A French collective is organizing a tournament of three-sided situationist soccer in Lyons; the game's rules were invented by Asger Jorn in the sixties in order to "[deconstruct] the mythic bipolar structure of conventional football," and adopted in the nineties by the Luther Blissett Three-Sided Football League (Luther Blissett being, rather conveniently, both an Anglo-Jamaican footballer and a nom-de-plume adopted by artists and social activists).
[A game of buzkashi about to begin in Kyrgyzstan; buzkashi is a traditional interdependent team sport played in Central Asia. It has been described as "like rugby, but with a goat carcass and horses", which seems to be fairly accurate. The markings are perhaps another example of a playing field as an exportation of an abstract or mythical landscape. Photo via flickr user 14degrees]
[Proposal for a cathedral for the recovery of solitude, buried into the bedrock of Manhattan Island, designed by Gaetano Pesce between 1974 and 1977, via DPR-Barcelona. Pesce is perhaps best known for his "Organic Building" in Osaka.]
Even as the economy continues to struggle, much of Wall Street is minting money -- and looking forward again to hefty bonuses.
Many Americans wonder how this can possibly be. How can some banks be prospering so soon after a financial collapse, even as legions of people worry about losing their jobs and their homes?
It may come as a surprise that one of the most powerful forces driving the resurgence on Wall Street is not the banks but Washington. Many of the steps that policy makers took last year to stabilize the financial system -- reducing interest rates to near zero, bolstering big banks with taxpayer money, guaranteeing billions of dollars of financial institutions' debts -- helped set the stage for this new era of Wall Street wealth.
Titans like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are making fortunes in hot areas like trading stocks and bonds, rather than in the ho-hum business of lending people money. They also are profiting by taking risks that weaker rivals are unable or unwilling to shoulder -- a benefit of less competition after the failure of some investment firms last year.
[via Glenn Greenwald]
[Couldn't resist posting a second of Chris Foss's Dune paintings; see below for details and attribution]
[The Emperor's Palace, depicted by British artist Chris Foss in production artwork for Alejandro Jodorowsky's unrealized 1975 adaptation of Dune, the cast of which was to include Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dali (as the Emperor). The soundtrack would have been provided by Pink Floyd. Jodorowsky's Dune collapsed in pre-production after spending a quarter of its budget and producing a script which ran a purported fourteen hours. An exhibition of artwork for that version of Dune, also including work by Moebius and H.R. Giger, is currently showing at the Drawing Room in London. Original link via Blueprint; more of Foss's work for Dune at skiffy and dune info.]
From Jonathan Wilson's preview of Germany v. Russia:
"The Germans will be shaking in their boots when they see the full stands that have come to support us," said the Rubin Kazan forward Alexander Bukharov, whose slim chances of involvement improved marginally yesterday when Roman Pavlyuchenko suffered a tweaked hamstring in training. "For them it will be like a laxative."
Maybe something was lost in translation? Or maybe Bukharov is the Russian Ray Hudson ("he would stab his grandmother in the eye for another bowl of porridge"...)?
From the wikipedia entry on Cuju, an ancient Chinese form of soccer/football:
..."Bai Da" was the dominant cuju style of the Song Dynasty, attaching much importance to developing personal skills. The goal became obsolete in this method and the playing field was enclosed with thread, with players taking turns to kick the ball within. The number of fouls made by the players decided the winner. For example, if the ball was not passed far enough to reach the other players, points were deducted. If the ball was kicked too far out, a big deduction was made. Kicking the ball too low or turning at the wrong moment all led to fewer points. Players could touch the ball with any part of the body except their hands and the number of players ranged anywhere from two to 10. In the end, the player with the highest score would win.
Well, Barcelona might not mind, but Wimbledon probably would have found that a bit frustrating...
The New York Times describes a recent study which appears to show that situations or experiences which lack pattern (i.e. nonsense) improve the brain's ability to locate patterns in other situations or experiences:
...Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on "The Country Doctor," by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy's family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical -- Kafkaesque.
After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like "X, M, X, R, T, V." They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.
The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.
But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.
[Visualization of the relative cost/value of various items measurable in billions of dollars, mostly related to the US, by Information is Beautiful. The version you can see there is much larger and readable. While the bigger items are the obvious attention-grabbers (Iraq War, stimulus plans), some of the smaller ones are just as interesting (and sad), such as "Internet Porn Industry" at $97 billion and "Feed Every Child in the World for a Year" at $54 billion.]
The philosophy of Banks's Culture is that of Liberalism--Liberalism writ not just large but as large as possible. The Culture is, as one commentator has written, a "liberal Utopia"; but like all Utopias, it contains its dark places and puzzles, and perhaps even the seeds of its own critique. However, it is impossible to understand either the Culture's philosophy or its limitations without first understanding the technology that makes the Culture possible: the technology of the Minds...
Minds are artificial intelligences of almost infinite scope and power, and they govern the worlds in which inhabitants of the Culture live. A few of these worlds are planets, but far more often Culture citizens live on Orbitals--vast rings, each "like a god's bracelet," that orbit stars and rotate in order to produce appropriate gravity--and on great interstellar ships. (Tens of millions of people may live on a ship; tens of billions on an Orbital.) The Mind of the ship or Orbital controls its every function and monitors every inhabitant to ensure contentment. The Minds are fully sentient and have their own personalities; they manifest themselves to Culture citizens through android avatars and through "terminals": everyone has a terminal at all times, which he or she can use to ask questions, place orders, give information, relay messages, and so on. Citizens can tell the Minds to leave them alone, to cease monitoring their conversations, and it appears that the Minds do so, at least temporarily; there are no HAL 9000s in Banks's fictional world--no Mind ever harms a person, though in one strange case in Look to Windward (2000), a Mind decides to destroy itself. But it only does so after ensuring that the Orbital it governs is taken care of by its chosen successor.
...all of these resources are overseen by the Minds, who in general take an ironic attitude towards their own outrageous power. We see this especially in one of the most treasured features of Banks's universe, the self-naming of the Minds that control ships--that, in a sense, are the ships. Every reader of Banks will have favorite ship names; here are some of mine: Prosthetic Conscience; No More Mister Nice Guy; So Much for Subtlety; Of Course I Still Love You; Attitude Adjuster; Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill; I Blame the Parents; You'll Clean That Up Before You Leave; Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall.
The ship names are a very nice example of the blend of carefully thought-out world-building and humorous adventurism, tinged with self-aware irony and a hint of darkly ulterior motives, that characterizes Bank's books, which, for some reason, no one has ever tried to make a movie out of, which I think is easily understood in some cases -- Excession, Use of Weapons -- and totally inexplicable in others -- Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, or even The Algebraist.
I'd never read any of Bank's commentary on the Culture (outside of the novels, which I've read most of), so I'd always assumed that the tension Jacobs identifies between Bank's professed admiration for the Culture and the flaws in the Culture the novels reveal was intentional. In fact, I'd thought that the obivous overarching purpose of the novels was the development of a subtle but stinging critique of the Culture (and by extension, Utopia in general). But perhaps I've been reading my own biases into the books.
[Afghan men play soccer in front of the bombed-out old royal palace in Kabul, via the big picture]
1. Ahem. This is your government at work:
"There is nothing against you. But there is no innocent person here. So, you should confess to something so you can be charged and sentenced and serve your sentence and then go back to your family and country, because you will not leave this place innocent." - Senior Interrogator at Guantanamo, to Fouad al-Rabiah, Kuwaiti businessman captured in Afghanistan after entering the country to engage in humanitarian work before the US invasion
2. The gerontocracy continues to claw its way forward. Don't worry, though! It's bipartisan. Ok, panic.
3. Juan Cole presents the top ten things which most Americans believe about Iran which are wrong, such as:
Belief: Isn't the Iranian regime irrational and crazed, so that a doctrine of mutally assured destruction just would not work with them?
Reality: Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven't they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick. The U.S. elite was once unalterably opposed to China having nuclear science because they believed the Chinese are intrinsically irrational. This kind of talk is a form of racism.
Ezra Klein endorses Jim Henley for the Washington Post's (absurd) "America's Next Great Pundit" contest (the winner receives two hundred dollars per column! a princely sum!). From Henley's entry, which can be found here:
There's been much discussion lately about whether to pursue a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan, or a more limited counterterrorism strategy. It's important for the ordinary American to have an understanding of the difference, and to understand why it takes more troops and costs more money to pursue counterinsurgency.
In a counterinsurgency strategy, America hangs around a foreign country for years and years, occasionally killing people who live there, while pretending it's for their own good. This takes a lot of people because the military, and the civilian parts of the government that control the military, are very specialized. You need people to do the hanging around, people to do the occasional killing of people that live there, and even more people to do the pretending. As you might imagine, pretending to foreigners that killing them is for their own good is hard! Not just anyone can pull that off with a straight face, and you need a lot of people who can. Remember how upset people got at those town halls over the summer? That was for "death panels" that didn't even exist. Now imagine that you actually are occasionally killing people's neighbors! Basically, you have to hold an awful lot of town halls.
I think Henley's got a good shot at winning, and will no doubt receive a warm welcome from the Krauthammer, who's never met a war he didn't want to start or a policy decision that wasn't easily decided by reference to the Munich Agreement (I thought that might be too harsh, but then I made the mistake of visiting his recent archives and reading his latest column, which conveniently ignores the actual results).
Friendships and working relationships linked pirate society across ships. Most captains knew one another personally, and many hunted together for a spell. Through their shared culture, they refined shipboard democracy. The supreme power aboard a pirate ship was the common council, which Marcus Rediker calls a "floating town meeting." Whoever had sworn to the articles could vote. Captains were elected, and ate the same food as their men. Only when the ship was fighting or fleeing could a captain make decisions on his own, and he could be deposed if the crew thought him cowardly or his treatment of prisoners too cruel or too kind. In daily matters, his power was checked by that of another elected official, the quartermaster, who distributed food and booty and administered minor punishments.
In Leeson's opinion, there was a sound economic basis for all this democracy. Most businesses suffer from what economists call the "principal-agent problem": the owner doesn't work, and the workers, not being stakeholders, lack incentives; so a certain amount of surveillance and coercion is necessary to persuade Ishmael to hunt whales instead of spending all day in his hammock with Queequeg. Pirates, by contrast, having stolen the ships they sailed, were both principals and agents; they still needed a captain but, Leeson explains, "they didn't require autocratic captains because there were no absentee owners to align the crew's interests with." The insight suggests more than Leeson seems to want it to--does inequity always entail political repression?--and late in the book he backtracks, cautioning that the pirate example "doesn't mean democratic management makes sense for all firms," only that management style should be adjusted to the underlying ownership structure. But a certain kind of reader is likely to ignore the hedging, and note that the pirates, two centuries before Lenin, had seized the means of production.
It is also worth noting that the review introduces Leeson as "an economist who claims to have owned a pirate skull ring as a child and to have had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen". Crain has a bit more on his sources for the review (other than Leeson's book) at his site (which is -- in general -- an excellent read for the many reminders it offers that history is at least as interesting as any fiction), including this anecdote:
...Captain George Roberts, [who] describes having been seized near the Cape Verde Islands in 1722 in The Four Years' Voyages of Capt. George Roberts. "You Dog! You Son of a Bitch! you Speckled-Shirt Dog!" one of his captors curses him. Asked who he thinks his captors are, Roberts submissively answers that "I believed they were Gentlemen of Fortune belonging to the Sea," only to be told off once more: "You lie by God, we are Pirates, by God." Roberts tells a good yarn, so good that some have wondered whether it might be fiction, but I think it's too good for that. When, for example, one of the pirates maroons Roberts on the high seas in a boat with no sail and no provisions, the pirate bestows on Roberts, in parting, a musket with a small amount of powder, calling it a special gift. The gift puzzles Roberts. In fact, though Roberts never figures it out, a loaded gun was traditionally given by one pirate to another when he marooned him--so the marooned man could shoot himself instead of starving to death slowly. It would take a subtle novelist to resist writing the scene where it dawns on Roberts what the musket is for; it seems more likely to me that Roberts's experience and ignorance were both genuine.