Michael Lewis: “The Ray Rice video for the financial sector has arrived.”


Goldman Sachs Tower, NYC. Photo by Ludovic Bertron via creative commons.

Our financial regulatory system is obviously dysfunctional. But because the subject is so tedious, and the details so complicated, the public doesnt pay it much attention.

That may very well change today, for today — Friday, Sept. 26 — the radio program “This American Life” will air a jaw-dropping story about Wall Street regulation, and the public will have no trouble at all understanding it.

The reporter, Jake Bernstein, has obtained 47½ hours of tape recordings, made secretly by a Federal Reserve employee, of conversations within the Fed, and between the Fed and Goldman Sachs. The Ray Rice video for the financial sector has arrived.

From The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes – Bloomberg View.

Photo by Ludovic Bertron via Flickr, creative commons license. 

The best healthcare system in the world.

Waiting for healthcare in coal country. Photo Lucian Perkins, via Politico.

It is 5:30 a.m. on Saturday—the second day of the Wise County RAM clinic—when Brock begins allowing people into the clinic’s makeshift tents. Hundreds of people—many of them with their children in tow—have spent the entire night waiting outside or in their cars to get treatment, and they push forward and crowd the entrance.

First, Brock lets in people with wrist bands who were seen the day before and need to have more dental, eye or medical work done. The remaining 1,500 people to be seen on Saturday, who started receiving their admission tickets at 2 a.m. that morning, are then called in order. Those who did not receive tickets will have to repeat the entire process the following day. Many others will have to return in September.…

Gardner, executive director of the clinic that hosted RAM, recalls attending the funeral of an uninsured 28-year-old woman who had died of cervical cancer. A decade earlier, she’d had abnormal pap smears. By the time she was able to see a doctor about her pelvic pain, the undiagnosed cancer in her cervix had metastasized to all her organs.

When the Doctor Comes to Coal Country, at Politico.


There is no better early morning music than Red Headed Stranger


I’m beginning to think all the best Wikipedia entries are about pop music.

Red Headed Stranger is a 1975 album by American outlaw country singer Willie Nelson. After the wide success of his recordings with Atlantic Records, coupled with the negotiating skills of his manager, Neil Reshen, Nelson signed a contract with Columbia Records, a label that gave him total creative control over his works. The concept for the album was inspired by the “Tale of the Red Headed Stranger”, a song that Nelson used to play as a disk jockey on his program in Fort Worth, Texas. After signing with Columbia he decided to record the song, and arranged the details during his return to Austin, Texas, from a trip to Colorado. It was recorded at low cost at Autumn Sound Studios in Garland, Texas. The songs featured sparse arrangements, largely limited to Nelson’s guitar, piano and drums. Nelson presented the finished material to Columbia executives, who were dubious about releasing an album that they at first thought was a demo.…

Music critic Chet Flippo wrote in a Texas Monthly article entitled “Mathew, Mark, Luke and Willie: Willie Nelson’s latest album is more than a good country music; it’s almost Gospel”: “The difference between Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and any current C&W album, and especially what passes for a soundtrack for Nashville, is astounding. What Nelson has done is simply unclassifiable; it is the only record I have heard that strikes me as otherworldly. Red Headed Stranger conjures up such strange emotions and works on so many levels that listening to it becomes totally obsessing”.



Lukas Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Micah Nelson, and Willie Nelson. Courtesy willienelson.com. Please, please, please deal me in.


A game about depression draws fire, because misogyny.

Women in tech get harassed for all sorts of idiotic reasons, mainly because the world, and perhaps tech in particular, seems overstuffed with misogynist creeps. To the list of Things That Excite Misogynist Ire, I regret to relay, from a sharp report by Simon Parkin at The New Yorker, that you can add “You’re a woman who helped create a clever fictive online game about being depressed”:

The reason Quinn was targeted varies, depending on whom you ask, but most explanations lead to Depression Quest, a free interactive fiction game released in 2013. To date, it has been played more than a million times. The game, created by Quinn, the writer Patrick Lindsey, and the musician Isaac Schankler, casts its player as a young adult suffering from depression. The story is told through snippets of text which, combined, total forty thousand words, bookended with ostensibly straightforward decisions for the player. Will you work at your desk or retreat to bed? Will you attend the party or remain at home? The choices appear mundane, but the protagonist, slowed by depression’s fug, finds each one to be tremendously burdensome. For example, some options, such as choosing to “enthusiastically socialize” at a party, are grayed out, forcing the player’s hand. The hate mail began to arrive on “pretty much the same day” as the game’s release, Quinn told me.

I find Parkin’s post both uplifting and depressing — the former because of Quinn’s splendid ingenuity; the latter because of her harassers’ stupid, bullheaded virulence. This online menacing of women is, alas, no longer surprising, as it’s become incessant. But it’s still shocking and execrable.

Simon Parkin reports at Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.

Quinn’s Depression Quest game. You can play for free, but I encourage you to hit the “Pay What You Want” button. 

Getting it backwards: When market value determines art value.

Some critics like Jeff Koons’s work. Others hate it. At The Dish.

[I]t is Koons’s signal achievement to have created a wholly new kind of art, one immune to all forms of judgment save that of the marketplace. Trashy? Sure, but it sells for millions—sometimes tens of millions—and there’s no reason to suppose it won’t continue to do so. That’s all that counts. Koons has succeeded by emptying his images of everything except the cheesy, the easy, the sweetly appealing, and the familiar. His works are big, they’re cute, they’re shiny, and they make no demands. What do they mean? What do you want them to mean? Something for everyone. They aren’t there to be pondered or engaged with in any significant way. They exist solely as emblems of value.


And that’s not even the nastiest.

Ferguson autopsies, dirty debt collection, and the worst video game ever

Figure from autopsy report

Figure from a preliminary autopsy report by forner NYC medical examiner Michael Baden, showing wounds on Michael Brown’s body.

Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Was Struck at Least 6 Times. By Frances Robles and Julie Bosman

Dr. Baden said that while Mr. Brown was shot at least six times, only three bullets were recovered from his body. But he has not yet seen the X-rays showing where the bullets were found, which would clarify the autopsy results. Nor has he had access to witness and police statements.

Jelani Cobb has the best single thing I’ve read about Ferguson.

From the outset, the overlapping bureaucracies in Ferguson handled the case in ways that suggested ineptitude. Yet subsequent developments—the stonewalling followed by contradictory statements, the detention of reporters, the clumsy deployment of sophisticated military equipment—all point not to a department too inept to handle this investigation objectively but one too inept to cloak the fact that they never intended to do so.

Having cops film everything they do is cheap — and it makes both cops and citizens behave better. By Derek Thompson

In 2012, Rialto, a small city in California’s San Bernardino County, outfitted its police officers with small Body Cams to be worn at all times and record all working hours. The $900 cameras weighed 108 grams and were small enough to fit on each officer’s collar or sunglasses. They recorded full-color video for up to 12 hours, which was automatically uploaded at the end of each shift, where it could be held and analyzed in a central database.

When researchers studied the effect of cameras on police behavior, the conclusions were striking. Within a year, the number of complaints filed against police officers in Rialto fell by 88 percent and “use of force” fell by 59 percent. “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, told the New York Times. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Also at Atlantic, James Fallows put together a reading guide about the militarization of America’s police.

Debt collection is even shadier than you think. By Jake Halpern.

One imperative for Wilson and his collectors was conveying the calm, cool, unshakable understanding that they were, in fact, the rightful owners of these debts and that these debts needed to be paid promptly. It remained unsaid, of course, that this “paper” had often been purchased for as little as one penny on the dollar, and there was no mention of the fact that many of the debts that Wilson specialized in were too old to appear on a credit report or to be sued for in court. Most negative information disappears from credit reports after seven years and, depending on state law, debts may be unrecoverable through a lawsuit after as little as three years.

Yet Wilson’s pitch — you owe the money, and now you need to pay — was both simple and perfectly legal. In most states, you can still try to collect on a debt even after its statute of limitations has expired.

In 1995, Penn and Teller created Desert Bus, the worst video game ever made. Now you can get it for your iPhone. A staff pick at Paris Review.

Desert Bus never reached shelves, but its concept is so staggeringly mundane (“stupefyingly like reality,” as Penn Jillette puts it) that someone eventually saw fit to leak it. Your goal is to drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas: an eight-hour journey, conducted in real time. Is there any traffic to negotiate? No. Can you pause the game? No. Are there even passengers on the bus? No. Can you speed, at least? No. You can’t go any faster than forty-five miles an hour, and your bus always lists to the right, so you have to be vigilant in steering—no falling asleep at the wheel. If you veer off course, the bus will stall and you’ll have to wait for a tow truck to bring you back to Tucson, a humiliating defeat that also unfolds in real time. For the successful completion of this arduous journey, the player receives … one point. Then you get to make the return trip, another eight hours, for another point.

Read Two: Data-crunching murderous misogyny, Kasparov loses, Shark Week is shit

Data Scientists Are Uncovering War Crimes in Syria. By Lorenzo-Frencheschi-Biccierai. Although the war in Syria is essentially too dangerous for journalists or international observers to cover in any depth, data scientists are yielding important insights and trends — including the fact that the percentage of those killed who are women has risen from 1% in 2011 to 13% in 2013: a clue to something even more sinister.

Those numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, though. Taking a closer look at how women were killed, the researchers discovered a pattern. Women weren’t random victims of bombings for example. Instead, many were killed by snipers, indicating a deliberate policy to go after female civilians, which would constitute a war crime.

Data on how children were killed suggest a similar conclusions. Of the thousands killed in the conflict, at least 700 have been summarily executed and tortured, and about 200 boys under the age of 13 have been killed by sniper fire, according to the data.

“It’s a systematic way of killing,” says Taha Kass-Hout, one of the founders of Syria Tracker. “The individuals who committed those crimes really knew what they were doing.”

Speaking of data: U.S. mass shootings appear to rise partly from an ugly mashup of gun-nuttery and misogyny. By Rebecca Ruiz.

recent analysis of media reports and FBI data by Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that 51% of the mass shooting victims attacked between January 2009 and July 2014 were women. By contrast, women comprise only 13% of total gun homicide victims in the U.S. In more than half of the instances analyzed by Everytown, the shooter killed a former or current spouse, or intimate partner. In several cases the shooter had been previously charged with domestic violence.…

Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov has lost the presidency of the World Chess Federation because Putin hates him. By Dylan Loeb McClain.

In evident retaliation in the months leading up to the election, Russian embassies in many countries called chess officials in an effort to help the candidacy of Mr. Ilyumzhinov. Among those who said they were contacted were officials in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Norway and Singapore.

The election was held during the biennial Chess Olympiad and each of the participating countries had one vote.

Kasparov lost 110–61.

Shark Week is total bullshit and lies to scientists, yet people talk to them anyway. By David Shiffman.

Davis was shocked to find that his interview aired during a 2013 Shark Week special called Voodoo Shark, which was about a mythical monster shark called “Rooken” that lived in the Bayous of Louisiana. The “other filming” his interview was combined with featured a Bayou fishermen, and the clips were edited together to make it seem like a race between his team of researchers and the fishermen to see who could catch the mythical voodoo shark faster. In reality, Davis was barely asked about the voodoo shark at all. His answers from unrelated questions were edited together to make it seem like he believed in its existence and was searching for it.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman says goodbye


Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Man Most Wanted”

As David Denby notes in a satisfying review, “A Most Wanted Man,” made from the John le Carre film of the same title, makes an apt goodbye from Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The movie, as if in homage to Smiley’s Cold War days, returns to the old-fashioned trappings of espionage: cigarette-pack drop-offs of intelligence, planted bugs and surveillance cameras, meetings in forlorn dives. Corbijn’s previous film, “The American,” which starred George Clooney as a hired assassin, was unconvincing and absurdly chic, but the director has sobered up. He stages several conversations between [Phlip Semour Hoffman’s] Bachmann and Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), a charming C.I.A. official who understands Bachmann’s needs but may be playing him, and Corbijn and the actors skillfully bring out the sinister undertones in these exchanges. They’re the best thing in the movie, but a familiar problem arises: le Carré’s complicated plot and his thrillingly cryptic dialogue can’t be adequately conveyed in two hours. The finest dramatization of le Carré remains the BBC’s 1979 seven-part adaptation of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” directed by John Irvin, in which the elaborate mock-politeness of élite English manners garlands the arcane conspiracies at glorious length.

Bachmann’s nature seems to reflect Hoffman’s unsettled state in his final days. Bachmann smokes constantly and pours himself whiskey neat. Hoffman, his shirt hanging out, tears through rooms, growling at everyone in German-accented English. He almost never smiles, almost never looks at people until he turns threateningly toward them with a bulldog frown. The film gives le Carré’s bitterly intelligent man some streaks of tenderness, which bring him closer to a conventional movie hero. Yet the heroic quality in Hoffman doesn’t need softening. A great actor, he carried his despair and his outsized sense of responsibility with him to the end.

I saw the film last night and find Denby spot on regarding both film and Hoffman. The film’s shortcomings are minor, its strengths immensely rewarding.

I would only add this to amplify Denby’s take. At one point in the film, Hoffman’s character, Gunter Bachmann, who as Denby notes is a sullen dangerous bulldog through most of the film, experiences a brief moment of pleasure. It comes in one of those scenes with Robin Wright (who plays a CIA agent), when Bachmann/Hoffman manages to turn a jingoist phrase that Wright used earlier in the film back against her, winning a small but gratifying victory. (Alas, it will prove temporary.) We see him deliver this “gotcha” from a camera placed at Wright’s point-of-view, so that Hoffman is looking straight at us when he says it. And when he delivers his zinger, he gives her — and thus us — a splendid smile of intelligent joy. Actually he doesn’t give the smile; rather the smile unexpectedly amidst all his troubles, suddenly takes over his face, surprising even him with its unlikely appearance; to direct it at his rival only increases his delight. Next to this grin, the celebrated smiles of Tom Cruise are dun.

It is Bachmann’s only moment of joy. It is easily the film’s happiest moment — and with its reminder of what we lost when we lost Hoffman, the film’s saddest moment as well.