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Madoff, Merkin and Money

This is coming a little late, but I just got to it, so cut me some slack. New York Magazine has a tremendously reported piece about the rise and fall (mostly the rise, though) of Bernie Madoff and the man behind his largest feeder fund, hedge fund manager Ezra Merkin. The story depicts the two men as foils, yin and yang.

Madoff, an outer-borough tough, clawed his way up from Queens over the privileged goons of Wall Street in the ’70’s. Merkin, though, was a child of privilege. Erudite in matters ranging from Talmudic law to economic theory, he followed in his father’s prominent footsteps, serving on the boards of Yeshiva, the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and other charitable outfits.

How the two came together and then fell apart is a fascinating look at the Madoff disaster.

Earmark Hypocrisy

There’s nothing quite like Republican hypocrisy.

Via TPM:

When the 2009 spending bill passed last week, Republicans on the Hill– and the stray Dem — were united in a chorus of earmark-bashing. In the words of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY): “Cut ’em all out.”

But it turns out that while the senator from Kentucky voted against the bill, he had $10.6 million in earmarks — 13 separate earmarks, to be exact — in the bill. And he is by no means alone. Several members touted their opposition to the bill and then voted against it, even as they tucked in earmarks for their own districts (thanks to Taxpayers for Common Sense).

Oh the shame.

The problem with all the caterwauling against earmarks is twofold: 1) some of the projects are actually useful 2) everybody does it. Obama’s plan to make these little piggies defend their pet projects in public, actually bid the contracts and have websites dedicated to the spending plans are all a fine ideas. And I hope there’s enough political will to do so. Until then, though, I hope guys like Jim Bunning and Stephen-Colbert-look-alike Darrell Issa just shut their traps.

Pope not good at thinking critically

Two men who cannot think critically to save their lives, or more importantly, other people's lives

The Pope recently made some statements about AIDs in Africa:

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard a plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.” – npr.org

Condoms do not, ever, increase the spread of disease.  The Pope thinks that condoms will increase sexual activity.  Maybe this is true. However, the spread of AIDs in Africa occurs mainly through Rape.  Abstinence, the Pope’s solution, does not protect against rape.  I have never heard of a woman getting assaulted and telling her assaulter that she is abstinent and the assailant stopping his assault.  The only country in the world where AIDs is spread primarily through consensual sex is China.  Africa is not China.  Africa is not even Catholic, although Roman-Catholicism is quickly spreading.  Africa is headed for complete annihilation with AIDs rates in the southern parts of the continent approaching, and by some estimates topping, 30%.  Some statistics have reported that 50% of pregnant African women are HIV positive.  Abstinence is NOT an answer on this continent.  Some groups have tried to spread the practice of circumcision because it reduces your chance of spreading HIV from female to male.  Condoms have been distributed by western organizations.

The reality of the situation is that abstinence will not solve the problems.  Condoms may help slow the spread of infection until medical organizations can catch up and help treat infected peoples.

Without saying anything horrible about the Pope, I will say that he is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong and it will cost lives.

Severed Ways: A Critical Review

The following post is another guest post from Benny J. It’s a review of this totally awesome movie, Severed Ways.

“One large salmon and two chickens were definitely harmed during the filming of this movie”

Don’t take this as a highest recommendation, because I’m the guy who sat and watched “Norbit” all the way through in his underpants, while eating French bread pizza, because I had a bunch of shit I didn’t want to do. But “Severed Ways,” the upcoming film that tells a fictional story about the Norse discovery of North America, has definitely left an impression, and not necessarily a bad one.

Me and my friend Rory, who share the often-voiced wish to enter Valhalla via a viking funeral, sat down to watch this film last night, thanks to a film critic friend who passed me a review copy. He mentioned something to me upon hand-off that suggested on-camera defecation, so Rory and I were expecting that. We were also expecting, thanks to the trailer, a fair amount of Blair Witch-grade shaky camera work, the killing of Skraelings (the Viking word for Native Americans), and some anachronistic passages of black metal on the soundtrack, which in a way makes a shit-ton of sense for a movie about two Viking warriors lost in North America who spend their time killing wayward christian monks, battleing natives and fighting to survive.

It’s been a while since I did my 6th grade Leif Ericson book report but yeah, in case you didn’t know, the Vikings may have “discovered” North America (a.k.a. “Vineland”) before anyone else. So this story is about two Viking scouts who get left behind for dead after a skirmish with Native Americans, and who basically make shelter but then decide to try and venture North and meet back up with their sea-faring friends on the way back to Iceland or Greenland or wherever the crap. You get the picture.

Now, there are some interesting things about this film, which has precious little dialogue. First, there are 7 (I think) simply titled chapters like “Conquest” and “Separation.” I only mention this because one of these chapter titles springs up just after the younger viking has completed a lean-to, and he sits there with an ax in each hand head-banging for 20 seconds or so while metal plays in the background. It is hilarious, and it is awesome.

Besides the fact that this is an undeniably metal moment, this bout of headbanging demonstrates this film’s biggest strength, which is the element of surprise. Like, my severe reality check and deep thoughts on what one can do on film didn’t kick in when one of the Vikings pulled out a giant salmon from an icy river and smashed its head on a boulder, later cooking it on a rock over a fire and eating it like a barbarian with his buddy. Or even when dude dropped trou the next morning nand let fly some salmon-y stool without warning. They kicked in later, when at the christian compound they discovered in their travels, each viking killed a chicken on camera. The first had it’s head lopped off with an ax (fuck!), the second got it’s neck broken (wwwrrrguurglgurglgurgl). In true Viking form, the younger dude immediately pours boiling water over his headless chcken and starts ripping it’s feathers out. Then he cooks that shit and eats it without honeymustard, bbq, nothing. Now, I’m no vegetarian, but when you see it all go down, it gives you pause and makes you ask questions, like “did that just happen?” and “is that the best way to do that?” and “is there a market for chicken snuff films?”

But those things, as well as some of the brutal killing that goes on (perhaps a lot less violent or gory than what happens to the fish and chickens–perhaps because human murder on camera doesn’t really fly), are simple, shock-value surprises. The film’s deeper commentary and bigger surprises arrive via the plot, which thickens when you realize that these two brothers in arms, bound together by deep-seeded cultural identity in a completely unfamiliar wilderness, are markedly different men. Thanks to a single flash-back, we learn that the older or at least more hirsute of the two, Volnard, killed his sister back home because she was in love with a Christian, and then watched sis jump off a cliff, I guess to show him that she could also kill to show her sibling a thing or two. Even Vikings have feelings, and Volinard, when encountering Christians in North America, reacts quite differently than his comrade, and it’s a major twist in the story.

Now, I don’t want to give any more away. I could entice your carnal interests further by telling you that this movie involves inexplicable interracial sex (and in this one, dear feminists, it’s the girl who drugs the guy, ties him up, and takes advantage, so ha!). I could also point out the obvious; that this movie suffers at times from a seemingly bedroom-scored soundtrack, some less-than-great production, and thoughts that remain unexplained or unfinished. But the point is, this movie is about Vikings, and vikings are preeety fucking cool. It’s also about not understanding one goddamn iota of anything about people you encounter, fear and distrust, but in the quest for survival, in the search for finding meaning in a terrifying world, accepting that they are also complex beings with complex motivations. No matter how long your hair or how big your sword, that’s both metal and mettle.

Bristol Palin Now Just Regular Old White Trash

Sad news out of Wasila.

If I were Levi Johnston, I’d get out of town, move to Hollywood, find Kevin Federline and ask him his secret.

Behind the Scenes with USC Marching Band & Radiohead

This video isn’t the best quality, but it’s still pretty dope to see Thom Yorke practicing with the USC drum corps.

There’s some hi-resolution vid vid at the marching band’s site, though.

Via Pitchfork-via Stereogum.