Archive for November, 2009

Applying State Gambling Laws to Wall Street?

November 30, 2009

Given that Wall Street is in many ways a casino, the idea of using State gambling laws to rein in parts of the financial industry is making it’s way in the Senate. Les Blumenthal reports:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Maria Cantwell wants to use state gambling laws to regulate parts of Wall Street, saying someone needs to police financial markets where “casino capitalism” involving highly speculative trades she likens to sophisticated betting continue unabated and threaten to create yet another financial crisis.

“She’s going for their jugular,” Michael Greenberger, a University of Maryland law professor, said of the effort by Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat. Greenberger was a top official at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission during the Clinton administration who unsuccessfully fought to regulate such trading.

Cantwell wants to repeal parts of a 2000 law that barred states from using their gambling laws to help rein in the nearly $600 trillion derivatives market.

Time Life Lost Civilizations: The Inca

November 30, 2009

Eighth part of the 10 part Emmy Award winning series Lost Civilizations: The Inca, Secrets of the Ancestors.

Witness the conquest of an Inca ruler at the pinnacle of his power. Follow Inca roads into the past and explore the secrets of their ancestors—the Moche, the Nazca, and the Paracas—whose legacies inspired the greatest South American empire ever.

Time Life Lost Civilizations: The Maya

November 28, 2009

Seventh part of the 10 part Emmy Award winning series Lost Civilizations: The Maya, The Blood of Kings.

Witness the dark rituals of human mutilation as the Maya rulers draw their own blood to offer to the gods. This episode reveals Maya culture at its peak—while its cities matched the sophistication and power of those in Europe in AD 800, this civilization declined suddenly a century later—leaving behind questions and enigmas.

Let Us Relax Ctd: David Hockney

November 28, 2009

The Daily Beast’s Rachel Wolff reports on David Hockney’s recent Impressionist work:

It seems that David Hockney, the British artist best known for his bright angular genre paintings of Los Angeles bungalows and swimming pools, has gone Impressionist. It’s the artistic equivalent of finding religion later in life, though the shift is fitting in Hockney’s case. The 72-year-old artist has experimented with many styles, genres, and media over the course of his career, and for this latest period, he embraces the color palettes, en plein air tendencies, and loose, wispy brushstrokes of late 19th-century European masters like Cézanne, Pissarro, Monet, and Van Gogh.

The paintings on view at two of PaceWildenstein’s three Manhattan galleries through December 24 were completed between 2006 and 2009. They mark Hockney’s first New York show of new paintings in more than 12 years—as well as a return to his geographic roots.

To discover more about this very eclectic and prolific artist you can visit his site here.

Meteor Lights Up Pretoria Sky

November 28, 2009

CCTV: footage of a meteor spotted over the skies of Gauteng, South Africa on the 21st of November 2009

Time Life Lost Civilizations: Rome

November 26, 2009

Sixth part of the 10 part Emmy Award winning series Lost Civilizations: Rome, The Ultimate Empire.

Enter the Colosseum alongside the gladiators and their foes as they prepare for battle. This episode re-creates the glory of Rome at the zenith of its power and explains how the Romans conquered the western world. Learn the mistakes that led to the Empire’s chaotic collapse.

Internet Content: Free Doesn’t Mean Costless

November 26, 2009

The recent announcement that News Corp and Microsoft were in discussion over a deal where Microsoft would pay News Corp for removing itself from Google’s indexing, stirred up the internet.

The most vociferous are the “information-wants-to-be-free” crowd, most of whom are to young to have known a world without the web, who are genuinely confused about the nature of Google Inc. They see searchability by Google as equivalent to participation in democratic society—and any resistance to offering up one’s content to exploitation by Google Inc. as resistance to the natural openness of interactive media and bottom-up civilization.

Douglas Rushkoff at The Daily Beast shares my point of view on the matter and argues it better than I ever would:

As an early cyberpunk, I see their point—as well as the confused logic informing it. Greedy monopolists controlled media for a long time, and formed huge conglomerates with interests beyond providing people with the content they needed. Media companies moved into the business of delivering eyeballs to sponsors, instead of content to readers. Recording companies bilked the artists who created the music. Taking content for free seems justified when it is being taken from big bad companies. And making content ourselves, as well as distributing it freely to one another, is now correctly understood as a basic human right.

But we can’t confuse our actual right to make and distribute content freely with Google’s perceived right to freely exploit the content everyone makes. Google is not in this for the fun of it; they make money off their searches. By making our content available to Google, we make Google’s searches more valuable. If we don’t feel our content is being made more valuable in the exchange, then we don’t have to accept this searchability as some precondition of Internet citizenship.

Another aspect of the “information-wants-to-be-free” crowd is that they don’t seem to realize that Google is the only one making revenue out of the current model:

Advertising is certainly one option. But when Google becomes the meta-frame around all the content in everyone else’s publications, then Google’s ads are the only ones that really matter. Google’s ads are the ones that show up when we are searching for content, and open to suggestion. That’s the Internet equivalent of the moment we are flipping through the magazine—not the time we are spending when we deep inside an article and oblivious to the extraneous information beckoning from beyond its borders. Once we have clicked on the article and are brought to the interior of the publication on offer, we go into content mode—reading, rather than searching for relevant information, including ads.

Since the search engine is now extracting the ad revenue that used to go to the content provider, it makes sense that the search engine should pay some of that forward.

Finally, regarding freedom and Big Google:

Our labor is not free. Open source is a beautiful way of collaborating; but what’s happening on the free Internet is more akin to the “crowdsourcing” of journalists and other content creators by advertisers who no longer have to pay them—only the search engines that parse their articles. Why must everything we create or do be presumed free for everyone to use, in any context, and open to comments from anyone in the world? Searching me, and what I create, should be a privilege enjoyed by those to whom I offer it—not a right bestowed onto every person, company, and government on the planet.

Openness of this sort is not freedom. It’s the forced relinquishing of everything we do to the hive, and to Google. We end up with fewer new ideas, less original content, and more links, copies and regurgitations of yesterday’s ideas. The people and companies who index ideas end up getting the money, while the people who actually have ideas and waste their time creating content end up broke.

This last quote addresses the one concern I have with Google’s current attitude: the pervasiveness of it. Google’s management seems to this day oblivious to concerns and complaints regarding the intrusive nature of their operating mode.

Love The Fetus Hate The Child

November 26, 2009

Rocked by sex and pedophilia scandals, the Catholic church has been losing members by the millions. In light of all that, the church continues to push its way backward in time and pushing it’s pro-life members further away — case in point, Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s denial of communion by Bishop Thomas Tobin.

Of course, what Tobin and others within the church don’t want to bring to light is the fact that they are still protecting accused pedophiles and sex offenders. After the Kennedy story came to light, some brave church victims have stepped up to make their voices heard. From the AP:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Clergy sex abuse victims and their supporters said Tuesday that Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic bishop is not doing enough to protect children from pedophile priests even as he’s taken on Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy for his stance on abortion rights.

A small group of protesters gathered outside Bishop Thomas Tobin’s office in Providence two days after news broke that the bishop had asked Kennedy in 2007 not to take Holy Communion because he supports abortion rights.

“He claims that it’s important that we protect the unborn. But it’s equally as important to protect those who have been born and those young children who have been raped and sodomized by clerics and priests. But yet he seems to protect those clerics,” said Ruth Moore, of Hull, Mass.

The group called on Tobin to publish the names of priests from the diocese who have been convicted of or admitted molesting children, or if a thorough investigation has turned up credible evidence of child molestation, even if no conviction resulted. Read on…

Obama’s Asia Tour: Two Radically Different Perspectives

November 24, 2009

Leslie H. Gelb at the Daily Beast Has harsh words for Obama and his team:

President Obama’s nine-day trip to Asia is worth a look back to fix two potent problems, past and future. First, the trip’s limited value per day of presidential effort suggests a disturbing amateurishness in managing America’s power. On top of the inexcusably clumsy review of Afghan policy and the fumbling of Mideast negotiations, the message for Mr. Obama should be clear: He should stare hard at the skills of his foreign-policy team and, more so, at his own dominant role in decision-making. Something is awry somewhere, and he’s got to fix it.

Secondly, the Asia trip presented an important opportunity to carve out a new American leadership role in the world’s most dynamic economic region, and Mr. Obama missed it. He only scratched the surface in his calls for multilateralism and mutual understanding. He needs to paint pictures of how Washington will help solve regional security and trade problems. Otherwise, most Asian nations will continue their unwanted drift toward China and away from the United States.

James Fallows over at the Atlantic has a radically opposite view of the subject:

On atmospheric payoffs of the trip:

“Two of the press conferences, in Japan and South Korea, both began with the same elements. In Japan, Prime Minister Hatoyama got up and gushed that “my friend Barack calls me ‘Yukio.'” Then the Korean press conference began with [president] Lee Myung-bak saying, ‘We have become close friends.’ That says something. Those are not just routine polite words. It meant that Obama is profoundly popular in those countries. Hatoyama’s poll numbers are high but dropping, Lee Myung-bak has been embattled, though recovering. But both saw it as enormously important in terms of their own agenda to be identified with Barack Obama. In my mind, the personal popularity and respect for him is a strategic asset. And not one that gets you results in a day. If you have foreign leaders who see their own fate tied up with Obama, that becomes a chip you can draw on. If you need a last minute shift on climate change, they do not want to separate from Barack Obama. Everyone wants to be his best friend.”

What about the view that Obama caved to the Chinese on human rights?

“Here are the things we tried to do. Number one, he made a robust statement in Shanghai. Number two, have that reach as many tens of millions of Chinese as possible. You can argue about the degree of success, but the message got out. They had a chance to see him in a setting no Chinese had seen before. And beyond that was to be explicit and direct in the private meetings about the importance of our values and the effect on our relations. And then we put in references in the press conference statement to Tibet and the Dalai Lama, and the importance of rule of law, freedom of expression, protection of the rights of minorities, which was an obvious reference to the Uighurs and Tibetans. We went straight to Tibet in the statement, saying that we consider it part of China and urge direct negotiations with the Dalai Lama.”

For my part I share Fallows’ view. Gelb is emblematic of those who haven’t integrated the consequences of the multi-polar world which emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The days when Air Force One could land as if in conquered territory in countries such as China and India, are well gone. With China it is in fact “worse” because they are our banker, we need them more than they need us.

The rules of diplomacy now apply to the US in the same way they apply to any other nation. The first step is a visit of courtesy where the grievances are examined, then the real negotiations can start. The problem we face is that for the last decade we have snobed the whole world with the “only superpower” mantra without realizing it was nonsense.

Time Life Lost Civilizations: China

November 24, 2009

Fifth part of the 10 part Emmy Award winning series Lost Civilizations: China, Dynasties of Power

Witness the glory of ancient China’s greatest rulers and the secrets of their giant tombs. Learn the ruthless military tactics and weapons technology of these all-powerful rulers and discover how the building of the Great Wall would unify that nation.