Posts tagged ‘art’

The Great Class of 1984

One of the great joys of being in Princeton's class of 1984 is having master cartoonist (and libertarian, though I don't know what he would call himself) Henry Payne in our class.  For the last 30 years, Henry has made a custom birthday card for the class, which are mailed to each of us on the appropriate day.  This is mine from 2014

click to enlarge

I started saving these a while back but I wish I had saved all 30.  I also have a caricature of me drawn in college by Henry, but it does not get a prized place on our wall at home because it includes my college girlfriend as well, which substantially reduces its value as perceived by my wife.  (In speaker-building there is a common term of art called "wife acceptance factor" or WAF.  Pictures of ex-girlfriends have low WAF).

Here is an example of some of Henry's great political work:


College Tours Summarized in One Sentence

The WSJ has an editorial on college tours, wherein they talk about the sameness (and lameness) of most college tours.

Most colleges offer both an information session and a tour.  We always found the tour, given by students, more useful than information sessions given by the admission department.  I came to hate the information sessions in large part because the Q&A seems to be dominated by type A helicopter parents worried that Johnny won't get into Yale because he forgot to turn in an art project in 3rd grade.

My kids and I developed a joke a couple of years ago about information sessions, in which we summarize them in one sentence.  So here it is:

"We are unique in the exact same ways that every other college you visit says they are unique."

Examples:  We are unique because we have a sustainability program, because we have small class sizes, because our dining plans are flexible, because we don't just look at SAT scores in admissions, because our students participate in research, because our Juniors go abroad, etc. etc.

There you go.  You can now skip the information session and go right to the tour.  Actually, there is a (very) short checklist of real differences.  The ones I can remember off hand are:

  • Does the school have required courses / distribution requirements or not
  • Is admissions need blind or not
  • Is financial aid in the form of grants or loans
  • Do they require standardized tests or not, and which ones
  • If they do, do they superscore or not
  • Do they use the common app, and if so do they require a supplement
  • Do they require an interview or not

My advice for tour givers (and I can speak from some experience having gone on about 20 and having actually conducted them at my college) is to include a lot of anecdotes that give the school some character.   I particularly remember the Wesleyan story about Joss Whedon's old dorm looking out over a small cemetery and the role this may have played in the development of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The biggest fail on most tours is many don't show a typical dorm room, the #1 thing the vast majority of prospective admits want to see.

The Right To Not Be Offended

I already wrote about the Wellesley art kerfuffle, but I liked this quote form Lenore Skenazy

Once we equate making people feel bad with actually attacking them, free expression is basically obsolete, since anything a person does, makes or says could be interpreted as abuse.

Beyond the general amazing sight of feminists acting like Victorian women with the vapors rather than strong, confident human beings, I am still amazed at this interpretation of the art as somehow representing a male threat.  Perhaps this is one area where the campus is poorer for the lack of male voices.  I can't imagine there are many men who see this statue as anything other than a representation of fear and vulnerability and helplessness.  Seriously, does anyone consider sleepwalking at school in your tighty whities as anything but  a bad dream?  If you had showed me this statue before all the brouhaha and asked me if it was more threatening to men or women, I would have answered "men" without a second thought.

Notes from the Cloister

I have read the petitions, and I still cannot understand why so many of the (all female) students of Wellesley College are having a major freak-out about this piece of sculpture.  This is from a student petition to have it removed:

On contrary, this highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community. While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space.

Seriously?  It's a freaking sculpture.  I had thought that the whole point of women's colleges was to focus on creating strong, empowered women.  My wife always felt that way about Vassar (where the culture of educating strong women apparently existed even after it went coed).  But this story tells me that women's colleges have become cloisters to protect hothouse flowers whose fragile sensibilities can't handle a piece of art that is not particularly racy or outré (in the context of today's standards).   This is taking the fake campus right to not be offended and turning it into a pathology.   If you think I am exaggerating, go to the linked article and read the students and alums quoted.

To me, this art tells a story of a man's vulnerability and helplessness.   I would have thought the feminists would have loved it.

Did Anyone See the Movie Interstate 60? Because This Story Reminds Me of That Movie

No, it's never going to win an award for art direction or acting, but one of my favorite movies is Interstate 60.  In part because almost no one has heard of it and it is fun to be part of the cult in a cult classic.  But at its heart it is really a pretty good movie on the various meanings of freedom -- or more accurately, on the varous ways in which people can enslave themselves.

The movie is essentially a series of vignettes -- short little stories -- connected by a guy on the road on a quest.  One of those involved Kurt Russell as the sheriff in a small town.  For those who saw the movie (and if you have not, go find it on Netflix), doesn't this remind you a lot of the Kurt Russell town Banton?

At nine o'clock in the morning in a garden shed behind a house in Amsterdam, a handful of alcoholics are getting ready to clean the surrounding streets, beer and cigarette in hand.

For a day's work, the men receive 10 euros (around $13), a half-packet of rolling tobacco and, most importantly, five cans of beer: two to start the day, two at lunch and one for after work.

Verbal Gymnastics and the Enrollment Report

I did not want this to get lost -- in an Enrollment report that used the word "enroll" or some variant 229 times, the one thing the report was missing was the actual number of people who had enrolled.  On the Medicaid side, the report said how many had been found eligible but not how many had enrolled.  On the private side, the best we get is this, which is just a classic of the political art:

106,185 (10 percent) of the 1,081,592 total Marketplace plan eligible persons have already selected a plan by clicking a button on the website page.

The obvious language would have been "106,185 enrolled in a plan" or "bought a plan."  But it does not say this, despite the fact that the Obama Administration certainly has the relevant number.  What this means is that 106,185 people ... OK, a quick aside.  It is not actually 106,185 people being successful on the web.  This is the number of people who would be covered in plans "clicked on" by visitors.  The total number of clicks is well under this -- likely something like 60,000, if the ration of 1.78 persons per application holds from the other numbers in the report.  So this is the number of people covered in something like 60,000 plans that visitors did the equivalent of putting in the online shopping cart but may not yet have paid for.

Well, maybe the number paid is really close to 106,185.  Hah!  I can disprove that quite simply:  We were not told the number.  QED it sucks.

Lessons That Are No Help

You know how someone does an amazing trick, and then they show you how, and you say, "Oh, I see, that was easy once you know the trick."  Well, that is not the case with this art, at least for me.  

One problem with art books is they will have some exercise to draw a face, and step one will be an oval and step two will be a few more ovals, and I am following along well, and then step three the whole face is suddenly drawn in where the ovals were.   Art books all do this and it drives me crazy.    Well, at least the guy in the linked video shows every single little step.  And it still seems a miracle that the picture emerges.


If I Were a Billionaire: Coyote College

My daughter and I did the whole college visit thing last week -- 8 colleges in five days.  In doing so, I was struck by the fact that all these great schools we visited, with one exception, were founded by rich people no more recently than the 19th century.  Seriously, can you name a college top students are trying to get into that was founded since 1900?  I think Rice University in Houston was founded in the 20th century but it is still over 100 years old.

The one exception, by the way, was SCAD, an art school in Savannah, Georgia.  SCAD is new enough that it is still being run by its founder.  I am not sure I am totally comfortable in the value proposition of an expensive art school, but I will say that this was -- by far -- the most dynamic school we visited.

So here is what I would do:  Create a new not-for-profit university aimed at competing at the top levels, e.g. with the Ivy League.  I would find a nice bit of land for it in a good climate, avoiding big cities.  The Big Island of Hawaii would be a nice spot, though that may be too remote.   Scottsdale would not be a bad choice since its bad weather is during the summer out of the normal school year and land is relatively cheap.

Then, I would take the top academic kids, period.  No special breaks for athletes or tuba players.  It would have some reasonable school non-academic programs just to remain competitive for students - maybe some intramurals or club sports, but certainly no focus on powerhouse athletics.  We could set a pool of money aside to help fund clubs and let students drive and run most of the extra-curriculars, from singing groups to debate clubs.  If students are passionate enough to form and lead these activities, they would happen.

And now I need a reader promise here - if you are going to read the next sentence, you have to read the whole rest of the article before flying into any tizzies.

And for the most part we would scrap affirmative action and diversity goals.  We are going to take the best students.  This does not mean its pure SAT's - one can certainly look at a transcript and SAT in the context of the school kids went to, so that smart kids are not punished for going to a crap public high school.

Realize I say this with the expectation that the largest group of students who will be getting affirmative action over the next 20 years are... white males.

What?  How can this be?  Well it is already nearly true.  Sure, historically everyone has focused on reverse discrimination against white males when colleges were dealing with having twice as many men than women and they had few qualified black or hispanic candidates.  But my sense is that few white males any more lose their spot in college due to competition from under-qualified minority candidates.

That is because there is an enormous demographic shift going on in college.  In fact there are three:

  1. Girls rule high school and higher education.  Yes, I know that women steeped in "Failing at Fairness" will find this hard to believe, but undergraduates are something like 56% women nowadays.  As we toured Ivy League schools, we were on tours with about 6 prospective female students for every one guy.  Back when my son played high school basketball, on the walls of various high schools he played at were pictures of their honor societies.  Time and again I saw pictures of 20 girls and one or two forlorn boys.  If top schools want to keep their gender numbers even, then they are going to have to start affirmative action for boys, if they have not done so already (I suspect they have).
  2. Asians are being actively discriminated against.  Schools will never ever admit it, because they are getting sued by Asian prospective students (I know Princeton has been sued) but reverse discrimination against Asian students is becoming more and more intense.  The bar for Asia females already is way higher than the bar for white males in top schools, and it likely will only get worse
  3. Foreign students bring in the cash.  Ivy League schools have a ton of international students, which makes sense as they strive to be international institutions.  But one thing they will not tell you is that there is another reason for bringing in foreign students:  For most schools, their need-blind admissions policies and increasingly generous financial aid packages do not apply to foreign students, or apply on a much more limited basis.  The average tuition paid by international students is thus much higher.  I suspect, but cannot prove, that under the cover of diversity these schools are lowering their standards to bring in students who bring the cash.

So we scrap all this.  If the school ends up 80% Asian women, fine.  Every forum in one's life does not have to have perfect diversity (whatever the hell that is), and besides there are plenty of other market choices for students who are seeking different racial and ethnic mixes in their college experience.   We just want the best.  And whatever money we can raise, we make sure  a lot of it goes to financial aid rather than prettier buildings (have you seen what they are building at colleges these days?) so we can make sure the best can afford to attend.  Getting good faculty might be the challenge at first, but tenure tracks have dried up so many places that my gut feel is that there are plenty of great folks out there who can't get tenure where they are and would jump at a chance to move.  You won't have Paul Krugman or Bill McKibben type names at first, but is that so bad?

We know the business community hires from Ivy League schools in part because they can essentially outsource their applicant screening to the University admissions office.  So we will go them one better and really sell this.   Hire any of our graduates and you know you are getting someone hard-working and focused and very smart.

I don't know if it would work, but hell, I am a billionaire, what's the risk in trying?

Me & Eliot

In a hard-hitting, incredibly researched piece of journalism entitled "Me & Ted", Josh Marshall polled his progressive friends at Princeton and found that they all thought Ted Cruz was an asshole.

Well, it turns out Ted and I went to college together. And not just we happened to be at the same place at the same time. We were both at a pretty small part of a relatively small university. We both went to Princeton. I was one year ahead of him. But we were both in the same residential college, which basically meant a small cluster of dorms of freshmen and sophomores numbering four or five hundred students who all ate in the same dining hall.

As it turned out, though, almost everyone I knew well in college remembered him really well. Vividly. And I knew a number of his friends. But for whatever reason I just didn't remember him. When I saw college pictures of him, I thought okay, yeah, I remember that guy but sort of in the way where you're not 100% sure you're not manufacturing the recollection.

I was curious. Was this just my wife who tends to be a get-along and go-along kind of person? So I started getting in touch with a lot of old friends and asking whether they remembered Ted. It was an experience really unlike I've ever had. Everybody I talked to - men and women, cool kids and nerds, conservative and liberal - started the conversation pretty much the same.

"Ted? Oh yeah, immense a*#hole." Sometimes "total raging a#%hole." Sometimes other variations on the theme. But you get the idea. Very common reaction.

Wow, so this is what famous journalists do?  Hey, I can do the same thing.

I went to Princeton with Eliot Spitzer.  He was a couple of years ahead of me but had a really high profile on campus, in part due to his running for various University Student Government offices.  So I checked with many of my friends back in college, and you know what?  They all thought Spitzer was an asshole.  I was reminded that we all disliked him so much that when one person (full disclosure, it was me) drunkenly asked who wanted to go moon Spitzer and the governing council meeting next door, we got 30 volunteers.  He was so irritating that he actually inspired a successful opposition party cum performance art troupe called the Antarctic Liberation Front (Virginia Postrel also wrote about it here).

Wow, am I a big time journalist now?  Will GQ be calling for me to do an article on Spitzer?

Look, this is going to be true for lots of politicians, because they share a number of qualities.  They tend to have huge egos, which eventually manifest as a desire to tell us what to do because they know better than we do.  They are willful, meaning they can work obsessively to get their own way even over trivial stuff.  And they are charismatic, meaning they generally have a group of people who adore them and whose sycophancy pisses everyone else off.  In other words, they are all assholes.

Photoshop Practice

I am working on a couple of euro-style strategy card games at the moment.  The first is a business start-up game, and the second is a space-themed game loosely based on my experiences playing the Traveler role-playing game years ago.   A good stock image account (I use Shutterstock) gets me everything in terms of card images I need for the first game, but royalty-free space images are harder.  However, it is actually possible to start with prosaic industrial and other images and hack them to look futuristic, but it takes some work.

So I have been working on Photoshop skills.  If I could digitally paint, I would paint beautiful concept art, but I cannot.  So my Photoshop training has focused not on painting per se but on hacking images together and overlaying effects.   A LOT of the work is learning to do selections well to mash up images and then overlaying a few effects.   I can make a really good laser beam now, for example.  Take a modern weapon, have a laser beam come out, wala a pretty functional sci fi gun  (Don't believe me?  Look at the Death Star Turrets in the original Star Wars movie and tell me those aren't essentially current-era battleship turrets with green and red light coming out).  I wrote earlier about the lessons I followed in making custom planets.

As an example, here is the lesson I did last night.  It is not production value because it started with a low-res iPhone photo my daughter sent me and as you can tell from the edges and especially the hair, I did not spend much effort getting the edge selection just right.  But my daughter liked being a cyborg:

Click to enlarge


She has dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, so she is not the ideal model for this because those are hard to colorize well.  Blondes may or may not have more fun, but they are much easier to colorize.  The downsize of the exercise is that she loved the hair and now wants to color it that way for real.

A Short Rant on Over-Saturated Photography

I was at a couple of art shows during my vacation, and saw a lot of photography.  A staple of photography are the shots of Italian allies and colorful sea villages.  I have one on my wall that I shot myself, the classic view you have seen a million times of Vernazza, Italy.  My wife observed that these photos at the shows looked different than mine (she said "better").

The reason was quickly apparent, and I am seeing this more and more in the Photoshop world -- all the artists have pumped the color saturation way up.  I had to do this a bit, because the colors desaturate some when they get printed on canvas.  But these canvases friggin glowed.  I see the same thing in nature photography.  Is this an improvement?  I don't know, but I am a bit skeptical.  It reminds me a lot of how TV's are sold.  TV pictures tend to be skewed to over-bright and over-vivid colors because those look better under the fluorescent lights of the sales floor.  TV's also tend to have their colors tuned to the very cool (blue) color temperatures for the same reason.  None of this looks good in a darkened room watching a film-based movie.  Fortunately, modern TV's have better electronics menus and it is easy to reverse these problems, and my guess is there is less of this anyway now that many TV's are sold online based on reviews rather than comparison shopping in a store.

I am left to wonder though how this new super-vivid, over saturated photography would look in a home, and how it wears with years of viewing.  Am I being a dinosaur resisting a technological improvement or is there a real problem here?

Software Patent Horror

Ever since Amazon managed to patent one-click ordering, I have been skeptical of software patents.  When I was in the Internet field, I saw companies patent some, uh, patently obvious stuff, roughly akin to patenting an on/off switch.  Or even worse, multiple companies would get patents for the equivalent of an on/off switch, with this company claiming it has the patent for on-off switches for lighting, and this one for appliances, and this one for all electrical devices, and then all three end up sitting in court for about 10 years arguing about who has the patent for turning on the bulb in your refrigerator.

Kevin Drum brings us an amazing horror story of a patent that apparently I owe licensing fees for -- and probably you do too.

Vicinanza soon got in touch with the attorney representing Project Paperless: Steven Hill, a partner at Hill, Kertscher & Wharton, an Atlanta law firm.

"[Hill] was very cordial and very nice," he told Ars. "He said, if you hook up a scanner and e-mail a PDF document—we have a patent that covers that as a process."

It didn’t seem credible that Hill was demanding money for just using basic office equipment exactly the way it was intended to be used. So Vicinanza clarified:

"So you're claiming anyone on a network with a scanner owes you a license?" asked Vicinanza. "He said, 'Yes, that's correct.' And at that point, I just lost it."

Drum has a good discussion, including some prior art with which he actually participated.

House Democrats Undermine Entire Justification for Government Oversight of Commerce

As I understand it, the justifications for strong and detailed government oversight of commerce rests on two ideas:

  • That government officials somehow have better incentives than private actors and are more likely to act in the interests of the general public
  • That a few carefully selected smart people standing on top of the system managing top down can impose better structural solutions for markets than will emerge organically.

Readers will know in advance that I think both of these statements are total crap, but I don't need to explain the reasons yet again because Democrats in the House of Representatives just created the most clear refutation possible by making Maxine Waters the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services committee (which has oversight for the most regulated industry in this country).

Ms. Waters fails both these tests.  She has a history of putting her own financial interests ahead of her oversight mission, and as far as the smart person standing at the top model, she has time and again demonstrated her complete lack of understanding of the very industry she regulates (well, either that or her entire career in Congress has actually been an elaborate bit of Dada-ist performance art).

Part of The Hole Germans Are Being Asked to Fill In

Greek Olympic venues.  I am sure that baseball field gets a lot of use.  And that state-of-the-art man-made kayaking course and associated stadium sure seem to be contributing a lot to GDP.

The whole world patted Greece on the back for completing this boondoggle when in fact we were just enabling an alcoholic, congratulating Greece for, in effect, driving home safely after drinking a fifth of tequila.


A Great Day in Manhattan for $20

I had a great day on Friday in Manhattan for the price of a $20 subway pass.  I did a lot of wandering around and people-watching, but here are three great free activities:

1.  Central Park.  Probably the greatest urban park in the world.  It is gorgeous, and everyone overlooks it.  If you have never strolled the Ramble, you will not believe you are in the middle of Manhattan.

2.  Walk the high-line park.  Another fabulous piece of landscape architecture, an old elevated rail line running north from about 14th street (just a bit south of the Chelsea Market) along the West Side that has been turned into a park and an amazing escape.  You can stroll the waterfront and urban New York without encountering a single car.  It is also incredibly quiet.  And train-lovers will appreciate that the architects kept a lot of the complex track-work as part of the landscape, almost like industrial art.

3.  Walk the Brooklyn Bridge.   I don't know that there is any similar experience anywhere else.  Something New Yorkers and tourists have enjoyed for over a hundred years.

I couldn't stay until magic hour but the view was still tremendous.

In the evening, I did whip out the wallet again and took my daughter to Ellen's Stardust Diner, near 51st and Broadway.  Total tourist trap.  Terrible food.  But an absolute blast every time.  All the waiters are out-of-work Broadway singers and they take turns singing show tunes for the restaurant as they serve.  We have walked out smiling and feeling good every time we have gone.


Sidetracked for a Day: Making Planets

I guess I am easily distracted by geeky stuff.  Yesterday I needed a fake / fantasy planet for a piece of art I am working on.  So I thought I would just go find something open-source-ish someone else has done.  That would have been the obvious 60-second solution.

But then I saw this site, which apparently is one for enthusiasts of - you guessed it - making planet and space art.  So I thought I would play around with it.  About 6 hours on the computer later, I have a planet and a lot of tools to make more, and actually had a surprising amount of fun doing it.  First, the planet, click to enlarge:

The image you get when you click on it is only about a quarter of the full resolution of 5000x5000 of the original.

This is all done in Photoshop, faking the 3D and lighting effects, though there are tutorials and that same site discussing how to do this even better using 3D rendering.  To make this, I started with a planet map using this tutorial.  The land image I used as a texture seed is here.  The final map looks like this (again I had to cut the resolution by 75% from the original 8000x4000).

The above was a bit dark so I ended up stacking two on top of each other with the top set to blend mode "screen" and this really made it pop.  The cloud map I used a portion of is apparently a favorite among planet illustrators -- you can find it here.  Again, here it is but reduced in size:

From these last two we select a large circle (of the same size from each) and spherize them in Photoshop.

Here it is before the atmosphere and shadow effects, which are layered on and can be adjusted after the fact

Then, follow the second half of this tutorial when he talks about atmosphere and shadows to get the final result.

And the shadow can go the other way as well:

If anyone is really interested, I can send you the photoshop file with all the layers so you can see how it works.  Update:  The files are huge, about 500MB each, in part because I leave copies of all the resources I use in hidden layers.  But here they are, one for the flat map and one for the planet: test.psd  and here:

Climate and Post-Modern Science

I have written before of my believe that climate has become the first post-modern science.  This time, I will yield the floor to Garth Paltridge to make the same point:

But the real worry with climate research is that it is on the very edge of what is called postmodern science. This is a counterpart of the relativist world of postmodern art and design. It is a much more dangerous beast, whose results are valid only in the context of society’s beliefs and where the very existence of scientific truth can be denied. Postmodern science envisages a sort of political nirvana in which scientific theory and results can be consciously and legitimately manipulated to suit either the dictates of political correctness or the policies of the government of the day.

There is little doubt that some players in the climate game – not a lot, but enough to have severely damaged the reputation of climate scientists in general – have stepped across the boundary into postmodern science. The Climategate scandal of 2009, wherein thousands of emails were leaked from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England, showed that certain senior members of the research community were, and presumably still are, quite capable of deliberately selecting data in order to overstate the evidence for dangerous climate change. The emails showed as well that these senior members were quite happy to discuss ways and means of controlling the research journals so as to deny publication of any material that goes against the orthodox dogma. The ways and means included the sacking of recalcitrant editors.

Whatever the reason, it is indeed vastly more difficult to publish results in climate research journals if they run against the tide of politically correct opinion. Which is why most of the sceptic literature on the subject has been forced onto the web, and particularly onto web-logs devoted to the sceptic view of things. Which, in turn, is why the more fanatical of the believers in anthropogenic global warming insist that only peer-reviewed literature should be accepted as an indication of the real state of affairs. They argue that the sceptic web-logs should never be taken seriously by “real” scientists, and certainly should never be quoted. Which is a great pity. Some of the sceptics are extremely productive as far as critical analysis of climate science is concerned. Names like Judith Curry (chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta), Steve McIntyre (a Canadian geologist-statistician) and blogger Willis Eschenbach come to mind. These three in particular provide a balance and maturity in public discussion that puts many players in the global warming movement to shame, and as a consequence their outreach to the scientifically inclined general public is highly effective. Their output, together with that of other sceptics on the web, is fast becoming a practical and stringent substitute for peer review.

Update:  The IPCC does not seem to be on a path to building the credibility of climate science.  In their last report, the IPCC was rightly criticized for using "grey" literature as a source for their findings, against their own rules.  Grey literature encompasses about anything that is not published peer-reviewed literature, including, from the last report, sources that were essentially press releases from advocacy groups like the IPCC.  They even use a travel brochure as a source.

This time, to avoid this criticism, the IPCC is ... changing their rules to allow such grey literature citations.    I am pretty sure that this was NOT passed in order to get more material from Steve McIntyre's blog.  In related news, the IPCC also changed the makeup of its scientific panel, putting geographical and gender diversity over scientific qualifications as a criteria.  The quota for African climate scientists will, for example, be higher than that of North America.  See the whole story here.

Though this was all presented with pious words, my guess is that it was felt by the political leaders of the IPCC in the UN that the last report was not socialist or totalitarian enough and that more of such content was necessary.  We'll see.

Yeah, Let's Turn the Internet Over to These Guys

I am increasingly convinced that the UN is really some kind of performance art rather than a serious attempt at global governance.  Why else would they select Robert Mugabe as ambassador of tourism?  Via Radley Balko

House Flipping Commercials? Already?

Today on the radio I heard a commercial for a company promising to teach me the exciting art of flipping houses.  I could buy and resell houses up to three at a time in less than 30 days.

I guess I thought it would take a bit longer for this nuttiness to come back.  I do know some smart people who are buying undervalued houses, putting a bit of money in them, and putting them on the rental market.  Converting owner-occupied homes at the bottom of the market to rental properties makes sense to me, particularly since the ones I know are doing it with all equity.

However, I presume the folks tuning into the radio don't have that much equity, and anyway they were explicitly using the word "flipping" in the commercial rather than talking about rental income.  I wonder who is lending on this stuff?  I tried to refi my mortgage about 6 months ago on a 40% LTV but as a self-employed person it was a pain in the ass.  Who's financing house flipping?

(yeah, I know, the answer probably is "all of us, via Fannie and Freddi or some other dumb government program).

Story of Sybil

An interesting story about the background of the real "Sybil," and how much of her personality problems were the result of aggressive third parties trying to make their career -- totally unsusprising to anyone who has studies the great child abuse / day care hysteria and JaneyReno's Miami method.  A very brief excerpt:

Mason, like so many patients diagnosed with multiple personality disorder (now rechristened “dissociative identity disorder,” in part to shake the bad rep of MPD), improved markedly under certain conditions — namely, the absence of her therapist. For several years after her therapy concluded, she lived happily as an art teacher at a community college, even owning her own house. But the publication of “Sybil” destroyed that life; Schreiber, who had invented so much of her biography, had so thinly disguised other details that many acquaintances recognized her. Too self-conscious to endure this exposure, Mason fled back to Wilbur and lived out the rest of her life as a sort of beloved retainer, cooking her doctor breakfast and dinner every day and nursing her on her deathbed.

Wilbur, on the other hand, thrived, presiding over the explosion of MPD diagnoses as one of the foremost experts on the condition. She played a key role in promoting the belief that conspiracies of fiendish, sadistic adults were secretly perpetrating murder, child rape and mutilation, human sacrifice, and cannibalism across the country and that repressed memories of such atrocities lay at the root of most MPDs. Innocent people were convicted of these crimes on the basis of testimony elicited from highly suggestible small children and hypnotized adults. Families were sundered by therapists who convinced their patients that they’d suffered similar ordeals despite having no conscious memory of it. This opened the door to years of expensive and ineffective therapy.

Update on the State of Race Relations in America

So here is an interesting local story giving us a window into race relations.    First, a black comedian named Katt Williams (I never heard of him either) called a Mexican man a "nigga" and told him to go back to Mexico.   Then a Hispanic woman created a profanity-laced 6-minute video calling Katt Williams "a white supremacist."

Outstanding.  Actually, I think that this has little to do with race relations and more to do with a post-modernist view of language.  I am still working on writing about this phenomenon, wherein certain political phrases have become all-encompassing insults or descriptors of the opposition, wholly stripped of their original meaning.  Thus "Soros-funded" or "Koch-funded" become synonyms for being extreme left or libertarian, rather than actually being supported by any evidence of such funding.  My interest in this topic began with a comment on Kevin Drum's site, where one sympathetic reader smacked Tea Partiers as merely mouthing Republican talking points, and the proceeded to repeat in now-standard terminology every Democratic talking point about the Tea Party.  The juxtaposition was so obvious I thought it might be performance art rather than a real comment.

For-Profit Education Regulations

Here are apparently a couple of the new regs for-profit colleges are expecting:

One proposed rule, which is expected to be finalized this spring, will restrict students from using federal financial aid to pay for programs that rack up excessive loan debt but train students for occupations with relatively low entry-level salaries.

A second rule, which will go into effect this summer, will close loopholes that allowed admissions counselors to be compensated based on how many students they signed up

The first rule is particularly interesting to focus on, especially given that they do not apply to government-run schools.  This means that if you want to go to UCLA and run up loads of debt in economically dead-end majors like women's studies or art history, you are still free to do so.  But go forbid you want to study to be a nurse or a teacher at the University of Phoenix.  This from the CEO of Apollo, the parent company of University of Phoenix

some of the trade-school-type programs may be more vulnerable because of gainful employment (the anticipated federal rule about debt and entry-level salaries). . . . Gainful employment will cause programs, in areas such as nursing or teacher education or law enforcement, (for) for-profits not to be able to offer them . . . (because the federal formula) uses first-year salaries.

I can tell you my first-year salary for what I wanted to do wouldn't have qualified. It takes time.

Two things you can expect from any set of regulations.  1) Large companies will eventually benefit, because the compliance costs will weed out smaller companies and deter future startups.  2) Innovation will be reduced, as certain established business models and practices will become safe harbors under the rules, adding risk to anyone wishing to try an additional approach.


If there is anything creepier than weird children's art on the walls of an abandoned mental institution, I am not sure what it is.  From here. (for those who like urban architecture, urban archeology, and/or New York, this is a great site).

Intelligent Without Being Smart

Its hard to believe these kids at top schools can be so credulous, except that I attended an Ivy League school and saw many such dopes in action.  But even given that preparation, I still can't get over the feeling that this is some kind of elaborate performance art rather than an real effort.  If it's real, it does reinforce all my stereotypes about Brown, however.

More Adventures in Photography

I am still trying to figure out how traditional film photographers got great outdoor photos.  I struggle with haze and a loss of vibrancy in distant photos, as if the images were photographed through dirty glass.  Maybe filters?  More vibrancy in the film (I know that drove a lot of Kodak users to Fuji)?

Anyway, I don't have to rely on film, and can fiddle around with Photoshop until I get things right.  I used it in this image to lighten some dark areas and then eliminated the haze effects by painting the whole image with a low-opacity color burn (I used to use a neutral gray for this but I have had better luck using a color with much of the blue taken out (using the RGB sliders in the color selection)).  I gave a second helping of the color burn to the buildings only, to make them pop a bit.  I try to stay far away from the contrast controls - every photo I have ever ruined started downhill with the contrast control.    Instead, I went into each of the R-G-B channels in the "levels" section and fiddled with the distributions a bit, in effect widening the distributions (only a little) to get a tad more contrast.

I think it came out pretty well -- I was at an art show with a guy selling almost this exact same photo from the exact same spot and I think mine compared favorably with his art shot.  The only thing I think might have improved it was to get morning light, but I was not going to camp out for 18 hours to do so.

Anyway, this is Vernazza, one of the five towns of Cinqueterre on the Italian Riviera, taken from the fabulous walking trail the connects the five towns.  As usual click for enlargement.

On the monitor screen, the colors are perhaps a bit over-saturated but by trial and error it looks great on paper (at least with my printer -- the color variation among printers and papers is really astonishing once you start paying attention to it).

Below, by the way, is the original digital image.  If someone can tell me what I am doing wrong (filters, camera selection, etc) to get such crappy original images, I would be appreciative.  It looks like I haven't cleaned the lens or something.  All I am using is a pretty good quality UV filter (mostly just to protect the lens) on a Nikon D50 with the stock Nikon lens.