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Daily Office:


29 April 2010


Matins: When you've read Amanda Bensen's review of a new paperback about the orange juice biz, you may agree with us that the only acceptable alternative to squeezing your own is doing without. (Smithsonian; via MetaFilter)

As a result, despite what advertisers claim, most orange juice is neither fresh nor natural (not in the way most of us would define those terms). Think about it; how could it be truly fresh year-round, when oranges are a seasonal product? Sure, it may be “not from concentrate,” but raw juice is often heated, stripped of its volatile compounds and flavor-rich oils, and stored for as long as a year before it reaches the consumer. Something called “the flavor pack” is used to return most of the “natural” aroma and taste to the product...

Lauds: Writing about the William Eggleston exhibition, "Democratic Camera," which has reached Chicago, Ken Tanaka has three good tips for visitors. We're particularly drawn to the second, which emphasizes the role of Mr Eggleston's body of work on the appreciation of individual photographs. (The Online Photographer)

First, leave your shutterbug-ness at the door. Suspend your reflexive introspection of camera type, lenses, film type, and f-stops. Don't view the work through a photographic lens, so to speak. Just look at the images quietly. Stand in front of many of these images for a minute or two (an unusually long time for most museum visitors) and you'll feel the warm, humid breezes of the sultry Southern American summers from which so many of these image were taken. You'll begin to hear a distant cicada. These are slices of an experience rather than photos of a moment. It can actually get a bit creepy.

Second, look at as much of his work in one visit/sitting as possible. Like mosaic art where one tile means nothing, one Eggleston image represents merely a souvenir of his body of work. That's why this show, and its even more comprehensive catalog, are so significant; they present the whole mosaic in one place.

Third, please do not ignore the title of this show: Democratic Camera. It's fundamental to understanding the mosaic. Everything carries an equal visual "vote" to Eggleston's camera. A stray dog drinking from a mud puddle. Rusty lawn chairs on a dilapidated porch. The gates to Gracelend. A diffused shadow through a glass panel in a Tokyo subway. William Eggleston's eyes have no celebrity filters. Everything is a candidate to become a new tile in his mosaic wall.

Prime: In an entry at his New Yorker blog, John Cassidy explains why we saw the subprime mortgage crisis coming even though the bankers didn't: we didn't (and don't) understand the first thing about risk models. (via Felix Salmon)

In effect, if not intention, the model converts “disaster myopia”—the human tendency to discount previous highly negative experiences—into a dollar figure, thereby giving it a ring of authenticity. Armed with this false knowledge, individuals and firms act more and more recklessly.

It is here that the allusion to classical physics, which underpins much of modern finance, breaks down. In a Newtonian system, the heat molecules don’t suddenly line up and march around the room in lockstep. But on Wall Street, the molecules—the individual traders and investors—sometimes do exactly that, with market prices acting as the coördination mechanism. Once such a system moves away from equilibrium, the (privately) rational choices of individual decision makers tend to accentuate disturbances rather than dampening them. And the result, all too often, is boom and bust.

So what’s the solution? That is a topic for another panel (or post). But it must ultimately come down to exercising human judgment rather than relying blindly on statistical models. Such contraptions have their place, but they should never again be elevated to the position they occupied during the past decade. In this area, as in others, it is time to put an end to the cult of economic modelling.

It's interesting, isn't it — the way "the cult of economic modelling" sounds tinpot totalitarian?

Tierce: Carl Zimmer reports on "deep homology," the appearance of similar clusters of genes across widely different species that do the same sort of things. For example, one module enables yeast cells to fix cell walls, and human beings to create blood vessels. Mysteries remain! (NYT)

Our own eyes are also the product of deep homology. The light-sensing organs of jellyfish seem very different from our eyes, for example, but both use the same module of genes to build light-catching molecules.

Scientists are also discovering that our nervous system shares an even deeper homology with single-celled organisms. Neurons communicate with each other by forming connections called synapses. The neurons use a network of genes to build a complete scaffolding to support the synapse. In February, Alexandre Alié and Michael Manuel of the National Center for Scientific Research in France reported finding 13 of these scaffold-building genes in single-celled relatives of animals known as choanoflagellates.

No one is sure what choanoflagellates use these neuron-building genes for. The one thing that is certain is that they don’t build neurons with them.

Sext: Jimmy Chen explains the many different flavors of "editor," at HTMLGIANT. ("It just seems like a bunch of people calling one another fancy names.")(via The Rumpus)

Editor at large – (Sorry again, I keep on imagining men.) This guy is “at large,” the way criminals are “at large,” like he’s on the streets with his blackberry or iPhone rejecting people and having lunch with the graphic designer (somebody with a drug problem and dyed hair). This guy basically does everything and wants to kill the editor.

Editor in chief – this guy does exactly what the Editor at large does, except he’s got an inferiority complex and wants to be called “Chief.” (Either that or he’s Native American.) When he’s making love he wants to be called “Horse.” He’s obsessed with semantics, forces people to bold his name in every issue.

Managing Editor – this is more of an administrative role; he is in charge of ordering bathroom supplies and toner. He’s also the one who has to store the boxes full of unsold copies in his living room. He has a two cats and no girlfriend. He is so broke he makes tea with toothpaste. He is a prime suicide candidate.

Nones: Tired of worrying about Greece? Consider Hungary, where an authoritarian administration is about to take office while the value of the forint plummets. Edward Hugh has seen this coming, but what's the satisfaction of that?. (A Fistful of Euros)

As I say, this is what I had feared would happen. It has been obvious for some time now that the true extent of the fiscal position in Hungary was not being made public - especially off-balance sheet debt in public corporations, and in Public Private Participation projects. Of course, the incoming government, like its Greek counterpart before it, wants to “come clean” so as not to take what it would consider to be unmerited blame. But that isn’t how markets will see it, since they will simply push up the country risk element given that fiscal spending has been - in theory - being brought under control since as far back 2006. That is to say, and this is an issue we will have to face in a number of the countries in the East, the IMF programmes simply are not working as they should, or giving the anticipated and hoped for results. I have written about all of this on numerous occasions on my Hungary blog, most notably and most recently in my post of January 21 Hungary Isn’t Another Greece……..Now Is It? - which was treated sufficently seriously to receive a direct reply from the then Minister of Finance, Peter Oszko.

Vespers: In a short but poignant piece, Cindy Jane Cho, currently doing NGO work in Namibia, reads three books, two of them celebrated (The Catcher in the Rye and Middlemarch), one of them utterly unknown to us. The entry bears the unmistakable pong of yearning youth. (The Millions)

n A Trip to the Stars, all the characters are striking. They are knowledgeable in grand subjects like Latin, spiders, horticulture, constellations, and Atlantis. Mala Revell, the heroine, is lost for years to her lover, Geza Cassiel, while she travels on quiet islands, performs as a telepath, and searches for her lost boy-nephew. Her journey begins when she is working for a New Orleans arachnologist who collects rare spiders. Mala entices one of the spiders to bite her finger after the arachnologist tells her its venom has the effect of “reducing the human soul to its rarest elements, stripping away all that is false, illusory, or fearful.” It is a sometimes corny, mostly lovely book that inspires a desire to be tall, honorable, and fearless.

Especially in Africa, I often long for just such a spider bite, to prompt those of us who don’t belong to engage in an occasional Holden-esque inquiry. To ask why we are here, to strip away all that is false, illusory, or fearful. What am I doing? Why did I come? What happens when I leave?

Compline: As part of its valuable Backlist series, The Second Pass publishes Lila Garnett's impressive review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch's The Culture of Defeat: On Trauma, Mourning and Recovery, a book that is currently out of print. Never mind: Ms Garnett's cogent paragraphs spell out an important message: defeat is bad for everyone, even winners. Is anything as toxic as the thirst for revenge?

Schivelbusch maintains a compelling tension between dismay at the sheer mountain of lies that losers embrace, and awe at the ability of a devastated people to regenerate at all. We recognize elements of this process from the experience of loss and recovery on an individual level. Joan Didion has referred to it as The Year of Magical Thinking. When defeat overwhelms whole nations, the exaggerated, irrational drama that animates the masses may offer protection from what is unbearable, but it can do real harm in the world. At the same time, the energies devoted to transformation are essentially creative, and can combine the old with the new in interesting and productive ways. Schivelbusch offers the fall of Troy as a prototype for defeat, and reminds us that Aeneas eventually took his place in mythology as the founder of Rome, while many of the Greek heroes of that conflict came to woe.

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