Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hans Vaihinger + "Kicked in the Sun"

To complete something means almost nothing. You work hard, accomplish something, and in a matter of moments it is as if it never happened. It's on to the next thing with the attendant grief, stress, self-doubt, self-hatred, resentment, fear. You name it. (The list could go on for a long time.)

But that's life. We have to be pretend as if we're working towards something, that there is something actually to be achieved, even when it is not the case. It's the only thing we can do. It's all in our mind. (Oh, to be a student again! To be able to spend days and weeks reading Hans Vaihinger -- the great Neo-Kantian and founder of Kant-Studien! -- and his Philosophy of 'As If.' )

Sunday and again this evening I heard songs off Built To Spill's Perfect from Now On (1997) and was reminded what a great album it is. It carried a lot of weight at the end of the '90s and still sounds good today. This is "Kicked It In the Sun":

CIA Attempts Old-Fashioned Party Building in Afghanistan

Matthew Rosenberg follows up his story from yesterday about the CIA leaving bags of cash at the Afghan presidential palace with a confirmation today by Hamid Karzai, "Afghan Leader Confirms Cash Deliveries by C.I.A.":
The C.I.A. money continues to flow, Mr. Karzai said Monday. “Yes, the office of national security has been receiving support from the United States for the past 10 years,” he told reporters in response to a question. “Not a big amount. A small amount, which has been used for various purposes.” He said the money was paid monthly. 
Afghan officials who described the payments before Monday’s comments from Mr. Karzai said the cash from the C.I.A. was basically used as a slush fund, similarly to the way the Iranian money was. Some went to pay supporters; some went to cover other expenses that officials would prefer to keep off the books, like secret diplomatic trips, officials have said. 
After Mr. Karzai’s statement on Monday, the presidential palace in Kabul said in a statement that the C.I.A. cash “has been used for different purposes, such as in operations, assisting wounded Afghan soldiers and paying rent.” The statement continued, “The assistance has been very useful, and we are thankful to them for it.” 
The C.I.A. payments open a window to an element of the war that has often gone unnoticed: the agency’s use of cash to clandestinely buy the loyalty of Afghans. The agency paid powerful warlords to fight against the Taliban during the 2001 invasion. It then continued paying Afghans to keep battling the Taliban and help track down the remnants of Al Qaeda. Mr. Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali, who was assassinated in 2011, was among those paid by the agency, for instance. 
But the cash deliveries to Mr. Karzai’s office are of a different magnitude with a far wider impact, helping the palace finance the vast patronage networks that Mr. Karzai has used to build his power base. The payments appear to run directly counter to American efforts to clean up endemic corruption and encourage the Afghan government to be more responsive to the needs of its constituents.
It's clear what the CIA was/is trying to do. Politics is the art of the quid pro quo. And the ultimate quid pro quo medium is cash. As Jesse Unruh, the Speaker of the California State Assembly in the Golden State's heyday, famously said, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." The CIA was/is engaged in political formation, and the script it's following is fundamental; in this country we associate it with Tammany Hall.  And while "Tammany" might be a pejorative term, it is at root what politics is all about. It explains why 1% of the population controls politics in a democratic system of hundreds of millions of citizens. The 1% has most of the money.

Rosenberg can't resist taking a poke, in the story's final paragraph, at the claim that the CIA money was used to provide care for wounded soldiers:
Outside official circles, some Afghans offered a lighter take. “They make it sound as if it was a charity money dashed by a spy agency,” wrote Sayed Salahuddin, an Afghan journalist, on Twitter, referring to the palace statement that money had been used to help wounded soldiers. “They must have ‘treated’ many people.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

Teen Angels' Daddy

I found this album, Daddy, by Teen Angels, off which "Rawhead" is the first track, in a used CD bin in a bookstore. I immediately snatched it up because the lead singer and bass player (I believe she played the bass) used to serve me coffee every afternoon at Sit 'n' Spin in Belltown. She was very pleasant and looked great in hot pants. Her hair was always a different color of Kool-Aid before such a thing was commonplace. This would've been a little before Daddy came out. When my girlfriend and I first got into town and were staying at the YMCA -- this would've been late summer 1994 -- we saw the Teen Angels packing their equipment into the Crocodile on 2nd Avenue. We were eating dinner there that night. The Gourds were playing as well. Too bad we didn't stay to see the show.

But because of that evening I recognized her when I went into Sit 'n' Spin. There I would jot notes and drink fifty-cent cups of coffee during my lunch hour. It was a decade later that I came across the used copy of Daddy. I played it a few times, but it didn't really speak to me. I couldn't differentiate anything -- the songs, the guitar parts, the beats.

Now I think differently. I have it loaded on my iPod and whenever one of the tracks off Daddy appear in the alphabetical sequence I favor in listening to songs I am always instantaneously refreshed and more focused. Think of L7, but a lot more Punk than Grunge. Daddy is still available on the Sub Pop Records website. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

War Returns to Iraq

An important unfolding story that Tim Arango has been covering is the burgeoning armed sectarian conflict in Iraq. It might have already reached the point of no return. The strife seems to be related to the civil war in neighboring Syria. Iraq's Sunnis see what's happening next door and they are saying now is the time to take up arms against the Shiites. The al-Maliki goverment revoked the broadcast licenses of Al Jazeera and other television channels on Sunday. The move is an obvious shot across the bow of wealthy Gulf states who are the paymasters behind the Sunni uprising.

Austerity + Syria + Bags of Cash for Karzai

There is a lot going on in today's newspaper. Krugman has a solid column, "The Story of Our Time," summing up where we are at with austerity orthodoxy:
O.K., I’ve just given you a story, but why should you believe it? There are, after all, people who insist that the real problem is on the economy’s supply side: that workers lack the skills they need, or that unemployment insurance has destroyed the incentive to work, or that the looming menace of universal health care is preventing hiring, or whatever. How do we know that they’re wrong? 
Well, I could go on at length on this topic, but just look at the predictions the two sides in this debate have made. People like me predicted right from the start that large budget deficits would have little effect on interest rates, that large-scale “money printing” by the Fed (not a good description of actual Fed policy, but never mind) wouldn’t be inflationary, that austerity policies would lead to terrible economic downturns. The other side jeered, insisting that interest rates would skyrocket and that austerity would actually lead to economic expansion. Ask bond traders, or the suffering populations of Spain, Portugal and so on, how it actually turned out. 
Is the story really that simple, and would it really be that easy to end the scourge of unemployment? Yes — but powerful people don’t want to believe it. Some of them have a visceral sense that suffering is good, that we must pay a price for past sins (even if the sinners then and the sufferers now are very different groups of people). Some of them see the crisis as an opportunity to dismantle the social safety net. And just about everyone in the policy elite takes cues from a wealthy minority that isn’t actually feeling much pain. 
What has happened now, however, is that the drive for austerity has lost its intellectual fig leaf, and stands exposed as the expression of prejudice, opportunism and class interest it always was. And maybe, just maybe, that sudden exposure will give us a chance to start doing something about the depression we’re in.
Republicans were on the Sunday morning talk shows calling for direct intervention in the Syrian civil war. Lindsey Graham wants the U.S. to arm the rebels and establish a no-fly zone. The problem there, based on a reading of yesterday's story by Ben Hubbard, "Islamist Rebels Create Dilemma on Syria Policy," is that we would be aiding and abetting al-Qaeda-affiliated groups like the Al-Nusra Front, a terrorist organization according to U.S. declaration. The gist of Hubbard's piece is that the only rebel fighting forces left in Syria are Islamist.

The must-read story today though, and one that illuminates the kind of kleptocracy to look forward to in a post-Assad Syria, is Matthew Rosenberg's frontpage story, "With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan," detailing the CIA-supplied payoffs that have been the heart and soul of the Karzai government from the very beginning. There are many incredible quotes in this piece, such as
“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”
Handing out cash has been standard procedure for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan since the start of the war. During the 2001 invasion, agency cash bought the services of numerous warlords, including Muhammad Qasim Fahim, the current first vice president. 
“We paid them to overthrow the Taliban,” the American official said.
At the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 Karzai successfully lobbied the U.S. to have the CIA payments routed through his National Security Council. At this point Iranians were also dropping off bags of cash at the presidential palace:
By late 2002, Mr. Karzai and his aides were pressing for the payments to be routed through the president’s office, allowing him to buy the warlords’ loyalty, a former adviser to Mr. Karzai said. 
Then, in December 2002, Iranians showed up at the palace in a sport utility vehicle packed with cash, the former adviser said. 
The C.I.A. began dropping off cash at the palace the following month, and the sums grew from there, Afghan officials said. 
Payments ordinarily range from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, the officials said, though none could provide exact figures. The money is used to cover a slew of off-the-books expenses, like paying off lawmakers or underwriting delicate diplomatic trips or informal negotiations. 
Much of it also still goes to keeping old warlords in line. One is Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek whose militia served as a C.I.A. proxy force in 2001. He receives nearly $100,000 a month from the palace, two Afghan officials said. Other officials said the amount was significantly lower.
Karzai's Afghanistan is one big racket. Home many Republicans do you think will be on the Sunday morning talk shows clamoring for a policy shift? Zero. Right. What does this say about how we govern? War is good business.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #18

Eric was a buddy of mine at Berkeley who went on to become a professor at a university in the Midwest. I think I saw him briefly only one time after I wrote this letter, number 18 from a collection of letters written during my first two years in New York City. Eric was competitive, and he was often critical. And believe me, I merited criticism. But I was also a loyal friend. In addition to being a full-time student, Eric was a house painter who did his own contracting on the side. When he got in a pinch he would often give me a call; and though I hated painting and didn't have a knack for it, I would always lend a hand. And when Eric needed a place to stay after graduating but before he left town for graduate school, I put him up in my apartment.

My girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife had moved out. And when that happened the dudes moved in. There was always baseball or football on the television and plenty of beer and food. We were passionate about the Bay Area teams -- the Oakland A's, San Francisco Giants and the 49ers.

The missive below was written during the painful game-five elimination of the Oakland A's by the despised Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1988 World Series, which would make it the night of October 20, 1988. There is also a description of a pre-gentrified Times Square. The brawl with the bartender alluded to briefly at the end of the letter is not the one described in letters nine and ten (which took place a year later when the A's were making their successful World Series run); this brawl took place at a hipster bar in the East Village, and I believe it is chronicled in a letter still to come. By the time the game is over and I am signing off I am thoroughly plastered.

It's ironic that at letter's end I apologize to Eric. Later on, when I was well clear of my wife, I came to the conclusion that there was a high probability that she and Eric had carried on a secret romance. Eric had always liked her, and there were small hints of intimacy. Toward the end of his days at Berkeley he started dating a woman whose appearance was glaringly similar to my wife's (mousy, Winona Ryder-ish). Her name,  Emily (if my memory serves me), was even similar to Ashley's. It was all too weird to be a coincidence.
Autumn 1988
Well God damn it, I can't take it anymore. Game five and the A's are down by two already, and it's not even the bottom of the first. It's the 49ers syndrome all over. Look great! And then lose the big one. So the TV is on in the bedroom and I'm out here in the living room. I went to the refrigerator first, got the thirsty-two ouncer of Adolph, poured it out into a jar, and now I'm here waiting for some kind of appeasement. Needless to say, I was glad to hear from you. Just about to track you down via the proper channels and what you know? I got an honest-to-goodness epistle, complete with poetic waxing over the ontological chasm between the sexes. Good deal! Worklife in the big fat gray Apple is nothing to write about. There's no poetic ambrosia to feed on here, no heroism, no excitement, no candor; just a bunch of middle-aged women and degraded Yuppies riding the subway downtown to a numberless shithole office; they're as cold as vampires with the same grape-blue skin and purple lips and brown-bag eyes. -- A's scored one. I wonder what happened. I think Lansford did it. . . . . It's over, Mike Davis just hit a two-run homer off "Shit" Davis. I work in a place called the Foundation Center, which is a foundation set up by other foundations to record and publish relevant data, such as grants awarded, charitable programs, etc. My official title is Editorial Assistant, but what I am is a drone, a fucking Kafka bug/clerk that stares into a microfiche reader. The reader beams back tax forms in blue light, and I take cockroach hoofs and scratch pertinent digits in felt-tip on green-and-white-striped computer paper. The women are forgettable at best. All common and droopy and sullen, their sex organs so dried and withered from the lack of an earthly showering, from the dearth of a rough physical acquaintance, they're like January's fruit basket left out to be eaten the following June. The dudes don't qualify as such, just a bunch of gumpy, easy-come bastards ready to pretend they're not where they really are (that, or outright bitch queens, fat faggots, pert dandies; or, jaundiced, over-the-hill Jonathan-Demme-wanna-be Yuppies). Any way you look at it I don't win. I feel best about the city when I walk around by myself. I freelanced at Scholastic Magazines (a magazine for kids) when we first got to New York. I did research. So I got to go down to New York Public Library several times. The trip involved a sizeable stroll across 42nd St. The porno theaters are shining and the bloods are smoking crack on the sidewalk, and you're right up against some monkey-suited like it was Sunday-&-roses asshole, walking over to the eastside. City geography is a big deal here; I noticed that immediately. Everybody knows their NYC geography. Manhattan first, and then the other boroughs. You catch on as quick as you can.
Tony Phillips is up now, and I have an idea that it's quite late in the game. How could the A's lose? I said in the beginning that this Series was going to be diagnostic of my life because I had followed the A's so fervently before we left Berkeley. Every morning I would march down to the porch and pick up the Tribune (subscribed to only because I liked Kit Stier, who covered the A's). I would drag it back up the stairs and devour it over a couple cups of coffee. The A's began my day for three years, even before LaRussa; for three years I did this; sometimes in the morning, and sometimes I would save it for a turkey-sandwich lunch. I can remember like it was now when they got Henderson, Hassey, Welch, Hubbard, Parker, and Bailor. -- Parker just struck out in the bottom of the eighth. My heart feels like it is beating for the last time. I can remember McGwire's 49 home runs. I listened to a lot of games on the radio, and I know you did too. -- Plunk has been pulled. Well, I'm plenty drunk now. I'm on my fourth thirsty-two ouncer.
Eric, I'm so fucking drunk. I just want to apologize for that last portion of Berkeley. I was always fucking around. I would lie and say that I had to work on my paper. I should have been straight with you from the beginning. -- Hershiser struck out Phillips with a man on. Thee game is finally over. So if the A's are my destiny, I'm not doing so well. But women will always push you one way, and it's usually not the way that you're tending to go. But I do love Maura, believe it or not, and I certainly love Stacey. But most of all, I love Ashley. And I could never leave her, not for dynamite, or blood, or groceries, or beer. Do you remember that time at Kathy's? Smooching that Coors on her porch, fast. You stroking-out the shelves; me, rolling that dingy bedroom.
I've got a lot New York stories to tell, a fight with a bouncer, an evening of too much coke, etc. -- mostly due to Colum's girlfriend Terri -- but I will recapitulate later. I'm quitting my job in December.
I got to go to work tomorrow. But before that, do you remember that time we spent the night at your sister's house in Santa Cruz? The preseason game on the TV: we were eating Doritos; the 49ers were losing. I read e.e. cummings sitting on the toilet the next morning. The house was quiet with everyone still slumbering and outside the fog hung close to the ground. -- It was beautiful.

Top Pot 5K

The 4th Annual Top Pot 5K is finished. This is my third year in a row running it. I improved modestly from last year. I ran a 7:47-mile pace. Not my best effort; I could have pushed a little harder. But all in all, considering that I'm dealing with a work week commute that clocks in at over three hours each day and has caused a reduction in the number of days I run, I'll take it.

But overall I'm left with the impression that I should be doing better. In the corral at the starting line looking at other runners -- guys in their late 60s with full flowing gray beards lining up in the area for those who plan to complete the race in 5-6 minute mile pace; one guy my age, somewhere in his 40s, saying to his buddy of the same age, "If you want to make the top ten in our age bracket you better run a sub-6 split"; women passing me by at the 1-mile marker easy as you please when it felt like I was sprinting like David Rudisha when he shattered 800 m record in the finals at the London Olympics last summer -- it seems to me that I'm not doing enough. I know what I have to do. RW tells you how every month. But I'm stuck in the same place. I was 27th out of 138 runners in the Male 40-49 division. The top quintile, yes, but just barely.

I've figured out some basic things in the last three-and-a-half years. First, above all, avoid injury. Injuries are catastrophic and set you back months. Next, be consistent -- with diet and exercise. Finally, push yourself now and then during your workout week.

I had intended to jog the five miles home afterwards, but I meekly opted for the #48 bus instead. On the ride home I listened to Jimi Hendrix's Hippie manifesto, "If 6 Was 9," from Axis: Bold as Love (1967):

Nobody know what I'm talking about
I've got my own life to live
I'm the one that's gonna have to die
When it's time for me to die
So let me live my life the way I want to.
Yes, that's right, isn't it? A pretty succinct description of Existentialism.

Life of Pi

I finally got around to watching Life of Pi last night. I had held off because I was wary of the whole magical realism, "Oh, isn't nature trippy" thing. But there is no need to worry. Ang Lee is an accomplished director who keeps the narrative moving along at a fast clip (his first Hollywood efforts -- Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) are terrific movies). And the "Oh, isn't nature trippy" moments are used sparingly and as punctuation in a white-knuckled action adventure story about survival in an open boat after a shipwreck on the high seas. And what makes the survival tale unusually riveting is that in the open boat with Pi Patel, the Tamil boy at the heart of Yann Martel's 2001 prize-winning novel that the film adapts, is an injured zebra, a bloodthirsty hyena, a benevolent orangutan, and of course the majestic and fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. This is a thriller which puts us back in touch with the primordial terror we in all our urban, electronic sophistication have forgotten -- the terror of nature and the animal kingdom; and in this sense Life of Pi is far more thrilling than any James Bond or Batman blockbuster.

From the opening shots of animals languidly being animals in the zoo managed by Pi's family in Pondicherry, Ang Lee's intention is to reawaken our forgotten knowledge of animality. The underlying discussion this movie is engaged in is the connection between animality ("Nature" -- the many manifestations of the sublime) and religion. The acting is superb -- particularly Suraj Sharma, who we spend most of the movie with in the boat with Richard Parker -- and the computer animation seamless. This is definitely a movie worth watching.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"I Found a Reason" + "I Found That Essence Rare" + "I Get Lifted"

It's cloudy and dark today. But yesterday was sunny and warm. At noon I explored some of the green space to the south of the Federal Detention Center (FDC) on 200th. Thursday and Wednesday I walked down to Des Moines Creek Park which is about a quarter mile to the west of the FDC. The park is a pleasant paved walking trail. I wasn't able to go very far because it takes over twenty minutes to get to the trail head from the local. I walked for about five minutes before having to turn around and come back so as not to be late returning to work.

Passing the FDC today some of its residents (does a detention center merit "residents" or "inmates"?) were outside doing some groundskeeping. I nodded hello. At that moment an amazing triple play commenced on the iPod. Here's another paean to the alphabetic song sort. 

First, "I Found a Reason," by the Velvet Underground from Loaded (1970). Do undergraduates still listen to VU? When I went to school it seemed to be an unofficial part of the curriculum:

Next came "I Found That Essence Rare"off Gang of Four's super-historical Entertainment! (1979), the Punk/Post-Punk album I've probably listened to more often than any other (to which I owe my friend Oliver a debt of gratitude for it was he who one day handed me a used copy while we were browsing Rasputin's long ago and told me, "You should really have this"):

Rounding things out, George McCrae's "I Get Lifted" from his 1974 debut album, Rock Your Baby:

Captain Marvel #11

Below are four scanned pages from the beginning of Captain Marvel #11, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by the incomparable Filipe Andrade. This series has been an unexpected pleasure. I've always enjoyed DeConnick's lively writing, and Andrade, who succeeded Dexter Soy, is one of the best. I say unexpected because I've never been a fan of Ms. Marvel, a character that always seemed like a gimmick turned into an anachronism -- the ghost of '70s feminism haunting the Marvel Universe. One thing you can say about Carol Danvers, she goes all the way back to first Captain Marvel story arc written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas with art by the great Gene Colan. Then she was an Air Force bureaucrat in Florida hot on the heels of the Kree-born Mar-Vell impersonating a deceased Dr. Walter Lawson.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Bob Dylan at Budokan

The period, 1975 to 1979, we've been looking at every Friday night is a shocking one for the Hippies. Utopia did not result from any of their efforts. Nixon was dethroned and the Vietnam War ended but the "Establishment" rolled on. Bombs continued to drop. Rats continued to race. By the end of the 1970s the jig was up. It was time for the Hippies to slink back to "The Man." For some that was a bridge too far. I saw it up close and personal with my parents. My mother was the fortunate one. She was able to maintain herself professionally as an astrologer for the rest of her working life because she lived in a New Age enclave, Ashland, Oregon. My father didn't fare as well. After my parents separated in the first half of 1977, he lived as a bachelor for several tumultuous and downward-spiraling years; and by the early 1980s he had moved back in with his parents where he would remain, burying both of them.

I had three senior years at the university -- 1985-1986; 1986-1987; 1987-1988 -- during which time I drank a lot of beer and listened in a devotional manner to Bob Dylan and the Minutemen. I owned and could name in sequence every Bob Dylan album from Bob Dylan (1962) through Desire (1976). But around Street Legal (1978) things would start to get confusing. Street Legal, Shot of Love (1981), Slow Train Coming (1979), Saved (1980), Bob Dylan at Budokan (1979) -- they were all a jumble to me. I knew they were recorded, approximately, in the period when Dylan becomes a Born Again Christian. I would listen regularly to Slow Train and the Gospel stuff on Biograph (1985) and I liked it all, but my excessive Dylan devotion ended with Desire and the concert album Hard Rain (1976).

Like my parents, Bob Dylan's marriage collapsed in 1977. He and Sarah parted ways and then engaged in a custody battle for their children. The two albums that come out of this period and directly precede Dylan's being Born Again are Street Legal and Bob Dylan at Budokan.

While today I enjoy Street Legal and think it an excellent album, I couldn't stomach it when I was a young man; half-digested and bland was how it sounded to me. But Street Legal was heaven compared to Bob Dylan at Budokan. As a Dylan devotee I tried and tried to understand what he was up to with that double live album. But no matter how many times I listened it always sounded the same to me -- hard plastic stadium seating disposable late-70s fast-food Styrofoam insulation.

Imagine the shock of the Hippies when they listened to Budokan. Bob Dylan was the Hippie who was always one step beyond the Hippies. Do the 1960s even happen without Bob Dylan? The standard genealogy of '60s psychedelia is The Beatles interpreting The Byrds who were interpreting Dylan. Remember Woodstock, the defining event for the Hippies, took place because that is where Bob Dylan and The Band were living. Budokan, released the same year as Gang of Four's Entertainment! (just to provide you with a vertiginous contrast), must have so confused and unnerved the Hippies that it immediately became impossible for them to deny that their day was done. Take note in particular of this reggae-inspired butchering of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right":

(In this week's Hippies vs. Punks post I had intended to deal exclusively with Dylan's "Gospel" period -- Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love -- as indisputable proof of the Hippies' demise, but then I remembered the remarkable Budokan. Next Friday, we'll mine Dylan's evangelizing.)

Reinhart and Rogoff Claim Persecution

Krugman revisits a question he raised in last Friday's column. Why if austerity has been so thoroughly discredited does it persist? The answer is the title to his column today, "The 1 Percent's Solution":
You can’t understand the influence of austerity doctrine without talking about class and inequality. 
What, after all, do people want from economic policy? The answer, it turns out, is that it depends on which people you ask — a point documented in a recent research paper by the political scientists Benjamin Page, Larry Bartels and Jason Seawright. The paper compares the policy preferences of ordinary Americans with those of the very wealthy, and the results are eye-opening. 
Thus, the average American is somewhat worried about budget deficits, which is no surprise given the constant barrage of deficit scare stories in the news media, but the wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face. And how should the budget deficit be brought down? The wealthy favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, “entitlements” — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise. 
You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do.
On the same Opinion page economists Reinhart and Rogoff defend themselves and their thesis that high debt hurts growth without actually going into the details of the criticism of their paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt.” They save that for an online appendix (see below). Also, they claim to be victims of political persecution. (Have you ever noticed how conservatives are forever carping about victimization?) As Reinhart and Rogoff explain,
Last week, three economists at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, released a paper criticizing our findings. They correctly identified a spreadsheet coding error that led us to miscalculate the growth rates of highly indebted countries since World War II. But they also accused us of “serious errors” stemming from “selective exclusion” of relevant data and “unconventional weighting” of statistics — charges that we vehemently dispute. (In an online-only appendix accompanying this essay, we explain the methodological and technical issues that are in dispute.)
Our research, and even our credentials and integrity, have been furiously attacked in newspapers and on television. Each of us has received hate-filled, even threatening, e-mail messages, some of them blaming us for layoffs of public employees, cutbacks in government services and tax increases. As career academic economists (our only senior public service has been in the research department at the International Monetary Fund) we find these attacks a sad commentary on the politicization of social science research. But our feelings are not what’s important here.
But the damage is done. One of the original criticisms of "Growth in a Time of Debt" is that the authors never establish that low growth was the result of high debt; it can just as easily be the other way around. They attempt to answer this by saying that they never made the argument in the first place:
The academic literature on debt and growth has for some time been focused on identifying causality. Does high debt merely reflect weaker tax revenues and slower growth? Or does high debt undermine growth? 
Our view has always been that causality runs in both directions, and that there is no rule that applies across all times and places. In a paper published last year with Vincent R. Reinhart, we looked at virtually all episodes of sustained high debt in the advanced economies since 1800. Nowhere did we assert that 90 percent was a magic threshold that transforms outcomes, as conservative politicians have suggested.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Massive System Failure

The political system in this country is failing. The GOP is fracturing along a Tea Party Bircher versus Rovian establishment fault. At the end of last month longtime political commentator Thomas Edsall, wrote a story, "The Republican Autopsy Report," that appeared on the New York Times "Opinionator" blog. In it he discusses a 97-page post-2012 election assessment commissioned by RNC chairman Reince Preibus:
The G.O.P. report is an extraordinary public acknowledgment of internal discord and vulnerability, which has intensified the battle between the deeply committed conservative wing and the more pragmatic, pro-business wing for control of the Republican Party. With just a few exceptions, it does not mince words. 
At the federal level, it says, the party is “marginalizing itself,” and, in the absence of major change, “it will be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win a presidential election in the near future.” Young voters are “rolling their eyes at what the party represents.” Voters’ belief that “the G.O.P. does not care about them is doing great harm.” Formerly loyal voters gathered in focus groups describe Republicans as “ ‘scary,’ ‘narrow-minded’ and ‘out of touch’ and that we were a party of ‘stuffy old men.’ ”
What's going on is the GOP establishment, which made a Faustian bargain with the Tea Party to combat the Obama tidal wave following the 2008 election, is now, with Karl Rove still the #1 strategist, attempting to eradicate the Bircher jihadists:
More broadly, the alliance between Rove and the R.N.C. does substantiate the view that establishment forces are driving the reform movement within the Republican Party, an establishment that includes much of corporate America, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Bush family and its allies, and the more moderate, traditionalist donor community. 
Conservative analysts like Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner and Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review quickly spotted the establishment tilt in the Priebus report. Carney wrote:
Republican elites tend to favor mass immigration and be ambivalent or supportive of legal abortion and gay marriage. So, shouldn’t we take it with a grain of salt when the Republican leadership puts out a document saying that the G.O.P. should change only its rhetoric on economic issues, but change its substance on social issues?
Similarly, Ponnuru wrote that the recommendations “come naturally to Republican elites” who “are more likely to favor same-sex marriage and comprehensive immigration reform on principle.” The report reflects “elite conventional wisdom perfectly, just perfectly.” 
In January, I pointed out that “If the conservative movement continues on its downward trajectory, the American business community, which has the most to lose from Republican failure, will be the key force arguing for moderation.” 
That moment has come. The Priebus report and Rove’s Conservative Victory Project together mark a significant escalation in the battle between the center and the right over the soul of the Republican Party. What has yet to be determined is whether they are fighting over a patient who can be quickly resuscitated or a patient with a chronic but not fatal illness — or a corpse. 
The very bluntness of the Growth and Opportunity report reflects the seriousness of the moment the Republican Party faces: increasing difficulty holding on to its House majority; weakening prospects of regaining control of the Senate; and the threat of unending Democratic control of the White House.
For the Democrats it appears that it is TINA ("There Is No Alternative") to Obamaism, which after much hope and longing on the part of a progressive majority in this country seems to be nothing more than Clintonism. Obama's failure to get a gun control measure out of the Senate along with his proposal to chop Social Security benefits presage an impotence -- a mere six months after his landslide reelection -- that can only grow more pronounced. The AFL-CIO is rapidly shrinking and looking to overhaul its organizing model. How many times have we heard that before? So there is no hope there. Occupy Wall Street, barring another economic meltdown, is unlikely to recapture its former glory.

I was looking to Cyprus to show us a way forward by voluntarily rejecting the euro. We need courage, experimentation. But in the last couple of weeks there is no indication that this will happen. So for now it appears that our best bet is Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement. Rachel Donadio has an excellent story, "President of Italy Nominates Center-Left Official as Premier," in today's paper about the latest political developments in Italy. Luigi Bersani resigned the leadership of the Democratic Party after two months of unsuccessfully attempting to form a government and getting his presidential candidates to succeed President Giorgio Napolitano. With no resolution on the horizon, the 87-year-old Napolitano agreed to serve another term and was reelected. Now, as Donadio reports,
After months of political paralysis capped by a week of turmoil, President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday named Enrico Letta, a high-ranking official in the center-left Democratic Party, to form a broad coalition government to try to steer Italy out of political chaos and its worst recession since World War II. 
And former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the great survivor of Italian politics, emerged as a kingmaker by default, having outlasted most of his adversaries. 
“It’s undeniable that this is a victory for Berlusconi,” said Giovanni Orsina, the deputy director of the School of Government at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome. “He got what he asked for, from Napolitano’s re-election to a political government with broad, bipartisan support.”
Like the current Greek government, a three-party coalition in which historical enemies on the left and right have joined together out of fear of extinction and a lack of viable alternatives, Mr. Letta is potentially the last gasp of a political cycle that in Italy began in the early 1990s with the collapse of the postwar political order and the rise of Mr. Berlusconi.
The party system is collapsing. Television is said to have led to the erosion of political organization in the United States. Now TV is being replaced by the Internet. Life is migrating online. Is this good or bad? Judging from the stasis of the status quo one can only conclude that so far it's not good. We might be at the point where there is so much information available that we are paralyzed -- the "dream machine" that Jean-Francois Lyotard predicted in his seminal La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) (1979).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

SEC Considering Disclosure Requirement

A good indication of just how moribund our democracy is will be whether the Securities and Exchange Commission issues a new rule requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose their political donations. The story, "S.E.C. Gets Plea: Force Companies to Disclose Donations," by Nicholas Confessore can be found today on the frontpage of the New York Times.
A petition to the S.E.C. asking it to issue the rule has already garnered close to half a million comments, far more than any petition or rule in the agency’s history, with the vast majority in favor of it. While relatively few petitions result in action by the S.E.C., the commission staff filed a notice late last year indicating that it was considering recommending a rule.
In response to the growing pressure, House Republicans introduced legislation last Thursday that would make it illegal for the commission to issue any political disclosure regulations applying to companies under its jurisdiction. Earlier this month, the leaders of three of Washington’s most powerful trade associations — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — issued a rare joint letter to the chief executives of Fortune 200 companies, encouraging them to stand against proxy resolutions and other proposals from shareholder activists demanding more disclosure of political spending. 
Tax-exempt groups and trade associations spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political advertising during 2012 elections, but they are not required to disclose their donors. Evidence has mounted that a significant portion of the money came from companies seeking to intervene in campaigns without fear of offending their customers, their shareholders — or the lawmakers they target for defeat.
In 2010 the Citizens United ruling lifted independent expenditure restrictions in political campaigns, but it did require disclosure. In order to avoid disclosure a system of secret campaign spending has sprung up in the form of 501(c)(4) issue advocacy groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS that favor Republicans. That's why Republicans are trying to block the S.E.C. disclosure rule. Confessore summarizes the main argument against the new rule as follows:
Opponents argue that the agency does not have the authority or expertise to issue regulations about political spending, and that a disclosure rule would infringe on companies’ free speech rights — and damage shareholder value — by exposing them to criticism and attack from political opponents. 
“The Chamber believes that the funds expended by publicly traded companies for political and trade association engagement are immaterial to the company’s bottom line,” said Blair Holmes, a spokeswoman for the business group, who added that the advocates’ “apparent goal is to silence the business community by creating an atmosphere of intimidation under the cover of investor protection.”
For the Chamber to argue against disclosure because of a fear of intimidation is absurd. In disclosure law there is an exemption for minor parties, such as socialists or communists, who can prove that retaliation or harassment would result from revealing donor information. So it seems that the threshold should be the same for publicly traded corporations. If they can prove harassment or retaliation -- not the vague "intimidation" -- fine; give them an exemption. Otherwise, they should disclose their political donations.

Interestingly, Citizens United provided disclosure as a justification for lifting restrictions on independent expenditure campaigns. As Confessore points out:
In seeking greater disclosure to shareholders, many of the advocates are citing an unlikely source: the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. In clearing the way for unlimited corporate expenditures in campaigns, Justice Kennedy suggested that “shareholder objections raised through the procedures of corporate democracy” could provide accountability for the new political powers. 
“I think the S.E.C. staff is very sympathetic to the petition itself, and a lot of the comments have referenced Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United,” said Karl J. Sandstrom, counsel to the Center for Political Accountability, which advocates transparency in corporate political spending. “But they have so much on their plate, they have to decide what’s going to come first,” he added.
But don't count on the Securities and Exchange Commission doing the right thing. The system is captured.

A video of Confessore discussing his article can be found here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Chavez is a a band from the mid-1990's that isn't appreciated nearly enough. I tracked down all their recordings when I was working for a Service Employees local in 2005, nine to ten years after the release of the last album, the powerful Ride the Fader (1996). Besides Ride the Fader, Chavez put out the Gone Glimmering LP (1995) and the Pentagram Ring EP (1995). A compilation from all three recordings called Better Days Will Haunt You was released by Matador in 2006.

I found used copies of the compact discs online. I had always been a big fan of Bullet Lavolta, of which guitarist Clay Tarver was a big part. I thought if Clay Tarver was playing guitar for Chavez they had to be good. Matt Sweeney fronts the group (his Superwolf (2005) album with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy is a favorite of mine; I used to love to listen to it on the 5:30 AM bus ride to work).

The problem I had was that for some reason I could barely hear the Chavez discs. I was still using a Sony Walkman. (I held on for far too long, spending a ludicrous amount of money on batteries.) A girlfriend finally took pity on me and bought me an iPod nano. When I loaded the Chavez discs into my iTunes and listened to them on my iPod earbuds there was a dramatic improvement in sound quality. I could hear things that were just not there before. 

After I was laid off and looking for work in the spring of 2011 I did a lot of running. And I found that whenever a Chavez song shuffled on I immediately got an energy boost; it was significant. I took note. Finally, I think halfway through last year, I removed all the Chavez from the nano touch that I used when I went running. When it died last month, I loaded Ride the Fader onto the new 7th Generation nano.

Walking home up the hill from the train station this evening I was reminded why I kept Chavez on the iPod for so long. This is "The Guard Attacks" from Ride the Fader:

NATO's Future

The NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 created a precedent for the War in Afghanistan, which created a precedent for the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. NATO is a defensive alliance. Its member nations were not under attack by either Yugoslavia or Afghanistan. But in both cases a rationale was pieced together. The underlying imperative was captured by the slogan "Out of area or out of business."

That imperative remains intact a decade later despite significant reductions in military spending by European countries, as reported today by Steven Erlanger in his story, "Shrinking European Military Spending Stirs Concern":
The challenge is particularly acute as NATO pulls its forces out of Afghanistan after a long, wearying and unsatisfying war, with results widely seen as fragile, even unsustainable. After Afghanistan, with Europeans looking inward and the Russian threat considered more rhetorical than real, some wonder once more about the real utility of NATO. 
James M. Goldgeier, dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, thinks that NATO has some considerable soul-searching ahead if its European members become increasingly unwilling to operate abroad.
“If NATO isn’t outward looking, it’s got nothing to do,” he said. “It can’t go back to managing a threat from Russia, because it’s not a real threat.”
The U.S. picks up three-quarters of NATO's tab. The EU's aspiration for a common defense force, eurocorps, has been a bust. Germany, the chief economic power of the EU, has been actively opposed to out-of-area actions in Libya and Mali. The United States will need at least nominal European support for its "Pivot to Asia."

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Future Crimes"

There is a Federal Detention Center not too far from the local. I discovered it walking during the noon lunch hour. It's at South 200th Street and 26th Avenue South. I found last week that walking along 26th Avenue can be pleasant. Though it parallels International Boulevard one block to the west, there's very little traffic and a lot of green space (most of which is fenced off and appears to be Port of Seattle property).

Right before coming across the Federal Detention Center I was listening to Wild Flag, a post-Sleater-Kinney Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss rock band. I checked out Wild Flag (2011) from the library last year, loaded it into my iTunes, played it a few times and never cottoned to it. But today in the sunshine of the noon hour I greatly enjoyed "Future Crimes":

Agreement Reached on Mitrovica

Kosovo was in the news again. On Friday Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, "The Snake," former head of the Kosovo Liberation Army, reached agreement with his Serbian counterpart, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, on the administration of Mitrovica. The EU's Catherine Ashton acted as mediator. Serbia can now begin negotiations on entry into the European Union.

The story, "Serbia and Kosovo Reach Agreement on Power-Sharing," written by Dan Bilefsky, can be found in this past Saturday's paper:
The agreement hinged on how much autonomy Kosovo was willing to cede to Serb municipalities in the north, in return for Serbia’s recognition of Kosovo’s authority in the area. Until now, Serbia has had de facto control over the small Serb-majority area in the north, which does not recognize Kosovo’s authority. 
Tensions have lingered since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO bombs helped push out the forces of the Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic. For Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian Muslim majority, independence was the culmination of a struggle for self-determination after a brutal ethnic civil war with Serbia. 
Kosovo is now recognized by more than 90 countries, including the United States and a majority of nations in the European Union. But five member countries, including Spain and Cyprus, have refused to recognize Kosovo. 
Serbia has also refused to recognize Kosovo, arguing that its declaration of independence breached international law. Serbia’s staunch ally, Russia, has blocked Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations, a hurdle to its economic and political progress. 
Under the agreement, municipal bodies in the Serb-majority north will retain autonomy in matters like health care and education. In return, the police and courts will apply the Kosovo central government’s laws. The Serbian municipalities will be able to appoint a regional police chief. 
Petrit Selimi, Kosovo’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, said Kosovo agreed not to deploy its security forces in the Serbian region for an unspecified number of years, except during emergencies like earthquakes. Even in that event, a senior NATO official said, the security forces would need authorization from NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo. 
The accord conspicuously omits any Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence. But analysts said the agreement was nevertheless a breakthrough.
For the straight dope on all Balkan matters I strongly suggest reading Nebojsa Malic who appears on Antiwar.com. His writing is clear and his arguments are forceful. There is an inherent bias in mainstream Western media against Serbia.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #17

Tresca was the girlfriend of a buddy of mine who I idolized. He was a big guy, 6'3" or 6'4", athletic, a few years older than I, a drywaller, a witty West Coaster. Greg is the reason I ended up in the Emerald City. Greg ran work in the Bay Area for a drywall company that his cousin owned. He lined up work for me as a laborer during the summer when school was out. The cousin's company was, and still is, based in Seattle. When I made my escape from New York and a floundering marriage, that's where I ended up.

Letter number 17 contains a description of a pre-9/11, pre-1993 basement bombing World Trade Center where (I worked the winter of 1990) as well as a narrative of a trip I made often at this time -- the A train down to West 4th and then a walk through Washington Square Park to St. Mark's Place. I still dream about those blue-painted wooden boxes hidden beneath the stairways on the subway platforms.

I'm not sure if I ever saw Tresca again. She and Greg broke up around the time of this letter.
Winter 1990
Monday night, a quarter past Eight, the telephone tweeters, Ashley picks up, and who should it be? -- Tresca!
I'd almost forgot what the two of you sound like (I lie). It was only after I got off the phone that I realized that your call was something of an anniversary: it's been one year, almost to the day, since I've seen you guys.
Those were some mighty fine days. Somebody ought to write a story about 'em. It'd probably have to be a play though since all the action took place indoors at the mythic #25 Derby. Shit, I'm just glad that I was around at the time. To be honest with you, when I got back to New York last February I was completely clueless, goalless, aimless, hopeless -- history had ended for me; subsequently, I felt very free (excepting financial burdens,which I shirked for as long as was humanly possible), but even though I felt like I had all that freedom the only thing I was capable of was lying in bed and imagining long stretches of sky filling up with cottony clouds -- I was history, a living corpse, my mind blank, and my heart too. (Ashley and I had. moved East in the summer, and the whole autumn I spent daydreaming in my 5th Avenue office cubicle about ways to get back to the West; so once I'd. got back to the Bay Area, that was it -- I was there. Unfortunately, I was still alive, and heaven's for the dead . . . and I got homesick for my wife, and I couldn't keep milking the hospitality of others. I should have died. then. But, like I said, I returned to good old skinned New York and was without plans for the future: I hadn't planned for the future: I had no desire for the future: I was shiftless vacant skinny and my eyes were hallow -- give me the time of day and I would've mumbled back something about the lie of my bones.) Anyway, all this is just a way of saying that those January days the three of us spent together last year were something else -- they were an end to end all my days.
I finally got some work, proofreading at an accounting firm in the World Trade Center. I had been in the World Trade Center before, but never up top. There are 107 floors in that sucker, at least that's how many there are in the north tower, which is the one I work in. the World Trade Center is a huge sprawling commercial mecca on the southwestern tip of Manhattan (you probably know all of this already, but I'm going to belch it out just the same in case you don't); it's made up of a bunch of these squat black ten-story metal malls (they look like big bloated ticks), and then the two towers, one north and one south, that the malls huddle around (the towers are some of largest skyscrapers in the United States, and they're reverentially referred to by New Yorkers as the "Twin Towers"). Anyway, the place I was working, the offices of DELOITTE TOUCHE, is on the 99th floor. When I took my dinner break the other night (I work 2nd shift -- 5 PM to l AM) I went into the cafeteria and looked out the window. Ninety-nine stories up and glancing uptown everything seemed miniature meek and fallible: a landscape sculpted out of wet toilet paper -- even the Empire State Building, shit, it was no better than a toy house. I looked down and saw Broadway; it was broad, sure enough, but its street lights were like little camel-hair pinpricks. I looked up -- straining eyes -- and saw a thin string of lights stretched across the Hudson way to the north and I figured pretty much that it had to be the George Washington Bridge right next to where I live all the way up in Washington Heights, the northern reaches of  Manhattan. I sat back down and finished my turkey, bacon,lettuce and tomato sandwich, grabbing an extra hag of chips from the vending machine. I threw my trash away and went and washed my hands in the cafeteria sink. Aw shit, back to work.
That was last night. Today I went downtown to buy some albums and check out the bookstores. It was a great day, temperatures in the high 40s, low 50s -- unseasonably warm. I got off the A train at West 4th Street station and walked my way over to the East Village in the butter sunshine; on my way I stopped off at the public restroom in Washington Square Park (one of the only honest-to-goodness public park restrooms I know of in NYC, a dirty old pagoda of a pisser with a real sense of community and comradeship), and took myself a piss along with a dozen other guys, a packed house. Leaving the pagoda, cutting a diagonal line through the park south to east, I saw two skinny college kids -- no more than 18 or 19: pimply faces and wool topcoats -- sitting on a bench drinking quart bottles of Budweiser, pigeons circling the ground at their feet. Wow! What a nice sight. It made me think that there's still hope for an up-and-coming heroic quality in this country, one free of the all the blandness that go along with the small-mindedness and fearfulness of our pleasure-based technological time-blind war-machine commercialism, and whatever other gobbledeegook that that entails. Yep, they sure did look good sitting there -- one quart bottle already dusted and lying cinched up in a wrinkly brown bag among the pigeons that circled -- it made me wish that I was out there with them. But the clock was calling and the chores had to be expedited: records found; toothpaste, envelopes and oranges bought.
While in the East Village I stopped in at SAINT MARK'S BOOKS, the hipster intellectual's bookshop. The new VILLAGE VOICE was just out, and a young woman with spectacles and a crew cut leaned on the counter by the cash register reading aloud to her workmates certain choice lines from an article about a young NYC homosexual artist dying of AIDS. I listened and browsed the new philosophy releases. Another Georges Bataille book published -- they're pumping 'em out these days like a goat pumps out turds; fine by me though because I think he's A.O.K. Oh, the artsy fartsy intellectual underground! You've got to love it, and respect it, but at the same time you can't help thinking that all its cultish attempts at creativity are just so many tiny soupy little shits hidden away in the icebox for future recall and excessive appreciation. I don't know.
On my way home, waiting on the subway platform for the uptown A -- waiting to see that telltale shine on the shark-colored track made by the headlights of the train coning around the bend signifying that it's time to go home -- I come across a wooden box painted baby robin blue, about four feet in length, tucked away beneath a stairway that leads from the platform up to the street. It had to be old, very old; you could tell because it had 60 coats of paint, probably stretching all the way back to Eisenhower; but I couldn't figure out what it was used for -- whether to house garbage cans or for tools to work on the track, I don't know. Anyway, I wrote down on my left palm what was written in big fat black indelible felt tip on top of that old wooden baby robin blue empty ghost-town subway treasure chest, and it reads as follows:
(Do you think that what they meant to write was "Angel" instead of "Angle"? I do. But nonetheless, an "Angle Enforcer" is something pretty neat, mistake or no mistake!)
Well, Tresca, I didn't mean to chew your ear off like that. If I don't see you before you make your move to San Diego, stay in touch -- drop a line and get me your new address. At this stage of the game I'm kind of thinking that I'll be out West sometime in late May or early June depending on my means of transportation. I hope to see you then.

Encounter with Roving Anarchistic Gang + "Fun House"

On my Lake Union Loop run this morning around 8 AM at the corner of East Shelby Street and Harvard Avenue East as I was on my way down to cross the University Bridge I came upon a group of about twenty people at the head of which was a man holding an American flag and another flag, a black flag with a logo and some lettering. The people appeared to be young but I couldn't tell for sure because they were wearing hoodies and I was on the move. They had backpacks and were wearing camo pants. A couple of guys had beer kegs perched atop their shoulders. Following this group but clearly not of the group were two guys with cameras. I thought they might be with the media. I don't know what was happening. An occupation? The group started to move out just as I headed downhill on Harvard. Briefly I thought about stopping and finding out what was going on, but I didn't want to break my run.

This is another wonderful aspect to running. You never know what you're going to come across when you take your metabolic vehicle out for a spin. To be able to run for over an hour -- not just jog, but run -- for me it doesn't get any better.

At the end of the run I listened to The Stooges' song "Fun House" off their album of the same name from 1970. What a fine jam it is. The band was in peak form:

Post-Meltdown Economy Creates Lousy Part-Time Jobs

Catherine Rampell had an excellent story yesterday, "Part-Time Work Becomes Full-Time Wait for Better Job," about the growth of an underemployed underclass in the United States:
In March, 7.6 million Americans who want more hours were stuck in part-time jobs, about the same as a year earlier and three million more than there were when the recession began at the end of 2007. 
These almost invisible underemployed workers do not count toward the standard jobless rate of 7.6 percent. A broader measure, which includes the involuntary part-timers as well as people who want to work but have stopped looking, stands at 13.8 percent.
Rampell's Saturday unemployment stories are becoming a regular feature, and I hope the New York Times keeps running them. I think Rampell has accomplished a couple things in her unemployment reporting. First, she always draws attention to the broader measure of unemployment, what's known as U6, in contradistinction to U3, the standard unemployment rate. Second, she consistently points out that the jobs being created in this post-meltdown economy are bottom-of-the-barrel, low-wage positions:
Even for those who have been able to take advantage of the better job market, the opportunities have not been good. Since the economy began to recover almost four years ago, hiring has been concentrated in relatively low-wage service sectors, like retailing, home health care, and food preparation, and in contingent jobs at temporary-hiring companies. For example, nearly one out of every 13 jobs is at a restaurant, bar or other food-service establishment, a record high. 
Household incomes have been stagnant throughout the recovery, and actually fell in the latest report, according to Sentier Research. As a result, economists and policy makers have been expressing concerns about not only the pace of hiring but the quality of new jobs as well. 
“It’s important to look at the types of jobs that are being created,” Sarah Bloom Raskin, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, said in a recent speech. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery.”
Obamacare is likely a factor in the growth of part-timers. Next year as part of the Affordable Care Act any employer who has 50 or more full-time workers will have to provide health insurance:
Paul Dales, senior United States economist for Capital Economics, said, “There is another reason to believe that part-time employment will stay higher for longer, namely the incentives to employ part-time workers created by Obama’s health care reforms.” 
Starting in 2014, employers that had an average of at least 50 full-time employees in the previous calendar year will have to provide health insurance or face penalties. Some companies and franchise locations, like Darden Restaurants, which operates brands like Red Lobster and Olive Garden, suggested last year that they might seek to limit full-time staff to avoid activating this mandate.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained was my streaming selection last night. It had been available on Amazon for over a week but only in the HD format and only to purchase. But last night for $4.99 I was able to see what all the fuss was about.

Quentin Tarantino has been pilloried in the media for the movie's violence; his interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy went viral:

Tarantino also tangled with the media and Spike Lee over his abundant use of the word "nigger" throughout the film. Samuel L. Jackson's refusal to answer a reporter's question on the use of the word unless the reporter say it himself also went viral:

Before sharing my thoughts on Django Unchained I should say that I am Tarantino man. Reservoir Dogs (1992) was the Easy Rider (1969) of my generation. Prior to that I hadn't seen a movie that accurately portrayed the way young men really talk to and deal with each other. The way the film's narrative is radically scrambled between past and present captures the way we actually encounter the world; after Reservoir Dogs this becomes a common storytelling practice in mainstream movies. But most of all I identified with Tim Roth's character, Mr. Orange. Most of my buddies liked Mr. Blonde or Mr. White. Having just divorced my wife, I kept my wedding ring in a bowl of pennies; I had a picture of the Silver Surfer on my wall. So when I saw that Mr. Orange kept his wedding ring in a spare change container and had a picture of the Silver Surfer on his wall I was amazed. I knew exactly who he was. He was me.

For all the hubbub about the violence in Django Unchained, I found it less extreme than Inglourious Basterds. But as Thomas Frank pointed out, that movie was about Jews killing Nazis and therefore acceptable. The only thing distinctive about the violence in Django is the amount of blood which flows profusely like so many burst jars of spaghetti sauce.

The power of the movie is not in its pulpy gore but in its timely depiction of the slavocracy. We are all niggers now, governed by a Dixiecrat Congress at the behest of bankers and corporate captains of industry. That's why Django is a perfect accompaniment to Lincoln. The performances of Christoph Waltz and Leonardio DiCaprio are inspired, as is Samuel L. Jackson's. My only criticism of the movie is that at two hours and 45 minutes it's too long. Once Waltz and DiCaprio disappear from the screen in the last half hour, Django really starts to fall apart; that, and the film descends into outright farce.

But all in all it's rollicking entertainment which accomplishes the amazing feat of capturing the perverse brutality of slavery (in particular with the mandingo fighting sub-plot) while plucking an intuitive chord of connection with our contemporary social-political predicament (UFC entertainment for the underemployed masses; plantation-owner-type wealth for the 1%).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pharoah Sanders' Black Unity + Harvey Milk's F.S.T.P.

Yesterday preparing for work I enjoyed Pharoah Sanders' album Black Unity (1971):

A rainy Friday morning, the commute pleasant because of a good night's sleep and the reduced end-of-week traffic, the oblivion of the work week was almost finished. One more lap and then the oasis of the weekend. While I waited in the rain with the other commuters -- hotel workers, high school students -- for the 'A' bus to spirit us south on International Boulevard, I listened to "F.S.T.P." by Harvey Milk off their eponymous album of 2011. It fit perfectly: