• Stress rots your brain, literally.
    While [depression] is typically defined in terms of its emotional symptoms - this led a generation of researchers to search for the chemicals, like serotonin, that might trigger such distorted moods - researchers are now focusing on more systematic changes in the depressed brain, such as reduced neurogenesis and increased cell death. What causes this neurodegeneration? You guessed it: chronic stress. Those same hormones that make you alert and escalate your pulse can also damage the brain.
    (1) #
  • Wired on the recent meteoric rise of the German-style board game, with a focus on the creator of the popular game The Settlers of Catan.
    Last year, Settlers doubled its sales on this side of the Atlantic, moving 200,000 copies in the US and Canada—almost unheard-of performance for a new strategy game with nothing but word-of-mouth marketing.
    I myself have been on a German gaming kick in the past few years, often playing such games as Carcassonne and Alhambra. What distinguishes them?
    German-style games tend to let players win without having to undercut or destroy their friends. This keeps the game fun, even for those who eventually fall behind. Designed with busy parents in mind, German games also tend to be fast, requiring anywhere from 15 minutes to a little more than an hour to complete. They are balanced, preventing one person from running away with the game while the others painfully play out their eventual defeat.
    The article mentions that Monopoly has recently modified their instructions to emphasize the oft-ignored property auction, which evidently makes the game go faster and makes it more interactive. (5) #
  • What happens when Justin Timberlake gets together with a certain TV editing brother of crazymonk's? MTV's new reality series, The Phone. Here's the trailer, where lots of things blow up. (6) #
  • I already have April Fool's exhaustion (after being fooled by Improv Everwhere until about halfway through this mission), but Trent Reznor makes it funny by announcing a new digital album produced by Timbaland. It's worth it for the album cover alone. And the name of track 2. (1) #
  • For those of you who have the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In coming up in your Netflix queues, you might want to know that the current DVD release has dumbed-down and sometimes inaccurate subtitles. Future pressings will have the original subtitles used in the theatrical release. This information came about a week late for me, although I still found the film to be subtle and excellent. (14) #
  • Obama might sign a bill next week to make Great Falls in New Jersey his first designated national park, but is this necessarily a good thing? I love me my national parks, but the linked article asks some interesting questions with respect to the purpose of giving areas this highest protective honor. (8) #
  • For his recently released album Bromst, Dan Deacon and his crew programmed a player piano to play musical lines much faster than humanly possible, although still within certain mechanical limits. Pitchfork TV made a neat behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the album -- here is the section going into detail about the MIDI-controlled player piano. (I was a big fan of his last album Spiderman of the Rings -- Bromst is a denser listen, but it's growing on me.) (0) #
  • It's over — we're officially, royally fucked.
    Is how Matt Taibbi's long article in Rolling Stone begins, and it doesn't get any more optimistic from there on. If you were looking to be enraged by a detailed explanation of how this whole crisis is a result of a political structure that in the past 10-15 years has constructed a system to create wealth for massive companies and the financial class, this is it.
    In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.
    Some populist rage is needed here, but boy has it been misguided so far. (via wayneandwax) (0) #
  • I'll end the week with a Dave Eggers twofer:

    1) The trailer for Away We Go, an indie-like comedy written by Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida and directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). I read a draft of the screenplay a few years ago when it was called "This Must Be The Place" and found it to be quirky/cute in a Little Miss Sunshine sort of way. (via kottke)

    2) This one's a little old, but I just heard about it. Tom Tykwer, gun shootout director extraordinaire (and of Run, Lola, Run fame), is working on a film adaptation of Eggers's novel What is the What. I read WitW last year and I thought it was excellent -- you should all read it if you haven't yet. (8) #
  • In a legal war that's been waging since before anyone had heard of Monica Lewinsky, the ACLU of Nevada has won yet another battle in its fight for free speech rights at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas.
    [ACLU attorney Allen] Lichtenstein said Ezra's ruling means visitors to downtown Las Vegas can expect to see more "First Amendment activity that is not controlled by the Fremont Street Experience Limited Liability Company," a private entity that contracts with the city to run the pedestrian mall.
    Great work, guys! (0) #

A few more consumptions

I missed a few things in my "Notable 2009 consumptions, so far" post, and have one update, so here they are:

The International

I saw this only a few weeks ago and I've already forgotten most of the plot points, but this movie was worth it solely for the gun shootout sequence near the end (for which director Tom Tykwer built somewhere in Germany a full scale replica of New York's Guggenheim Museum) -- one of the best scenes of its kind I've seen since perhaps Heat. I felt bad for screenwriter Eric Singer, though, who said in this podcast interview that he hoped the film didn't come off as a feature-length set up for that one scene -- to me it sort of did. Along with Children of Men, Clive Owen is now the master of well-shot action scenes.

Important Things with Demetri Martin

I haven't enjoyed a sketch comedy show this much since Mr. Show. You can view clips on the Comedy Central website.

The Hazards of Love (The Decemberists) (update)

Last night, The Decemberists played this entire album live and in full at SXSW, and NPR has the whole thing up on their site. It's not quite as tight as the album (not surprisingly for its live debut), but the energy is there. One odd thing is that the stream has pre- and post-show commentary by NPR hosts, although it was interesting to hear that the crowd didn't get fully into the performance until Shara Worden came on stage.

Thu, 03/19/2009 - 7:00pm
  • The actual contract giving out the AIG bonuses was publicized today, and there seems to be a consensus in the blogs I read that it's not technically a bonus, but a retention payout. In other words, the populist anger is somewhat misplaced on the actual payouts when it should be on the market forces that supported the creation of these retention payouts in the first place. For instance, Nate at fivethirtyeight.com:
    I'm just not all that excited about confiscating the "bonuses" paid to the AIGFP employees. Rather, I'm interested in compensation and incentivization structures in general. Aggregate compensation throughout the financial services industry, I would guess, is much higher than is economically optimal... A lot of people are getting paid for what is thought to be skill but is really just luck...

    The compensation paid to AIG's employees... is less a moral failure than a market failure. We don't like to admit to market failures because they indict our collective judgment; instead we scapegoat and move on.
    (1) #
  • Pete Souza, Obama's official photographer, found this photograph he took of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev welcoming tourists in Moscow. What makes it interesting? He believes that the tourist with the camera (who asked "pointed" questions) is current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, then undercover for the KGB. (0) #
  • D.T. Max, the writer of the New Yorker article about David Foster Wallace's work on his third and unfinished novel, answers a few reader questions about his piece. There are few more glimpses at The Pale King:
    I don’t think characterization was what Wallace found hard in “Pale King.” There are several rich characters, among them Wallace (or his double) and a college student named Chris Fogle, who is “called to account” by one of his professors. Wallace chronicles Fogle’s story in some seventy pages. From the pages I saw, what was difficult was then setting them in motion in an interesting way, the architecture of a novel.
    (thx, ben c.) (0) #