The Gates

by Jon Mandle on February 26, 2005

The Gates! Count me as a moderate supporter. It’s hard to talk about The Gates — the Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation in Central Park — without sounding pretentious. Like this: “Our memories of this experience are how the artwork changes us — perhaps the most powerful force of art, that the changes made are not in the site, but in us.” I can’t really say that I’m so different than I was a week ago. Sure, I guess they made me think, but that’s something I try to do anyway. The whole thing is just asking for parodies (this is my favorite) and mockery (like this).

But I like them. Let me just say, there are lots of ’em. There’s no location — on the ground, at least — where you can take in all of them, so there is always a sense that you’re only seeing a very small part of a much larger work — most of it stays out of reach. At the same time, each gate is made on a human scale and is not at all overwhelming. When the wind blows and creates a wave in one after another, the effect is quite beautiful. And together they highlight the different elevations of the park that wouldn’t be so obvious with out them — especially where one path passes on a bridge over another. They call attention to the topography of the park itself and not as much to themselves as you would expect given their construction site orange saffron color.

As my family walked through them, we stopped at a playground so my daughter could play on the swings. There were some young teenage boys hanging out there, smoking and trying to be cool. One of them asked if we knew where the art was supposed to be. My wife pointed to the gates and replied, “That’s it, all around.” They thought this was terribly funny, and one said: “I could do that in my bedroom.” To which the only possible reply was: “You must have some bedroom.”

Iraqi election futures

by John Q on February 26, 2005

In the weekend edition of the Australian Financial Review (reproduced here), Justin Wolfers writes about a betting market on the Iraqi election turnout, run by the Irish betting exchange Tradesports. The bet turned on whether turnout would exceed 8 million and was roughly even money before voting began. The price of the contract rose sharply on early reports of turnouts over 70 per cent, then fell back again when to around even money when it became clear these reports had little basis. The final official turnout was about 8.4 million.

Readers will recall that something very similar happened in the US election when early exit polls favored Kerry. Modifying an old aphorism to say that “two striking observations constitute a stylised fact”, I think we can now say pretty safely that political betting markets display the wisdom of crowds who read blogs.
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Numa Numa New York Times

by Kieran Healy on February 26, 2005

The NYT has an “article”: about Gary Brolsma, the “Numa Numa”: guy. If you haven’t seen the video, “go watch it”: and come back in a minute.

Now tell me what you think of the article’s summary of the story:

There was a time when embarrassing talents were a purely private matter … But with the Internet, humiliation – like everything else – has now gone public. … Here, then, is the cautionary tale of Gary Brolsma, 19, amateur videographer and guy from New Jersey, who made the grave mistake of placing on the Internet a brief clip of himself dancing along to a Romanian pop song. Even in the bathroom mirror, Mr. Brolsma’s performance could only be described as earnest but painful.

Utter bollocks. Mr Brolsma’s performance could only be described that way by someone with no capacity at all to recognize good comedy. The video is hilarious and, to anyone with eyes in their head, was supposed to be. It’s not earnest, it’s deadpan. I am sorry to say that Americans are renowned for their inability to grasp this distinction. Despite the article’s efforts to draw a parallel, it’s obviously a real performance, not a private bit of wish-fulfillment maliciously released into the wild like the “Star Wars Kid”: video. The guy’s friends agree:

His friends say Mr. Brolsma has always had a creative side. He used to make satirical Prozac commercials on cassette tapes, for instance. He used to publish a newspaper with print so small you couldn’t read it with the naked eye. “He was always very out there – he’s always been ambitious,” said Frank Gallo, a former classmate. “And he’s a big guy, but he’s never been ashamed.” … “He’s been entertaining us for years.”

Sadly, the Times will not be diverted from its dumbass interpretation. It should come as no surprise that Brolsma “is distraught, embarrassed. His grandmother, Margaret Telkes, quoted him as saying, just the other day, ‘I want this to end.'” You would too, if you were getting shoehorned by the NYT into a “fat kid makes ass of self on internet” story:

The question remains why two million people would want to watch a doughy guy in glasses wave his arms around online to a Romanian pop song.

Because it’s funny, you gobshites! And it’s _meant_ to be! I’d bet that if Brolsma weren’t overweight, the Times wouldn’t have had as hard a time seeing this.

Adjustable rate mortgages

by John Q on February 26, 2005

A striking development in the US economy in the last few years has been the growth in adjustable rate mortgages. This raises a couple of questions. First, if you’re thinking about buying a house, is better to go for adjustable or fixed-rate? Second, what does this mean for the economy as a whole?
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