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My local independent bookstore is having a sale on random paper product doodads, which got me in the mood for something completely different.

So here y’are.

  1. The Best Books on Writing, NYC, Animals, and More: A Collaboration with the New York Public Library on Brain Pickings:

    Kelli [Anderson], with her own brand of idealistic maximalism, decided to turn the [New York Public Library] reading lists into a magnificent papercraft wonderland featuring oversized three-dimensional sculptures of each of the books amidst an intricate paper cityscape of the Manhattan skyline.

  2. Conic hiragana series made from paper by Makoto Sasao on Spoon and Tamago:

    Each year since 1990 Takeo Paper, a major Japanese paper manufacturer, has hosted a paper art exhibition to select awesomeness in paper. The most recent winner was paper craft artist Makoto Sasao, who wowed the judges with his prize winning entry titled “Togari Hiragana.” Meaning pointed hiragana, Sasao used a single piece of paper to create a 3D representation of each hiragana character that stands up in the shape of a pyramid or cone.

    When viewed from the side the objects merely look like paper cut-outs. But when the vantage point is shifted to a birds-eye view, the characters are revealed.

  3. I have Running With Scissors (based on the memoir of the same name by Augusten Burroughs) queued up to watch, but, alas, it’s not rated high with Mssr. Roeper on RottenTomatoes:

    In the real world, mental illness is a serious problem. In this film, it gives everyone a license to run around like characters in a Lewis Carroll story — all of it set to predictable pop hits from the 1970s.

And there you go. Who says I can’t rock a tightly themed set of bullet points? Up yours, Book of Lists! Vaffanculo…uh…this guy.

What, between concrete action to reduce discriminatory drug sentencing, the end of “stop and frisk”, and the Whitey Bulger verdict, I’ve seen worse.

Speaking of which, I still maintain that making The Departed the way they did was a big mistake. I liked the Hong Kong movie it was based on, Infernal Affairs. Same basic plot (though with much better-developed characters despite being about 50 minutes shorter), but where The Departed was sloppy and discursive, Infernal Affairs was lean, tight, and rolled like a freight train. A great movie of its genre, though it’s not going to change your life or anything. In any event, there are no parts where the protagonist yells at people at that aren’t ever going to reappear in the movie at a funeral that has no ramifications going forward, you know, that type of stuff. But apart from that, by deciding to pattern the Jack Nicholson character so closely after Bulger, the movie introduced elements that could have made for a much better, more special movie. After all, while Whitey Bulger was up to tricks, his brother was running the Massachusetts State Senate. A movie that paralleled the paths up of those two men, even if somewhat fictionalized, sounds like the premise of a great film (or a great cable television program, as well). Certainly, the possibilities of that film would have been much greater than the material that was used. And while I would trust Scorsese to handle the political stuff, given that Casino and The Age of Innocence are both classic films that deal with that sort of material, I very much would not want Jack Nicholson to appear in it, unless time travel is invented and we could shanghai him away from 1974 for a couple months.

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losing moneyI’ve come to believe that one of the bigger problems unleashed by the ever-unfolding series of NSA data-hoovering scandals is the dramatic impact it’s likely going to have on America’s dominant presence at the helm of the global Internet.

Now that everyone knows that the NSA can secretly compel any U.S. company to hand over whatever data it wants, you know that thousands of smart companies all over the world are now trying to figure out how to completely divert their Internet use and traffic away from the United States.  Moreover, think about all the thousands of nascent European entrepreneurs who are hatching plans to basically duplicate U.S. web services, base them in Europe and offer them up as an appealing alternative to similar services based in the U.S. that are, at all times, subject to secret NSA data-hoovering.

Here’s Greenwald via BJ on the topic:

The growing (and accurate) perception that most US-based companies are not to be trusted with the privacy of electronic communications poses a real threat to those companies’ financial interests. A report issued this week by the Technology and Innovation Foundation estimated that the US cloud computing industry, by itself, could lose between $21 billion to $35 billion due to reporting about the industry’s ties to the NSA. It also notes that other nations’ officials have been issuing the same kind of warnings to their citizens about US-based companies as the one issued by Lavabit yesterday:

And after the recent PRISM leaks, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared publicly, ‘whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don’t go through American servers.’ Similarly, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a German Justice Minister, called for a boycott of US companies.”

100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedHas the GOP screwed its penultimate pooch?

From The Democratic Strategist’s Why Seniors Are Turning Against The GOP via Old Folks Turning Away From GOP For Real? on the Political Animal:

There’s something going on with seniors: It is now strikingly clear that they have turned sharply against the GOP. This is apparent in seniors’ party affiliation and vote intention, in their views on the Republican Party and its leaders, and in their surprising positions on jobs, health care, retirement security, investment economics, and the other big issues that will likely define the 2014 midterm elections.

Further on, makin’ with the facts:

–In 2010, seniors voted for Republicans by a 21 point margin (38 percent to 59 percent). Among seniors likely to vote in 2014, the Republican candidate leads by just 5 points (41 percent to 46 percent.)
–When Republicans took control of the House of Representatives at the beginning of 2011, 43 percent of seniors gave the Republican Party a favorable rating. Last month, just 28 percent of seniors rated the GOP favorably. This is not an equal-opportunity rejection of parties or government — over the same period, the Democratic Party’s favorable rating among seniors has increased 3 points, from 37 percent favorable to 40 percent favorable.

–When the Republican congress took office in early 2011, 45 percent of seniors approved of their job performance. That number has dropped to just 22 percent — with 71 percent disapproving.

–Seniors are now much less likely to identify with the Republican Party. On Election Day in 2010, the Republican Party enjoyed a net 10 point party identification advantage among seniors (29 percent identified as Democrats, 39 percent as Republicans). As of last month, Democrats now had a net 6 point advantage in party identification among seniors (39 percent to 33 percent).

–More than half (55 percent) of seniors say the Republican Party is too extreme, half (52 percent) say it is out of touch, and half (52 percent) say the GOP is dividing the country. Just 10 percent of seniors believe that the Republican Party does not put special interests ahead of ordinary voters.

–On almost every issue we tested — including gay rights, aid to the poor, immigration, and gun control — more than half of seniors believe that the Republican Party is too extreme.

The survivalist demographic’s still in the bag, no doubt, but how will the GOP keep the olds down on the farm once they’ve seen gay (commiemuslimatheist) Paree?

the-bonds-of-marriage-angela-conwaySome people thought that my earlier comments on what I thought of marriage were a bit too strident:

For much of its history, marriage was all about transferring ownership of a woman from her father to her husband, which included, for some lucky husbands, that sweet, sweet dowry.  But even in our more modern times the same principle obtains: lock two people up in the “bonds” of holy matrimony and then position governmental and ecclesiastical guards at the door to forcefully dissuade them from getting  out.

Well, I’m not alone in how I characterize the purpose of marriage.  Here’s Kyle Cupp inadvertently helping to make my point:

One of the purposes of marriage is to direct and compel behavior.  People make vows, publicly, and henceforth there is a public expectation that the couple will keep their vows.  The legal structure of marriage reenforces this expectation.  Marriage sets ideals the couple has to work towards.  Hard work? Always.  Chance for failure?  You bet.

So I’m supposed to voluntarily lock up myself and someone else in a (lovely, well-appointed) jail, and the only way to get out is to tunnel through the walls or bribe and sweet-talk the guards?  No thanks.

Since a new debt ceiling showdown will be upon us soon, I thought it would be prudent to take a look at the last one again by rereading the pertinent chapters of Noam Scheiber’s The Escape Artists, which I have previously reviewed in this space. No real new conclusions, other than that it was one of those things where every individual choice had some amount of logic to it although the overall course was extremely illogical. What also stuck out to me was the regard by which “the base” was held by the White House, even post-Emanuel. Consider these passages from p.253 and p.258:

But at times Plouffe’s preoccupation with independents and his skepticism toward the Democratic base overflowed into outright disdain for the party’s traditional interest groups. “He didn’t want to have a desk”–a formal outreach operation–“for every ethnic group,” said one campaign colleague. “He had this thing: ‘We’re different.'” [...]

With the 2011 budget finally on the books, Plouffe relished the chance to turn to the long-term deficit. Since the beginning of the year, the president had contemplated an ambitious deal–not just the usual nips and tucks, but one that took aim at his party’s most sacred programs: Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Plouffe urged the president to give it a shot. [...] Sure, this would enrage the party’s base. But the political upside with the rest of the country would more than make up for it. In any case, the stubborn resistance to reforming Medicare and Social Security was just another instance of old-school special pleading.

Interesting that it would count as “special pleading” to preserve highly popular, iconic, revered programs at maximally effective levels. Some might say that that’s the norm, not the outlier. What’s even more amazing is that the White House really did feel as though a deal that cut loads of money from Social Security and Medicare benefits (and raise taxes too!) was going to be some sort of smash hit with the public. I would understand if the Obama Administration had decided to pursue a “big” deal under the assumption that, it might hurt us in the short run but it helps us out long-term, like Bill Clinton’s first budget. Or, this isn’t going to be popular, but it’s the right thing to do, like the Social Security reforms of the 1980s. Of course, if you actually believe that lopping billions out of benefits for these programs was going to be politically popular as well as economically brilliant, then you’d be pretty fanatical about doing them! But David Plouffe really shows here is that, while he’s pretty good at winning elections for Barack Obama, he’s not much of a mind when it comes to the politics of governing. Putting aside the economics of it all, this was political malpractice and Plouffe really should have known better (or Obama should have known better than to give him the portfolio of trying to get this deal). When it comes to elections, if someone is polling at 65%, then that candidate is highly likely to win. On issues, 65% support could mean a lot, or it could mean nothing. It could, actually, be intentionally misleading. People are pretty complicated! When it comes to personalities, voters find it pretty easy to make a choice. When it comes to an issue as difficult as spending levels, the public generally has a harder time dealing with all the details. So you get results that don’t make much sense, like polls showing widespread approval for big deficit cuts, but also support for increasing almost every type of spending except for foreign aid and sometimes defense. It’s a tough issue, and it’s not helped by politicians and centrist pundits who like to pretend getting people together in a room will fix everything, and generate a deal that the vast majority of the country really wants, in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Such as polls, certainly, but also the people they send to Washington, nearly all of whom either oppose any net tax increases or oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits. In some cases, both!

In the end, we were saved from this experiment by Barack Obama’s wishful thinking about Republicans and taxes. But it seems extremely unlikely to me that combining the unpopular policies of reducing Social Security benefits (through chained-CPI or somesuch) and raising the Medicare eligibility age, with the also not very popular policy of raising taxes, and giving the reason for this as something as abstract and meaningless to the public as “the long-term deficit” was going to have hugely positive campaign effects, considering that emotional catharsis of the death of Osama Bin Laden was worth ten points for a week at most. In all likelihood, the Obama-Boehner Deficit Reduction Act of 2011 would only have ensured that Obama lost his job last year, just on the basis of disaffected liberals staying home or going third party.

A rather obscure, haunting little something from John Cale:

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