We already know that Congresscritters make huge bank through insider trading, exploiting a loophole that lets them place bets on the stock market based on rules they have yet to announce. But this game-rigging con isn't limited to elected officials: a whole class of unregulated beltway insiders make their living by wheedling "political intelligence" (that is, insider information about upcoming regulations and laws) out of politicians and their staff, and then selling it on to consultants who package it up into legal insider trading recommendations for the hyper-rich.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office has released Financial Market Value of Government Information Hinges on Materiality and Timing, a 34-page report on this practice, trying to figure out how pervasive the scam is. They didn't get any great answers:
"The political intelligence industry is flourishing, enriching itself and clients in the stock market, yet the report notes that it could not document who these people are or how much they profit," [Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for government watchdog Public Citizen] said. "Without full transparency of the activity of these political intelligence consultants and their clients, it is nearly impossible to know if they are trading on illegal insider information."
Government Report Examines 'Political Intelligence,' But Questions Remain [Legal Times/Andrew Ramonas]
In an excellent NYT story, Sarah Lyall reports on "lights-out London" -- the phenomenon whereby ultra-wealthy foreigners (often from corrupt plutocracies like Kazakhstan and Russia) are buying up whole neighbourhoods in London, driving up house-prices beyond the reach of locals, and then treating their houses as holiday homes. They stay for a couple weeks once or twice a year, leaving whole neighbourhoods vacant and shuttered through most of the year, which kills the local businesses and turns central London into something of a ghost town.
“Some of the richest people in the world are buying property here as an investment,” [Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour opposition in Westminster Council] said. “They may live here for a fortnight in the summer, but for the rest of the year they’re contributing nothing to the local economy. The specter of new buildings where there are no lights on is a real problem...”
Meanwhile, prices are rising beyond expectation. For single-family housing in the prime areas of London, British buyers spend an average of $2.25 million, Ms. Barnes said, while foreign buyers spend an average of $3.75 million, which increases to $7.5 million if they are from Russia or the Middle East...
The most visible, and also the most notorious, of the new developments is One Hyde Park, a $1.7 billion apartment building of stratospheric opulence on a prime corner in Knightsbridge, near Harvey Nichols, the park and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which functions as a 24-hour concierge service for residents. Apartments there have been purchased mostly by foreign buyers who hide their identities behind murky offshore companies registered to tax havens like the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands.
It is rare to see anyone coming to or going from the complex, and British newspapers have been trying since it opened two years ago to discover who lives there. Vanity Fair reported recently that as far as it could discern after a long trawl through records, the owners seem to include a cast of characters who might have come from a poker game in a James Bond movie: a Russian property magnate, a Nigerian telecommunications tycoon, the richest man in Ukraine, a Kazakh copper billionaire, someone who may or may not be a Kazkh singer and the head of finance for the emirate of Sharjah.
A Slice of London So Exclusive Even the Owners Are Visitors [NYT/Sarah Lyall]
(via Beyond the Beyond)
Black leopard compared to black house cat. "Duality," directed by Rich Kuras.
I'm not normally a fan of corporate commercials designed to be "viral media," but one's very clever. The Dutch financial giant (and money launderer for Iran) ING paid to have a group of actors play out a dramatic reenactment of the events depicted in Rembrandt's classic painting The Night Watch, climaxing with a posed, framed tableau that re-created the painting itself. It's awfully fun to watch Rembrandtian cosplayers charge around a Dutch shopping mall while the shoppers stand agog.
Flashmob brengt 'De nachtwacht' tot leven
(via Making Light)
Our friends at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles are now selling this excellent Batman/Bauhaus women's t-shirt by Junk Food Clothing. Meltdown tells me that a men's version is coming soon. These aren't on the Meltdown site so you'll have to contact them to grab one. (via @meltdowncomics on Instagram)
In 1978, CalArts students Sue "Su Tissue" McLane and William "Vex Billingsgate" Ranson founded the post-punk band Suburban Lawns. Joined by Richard "Frankie Ennui" Whitney, Charles "Chuck Roast" Rodriguez, and John "John Gleur" McBurney, they became a staple on the Los Angeles New Wave scene. In 1979, the video that Jonathan Demme directed for their track Gidget Goes To Hell (below) aired on Saturday Night Live. (Su Tissue later appeared in Demme's 1986 film Something Wild.) That broader exposure resulted in a record deal with IRS who in 1982 released Suburban Lawns' excellent self-titled album, the only LP the group released. It featured this excellent song "Janitor." From Wikipedia:
The lyrics of "Janitor" were derived from a real-life conversation between Sue McLane and friend Brian Smith. According to Smith, the two were conversing in a loud room when they first met:
"She asked me what I did for a living. I said "I'm a janitor," and she thought I said "Oh my genitals." [Richard Whitney] overheard this and wrote the song."
Read the rest
Warren Ellis answers one of the questions most frequently asked of authors: "When will your book/comic/whatever be turned into a TV show or movie?"
FAQ: I don’t get to decide what gets made into a tv series or film. I cannot, I’m afraid, cause people to give me money for things by magic or force of will. Because, let’s face it, if I could, you’d be part of the slave army building my hundred-mile-high golden revolving statue right now.
I’m glad we got that straightened out.
Thank you, Uncle Warren. As always, you've phrased it perfectly.
FAQ: I Don’t Get To Decide What Gets Made Into A Movie Or TV Show
Sayaka Ganz creates marvelous animal sculptures from plastic crap she picks up at thrift stores. "Sayaka Ganz: Reclaimed Creations
" (via Juxtapoz)
Want to build a DIY version of the Hubble Space Telescope? I posted last year that the Vehicle Power Interface Console used at the Goddard Flight Center during pre-launch testing of the HST was for sale on eBay for $75,000. Well, now the seller has significantly sweetened the deal by throwing in this stately and elegant two-person HST control console presumably also used during pre-launch testing. "NASA ARTIFACT VPI Vehicle Power Interface Rack & Console Hubble Space Telescope"
As part of Institute for the Future's research project on what we're calling "The Coming Age of Networked Matter," we've looked at progress around programmable materials that can morph and self-assemble. MIT professor and TED fellow Skylar Tibbits is pushing on this idea with what he dubbed "4D printing, where the fourth dimension is time," meaning that the printed objects change shape over a certain period. (Thanks, Jake Dunagan!)
This cursed Roman ring may have inspired the One Ring of JRR Tolkien. It's now on display at The Vyne in Basingstoke, England. The Guardian has more on this artifact and the strange story surrounding its theft and subsequent curse.
NYC barista Mike Breach paints milk portraits in lattes.
My friend Blind Lightnin' Pete pointed me to this fun video of his friend's band, Mauro Ottolini & Sousaphonix.
He's called "PETMAN".
Used to test the performance of protective clothing designed for hazardous environments. The video shows initial testing in a chemical protection suit and gas mask. PETMAN has sensors embedded in its skin that detect any chemicals leaking through the suit. The skin also maintains a micro-climate inside the clothing by sweating and regulating temperature.
And you shall know the jazzercise of your new masters, meat.
A couple weeks ago, I listened to Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America an interesting program on the supposed rise in disability claims produced by Planet Money and aired on This American Life (where I heard it). The program raised some interesting points about the inaccessibility of certain kinds of less-physical jobs to large numbers of people, but it also aired a lot of supposed facts about the way that parents and teachers conspired to create and perpetuate disability classifications for kids.
Many of the claims in the report are debatable, and many, many more and simply not true. A Media Matters report called This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children systematically debunks many of the claims in the story, which NPR has modified slightly since posting online (though NPR and Ira Glass continue to stand behind the story).
FACT: Medical Evidence From Qualified Professionals Is Required To Determine Eligibility
Government Accountability Office: "Examiners Rely On A Combination Of Key Medical And Nonmedical Information Sources." A Government Accountability Office report found that disability determination services (DDS) examiners determined a child's medical eligibility for benefits based on a combination of school records and medical records, and that if medical records in particular were not available, they were able to order consultative exams to review medical evidence:
DDS examiners rely on a combination of key medical and nonmedical information sources -- such as medical records, effects of prescribed medications, school records, and teacher and parent assessments -- in determining a child's medical eligibility for benefits. Several DDS officials we interviewed said that when making a determination, they consider the totality of information related to the child's impairments, rather than one piece of information in isolation. Based on our case file review, we estimate that examiners generally cited four to five information sources as support for their decisions in fiscal year 2010 for the three most prevalent mental impairments.
If such evidence is not available or is inconclusive, DDS examiners may purchase a consultative exam to provide additional medical evidence and help them establish the severity of a child's impairment. [Government Accountability Office, 6/26/12]
The Media Matters report cites high-quality sources like the GAO throughout, and makes an excellent case for a general retraction of this report by NPR. I hope that they, and Glass, will reconsider their endorsement of this report.
This American Life Features Error-Riddled Story On Disability And Children
(via Naked Capitalism)
First of all, I’ve finally caught up with the rest of the English speaking world and read Ellen Forney’s Marbles. And yes, it’s totally fascinating and deeply affecting, but I’m not telling you anything you hadn’t already heard in December’s Best Damn Comics of the year, so I’ll save you that here. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Quebec’s Drawn & Quarterly is just killing it lately -- like, more so than usual, to the point that I had trouble picking just one of their books this month, though you definitely be hearing their name in the next several of these -- unless I can trick Boing Boing into letting me sneak out reviews of the new Gauld and Hanawalt sooner.
Other Stuff By Peter Bagge. Fantagraphics
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this one -- well before Fantagraphics ever announced the thing, and certainly Other Stuff doesn’t disappoint. In fact, the mere bringing together of Bagge’s Murry Wilson strips is worth the price of entrance alone. In fact, Peter and assorted Fantagraphics employees, if you’re reading this (as I suspect some of you are), I will be the first in line to buy a graphic novel-length biography of the Wilson family patriarch and self-appointed musical genius drawn in Bagge’s signature style. Ditto for the assorted liberty taking rock and roll tales of folks like Sinatra and Sly Stone.
And then there are the collaborations with R. Crumb, Alan Moore, Dan Clowes and the like, many of which I already own in some form or other, though my self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder thanks Bagge’s publishers for collecting them all into on handy volume. It’s great to see all of this stuff together, particular those Hate b-stories that fell through the cracks of Fanta’s excellent “Buddy Does...” collections. Like we really needed another testament to Peter Bagge’s greatness.
Read the rest
"A cache of 2.5 million files has cracked open the secrets of more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing hidden dealings of politicians, con men and the mega-rich the world over." (Thanks, Lew!)
A few years ago I read the graphic novel adaptation of Donald Westlake's The Hunter, and loved it. It was my introduction to the prolific crime novelist's work. When I recently picked up his 1970 novel, The Hot Rock, I expected it to have the same grim tone as The Hunter. But the first scene set me straight: the anti-hero of the story, John Archibald Dortmunder, is getting out of prison after serving time for a failed caper. The prison warden, pleased at Dortmunder's good behavior while being incarcerated, extends his hand to shake Dortmunder's. Dortmunder lets go of the mucus-drenched tissue paper he'd been holding in his right hand and shakes the warden's hand, smearing it with his snot.
This perverse style of humor permeates the story, which is about Dortmunder and his team of oddball professional thieves' multiple attempts to steal the Balaboma Emerald, a valuable jewel that two African countries are fighting over. Dortmunder's gang is hired by a representative from one of the countries to steal the gem from a museum while it's on display at a museum in New York's Central Park. The gang is promised $30,000 per man for the safe delivery of the gem (which is a lot of money in 1970 dollars). When the meticulously planned heist is botched,
Dortmunder and his partners must try again, and again, and again.
The smart dialogue, clever heist planning, and offbeat characters (the gang's lock picking expert is a mild-mannered, married model train enthusiast without a shred of conscience about the multiple felonies he commits) made this a snappy and enjoyable read. Westlake went on to write a 14 novels and 11 short stories featuring the hapless John Dortmunder, and I plan to read the next in the series (Bank Shot) soon.
The Hot Rock
The world record for most number of people simultaneously hula-hooping was recently broken at Thammasat University stadium, near Bangkok. The Thai crowd broke the previous record, held by Taiwan, with a new record of 4483 people hula-hooping for 7 minutes. The event was organized by the public health ministry to promote exercise and good health. — REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa
The Best Amendment is a pay-what-you-like Mac/Win/Flash game that plays out NRA
president Wayne LaPierre's infamous statement that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The first level is straightforward. You’re a little white cone-shaped fella, and you need to go get the star before the timer runs out. With each successive level, a new black-colored cone guy is added, and you have to shoot them to get more stars. Sometimes they shoot back at you, or even at each other.
The catch: Their behavior is totally determined by your actions in previous levels. If you hang out near a wall and spray a machine gun wildly, on the next level there will be a new bad guy who does the exact same thing, and you’ll have to shoot him with a bazooka or shotgun or whatever the game has armed you with.
The result is an exponential increase in violence from level to level. The game has no set limit on the number of levels, and eventually you’ll be overwhelmed and destroyed by the perpetually repeating actions of one of your past selves.
The game was created by Paolo Pedercini, who previously created "Unmanned" (a game about drone pilots) "Operation Pedopriest" (a satirical game about the Catholic Church); Free Culture; McDonald's Video Game; and most notoriously, Phone Story, a game about mobile phone manufacture that was banned from the Ios App Store (you can still get it for Android).
Pedercini normally gives his games away, but he's asking for pay-what-you-like donations this time to fund a workshop series called "Imagining Better Living Through Play," an "initiative is meant to help activists and grassroots organizations make games for social change and personal empowerment."
The Best Amendment Indie Game Takes On the NRA [Wired/Ryan Rigney]
We no longer need to point out that DRM is an expression of contempt for one's own customers—Microsoft's own employees take care of that task all by themselves. [CNET]