“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 03, 2008

birthdays of the LI-osphere




LI wants to congratulate our far flung correspondent, Mr. T from NYC, on crashing the barrier into middle age - middle age will never be the same again! In the above pic, Mr. T.'s son is trying to get dad to shut up. Ah, I can tell this is going to be a lifelong process!

Happy birthday!
And of course this:

And, of course, this:

When questioned on his views
On the crux of lifes philosophies
He had but these few clear and simple words to say

I am going, I am going
Any which way the wind may be blowing
I am going, I am going
Where streams of whiskey are flowing

go to another party/and hang myself

It should be noted that the “third way” – the idea that left/liberal parties would adopt rightwing policies, nourish a wildly wealthy oligarchy, and then achieve popularity managing our consequently affluent lifestyles by superbly clever triangulating – has, predictably, led to the mass extinction of Socialist parties in Europe. There is no longer a leftist option in the UK or Italy – and in Germany, it is in the death throes. In France the left is riven by the struggle between the third way parasites and nostalgia.

Of course, the whole idea was insane from the beginning. To believe that one would protect and nourish a system of vast inequality is to believe that the people on the top will not use their money to enlarge and entrench their advantages. It was a fairy tale for feebs. It got a wonderful press, however, the media having long ago become the most reliable tool of the wealthy. And if you destroy all remnants of a traditional leftist program for a generation, you eventually remove it from the collective memory – it becomes the heirloom of outliers, of academic enthusiasts, of the millionaire revolutionary, the tourists to Chavez land and the like. In other words, it becomes something like high fashion – existing in no relation whatsoever to the vast mass of the populace.

So, the end of the Blair witch project arrived, and predictably, New Labour finished its destruction of Labour by thinning the party to the point that it may go to the happy hunting ground inhabited by Britain’s Liberal party – into the memory hole of history. Blair and Asquith – now there’s a ripe combo for the history books. Somehow, what New Labour had to offer turned the stomachs of the population: a corrupt gang of incompetent neo-imperialists, with the taint of Saudi bagmen and other mysterious sources of billionaire money, the grand producers of a social attitude that would make it impossible to finance the necessary public investment that actually would make Labour significant, rather than popular in a suburban pocket election, an enterprise that refused to put the boot into the House of Lords when it had a chance, the party of the authoritarian attitude towards the human right to smoke dope or access information about the workings of the State - the whole ghastly machine has come crashing down. This is the direct result of letting Blair have his last run. One wonders if the Labour poobahs rue having let the vanity of that disgusting creature overrule common sense? But then, it was a conspiracy of vanity – the poobahs of ‘Labour’ without the ‘New’ are now a dinosaur’s age, and Third Way-ers cast their lots with and made their fortunes on reheated Thatcherism, so they were in no position to see that vanity was leading them to a big fall.

The signs of the times are not good – the first openly fascist party in 70 years has taken power in Italy, with the mayor of Rome giving the fascist salute; an open racist has won the London mayoralty election, and the defenders of ‘tolerance’ and ‘enlightenment’ are also still defending their participation in the indefensible Iraq war. The war was, in foreign policy, just the kind of escamotage Blair produced in domestic policy – a now you see it, now you don’t surrender to the vilest impulses of the right, wrapped in the appropriate pop references and smirky nostalgia for the enlightenment “left”. The decents have the reach and influence of a planter’s mole on the buttocks of the behemoth, but they gather, in their collective crapulence, all the energies, all the hysterical rhetoric, all the contradictions, all the mock Trot gestures, that made New Labour such an obscenity. The combination of an economic slowdown and right wing racism, sure to be a popular card, are just unfolding their tender shoots.

The death of the party
came as no surprise



PS: there’s an excellent post by Yves Smith about the recent Milken Conference thrusts a little proctologist’s scope into the sites where the press attitude, politics and finance come together – the kind of places that loved to invite Blair to talk, and that Blair loved to talk to. Contrast Smith’s honesty with, say, the NYT reporter’s own description of the conference. It should also be pointed out how the crimes of the wealthy are normalized by the press. Imagine the NYT sending a reporter to the Pablo Escobar Conference. Wouldn’t happen. Yet of course the Milken Conference was organized by a convicted criminal, who was able to defend his considerable gains from seizure by the government only because – he used his leverage.

Here’s the first two grafs:


I am still recovering from the Milken Conference, and unlike my fellow blog panelists Paul Kedrosky, Felix Salmon and Mark Thoma, have not written any posts on particular sessions. In part, that was because in my other life as a consultant, I am well aware of the dangers of relying on memory even though mine is pretty good, and I had decided to listen rather than take notes.

But the other reason was in almost all the sessions has a strong element of overt pressure on the speakers to maintain an upbeat tone, combined with repeated reinforcement of Republican/Chicago School of Economics ideology. Normally I would not deem that sort of thing worthy of mention if it were a minor and only occasional element of the program; indeed it would have been valuable if other views had been tolerated and some sparks flew. No, the private sector/deregulation cheerleading was pervasive and baldfaced, and made it hard for me to sort out signal from noise. There were enough cases where I knew the data and knew it to be misrepresented so as to call a lot of what I was hearing into question.

Friday, May 02, 2008

On the idea that conservatives are a happy lot



My editor at the Statesman has been kind enough to shoot me the many unreviewable books about happiness which come in the mail for him. They have been churning and burning off the presses lately – once again, LI is ahead of the curve! (put your hands in the air like you just don't care!)

Of course, LI might be as against the curve as a hot and horny salmon facing a concrete dam, given our goals and assumptions. Everybody, it seems, thinks happiness is a good thing.

One of the books is by a conservative egg head named Arthur Brooks. We tossed the book when we noticed a footnote to a blog post by Jonah Goldberg. We don’t have infinite patience. However, Brooks does make a big deal out of a standard right wing chestnut. Since the seventies, Pew Research has found that Republicans, and conservatives generally, are more likely to say they are happy than Dems, liberals or independents. Pew Research helpfully broke this out by income, so that we aren’t being mislead here by the fact that your hedonic gradient goes up as your income takes you into the upper percentiles. Rather, Pew contends that the big factor is religiosity.

The usual liberal conclusion is that those who want a better regulated financial system and the legalization of gay marriages are more sensitive to the unhappiness of others, as in wishing for a more just and equitable system, for which we bleed. While those who are afraid that socialism is going to creep into the medical system and that we are going to cut and run in Iraq are simply self involved bubble children.

LI, however, sees the hedonic gap as a precursor, a little light, that maybe we aren’t alone in wanting to throw off the conjunction of the happiness norm and our Lebensordnung. In fact, it might be that the assumption that our social arrangements are all about making us happy could be in decline.

As is obvious, over the last two years I’ve been hammering away at happiness triumphant (which is a little like one little termite working on the toe of the Colossus of Rhodes – but eventually, all Colossi fall). I am firmly of the belief that our social arrangements should not be judged on whether they make us happy. Instead of a scale of well being, I would like to see a scale of passional being. Instead of continuing to meekly submit to an order of life that points us all to the synapse linking happiness and more, and urging us to have our little chemicals make that leap en masse and permanently – every day is Christmas in Serotoninville! – I’d like that monkey business overturned, before it wipes out all the monkeys.

My fellow liberals – ask not if you are happy, but if you are in love.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

God's curse on em

Mission accomplished day. 50 American soldiers killed in April. Reports in the NYT say 450 some Iraqis have died in battles so far in Sadr City, which means about 800 to 1,000. So perhaps one life in Florida is nothing, but still – today LI thinks about Deborah Jeane Palfrey, a woman mercilessly hounded by a criminal Justice department, ridiculously charged under the RICO act, and so convicted in a kangaroo court by a local Torquamada who got his jollies bullying old prostitutes. Meanwhile, the Johns are forever free, of course, to visit prostitutes again. The old game of threatening them, beating them, killing them, America's number one sport, goes on and on.

Whether she hung herself or was murdered, what happened to her was a disgrace. LI is scraping the bottom of the barrel for the language of indignation. It is not that we want to describe or analyze – no, we want to hurl, to throw. Sticks and stones. The word, thrown out of the mouth at the right time by the right person, can cripple. But we who stand outside of bubbleville, the Closed Gate Communities of the kleptocracy, can hurl any words we want – they won’t get through.

The NYT has a media smirky headline for Ms Palfrey’s death that says everything about those bottom feeders: The Story Ends for the ‘D.C. Madam’. Yeah, it is a story. Not a person. Fuck persons who aren’t in the gated community. Fuck them up the ass. No, just an amusing giggle at the end of a rope.

Ah, may their tongues gangrene and rot off, those tellers of the story. May the stories rise up, someday, and rip them limb from limb.

And my poor fool is hang'd! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Children and monetarists beware

For those of you who delight in the spilling of ichor – the blood of intellectuals – hie ye to Mark Thoma’s Economist’s View, which reprints Jamie Galbraith’s address on the 25th meeting of the Milton Friedman society. A sign of the times that they would invite Galbraith, son of Friedman’s blood enemy. Galbraith begins with a few courtesies, and then utterly destroys Friedman’s work, and then makes like Jack the Ripper with Bernanke’s reputation. It is a rare sight to see such thorough slaughter. There must have been a long pause after it was all over. Did anybody move? Did the master of ceremonies heave himself out of his seat and finally say, what a veeery interesting talk, Professor Galbraith. Oh dear, you have some kind of foaming ectoplasm all over the front of your tuxedo.

The society should pay attention to this useful film about not accepting rides from strangers.

PS – the music of America! that barbaric yawp is still spawning rib tickling vocables. For instance, this is a Wall Street term that comes from the very heart of the Bush culture. From Frank Norris at the NYT:
http://norris.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/28/how-much-capital-do-the-banks-need/
Carlyle has done its part to create those holes. Mr. Rubenstein delivered a hilarious recollection of the credit markets at the top of the market, in which Citigroup and J.P. Morgan competed to lend, offering low interest rates, no covenants (covenant-light in the jargon) and toggle-PIK, meaning the company could pay in kind, with more securities, if it did not have the cash.
As he told it, with a hypothetical billion dollar acquisition, Carlyle funds put up $350 million and borrowed $650 million.
When the music stopped in the credit market last year, the bank was unable to sell such loans in the securitization market — to investors Mr. Rubenstein called the “stuffees.”
The stuffees! Don’t you love living under the Great Fly? Forget comrades, forget citizens, forget motherfuckers. It is a nation of stuffees. And happy to be stuffed!

Monday, April 28, 2008

duellum

Deux guerriers ont couru l'un sur l'autre...

For those interested in such things, the long promised duel between LCC and Jackie Derrida is finally commencing in earnest. Yours truly is in attendence as J.D.'s second.

PS - We are still dueling over there, though we are a little off topic - not too much, I hope. Entertaining stuff for those who enjoy liberal-Marxist dialog - and let's face it, who doesn't?

In this duel, LCC overlooks my sometimes off topic meandering - as, for instance, that I have signally failed to really reference Derrida yet. And I overlook LCC's mimicry of Jacques Derrida as a sort of malevolent Punch, starring in a remake of the Exorcist underwritten by Encounter Magazine.

barthes, the perfect storm, and business bullshit

Groupies of Barthes principle of mythology, that “false nature”, have been having a field day lately with business news. You’ll remember the lyrics to the famous Nature/Culture divide – of course you do:

The point of departure for this reflection was most often a sentiment of impatience before the “natural’ in which the press, art, common sense ceaselessly array a reality which, even as it is the one in which we live, is nevertheless perfectly historic: in a word, I am pained to see, at every moment, how in the story of our actuality, Nature and History are confounded, and I wanted to tighten my grasp, in the decorative exposition of the “it-goes-without-saying”, [ce-qui-va-de-soi] of the ideological abuse which, in my sense, is found hidden in it.” – Mythologies.

With this in mind, LI has been thinking of the “perfect storm.”

In 1997, Sebastian Junger published his story that, as they say, soared to the top of the best selling lists. Finally, a story for the testosteroned among us – brave men and their ships! It proved especially popular among the yacht set.
But what interests me is not so much 1997, but 1998. Oh, if Barthes had only had google and Factiva! For with these simple tools, one can observe the leaping of the memes. In September of 1998, three things happened – the Russian’s defaulted on their loans, the Asian tiger cubs – Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea – suddenly started bailing capital, and Long Term Capital Investment, our favorite hedge fund, started by John Meriwether and co-starring too hard right libertarian Nobel prize winning economists, went belly up. It was a model flop – a model for the current age of flops, with Greenspan timidly managing a bail out that presaged the massive bail outs being effected, at this very moment, by the Fed – who, to the vast indifference of the American public, is making the financial sector all happy by loaning out money at below par rates, so those banks can buy U.S. government debt at par rates and rake in the money, and we can pretend that we aren’t giving it to them. This is called capitalism, my friends. In any case, it was in the golden autumn of 1998 that this started happening:

From Business Week
21 September 1998

Why did rocket science backfire? Sure, the models do take into consideration the possibilities of some failures occurring in the market system that upset normal historical relationships. Indeed, that's why these bets usually involve a series of hedges. What occurred, however, was the financial world's equivalent of a ''perfect storm''--everything went wrong at once. Interest rates moved the wrong way, stocks and bond prices that were supposed to converge diverged, and liquidity dried up in some crucial markets. As Long-Term's Meriwether told his shareholders in a Sept. 3 letter: ''We expected that sooner or later...we as a firm would be tested. I did not anticipate, however, how severe the test would be.''

That is one of the first mentions of the perfect storm to explain a financial disaster. Notice the beauty of it. First, the bilocation – on the one hand, who is more “part” of the financial weather system than a hedge fund? And on the other hand, you have the almost peasant like hedge funders, hunkering down as the rain comes pouring upon them – surely no fault of their own! Although we shouldn’t pursue that thought to far – for if the hedge funders aren’t responsible for the “perfect storm”, why should we hold them responsible for the golden sunshine? Why do we say they make those profits? Why pay them those premiums if it is all weather?
But those who ask such questions are obviously losers and dipshits, and have no place sticking their nose into the Fed’s wonderful equity bubble machine.

The perfect storm of “perfect storms” grew all that autumn. Here’s a sample:

“CNN Interview with Jeff Davis, State Street Global Advisors:
25 September 1998
DAVIS: Well, I think there are -- certainly there potentially could be. I mean, it's been a big -- a big couple of years for hedge fund investing. And investors are looking for protection during crises like this. But we call the August fall the perfect storm where there is a combination of crises around the world that were, you know, one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that keep arriving every three years, to quote a friend of mine. And so we really are nervous about where the risks are right now. And it's difficult, again, for the transparency in the marketplace to let us know where those risks are.”

From the Financial Times, 12 December 1998
12 December 1998
“Allen Wheat, chairman and chief executive officer of Credit Suisse First Boston, made no forecasts when he spoke at a gathering of the investment bank's managing directors in Florida in November.

He said A Perfect Storm, the title of a recent best-seller about a catastrophe off the coast of New England, reminded him of this year's market.
The only difference, he said, was that nobody knew whether it could get no worse or whether they were simply enjoying a brief lull while resting in the centre of it.”

The Economist, 5 December 1998

“Academic financial economists, unsurprisingly, still stand up for the science. Rene Stulz, who edits the profession's top research publication, the Journal of Finance, says, in a new book he is writing, that LTCM's only impact will be as "a nice case study". Most academics hint that LTCM's downfall had nothing to do with the financial models of the two Nobel laureates (an argument that rather irks those Wall Street firms persuaded to invest in the hedge fund precisely because it was using their models).

Their consensus view is that, at worst, the two Nobel winners were guilty of hubris. At best, they were the victims of a "perfect storm" in the markets: several extremely unusual events took place at once, with consequences that could not reasonably have been foreseen, and are unlikely ever to be repeated. And if even the cleverest academics lose money, doesn't that prove their point? The deepest insight of financial economics is that markets are fairly "efficient", meaning that you can earn high returns only by taking big risks. There really is no free lunch.

Yet there is no denying that the recent market turmoil confounded existing financial-economic models.”


By the end of the year, “perfect storm” was in like flint. It was the perfect excuse. It sounded manly. It took responsibility out of the hands of the responsible, and turned it over to the weather – and as all we biliously banal Americans know, everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Ha ha! Nature, you see. And as storms interrupt your train of thought – you who think about these things, in the commercial time right before we find out what Celebrity Dancer will win the big prize tonigth! So, too, we don’t throw a thought at what the metaphor implies about paying people to experience weather. Oh, paying them a billion here or there. Because they are geniuses. Rocket scientists. Who just happen to contribute less to the productive life of this society than a puppy with diarrhea.

So, being connoisseurs of biz bull shit, we were delighted with the incredible interview in the NYT with Robert Rubin, Citi’s consiglieri, who has one message for you and me – Citi might have dropped 20 billion lately, but it isn’t his fault! No sir. Guess what happened? Come on, guess. Begins with P. Ends with m. Two words.


“By the time I finished at Treasury, I decided I never wanted operating responsibility again,” Mr. Rubin, 69, said during a two-hour interview in his office. Sitting in a red-cloth chair and propped against a thick book to support a bad back, he made it plain that responsibility for Citigroup’s staggering losses can’t be laid at his feet.
“People know I was concerned about the markets,” he says. “Clearly, there were things wrong. But I don’t know of anyone who foresaw a perfect storm, and that’s what we’ve had here.”
“I don’t feel responsible, in light of the facts as I knew them in my role,” he adds.
But did he make mistakes?
“I’ve thought a lot about that,” he responds. “I honestly don’t know. In hindsight, there are a lot of things we’d do differently. But in the context of the facts as I knew them and my role, I’m inclined to think probably not.”


As we peons know, nowadays, when you go through that ritual in humiliation called a job interview, one of the standard questions is, describe one of your mistakes. The idea is that, as a peon, you are surely just the kind of drooling idiot to smoke around the gas pumps, so lay it out on the table. Give them reasons to pay you less. Luckily, as we get higher and higher, mistakes magically vanish. Weather intervenes. Perfect storms.

Of course, a people who were not utterly servile might rise up in revolt at being served a continuous mixture of the ripest bullshit ever known to man as their pockets were picked.

I can’t wait to meet such a people. I wonder where they live?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Interview with Amanda Marcotte

My interview with Amanda Marcotte is here. As this interview was conducted for my paper, I couldn't really supply a lot of the hilarious bits from Marcotte's book. This had to be edited out, but it gives a concise feel for the book:

On the evidence of her new book, It’s a Jungle Out There, she is a Fight Club Feminist. As in the famous scene in Fight Club in which Brad Pitt announces the rules, Marcotte’s prefaces her book with her own rules:

“Why are people so mean to feminists? Because so much of feminism is the fine art of calling bullshit, and calling bullshit makes people uncomfortable. The first rule of understanding bullshit is that people really love their bullshit.”

The interview was done before the flame wars, and before Seal purged the book of the racist imagery in the cartoons that were used to divide the sections of the book. That's a long story, especially for those of you not following it. In brief, I like Marcotte, I like her work, I like her temper - but in the controversy about her, BFP, and the appropriation of the work of WoC bloggers, her temper has lead her to uncharacteristically underestimate her own bullshit as a white woman. That said, I am particularly pissed off at the shit stirrers who seem to think Marcotte bears the burden for the racism of the whole power structure in America, when she has always tried to reveal it when she sees it. For instance, she was out front in the 'victimization' controversy when Clinton's supporters took to making invidious comparisons between the mild 'victimization' of blacks and the truly awful victimization of women in America - as if one should really feel that Scarlet O'Hara was the victim of Tara - and she has always been vocal about it. Instead of the use of gentle persuasion - to say, look, you are missing the point here - it all became immediate denunciation of Marcotte. On my paranoid days, I think this is because Marcotte's been pretty clear about her preference for Obama, and this is payback by the Clinton people. But on consideration, that isn't right. The exaggerated response is about a silent and amplifying wrong - the lack, in the liberal/left press, of people of color - there are investment firms that hire more African Americans and Hispanics than you find writing for, say, the Nation -and it came out against Marcotte.