Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reverberations of Trends: The Death of the Artist—And the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur

The psychology of the perfect daily routine, how to criticize with kindness, the creative purpose of boredom, Kafka on what books do for the soul, and more.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her timeless reflection on presence over productivity — a timely antidote to the central anxiety of our productivity-obsessed age. 

If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are “crying for the moon.” We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die. If, then, we cannot live happily without an assured future, we are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where, despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.

Best of Maria in 2014   and  Why headlines matter

INK BOTTLE“Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man
How the Chinese mimic foreign brands

Will Canada and Australia turn out to have been bubbles of a kind, due to falling resource prices?  Will the global economy enter a new forty year period where Julian Simon is right once again about resource prices?  I say the word “bubble” is misleading here, but they will see a further growth slowdown in 2015 in those two nations

Hard-working artisan, solitary genius, credentialed professional—the image of the artist has changed radically over the centuries. What if the latest model to emerge means the end of art as we have known it? 

The Death of the Artist—And the Birth of the Creative Entrepreneur 

The Meaning of “Culture” The New Yorker

Enthusiasts and Skeptics Debate Artificial Intelligence

Veterans of the Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan Have Turned Combat into Literature

Americans love public transportation. So why don’t they use it? Buses Are for Other People

Read Kara Swisher’s profile of controversial Uber C.E.O. Travis Kalanick. Man and Uber Man

The NSW government has confirmed it raided the offices of Uber, the organisation behind the increasingly popular ride-sharing service UberX. The search of Uber's offices occurred in April, about the same time the company launched the UberX ride-sharing service. Uber 

Be afraid. Be very afraid.  Wall Street Rises Again

Studio m architecture recently built this minimal dwelling that rests upon the leafy terrain in Thuin, Belgium. Its design is simple, flexible and economical, and its warm wooden interiors are filled with natural light that comes in from all angles. Built from interconnected wooden boxes, this unique geometric home has a total of 14 different facades Belgium barns
By no means a newcomer to Prague’s music scene, Lucerna Music Bar has hosted scores of acts international and local, novel and historical, since its opening around the turn of the last century. This 800-capacity concert club located inside the Lucerna passage was designed by the grandfather of Václav Havel.

The Interview Makes $15M Working From the Computer With One Weird Trick Gawker

Smart Pipe Adult Swim (YouTube)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Playing the Tax 'Audit Lottery' : Offshore Tax Crimes Scorecard: Bankers, Lawyers, Advisers

Wall Street Journal, How Google, GE and U.S. Firms Play the Tax ‘Audit Lottery’:
Buried deep in American companies’ securities filings is an indicator for how aggressively they are working to shield their income from the IRS and other tax authorities.
The obscure entry—under the heading “uncertain tax positions” or “unrecognized tax benefits”—is where companies account for tax breaks that push the envelope. And they are adding up.
Exxon Mobil reported that it had $7.8 billion of these uncertain tax positions outstanding as of Dec. 31, including $1.5 billion from 2013 alone. Pfizer reported $6.1 billion, including $1.2 billion from 2013. Google reported $3.1 billion at the end of September, up from $2.6 billion at the end of 2013.
All told, companies in the S&P 500 had amassed $188 billion in unrecognized tax benefits by the end of their 2013 fiscal years—$21 billion of which was related to that year’s taxes, according a Wall Street Journal analysis of figures from Calcbench Inc., a financial data provider. The companies have added between $19 billion and $22 billion of new uncertain tax positions each year since 2010.
Accounting rules define these tax benefits as ones that tax authorities have strong grounds to reject, by the companies’ own analysis. Seeking those breaks is perfectly legal, and since companies have already lowered their profit numbers as if the taxes had been paid, there’s little risk in rolling the dice. A win down the road will boost profits, while a loss typically does no additional damage. Either way, companies often get to use the disputed cash in the meantime. ...

Offshore Tax Crimes Scorecard: Bankers, Lawyers, Advisers

German state buys tax CD containing Swiss bank client data   

Bank Leumi Admits to Assisting U.S. Taxpayers in Hiding Assets in Offshore Bank Accounts  

Swedish TV documentary on Luxembourg tax leaks and PFI business  

The Vatican Bank, Christmas Cheer, and FATCA (Tax Analysts Blog). “The pontiff is cool with tax transparency.”

Michael Hatfield (University of Washington), Taxation and Surveillance: An Agenda:
Among government agencies, the IRS likely has the surest legal claim to the most information about the most Americans: your hobbies; your religious affiliation; your reading; your travel; and your medical information are all potentially tax relevant. Privacy scholars have studied the arrival of Big Data, the internet-of-things, and the surveillance joint venture of government and private companies, but neither privacy nor tax scholars have considered how these technological advances could improve tax administration. As government agencies and private companies increasingly pursue what has been described as the “growing gush of data,” the use of these technologies in tax administration will become increasingly important to consider. This Essay provides an agenda of items for discussion, debate, and research related to the development, implementation, and effects of moving towards a surveillance-facilitated tax system.

Tracy A. Kaye (Seton Hall), Innovations in the War on Tax Evasion, 2014 BYU L. Rev. 363:
Offshore tax evasion is a global problem that requires a global solution. Nevertheless, the United States unilaterally responded to the offshore tax evasion problem by enacting the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. FATCA requires foreign banks to report information about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers directly to the Internal Revenue Service and imposes a thirty percent withholding tax on certain U.S. payments to any bank that will not cooperate. Yet, U.S. banks were not required to report any information on nonresident account holders (except for Canadians) to anyone. FATCA garnered worldwide attention. The European Union expressed its concerns to the U.S. Treasury about the compliance burden on the financial industry and the conflict with EU Member States’ laws on privacy and data protection. Treasury is resolving these issues by negotiating bilateral agreements known as Intergovernmental Agreements (IGAs) that will require reciprocity on the part of the United States in the exchange of information. These IGAs are furthering the movement toward global transparency as most FATCA partner jurisdictions intend to require reporting on all nonresident accounts rather than just U.S. accounts. This could lead to the development of a multilateral platform for the exchange of information that is critical to combating offshore tax evasion. This Article urges the United States to adopt the regulations and legislation that are necessary before the United States can provide its FATCA partners with the same information that they have been asked to give the U.S. government. The United States should play a leadership role in furthering global transparency and take the steps required to no longer function as a tax haven for tax evaders from other countries. The IGA with Mexico that entered into force on January 1, 2013, is an appropriate vehicle for the United States to demonstrate this renewed commitment to the exchange of information.

Bloomberg:  The Greatest Tax Story Ever Told, by Zachary R. Mider:
The only operetta ever written about Subpart F of the Internal Revenue Code made its debut on a rainy Sunday evening in May 1990, in a Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park. In bow ties and spring blazers, partners of the law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell dined on lobster prepared by a Milanese chef. Then everyone gathered around a piano, and a pair of professional opera singers, joined by the few Davis Polk men who could carry a tune, performed what sounded like a collaboration of Gilbert & Sullivan and Ernst & Young.
The 13-minute operetta, Charlie’s Lament, told how the party’s host, John Carroll Jr., invented a whole category of corporate tax avoidance and successfully defended it in a fight with the Internal Revenue Service. The lawyers sang:
The Feds may be screaming,
But we all are beaming
’Cause we’ll never pay taxes,
We’ll never pay taxes,
Never pay taxes again!
The first corporate “inversion,” as Carroll’s maneuver came to be known, was obscure then and is all but forgotten now. Yet at least 45 companies have followed the lead of Carroll’s client, New Orleans-based construction company McDermott International, and shifted their legal addresses to low-tax foreign nations. Total corporate savings so far: at least $9.8 billion—money that otherwise would have gone to the U.S. government.

Good Friendship & Science & The Rise and Fall of the Philosophical Gourmet

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom
WE ALL HAVE FRIENDS, BUT HOW MANY OF US ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A TRUE BEST FRIEND? Phil, Krick and James made our pre New Year period filled with stories and water popo fun ;-)

Everyone should havea friend like you
You are so much fun to be with
And you are such a good person
You crack me up with laughter
And touch my heart with your kindness
You have a wonderful ability
To know when to offer advice
And when to sit in quiet support
Time after time
You've come to my rescue
And brightend so many
Of my routine days
And time after time
I've realized how fortunateI am that my life includes you
I really do believe that
Everybody should have a friend like you
But so far it looks like
You are one of a kind!

New Year’s Eve Partying Could Wreck Your Immune System Business Insider (David L)

When someone hears the term "health wearables" they most often think of devices like the Jawbone Up or the Misfit Flash that help users track their steps taken and calories burned. But an increasing number of startups are turning away from the consumer fitness sector to focus on wearable technology that could literally save lives.
One such startup is BioSerenity, which last week won the first annual iiAwards, an extension of the prestigious Grands Prix de l’innovation awarded by the City of Paris. The focus of the iiAwards is to recognize an outstanding startup that is developing technology that could have a truly meaningful impact on people’s lives. Good Science

A pair of economists seek to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought in order to predict what sort of environments increase incentives for labor coercion. Rise of bad science

To read with sensitivity for nuance, meaning, and atmosphere is a tricky business. Tim Parks has a few thoughts on how to do it better

This fall, one of the most powerful institutions in the field of philosophy in this country began to collapse…
In “The Rise and Fall of the Philosophical Gourmet Report,” a brief post at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, historian Ben Alpers takes a look at one of the major stories in the philosophy profession this year. Alpers is cautious about his account of the story—more marking it for future analysis than delving into it deeply. He is self-conscious about his status as an outsider to the profession, but he also takes a stab at understanding its significance

On a small town college campus, a philosophy professor in existential crisis gives his life new purpose when he enters into a relationship with his student.
That is the description of Woody Allen’s currently untitled 2015 movie. It is in post-production and stars Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Jamie Blackley, and Parker Posey. More information here and here.

INK BOTTLE“One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and more symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.”
~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Monday, December 29, 2014

“I Wonder as I Wander” And on the Fifth Day

Henry Miller memorably put it“It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.”)

''In the NSW Labor Party, there is a willingness to tolerate, even worship, the cult of whatever it takes, the Richo culture. It's admired. But that culture, taken to extremes, ends up in this grotesque corruption.''

- Anne Davies, Sean Nicholls, Linton Besser

What is the greatest upset in history? The Big Question

 Whoever will lead the party after the caucus ballot on January 5, be it environment spokesman Luke Foley, treasury spokesman Michael Daley or police spokesman Steve Whan, will be inherit a cupboard bare of major policies, except for one, opposition to the privatisation of electricity assets. Unions NSW, overlords of the parliamentary party, would be unlikely to allow anything else, leaving the opposition more in tune with the economic and political culture of 50 years ago. Mr Foley, the leadership frontrunner, has already said he would continue Labor’s opposition to the lease of electricity businesses.
Good Policies Needed

Nothing Changes as Much as the Past CounterPunch


“I am nobody’s friend. How much can you pay?”
- Rex Stout, Fer-de-Lance

For Labor, it was a case of third time lucky. With a new leader in either Daley or upper house leader Luke Foley, the party has a chance to make itself relevant again, and to present a more equal combatant to the untouchable Baird.
Blessings in Disguise

INK BOTTLE“You touch on a disheartening truth. People never want to be told anything they do not believe already.”
~ James Branch Cabell, The Cream of the Jest

The Sun-Herald also understands Foley has the support of right-wing MPs including Health spokesman Walt Secord. Party Politics

On July 30, 2010, Mr McConnell writes to Mr Sinodinos: “Comrade, I have a letter from BOF to Nick Di Girolamo on my desk. I want to make sure you can use ... (it) is an indirect letter of support for your project so you can go back to Walt (Secord, Kristina Keneally’s chief of staff). KK

'There are two types of people in the Labor Party,'' one senior state MP says. They were '' those who bent the knee and kissed Eddie's ring, and those who kept their distance because they thought him so odious''.
To Labor's shame, only a handful stood up to the high priest of the Right, Eddie Obeid, found by the Independent Commission Against Corruption this week to have engaged in corrupt conduct. Obeid became a regular at Labor fund-raisers, and was introduced to Richardson's great friend Rene Rivkin. It was Rivkin to whom Obeid turned to help finance the purchase of an old printing press from the Packer empire. The name of the company, Offset Alpine, has been in the news ever since.
Obeid painstakingly constructed a web of patronage during his 20 years as a powerbroker in the NSW Parliament.
''Immediately after he retired, was he a person of influence? Absolutely,'' one senior Labor figure says. ''And that extended to the ninth floor [NSW Labor's head office in Sussex Street].''
The clearest evidence of this was the deal Obeid cut with party officials when they were trying to convince him to leave Parliament. Obeid insisted that if he agreed to go, then he should be replaced by Walt Secord - the former chief of staff to Keneally and treasurer Eric Roozendaal.
The exodus of Labor MPs at the 2011 state election means Obeid's influence is significantly reduced in the NSW Parliament. But it remains alive in pockets of local government.
Obeid is said to be particularly close to the Burwood mayor John Faker and also Parramatta councillor Pierre Esber.
The mayor of Canada Bay, Angelo Tsirekas, is also commonly mentioned, but this is largely believed to be due to the Obeids having lived and worked in the local area.

Rise and Fall of the Godfather Obeid

He's a big man but he's highly energetic. I'd be surprised if he didn't find his way into the shadow ministry very early on. Robbo and co. will be listening to what he has to say because there was no one better at dealing with the press gallery than Walt

He was creative, says Hawker. He could always muster up a [positive] story from virtually nothing. You need someone like that in government. He had the energy to trawl through the Government Gazette and find things others had missed. The Trolley of Truth; Patrick Low, the former press secretary to Education Minister John Aquilina, told the commission he was pressured by Mr Carr's press secretary, Walter Secord, to shore up a rumour the 15-year-old had access to a gun because it would make a better story 

The lack of political diversity is not a threat to the validity of specific studies in many and perhaps most areas of research in social psychology. The lack of diversity causes problems for the scientific process primarily in areas related to the political concerns of the left—areas such as race, gender, stereotyping, environmentalism, power, and inequality—as well as in areas where conservatives themselves are studied, such as in moral and political psychology. And even in those areas, we are not suggesting that most of the studies are flawed or erroneous. Rather, we argue that the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.
The paper is entitled “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.”

“He is a self-styled public-relations counselor—one of the various modern activities that are an insult to the dignity of man.”
~ Rex Stout, The Father Hunt

PS: Interesting observation from the SMH

Follow the leader   

The new leader of the ALP in NSW worked in the office of a Labor senator and then for a union, before the ALP anointed him to take a seat in the upper house ("Foley has clear run in race for Labor's top job", December 31). The previous leader of the ALP had the same richly diverse working history. The ALP line of succession is looking more and more like one of those sci-fi stories where a group of intelligent machines are replicating themselves.  
 Joe Weller Lewisham

Cherish foreignness

Revisiting Dostoyevsky’s St. Petersburg haunts in the Putin era Fyodor’s Guide
Cherish foreignness. Enjoying the convenience of modern travel, we underestimate the differences of other lands. That’s a mistake... Differences of other cultures

Creativity for creationists

Waiting for the Sunrise The Archdruid Report 

Reacting to the Sony Hack Bruce Schneier

Elevator pitch: Slapstick comedy about worst movie ever made becoming box-office smash when it’s hacked by North Korea Will Bunch

Sony to show ‘Interview’ in some cinemas Financial Times. Gawker reports 200 screens v. the 3000 originally slotted (Bloomberg now says 300). But note: Obama hails The Interview screenings BBC. This is cringe-making.

World’s deepest fish found: Ghostly snailfish is found lurking 27,000ft below at the bottom of the Pacific’s Mariana Trench Daily Mail

Bruce Feirstein considers Kim Kardashian and Kim Jong-un’s efforts at global Internet domination. Who Really Broke the ’Net?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Science Journal Fraud: Paying for Placement

Barber woke from coma speaking fluent French and thinking he was Matthew McConaughey Telegraph

The Cold-Medicine Racket Atlantic

Corruption has become the biggest growth business in the US. The latest example is the subversion of peer-reviewed research in top scientific journals. This isn’t as crass as pay to play in public pension funds, but the results are just as bad. Here, it appears that Chinese services are offering a whole menu of scholarly paper placement services. That does not mean helping you get your paper placed, but letting you buy a completed and not necessarily valid paper and charing you for getting it published with you as an author, with the price depending on the impact factor of the publication. The article also describes other scams, such as bogus peer reviews.
The Chinese services are so large scale that it enabled them to be caught out. But that raised the uncomfortable question of how many other vendors there are who operate with more finesse and on a smaller scale and have yet to be exposed.

On December 17, 2014, Scientific American published an investigative report by journalist Charles Seife documenting a new and curious form of scholarly publication fraud, For Sale: “Your Name Here” in a Prestigious Science Journal. As an editor and supporter of evidence-based medicine I am both appalled by, and sympathetic to, how such widespread fraud could take place unnoticed. Paying for placement

Rolling Stone magazine requests audit of discredited gang rape story Reuters (EM)

Bankers Brought Rating Agencies ‘To Their Knees’ On Tobacco Bonds ProPublica (EM)

These experts still don’t buy the FBI claim that North Korea hacked Sony Los Angeles Times

Creative accounting is nothing new for the Eurozone Fistful of Euros

Inquiry in Anthrax Mailings Had Gaps, Report Says New York Times

GAO Analysis Highlights Lab Samples Excluded in Sloppy FBI Anthrax Investigation Emptywheel

The Triumphant Rise of the Shitpic The Awl

Is It Bad Enough Yet? New York Times

Q&A: Ian Klaus on the History of Fraudsters, Fakes, the Financial Press, and More The Baffler

Cause And Effect: The Revolutionary New Statistical Test That Can Tease Them Apart Medium (original paper).

The Crowdsourcing Scam The Baffler

Top managers’ pay reveals weak link to value FT. Shocker!

Oil heavyweights differ on catalyst for crude price rebound Financial Times. We pointed out the Harry Hamm v. Saudi divergence yesterday. Hamm has this all wrong. First, the Saudis are bigger than he is. Second, they have a large sovereign wealth fund. They don’t need oil revenues to fund government spending. In fact, Moodys said that the Saudis plus three of the other five major Gulf states could fund spending for several years out of their sovereign wealth funds. And on top of that, the Saudi government has little debt and thus plenty of borrowing capacity. But if this is what the US shale industry is telling itself, they are going to keep pumping until the Saudis crush them.

Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the Senior Officer at the Center of the CIA’s Torture Scandals The Intercept. Hmm. The director of the airport used for the Polish black site Stare Kiejkuty mentions a woman meeting one of the torture flights… And Greenwald mentions Bikowsky took a hand in at least one torture session….

‘Why the Innocent Plead Guilty’: An Exchange NYRB

Predatory Fining and Mass Surveillance Marginal Revolution

Man can’t challenge $280K tax bill he probably doesn’t really owe, Pa. court says Patriot-News Philly sends out huge, “made up” delinquency notices to get taxpayers “to induce the targeted taxpayer to contact the city’s revenue department.”

Putting bedbugs to bed forever Science Dailyd

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sea Change

I wish to goodness my life were not always a circle. I wish I were not always resting beneath the umbrella of my own personality.
-John P. Marquand, The Late George Apley

 'Tis the season when Aussies love to go on holidays, wind down and dream of a better life. One without a crippling city mortgage, where work doesn't equal stress, with plenty of time for afternoon surfs and relaxing with family and friends. Ahhhhh, the serenity Sea change

“Sea change,” “drop in the bucket,” “give a wide berth” weren’t always clichés. They entered the vocabulary as clever novelties  Sea Change

I can’t teach someone to write,” says John Casey, “but I can sometimes teach someone to rewrite.” What he can teach them is craft... The invisible art 

The writing of history has its own history, which was indelibly shaped by the ambitious and flawed New Left historians His Stories

Never date a writer

Interview with Piketty, more than just the usual, recommended, he also needs some PR training. - See more at:
Interview with Piketty, more than just the usual, recommended, he also needs some PR training. - See more at:

M.F.A.s: An Increasingly Popular, Increasingly Bad Financial Decision

Like many graduate degrees, a Master of Fine Arts carries rising costs and brings limited job prospects So why are more Americans pursuing one? M.F.A.s: Bad investments

When to quit your journalism job PressThink

How One Indigenous Woman Took On a Multinational Mining Corporation… And Won Common Dreams 

INK BOTTLE“I have always wanted to be somebody’s best friend, but never succeeded. I have no friends, only acquaintances: You have no idea how curious it is to live one’s whole life like a cat: or have you?”
~ T.H. White, letter to L.J. Potts (courtesy of Levi Stahl)

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boy Oh Boy Boxing Day

Dear Kids The Awl. While this is suitably upbeat, in an interesting contrarian way, I stil take issue with it. It’s one thing to be beset by external threats. It’s another to see the fabric of your own society being shredded for the mere sake of profit and bad ideology.  

Do Not Listen to the Crazy Man Telling You to Quit Your Job Gawker (JTFaraday)

Lodge repair bill doubles

The Lodge
RENOVATIONS to the PM’s official Canberra residence have blown out to $6.4m — more than double the initial estimate.

Comedy a flop, try adult theme

LABOR and Liberals need to take a good hard look at themselves, and each other.

Grimm tidings. A Congressman pleads guilty to tax fraud involving a restaurant he owned. From the New York Times:
Michael G. Grimm, the Republican representing New York’s 11th Congressional District, who carried the burden of a 20-count federal indictment to a landslide re-election in November, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a single felony charge of tax fraud.
Representative Grimm said he had no intention of stepping down. “Absolutely not,” he said.

Intoxication is an allure best managed, not escaped. This insight – simple and profound – stretches back to Euripides, at a time when drunkenness was new Memories of Nanny June's Christmas Luncheon

Beer For Creativity: ‘The Problem Solver’ Comes With Scale To Measure When You’re At Your ‘Creative Peak’ Medical Daily. Chuck L: “So you’re at your most creative just before you’re too drunk to legally drive (0.08 in most states).”

Pain Really Does Make Us Gain The New Yorker. What’s the best kind of pain?[1] 

Death by a thousand apps. Self-reliance has given way to learned helplessness. Automation makes our lives safer and easier. But the costs are dear Cuts

The folly of fame. Why do we think being remembered will make us immortal? Blame a cognitive blip, part of our evolutionary constitution In Pursuit of Emptiness

Listen closely to two decades of The New York Times’s nonfiction best-seller list and you will hear a shrill cry for help from the American people Cry Cold River Cry

Pity Santas elves. They work all year for a jolly but demanding boss who pays a pittance – or nothing at all – and hogs all the credit  Reality of Boxing Day

Seamus Heaney disdained the righteous, the politically certain, the morally overbearing. He was committed to complication Hard Arguments

Debt Collectors Hound Millions of Retired Americans NBC 

Ancient Egyptian technology may be our first line of defense from hospital infections Daily Kos (furzy mouse). Remember the Three Magis’ gifts of frankensense, gold and myrrh? Myrrh, a natural antibiotic, was the most expense of the three at the time. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Czech out the original and legal versions of the classic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
The Wall Street Journal has published this wonderful editorial each Christmas since 1949, In Hoc Anno Domini:
When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.
Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.
But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression -- for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?
There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?
Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.
And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance
The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle. From the Ayn Rand Lexicon

Should you keep your kids in the dark about Santa not being who he says he is?  Who you say he is?  Will Wilkinson says he will:
Well, we’re atheists. I don’t intend to proselytize atheism to my kid, because I’m not interested in getting him to believe anything in particular. What I’m interested in is teaching him how to reason in a way that maximizes his chances of hitting on the truth. Now, one of the most interesting truths about the empirical world is that there are all these powerful systems of myth that are kept afloat by a sort of mass conspiracy, and humans seem disposed to pick one from the ambient culture and take it very seriously. But it can be hard to get your head around the way it all works unless you participate in it. Santa is a perfect and relatively harmless way to introduce your child the socio-psychology of a collective delusion about the supernatural. The disillusionment that comes from the exposure to the truth about Santa breeds a general skepticism about similarly ill-founded popular beliefs in physics-defying creatures.
I say why not leave them guessing, hovering in a state of Bayesian Santa doubt?  My parents never told me Santa “was real,” but they didn’t tell me he “wasn’t real” either, so I slid rather gracefully into my Santa non-belief.  I don’t recall ever feeling disillusioned by a sense of loss and in fact those presents kept on coming.  I even had a clearer sense of the appropriate channel for making gift requests, what’s not to like about that?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Malchkeon: Birdsong and human speech turn out to be controlled by the same genes

Above rescued Juvenile Delinquent Wattle Bird by heroine Malchkeon - she risked her life to safe the creature.

The opening chord from Hard Day’s Night
Birdsong and human speech turn out to be controlled by the same genes WaPo. The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium “reordered the bird tree of life.” This work is so totally non-crapified it’s a real pleasure to see.

Antipodean backyard at night:

"YOU don't have to be perfect to do what you want"
You Tube on How Media Dragon Became Perfect

You’re Just Like Me!

Why we choose partners who share our traits

Wigilia, or, how to have a Christmas with Kristof and Lidia

Tucked away in the folds of the ancient mountains that embrace the Kezmarok and Poprad valleys lay a royal town called Vrbov (meaning "willow"). A weeping at times. But mostly happy little village of a few hundred souls with a robust sense of humour. That night in 1957, Vrbov was gripped by mid winter day frostiness. It was two evenings before Christmas Eve. All the children were listening for the bells of Saint Nicholas' sleigh and motherly figures were bustling about with Christmas preparations. Food words
Magic of Christmas

To read with sensitivity during Wigilia for nuance, meaning, and atmosphere is a tricky business. Tim Parks has a few thoughts on how to do it better. How to read between the lines  

-The REAL Santa Claus Washington’s Dragon

 A traditional Wigilia begins with the youngest child in the household being sent outside to spot the first star. Then it begins – with opłatki. We skipped the kid (the star came out anyway, on its own) and moved directly to the opłatki. According to Sarah Zielinski on NPR, writing about opłatki here:
Nothing says “I love you,” at least in my Polish-American family, quite like the sharing of a thin, flat, tasteless wafer called an opłatek at Christmas.

Slavic Memories: Pilhov motto “Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!”

Daughter of the Velvet Revolution Sa(r)sha Dubcek Simone songmisterss who penned and sang ‪#‎ohboy‬
#ohboy is on  rotation on triple j... (Kevin Jacobson is behind the name and radio as he fist labeled itnamed it double J in 1970 in order to promote Aussie talent)
To request  #ohboy text it to 0439 757 555 or phone 1300 055 536
  ‪#‎triplej‬ ‪#‎rotation‬

Muneshine x Raashan Ahmad

“‘The first step in liquidating a people,’ said Hübl, ‘is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.’
“If Franz Kafka was the prophet of a world without memory, Gustáv Husák is its creator. After T.G. Masaryk, who is known as the liberator-president (all his monuments without exception have been demolished) … Husák, the seventh president of my country, is known as the president of forgetting.  Husak the president of forgetting who never forgot the story of Cold River 

Author Ursula Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards and inspired the crowd by holding up freedom as an author's best prize. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

She said many things needed to change, and that change often begins in art, specifically the art of words. Writing books according to marketing formulas for corporate profit is a rotten idea, she said. We need artists.  Her speech was short, so you can easily watch the whole thing here.

In an interview, Le Guin said, “If you’re going to create a world out of whole cloth, that is to say, out of words, then you better get the words right.” You can read about her and her many books in The Guardian.

In an era that is so cynical about its politicians and leaders, it’s nice to know that Václav Havel even existed (we’ve written about him here and here)
Revolutions are often betrayed and end in blood. Since 1989, we have seen the use and abuse of people power many times — most recently in the Arab Spring. Yet the Velvet Revolution remains as an unsurpassed model of peaceful change.
How did Havel do it? Tension had been rising since the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9. On November 17, 1989, the riot police crushed a demonstration in Prague and a student was (falsely) reported killed. Three days later, having set up the “Civic Forum”, Havel appeared before a sea of 150,000 people in Wenceslas Square. Once he had drawn a critical mass of people to the square, the old fear of the secret police vanished. The atmosphere was festive, never menacing, with speakers appealing to the crowds, who answered spontaneously but in unison. They dared to mock Miloš Jakeš, the general secretary of the Communist Party, who had hitherto been a much-feared bogeyman. “Miloš, it’s over,” they chanted.
And it was. Four days later, Jakeš and the rest of the party leadership fell on their swords and resigned. I recall the mood in Wenceslas Square when the news was announced. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” wrote Wordsworth, but the French Revolution was violent from the start. What happened in Prague in 1989 was nothing like Paris in 1789. The peaceful vigils in Wenceslas Square could not have been more different from the storming of the Bastille, let alone the Terror.

Havel (Howell) The man who was the soul of the nation

Cato is and should be unhappy with Vaclav Klaus.