Friday, October 30, 2009

Mickey Mouse Comics Drawn by Concentration Camp Prisoner

I saw this on Boing Boing Mickey Mouse comics drawn by concentration camp prisoner. Here's the abstract of a paper:

"Gurs, near the Pyrenees, was the largest camp in the occupied zone of France. In spite of the deplorable conditions in the camp, cultural activities flourished, as in other French internment camps in both zones. In addition to conferences, concerts and plays, this extensive artistic creativity included the works of several artists, who produced drawings and watercolours and mounted exhibitions. The artists, who were political and/or racial refugees, used their works of art, through irony and satire, as a means of protest against the French authorities, who, contrary to hopes and expectations, had turned out to be a collaborator of the Nazi regime. Among the many works of art produced in Gurs those of Horst Rosenthal (Breslau 1915 - Auschwitz 1942?) deserve special attention. He left behind two graphic novels - Mickey au Camp de Gurs - Publie sans l'authorisation de Walt Disney (Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp - Published without Walt Disney's Permission) and Le Journe d'un hberg: Camp de Gurs 1942 (A Day in the Life of a Resident: Gurs Internment Camp, 1942) (Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, Paris). Each of these booklets vividly depicts daily life in Gurs. The former is narrated from the point of view of Mickey Mouse, while the latter is written in fairy tale style as a 'book of hours', with an omnipresent author who records and illustrates a day in the life of the young 'resident'. The humorous cartoon-like images, together with the nave, amusing and 'childish' texts, stand in sharp contrast to the harsh reality of the camp, thus enhancing the criticism which lies behind them. In an ironical twist of history, Rosenthal's Mickey Mouse can be seen as the forerunner of Art Spiegelman's Maus, but, tragically, Rosenthal did not survive to witness his artistic legacy."

And here's the paper online which begins with a page of the comics. I want to see more of the comics.

Quantum Gravity Theories Wiped Out by a Gamma Ray Burst

Ars Technica explains Quantum gravity theories wiped out by a gamma ray burst. "One of the awkward aspects of modern physics is that its two most successful fields, relativity and quantum mechanics, are fundamentally incompatible, as things happen in the quantum world that relativity says should not be possible. That's left physicists looking for a way to harmonize the two, with two primary contenders: string theories, and quantum gravity theories. Testing either of them has been a bit challenging, but researchers have now managed to use a single, intensely powerful photon detected by the Fermi Telescope to significantly limit the number of viable quantum gravity theories."

20 Years of Newspaper Circulation Graphed

The Awl has A Graphic History of Newspaper Circulation Over the Last Two Decades. Maybe there is something to charging for your online content...

A Vegan and a Hummer...

Adam Pasick writes Crunching the numbers on a vegan in a Hummer.

"‘Our meat eating is one of the most important contributors we make to climate change,’ said Pollan, who is best known for his book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma.’ ‘A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.’ It’s a great line and quite a mental image, one that wowed the audience and quickly  spread on Twitter. Too bad it’s not true."

Nice to see Pollan out there trying to correct things.

Arguing About Firefly

"Lani Diane Rich is a bestselling, award-winning author of nine novels." Here is her essay Things My Husband and I Have Argued About While Watching Firefly which is quite a lot of fun and contains spoilers for the series and the movie Serenity.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hillary Clinton Takes a Sharper Tone With Pakistan

The New York TImes reports From Clinton, Sharper Tone With Pakistan on Al Qaeda.

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on a visit meant to improve relations with Pakistan, strongly suggested Thursday that some Pakistani officials bore responsibility for allowing Al Qaeda terrorists to operate from safe havens along this country’s frontier.

‘I find it hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are, and couldn’t get to them if they really wanted to,’ she said to a group of Pakistani journalists on her second day here. ‘Maybe that’s the case; maybe they’re not gettable. I don’t know.’"

I have no idea if this is a good move or not, but it sounds refreshing to hear. Then again, I'm not Pakistani.

Ares I-X Launch Image Gallery

Universe Today has an Ares I-X Launch Image Gallery "There are some great images of Wednesday's Ares I-X launch. Most notable is this one of the Prandtl–Glauert singularity bow shock that formed around the 327-foot-tall rocket as it went supersonic at about 39 seconds into the flight"


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Chemical Wedding iPhone Apps

Previously I wrote about my friends at Chemical Wedding who created an iPhone App, Helios. They've been working hard and have released two others.

Artemis is another app for the professional filmmaker. It turns the camera into a director's viewfinder and has a database of different lenses. "Artemis uses the camera in the iPhone to simulate the lens views you can expect when you come to shoot. You can either compare all the lenses (as above) or hit zoom and the camera will zoom in to fill the viewfinder with the equivalent view of the lens you've chosen."

Their other app is more general purpose augmented reality app. "Cyclopedia uses the iPhone camera, compass and GPS together to created an augmented reality of the world by overlaying Wikipedia information over the viewfinder. By moving the iPhone around you will see articles pop up according to the direction you are pointing, You can then click on the title to get a quick overview article and, if you want to know more, you can then dive deeper into the full article." I requires an iPhone 3GS.

House GOP turns to Oliver North on Afghanistan

Politico reports House GOP turns to Oliver North on Afghanistan. "House Republicans have a new foreign policy adviser with a controversial pedigree: Oliver North."

“Col. North is someone who enjoys the very broad respect of the House Republican Conference,” Pence said.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Hey Jude Flowchart

koufukuron has a Hey Jude Flowchart.

Karzai's Brother on C.I.A. Payroll

So the big story from last night, by the New York Times, Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll. "Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials."

I'm really not surprised, but I think Spencer Ackerman put it well: "At this point, everything about the U.S. policy toward the Afghan drug trade — from tolerance to eradication during the Bush administration to an evolving approach to cultivating alternatives — now ought to be questioned. As in questioned in open congressional session. CIA money funds a politically connected drug dealer. Opium funds the Taliban. We are in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. How much CIA money has indirectly funded the Taliban?"

And of course, this is right after John Kerry (D-MA) said (oh so slowly) all those good things about him.

Schwarzenegger Gives California Legislature A Hidden Finger

Follow this link and read the short veto note: Schwarzenegger Gives California Legislature A Hidden Finger.

If you add the s from Sincerely then it sounds like a Pittsburgh accent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Interview With Warren Spector

I'd never heard of it but Epic Mickey is a Wii game in development that will feature Mickey Mouse. Game Informer has really interesting Interview With Warren Spector the creator of the game (and of Deus Ex).

Now I want to see some Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons.

Swine Flu Vaccine Shortage: Why?

NPR asks Swine Flu Vaccine Shortage: Why?. There's not a lot of depth but there's at least something.

"Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say for months, the companies didn't realize how far short their vaccine 'yields' were falling. That's because they didn't have the chemicals — called reagents — that would have told them how much active ingredient they had in their vaccine production vats."

"Vaccine yield problems with swine flu are not new. Last July, vaccine manufacturers reported problems in growing the new H1N1 virus - or, rather, a hybrid of the swine flu virus and a standard vaccine virus strain - in chicken eggs. That's a crucial step in the current technology for making flu vaccines. However, CDC scientists thought those problems had been overcome. Unfortunately, not so. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that some vaccine manufacturers have had only one-fifth the viral yield from chicken eggs that they expected."

So there's a shortage in vaccine production and the economy is weak, sounds like a business opportunity. And I think to differentiate yourself from the competition, someone should start marketing flu vaccine grown only in organic cage-free pastured eggs.

Debunking Suzanne Somers' Knockout

Dr. David Gorski in Science-Based Medicine writes Suzanne Somers’ Knockout: Dangerous misinformation about cancer (part 1) which shreds Somer's new book and promotional tour. It's long and detailed and good.

Turns out Somers had a serious reaction to a fungal infection called valley fever because her immune system was weakened due to the steroids she takes. But she doesn't understand that the cortisol replacement therapy she's on is in fact steroids and weakens (not strengthens) her immune system.

Why can't any of the news programs she goes on to promote her book do any fact-checking?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why The Big Banks Should Be Broken Up

Robert Reich on Too Big to Fail: Why The Big Banks Should Be Broken Up, But Why The White House and Congress Don't Want To "What to do? Two ideas are floating around Washington, but only one is supported by the Treasury and the White House. Unfortunately, it's the wrong one. "

My Only Use of Wolfram Alpha

I'm 16,000 days old today.

Catching Up on Movie Reviews

I'm way behind in movie reviews so here are a bunch of short ones of the better films I've seen recently.

I'm sorry I missed Gran Torino at the beginning of the year and I'm sorry I've had it out from Netflix for 4 months before watching it. I remember the commercials of a Dirty Harry-like character snarling "Get off of my lawn" and had the wrong thoughts. Well yeah, that is the film, but it really works. Eastwood is a cranky old man, who doesn't really like his kids or spoiled grandchildren and who's wife just died. Next a Hmung family moves in and he gets to know them and begrudgingly becomes a father figure to the teenage children. It may be formulaic, but a lot of good films are; and this one mostly avoids the sappiness because the characters remain consistent.

An Education is based on a memoir of British journalist Lynn Barber. Set in 1961, in the London suburb of Twickenham, Jenny is a promising 17 year-old student trying to get into Oxford. She's bored by her studies and hard work and meets David, who's twice her age and takes her to concerts, jazz clubs, auctions and Paris. She struggles between getting an education in school and one in life. Carey Mulligan in a career defining performance as Jenny evokes Audrey Hepburn. Peter Sarsgaard somehow manages to make David not as creepy as he sounds. Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike and Emma Thompson make a stellar supporting cast.

Amelia is a gorgeous biopic about a fascinating woman that manages to be boring. The cinematography, art direction and costumes are great but the script is so shallow that the characters barely unfold. I didn't know much about her but this film didn't teach me much more than she had an open marriage and an affair with Gore Vidal's father. The wikipedia page is far more interesting. Hilary Swank was the perfect casting choice, but Richard Gere is just ok as her husband. He's 25 years older than her while Earhart's husband was only 10 years older. Does Hollywood have no 35 year-old actors?

Seven Pounds stars Will Smith as a wealthy troubled soul going around and helping strangers. The story is told non-linearly and his motivation is kept as a mystery. At just over two hours this goes on too long and is too self-consciously serious. Rosario Dawson breathes some life into the film as a dying woman needing a transplant. I read a number of complaints about the ending but ti worked for me, just wasn't good enough to make up for getting there.

I know Neil LaBute from films like In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things that are designed to piss of their audience. He directed Lakeview Terrace but didn't write it. Given that one of the writers wrote Star Trek V and Money Train, LaBute probably would have helped it. Samuel L. Jackson plays the widowed father of two teenagers. He's an angry LA cop who is unhappy about the mixed racial couple that moves in next door. What starts out as passive aggressive behavior could have been typical LaBute challenging but just turns crazy. Avoid this, I wish I had.

I saw the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three as a kid, I'm not sure if it was on TV or in the theater but I remember really liking it. I saw the remake in June and thought it was an action film that should have been a suspense film. I finally caught the original again and it's amazing. The plot is told almost as a documentary and almost in real time. The bad guys hijack a subway train and demand a million dollars. Their plan to get away is unobvious yet plausible. The bad guys are serious but not insane. The good guys are mostly annoyed that they have to deal with this situation. Walter Matthau often insults bad guy Robert Shaw while "negotiating" with him. I loved that Lee Wallace as the mayor made me think of Ed Koch but it was made four years before he was mayor of NYC. There are a ton of great lines, some of my favorites:

Lt. Garber: Get off it, will you, Frank? My only priority is saving the lives of these passengers.
Correll: Screw the goddamn passengers! What the hell did they expect for their lousy 35 cents - to live forever?

Mayor's wife: I know a million dollars sounds like a lot of money. But just think what you'll get in return.
Mayor: What?
Mayor's wife: Eighteen sure votes.

Lt. Rico Patrone: Wait a minute. I just figured out how they're going to get away.
Lt. Garber: I'm listening.
Lt. Rico Patrone: They're going to fly the train to Cuba.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Goldman Bonuses

Goldman Sachs is paying big bonuses again. At the risk of setting off one of my loyal readers I'll point to some comments on it...

Judge Richard Posner wrote about The Goldman Sachs Bonuses, twice. He starts with "Without government aid then, no $20 billion-plus in bonuses for Goldman Sachs's employees in 2009? Maybe zero in bonuses, maybe indeed, no Goldman Sachs at all. Against that background, the bonuses seem egregious." and then it gets much more interesting. It's worth reading both parts.

A GS advisor said "“We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all”. Mark Thoma in What's Good for Goldman Sachs is Good for Everyone? adds sarcastically, "A defense of inequality and trickle down in one statement. That's a political winner." Think Progress has a little more.

And just how are JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs making so much money in this economy? Philip Greenspun explains: "Because of the Collapse of 2008 financial reforms, the big investment banks are able to borrow money from the U.S. government at 0 percent interest. Then they can turn around and buy short-term [Treasury] bonds that pay 2 or 3 percent annual interest. Now they’re making 2 percent on whatever they borrowed. They can use leverage to increase this number, by pledging some of the bonds that they’ve already bought as collateral on additional bonds...So the money is just being shuffled from one Federal bank account to another, with each Wall Street bank skimming off $1 billion per month for itself."

And if that's not enough to piss you off (considering that they still aren't lending), here's a pretty graphic describing the golden parachutes the bankers got.

SCOTUS Justices Questioning Style

USA Today wrote Personalities shape questioning from bench "During the two weeks of oral arguments, the justices revealed their signature approaches to questioning lawyers. USA Today's Joan Biskupic reports on their styles."

Chief Justice John Roberts Style: Head-on
Justice John Paul Stevens Style: In late for the kill
Justice Antonin Scalia Style: In-your-face
Justice Anthony Kennedy Style: Mr. No-Nonsense
Justice Clarence Thomas Style: Silent in his seat
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Style: Setting the record straight
Justice Stephen Breyer Style: Hydra-headed hypos
Justice Samuel Alito Style: Bottom line
Justice Sonia Sotomayor Style: Rat-a-tat-fact

Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media

r.c. hoetzlein writes Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media "Most timelines of art, as found in classical texts, end at Pop art in the 1970s. This Timeline of 20th c. Art and New Media was created to include relationships between art, new media art, science, technology, war and media theory."

Timeline of 20th Century Art

Al Franken on Healthcare Bankruptcies

Boing Boing posts Al Franken kicks eleventy-million kinds of ass in health-care hearing:

It may take Minnesota a long time to count, but they did a good job.

Obama Declares Swine Flu a National Emergency

Obama Declares Swine Flu a National Emergency "The White House on Saturday said Obama signed a proclamation that would allow medical officials to bypass certain federal requirements. Officials described the move as similar to a declaration ahead of a hurricane making landfall."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ultimate Light Show

My Modern Metropolis writes about Alan Jaras photos in The Ultimate Light Show "What happens when a beam of light travels through transparent textured materials? If you are Alan Jaras (or Reciprocity on Flickr), you can make it refract into a gorgeous array of colors. Bridging the gap between art and science, Jaras bends, twists and turns you've never seen."


Definitely click the image for more.

Does the Flu Vaccine Matter?

I was reading The Atlantic today while waiting online to get a seasonal flu shot. Does the Vaccine Matter?. While my first instinct was to disregard it, it did make some reasonable points about the lack of controlled studies.

"Whether this season’s swine flu turns out to be deadly or mild, most experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by a truly devastating flu pandemic—one that might kill more people worldwide than have died of the plague and AIDS combined. In the U.S., the main lines of defense are pharmaceutical—vaccines and antiviral drugs to limit the spread of flu and prevent people from dying from it. Yet now some flu experts are challenging the medical orthodoxy and arguing that for those most in need of protection, flu shots and antiviral drugs may provide little to none. So where does that leave us if a bad pandemic strikes?"

Chart of Mars Missions

io9 writes Chart Shows How Few Missions To Mars Succeeded. "This chart, created by Bryan Christie Designs, is an amazing visualization of all the Mars missions - including data on how few of them actually succeeded in reaching their goals. The good news: Recent missions have a high success rate."


Economist's View: "An Obama Report Card"

Mark THoma comments on An Obama Report Card "Alan Blinder grades the administration's accomplishments on macroeconomic and banking issues".

Who's in Big Brother's Database?

NSA expert James Bamford reviews The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency, Who's in Big Brother's Database?. Worth a read.

"Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A clue comes from a recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank. 'As the sensors associated with the various surveillance missions improve,' says the report, referring to a variety of technical collection methods, 'the data volumes are increasing with a projection that sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes (1024 Bytes) by 2015.'[1] Roughly equal to about a septillion (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text, numbers beyond Yottabytes haven't yet been named. Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite 'libraries,' the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saturn at Equinox

The Boston Globe in Saturn at equinox collects some of the most amazing pictures of Saturn and it's moons and rings.

"Checking in with NASA's Cassini spacecraft, our current emissary to Saturn, some 1.5 billion kilometers (932 million miles) distant from Earth, we find it recently gathering images of the Saturnian system at equinox. During the equinox, the sunlight casts long shadows across Saturn's rings, highlighting previously known phenomena and revealing a few never-before seen images."

Serious, you have to go look at these.

Iconic Photos

Iconic Photos is an interesting blog that started in April.

Energy Dept. Audit Finds Flaws in Its Energy Star Program

The New York Times reports Energy Dept. Audit Finds Flaws in Its Energy Star Program "The Energy Department has concluded in an internal audit that it does not properly track whether manufacturers that give their appliances an Energy Star label have met the required specifications for energy efficiency."

"Last December, the environmental agency’s inspector general said the Energy Star ratings for products it oversees, like computers and television sets, were “not accurate or verifiable” because of weak oversight by the agency." Looks like Obama's administration is trying to clean things up.

Life Magazine Archive Online writes: "Every issue of Life Magazine until the end of 1972 is available on Google Books for free. This archive joins Google's already impressive archive of millions of photos from Life." Pretty great stuff.

Unprecedented Number of Death Threats Against Obama

Just great...TPM reports, Unprecedented Number Of Death Threats Against Obama -- And Secret Service Overwhelmed

"The Boston Globe reports that a new internal Congressional Research Service report and government sources say there are an unprecedented number of death threats against President Obama -- and that the Secret Service is insufficiently funded and staffed to deal with them."

"In total, the Secret Service regularly protects 32 people and arranges security for high-profile events. But the election of Barack Obama has increased threats against the president's life by 400 percent from his predecessor, according to "In the President's Secret Service," Ronald Kessler's account of presidential security."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Orionid Meteor Shower

NASA writes, The 2009 Orionid Meteor Shower "'Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, the source of the Orionids,' says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office. 'Flakes of comet dust hitting the atmosphere should give us dozens of meteors per hour.' The best time to look is before sunrise on Wednesday, Oct. 21st."

"Since 2006, the Orionids have been one of the best showers of the year, with counts of 60 or more meteors per hour," says Cooke.

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are is the best and most original film I've seen this year.

250px-Wrightfallingwater.jpgOddly this film made me think of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Commissioned to build a house on a site with a beautiful waterfall, Wright's concept was unusual and inspired. Instead of putting the house below the falls with a glorious view, Wright put the house right on top of the falls, making the house a part of them.

Instead of watching a story about a nine year-old, Where the Wild Things Are made me feel like I was a nine year-old.

Unless you've recently read it to a child, you probably just have fond but vague memories of Maurice Sendak's beloved book. It has only 10 sentences. Max is sent to his room, imagines visiting a forrest of monsters, becomes their king and returns home. How do you adapt this to a full length film? Director and co-writer Spike Jonze and co-writer Dave Eggers take a very different approach than what a Disney or Pixar would do. They filled out the world suggested by the book, yet it did it in such a way that the details still feel only roughly sketched. A friend described it as barely having a plot but yet still having a strong narrative. The individual scenes are not so much about events but rather about emotions.

Max loses a snowball fight, is ignored by his older sister and busy mom, gets angry and runs away. The transition from reality to imagination is seamless. His trip to the island on a small boat in very rough seas was one of the most harrowing I've seen in a long time, and yet it wasn't viewed as such. We don't see Max scared, it's just how he got to the island. There's no "Toto I don't think we're in Kansas anymore" moment. He just arrives, sees the monsters, is a bit confused and afraid and beomes their king. Just like in the book.

He spends a lot of time on the island and the six monsters each have a personality (unlike in the book) but it's not clear who they are or what they want. They play, sometimes very roughly. They have fun, get frightened, inspired, sad, annoyed and confused and often switch between these quickly; just like real kids. Sometimes the monsters acted like adults, sometimes like children. Sometimes Max learns from them, at other times he teaches them. It's like the film has the attention span of a nine year-old though the individual scenes are developed enough to have emotional weight. The opening real world segment was short and yet I was often surprised at how many things they found to reference throughout the lengthy island sequence.

The monsters are Labyrinth-like muppets with extraordinary CGI faces set in a real world, with huge bonfires and violent jumping and real trees that they shatter. This isn't a world filled with bright primary colors like most kids film and while there are dark sections, I wouldn't call it a dark film (though I'm sure some would). Jonze mostly uses a handheld camera kept right next to Max's head. It's still third person, but I felt like I was right there with him, running around and seeing the world through his eyes, always looking up at the adults and the monsters. I felt small in this world, like a nine year-old must always feel.

Between the camera rolling around with Max and the script jumping around and the deep and varied emotions, Where the Wild Things Are gave me a sense of uneasiness of not knowing what the rules are. And if I did figure them out, they changed, as quickly as in Calvinball. Throughout it I was filled with wonder that a film could do this.

Stanley Kubrick refused to talk about what 2001: A Space Odyssey meant because he made it to be a non-verbal experience. He wanted to induce the sense of awe that would accompany the first meeting of extra-terrestrials. I think it was in Visions of Light that one filmmaker said about Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven, "I didn't know you could tell stories that way". It's amazing that a studio let this film get made and didn't screw it up (even though they tried). A Kubrick or a Malick might have had the vision and the clout to pull this off, but that Jonze and Eggers did is quite an achievement.

This film made me feel like a nine year-old, but what it will do for an actual nine year-old, I have no idea. Some will be frightened by the destruction, others will like seeing the (non-cuddly) monsters. If the 69% Rotten Tomatoes rating, is any indication, I'm sure a lot of adults will find it too ill-defined and complain like Stephanie Zarcharek that it's tendious. It does slow down towards the end, but by then I was completely enthralled.

Here's a great (and long) New York Times Magazine article on the film and Jonze. "[Jonze] hadn’t set out to make a children’s movie, he said, so much as to accurately depict childhood. 'Everything we did, all the decisions that we made, were to try to capture the feeling of what it is to be 9.'" I'll add that that extends to the slightly creepy and yet utterly childlike soundrack. In other words, perfect.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Movie Review: A Serious Man

A Serious Man is the new Coen brothers movie set in a heavily Jewish Minneapolis suburb, similar to where the Coen brothers grew up, in about 1970. I saw it a week ago and the more I think about it the more I like it.

It starts with a short fable set in a Polish shtetl and told in Yiddish with subtitles. I've seen some debate or wonder about it its meaning. I think it's just a self-contained opening story that foreshadows the main story. It explores a similar theme and sets up the main story as another fable.

The film shifts to the main story and starts off a little slow, shifting between two scenes who's connection isn't clear at all. As the film progresses it all starts to come together as the story of Larry Gopnik and his family. Larry is a physics professor up for tenure at his school. He has two teenage children and his wife abruptly announces that she's leaving him for a widower neighbor. In fact, everything in his life seems to be going wrong, from his unemployed brother living with him to a student who may be bribing him for a passing grade.

The film is obviouslly a dark comic retelling of the Book of Job. There's a lot written about how "Jewish" the film is, but I just saw it as part of the setting and perfectly appropriate for an updated Job. I don't see it as any different than how "Indian" Slumdog Millionaire was or how "South African" District 9 was. There are some Yiddish words used and you just have to figure out what they mean but it's not difficult. I seem to recall some funny accents in Fargo too.

It's not as showy as in other films, but this is as perfectly constructed as other Coen brothers films. The cinematography, editing, sound, etc. all just help to tell the story. This is certainly one of the best films I've seen this year


I had remembered the story of Job as a contest between God and the Devil that put pious man through terrible events and he never renounced God. As I read up on it after seeing the film there's more to it than that. Three of his friends say that he must of done something to offend God because righteous men aren't punished for no reason. In fact in the end God says that he is God and can do whatever he wants and man can't understand his motivations (just as we can't understand all that must go into having created the universe). The friends are punished for their misunderstanding of God and Job is rewarded with riches and new children and long life (too bad about those first children I guess).

The point of the opening fable of the dybbuk. We don't know if he was actually a ghost. Depending on this, the wife either saved them or damned them through her actions; but at the end of the story we don't know which it is. Compare this to Larry physics lectures about Schrodinger's Cat and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the tale the second Rabbi tells; the dentist never finds out how the goy ended up with the message in his teeth and we don't know (or care) what happened to the goy.

We don't know why lots of events in Larry's life happen: why Judith is leaving him, who is sending the letters to the tenure committee and if it was Sy if they were bad or actually good, if Clive left the bribe, exactly what the brother did, etc. Lots seems to be going wrong, but close to the end, lots of things seem to be going well. He's back with Judith, his son is Bar Mitzvahed, he gets tenure.

Some of these are dubious, I doubt Larry would be proud that his son was stoned during his Bar Mitzvah. I had friends who weren't sure if they liked the uncertainty of the ending, but I thought it was perfect. It leaves us back to uncertainty not knowing how the x-ray or tornado turns out and leaving us wondering if it was retribution for his passing Clive. Things just happen and we often try to find meaning to it all and it just isn't to be.

I like that they made Larry a physicist to compare modern with ancient attempts at understanding the universe. I like even more that they added Jefferson Airplane into the comparison, "When the truth is found to be lies/And all the joy within you dies/Don't you want somebody to love." That seems as a good an answer an anything.

Andrew O’Hehir in Salon has a nice interview with the Coen brothers about A Serious Man.

The Invisible Man

"Now look at this spectacular camouflage by Liu Bolin. People call him the invisible man. This guy paints himself, no joke, no trick photography, he just paints himself head to toe."


Click the image for many more.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Zombie Wedding Cake


click for more.

Obamas Nobel Prize is Constitutional

To follow up on my previous post, Obama's Nobel Is Unconstitutional?, constitutional law professor Jack Balkin writes And now the inevitable conservative argument that Obama's Nobel Prize is unconstitutional

"In short, Rotunda's and Pham's distinction between awards for past and future conduct makes little sense in practice, because foreign governments might often reward past behavior in order to influence future behavior. But their argument is wrong for another reason. The Emoluments Clause allows Congress to consent to awards from foreign governments. And Congress has consented to the acceptance of the award through the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, in which Congress consents to 'decorations' (i.e., awards like the Nobel Prize) 'when it appears that to refuse the gift would likely cause offense or embarrassment or otherwise adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States.' The money for such a gift is accepted on behalf of the United States."

He adds...

"This episode has led me to two conclusions. First, the Washington Post Op-Ed section does not appear to have a lawyer on hand to keep it from embarrassment. It does not take much research to discover that the argument in this piece is frivolous. But no research was done. Second, I have noticed an increasing lack of seriousness among some members of the modern conservative movement."

Drinking Like Mad Med

Some women at Slate tried an experiment, they tried to drink like they do on Mad Men during the work day...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Obama's Nobel Is Unconstitutional?

The Washington Post has an interesting op-ed, Obama's Nobel Is Unconstitutional.

"Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution, the Emolument Clause, clearly stipulates: 'And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.'"

It goes on to say that sitting presidents have won it before, but for their past actions, and that Obama's prize is different because "it is intended to affect future action".

"Second, the president has indicated that he will give the prize money to charity, but that does not solve his legal problem. Giving that $1.4 million to a charity could give him a deduction that would reduce his income taxes by $500,000 -- not a nominal amount. Moreover, the money is not his to give away. It belongs to the United States: a federal statute provides that if the president accepts a 'tangible or intangible present' for more than a minimal value from any foreign government, the gift 'shall become the property of the United States'."

Jon Stewart at His Best Again

The Huffington Post wrote Jon Stewart Takes On 30 Republicans Who Voted Against Franken Rape Amendment but just watch the video...

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nobel jury speaks out in defense of Obama prize

The Associated Press reports Nobel jury speaks out in defense of Obama prize.

"In a rare public defense of a process normally shrouded in secrecy, four of the Nobel jury's five judges spoke out this week about a selection they said was both merited and unanimous. To those who say a Nobel is too much too soon in Obama's young presidency, 'We simply disagree ... He got the prize for what he has done,' committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland told The Associated Press by telephone from Strasbourg, France, where he was attending meetings of the Council of Europe. Jagland singled out Obama's efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe. 'All these things have contributed to — I wouldn't say a safer world — but a world with less tension,' he said."

Extremely bright fireball seen over the Netherlands

Here are some fun pictures of an Extremely bright fireball seen over the Netherlands Tuesday.

Monty Python and Cleverness

It's Monty Python's 40th anniversary and IFC is running a documentary on them, Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) starting Sunday and running through Friday (that's Oct 18-23).

Jeremy Clarkson wrote in the (London) TImes, Cleverness is no more. This is a dumb Britain about his love of Monty Python and lament of Britain's increasing stupidity.

"[Monty Python's skit] Novel Writing is at the very heart of what makes Monty Python so brilliant. The notion of Thomas Hardy writing his books, in front of a good-natured bank holiday crowd in Dorset, while cricket-style commentators and pundits assess every word he commits to paper is a juxtaposition you don’t find in comedy very much any more. To get the point you need to know that while Hardy may be seen as a literary colossus, there’s no escaping the fact his novels are dirge. We see these attacks on intellectualism throughout Python. To understand the joke, you need to know that RenĂ© Descartes did not say, I ‘drink’ therefore I am. You need to know that if you cure a man of leprosy, you are taking away his trade. And that really Archimedes did not invent football."

"Nowadays people wear their stupidity like a badge of honour. Knowing how to play chess will get your head kicked off. Reading a book with no pictures in it will cause there to be no friend requests on your Facebook page. Little Britain is funny because people vomit a lot. Monty Python is not because they delight in all manifestations of the terpsichorean muse."

At least it's not just the US.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reich: How Private Health Insurers Just Blew Their Cover

Robert Reich wrote yesterday How Private Health Insurers Just Blew Their Cover. "The only reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums is because there's not enough competition among private insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient. Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why a public insurance option is necessary."

Of course, this argument assumes you understand economics, something I'm sure is sadly lacking in the public debate.

Saturn's Moons Reshaping Rings

Scientific American writes Close-up view shows Saturn's moons reshaping the planet's rings

4F52921C-C148-CFBD-1562442F8C2C7D98 1.jpg

"The narrow outer band in this photograph, known as the F ring (Saturn's main rings are named A to G in the order they were discovered), features channels carved into the ring by Prometheus, the oblong moon visible just inside the F ring. These so-called streamers are formed when the elliptical orbit of Prometheus brings the moon into the F ring. The gravity of the moon pulls material out of the ring, carving out a new streamer on each 15-hour orbit."

Facebook Privacy Settings

I've referred a few people to this post from February, 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. Here's an updated version Ars Technica wrote in August, Facebook privacy: a guide.

Jon Stewart at his Best

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Reporting on Summers and Boehner

The Wall Street Journal reports, Summers To GOP's Boehner: Recovery Act Is Working. The part that got me was this, "Boehner responded quickly Monday. 'Where are the jobs?,' he said in a statement. 'In February, Mr. Summers himself said Americans would see the effects of the stimulus 'almost immediately' but since it took effect our economy has lost roughly three million jobs and more families and small businesses are struggling than ever before.'"

Now I know the answer to this, but at least the AP had more. "Summers replied that the $787 billion stimulus package that Congress passed at Obama's urging contained a mix of spending and tax relief that helped avert a worse economic downturn. He said that while unemployment now stands at 9.8 percent, the pace of job losses is decreasing from an average of 691,000 jobs per month in the first quarter of this year to a 256,000 monthly average in the third quarter."

I guess the WSJ couldn't be bothered to report the rest of Summers' reply. Of course the next thing is if the stimulus did this, why not spend more to cover the rest of the job losses? Or at least explain why. It's not like a prominent Nobel prize winning New York Times columnist (amongst others) hasn't for months been saying that the stimulus is too small. I'm still waiting for an answer to that.

Reuters reports that Summers also said, Banks shouldn't choose regulator. "He said the practice of "charter flipping," in order to report to a particular regulator, encouraged lax standards and higher capital and leverage rules were needed to make the financial system more resilient in times of crisis." I wonder how he feels about Chris Dodd's proposal to have one regulating body which would prevent this?

Liz Cheney is the Latest Fox Wacko

TPM reports on Liz Cheney's Debut As Fox News Sunday Panelist. She talked about Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize with a bizarre take on what peace means...

"What the committee believes is, they'd like to live in a world in which America's not dominant. And I think if you look at the language of the citation, you can see that they talk about President Obama ruling in a way that makes sense to the majority of the people of the world. Americans don't elect a president to do that. We elect a president to defend our national interest. They may believe that President Obama also doesn't believe in American dominance and they may have been trying to affirm that belief with the prize. I think, unfortunately, they may be right, and I think it's a concern."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Sneezing Baby Panda

41 million hits, I guess I'm the last person to see this...
YouTube - The Sneezing Baby Panda ""

Obama Genealogy

This week the New York Times reported In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery about Michelle Obama's ancestry. "This union, consummated some two years before the Civil War, represents the origins of a family line that would extend from rural Georgia, to Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago and, finally, to the White House. Melvinia Shields, the enslaved and illiterate young girl, and the unknown white man who impregnated her are the great-great-great-grandparents of Michelle Obama, the first lady."

In other genealogy news, the New England Historic Genealogical Society reports that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are 10th cousins once removed and that Affleck is related to Princess Diana and 16 presidents, including Barack Obama (they are 11th cousins).

Largest Ring Around Saturn Discovered

1-largestringa.jpg"NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered an enormous ring around Saturn -- by far the largest of the giant planet's many rings.

The new belt lies at the far reaches of the Saturnian system, with an orbit tilted 27 degrees from the main ring plane. The bulk of its material starts about six million kilometers (3.7 million miles) away from the planet and extends outward roughly another 12 million kilometers (7.4 million miles). One of Saturn's farthest moons, Phoebe, circles within the newfound ring, and is likely the source of its material.

Saturn's newest halo is thick, too -- its vertical height is about 20 times the diameter of the planet. It would take about one billion Earths stacked together to fill the ring."

In other Saturn news, "In mid-August, Saturn passed through its equinox and sunlight shone directly along the rings, so that even the most subtle vertical structure cast long shadows. Images from the Cassini spacecraft revealed that the planet's C ring has a gentle corrugation that extends across tens of thousands of kilometers. The ripples are barely 100 meters high and recur with a wavelength varying from 30 kilometers toward the planet to 80 kilometers farther out... What's more, the pattern seems to be evolving with time, its wavelength steadily diminishing. Extrapolating back in time, it must have been set in motion 25 years ago...It looks like the ring—the whole ring—was abruptly yanked out of Saturn's equatorial plane... he suggests that it wasn't the ring that shifted, but Saturn's equatorial plane. A tilt of a thousandth of a degree would suffice...In other words, the entire planet Saturn suddenly lurched in the mid-1980s...What must have happened instead is that mass shifted within the planet, reorienting the effective gravitational equator."

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize!

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 goes to President Barack Obama "The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Breast Cancer DNA Sequenced

Major breast cancer breakthrough announced at BC Cancer Agency "For the first time in history, BC Cancer Agency scientists in British Columbia, Canada have decoded all of the three billion letters in the DNA sequence of a metastatic lobular breast cancer tumour, a type of breast cancer which accounts for about 10 per cent of all breast cancers, and have found all of the mutations, or 'spelling' mistakes that caused the cancer to spread."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Google Finds DRAM Error Rates Higher Than Expected

For geeks only ZDNet reports DRAM error rates: Nightmare on DIMM street. "A two-and-a-half year study of DRAM on 10s of thousands Google servers found DIMM error rates are hundreds to thousands of times higher than thought — a mean of 3,751 correctable errors per DIMM per year."

Watch The LCROSS Impact the Moon Friday Morning

Astronomy Service Slooh Will Let You Watch The LCROSS Impact Live On October 9 at 7:30am EDT.

"The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite will hit the moon to created a crater 14 meters in diameter and 2 meters deep. The resulting analysis will help assess how large bodies will damage planets along with an assessment of current water levels in the moon. Plus it involves blowing holes in the moon."

The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s

Pitchfork staff listsThe Top 200 Albums of the 2000s. I just looked at 20-1 and I've never heard of most of them.

The White House on Health Insurance Reform

The White House Blog wrote House Call on Health Insurance Reform. "A new video featuring interviews with many of those doctors serves as a reminder that the people at the real frontlines of the health care battle are not lobbyists or politicians invested in protecting the status quo, but are instead the people who deal with the health and well-being of our families every day and see the need for change first hand:"

TPM writes Major White House Players To Run Point On Senate Health Care Bill. "White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Ann DeParle, Obama's chief health care adviser, are expected to be at the table throughout the talks. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag also is set to play a role, primarily on issues where health care and the federal budget intersect."

Now if they could just figure out how to combat micro-ideas.

Photosketch Turns Sketches into Photos

Gizmodo reports on Photosketch and it's pretty amazing.

"According to authors, their software can take any rough sketch, with the shape of each element labeled with its name, find images corresponding to each drawn element, judge which are a better match to the shapes, and then seamlessly merge it all into one single image."

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Friday, October 02, 2009

FiveThirtyEight vs Strategic Vision

Nate Silver at 538 is suggesting that pollster Strategic Vision is making up polling results. There are some interesting posts, particularly these three: Are Oklahoma Students Really This Dumb? Or Is Strategic Vision Really This Stupid? and Strategic Vision Polls Exhibit Unusual Patterns, Possibly Indicating Fraud and Comparison Study: Unusual Patterns in Strategic Vision Polling Data Remain Unexplained.

Cloudy With a Chance of Cosmic Rays

NASA wrote Cosmic Rays Hit Space Age High "According to sensors on NASA's ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer) spacecraft, galactic cosmic rays have just hit a Space Age high. 'In 2009, cosmic ray intensities have increased 19% beyond anything we've seen in the past 50 years,' says Richard Mewaldt of Caltech. 'The increase is significant, and it could mean we need to re-think how much radiation shielding astronauts take with them on deep-space missions.'"

It's actually a good article explaining a number of things. For a more english-fied version, Universe Today rewrote NASA's piece into slightly more layman's terms.

Driving down the cost of health care

The Health Care Blog wrote What would actually work? Driving down the cost of health care. "What provisions in a ‘health reform act’ would actually drop costs in health care? Let’s leave aside for the moment all the myriad other arguments - some might be seen as too much government intrusion, some would destroy the health plan industry, some would be cripplingly difficult for providers, and so on - and just focus on cost. Given the real structure of health care markets in the United States at this moment, what could be written into federal law and regulation that would actually reduce cost?me of these changes are massive, some would be invisible to those outside the industry, but all could be legislated or regulated, and all would ‘bend the curve’ toward lower costs."

It's an interesting list.

Stunning data visualization in the AlloSphere

Check out this TEDTalk, Demo: Stunning data visualization in the AlloSphere. It's like someone built TNG's stellar cartography room and named it an AlloSphere and is doing scientific visualizations with it.

Economic Disparity

Early last month the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported Top 1 Percent of Americans Reaped Two-Thirds of Income Gains in Last Economic Expansion "Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households, and that top 1 percent held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928, according to an analysis of newly released IRS data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez." But the graph says it all:


Thursday, October 01, 2009

2010 Best Picture Contenders

HitFlix has a list of 2010 Best Picture Contenders. Of the 29 films listed, I've only seen 8:

The Informant
Julie & Julia
Star Trek
District 9
The Hurt Locker
500 Days of Summer
Inglourious Basterds

Iran agrees to ship enriched uranium to Russia for refinement

McClatchy reports Iran agrees to ship enriched uranium to Russia for refinemen "Iran agreed in principle Thursday to ship most of its current stockpile of enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be refined for exclusively peaceful uses, in what Western diplomats called a significant, but interim, measure to ease concerns over its nuclear program."

MESSENGER Glitch During 3rd Mercury Flyby

Universe Today reports MESSENGER Went Into Safe Mode Approaching Mercury.

"The MESSENGER spacecraft went into safe mode just before its closest approach of Mercury on Sept. 29. Although the instruments were taking data as the spacecraft came near the planet during this third flyby of the mission, after going into safe mode, no further data or pictures were obtained. This means the expected science investigations from the flyby were not executed. However, as Emily Lakdawalla pointed on in the Planetary Blog, the most important purpose of this flyby was the last gravity assist that will allow MESSENGER to enter [Mercury] orbit in [March] 2011, and to that end, the flyby was a complete success. "

Still, some great pictures from this flyby are here.

The Oldest Living Things in the World

Rachel Sussman has a photo portfolio of The Oldest Living Things in the World.

American Food Holidays

Somewhere I came across a reference that Oct is National Pizza Month. Amazingly this holiday doesn't seem to have its own webpage (though I didn't look to long). I did find this list of
United States National Holidays and if you scroll down to "American Food Holidays" you'll see a very long list.

The Democratics Wake Up, Maybe

Nice to the Dems Call Out Jon Kyl for lying.

"Senator Jon Kyl, a top Senate Republican, has claimed that reform would cause the rationing of care for America's seniors -- a claim that both AARP and non-partisan fact check website PolitiFact have debunked as false.

It's no surprise that Senator Kyl has been trying to block reform. Kyl has stated that insurance companies don't need to be 'kept honest,' and he even opposes barring them from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

Enough. We're calling him out."

First the White House saying Fox News lies now the Dem Party, maybe there's some organization going on. Then again, there's Jon Stewart to bring me back to reality.

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Sesame Street: Mad Men