"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Her eyes tell me that in a former life she organized doomed children’s crusades and burned heretics by the gross.

And yet this zealous flame is imprisoned in the body of a suburban, would-be-folksy Minnesotan. It’s that contrast, I think, that makes her so hypnotic.
Michael Bérubé discusses Obama gaffe on Jay Lano.

Study Finds Paint Aisle At Lowe's Best Place To Have Complete Meltdown

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The 10.31 Project
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorNASA Name Contest

Or if you're a conservative, you can have it on cable television.

(via Rick Hertzberg)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Michael Lewis's Vanity Fair piece on Iceland.

(via Lindsay Beyerstein)

Last summer I caught Sigur Rós's tour film Heima which was really good. In 2006, having toured the world over, Sigur Rós returned home to play a series of free, unannounced concerts in Iceland. Heima is a unique record of that tour filmed in 16 locations across the island, taking in the biggest and smallest shows of the band's career. 'Heima' is a 97 minute documentary feature film including songs from all four Sigur Rós albums alongside previously unreleased material.
Congressional hearing on the lessons from the New Deal.

Panel 1: Christina Romer, Chair, Council of Economic Advisors

Panel 2: James Galbraith, Professors DeLong, Winkler and Ohanian

(via Mark Thoma)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"No Donny, these men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of."

Onion's Gateways to Geekery: krautrock

If forced to choose, I'd have to pick Stereolab as my favorite band. They were influenced by krautrock, lounge, '60s pop, and the Velvet Underground. In interviews they always mention the Beach Boys as a favorite which always makes me laugh for some reason.

Having a Bad Week
TOKYO (AP) - A 93-year-old Japanese man has become the first person certified as a survivor of both atomic bombings by the United States, officials said Tuesday.

The survivor, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, had already been a certified hibakusha, or radiation survivor, of the bombing on Aug. 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, but he has now been confirmed as surviving the attack on Hiroshima three days earlier, in which he suffered serious burns to his upper body. Certification qualifies survivors for compensation, including monthly allowances, free medical checkups and funeral costs.

Mr. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip on Aug. 6, 1945, when an American B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city. He returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, before the second attack, officials said.

Vampire Prejudice

Ezra Klein has an excellent post on Simon Johnson who was a former chief economist at the IMF and has now become a prominent analyst of the Great Recession.

Ezra believes he deserves this prominence as do I and Johnson's definitely doing the country a service by trying to help everyone understand what is going on.

When reading the prolific Johnson's analysis of the G-20 conference or the Geithner Plan or whatever, my mind inevitably recalls that great quote Doug Henwood made early on:
The IMF, which was off the scene for many years, is, like a vampire salivating at sunset, returning to action. It's already developed a program for Iceland, which is being put through the austerity wringer; apparently being white and Nordic doesn’t earn you an exemption. It's likely to lend some money to some countries that it deems virtuous on easy terms - among them Brazil but not Argentina. More on all this in the coming weeks. (emphasis added)
The IMF pushes bankrupt nations to enact Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) in return for loans. Critics say SAPs often involve austerity measures which are very hard on the average citizen and rather lenient on foreign investors and local oligarchs.

Johnson touches on this in his Atlantic piece:
Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or-here's a classic Kremlin bailout technique-the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk-at least until the riots grow too large.
Klein provides a link to an IMF critic, Dani Rodrik, who rightly notes:
And I find it astonishing that Simon would present the IMF as the voice of wisdom on these matters--the same IMF which until recently advocated capital-account liberalization for some of the poorest countries in the world and which was totally tone deaf when it came to the cost of fiscal stringency in countries going through similar upheavals (as during the Asian financial crisis).

Simon's account is based on a very simple, and I believe misguided, theory of politics and economics. It is an odd marriage of populist and technocratic visions. Countries fail because political elites always end up in bed with economic elites. The solution, apparently, is to let the technocrats (read the IMF) run your affairs.
But perhaps the IMF can learn and change as Bill Compton did in True Blood.
Pragmatic Politics

At the beginning of the movie Happy-Go-Lucky the protagonist and her friends are dancing at a club to Pulp's Common People.

If one is holding up the liberal-left-social-democratic side of the rope in the political tug of war, you support economic and legal policies that pragmatically support the common people. This is what I try to do, which means not being ideological about, say, government regulation or taxes or unions.

And when I read a cri de coeur by an AIG executive, like this, I want to play the world's tiniest violin about his hurt feelings and complaints about "the environment," i.e. constant bashing of AIG management.

On the foreign policy front, though, my views differ from the ones common on the left-liberal side. I saw Ridley Scott's Body of Lies and thought it was a pretty good movie although many who are sympathetic with the common people will see it as warmongering propaganda. The scene where Leonardo DiCaprio is arguing with his girlfriend's sister over Iraq is especially good, because the sister is a "common person" who's against American foreign policy in the Middle East and yet I agreed with the arguments of DiCaprio's character and could see where he's coming from.

Russell Crowe is good in the movie as a CIA officer in Langley, as is Mark Strong who plays a Jordanian spy chief. Strong was also great in Guy Ritchie's RocknRolla and will be in Ritchie's upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie which opens Christmas. (see Hitchens on Arthur Conan Doyle.)