The Auto-Tune guys do their thing:
Spike Lee wants Americans to speak out against British tyranny on Saturday:
Apparently, in his speech Lee urged the US soccer team to wear undershirts that read "BP Sucks". His idea is that they can reveal the shirts when they score a goal against England in their World Cup match this coming Saturday.
(via American Situation)
On Tuesday Stephen Fry spoke at a dinner for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition on the importance of art in the modern world. Here's how it begins:
Your Royal Highness, Your Grace, My Lord Bishop, Your Excellencies, Honoured President, Academicians, Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen, artists, art lovers, friends, trustees, donors, distinguished guests and assorted media scum.
Do read on.
From Matt Bai's report on Obama's relationship with his party:
Even given the strong possibility that Democrats could lose control of at least one chamber of Congress this fall, Obama’s aides seem confident about his re-election, in part because they are drawing some inspiration from another midterm election year that isn’t quite yet ancient history — not 1994, but 1982.According to Gallup, Ronald Reagan’s average approval rating during the fifth quarter of his first term — the period between January and April 1982 — was 46.3 percent, just south of Obama’s average mark of 48.8 percent over the same period in 2010.
Olivia Judson on why the human genome is only half the story:
Soon, we will all be able to get our genomes fully sequenced: we will be able to look at our genotypes. We may not know what all the genes do — it will still be some time before we have mastered that. But we will know what they are.
The far harder task is to understand how genes interact with the environment to make an actual organism with particular characteristics — that is, the phenotype. The phenotype is what Galton was measuring in his laboratory. And while the human genome project was a challenge for the last century, the human phenome project will be the challenge for this one.
New York magazine has a great sketch of Bernie Madoff's life in prison. He claims to have experienced his downfall as a liberation; he doesn't have to live a lie anymore, or live in fear of being found out. Amongst fellow crooks he can be honest, and even revel in his notoriety:
In prison, he crafted his own version of events. From MCC, Madoff explained the trap he was in. “People just kept throwing money at me,” Madoff related to a prison consultant who advised him on how to endure prison life. “Some guy wanted to invest, and if I said no, the guy said, ‘What, I’m not good enough?’ ” One day, Shannon Hay, a drug dealer who lived in the same unit in Butner as Madoff, asked about his crimes. “He told me his side. He took money off of people who were rich and greedy and wanted more,” says Hay, who was released in December. People, in other words, who deserved it.
There is, as it happens, honor among thieves, a fact that worked mostly to Madoff’s benefit. In the context of prison, he isn’t a cancer on society; he’s a success, admired for his vast accomplishments. “A hero,” wrote Robert Rosso, a lifer, on a website he managed to found called convictinc .com. “He’s arguably the greatest con of all time.”
An hour earlier...
Obama: I'm just saying - you don't think it's crazy I'm the leader of the free world and all I wear is a suit? Like every other goddamn office worker in the country?
Rahm: Mr President, it's not protocol for POTUS to wear a ceremonial garment, except on very unusual occasions.
Obama: I want a robe. A president ought to wear a robe.
Rahm: Mr President, I know you've been under a lot pressure recently, but...
Obama: I WANT A ROBE! That's an executive order.
Rahm: Yes, Mr President.
To observers who lived through the Clinton years, a president who fails to capture the sentiment that the public desires of its president somehow does not live up to the moment - as if the American people elected their politicians to emote on command... What bemuses insiders is the idea that Obama is somehow a stoic. That's laughable. There's a healthy amount of dopamine in his president. In private, the President can be witheringly sarcastic and profane. He can also be light, playful; he is rarely sad, occasionally angry, and always upbeat. This Spock has emotions. What he does not do -- and what he is poor at doing -- is fake an emotion simply for the sake of appearing to display an emotion.
David Cameron went out of his way yesterday to blame Labour for the country's debt - and thus for the pain that will now follow. It's an understandable tactic, but will it work? Here's Dominic Lawson:
David Cameron is determined to make as much noise as he can, and for as long as he can, to the effect that every unpleasant thing the coalition needs to do is solely the consequence of the criminal improvidence of its predecessor. No new prime minister, especially in these circumstances, would act any differently. I wonder how long this card will remain trumps, however. After all, when Margaret Thatcher's government cut the unsustainably vast subsidies to public sector industries – from coal-mining to car manufacturing – which her Labour predecessors had not dared to confront, it established her reputation among millions as a cruel and heartless prime minister.
Another pertinent analogy, of course, is with Obama, who - with even more justification - made it clear from the very first hours of his presidency that he was clearing up his predecessor's mess. But of course, this only works for a few months. Obama is now blamed for the debt and for the lack of jobs.
Voters who are angry or anxious tend to have short memories, as the Tories will find out over the next year. Indeed it may have been a better tactic for Cameron to ostentatiously avoid the "blame it on the guy before" bit, thus signalling a fresh approach to politics. He might even have said something generous about Brown's actions at the height of the financial crisis. After all, the best hope for the coalition when these cuts take hold is that they're somehow seen as above party politics.
The more news you consume, the more you realise that much of it superficial, repetitive and short-sighted; that it blows short-term events out of proportion and under-reports long-term trends. But maybe we wouldn't read it otherwise. What would the news be like if it was written by professors rather than journalists? That's what Slate's Christopher Beam brilliantly imagines here:
A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.
Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.
Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.
Read on here.
Although I recognise Vince Cable's communication skills, I've always thought he's a bit overhyped, and temperamentally fragile. He's the Lib Dem most likely to have a hissy fit and resign from the coalition (with Chris Huhne a close second). The Spectator's Fraser Nelson has a good post on how the sainted one is already engaging in self-aggrandising moves. For instance, he wants to rename his department "Economic Affairs" so that he can pretend he's a chancellor. The actual chancellor is trying not to take any notice:
George Osborne has tried not to get sucked into a battle with Cable, and his strategy has been to just ignore him. So when Cable proclaims that he is somehow running an economics department, Osborne treats this as if he had just declared himself Emperor of China.
Drawing on research into the surprising sophistication of our instant cognitive responses, Malcom Gladwell's Blink and a host of self-help books made over-thinking unfashionable; it became cool to trust your gut. A new book by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris (most famous for their selective attention test, which everyone should try) attempts a correction. Our most deeply-felt intuitions - things we just "feel" are right - can just as often lead us astray. In this article the authors give lots of interesting examples but I'm going to pick out this reflection on the relationship between the Obama administration's actions and the economy:
In a recent issue of The New Yorker, John Cassidy writes about U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's efforts to combat the financial crisis. "It is inarguable," writes Cassidy, "that Geithner's stabilization plan has proved more effective than many observers expected, this one included." It's easy for even a highly educated reader to pass over a sentence like that one and miss its unjustified inference about causation. The problem lies with the word "effective." How do we know what effect Geithner's plan had? History gives us a sample size of only one—in essence, a very long anecdote. We know what financial conditions were before the plan and what they are now (in each case, only to the extent that we can measure them reliably—another pitfall in assessing causality), but how do we know that things wouldn't have improved on their own had the plan never been adopted? Perhaps they would have improved even more without Geithner's intervention, or much less. The "data" are consistent with all of those possibilities, but Cassidy and most of his readers are drawn to the most intuitive conclusion: that Geithner's 2009 plan caused the improvements seen in 2010.