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Observers of financial services saw unbelievable prosperity and apparently immense value added. Yet two years later the whole industry was bankrupt. A simple reason underlies this: any industry that pays out in cash colossal accounting profits that are largely imaginary will go bust quickly. Not only has the industry– and by extension societies that depend on it– been spending money that is no longer there, it has been giving away money that it only imagined it had in the first place. Worse, it seems to want to do it all again. What were the sources of this imaginary wealth? First, spreads on credit that took no account of default probabilities (bankers have been doing this for centuries, but not on this scale). Second, unrealised mark-to-market profits on the trading book, especially in illiquid instruments. Third, profits conjured up by taking the net present value of streams of income stretching into the future, on derivative issuance for example. In the last two of these the bank was not receiving any income, merely “booking revenues.” How could they pay this non-existent wealth out in cash to their employees? Because they had no measure of cash flow to tell them they were idiots, and because everyone else was doing it. Paying out 50 per cent of revenues to staff had become the rule, even when the “revenues” did not actually consist of money. –“Innumerate Bankers Were Ripe for a Reckoning,” Martin Taylor, Financial Times (via)
Physicists: Great authors (Hardy, Melville, Lawrence) have “unique word” curves, and pull their works from a “meta book”;
related: Graham Greene parodies himself in contest, wins second prize;
Cornell gives the Internet Archive 80,000 books;
a vampire writes on vampire films;
“I Am Locking the Wikipedia Article on Our Sex Life”
I guess I would use my son’s word: cool. It was cool to work in the White House. All the internal investigations are over with, no finding of wrongdoing, no finding that I misled Congress. (Editor’s note: A 2008 Department of Justice investigation was referred to a federal prosecutor and remains ongoing.) So I’m gratified by that, but I’m certainly not surprised by it. But anyway, it creates impressions. And yeah, it takes some time to work through that. And that’s what I’m trying to do now. Sometimes that can be a little bit discouraging, quite frankly, given that you’re looking at partner in a major firm, Harvard Law School graduate, general counsel to a governor, counselor to the president, secretary of state, state supreme court justice, attorney general of the United States. I’m proud of that record. I don’t believe my life’s work should be solely defined by four years in the White House and two years as attorney general. –“Alberto Gonzales: What I’ve learned,” interview by John H. Richardson, Esquire
Christopher Hitchens in defense of foxhole atheists; see also: Jeff Sharlet in the May 2009 Harper’s, “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military”; and, finally, with Oral Roberts dead, it’s time to revisit MC 900 Ft. Jesus: “Truth Is Out of Style”; “Killer Inside Me”; “The City Sleeps”; “If I Only Had a Brain”
In other words, Woods has been presented as the embodiment of bourgeois virtues: dedication, hard work, single-mindedness… The current scandal has disrupted, if not shattered, this image of perfect control. Scandals that aren’t out of tune with a celebrity’s image are often surprisingly easy to bounce back from: after images of Kate Moss snorting coke surfaced, her bookings fell, but, over time, they went up. Revelations that Michael Jordan had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars gambling barely dented his appeal, since the story reinforced the image of him as a fierce competitor. But scandals that conflict with a person’s public image can wreak havoc. And it’s hard to think of a scandal that’s more discordant with an image of focus and discipline than this one. Woods’s alleged cavorting with Vegas waitresses and celebrity groupies, his woeful “sexts” and voice mails, his driving his S.U.V. into a tree: all these things make him look weak and discombobulated. Some have speculated, optimistically, that this may humanize the Tiger. But that’s exactly the problem: what was so amazing about Woods was precisely that he wasn’t like the rest of us—that he wasn’t weak or distracted. –“Branded a Cheat,” James Surowiecki, The New Yorker
Advice from science: for wedded bliss, share chores;
to lose more weight, turn off the TV;
to save money, be born first;
and if you’re ugly, you’ll be happier in some godforsaken cowtown;
also: mammoths may have roamed only 7,600 years ago;
professional skeptic the Amazing James Randi now amazingly skeptical of global warming; and no one in Copenhagen (where Naomi Klein is protesting) is talking about population control (by Andrew C. Revkin, who’s taking a buyout as the Times cuts its budget); 50 reasons why global warming is not natural; and, in Chicago, a baby beluga
Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:
Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.
A teenager in Singapore was convicted of obscenity for posts critical of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, that included an image of Lee having sex with Margaret Thatcher.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”