RWCG


Journey With Sigourney 2
December 31, 2008, 3:34 am
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Earlier I mentioned Half Moon Street. By coincidence I’m also in the middle of The Year Of Living Dangerously, another Sigourney Weaver thing (maybe it’s good, I haven’t finished it, but so far…not impressed). Takes place in 1965 Indonesia amid romantic communist unrest. At one point the Mel Gibson character and his Linda Hunt sidekick get a phone call that there’s going to be a protest at the U.S. Embassy. So they joyfully go there and take their film and they are so happy to be there and it’s so great and exciting because wow that’s journalism!

This embodies quite a lot of what is wrong with journalism. Look at what really happens in that scene objectively and it’s basically some weird combination of nihilism (someone supplies a pile of rocks to throw at the embassy’s windows) and media preening. The Gibson & Hunt characters who think they are engaging in brilliant, exciting journalism by filming it and being present as these people mindlessly throw rocks, say things loudly, and smash cars, are, by sane definitions of the term, delusional (and possibly masochistic).

The whole purpose of a “march” or “protest” or “demonstration”, after all, is basically to seduce journalists into photographing the people engaging in them and promulgating those photographs to regular peaceful people in their living rooms. For decades now, journalists who rush breathlessly to cover such things have been convinced that when they do so, they are performing a service, good journalism, because after all, these are real events! This is history in the making! It’s so exciting and dramatic!

But it’s not. It’s a bunch of people who set out to get attention, to be amplified by the likes of you, as part of a grand-scale extortion racket (“do what we say because we’re angry and scary! Grr!”). And, too often, succeed.

Every other day in “the Arab world” for example there’s some sort of “demonstration” and video gets splashed onto CNN of yelping loudmouths chanting something or other and perhaps holding signs. (Oh no! Signs!) The implication is that we are supposed to be scared by it. Look at those guys! And how loud they’re chanting! Boy they must be angry! Whatever they’re chanting, let’s give it to them!

But in reality, what are all those screaming people actually doing that is in any way real or tangible?

They are getting on CNN. That is all. That is enough.

The really sick part though is that this is a symbiotic relationship. It’s clear that journalists get something out of it too.



Struck A Nerve
December 31, 2008, 3:17 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

You know what amazes me?

I still hear people bring up “Joe the Plumber” in conversation. Make jokes about him. Not only are people still obsessed with Sarah Palin, which is amazing enough to me, but they still feel the need to bring up “Joe the Plumber”.

Dudes. It’s over. You won. Give it a rest already.

I’m not really even sure what he said, but that guy must’ve really struck a nerve.



Stuck On Half Moon Street
December 30, 2008, 3:26 am
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If you’re as cynical about and tired of Middle Eastern politics as I am, an interesting thing to do for a laugh is to go back and watch or read some old movie or book from a long time ago that touched on Middle Eastern politics. Chances are, all the same issues will be present and it will be manifestly clear how little has been solved or progress has been made.

Conversely, if you’re a wide-eyed optimist about things such as the “peace process”, doing the above can be an important corrective.

For example, Half Moon Street is a (rather strange) movie starring Sigourney Weaver and Michael Caine. The main plot has Weaver, a supposed expert on the Middle East who works for some sort of “Middle Eastern Institute” in London, deciding to become a call girl. (This is mostly presented as liberating and independent, and Weaver appears to be attempting to look defiantly unsexy and unwomanly despite being nude in many scenes; the whole thing is steeped in a quaintly ’80s notion of feminism.)

Anyway, she gets caught up in Arab/terrorist/etc political intrigue in the process, because (it’s pretty clear even before the conclusion) she’s being used as bait to try to blackmail or trap Michael Caine. Why? Because the Caine character is a bigger “expert” whom the government turns to in order to negotiate secret, and fragile, “peace talks”, and the Bad Guys who Don’t Want Peace (and the movie is very strange in its hints about whom these Bad Guys are) wish to prevent him from Creating Peace with his ingenious plans for Talks and Negotiations (which, of course, it is implied he will do if only he and his genius are kept safe from the Bad Guys).

The good smart people can create peace with their brilliant negotiations and talks and summits, if only the Bad Guys will let them and stop standing in the way. This is all pretty familiar territory to anyone following current events and familiar with conventional wisdom. But the funny part is that this movie was made in 1986 and based on a Paul Theroux book from 1984. All the same assumptions and naive beliefs are there as we have now. Apparently the smart people are so smart that they haven’t learned a single thing in almost 25 years.

What really struck me, and what strikes me as more deserving of comment than it seems to get, is that in the film (as with real life) Middle Eastern politics are constantly being presented as something complicated and intricate (and of course important) that can and needs to be studied by “experts”. The rather obnoxious Weaver character is presented as someone of overwhelming brilliance because of how much she understands. One thing she says in a (supposedly brilliant and cutting-edge) “talk” she gives is that it’s cool for OPEC to limit production even though the Saudis don’t like it (paraphrasing). At another point in the movie she praises Kuwait’s “social services” (this was pre-Gulf War). This is the sort of brilliance that Hollywood minds believe can solve problems such as Israel-Palestine, you see.

About 2/3rds of the way into the movie, my mind started wandering, and I asked myself: why do we need so many “experts” on the Middle East, and so many “institutes” to “study” this (rather simple in its barbarism and not at all difficult to understand) place? What makes “the Middle East” so special? I mean, how many “Norway experts” or “Institutes for the Study Of Danish Politics” are there I wonder? My answer is: overeducated social-science people need ways to feel important and useful, and so they are the ones who create demand for roles such as “Middle Eastern expert”, and perhaps they are egged on and indulged by wealthy Arabs needing somewhere to shower their propaganda money. In other words, it’s not that the “Middle East” needs so much “studying”, it’s that a bunch of otherwise-useless people either need something to “study” or have too much money to throw at those who do.

To people whose views were informed by actual reality, the failure of “peace process” and “Middle-East expert” type thinking to accomplish, well, anything over the past three (four? five?) decades would present a challenge to conventional wisdom. But we seem stuck with the same old assumptions and beliefs. Our views about “the Arab world” are more like a mythology than anything else, and I wonder if we underestimate Hollywood’s role. They are our mythmakers after all.



The Attack Of The Small, Molded Plastic Objects
December 30, 2008, 3:00 am
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Modern Christmas appears to be 95% about giving small molded plastic objects to the children of all households.

Over the next several days and weeks, the children then proceed to spread and scatter these small objects as randomly as they can around the house.

The objects build up over the years.

Aliens who only partially observed these events would probably assume Christmas to be a yearly hostile act against the grown humans in the household. They would probably be surprised to learn that a large percentage of the small molded plastic objects given to the children are actually given to those children by the grown humans of the households, rather than given clandestinely, by their enemies.



The Coming Revival
December 29, 2008, 12:21 am
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Due to a confluence of birthdays and holidays, I now find myself with an iPod Touch and an iTunes gift certificate through no fault of my own. The iPod is a thing of beauty. I can’t even believe it exists. But as for iTunes, the whole concept of paying for mp3’s and, like TV shows still seems pretty foreign to me.

So how will I ever use of my iTunes gift certificate?

I have hundreds of albums on various media (mostly CDs, but a lot of “tapes” as well as old vinyl). Simply scanning all those albums into my library will likely take me years. And then there are podcasts which are free. So I will not be running out of anything to listen to.

What may change is that when (as rarely happens anymore) one of my favorite bands comes out with something new and I feel compelled to buy it (mostly to support the bands I like, I guess), perhaps now I’ll buy it on iTunes rather than physically. Perhaps. Although I can’t say I won’t miss having the physical object.

As for movies, there’s Netflix. As for TV shows, I have DVR to grab anything from the shows I regularly watch (which basically boils down to 1. The Office and 2. The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

So what about books then? I do read books, and I also hate owning books. Heavy blocks of wood byproducts that you have to lug around whenever you move. I do use the library, but you’re at the mercy of what’s in stock, and I always forget to return the books and end up with fines. Digital books are the perfect solution. And the iPod Touch actually looks like a decent vehicle for book-reading; no Kindle, but workable.

This brings me to the point of this post: Project Gutenberg. Thousands of books that have passed into the public domain are available for download – free. These mostly are pre-1930 books; they won’t be contemporary authors – no Dan Brown, no Harry Potter, no “Twilight” series, no latest cutesy clever Malcolm Gladwell confection, no “The Shack”.

Do I care? Heck no. It seems to me I could very well get by reading only what’s available on Project Gutenberg for the rest of my life.

I’d been aware of Project Gutenberg for many years but only now I’m starting to think it might have a real effect. It didn’t seem so important when “the Internet” meant dialing up a local server at 1200 baud and using ftp. But nowadays anyone with these reasonably cheap devices can download and effectively carry around hundreds of books at a time, many of them classics.

I don’t think the Barnes & Noble will be displaced by this anytime soon; on the contrary. However, what we may see is a revival of interest in many of the titles and authors who are public-domain. Looks like all of Jane Austen’s works are out there, but she’s already had her revival. But what about H.G. Wells, P.G. Wodehouse, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conrad, Kipling, Chesteron? Will any of these gain new cred?

Especially with the economy being what it is, why go to the Borders and drop 30 bucks on some giant tome by Neal Stephenson that you have to carry around when you can apparently download practically the entire works of H.P. Lovecraft and have them in your hip pocket? Maybe hard times + cool tech + capriciousness of public-domain laws + overexpensive books = 19th/early-20th century revival. Or maybe I’m just overextrapolating. We’ll see I suppose.



Mindset
December 28, 2008, 11:29 pm
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Ezra Klein is so disturbed by the following that he can’t get it out of his head:

[Hamas rocket fire has caused] No deaths and few injuries.

If I were feeling unfair I would insinuate that perhaps more injuries, and some deaths, would make Ezra Klein feel better. But let’s try to be fair. Klein’s real point is that Israel’s response to Hamas’s rockets – they are merely “taking potshots”, you see – is “disproportionate”.

Can I be the first one to come out and say that being “proportionate” is stupid? Or has someone else beat me to the punch? Because it is. There’s no such thing as “proportionate” in warfare. Warfare is about defeating one’s enemy. Never in human history has this been achieved by being “proportionate”. Folks who insist that Israel (but nobody else in the world) be “proportionate” in her dealings with enemies are, in effect, saying this and only this: Israel should never win. She is allowed to delay defeat, but not score victories herself, and certainly not win anything lasting.

What sort of mindset is it that views it as basically okay for one country to be “taking potshots” at another, with impunity, on an ongoing basis, with no repercussions, but then gets so disturbed by a military response that he “can’t get it out of his head”?

I just can’t get Ezra’s post out of my head.



Fun Fact
December 28, 2008, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Person 1: The cartoon voice of Gargamel on the Smurfs, and Dick Dastardly, and many more.

Person 2: The first person to build and patent an implantable, artificial heart.

Fact: Person 1 = Person 2.



Poor Baby
December 24, 2008, 12:11 pm
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Actual headline: Blagojevich questioning takes up Obama’s time. The article itself is a fascinating piece of journalistic fellatio.

Imagine! Obama had to take up some of his precious ‘time’ due to ‘questioning’ re: a governor who tried to sell a Senate seat. This is unacceptable because (help me out folks)

  • Nobody should ever question Obama about anything bad in the first place. He’s Obama!
  • Obama’s ‘time’ is the world’s most precious commodity. He needs every last second in order to concentrate – one might even say focus like a laser – on Hopey-Changifying us.
  • As the article points out, “”Everybody behaved appropriately,” declared Greg Craig”. This was already thoroughly investigated by Greg Craig (a guy who works for Obama). And Obama’s counsel found nothing! Move on!

Let me make it clear from the start: I’m not saying I think Obama did do anything wrong. In fact I highly doubt it and if I had to bet, I’d bet no. But do we have to start up with this sort of cover-providing already? Journalists who view their role as if they are basketball players boxing out an opponent? It’d been so long since the Clinton years that I’d actually kinda forgotten what this looks like. This article certainly takes me back.

One problem is that when a journalist is so obviously bending over backwards to spin things in favor of the (D), it actually raises, not lowers, suspicions about the (D). Journalistic boxing-out, after all, besides being noticeably blatant and drawing attention to itself, is illogical and thus full of holes. For example, here’s what I now wonder (but didn’t before):

If Obama’s so obviously and thoroughly uninvolved in the scandal, why did he “have to” assign his incoming counsel to conduct and publish an inquiry? Supposedly we’re supposed to feel sorry for him ‘having to’ devote resources to inquiry, defense, etc. But he had nothing to do with it right? Well, let the investigators do their job, find what they might and let the chips fall where they may. Since Obama had nothing to do with it, the chips won’t fall on him. None of this need have ‘drained precious energy from Obama’s preparations to take over the White House’ in the first place; using his ‘precious energy’ on this scandal was Obama’s choice. Why did he make that choice? This is reminiscent of a standard line during Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal, that Clinton ‘had to’ spend so much time on the Lewinsky stuff that he ‘couldn’t’ focus on his job. This never made sense and still doesn’t. Why does an innocent President, in the face of shady (and untrue! right?) implications of wrongdoing or shady dealings, ‘have to’ spend one single second of his on-the-job time defending himself from the untrue, politically-motivated rumors? Just ignore them.

The whole ‘he’s not involved’ + ‘he’s had to waste a lot of time on his defense’ equation collapses under its own illogic. Always has, always will.

But in this case, has Obama even spent the ‘time’ the journalists want us to think he has, in the first place? Let’s add up the extent of the ‘precious energy’ drainage that the journalists (Jennifer Loven and Brett Blackledge) want us to feel sorry for Obama over (and by extension, I guess we should feel sorry for us, since Obama otherwise would be spending his time planning utopia for us all):

1. “the time Craig devoted to the internal review that Obama requested”. So Greg Craig conducting an “investigation” = “precious energy” spent by Obama? Huh? What other stuff would Greg Craig have been doing with his time? And how much time of Obama’s does this really take? “Go do an investigation for me, Greg”. That took 1.5 seconds to say.

2. “the topic also has surfaced at news conferences intended to highlight key appointments and policy priorities”….”[Obama] has taken questions on the matter on five occasions”. Translation: Pesky journalists asked Obama questions (“on five occasions”. FIVE WHOLE TIMES!) about this at times when Obama wanted to propagandize for his preferred policies and cabinet members, using those journalists as megaphones. How dare journalists interrupt Obama’s sermons with actual questions about other stuff at press conferences! This drains his energy! Theirs is but to listen, and be conduits – at least according to Jennifer Loven and Brett Blackledge, professional journalists.

3. “And Obama himself had to sit down last week in Chicago for an interview by federal investigators”. Finally! A real thing, that actually took time.

So this news article – which again, is headlined “Blagojevich questioning takes up Obama’s time” and supposedly wants us to think that Obama’s spent so much time on this scandal that it’s “drained” his “energy” from his “preparations to take over the White House” – contains one actual time-taking fact: Obama sat down for an interview with federal investigators.

Which took, how long, d’ya think? An hour and a half? Two, tops?

This is the basis for a “hey, this is taking up his time!” article? He had to do one interview?

Folks, what do you reckon Obama would have been doing with those two hours otherwise, if not for the interview? Was that afternoon somehow the difference between him finishing up his plans for utopia and those plans remaining tragically unfinished? If you believe this article, then every two hours Obama spends on other stuff is a tragic waste.

But wait! Guess what else the article tells us? “The inquiry was released in Washington while Obama was vacationing in Hawaii.”

WHAT???

Obama took a vacation in Hawaii when he’s supposed to be spending every single last second of his ‘time’ on ‘preparations for the White House’ and Hopey-Changifying us all?? And that’s….okay? And what about the other stuff we already know Obama spends his ‘time’ on, such as playing basketball, taking cigarette breaks, etc.? If we believe this article, shouldn’t we get just as angry for the ‘time’ he loses doing those things as well?

Did these journalists even read their own article and scan it for General Ridiculousness?

Ah yes, the Clinton Years are suddenly upon us once again. Go forth and provide cover for the (D), journalists. It’s the new journalistic code.



Upper Middle Class Socialists, Part 2
December 23, 2008, 12:27 pm
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Another favorite topic of discussion among upper middle class socialists is the need to ‘reform’ health care (i.e. make it fully socialist instead of just 70% or whatever it is now).

The hilarious part is that for some reason, upper middle class socialists seem to believe that the cost of their health care makes a compelling case for reform. So you’ll hear in a conversation, from someone making $500k/yr, that they had to buy insurance for themselves during some gap, and the cost was high, and ‘that’s why we need health care reform’.

In such convos it’s never clear to me whether they realize that under any realistic and logical reform scenario, they would have to pay more, because (reasonable) reform can only mean one of two things: rationing (which they presumably don’t want), and means-testing (meaning rich pay more).

Side note: “Health care” is a phrase with two words in it. Can’t explain why but it irritates me when people write “healthcare” as if it is one word. There is no word “healthcare” in the English language. There is “health” and there is “care” and there is a phrase “health care”. Class dismissed.



Xmas: Humbug
December 21, 2008, 11:17 pm
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With every year I get more and more frustrated by gift-giving. I barely have the time or wherewithal to shop for myself, let alone to fret over what crappy useless item to waste money on and then give to, like, my brother’s wife. It goes without saying that if there’s something she actually wants, she can freaking buy it herself, and most likely, already has. At best I’m weighing her down with another physical object she has to store and then lug around if/when she moves – or at least go through the trouble of throwing away. And at worst there is always the possibility of committing some kind of unintentional subtle insult by the gift (e.g. one always has to think extra carefully to make sure there’s no possibility of the recipient somehow twisting the intent into “so you’re saying you think I’m fat/ugly?”).

Don’t get me wrong. Of course the whole gift thing is nice and cute and fun FOR CHILDREN but are we ever going to give it a freaking rest with the grown-ups?

Seems to me we’re all stuck in a giant Prisoner’s Dilemma. Everyone would benefit from a nationwide policy of ‘no gifts after age 16′ or better yet 14 or 12. Everyone. We are talking massive dead-weight loss, hundreds of millions of dollars of capital wasted on stuff people wouldn’t actually buy for themselves – and thus, capital which is being misallocated every bit as much as when unneeded housing developments are built in the middle of Arizona during a housing bubble.

But no one can actually take the first step and rat out the whole grownup gift-giving thing as a pointless kabuki scam. No one can say “I don’t like giving gifts and I don’t particularly care about receiving gifts, anything I’d have realistically wanted I’d have already bought”, for fear of being called cheap (which I am not – it’s not the money that bothers me at all – in fact I’d pay twice as much if it would cut back on the time and emotional hassle). Someone who talks this way is a “Scrooge”, or a party-pooper who’s ruining Christmas. That great and solemn religious holiday where we buy objects for people that they probably didn’t want, have to pretend to like and be pleased by, and then have to carry home.

Even worse is that the media egg things on by portraying our whole economy as driven by Christmas gift-buying. Every single year, if people don’t waste enough money buying Christmas gifts, the media calls this ‘anemic’ and a sign of down-times. In years where people actually do spend enough money to satisfy the media tut-tutters (though I can’t actually recall such a year), this is portrayed as a good thing and an optimistic sign of hope for the future.

All of which is bass-ackwards. I hope soon-to-be President Obama uses his honeymoon period and near-universal acclaim to issue a new, bold, progressive directive: Christmas (and birthday, while we’re on the subject) gifts to people over age 16 is verboten, punishable by progressive green re-education camp.

Or, at least, let’s set up an opt-out system: don’t buy me gifts, and I won’t buy you gifts. That would be win-win, after all.



Why I Can’t Wait For Obama’s Inauguration
December 16, 2008, 12:14 pm
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(Adapted from a private email I just wrote to a friend:)

I recognize no continuity in our culture, at least in our political culture. There’s no stable thing to grasp onto or point to and say ‘that is the way we are and that is the kind of thing we do’. The way people talk and analyze issues, the lens through which issues are observed, and the way decisions are made and supported – it’s all become foreign to me. Like a foreign country. I do not recognize the thought process of bailout-fever as being American. More generally I don’t recognize it as logical (or moral for that matter), but in particular it doesn’t resemble anything I’ve believed or been taught to believe or come to believe on my own. And this creeps me out, or at least, it makes me feel like I’m on shaky ground going forward – because it makes the future seem so uncertain.

What will my suddenly strangely-unpredictable, foreign-seeming countrymen and government leaders decide to support next? I have no idea. I don’t even have a good guess.

Some of this probably sounds crazy. The even crazier thing is that it’s not Obama that concerns me. In a way, the election of Obama, and his appeal, made sense to me. That, I understand. He does seem to fit into the ‘sunny, forward-loooking, possibly-too-idealistic’ tradition of American politics. In a weird way – like Lincoln. It’s really not Obama that worries me.

It’s his supporters that creep me out.

But even though I think this would sound crazy to a lot of people, I’m also pretty sure I’m onto something. I become more convinced every day that it’s the root of the secret, undiagnosed reason for the unstable, crazy economy situation – ‘regime uncertainty’ may not be the best name for it, but that’s what I’ve been calling it. A sense that the future is SO shaky, and government actions are suddenly so willy-nilly and out-of-the-blue unpredictable, that ‘normalcy’ in markets just doesn’t exist. Everyone just wants to zip their money up in a mattress and wait it out. Which does NOT make for a good economy at all.

This is why I can’t wait till Obama is inaugurated. Because I think this ‘regime uncertainty’ we currently suffer from is killing us – in some cases, almost literally. But I also have to believe that Obama is intelligent and pragmatic enough that once he gets into office, the boundaries of his actions and thought processes will at least start to take shape (whether I agree w/any of them or not). But until that happens, I’m just afraid the markets and the world economy is going to stay totally spooked.



Hissy Fit
December 15, 2008, 11:42 am
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This is the kind of thing I’ve always liked about President George W. Bush. Implacability to a tee, of a type almost perfectly designed to frustrate his critics and deny them satisfaction:

“All I can report is it is a size 10,” he said jokingly.

“So what if a guy threw his shoe at me,” the president added, dismissing it as “one way to gain attention.”

The other thing that’s hilarious about this incident is how predictably it has brought out the Experts On The Arab World to expertly explain to the rest of us that to Arabs, shoe throwing is disrespectful. For example, here’s a news piece (#2 on Google News search for ‘shoe’) whose headline reads – I kid you not – “In Islamic culture, shoe throwing shows disrespect”. That’s actually the headline.

Wow! Islamic culture is so unique in that regard! Because as everyone knows, in other cultures shoe-throwing is a sign of deep respect, or possibly an invitation to a romantic dalliance. Thanks so much for the fascinating in-depth reporting about the unique particular peculiarities of “Islamic culture”, Ms. Jennifer Barrios, ace news-reporterette!

The deeper point I wanted to make about Bush’s reaction is that it is manly. He ducked the shoe. He didn’t get flustered. He brushed it off and then joked about it. This is the reaction of someone in power, who knows it, and who is not insecure. The reporter who threw the shoe is lucky for all this, by the way; were Bush less manly and less secure – someone like, oh, say, Saddam Hussein – that reporter would now be in a world of hurt.

Meanwhile, I have to say, whether it’s some sort of unique part of “Islamic culture” or not, throwing your shoe at someone is my idea of something that is specifically not manly. In fact it is quite womanly. Throwing her shoes is what the jilted, powerless woman does at the man who is walking away from her at the 2/3 point of the romantic comedy. It’s a hissy fit. And at some point, faced with hissy fits, the man says “that’s it, I’ve had enough”.



Are Movies Getting Worse?
December 13, 2008, 12:03 pm
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Looking at Ebert’s list of his 20 best films of the year, two things stand out:

1. I’ve seen none of them.

2. I have no burning desire to see any of them.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m running out of movies to watch. My Netflix queue is dwindling-without-being-replenished faster than my savings account is.

There are and have been many tools online (including Netflix and IMDB but I used to use others) to discover movies you might like. The problem is, at this point they are too good and I’ve exhausted all the top recommendations. From all the ratings and reviews I can pretty much tell how much I’m going to like a movie before I bother to see it. As a result, I basically only watch movies I know I’m going to at least like (unless it’s a movie my wife wants to see, e.g. Sex and the City, which – surprise! – I did not like). Therefore all movies I watch nowadays, when I go back to rate them in Netflix, they all get either four stars (I liked it) or five stars (I loved it).

I don’t watch any movies I dislike anymore. That’s pretty amazing in itself but the real point is just that I know whether I’ll like movies beforehand. And looking at Ebert’s best-of-2008 list, I don’t see any movies I’m likely to think are any better than ‘okay’. Ebert doubled his list size to 20 with the intent of showing what a great year it was in movies. But looking at it, I can’t help but think it must’ve been a horrible year in movies.



Layoffs
December 12, 2008, 11:46 am
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Obviously being laid off would be no fun. What I hadn’t realized till recently is that even if you’re not laid off and survive the round, it’s really really depressing when other people around you, especially people you’ve been working with and gotten to know and like, are.

What do you say to them on their last day as they putz around with HR and their paperwork and desk-cleaning? Do you try to ‘make them feel better’? You can’t. Do you say ‘let’s keep in touch’? You won’t. They were a part of your day and now they’re not. They just disappear.

Poof, and like that, they’re gone.

But you survived. This time. Yet what if you know further rounds are coming?

All in all it’s like being in some teen slasher movie. Just because you weren’t the one axed this time doesn’t mean you’re not gonna be next. And after all, everyone knows that only Jamie Lee Curtis will survive at the end. ;-)



Elevator Puzzle
December 11, 2008, 3:45 am
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I made up a puzzle. It may already exist in some form (there are many possible ways to arrange a puzzle based on the same sort of idea) but I made it up independently. I may not have ironed out all the kinks but still I figured my 1.01 daily readers might wish to try their hand at it. I’m going to try to state it in a way where you get just the information you need and no more. I can’t tell how hard or easy this puzzle is (yet), perhaps because it is based on real events and so I’m too close to it. You have to answer all the questions about the situation, and give reasons why. Without further ado:

Puzzle

Adam, Bill, Chad, Dave, Eric and Frank are riding up an elevator, having all entered on the ground floor. The buttons for floors 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 11 are lit up. It stops on 2 and Dave and Eric get out. Bill then gets mad at someone (sighs). Chad smiles at Adam. Frank gets out on 3. I will also tell you that someone gets out on 7.

Questions:

1. Who did Bill get mad at? Why?

2. What floor was Bill going to?

3. You know at least one person got in the elevator before Bill. Why, and who?

4. You also know someone that got in the elevator before the person from question 3. Who?

5. Someone felt embarrassed. Who?

6. Who (if anyone) got off on 4?

7. Who (if anyone) got off on 6?

8. Who got off on 7? (I told you someone did)

9. Why didn’t Chad get mad?

10. Did Adam get mad?

11. What floor did Adam go to?

12. All six people entered the elevator in time to make it to their respective desks at exactly 9:00. Two people ended up being a bit late, however. Who?

13. Bill knows the floors that at least two other people in this elevator work on. Which two? There’s at least one other person in the elevator whose floor Bill didn’t know (till this ride). There are two people that person could be. Which two?

Bonus Question: By regulation, there are two legal types of elevators in this city. Type I has the floor-buttons in two vertical columns spaced 12 inches apart. Type II has the buttons all in one vertical column. Which Type is this elevator?

Well, that should be enough questions. I think if you get the basic idea you’ll get most of the questions. I wonder how many you could get without getting the basic idea, but just from how I phrased it. Probably some. If so, the puzzle needs tuning up a bit. I guess I’ll find out (if anyone comments, that is).

I’ll post the answers (or at least, my answers) a bit later on.

SOLUTION

I’ll assume no takers and post the solution (or my solution, anyway). The basic key to the answer:

Adam works on floor 7 but accidentally pressed 6 first.

How do we know? The setup starts with six people in the elevator and six buttons pressed. But two people get off on 2 – now there’s 5 floors pressed but only four people. Most likely someone pressed more than one button (it’s also possible that i.e. someone pressed one button but changed his mind and got off on a floor someone else pressed, but this is a ‘most likely’ sort of puzzle). After Frank gets out on 3, there are three people left on the elevator (Adam, Bill and Chad) and four floors to go (4,6,7,11). Bill gets mad at someone when he figures out someone pressed two buttons, so most likely he’s the person most inconvenienced by this: he’s going to 11. Chad smiles at Adam so he’s not inconvienced by the double-push: he’s going to 4 and will get off anyway. Clearly Adam pressed both 6 and 7. I told you someone gets off at 7 so that’s Adam.

These are my answers then:

1. Who did Bill get mad at? Why?

Bill got mad at Adam cuz he pressed two buttons, making Bill’s trip to 11 longer.

2. What floor was Bill going to?

11.

3. You know at least one person got in the elevator before Bill. Why, and who?

Adam must have gotten in the elevator prior to Bill. If he hadn’t, Bill would’ve seen Adam press the two buttons and been annoyed by him right away. But Bill only got mad after two people got out on 2; i.e., he only realized someone pressed two buttons (which wasn’t obvious initially, when there were 6 people and 6 buttons pressed) after two people got out on the same floor.

4. You also know someone that got in the elevator before the person from question 3. Who?

Chad got in before Adam, and saw him press the two buttons. That’s why he was smiling at Adam when Bill got annoyed; Chad knew Adam was the culprit.

5. Someone felt embarrassed. Who?

Adam, obviously.

6. Who (if anyone) got off on 4?

Chad got off on 4. The double-push didn’t affect him so he found the whole thing amusing.

7. Who (if anyone) got off on 6?

Nobody. We know someone got off on 7 and that was Adam.

8. Who got off on 7? (I told you someone did)

Adam.

9. Why didn’t Chad get mad?

Because a double-push above his floor doesn’t delay him at all.

10. Did Adam get mad?

No. He was the culprit.

11. What floor did Adam go to?

7.

12. All six people entered the elevator in time to make it to their respective desks at exactly 9:00. Two people ended up being a bit late, however. Who?

Adam and Bill were late, because they both work above 6, where the elevator stopped by accident.

13. Bill knows the floors that at least two other people in this elevator work on. Which two? There’s at least one other person in the elevator whose floor Bill didn’t know (till this ride). There are two people that person could be. Which two?

He must know that Chad works on 4 and Frank works on 3. Otherwise, when Dave and Eric left, he wouldn’t have known who to blame for pressing 6-7. Meanwhile, he didn’t know that Dave and Eric both work on 2 (he might have known one of them did). If he had, he’d have figured out the double-push from the get-go instead of only after they both got out on 2.

Bonus Question: By regulation, there are two legal types of elevators in this city. Type I has the floor-buttons in two vertical columns spaced 12 inches apart. Type II has the buttons all in one vertical column. Which Type is this elevator?

Type II. Accidentally pushing 6 instead of 7 wouldn’t be likely with a two-column 12-inch separation layout, because assuming the numbers were arranged left-to-right, 6 and 7 would end up in different columns and accidentally pushing one when you meant to hit the other just wouldn’t happen.



The Curious Case Of The Government-Sponsored ‘Free Market’
December 10, 2008, 11:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday this hilarious story showed up on Bloomberg in which Fannie/Freddie’s ex-CEOs blame Congress for not regulating them enough and not preventing them from taking risks. “You should have stopped us from doing the stupid things we did!”, they are saying. Remind me not to ever try that defense.

Two things about the article though.

1. They blame the crisis in part on, as the article puts it, “housing officials for encouraging the mortgage-finance company and its competitor Freddie Mac to expand into riskier loans with limited oversight.” This (if you believe them, and one must acknowledge the self-serving nature of whatever they say) actually buttresses the conservative line about the financial crisis. The debate on this has actually swung, from conservatives (somewhat defensively) suggesting that Fannie/Freddie were pushed to make bad loans by lefties in the government, to lefties fighting back (somewhat defensively) by trying to pull out numbers suggesting that stuff like CRA couldn’t have caused the crisis. This article pushes the pendulum back to the conservative view.

2. And as for numbers, further into the article we learn that in ’06-07, Freddie purchased 13 percent of all subprime & Alt-A bonds created, and Fannie purchased 5 percent. That’s 18 percent together: government ‘sponsored enterprises’ (read: the government) purchased 18 percent of all the newly securitized subprime & Alt-A debt in those years. This may not seem like a lot and indeed lefties may actually point to these numbers to try to argue against the it-was-the-socialists meme (“look! only 18 percent! the free market purchased the other 82 percent!”)

But I think that would be a misreading. 18 percent of a type of debt being bought up by the government – with implicit government guarantee against bankruptcy/default, or so everyone assumed – is HUGE in my opinion. The government doesn’t have to buy up 90+ percent of something to distort the market in that thing. If the other market actors in the secondary market know that the government is out there, buying the stuff at such-and-such prices, they’ll be more willing to just buy from each other, and the prices will be highly influenced by the perceived prices the government will pay.

And as we know, the government (Fannie/Freddie) was under pressure to ‘promote affordable housing’.

All of these items are just circumstantial bits but to me they are beginning to paint a pretty consistent picture. Whatever you think and whoever you blame, at the very least it should be clear that this market was, and is, very far from a ‘free market’.



Regime Uncertainty
December 9, 2008, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Several bloggers have pointed to this Brad DeLong piece on the financial crisis. For my money the analysis there is a cut above the usual drivel people shove, which either tells a cartoonish story about the crisis either being caused by some mythical detail-free thing called ‘deregulation’ supposedly implemented by conservatives, or claims it’s all caused by giving loans to minorities, or just goes the easiest path and blames it all on ‘greed’. DeLong’s piece is more interesting than any of that.

He identifies 5 known causes of fluctuations in global capital (which is what has imploded recently). In short they are

1. Savings and investment (particularly, the amount of the former that is transformed into the latter)
2. News (including resources, technology, and politics)
3. Default discount (fear that people will default)
4. Liquidity discount (desire to have money in liquid things)
5. Risk discount (desire to have money in non-risky things, i.e. for its future value to stay known)

DeLong says that (1) and (2) couldn’t have changed things much, that (3) has basically already been priced in, and that it’s (4) and (5) that are operating in our current credit crunch. He concludes with a mystery, because nothing in current economic thinking (according to him, and he would know) would predict that the appetite for liquidity would be so high and that for risk would be so low.

He is arguing primarily with folks who tell a story of the financial crisis being primarily caused by the ‘impulse’ of subprime/home-price writedowns. He says that’s not enough to understand the crisis because it only was a $2 trillion ‘impulse’ whereas global capital has shrunk by ten times that much. Not only that but the causes of this ‘impulse’ are not well diagnosed. All of this strikes me as accurate enough.

Here’s where I think DeLong goes wrong: by dismissing the effect of (2) – news. He dismisses it practically at the beginning of his analysis. Possibly this is because he welcomes the Obama victory. So, news hasn’t changed much, he says (or anyway, there’s no bad news to speak of), so that can’t be part of the explanation.

Oh, but I think it can.

The United States – the most important economy in the world, and the locus of the housing bubble – was going to change its governing regime. Obvious this was known prior to 2007 but it was a looming event in 2007, something that could no longer be ignored, because it was coming up. And not only that but Bush’s popularity had plummeted, making a party change all that more likely. So if the markets had gotten used to one regime – Bush, and his cabinet, and whatever they tend to do or not do, good or bad – they would have had to start incorporating into their thinking the fact that this regime and all its patterns were likely to change significantly.

I know this is simplistic thinking but the more I think about it the more striking it is – the tech stock bubble collapsed in ’99-’00, the housing bubble collapsed in ’07-08. What did both of those time periods have in common?

Regime uncertainty. One long regime going to end, and a far different regime possibly due to take over. I’m not saying this as a way of calling the Obama Presidency (or the Bush Presidency) bad (or good); I’m just saying.

I suspect the effect of regime uncertainty on the markets is being wildly underestimated by most commentators.



Why Politics Rocks
December 7, 2008, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Caught some documentary on heavy metal while channel-flipping and DVR’ed it for later. Turned out to be underwhelming but there was one interesting insight, regarding why a certain stripe of metal so often indulges in grisly, violent imagery: because kids today tend to have little real experience of death. So, understandably enough I suppose, they crave to explore the thing that is a mystery and is sheltered from them, even if (especially?) what they get is cartoonish and juvenile.

I think the same principle applies in many areas, and it’s not just teen metalheads who indulge in escapist fantasy to explore in ‘safe’ form a reality of life that they’re sheltered from. At times it seems our entire political system has devolved into an escapist fantasy for sheltered adults, one giant garish ’70s album cover stuffed with simplistic, puerile, self-parody images – cartoon black and white hands shaking, a flower shoved into the barrel of a gun, bombs on a conveyor belt going into a machine and coming out as electric cars on the other end, a Scrooge-like rich guy crying over in the corner at the error of his ways, a beautiful interracial orgy, etc.

Heck, this is basically what ‘socialist realist’ art was, right? ’70s-style album covers, but for socialists, and without the music (usually).

Anyway, if what metalheads need is a dose of healthy familiarity with the realities of such things as death and grownup relationships, then I can think of a few aspects of reality I’d like to refamiliarize the modern sheltered upper-middle-class socialist with as well. Being victimized by crime, for example. Working at a job in an actual business (as opposed to something that ultimately traces in one way or another to a made-up government project and wouldn’t actually exist if not for government). Living amongst people who are culturally unlike them (and who don’t particularly like them), and I don’t mean people who are merely ‘diverse’ but have the exact same opinions, and lifestyle as they do.

Indeed, from what I’ve observed, even the act of conversing (civilly) with people whose opinions differ from theirs in fundamental ways seems to be absent from the life experiences of today’s s.u.m.c.s.’s.

So just as a teenage headbanger’s curiosity about subjects such as death is mediated through, say, a Slayer album, perhaps today’s political junkies (including myself) act out their own ignorance of civility by indulging in the escapist soap opera that we call modern politics. After all, when you boil it down, there’s not a huge difference between the amount of substance that went into this….

and this:

Actually what am I saying. The Cannibal Corpse cover is far more substantive and intellectually stimulating.



You Love Me Like A Man Shouldn’t Love A Flower
December 7, 2008, 9:04 pm
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Promo for a new Flight of the Conchords season.

I was worried they would come back too soon and not give themselves enough time to come up with decent material. If this snippet’s any indication, no worries :)



Wheels
December 7, 2008, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Words/items E. was familiar with before age 2:

car
truck
fire truck
police car
ambulance
bulldozer
crane
tractor
garbage truck
racing truck
bicycle
motorcycle
excavator

What can I say. Guy likes wheels.




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