Deadwood - We fuckers are fucking fucked

Deadwood is a peculiar drama series, even by the standards of HBO. It's essentially an unsentimental Les Miserable, set in the American Old West, with Shakespearean dialogs. In other words, it's pure brilliance.

Yes, swear words permeate the script. But so do injustice, insecurity, and violent death. Such was the state of the world that the characters lived in. The frailty and vulgarity of human existence should offend you vastly more than the swearing do.

Season One documents the emergence of order out of unadulterated chaos in Deadwood. The arrival of new residents such as ex-sheriffs Bill Hickok, Seth Bullock, and competing brothel operator Cy Tolliver threatens Al Swearengen's stranglehold on the town's affairs. Crushed by the degrading and torturous death of the reverend from a brain tumor, Al, the doctor, and the ladies at Gem found respite in each other's company near the end of the Season.

If they can find solace in such mundane moments, what is our excuse?

A Desirable Man

He looks fantastic in a suit. He appears on prime time TV nearly every night. He is a recipient of six honorary doctorates. He moderates presidential debates. He appears frequently on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and once hosted the Saturday Night Life. And he cooks with his wife.

He is Brian Williams.
Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, joins Wait Wait at New York City's Carnegie Hall to play a game called "You are the very worst act ever to play this stage." Williams answers three questions about Florence Foster Jenkins — an American music legend (?) who performed for a sold out Carnegie Hall audience almost exactly 65 years ago, and became known for singing terribly.
(Don't miss the last two minutes!)

Jay Leno vs Conan O'Brien

It is a complex saga, complete with greedy villains and a geek hero , spanning over six years. Jay Leno, back in 2004, appointed Conan O'Brien as his successor for the Tonight Show. When Leno finally left in 2009, douchebags at NBC thought that letting Leno host a water-down, prime time version of the Tonight Show would be a great way to fill the time slot cheaply (in place of expensive drama series) and to prevent Leno from going to another channel. This new show failed disastrously. So now the same douchebags are pushing back the Tonight Show and placing Leno's sad sad show back in the 11:35 pm time slot. Conan quits and the Internet joins him in condemning NBC and Jay Leno. Again, a man with a strong back bone! Walk tall, man. Walk tall.

Destroying a Nation

In the Haiti earthquake, estimates of the number of dead range from 30,000 to as many as 100,000. The population of Port-au-Prince was around 700,000. Even the palace collapsed and the president was homeless. As there were no effective building codes, it is unlikely that many buildings could have stood through such a strong earthquake. A handy round up of videos can be found at Jezebel.

For those who believe in a benevolent god, I ask you: What good will come of destroying the heavily populated capital of one of the world's poorest country, whose people have been massacred, enslaved, and oppressed for centuries? What good will come of killing so many people who have been living in such dismal condition (per capita GDP: US$790, or US$2 per day) involuntarily or by choice? Where is justice?

I guess you can see the theme of the week. Moving on to more lighthearted topics...

A corporate with back bone

Google announced, in a carefully worded blog post, that it no longer felt comfortable operating in China. They claimed to have been under serious and protracted cyber attacks from the Chinese government, and that Gmail accounts of advocates of human rights activists have been routinely accessed by third parties.
Privacy and security on the Internet are concepts that the Chinese government regard with annoyance and disdain. Would it be better to work within the limitations and hope for a better day, or to distance oneself from such a depressing place and preserve ones integrity? These are problems that have long confronted foreign companies and local dissidents in China. Some of us (yes, myself included) have to swallow part of our pride every day in order to accept the status quo without going insane. It is simply refreshing to see such an influential corporation behave like a person with honor and integrity. I applauded your decision to establish four years ago. I applaud your decision to exit the China market now. I hope your action will spark a widespread movement in which companies and politicians would rethink their attitude in dealing with repressive regimes, not limited to China.

I *love* Hank Moody <3

~ Californication, Season 2, "In Utero"

My media consumption of the week

Most insightful analysis of marijuana
Over the years the government's position has become progressively more embattled, if not untenable. It potentially leads to exactly the same endpoint as the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed the federal prohibition on alcoholic beverage sales. When states make a legal loophole allowing medical use of marijuana, they must grapple with the messy question of what precisely constitutes medical use. After all, doctors regularly prescribe powerful drugs like Valium, Viagra, Prozac, and -- give us a break -- Botox to patients who are hardly at death's door.
One thing that I've always found puzzling in the Chinese, or indeed, worldwide, media was the demonization of pot. It is usually presumed to belong in the same class of dangerous narcotics like heroin and cocaine, whereas in fact marijuana is clearly less harmful and affects users in varied ways. Obama's first online town hall was dominated by pot questions, but they were dismissed as just another demonstration of netizens' sleaziness. Through careful mapping, Parloff points out that the legalization of marijuana may be closer than we thought.

Most brain dead op-ed from a mainstream writer
China’s one-party autocracy can impose the important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. Is this a political advantage?
There are so many extremely elementary flaws in this op-ed piece that it can serve as an example of how NOT to argue for kindergarten students.

My media consumption of the week

Most insightful discussion of newspapers' predicament
The plight of print newspapers and magazines are not news. Many have attempted to explain and solve the issue by pointing fingers at greedy capitalists, who load newspapers with excessive debt and then sack newspapers staff indiscriminately, resulting in compromised journalistic standards, or ungrateful web surfers who free-ride on an infrastructure that's paid for by subscribers to printed media. Others try to explore new distribution channels or to clumsily imitate their online competition.

To anyone who reads online extensively, it is clear that we value certain content more than others and, when possible, we would be more than happy to help sustain the provider of such content (e.g. iTune's $.99 apps). Also, as individuals, we instinctively treat different kinds of information with a different attitude. So how can a publisher exploit these tendencies? This article breaks content down to four categories - art, scientific, practical, and financial - and analyzes the appeal of each. Regrettably, it offers only a vague suggestion on monetization ("The trick is to connect both editions and try to bridge the transitional survival phase in which news currently is"), so I await further analysis down this promising path.

Sexiest song from a boy band
  • Suga Lumps, from Season 2 of Flight of the Conchords

My media consumption of the week

Best chicken-soup-for-the-soul video of the week

Most serious threat to modern aesthetics
Or, Ikea's quality of design has finally caught up with the quality of its product.

How corn became the cornerstone of our food chain, in a nutshell

Cattlemen found that corn, being such a dense source of calories, produced meat more quickly than grass; it also produced a more reliably consistent product, eliminating the seasonal and regional differences you often find in grass-finished beef. Over time, the knowledge that went into growing grass good enough to finish cattle all the year round gradually was lost.

Along the way corn kept getting more plentiful and ever cheaper. When the farmer found that he could buy corn more cheaply than he could ever hope to grow it, it no longer made economic sense to feed animals on the farm, so they moved into CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, aka factory farms). The farmer who then plowed up his pastures to grow corn to market found he could take off to Florida in the winter, not work so hard. To help dispose of the rising mountain of cheap corn farmers were now producing, the government did everything it could to help wean cattle off grass and onto corn, by subsidizing the building of feedlots (through tax breaks) and promoting a grading system based on marbling that favored corn-fed over grass-fed beef. (The government also exempted CAFOs from most clean air and clean water laws.) In time the cattle themselves changed, as the industry selected for animals that did well on corn; these animals, generally much bigger, had trouble getting all the energy they needed from grass. In dairy, farmers moved to superproductive breeds like the Holstein, whose energy requirements were so great they could barely survive on a diet of grass.

So feeding ruminants corn came to make a certain economic sense— I say “certain” because that statement depends on the particular method of accounting our economy applies to such questions, one that tends to hide the high cost of cheap food produced from corn. The ninety-ninecent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost—to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves. If not for this sort of blind-man’s accounting, grass would make a lot more sense than it now does.