Monday, April 29, 2019

April 29th Links

  • We're talking about a spectacular amount of carbon. Biochemist Nick Lane guesses that the rate of coal formation back then was 600 times the normal rate. Ward and Kirschvink say that 90 percent—yup, 90 percent!—of the coal we burn today (and the coal dust we see flying about Beijing and New Delhi) comes from that single geological period, the Carboniferous period. [National Geographic]
  • It has always fascinated me that no matter what book you read, movie you watch, game you play, etc. there are several million people who were affected by it in precisely the opposite way as you. If you hated it, many people loved it. If you loved it, many hated it. This is one of the worst books I've ever read. The characters were unbelievable, their actions unrealistic. The writing was tedious and almost wholly lacking in excitement (not to mention paragraphs). It goes on, and on, and on, probably since Russian writers of this period like Dostoevsky were actually paid by the page, which of course would encourage you to write as much as you could, regardless of quality. I read it on the strength of recommendations from people who loved it, and I stuck it out until the very end hoping that there might be something on the last page that redeemed it. There was not - when I finished this book I threw it across the room. [Goodreads]
  • Negative EBITDA. That's right, Tesla produced negative EBITDA in the first quarter. Forget about free cash flow and EPS, the company's $57 million in negative EBITDA (a good proxy for cash flow from operations) makes me wonder if this entity is even -- to use Elon Musk's favorite word -- sustainable. Tesla's loss on the EPS line puts to rest any hope that the company will be added to the S&P 500 this year (four quarters of consecutive profitability is one of S&P's criteria for inclusion), but the bigger issue here is Tesla's loss-making. I would venture to guess that none of the 505 companies that actually are in the S&P 500 produced negative EBITDA for the first quarter of 2019. Also, I don't believe there are any other car makers in the world that produced negative EBITDA In the first quarter, certainly none of the top 20 players did. [The Street]
  • Scotty Veenis, one of the coaches, had offered to get me onto the course during inspection. He felt that it was important for a civilian to see the Streif up close. Another coach said, "Show him a picture of the last guy you took down." On his phone, Veenis called up a photograph of a middle-aged man, in a helmet, with his face covered in blood. It was the father-in-law of Ted Ligety, the American giant-slalom star, whom Veenis had brought along on the inspection of the downhill in Bormio, an icy track in Italy, the month before. On a shadowy pitch, the father-in-law lost an edge and rag-dolled a hundred yards down into the fencing. "Your edges better be sharp," McBride said. "It's the real deal." It occurred to me that a headlong slide into the netting would be less than ideal for a fifty-year-old flatlander with a long list of wonky ligaments and disks, and a recent spate of concussions. [New Yorker]
  • When you see a mezcal for under $30, it is rarely good (though there are exceptions). Comments like that usually draw out some criticism that I am being elitist or worse, but it is simply a reality. It is VERY EXPENSIVE to produce a good, artisanal mezcal. Just a fact. [link]
  • There are sounds in the city that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. The city's trash collection is remnant of the past and completely inefficient. Trucks saunter down neighborhood streets in the middle of the afternoon heralded by this noise and residents are expected to be home that very minute to take out their trash to the street and hand it to them. They then sit for about 15 minutes to sort and organize the area's trash into sellable and non-sellable piles. It's a mess and ridiculously inconvenient, even for people who work from home, but the trash guys always have big smiles on their faces and have become like yet another set of neighbors for me. [link]
  • Cindy and I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright workshop/school Taliesen West (in Scottsdale) over the Christmas holiday. Our nephew, Los Angeles architect James Diewald, was in town, as were Cindy's parents. I had heard that Wright was influenced by ancient Maya architecture, so we looked for evidence of this at Taliesen West. It didn't take long to find. Several of the buildings exhibit a sloping exterior wall in a form common in the architecture of ancient Mesoamerica. The outward-sloping panel is called a "talud" by Mesoamericanists. It is most famous at Teotihuacan, where the sloping panels alternate with vertical framed panels called "tableros." But Wright used the talud without the tablero. [link]
  • The first Americans had to be more savage than the Indians to overcome them, but then civilization settled in, so that by 1783, Benjamin Franklin could already quote an Indian elder complaining, "Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing." [link]
  • Republicans should figure out ways to pose questions to Democrats in public and stimulate extremist contagion: Do you support allowing non-citizens voting rights? Do you believe all abortions should be paid for by taxpayers? Do you believe that border walls should be torn down? Do you think it would be okay for presidents to unilaterally institute bans on fossil fuels to save the earth if Republicans had "refused to act"? Let's have a conversation! [link]
  • There has never been a simple definition of Texas barbecue. Cooking methods, wood types, and seasonings vary across the state. And now things are getting even more complex. Motivated by the competitive barbecue scene and inspired by the foods they eat out or at home, pitmasters are enlivening their menus with ingredients and cooking styles from all over the world. New spots in the Austin area are serving brisket banh mi, barbecue gumbo, and kimchi instead of pickles. A single joint in Houston does all those and more. Even in Waco you can find a bowl of brisket ramen. Moroccan-style carrots and Armenian coffee share the stage with Tex-Mex touches like pico de gallo sausage, barbacoa, and elotes. But don't worry. The chopped-beef sandwich isn't going anywhere. [Texas Monthly]
  • Ever notice that the degree of gaudy ostentation of the rich is directly proportional to the pauperism and breadth of the underclasses within their societies? It seems you don't see this sort of thing in predominantly middle-class societies where the upward strivers are always threatening to crash the ranks of the upper classes. [Unz]
  • Apart from the obvious problems of traffic and transportation, the growth created other confusing complications. Today, out of the city's eighty-five thousand streets, there are about eight hundred fifty called Ju├írez, seven hundred fifty named Hidalgo, and seven hundred known as Morelos. Two hundred are called 16 de Septiembre, while a hundred more are called 16 de Septiembre Avenue, Alley, Mews, or Extension. Nine separate neighborhoods are called La Palma, four are called Las Palmas, and there are numerous mutations: La Palmita, Las Palmitas, Palmas Inn, La Palmas Condominio, Palmas Avenida, La Palma I y Palma I-II Unidad Habitacional. [Marginal Revolution]
  • Look for time-specific food. In San Miguel for instance, there is barbacoa [barbecue] from 8-10 a.m., carnitas from about 11-4, and wonderful chorizo after 8 p.m. In Mexico, if the food is available only part of the day, it's almost always good. It's for locals and there is no storage in these places so it's also extremely fresh. Often the best meals are served in places which have no names. In San Miguel the "brothers Bautista" run the best carnitas stands, but there is no sign and no marking. The stands are simply there on the side of the road, with some plastic tables and chairs, at a few places around town. Everyone in town knows about them. Ask around with taxi drivers and be persistent. Ask the older taxi drivers. Throw away your guidebook, no matter which one you have. Use breakfast and lunch for your best meals; dinner is an afterthought. Almost everywhere good is closed by 8 p.m. or often long before then. Always visit a place that closes by 1 p.m. [Marginal Revolution]
  • I've seen some growing evidence of this here in Dallas. Maybe I'm just noticing it more recently, but I've been seeing a fair number of young, well-dressed early twenty-somethings from Mexico that stand out. They're more blonde/blue-eyed and speak Spanish a little differently - different accent/pronunciation/vocabulary or something. They often drive pretty decent (to outright fancy) cars with Mexican license plates (usually from Neuvo Leon or Cuahuila) and hang out more in the "yuppie" neighborhoods (and definitely not in the traditional Hispanic neighborhoods). Both their choice in clothes and cars seem to be more "European" in style and origin. I most often see them hanging around more upscale shopping centers and cafes, relaxing, shopping, chatting, laughing, smoking, and enjoying a cool drink. They seem to live pretty leisurely lives. I've joined a few groups on occasion when sitting near them at a cafe (I love having an excuse to practice my Spanish), and they strike me as pretty well-educated (often having gone to universities here in Texas), and are often quite witty and funny. They definitely seem to keep to themselves though, not interacting too much with either the gringos or other Hispanics in town - definitely their own tight-knit little group (and maybe a tad snobby). [Marginal Revolution]
  • I thought the anthropology and archaeology museum in Mexico City (I forget the exact name) was amazing, perhaps a top 10 history museum in the entire world. It has all sorts of artifacts from the Aztecs and Mayas, as well as all sorts of native peoples of Mexico that you've never heard of. In the middle of Mexico City is the fortress of Chapultepec, which has at various times served as a presidential palace or the Mexican equivalent of West Point. Its capture by US forces marked the end of the Mexican-American War. Its in the middle of Mexico's equivalent of Central Park, on top of a high, steep hill. You climb the hill to get up there and there's a museum with stuff about Porfirio Diaz, the dictator of Mexico for much of the latter half of the 19th century. As I climbed up it, I thought about what it must have been like for the US forces storming it, which is commemorated in the "halls of Montezuma" lyric in the Marines hymn. Teotihuacan is, as you would say, self-recommending. There is an extensive market in guys with vans who will drive you there for a day quite cheaply. [Marginal Revolution]
  • "I've lived in some crappy places in my life, but I never had to look out my bedroom window at razor wire," noted Orca in the comments last week. Reading this reminded me just how extensively barbed wire and security gates have become the dominant aesthetic of working-class housing in the Valley to the point one hardly notices anymore. Chanteclair is a chichi hotel in Cannes. In Panorama City it is the whimsical nom de domicile affixed to a dingbat apartment surrounded by battlements of black spikes defending neglected shrubbery, metal gates shutting off the courtyard from the street and a baleful troll to ward away non-keyholders. And that's just the front entrance. Head around back to the carports, the usual ingress point after work, and it gets angrier. The carports of Panorama are especially well-defended, and there's a reason for that. Ironically it is the beautifiers of Los Angeles: the gardeners, the maids, the house painters, the granite fabricators, the trowelers of smoothset stucco who live in these buildings. Vehicles double as tool chests, necessitating defenses for every parking space. These apartment blocks went up in the 1960s when the trend in Southern California architecture was to evoke through detail and design choice the mood of an exotic locale, preferably the South Seas. If security considerations have displaced aesthetics this is the clear preference of the residents. Steel spikes metal grills razor wire iron bars makes a man feel he has done right by his family, and his hard-earned $1800 a month well spent. Everyone's safe. I have defended my own. A wanderer in the neighborhood might dismiss all as blight, but beneath the brutalist overlay similarities to buildings one has seen before in West Hollywood and Sherman Oaks abound. The same era, probably same floor plans, perhaps same architectural firm, but different tenants and therefore different upkeep. [Up In the Valley]
  • Policy decisions in Madrid, and in Catalonia, encouraged a boom, and framed it as an economic-survival strategy, especially after the global financial crisis of 2008. City officials successfully sold Barcelona to the international market as an especially fun European destination, with good weather, pretty beaches, lively night life, and just enough in the way of museums and architecture to provide diversion without requiring an onerous cultural itinerary. [New Yorker]

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