Is Sandra Fluke Still Able To Afford To Have Non-Reproductive Sex?
April 30, 2012, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Or is she, alternatively, having non-reproductive sex but starving to death as a direct result?

Just worried about our national contraception mascot.  No one seems to be talking about her.  We can’t lose sight of our priorities here.

Stiglitz On ‘Free Market’ And ‘Austerity’
April 28, 2012, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Joseph Stiglitz in this interview gives very articulate answers in the course of describing what I can only assume is some sort of fantasy-world or alternate universe. In Stiglitzia, you see, the financial crisis was caused by too much free market.

When I look back at the history, I see

  • a mortgage ‘market’ in which whether you can get a mortgage, and its size, and terms, is almost entirely determined by criteria set by two agencies, Fannie & Freddie
  • Fannie & Freddie exist. Note these are not private companies that sprung up organically in a ‘free market’, but rather, invented, quasi-private ‘government-sponsored enterprises’ that ended up being just basically, well, the government
  • as such they are also subject to all sorts of political pressure, Congressional meddling, ‘you should (must) loan more to this group of people’ diktats, etc.
  • if you stop paying your mortgage, Fannie/Freddie (i.e. taxpayers) guarantee investors they’ll make up the difference. Interest-rates are priced accordingly.
  • or, your mortgage is sold into a private-label pool that gets sliced into tranches with different ‘ratings’, which are these letters assigned to debt by basically three ‘rating agencies’ given quasi-government status
  • the main reason to do this is that the ‘rating’ of a piece of debt affects who can buy it, due to, like, laws and regulations. It also affects the capital charge based on made-up multipliers, centrally-determined by, like, the Basel Committee. This setup influences, if not dictates, what interest-rate you were able to get.
  • that mortgage tranche might then get combined with other tranches and put into a CDO meant to game the ‘ratings’ even more.
  • interest rates are all kept low because the U.S. central bank decided to keep the ‘discount rate’ low.
  • this machinery all worked for a while as a government-sanctioned and -encouraged way to funnel money from debt investors to U.S. and other home ‘buyers’

And then it all collapsed, taking a good chunk of the rest of the market down with it.

Now, sharp readers can easily observe that essentially none of the above bullet-points can fairly be described as ‘free market’ phenomena. So, that can’t be the reality Joseph Stiglitz is describing. There must be some other, I can only assume?

Stiglitz also berates policy makers for listening…too much to free market ideologues when crafting their responses:

Those faulty models then encouraged policy-makers to believe that the markets would solve all the problems.

How exactly the (supposedly widespread, and supposedly academic-encouraged) belief among policymakers that ‘the markets would solve all the problems’ informed and led to the policies we actually got, such as bailouts, forced mergers, forced restructurings favoring politically-favored creditors, TARP (and TARF and CRAP and whatever the hell), massive ‘stimulus’ packages, ‘Operation Twist’ and other Fed open-market operations, EFSF and its CDO^2-based structures in Europe – indeed, what any of these policies have to do with a ‘free market’, Stiglitz does not explain. I suppose the explanation would go over my head anyway, since I am not a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

In any event, clearly since the crisis was so obviously caused by too-much-free-market, and since its failed policy responses were so obviously influenced by absolutist pro-free-market sentiment, it goes without saying that as we look ruefully back on all these failures (of free-market thinking) there’s one group of people we (more in sorrow than in anger) recognize as needing to change their ways: free-market thinkers.

Within academia, those who believed in free markets before the crisis still do so today. A few people have shifted, and I want to give credit to them for saying: “We were wrong. We underestimated this or that aspect of our models.” But for the most part, the response was different. Believers in the free market have not revised their beliefs.

Idiots! After seeing the oh so free market mortgage market collapsed and the oh so free market TARP failed to fix it, don’t you free-marketeers realize your free-market ways just don’t work?

Anyhow, most of the interview is devoted to a critique of ‘austerity’ and that gets me thinking. Since clearly Stiglitz does not see the same reality that I see, it stands to reason that the same might be true when it comes to ‘austerity’. All of which is to say: a lot of ink & electrons are being spilled nowadays premised on the idea that a bunch of European countries, maybe even the U.S.?, are doing a whole bunch of belt-tightening ‘austerity’ stuff. Everyone seems to assume this (and then, criticize it).

What this here post of mine presupposes is: maybe they’re not? Why do we think anyone’s engaging in any meaningful ‘austerity’ at all? Because people like Joseph Stiglitz say they are? Yeah, you know what, looking at articles like this, that’s not really enough of a reason in my book.

Repellent Bridesmaids
April 28, 2012, 10:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Don’t know how/when but somehow I had gotten the idea that Bridesmaids was going to be a hilarious movie. This is doubly-weird because the main thing I’d heard about it was that it was the ‘female Hangover‘ and I didn’t even like that movie much in the first place, and found it mostly sad and strange.

Bridesmaids is, I guess, like The Hangover in that way. This is because, although on paper it seems like a pretty formulaic comedy of the sort that might have starred Julia Roberts in the ’90s – there’s a main character who we follow along on a pat story arc involving first a lot of bad but ‘funny’ stuff and then a resolution, with both her friends and a gentle love interest – they made a very interesting and perhaps daring choice, in that they made the main character completely and totally unlikable and unsympathetic in every possible way.

I hated Kristen Wiig’s lead character. Despised. She has no redeeming qualities. There is nothing to like about her. Am I getting through here? The rival, gorgeous, refined, nice ‘enemy’ character played by Rose Byrne, who for most of the movie (I gather) we were supposed to dislike, was far more likeable (but then, I would think so…)

What this means (if you agreed with me about the character) is that you sit and watch this movie ostensibly constructed around ‘will the main character find happiness and get to a better place with her friends and romances?’ and you don’t care if she does, or even actively do not want her to. This makes it something of a surreal experience. Because while Bridesmaids has all the trappings of a movie starring A Character We’re Supposed To Like And Want To Succeed, they mixed things up and (seemingly intentionally) didn’t put that character in the lead, they put an annoying, self-centered, repellent character there instead.

Which, is an interesting choice.

What happened then? One possibility is that the writers don’t know she is repellent, or at least don’t see her as repellent as I did. No accounting for taste and all that. The explanation I favor though is that Bridesmaids is a sort of cultural agit-prop, meant to change views and tastes as to what is acceptable and attractive and likeable. A feature-length infomerical meant to portray inherently-unlikeable, atrociously-self-centered and obnoxious girls as likeable in the hopes that this will trick people, or even change aesthetics along the way. Sort of like movies/TV shows instructing us that ‘big beautiful (=fat) women’ are attractive. Yes, I understand they’d certainly like to think so. The problem is they might find that not everyone is playing along.

The New Bosses
April 28, 2012, 10:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My daily ‘Volcker’ search has brought me the latest piece by Suzy Khimm. Let me get my silly-definition-of-prop-trading complaint out of the way:

…the Volcker Rule — a provision of President Obama’s Wall Street overhaul that would restrict commercial banks from making speculative investments that do not benefit their customers

That’s what the Volcker Rule bans? Wait, so banks are, under the Volcker Rule, allowed to make speculative investments as long as those investments ‘benefit their customers’? But wait. Suppose a bank makes a speculative investment. And then makes a lot of money. And then (in large part because of that) is able to offer their customers more loans/better prices. That would totally benefit customers, I would think! But that applies to anything a bank does, ‘prop trading’ or not. So I guess the Volcker Rule doesn’t really ban anything at all. Nevermind then.

Why oh why can’t anyway give a coherent account of what the Volcker Rule is meant to do? It’s almost as if it tries to ban something that has no clear definition, or something!

Anyway, the rest of the piece is interesting more for its cultural reporting on the sorts of people still sticking around with that ‘Occupy’ thing (remember that?). Khimm brings us former traders and risk managers and quants, all ‘fighting the man’, she says – only, when you look really closely at what’s going on, it sounds more like they are the man:

But the meeting is a glimpse into one of the most surprising iterations of the free-wheeling, anarchic movement: fighting the man through the tedious and Byzantine regulatory process. […] Many of the Occupy wonks once worked on Wall Street, and some of them still do. […] Now they’re trekking to Washington to present their 325-page treatise before federal regulators in official meetings with the FDIC, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and, yes, the SEC.

Last week, they met with 60-odd congressional staffers, including some Republicans, to give them a closed-door briefing on the regulation. And at the end April, the group is slated to sit down with Paul Volcker himself, the former Federal Reserve chair and namesake of the regulation.

Wow! Anarchist outsiders, the whole lot of ’em!

In the peak of ‘Occupy!’ (<—I definitely hope that's what the Green-Day-scored Broadway musical version will be called when it comes out, BTW) I wrote many times that this was not a movement of 'the 99%' against 'the 1%', it was a movement of disillusioned young gifted people of privilege trying to get the sinecures they felt they had coming to them, but hadn't found yet. Well, the subjects of Khimm's piece appear well on their way to finding them. I also predicted that some of the 'occupiers' were destined to become very powerful and wealthy. I wouldn't be surprised if Khimm has found us a few of those.

One of them is certainly thinking along the same lines, as he is planning to start a bank (!), waxing poetic about its 'market potential':

…the Occupy Bank would offer a full range of banking services to all customers; unlike community banks, it would ultimately have a national reach. “I personally think there is enormous market potential for a bank of the kind we described,” Ross says. “If you get it right, it could potentially change the system, which is not only politically but commercially ripe for revolution.”

Anarchy! Smash the state! Um…’enormous market potential’ to create a ‘commercial’ revolution by starting a new bank and becoming a filthy rich banker myself!

Not that I’m knocking it, by the way. Good for them. But can we please finally drop the romance everyone constructed at the time about how ‘occupy’ was all about downtrodden lower-class folks who had no opportunities in life? People, seriously, the guy is talking about starting a freaking bank. I mean come on.

Coolness Dynamics
April 28, 2012, 9:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Musing on what I like to think will become known to posterity as Coolnessgate made me realize that Coolness has some very intriguing and surprising properties. We start from self-proclaimed cool person Paul Waldman’s (highly accurate I have to presume?) observation that Coolness was invented in the 1960s as a property held by the hairy guys who smoked weak 1960s pot and had hippie girlfriends who wore (let me go look this up in Paul Waldman’s guide to coolness) ‘sheer peasant blouses’. Whatever those are (but whatever they are, we know they excite Paul Waldman).

Now one thing we know about those 1960s from the approximately 2.7 kajillion movies and TV shows that have celebrated the greatness of that decade (which saw the Baby Boomers invent sex, freaky white-people dancing, Indian music, trees, and so many other things) is that – back then – the cool kids didn’t like old people. Remember ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’? Okay, me neither, but I’m pretty sure I saw it in a movie or one of those PBS telethon specials about The 60xties that would constantly be interrupted by some short-white-haired old lady with gigantic earrings begging for money. Point being, young people were cool and (this is key) old people were not, almost by definition. Coolness, back then (when – hey wouldn’t you know it – Baby Boomers happened to be young), coincidentally attached to those very same young, and could not attach to an old person.

But what has happened to coolness since then? It seems to have (coincidentally!) followed that particular wave of young people forward. Because at least by the Clinton administration (at a time when Baby Boomers started to become 50+ years old), I guess scientists discovered that apparently suddenly miraculously 50+ year-olds can be ‘cool’ after all. Play Fleetwood Mac at their inaugurations and everything.

This illustrates the broader theme of the relationship of ‘coolness’ to the establishment. Back then, the establishment was decidedly not cool. Young people today probably scratch their heads when being taught that those cool ’60s rioters were rioting against the Democratic National Convention. Say what? Because now one political party in particular, in particular the Democratic Party, is way super-cool. Again coincidentally no doubt, this change in coolness occurred over a time when Baby Boomers happened to find themselves able to rise in the ranks and assuming leadership of political parties and indeed of the country itself. 60s: surely a President, an old powerful dude in a suit, can not be cool. LBJ? Nixon?? Get real. Even the sickly JFK – sure he could womanize, and was ‘inspiring’, but he wasn’t ‘cool’. But now: Clinton played a saxophone! Obama is Obama! So coolness has followed Baby Boomers to the Presidency itself.

Or how about wealth. In the 60s: It was cool to eschew possessions and materialism (at a time when Baby Boomers were too young to have possessions or, um, materials). Those materialistic parents with their plastic-fantastic world, giving Dustin Hoffman a SCUBA outfit for his birthday, I mean how uncool they all were (as they came back from a war to supply Baby Boomers with an unprecedentedly coddled and privileged existence). But as those Baby Boomers grew up, bought houses of their own, made a killing in real estate, made it big in stocks in the ’80s, maybe bought a second house or got their real estate license and started flipping houses, maybe (like Hillary) got into commodity futures, etc., bought tech stocks, guess what? Suddenly all that stuff is just fine. It’s now cool to be wealthy as hell and even tax young people more to maintain the system. Doesn’t hurt your coolness at all.

So everywhere we look we see this property of coolness recur again and again: it happens to follow Baby Boomers through their life arc. Coincidentally.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask a Baby Boomer. Because clearly they’ll be perfectly happy to tell you how cool they are and how coolness is defined by…well, by whatever they happen to be doing.

Squaresville Delenda Est
April 27, 2012, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Paul Waldman has clearly done some very important journalistic and literary work in writing this piece stating that President Obama is “cool” – cooler than Mitt Romney – and that he needs to be re-elected because he is so “cool”. After all, the cool kids have been downtrodden and beset upon enough already, it’s time they had a victory for once:

So once again, we have to wage a campaign of the cool kids versus the squares.

Yes, once again. The self-proclaimed “cool” people (like Paul Waldman, whoever that is) “have to”, “once again”, beat back those squares. Reluctantly!, Waldman would no doubt add with a sigh, sad-eyed at the thought of having to repeat this campaign that, the cool kids all thought, had been won definitively in the 1960s when Jimi set his guitar on fire or Abbey Hoffman did (um, whatever he did) or something. Nevertheless. Squaresville delenda est.

It’s pathetic enough that after three and a half years of President Obama’s administration the best argument to be mustered in his favor is the exact same one upon which his entire election was based in the first place. Literally, nothing he has done or hasn’t done in the intervening time has mattered one iota; he was ipso facto cool then (and this is why it was important to elect him) and he is still cool now (and this is why it is important to re-elect him). You could have been stranded on a desert island all this time and easily pick up with this ‘analysis’ right where you left off, without a hitch.

But the genuinely interesting point is the one Glenn Reynolds raises: what exactly about President Obama makes him ‘cool’ at this point? A corollary here is what’s so ‘uncool’ about Mitt Romney? Looks sort of cool to me though my tastes are admittedly not up to date, and may reflect different priorities to those of Paul Waldman:

How is this not cool?

Anyway, in search of answers, from very early on I had perceptively and astutely identified these factors in Obama’s favor:

  • tall and sort of skinny, looks svelte in a suit
  • kinda-black but not too black, if you know what I mean
  • can read prepared text in a ‘sonorous’ tone of voice; good for sound bytes, music videos

RWCG can now reveal the previously-sealed findings of an exclusive, in-depth investigation commissioned by RWCG, Inc.: it turns out that President Barack Obama still possesses the preceding three qualities which (they and they alone) are what made everyone love him so much in the first place. Hence: cool, Smart People (such as Paul Waldman) think he should continue to be President-guy.

And I for one think that’s as good an argument as any. Because if there’s one group of people whose priorities I find to have been in the right place lo these many decades, it’s self-absorbed Baby Boomers who think (and say!) they’re so “cool”.

UPDATE 4/27: Waldman clarifies. Shorter: ‘You guyyys, you just don’t understand, when I said Obama was cool I just meant he was way way super-cool’. Or something (I mostly skimmed). Thanks Paul Waldman for that and I for one pledge to take you at your word that you’re as cool as you claim to think you are.

Volcker Rule Adjectives
April 26, 2012, 6:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today in Volcker Rule news, legislators (=people who write and agree on laws) have asked regulators to fill in all the, like, well, actual details of the law they ‘wrote’, in such a way that once it is actually written the result is, well, perfect.

In a letter to five federal agencies on Thursday, a group of 22 senators called for regulators to adopt a final rule free from loopholes and concessions to Wall Street.

Got that?  When the unnamed/unelected regulators finish filling in all the details of the law, it needs to be completely ‘free from loopholes and concessions’.  That’s all they ask.  I think legislators should ask regulators to square the circle and create a perpetual motion machine while they’re at it.  Legislating!  It’s fun and easy!

Somehow I don’t remember any of this being the process, but admittedly it’s been a while since I’ve seen that ‘I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill’ episode of Schoolhouse Rock.  I mostly know the words to ‘Unpack Your Adjectives’.

Which may explain why I always end up unpacking ‘frustrating’ first, and then I reach in and find the word ‘worst’.  Like when I read this description of the Volcker Rule:

Under the rule, banks can no longer place speculative bets with their own money.

There are two ways to read this by my count.  One is to observe that the notion of banks having something called ‘their own money’, as if firewalled off from the ‘other money’ (?) they do stuff with, is nonsense on stilts, and infer that the author is a financial ignoramus.  The other is to assume for the sake of argument that the above is an accurate description of the Volcker Rule, from which we conclude that the Volcker Rule bans precisely this: modern banking.  So as a description of the Volcker Rule this is either dumb or insane.

Adjectives are words you use to really describe things.  Handy words to carry around.


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