Know 2.0".

Marco Arment:

Attention to detail, like most facets of truly good design, can't be (and never is) added later. It's an entire development philosophy, methodology, and culture.

Great products, far more often than not, are great since day one.

Fouad Ajami:

In this astonishing -- and in contemporary Arab literature, perhaps unprecedented -- mingling of old and new totalitarianisms, this skillfully drawn analogy between Islamic fascism and Nazi fascism, The German Mujahid is a genuinely brave book. It goes against the grain of the writer's own culture, and tears down its taboos.

Slowness Is An Act of Resistance
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:52 pm EST, Dec 30, 2010

Jeff Atwood:

I can't take slow typists seriously as programmers. When was the last time you saw a hunt-and-peck pianist?

Rebecca Solnit:

The virtual version rips out the heart of the thing, shrink-wraps it, sticks a barcode on, and throws the rest away. This horseman is called Efficiency. He is followed by the horseman called Profitability. Along with Convenience, they trample underfoot the subtle encounters that suffuse a life with meaning.

Ultimately, I believe that slowness is an act of resistance, not because slowness is a good in itself but because of all that it makes room for, the things that don't get measured and can't be bought.

Graeme Taylor:

In all my slow-motion work so far, I've used a static camera to capture a high-speed event. But, I wondered, what would happen if the camera was the fast-moving object? For instance, if you use a 210fps camera at 35mph, on playback at 30fps it'll seem to the observer that they're moving at walking pace -- but everything observed will be operating at 1/7th speed.

A Secret Service analyst:

The experienced ones take their time and slowly bleed the data out.

Megan Garber:

What's inherently wrong with distraction?

The web inculcates a follow your bliss approach to learning that seeps, slowly, into the broader realm of information; under its influence, our notion of knowledge is slowly shedding its normative layers.

Scott Rosenberg:

Wonderful! Slower news -- and at a higher price.

Invisible Narcissistic Dinosaurs, Only Cosmetically Alive, Stuck In A Giant, Nightmarish Pool of Peanut Butter
Topic: Miscellaneous 1:47 pm EST, Dec 30, 2010

Stefany Anne Golberg:

One apartment filled with dinosaurs is the talk of the town. But a city filled with them is a disaster.

Geoffrey West:

Cities can't be managed, and that's what keeps them so vibrant.

We spend all this time thinking about cities in terms of their local details, their restaurants and museums and weather. I had this hunch that there was something more, that every city was also shaped by a set of hidden laws.

I don't know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.

Sometimes, I look out at nature and I think, Everything here is obeying my conjecture. It's a wonderfully narcissistic feeling.

Warren Breckman:

In the city's labyrinth, invisibility can quickly trump visibility.

Rulers of cities have always had an interest in visibility, both in representing their power and in controlling people by seeing them.

It would be tempting to say that if Le Corbusier embraced an emphatic, even ominous type of visibility, Jacobs insisted on the power of the invisible, the nooks and crannies, the intimate spaces of homes and private lives. But the truth is that Jacobs argued for a different kind of visibility, that of active life in neighborhoods and on busy, pedestrian-friendly streets.

Anonymity is, perhaps, the most universal experience of invisibility within the modern city.

Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance -- nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city -- as one loses oneself in a forest -- that calls for quite a different schooling. It is a particular and poignant form of freedom to walk a vibrant urban quarter without aim and with openness to all, unobserved, invisible, or more precisely, caught in the shifting, kinetic exchange of sights and sensations ...

The captains of industry also had ambitions to endow the pursuit of profit with noble purpose. The architecture of commercial buildings often reached for monumentality through the use of rich materials and traditional architectural elements. Department stores, those quintessential sites of the emerging urban consumer society, wrapped their truck and barter in layers of ornament and allegory. Philadelphia's Wanamaker's building, now a Macy's, features a towering pipe organ in a multistory atrium -- a Vatican of commerce indeed!

Luc Sante:

As rich in poetry and lore as had been the unreconstructed area on the Left Bank centered around the place Maubert and the place de la Contrescarpe that was... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

It Is All A Great Game
Topic: Miscellaneous 10:02 am EST, Dec 24, 2010

Jaron Lanier:

There is no such thing as a neutral Internet leak organization. Anyone who plays the game brings biases into the work.

An exchange with Penelope Trunk:

She said, "It's not like that. There has to be a game or something."

I said, "Okay. You do the game. What should we do?"

She pouted. I did not realize it was part of the game.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

China is trying to keep the game going as if nothing has changed, but cannot do so. It dares not raise rates fast enough to let air out of the bubble because this would expose the bad debts of the banking system. The regime is stymied.

Rahm Emanuel:

We have to play the game.


Fighting and spying on the frontier is often described as a Great Game, after the 19th-century Russo-British sparring for which the phrase was coined. And on a five-day visit to South Waziristan in December as a guest of the FC--a rare privilege for a foreigner--and in interviews with Wazirs and Mehsuds in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore, your correspondent was struck by how many used this phrase, speaking of the crises that periodically buffet the frontier as a "game", and themselves, through their alliances with one power or another, as "players". "It is all a great game," said Rehmat Mehsud, a Waziristani journalist. "The army, the Taliban, the ISI, they are all involved, and we don't know who is doing what."

Mehsuds consider Wazirs slow-witted, mercantile and untrustworthy--"If your right hand is a Wazir, cut it off," advises a Mehsud. Wazirs mainly consider Mehsuds as vagabonds and cattle-rustlers, often quoting as evidence for this a prayer that Mehsud women are said to chant to their infants: "Be a thief and may God go with you!" Mehsuds also quote this, to illustrate their people's cunning and derring-do.

Bethany McLean:

What Goldman doesn't get is that all the murk about the ways it has benefited from public money taps into a deep fear that has long existed among those who think they know Goldman all too well. It's a fear that, as one person puts it, Goldman's "skill set" is "walking between the raindrops over and over again and getting away with it." It is a fear that Goldman has the game rigged, even if no one can ever prove how, not just because of its political connections but also because of its immense size and power. And it is a belief that despite all the happy talk about clients and culture (and, boy, is there a lot of that) the Goldman of today cares about one thing and one thing only: making money for itself. Says one high-level Wall Street executive, "Why do you have a business? Because you have a customer. You have to make an appropriate profit. But is it possible that Goldman has changed from a firm that had customers to a company that is just smart as shit and makes a shitload of money?"

Jon Lee Anderson:

The air stinks heavily of raw sewage, but no one seems to notice.

The Kind That Pleases No One
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:42 am EST, Dec 24, 2010


The first thing is to be rightly suspicious of anything that looks too good to be true. There are consequences for those who succumb to the temptation.

Rebecca Solnit:

The virtual version rips out the heart of the thing, shrink-wraps it, sticks a barcode on, and throws the rest away. This horseman is called Efficiency. He is followed by the horseman called Profitability. Along with Convenience, they trample underfoot the subtle encounters that suffuse a life with meaning.

Brian Stelter:

The debate over the rules ... seems to have resulted in a classic Washington solution -- the kind that pleases no one on either side of the issue.

Bruce Sterling:

It is a godawful mess. This is gonna get worse before it gets better, and it's gonna get worse for a long time. Like leaks in a house where the pipes froze.

Evgeny Morozov:

We all get scared when we find out that the government knows what we browse online -- but we are far less concerned about some private company knowing this. The question we rarely ask is: Why assume that the government won't simply purchase this data from the private sector rather than compile on its own?

Andrew Ross Sorkin:

Legally, the government is allowed to use any publicly available information -- as long as the government wasn't involved in illegally obtaining the information itself.

Onnesha Roychoudhuri:

Most customers aren't aware that the personalized book recommendations they receive are a result of paid promotions, not just purchase-derived data.

Pamela S. Karlan:

Politicians have constitutional responsibilities, too. And if they showed more restraint, judges would not have to intervene so often.

Try Harder
Topic: Miscellaneous 10:02 am EST, Dec 21, 2010

Ask yourself:

Will using the prefix "cyber" make me look like an idiot?

Michael German, a former FBI agent who now leads the American Civil Liberties Union's campaign on national security and privacy matters:

How do we know there are enough controls?

Miguel Bustillo And Ann Zimmerman:

Accenture this year found that 73% of mobile-powered shoppers preferred peering into their phones for basic assistance over talking to a retail clerk.

Robert Lane Greene:

It wants to be with you everywhere.

Jesse Walker:

How will those big institutions react to this leaky new era? One theory says they'll keep fewer secrets and behave with greater care. Forced into the sunshine, they'll revise their behavior; if they're more likely to be caught misbehaving, then they'll be less likely to misbehave. A rival theory says they'll just try harder not to be caught.

Christopher Hitchens:

The people who really curl my lip are the ones who willingly accept such supporters for the sake of a Republican victory, and then try to write them off as not all that important, or not all that extreme, or not all that insane in wanting to repeal several amendments to a Constitution that they also think is unalterable because it's divine! It may be true that the Tea Party's role in November's vote was less than some people feared, and it's certainly true that several of the movement's elected representatives will very soon learn the arts of compromise and the pork barrel. But then what happens at the next downturn? A large, volatile constituency has been created that believes darkly in betrayal and conspiracy.

Frantically Consumed By Zombie Ideas Through A Hole In The Social Till
Topic: Miscellaneous 10:02 am EST, Dec 21, 2010

Paul Krugman:

Yes, politics is the art of the possible. We all understand the need to deal with one's political enemies. But it's one thing to make deals to advance your goals; it's another to open the door to zombie ideas. When you do that, the zombies end up eating your brain -- and quite possibly your economy too.

Janet Napolitano:

Report suspicious activity to your local police or sheriff. If you need help, ask a Walmart manager for assistance.

Dahlia Lithwick and Jeff Shesol:

It is one thing to fetishize states rights and the will of the people above all things. It's quite another to anchor that fetish in the Constitution itself -- which was drafted to be a bulwark against both.

David B. Hart:

Tragically -- tragically -- we can remove one politician only by replacing him or her with another. And then, of course, our choices are excruciatingly circumscribed, since the whole process is dominated by two large and self-interested political conglomerates that are far better at gaining power than at exercising it wisely.

And yet we must choose, one way or the other. Even the merry recreant who casts no vote at all, or flings a vote away onto the midden of some third party as a protest, is still making a choice with consequences, however small. And none of the other political systems on offer in the modern world are alternatives that any sane person would desire; so we cannot just eradicate our political class altogether and hope for the best (anyway, who would clean up afterward?).

Since our perpetual electoral cycle is now largely a matter of product recognition, advertising, and marketing strategies, we must be content often to vote for persons willing to lie to us with some regularity or, if not that, at least to speak to us evasively and insincerely. In a better, purer world--the world that cannot be--ambition would be an absolute disqualification for political authority.

One can be grateful of the liberties one enjoys, and use one's franchise to advance the work of trustworthier politicians (and perhaps there are more of those than I have granted to this point), and pursue the discrete moral causes in which one believes. But it is good also to imagine other, better, quite impossible worlds, so that one will be less inclined to mistake the process for the proper end of political life, or to become frantically consumed by what should be only a small part of life, or to fail to see the limits and defects of our systems of government. After all, one of the most... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

And The Cat Laughed On
Topic: Miscellaneous 9:17 am EST, Dec 21, 2010

Michelle Obama:

In the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don't cost a thing -- the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.

Dana Priest and William Arkin:

Memphis Police Department Director Larry Godwin has produced record numbers of arrests using all this new analysis and technology. "Some of them we can talk about. Some of them we can't."

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

Richard Blumenthal:

I am disappointed by Google's failure to comply with my information demands.

Robert Lane Greene:

Google doesn't want to sell you your exobrain. It wants the contents.

Scott Thurm:

Smartphone users are all but powerless to limit the tracking.

James Gleick:

It infiltrates us; we are not its masters.

Ian Ayres:

In the laboratory, you don't let the rats design the experiments.

Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology at Stanford University:

Young people will go to cocktail parties because they might meet somebody who will be useful to them in the future, even though nobody I know actually likes going to cocktail parties.

Andrew Exum:

Military officers are familiar with the concept of the "SPENDEX," where all ammunition not used in the course of the year is fired -- sometimes wildly -- at the end of a fiscal year, so ammunition allotted for the next year is not cut. The same principle applies to aid -- but instead of wasting bullets, the organizations waste dollars. Rather than face the prospect of reduced development funds in the future, development and military officers are under pressure to spend every penny they are given. But doing so simply feeds the Afghanistan's distorted economy, which only benefi... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

How many things they have!
Topic: Miscellaneous 7:29 am EDT, May 20, 2010

Denise Gershbein:

It's amazing how, when you're alone and things are quiet, hours can seem like days.

Rory Stewart:

Without music, time has a very different quality.

Blaise Pascal:

The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.

Rivka Galchen:

I prefer the taciturn company of my things. I love my things. I have a great capacity for love, I think.

Winifred Gallagher:

You can't be happy all the time, but you can pretty much focus all the time. That's about as good as it gets.

Norm Augustine:

Ninety percent of the time things will turn out worse than you expect. The other 10 percent of the time you had no right to expect so much.

Peter Drucker:

Futurists always measure their batting average by counting how many things they have predicted that have come true. They never count how many important things come true that they did not predict.

Joe Nocera:

They just want theirs.

Michael Osinski:

Oyster farmers eat lots of oysters, don't they?

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