November 2012 Archives

Bill Murray in NYT

The snarglr of all snarglrs, Bill Murray, in the NYT:

David Itzkoff:

After Mr. Murray’s interview with another interrogator ran overtime, I was invited to accompany him to an evening appearance at Florence Gould Hall — and onto the stage of its theater, where a private chat turned into a public spectacle for a few hundred members of the Screen Actors Guild. (Imagine accompanying Mr. Murray on a version of the famous tracking shot from “Goodfellas,” through the back rooms and bowels of an unfamiliar building until the moment you expect to part ways and take your seat in the audience, only to realize then that you’re part of the act.)

Lucky bastard. My favorite excerpts follow.

Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”?

A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.

Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life?

A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow.

A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy

Warren Buffett, in the NYT:

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation’s economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground.

So let’s forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if — gasp — capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.

And, wow, do we have plenty to invest. The Forbes 400, the wealthiest individuals in America, hit a new group record for wealth this year: $1.7 trillion. That’s more than five times the $300 billion total in 1992. In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust.

I had a hard time deciding on the pull quotes from this article. The whole thing is worth a read. Buffett’s on fire.

Eat estrogenic plants and become more aggressive, have more sex, and stop grooming.

UC Berkeley News Center:

Eating certain veggies not only supplies key nutrients, it may also influence hormone levels and behaviors such as aggression and sexual activity, says a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that could shed light on the role of diet in human evolution.

The research is the first to observe the connection between plant-based estrogenic compounds, or phytoestrogens, and behavior in wild primates — in this case, a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda.

The more the male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, the higher their levels of estradiol and cortisol. They also found that with the altered hormone levels came more acts of aggression and sex, and less time spent grooming — an important behavior for social bonding in primates.

Don’t get too excited and plan a weekend tofu binge.

The study authors cautioned against overinterpreting the power of phytoestrogens in altering behavior, however. They emphasized that estrogenic plant consumption is just one of multiple factors influencing primate hormone levels and behavior. Notably, the primates’ own endogenous hormone levels were the stronger predictor of certain behaviors, while phytoestrogens played a secondary role.

Dieter Rams: Less and More Interview

This video is a couple of years old but was recently featured at The Atlantic. For those who don’t know, Rams was the influential product designer at Braun whose simple, minimal designs have widely influenced modern industrial design. In the mid-80s, Rams articulated a set of 10 design principles focusing on utility, aesthetic simplicity, and understandability. In the short video, Rams is quirky, thoughtful, and intriguing. Read more about his ten principles for good design here.

Easy Japanese-style Baked Eggplant

I love the umami deliciousness soy sauce can impart to… anything. This recipe comes from A Cook’s Journey to Japan by Sarah Marx Feldner. It’s slightly modified here - no deep frying of eggplant required - but relies predominantly on a simple dressing of mirin, soy sauce, grated garlic, and rice wine vinegar. The combination is outstanding and matches the eggplant perfectly.

Ingredients

3-5 long Japanese or Chinese Eggplants, quartered

3 tbsp mirin

3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 cloves grated garlic

5-10 leaves mint, cut into strips

Green onions, finely sliced

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss the eggplant with vegetable oil and arrange on a baking sheet, flesh side down. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping once. Meanwhile, make your dressing by mixing the mirin, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and grated garlic. Remove eggplant from the oven, transfer to a serving dish, and coat with dressing. Top with mint and green onions.

If you're 27 or younger, you've never experienced a colder-than-average month

From NOAA’s State of the Climate (as reported by Grist) October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63°C (58.23°F). This is 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.

Read more at NOAA.

Read this Blog: davidsimon.com

David Simon’s been writing on his blog pretty often of late. He wrote a post on Petraeus and on what we, as Americans, should expect in response to revelations of the sexual peccadilloes of our public officials.

The second piece intensely recalls Simon’s interaction with John O’Neill. He concludes the piece:

Everyone I’ve talked to in the FBI acknowledges that had John’s reputation as a profligate ladies man not accompanied him, he would have easily weathered the internal investigation of the security matters and continued as the head of counterterrorism. And his lobbying effort with the Yemenis would have continued as well. But Mr. Freeh and others equated John’s personal life with his professional endeavors and he was told to take the pension or risk termination.

And yet, if all of the Americans killed in 911 and all of their families could speak to this dynamic, what do you think they would say? Yes, the price of greatness is responsibility and no sacrifice is too great, and no individual so unexpendable, that we must keep the head of counterterrorism doing his job. Fire his womanizing ass. Or, would they say, who gives a damn who this guy screws or why? He made the Cole case. He supervised the embassies investigation. He went to Pakistan to arrest the man who shot up the CIA headquarters in Langley. He’s the best we have in counterterrorism. Let him do his damn job. And while we’re at it, let Winston Churchill, the greatest wartime leader of the century, drink whatever the hell he wants in as much quantity as he can manage, as long as he continues to lead this country as he does.

I don’t need rectitude from my leaders. I need competence. I need results. If you have someone better than Petraeus, then that’s one thing. If he’s the best at counterinsurgency, then he is not expendable at this time, when counterinsurgency and our response to it mean actual American lives in the balance.

And, to hammer the point home, reflecting precisely on General Petraeus: If you were a combat soldier or Marine or a CIA operative on the ground in Afghanistan, right now or the family of a combat soldier or Marine or a CIA operative on the ground in Afghanistan right now, who do you want in command of the American intelligence agency? The man who is regarded as the better counterinsurgency expert who can’t keep it in his pants? Or the moral paragon of marital fidelity who is in any way less effective at counterinsurgency. That’s a real-world choice. Just as forcing John O’Neill out of the FBI in the run-up to 911 was a real-world choice.

The Believer - Interview with Maurice Sendak

Emma Brockes, a British author and journalist at The Guardian, interviewed Maurice Sendak before his death. She writes in the preface to the interview:

After his death, in May, much was written about Sendak’s legendary crossness, but it was really just impatience with artifice. “I refuse to lie to children,” he said. “I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.” There was no roughness in his delivery. It was spiked with merriment. He was also very tender. Sendak’s memories of his family, the suffering they had gone through during the war, and the effect this had on his development as an artist, still brought him close to tears. He recalled his mother and father as bewildered, hurt people, first-generation immigrants from Poland set at sea in America.

He had been grieving since the death, in 2007, of Eugene Glynn, his partner of fifty years, and was not afraid of dying. He wanted a “yummy death,” he said, in the style of Blake. Famously, he hated being called a “children’s illustrator”—it reduced him, he thought—and while he leaves a body of work that speaks as profoundly to adults as to children, he spared his youngest readers at least one aspect of grown-up heartache. By and large, after their adventures, Sendak’s young heroes get to do something his own family did not get to do, something which Sendak knew to be a more mythical journey than his wildest imaginings, fueled as it was by an unfulfilled yearning: they got to go home.

The interview is touching, with Sendak sincerely reflecting on the whole of his life. There are some gems in the interview, like his take on e-books:

BLVR: What do you think of e-books?

MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.

on Obama:

I can’t read the papers anymore. I just feel sorry for Obama. I want him so much to win. I would do anything to help him win. He’s a decent, wonderful man. And these Republican schnooks are so horrible. They’d be comical if they weren’t not funny. So. What’s to say, what’s to say? It’s very discouraging. Which is probably why I’m going back in time. I’m a lucky man, I can afford to do that. I can afford to live here in silence, in these trees and these flowers, and not get involved with the world.

and, hilariously, on Salmon Rushdie:

[The phone rings. It is NPR letting Sendak know that a recent interview with him has run and is generating a lot of responses. He praises Terry Gross, the interviewer.]

MS: The only thing she said wrong was that her favorite interviews had been me and that stupid fucking writer. Salman Rushdie, that flaccid fuckhead. He reviewed me on a full page in the New York Times, my book Dear Mili. He hated it. He is detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that. What else shall we talk about?

Steve Jobs's Parable of the Stones

But what I’ve always felt is that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like… When I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something.

And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage, I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “Come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got just some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and a little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “Come back tomorrow.”

And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.

And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in — and through rubbing against each other like this, creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise — had come out these beautiful polished rocks.

That’s always been in my mind as a metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together, they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.

On the Cold Front: Photos of Receding Glaciers

In an effort to provide concrete visual proof of climate change and its devastating effects, photographer James Balog embarked on a years-long project that spanned the northern reaches of the globe. He set up cameras from Greenland to Alaska in order to capture horrifying—yet undeniably beautiful—time-lapse photos that reveal the unprecedented rate at which glaciers are receding. As the award-winning Chasing Ice, which chronicles Balog’s monumental endeavor with his Extreme Ice Survey, hits New York on November 9, VF.com showcases breathtaking photographs from Balog’s Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, published by Rizzoli.

From Dave Pell’s NextDraft

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

David Simon on the re-election of Barack Obama:

This election marks a moment in which the racial and social hierarchy of America is upended forever. No longer will it mean more politically to be a white male than to be anything else. Evolve, or don’t. Swallow your resentments, or don’t. But the votes are going to be counted, more of them with each election. Arizona will soon be in play. And in a few cycles, even Texas. And those wishing to hold national office in these United States will find it increasingly useless to argue for normal, to attempt to play one minority against each other, to turn pluralities against the feared “other” of gays, or blacks, or immigrants, or, incredibly in this election cycle, our very wives and lovers and daughters, fellow citizens who demand to control their own bodies.

Regardless of what happens with his second term, Barack Obama’s great victory has already been won: We are all the other now, in some sense. Special interests? That term has no more meaning in the New America. We are all — all of us, every last American, even the whitest of white guys — special interests. And now, normal isn’t white or straight or Christian. There is no normal. That word, too, means less with every moment. And those who continue to argue for such retrograde notions as a political reality will become less germane and more ridiculous with every passing year.

What makes us happy? The Grant Study & Dr. George Vaillant

Kottke.org posted a link to the an excellent piece by David Brooks entitled “The Heart Grows Smarter” at the NYT opinion pages. Brooks describes the Grant Study, a longitudinal evaluation of mental and physical health status. It tracked 268 Harvard students for upwards of 50 years, beginning in the 40s and following the participants through war, marriage, divorce, failure, success, and death. Brooks draws some pleasant and hopeful conclusions from the study:

The men of the Grant Study frequently became more emotionally attuned as they aged, more adept at recognizing and expressing emotion. Part of the explanation is biological. People, especially men, become more aware of their emotions as they get older.

Part of this is probably historical. Over the past half-century or so, American culture has become more attuned to the power of relationships. Masculinity has changed, at least a bit.

The so-called Flynn Effect describes the rise in measured I.Q. scores over the decades. Perhaps we could invent something called the Grant Effect, on the improvement of mass emotional intelligence over the decades. This gradual change might be one of the greatest contributors to progress and well-being that we’ve experienced in our lifetimes.

Partly because of Brooks’s writing on the topic, and partly because of the topic (longitudinal cohort studies are super interesting… and super difficult to pull off), I spent a few minutes using google to find out more. One of the most accessible pieces that popped up about the study was Joshua Wolf Shenk’s beautiful and long 2009 essay from The Atlantic (interestingly, Brooks wrote about Shenk’s essay in a separate NYT op-ed piece from 2009).

Shenk’s piece is stunning. He reveals, for instance, that JFK was part of the Grant study — and that his files from the study are sealed until at least 2040. Other participants went on to be in a Presidential cabinet, or run for Senate, or become the editor for the Washington Post, or to write best-selling novels. But the really fascinating stuff arose from Shenk’s juxtaposition of stories of the study participants and descriptions of the study’s brilliant, quirky lead investigator, Dr. George Vaillant.

The study started by collecting every bit of anthropometric data imaginable on the study subjects, including

everything from major organ function, to the measure of lactic acid after five minutes on a treadmill, to the size of the “lip seam” and the hanging length of the scrotum. Using a new test called the electroencephalograph, the study measured the electrical activity in the brain, and sought to deduce character from the squiggles. During a home visit, a social worker took not only a boy’s history—when he stopped wetting his bed, how he learned about sex—but also extensive medical and social histories on his parents and extended family. The boys interpreted Rorschach inkblots, submitted handwriting samples for analysis, and talked extensively with psychiatrists.

Vaillant continued some of the physical measures — and savvily added new ones along the way to help keep the study relevant to potential funders. His real interest, though, lay in the underlying psychology of the participants.

His central question is not how much or how little trouble these men met, but rather precisely how—and to what effect—they responded to that trouble. His main interpretive lens has been the psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty.

Most psychology preoccupies itself with mapping the heavens of health in sharp contrast to the underworld of illness. “Social anxiety disorder” is distinguished from shyness. Depression is defined as errors in cognition. Vaillant’s work, in contrast, creates a refreshing conversation about health and illness as weather patterns in a common space. “Much of what is labeled mental illness,” Vaillant writes, “simply reflects our ‘unwise’ deployment of defense mechanisms. If we use defenses well, we are deemed mentally healthy, conscientious, funny, creative, and altruistic. If we use them badly, the psychiatrist diagnoses us ill, our neighbors label us unpleasant, and society brands us immoral.”

This perspective is shaped by a long-term view. Whereas clinicians focus on treating a problem at any given time, Vaillant is more like a biographer, looking to make sense of a whole life—or, to take an even broader view, like an anthropologist or naturalist looking to capture an era. The good news, he argues, is that diseases—and people, too—have a “natural history.” After all, many of the “psychotic” adaptations are common in toddlers, and the “immature” adaptations are essential in later childhood, and they often fade with maturity. As adolescents, the Grant Study men were twice as likely to use immature defenses as mature ones, but in middle life they were four times as likely to use mature defenses—and the progress continued into old age. When they were between 50 and 75, Vaillant found, altruism and humor grew more prevalent, while all the immature defenses grew more rare.

This means that a glimpse of any one moment in a life can be deeply misleading. A man at 20 who appears the model of altruism may turn out to be a kind of emotional prodigy—or he may be ducking the kind of engagement with reality that his peers are both moving toward and defending against. And, on the other extreme, a man at 20 who appears impossibly wounded may turn out to be gestating toward maturity.

Vaillant’s other main interest is the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Grab a cup of your favorite liquid and prepare to tune out for a half hour as you read the whole article.

A Victory for Obama and for Obama's America

Relief. It’s finally over. Obama is (still) President.

The speed at which the 2012 Presidential election came to a close was astonishing. The aggressive, lumbering, expensive build up over the past year and a half, with meteoric gains in velocity over the last 8 weeks, came to an abrupt and complete halt.

It all happened so quickly last night — and with so little in the way of added madness (save some Rove/Fox insanity). As major networks called the election, commentators shifted gears and began punditing almost immediately, with conservative bobbleheads predicting more gridlock and imminent doom as the world falls off a fiscal cliff.

John Cassidy, writing on a blog at the New Yorker, summed it up nicely.

With Obama on his way to the McCormick Place convention center in downtown Chicago to greet his supporters, the talking heads were already vying to predict what would happen next: two more years of Washington deadlock; a civil war inside the Republican Party as the long-muzzled moderates finally take on the likes of Sarah Palin and Grover Norquist; a reinvigorated President ready to reach across the party divide; a boom in the Colorado tourism industry as potheads the world over flock to the Rockies to get high. (A ballot initiative there to legalize marijuana passed by fifty-three per cent to forty-seven per cent.)

Hang on a minute, y’all. Who knows what the future holds? For now, let’s take the measure of what has happened, which is historic enough. For the fifth time in the past six Presidential elections, the Democrats have won the popular vote. For the second time in succession, Americans have elected a black man, the same black man, as President. Throughout the country, Republican extremists like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have been repudiated. Residents of Maryland and Maine (and probably Washington state, too) have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The United States of 2012 hasn’t turned into Scandinavia, but it isn’t the United States of 2010 and the Tea Party either. To the extent that the election was about anything more than negative advertising and relentless micro-targeting, it was a triumph of moderation over extremism, tolerance over intolerance, and the polyglot future over the monochrome past.

And we got a slight climate nod in the acceptance speech.

More fun with Google Trends

Fun times with Google Trends — this time featuring terms like Hurricane Sandy, Obama, Romney, and Presidential. More or less what you would expect — interesting to note Romney’s spike.

I should mentioned this before, but the values are all relative to some sort of Google-created Index. A bit hard to fully grasp what that means, but when/if I figure it out I’ll post an update here.

update:

The numbers on the graph reflect how many searches have been done for a particular term, relative to the total number of searches done on Google over time. They don’t represent absolute search volume numbers, because the data is normalized and presented on a scale from 0-100. Each point on the graph is divided by the highest point, or 100. When we don’t have enough data, 0 is shown.

Will Ferrell wants you to vote.

Obama’s twitter feed just posted this. Hilarious!

Decode DC: The DecodeDC Voter Guide

An exemplary episode of Andrea Seabrook’s new, crowd-funded, political podcast. The series is outstanding — but this is the best one yet, and offers a slightly more optimistic take on the election.

Perhaps the most cockeyed voter guide you’ve ever heard, this piece intentionally avoids the big issues of this race. Instead, Andrea talks to brilliant thinkers — among them Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Lawrence Lessig (The Future of Ideas, One Way Forward: The Outsider’s Guide to Fixing the Republic) and Jim Wallis (Sojourners, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It) — about what they’re thinking as they head to the voting booth.

Gott and Colley's Median Poll Statistics

A lot of talk in the blogsphere about Nate Silver and his ‘tarnished’ (pun-slap) reputation.

J. Richard Gott, III and Wesley N. Colley have their own, open and published statistical models that look at the median margin of victory. These chaps claim to be pretty right, pretty often.

As of the 5th of November, they have Obama winning 291-234. And then the vitriol will hopefully subside a bit.

David Byrne + St. Vincent on the Colbert Report

DB and St. Vincent discussed their album, their collective powerless apartments, and their use of showers in Brooklyn. Colbert suggested the three of them shower together in his office. And that SV and DB were eseentially dating.

The interview was hilariously awkward, with Colbert being Colbert, DB being DB, and Annie looking uncomfortable. It’s awesome, as were their performances on the show.

Hurricane Sandy News Coverage Declining (?)

Looks like coverage of Sandy is on the decline, despite numerous stories out there describing the heretofore untold devastation, environmental degradation, and suffering that continues. In the shadow of Tuesday’s election, coverage is shifting back to typical election-time tropes (red state, blue state, statistics, winners, losers).

All the while, hundreds of thousands of people are without electricity — and potentially without food or safe drinking water. If you can afford it, donate to the Red Cross or another group on the ground.

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