Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Day-old Krugman

I greedily consume my day-old Krugman while living as a researcher that gets inside the minds of psychopaths. I ñeet somethyng, but not quite a work by Hans Henny Jahnn. Rather like The Man Who Lived. I ain't any kind of maven, you know? I'm just bread and butter and blood and soil; I'm halfway through a Craiglist queer recovery. Feeling queasy in this sphere of pure reference. So Letts works towards world's peace, women's rights and a face without freckles. Letts quashed the hoot pop writing session. We thank various machine guns for their roles in this neon charade. Letts fired Miskimin from his supervisory role. But Miskimin, that old confidence trickster, he got rehired to play the role of my beastly manservant. Sway gently the rafters, plumbers, we embrace callipygian vixens.

And I had just finished reading Ten thousand things relating to China and the Chinese : an epitome of the genius, government, history, literature, agriculture, arts, trade, manners, customs and social life of the people of the Celestial Empire.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heston Causes Drought

This summer, Hollywood Star Charlton Heston has not only set temperature records across the Midwest, he is also intensifying drought conditions -- and relief isn't on the horizon for most areas, the National Weather Service reported Thursday.

Drought conditions brought on by Heston's sere presence exist in 56 percent of the continental U.S., according to the weekly Drought Review. That's the biggest effect the former president of the NRA has had on the country since his death four years ago, topping the previous record of a large spike in viewings of the 1959 movie Touch of Evil on the streaming service Netflix in late 2010.
Charlton Heston absorbing all of the groundwater in The Omega Man.
Heston's ability to significantly impact the climate of North America is believed to be linked to the run of movies he made in the 1970s, beginning with Antony and Cleopatra.

The drought hasn't been long enough to rank up there with Ben-Hur or Planet of the Apes as one of Charlton Heston's most recognizable achievements, Kenneth Richilds, a meteorologist and film historian at the Motion Picture Association of America's Climate Prediction Center, told A Gilded Planet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dangerously Bland

A Dangerous Method
2011. 99 minutes. Canada. Directed by David Cronenberg. Watchdate: 1/3/2012.
What a disappointment! Rarely have I seen so much potential greatness squandered. Fassbender is great, he plays it understated more than I would have expected and it works very well. I don't think I've seen Viggo Mortensen do better work. Even Keira Knightly does a fairly good job. But the movie just doesn't go anywhere. It's so internalized, yet it seems like Cronenberg didn't take the time to figure out a good way to shoot the internalization which I know he can be great at doing. Very frustrating! I know people wrote lots of longhand letters in those days but come on, Cronenberg, you can do better than a bunch of mirthless voiceovers to dramatize such things, really.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Libor Rate Rigging Scandal Can and Should Lead to Arrests and Jail Time

If I read any more stories about bankster malfeasance I'm going to have an aneurysm. The Guardian reports that American and European authorities are close to arresting some of the bankers involved in the egregious Libor Rate Rigging Scandal:
American prosecutors and European regulators are close to arresting individual traders over the Libor scandal and charging them with colluding to manipulate global benchmark interest rates, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
If we don't start arresting banksters, they are just going to keep stealing from us in every way that can be imagined. Colluding to manipulate global interest rates amounts to stealing from nearly everyone at once in a stunningly diabolical worldwide skimming conspiracy. But if they can't steal from us that way, JPMorgan has most recently shown they have plenty of other ways to steal from us. JPMorgan is clearly taking its competition with Goldman Sachs for the title of most vile vampire squid seriously, as it has been using its implicit taxpayer guarantee of future bailouts to make highly risky multibillion dollar bets while also fraudulently manipulating energy markets. Get a load of this report by the LA Times:
The ISO, a nonprofit corporation controlled by the state government, estimates that JPMorgan may have gamed the state's power market for $57 million in improper payments over six months in 2010 and 2011.
But that could be just the tip of the iceberg: The bank continued its activities past that time frame, according to the ISO. It also says JPMorgan's alleged manipulation could have helped throw the entire energy market out of whack, imposing what could be incalculable costs on ratepayers.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the regulator of the ISO and its trading markets, has started a formal investigation into Morgan's allegedly manipulative energy deals in California and with the Midwest ISO, which covers 11 states from Michigan to Montana.
What balls they have! Enron got caught doing this kind of thing just ten short years ago, and already the Wall Street piggies are back at the trough. Have they no shame? If they don't, they could certainly afford to buy some.

Arrest the banksters and bring them to justice. It's the only way for our economy to heal over the long term.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Update: Merriam Webster is Fucked

A reader and friend writes in to tell me that the OED traces 'immersive' from as far back as the seventeenth century, or much earlier than I acknowledged in the previous post. Clearly the OED's SEO needs improvement, Merriam Webster is fucked, and I need to be a bit more thorough in my researches.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Defining tranCendenZ

Update: I'm an idiot.
'Immersive' is not a word according to the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Wait. I know what you're thinking: but then how do I describe my experience with Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? How do I do that, huh? Luckily, less reputable online dictionaries do define 'immersive' as a word in the following way:
noting or pertaining to digital technology or images that deeply involve one's senses and may create an altered mental state
For some reason, I find it very surprising that it took digital technology to motivate us to come up with the word 'immersive.' Did earlier generations not imagine novels or movies to be immersive experiences? Is there another word out there that I'm forgetting which does the same work as 'immersive'? I would like to know this synonym.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Old Anglo Stock

Guildford Damford Shingleton
Archibald Horace Shuckburgh
Edward Teshmaker Busk
Francis Saxon Snell
Basil Scarisbrick Walker
Hugh Urquhart Scrutton
Montague Hayes Bythway
Henry Burrows Gallimore
Leonard George Colbeck
Francis Kennard Bliss
P.C. Bentley Blair
Cecil Weston Dawswell
Arthur Creasy Roscoe
Bertram Hopkinson Chubb
Neville Eustachius Wallingford
Thurgood Ambrose Cumberbatch
Bertrand Benedict Beauchamp
Rawson Maynard Lincoln
Marshall Langtoft Dinsdale
Dudley Thurber Banvard
Leland Carleton Muggeridge

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Lost Cinetasmagoric Text

The little man wearing wire-rimmed spectacles invents words in his spare time but right now he asks for too many samples at the ice cream shop. All the other customers feel hung up by how long they have to wait for him to pick his flavor. A couple passes by the shop and ducks into a movie theater two doors down in order to be spontaneous; they see a movie based on play written by a famous man of letters they first read about in a museum located an ocean away. The usher rips their tickets before directing them to theater number seven. The usher used to save the stubs of every movie ticket he purchased but when he started working at the movie theater his collection became grim reminder of the job he enjoyed less by the day. He muses to himself about burning all the stubs while tearing the ticket of a tall old man who frequented the theater so regularly that the usher felt mild embarrassment that he didn't know the old man's name. He directs the elder cinephile to theater number four. The gangly, gray gentleman saw everything, though Hollywood's new releases had grown more disappointing each year. Yesterday, he had watched a charmless romantic comedy about mismatched television producers reviving a flagging morning talk show. As he enters theater number four, he braces himself for a loud, unoriginal action flick about an ex-con finding a new job as a stunt driver. But the movie turns out to be stylish and inventive, oscillating between highly visceral moments and oddly detached ones. The old man feels deeply engaged with every moment of it. In one scene, the lead actor had a terrible twenty-four hour flu during the filming yet still pulls off a convincing tear through the brightly lit streets of late night LA. "You need a vacation," the famous actor's friend says over the phone, "You've been working nonstop for too long." The famous actor wouldn't hear of it. "I still remember when I couldn't find a job to save my life. Now I'm going to get while the getting's good. It's a fickle industry; who knows how long my fifteen minutes will last." The friend shakes his head. “Life’s too short,” he thinks, standing in the Cactus Jungle, an outdoor store that sells an exquisite plethora of succulents. After ending his too-brief call with the famous actor, he begins using his phone to take pictures of the cacti he considers potentially worth purchasing. Each picture brings enormous quantities of botanical data to his attention. A sour young woman carrying a tired looking cactus she just purchased clears her throat as she cuts by the phone-wielding interloper. Everyone's so attached to their phones these days. People are the worst. After leaving the Cactus Jungle, she arrives at the bus stop, bitter recriminations churning in her head more slowly than even the most viscous varieties of molasses. The toxic molasses distracts her from the whistle of an ashen hobo who crosses away from the bus stop. One may have perceived the whistle as targeting the girl, but this would only be a misdirection. The hobo pursues the crows of the area with whistles, clicks, gurgles, and the (encoded, he believes) vibrations of his voice. He imagines the crows as his compatriots. Perhaps he is a crow himself. But it isn’t the hobo who flies up and away from the errant calls of the other birds. Only a really special crow could soar, as this one does, with such mysterious intent, towards the clock tower of Old Town. Perching next to the tower's steeple, this crow never felt happier, if crows are capable of feeling emotions that resemble ours in any respect. Below, the hand of the obsolete clock strikes four. Affixed to the innards of the clock is a pendulum having a coil of wire so connected electrically with a controlling clock placed at a distant station such that a current of electricity is made to circulate through the wire at each beat of the pendulum of the controlling clock. The coil bob moves over two magnets, which, exerting either attraction or repulsion, as the case may be, accelerate or retard the pendulum, making it to keep in beat with its controller at the distant station. The atoms vibrate, and I believe they are encoded, the lighter faster and the heavier slower, like images on a screen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Artless Saturation

The Doors
1991. 138 minutes. USA. Directed by Oliver Stone. Watchdate: 3/27/2012.
Oliver Stone makes these lurid, charmless fever dreams that pretentiously shove a bunch of half-baked ideas down your throat in the most over the top way imaginable. Yet in some cases I'll defend his work, especially when he recklessly somersaults so far overboard it's impossible to believe he's trying to be taken seriously.

Platoon, Talk Radio, and Wall Street all seem to aspire to lucidity and respectability and thus end up being boring trash even if there are a couple worthwhile elements in each. But The Doors, Natural Born Killers and particularly the highly underrated Nixon are so wild, twitchy and crass they might qualify as a hazy sort of pop surrealism. They are almost like madhouse ravings of a hobo with too big a budget to spend and too much message to polemicize.

However, there's something to be said for too much madness. At times they can actually be engaging and compelling, but at the very least they are always entertainingly daft. The Doors is satanic, orgiastic…it's alternately too dumb and too clever, and it brims with a sort of witless audacity that I find hard to reject entirely. And really the subject matter is perfect for Oliver Stone's style, since who are The Doors if not the Oliver Stone of late sixties psychedelic rock?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Knowledge Workers

Bouvard and Pécuchet Review of Bouvard and Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert

Philip Roth has argued that if one takes more than two weeks to read a novel, one hasn't really read the novel. I don't know if Roth would allow an extra week or two for Don Quixote, War and Peace or Finnegans Wake but I suspect he wouldn't as he's pretty old and set in his ways at this point. In any case, under that definition, I haven't really read Bouvard and Pécuchet. It's taken me almost a year to finish it, and it isn't nearly as long or as difficult as any of my proposed exceptions to Roth's rule.

Last summer, I found a copy of Bouvard and Pécuchet among stacks of books in a cabin in northern Wisconsin. This happened a few weeks after Andy Holden's art installation, Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time, made me aware of Gustave Flaubert's final work about the intellectual misadventures of two Parisian copy clerks. A fabricated library within the Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time exhibit included rugs that contained amusing lines from Bouvard and Pécuchet stitched into the design. Needless to say, I was intrigued.

I started reading the novel late that summer and had finished about half of it by the end of autumn. Then I got distracted by other books, and I didn't get around to returning to its pages until at least six months later. I read the second half of it this summer in short bursts while also reading other books, chiefly works by Roberto Bolaño.

The length of time it took me to read this book, and Roth's rule invalidating my having actually read it, strike me as relevant because Bouvard and Pécuchet is largely concerned with the nature of knowledge and its virtues, limitations, legitimacy, and ultimate value. Flaubert described his final work as "a kind of encyclopedia turned into a farce," a description that would also fit with another book I recently finished (within Roth's timeframe, I believe), Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño.

The novel chronicles its titular characters attempts to learn about agriculture, gardening, and food after having moved to the countryside to live on an estate. The complication is that with each subject they attempt to learn, they find they must learn more about a prerequisite subject in order to better understand what they're doing. So when they fail at gardening, they decide they must learn about chemistry. This pattern repeats with variations throughout the book.

When I described the book's plot to a friend recently, he said it pretty much sounds like his life. And in a way, Flaubert has constructed the perfect satire of all of us who wish to know more. This is a novel about the pitfalls of learning, of questioning, of thirsting for understanding, of unquenchable intellectual appetites. As a clergyman says to Pécuchet, "Anyone who tries to get to the bottom of everything is sliding down a dangerous slope."

Flaubert offers a ruthless, almost hateful parody of bourgeois stupidity, but where the work succeeds most is in showing a comic empathy for the vain yet utterly human quest to make some sense of the world. Flaubert japes about our idiotic attempts to make a messy and imperfect match of thought and experience but only because he takes the challenge of doing just that so seriously.

Ultimately, we may see through Bouvard and Pécuchet's misadventures that ignorance is the foundation of knowledge, that forgetting this fact is folly, and that one can only hope to truly know and understand the vast and unrelenting ignorance of humanity itself. This may seem to be a grim diagnosis but it helps that the novel is frequently hilarious.

Unfortunately, Gustave Flaubert died before he was able to complete Bouvard and Pécuchet. The main text ends rather abruptly, in the middle of a scene of preparation for a lecture the protagonists plan to give the townspeople of Chavignolles. In the Penguin Classics addition I read (or didn't read, according to Philip Roth), what follows is Flaubert's rough plan for the denouement of the book. I found it frustrating to read this brief sketch because it presented such an excellent conclusion yet there is no way to ever read the actual prose of the thing since Flaubert never got to write it down.

Michael Cunningham recently touched on the subject of incomplete works in a piece for the New Yorker in which he describes the process of helping pick the three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He defends his selection of an unfinished novel, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, by citing Chaucer, who completed only half of The Canterbury Tales before dying, along with the incomplete fragments of ancient Greek and Latin poetry that continue to influence literary culture to this day.

As an unreconstructed cinephile, I would add the oeuvre of Orson Welles to the list of incomplete but brilliant artworks since so many of his movies were prevented from being completed by the studios and other outside forces. The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has even suggested that he deliberately leaves his movies incomplete so that the viewer may complete each one herself.

Despite this contrarianism, I still find it deeply unsatisfying to come to the end of Flaubert's last novel and find bullet points instead of the jocular, exquisite prose that characterized the rest of the book. The unfinished work is an intriguing subject, but I'm not sure I can be persuaded by Kiarostami or anyone else to idealize it. Though I'd certainly like to hear Pécuchet discuss the matter with Bouvard. Fanfiction anyone?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lesser Known Power Duos

Bernstein & Garfunkel
Laverne & Bullwinkle
Abbott & Hardy
Starsky & Hooch
Donnie & Cher
Gilbert & Hammerstein
Itchy & Kumar
Romeo & the Sundance Kid
Thelma & Luigi
Bonnie & The Brain
Penn & Stimpy
Seals & Oates
Ike & Cleopatra
Bill & Silent Bob
Siegfried & Rosencrantz
Batman & Butthead
Leiber & Gretel

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Acropolis Fevered

The heat! The heat!
Oh how could we possibly consider ignoring the aching fever and vicious intestinal malaise to face the Greek heat in all its unforgivable Apollonian glory?

What could compel our bodies, trembling with putrid illness, to traipse through the invincible sunshine of Athens? Only the vision of the Parthenon, that proudest dream of Pericles, the long lost world of Classical Greece from which we still draw intellectual succor. Only that.

As we approached the ancient theatre of Dionysus, god of wine, celebrations, ritual madness and ecstasy, Zeus smiled down on us (or was it Athena herself?) in at least one way. For some reason, admission to the Acropolis was free on this sweltering Monday, June 3rd. Despite this welcome largesse, the Acropolis was not choked with vistors or the dreaded touring groups that descend like locusts from cruise ships at any grand sight near enough to the sea. All praise be to the Olympian deities for this fortunate turn of events.
...and yet, the heat! The heat of Apollo's sun bore down on us with an alarming intensity. We stopped frequently in the shade on our way up to the Acropolis. It was the only way to avoid exhaustion and the potential for catastrophic collapse. We felt as old as the aforementioned elder cruise ship tour groups. Yet we had no way to shed the excess hundreds of years our bodies had seemingly aged overnight.
Around noon, we reached the summit. A German man sprayed water out of his mouth onto a small boy. A small group of Japanese in formalwear sweltered in the sunlight. We paid too much for a cold drink. But they can never take back our brief glimpse of the apex of the Ancient World.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Is Rape Funny?

Well, no, of course not. Rape is terrible. But George Carlin, one of the most revered American comedians of the 20th century, says that rape can be funny. So it's cool when Daniel Tosh makes fun of a heckler by saying how funny it would be if like five guys raped her, right?
Well, no. The difference is that George Carlin, along with Louis CK and other people who have wrought comedy from the sensitive subject of rape, are extremely sophisticated comedians to the point where you could call them social satirists, social commentators, or (almost) stand-up philosophers (to paraphrase Mel Brooks). Daniel Tosh was, is and always will be extremely unfunny, lazy, obnoxious, tasteless, artless, pandering, juvenile, anti-intellectual, and idiotic to the point of being submental. What happened in the recent incident at the Laugh Factory just highlighted these qualities in the starkest terms.

Like Michael Richards, and many others before him, Daniel Tosh has a right to say whatever he wants, but we have a right to call for a boycott of his endless dumbassery and try to excise his offensive tumor-like existence from the mainstream of our culture. This is not to say I approve of heckling at all, but his response to the heckling was over the line enough to reasonably prompt a petition/boycott type campaign.

In my mind, there's nothing wrong with the public holding comedians dealing with sensitive subjects to a higher standard. Censorship is bad, but losing popularity is not censorship. It's just what happens when you piss off too many people. If Daniel Tosh was actually funny, this never would have happened.

Thanks to Ben Stanton for inspiring me to write this. Also, read this if you're as interested in the 'controversy' as I am.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sex in Monochrome

To Have and To Have Not
1944. 100 minutes. USA. Directed by Howard Hawks. Watchdate: 3/6/2012.
At least at the level of political allegory, To Have and To Have Not almost plays like a straightforward reworking of Casablanca. I can imagine Hollywood wanting to reproduce the universal success of Casablanca and giving the assignment to the second most workmanlike director after Michael Curtiz. But To Have and To Have Not is the bad boy, the class clown or cut up to Casablanca's model student. Ingrid Bergman / Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman / other dude are two variations on an ideal relationship. By contrast, the Humphrey Bogart / Lauren Bacall relationship is far from ideal, it's characterized by a lurid dependency but it is also unrelentingly sexy. It crackles for me in a way that the Bogie / Bacall pairing never quite did in The Big Sleep or Key Largo. Bacall in particular does her fair share to carry the movie on charm alone.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Search of the Wizened Youth


By Night in Chile
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño

Robert Bolaño excites my imagination not just because he writes combustive, mesmerizing prose, not only because he creates worlds so intricate that they manage to be as idealized and fantastic as they are realistic and autobiographical, not simply because his sense of humor is so wild, absurd, acrid and filthy that it feels like a guilty pleasure - no, his gifts go far beyond that, and they might be most tightly focused in this slim novella he wrote just over a decade ago. With By Night in Chile, Bolaño reveals again that for all his bitter satire, incisive political rage and opinionated lunacy, he pursues with vigor that most humane project of trying to understand the Other, to seek out the villain within himself and to reveal the souls of those he might perceive to be villainous.

At barely 130 pages, By Night in Chile is the shortest work I've read by Bolaño, and it makes an impressive case for the possibility of containing the magical boundlessness of longer works of fiction into the constraints of a novella. The story takes the form of the deathbed confession of Friar Urrutia Lacroix, and yet it travels so artfully into other lands and other minds that it never feels confined by the dying protagonist while never once losing any ounce of authenticity that it really is a deathbed confession of someone real who could have lived and breathed in Bolaño's vision of postwar Chile.

While Ernst Jünger makes an extended appearance early in the book along with Pablo Neruda (Neruda's Nobel Prize victory and death are events in the novella) and Bolaño makes casual reference to Baudelaire and a running joke about Sordello, By Night in Chile seems to engage in what some might call literary solipsism less than the other works of Bolaño I have read. For that reason, it might be a good way to start reading Bolaño for the uninitiated. Also, did I mention it's rather short?

In any case, I have become determined to read every word Bolaño has ever written, and to press his books into as many friends' hands as will accept them. I've never felt that way about an author before, save perhaps Jorge Luis Borges, but that is a slightly different case since I'm actually terrified of reading all of Borges' works because then there will be no more Borges left to read. With Bolaño, I can't feel so precious. I must read it all.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mitt Romney's Crony Capitalism

Mitt Romney has announced a plan to hand out billions of dollars of taxpayer money for free to banks indefinitely. As president, he would reinstate an egregious student loan policy that subsidizes banks at the expense of taxpayers. The Obama Administration and Congress agreed to eliminate this policy just over two years ago. Tracy Jan at the Boston Globe has the story:
Mitt Romney promises to usher private lenders back into the federal student loan market...The prime beneficiaries, critics say, would be banks and loan companies that stand to reap a financial boon through subsidies to make nearly risk-free, government-backed loans. They are the same firms that benefited from the system that existed for decades before 2010, when President Obama required that the government issue all federal student loans.
Unfortunately, Ms. Jan tries to play objective by writing "critics say" in the middle of her explanation. But this policy solely benefits banks at the expense of taxpayers. That is not simply the opinion of critics. That is a factual description of the policy.

When banks lend money, they normally take on the risk that the loan might default. Therefore they determine selection criteria for potential customers. However, when it comes to student loans, most banks refuse to lend to students because it is too risky. For many years, the federal government guaranteed low-interest student loans made by private banks based on selection criteria determined by the government. But this system ensured pure profits for the banks funded by taxpayer dollars.

It was one of the clearest examples of crony capitalism in history. The federal government took all of the risk. The banks had no role to play except collecting profits as middlemen. Legislators tried to eliminate this subsidy for years, but bank lobbyists prevented anything from changing. Finally, the Obama Administration and its allies in Congress fought hard to eliminate this massive subsidy. Tens of billions of dollars were being wasted. The policy was eliminated by legislation passed in the spring of 2010. Since then, low-interest student loans have been issued directly by the Department of Education.

Now, Mitt Romney wants to bring back this massive taxpayer-financed subsidy for the banks. Why?
Private lenders, however, argue that Obama’s move in 2010 cost the industry thousands of jobs as companies went out of business or shut down divisions that dealt with the servicing of such loans. And the Romney campaign says reintroducing private competition would spur innovation that could help prevent students from borrowing more than they should.
Private lenders made massive profits from the federal subsidy they used to receive to act as middlemen in the student loan system. Naturally, when the subsidy went away, those profits and the jobs that they created went away. But the companies were rendering no service at all. They were simply accepting large amounts of taxpayer money from the government to shuffle papers around.

The Romney campaign claims reintroducing a policy that subsidized banks for decades will spur innovation. But if this were the case, wouldn't they just point to innovations that had been spurred by the past existence of the policy? The policy is nothing new. It existed and provided no benefits except to the banks it subsidized. If it did provide benefits, the Romney campaign could easily cite those benefits. But instead it vaguely suggests the potential for future innovations.

This policy ably represents the core of Mitt Romney's philosophy, and indeed the philosophy of the Republican Party at large in the 21st century. The philosophy is very simple. The federal government should be used to extract resources from the people of the United States (as well as plenty of other people around the world) and then use those resources to subsidize large corporations, business interests and the wealthy. Essentially, it's profiteering philosophy of Bain Capital writ large: loot the country to line your own pockets.

Mitt Romney, in his younger days, fondling his loot.
Mitt Romney is the GOP's presumptive nominee and therefore the leader of the party. But he is far from the only prominent Republican to espouse the loot-the-nation-for-profit ideology. Congressman Paul Ryan has gained notoriety for his so-called "Roadmap to the Future" budgets, which have been enthusiastically embraced by Romney along with most Congressional Republicans. And guess what? Ryan is also an enthusiastic support of indefinite taxpayer subsidies for banks:
For decades, the government helped make college more affordable through “guaranteed loans”—it encouraged banks to lend money to students by promising to repay the banks if the students defaulted. Banks were making billions of dollars in profits at virtually no risk. The General Accounting Office, a kind of in-house fiscal watchdog for the federal government, issued sixteen reports over the years noting how the government could save money simply by issuing the loans itself and cutting out the middleman.
It was the simplest, no-brainer pot of savings you could find—ending pure corporate welfare, just like in the movie Dave. The cause attracted support from think tanks, as well as the moderate Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri, an eclectic reformer who is sort of the real-life version of the Paul Ryan character who appears on television. Two National Review editors endorsed eliminating guaranteed loans in an article advocating a new reform conservatism.
The banks lobbied fiercely to protect their gravy train. Among the staunchest advocates of those government-subsidized banks was … Paul Ryan, who fought to protect bank subsidies that many of his fellow Republicans deemed too outrageous to defend. In 2009, Obama finally eliminated the guaranteed-lending racket. It could save the government an estimated $62 billion, according to the CBO.
Paul Ryan has developed a reputation as a fiscal conservative concerned with reducing the federal budget deficit. Yet he fiercely defended a pointless subsidy for banks, because he is not a fiscal conservative at all. He is, like Romney, a crony capitalist.

Among the more well-publicized aspects of Ryan's "Roadmap to the Future" are his plans for Medicare. His plan eliminates the program and replaces it with vouchers provided to seniors to purchase private health insurance on their own. Many have noted that the plan would have the vouchers become smaller over time, which would essentially mean that many seniors would have to go without health care as they did before Medicare existed. Some might even suggest a better name for Ryan's "Roadmap to the Future" would be the deathless Daily Show description of the 2008 financial crisis: "Clusterfuck to the Poorhouse."
Paul Ryan: Clusterfucker
But it's just as important to realize that this policy functions as way to subsidize private companies at taxpayer expense. It is part of the looting ideology I outlined earlier. After all, the proposal is to eliminate Medicare and use the money to give seniors vouchers that they would then give to private health insurance companies. Essentially, this is just another way to transfer resources to private corporations that do nothing except take taxpayer money.

Private health insurance companies spend most of their time avoiding the costs of providing coverage to the sick. That is, their purpose is to avoid providing health care. Why would anyone take an extremely popular program like Medicare and eliminate it in order to give more money to private companies that provide no real service to anyone? Only if you believed in crony capitalism's central premise: the purpose of the federal government is to loot the people in order to subsidize corporations and the wealthy.

It is worth remembering all of this whenever Republicans say they want a free market. More often than not, this is a lie. Guaranteeing student loans so that banks can make risk-free profits has nothing to with free markets. Republicans use free market terminology to mask an agenda that is fundamentally about using the state as vehicle for endless looting. Given this reality, Mitt Romney is actually a perfect candidate to act as their standard-bearer. He was an expert at looting the private sector when he worked  at Bain Capital. If he becomes President of the United States, he will doubtlessly use this expertise to massively loot the public sector.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Unlikely Political Archetypes

The Curious Fundamentalist
The Reasonable Anarchist
The Principled Democrat
The Lucid Republican
The Empathetic Libertarian
The Pragmatic Socialist
The Thoughtful Militarist
The Adamant Liberal
The Relevant Nationalist
The Tolerant Conservative
The Agreeable Progressive
The Triumphant Trade Unionist
The Useful Independent
The Casual Authoritarian
The Reluctant Interventionist
The Traveling Isolationist

Friday, July 6, 2012

Turkish Travels No. 5

CAPPADOCIA, 5/26/12 -- We ended up on a wild ride to the airport. Some kind of gong show ding dong gumball fuck up caused our shuttle to wait too long at a hotel where we picked up no one before eventually pulling over to the shoulder of the freeway to wait for another shuttle that brought two people the shuttle was supposed to have picked up earlier.

We don't know if the two passengers weren't in the place they were supposed to be or if the shuttle wasn't. The two passengers denied everything and the shuttle drivers explained nothing as they spoke very little English. On the freeway, we got a taste of insane Turkish driving, where passing is a game of chicken and close calls, horns are employed liberally, tailgating is a way of life based on intimidation and anything is fair game on the shoulder.

It didn't help that multiple roads were closed. Each detour ratcheted up the intensity even further.

We made our flight, praise Allah.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

When the Truth is Found

Petulia
1968. 126 minutes. USA. Directed by Richard Lester. Watchdate: 2/3/2012.
In Petulia, Richard Lester rejects the familiar and conventional in exchange for a simultaneous embrace and interrogation of the strange and unstable social fabric of its coincident period. It's like a shopworn melodrama stumbled into San Francisco during the Summer of Love by accident and found itself transformed into a deeply sad but occasionally very funny (and at all times) peculiar tragicomedy (or comic tragedy depending on your mileage). Or it could be surrealism unaware (or uninterested) in its own surreality. Lester gets away with it because he's at the peak of his creative powers, working with a team (including Nicolas Roeg as Director of Photography) that is nonchalant about innovating even further beyond the cinematic vocabulary Lester had already helped transform earlier in the decade, but just as importantly because he had his cameras rolling in the right place at the right time and maybe most of all because he had Julie Christie and George C. Scott. I'll note that this is a movie to observe and absorb more than to understand or "follow" in the classical narrative sense of that word.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Our Independence Day!

If Facebook is any indication, my generation associates the fourth of July primarily with heroic efforts of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman to save the world from the alien menace.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I woke up this morning to fratboys blaring country music as if that's an appropriate way to celebrate the most American of holidays. To be fair, they also played a couple of Creedence songs and a Bob Dylan tune.  In any case, contemporary country music is in no way an appropriate way to celebrate Independence Day, aliens or otherwise. Country music is about waving the Confederate flag, a piece of fabric representing the heritage of a failed white supremacist slave state that was founded with the intention of destroying the unity of the North American republic founded on July 4, 1776. Country music is antithetical to the fourth of July, as it is the music of the stars and bars, not the stars and stripes.
The appropriate music for Independence Day - music that represents what is great about the United States of America - would probably be that of the descendants of American slaves, not the descendants of American slaveowners. It may be cliché to say that jazz is the quintessential American music - but it's sort of true. But if Kind of Blue is too downtempo for your barbecue, pretty much all great American music comes from the same (primarily African-American) roots: try a little tenderness with Otis Redding and some soul and R&B, after all, there's nothing more American than Motown and Stax-Volt, right? Except maybe the wild blues shouting of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters or Jimmy Rushing? How about some Chuck Berry, the inventor and most anarchic and energetic exponent of Rock 'n Roll? How about his precursors, Fats Domino and Big Joe Turner?
The original rock star
Or if you prefer to choose music from this century, there's always hip hop, which has conquered the world so quickly it might be easy to forget that it's as American as jazz or Motown. God Bless Jay-Z!
Not Jay-Z.
I guess my point is that Will Smith is an appropriate mascot for the fourth of July since he's basically the Barack Obama of that most American of cultural exports, the big budget Hollywood Blockbuster.
This is what the United States of America looks like. Eat shit, racists.
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