"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 30, 2011

Exclamation point within parantheses

Ah, Charlie Jane Anders has a website(!) and I had assumed Charlie's a he but she's not.(!)*

And she has a review of  the movie Dylan Dog over at io9,** which is currently sponsored by Dylan Dog:
We've talked a lot lately about the fact that urban fantasy and noir detective stories have been converging, and urban fantasy is where a lot of the most interesting noir writing is happening. But the danger with both those genres -- either together or separately -- is that they'll devolve into pastiche. The worst case scenario with the cliches of tormented loner detectives, and big-city vampires, is that they'll become endlessly self-referencing and fatally mindless.
If you want to see that threat made real, just watch Dylan Dog. It's either a very unfunny comedy, or a very inactive action movie, one or the other.
There's nothing in Dylan Dog that you haven't seen a million times before. Except that you've probably never seen it done this inertly.
Anders penned two of my favorite recent reviews:
5 Theories That Explain Why Avatar Was Such a Huge Hit
Michael Bay Finally Made an Art Movie
Imagine that you went back in time to the late 1960s and found Terry Gilliam, fresh from doing his weird low-fi collage/animations for Monty Python. You proceeded to inject Gilliam with so many steroids his penis shrank to the size of a hair follicle, and you smushed a dozen tabs of LSD under his tongue. And then you gave him the GDP of a few sub-Saharan countries. Gilliam might have made a movie not unlike this one.
And the true genius of Transformers: ROTF is that Bay has put all of this excess of imagery and random ideas at the service of the most pandering movie genre there is: the summer movie. ROTF is like twenty summer movies, with unrelated storylines, smushed together into one crazy whole. You try in vain to understand how the pieces fit, you stare into the cracks between the narrative strands, until the cracks become chasms and the chasms become an abyss into which you stare until it looks deep into your own soul, and then you go insane. You. Do. Not. Leave. The Cabinet
Twitter is slowly sucking me in. I discovered Anders website, because Matt Yglesias RT/"retweeted" a tweet from Jamelle Bouie who retweeted
Why won't the President disclose the results of his Voight-Kampff test? How do we know he's not a replicant?
On arjache's twitter page, I found a "RT" from Anders, who retweeted
*Then I looked her up on Wikipedia and learned she's transgendered (!) and co-edits io9 with her partner Annalee Newitz (!)
** "Michael Moran of The Times' Eureka Zone blog, wrote, "Ostensibly a blog for science fiction enthusiasts, io9 finds space for pieces on cutting-edge technology, the wilder fringes of astronomy and the more worrying implications of grey goo."***
***Grey goo: " is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves,(!) a scenario known as ecophagy ("eating the environment"). Self-replicating machines of the macroscopic variety were originally described by mathematician John von Neumann, and are sometimes referred to as von Neumann machines. The term grey goo was coined by nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler in his 1986 book Engines of Creation, stating that "we cannot afford certain types of accidents." In 2004 he stated "I wish I had never used the term 'grey goo'."
June 2011 and the end of QE2

Krugman quotes Flyod Norris:
Mr. Bernanke makes clear there will be no QE3. And he hopes that it will not have much impact when the purchases end: "We are just going to let the purchases end. Our view is that the end of the program is unlikely to have substantial effects on the economy or financial markets."
He bases that on the fact that all this has been well telegraphed, which is true enough, and then goes into jargon. "We subscribe to the stock view," he says.
That is not the view held by the stock market. Rather it is the size of the Fed’s portfolio -- the stock of securities held by the Fed -- that matters. And that will not change because the Fed will reinvest proceeds from maturing securities.
That’s exactly what I was saying in this post. Like Bernanke, I don’t believe that the flow of Fed purchases has been an important factor holding bond rates down, and hence don’t believe that they will jump when the purchases end.
Bill Gross of PIMCO believes otherwise, but I believe Bernanke and Krugman are correct.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Liberalism's bumper sticker problem by Jonathan Chait
The Dead Milkmen are playing tomorrow night. The Chicago Reader says:
Listening to The King in Yellow, the first album of new Dead Milkmen material since 1995's Stoney's Extra Stout, is a lot like catching up with one of your cooler, smarter, and funnier friends from high school who managed to grow up without losing all the qualities that made him your friend in the first place. Their jangled guitars, their bitingly witty lyrics, their snotty Philly accents, their playful and iconoclastic version of hardcore--a reminder of a time when it actually had a sense of humor--make it clear what you've been missing in the years since. "Don't trust the happy / The happy are insane / If you see someone smiling / Run! Get away!" advise Rodney Anonymous and Joe Jack Talcum on the chorus of "Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song," between verses about what a still-fucked-up world we're living in. The Dead Milkmen remain best known for "Punk Rock Girl"--a song that became a left-field hit during the pop nadir of the late 80s--but albums like Big Lizard in My Backyard, Eat Your Paisley, Bucky Fellini, and Beelzebubba have held up better than much of the music of that time, both over- and underground. Furthermore, I'm hard-pressed to find a song more prescient than "Right Wing Pigeons."...
Q: Who's John Galt?

A: Some asshole.

The Onion's review for the film "Atlas Shrugged: Part I":
The turgid first part of a proposed three-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel feels like Tucker: The Man and His Dream, written and performed by robots. Grade: D+
Writing in the New York Times, Carina Chocano didn't like it either.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bernanke Offers Little Help On Budget Deficit by Dean Baker

In 1996, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a deficit of almost $250 billion (@ 2.6 percent of GDP) for the 2000 fiscal year. The country actually had a budget surplus of almost the same size in fiscal 2000, representing a shift from deficit to surplus in the year 2000 of more than 5 percentage points of GDP.
Congress did not approve any major tax increases in this 4-year period, nor were there any major unscheduled cuts to spending. Rather this shift from deficit to surplus of more than 5 percentage points of GDP ($750 billion in today's economy) was attributable almost entirely to better than expected economic performance.
In 1996 CBO projected that the unemployment rate would be 6.0 percent in 2000. Unemployment actually averaged just 4.0 percent. This was due to the fact that Alan Greenspan ignored the overwhelming consensus in the economics profession and allowed the unemployment rate to fall below the conventionally accepted levels of the NAIRU.
This decision, which was made over the objections of the Clinton appointees to the Fed, allowed millions of more people to get jobs than would have otherwise been the case. It also allowed strong wage growth for people at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution as their labor was then in demand. And it reduced the budget deficit. Because Bernanke offered little hope of more aggressive Fed actions to reduce unemployment, he is not offering any similar growth dividend on the budget deficit.
Jon Stewart on Obama's non-bombshell and the Trump "Egometer"
Yglesias on the 1970s and inflation

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Damn you, Carnival Barkers.

Bernanke* just gave the first ever Federal Reserve Bank press conference live on the Internet.

Yglesias blogs:
The key moment in Ben Bernanke’s press conference was when he explained that the Fed wasn’t doing more to ensure full employment because it’s worried that additional action might cause inflation expectations to come unmoored and "if inflation expectations were to become unmoored the cost of that in terms of employment loss in the future would be quite signifiant." In other words, he’ll make sure to err on the side of policy that’s too tight because if he tries to get policy right he might accidentally end up being too loose and then he’d need to tighten in response and that would be bad.
As a technical issue, the problem should be addressable with level targeting. But as an issue of priorities, there’s just no addressing it.
Imagine you’re teaching a kid archery. You tell him to aim for the bullseye. But you also warn him that if the arrow goes to the left of the bullseye, he’s going to be in big trouble while if it goes to the right of the bullseye you won’t really mind. Well, naturally the kid’s never going to hit the bullseye. He’s going to shoot too far the right. And that’s the Fed right now. They’ll act to prevent total collapse of output and employment but what really worries them is inflation. They’re so worried about inflation that they’re happy to have an output gap that persists for years and years and years.
* Paul Giamatti is portraying Bernanke in the HBO movie "Too Big To Fail." William Hurt will play Hank Paulson. Geithner will be played by ... Billy Crudup.
Lollapalooza 2011 lineup

Foo Fighters, Eminem, My Morning Jacket, Coldplay, Deadmau5, The Cars, Ween, Bright Eyes, Big Audio Dynamite, Arctic Monkeys, Death From Above 1979, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, OK Go, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,* etc.

*I'm seeing them play tonight at Lincoln Hall. I like the Foo Fighters' new album. Check out the similarity of the cover art with Love's "Forever Changes" and The Sounds' "Living in America."

"Holding Bernanke Accountable" by David Leonhardt

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy. by Ryan Lizza
During the peak of the protests in Iran, Jared Cohen, a young staffer at the State Department who worked for Slaughter, contacted officials at Twitter and asked the company not to perform a planned upgrade that would have shut down the service temporarily in Iran, where protesters were using it to get information to the international media. The move violated Obama’s rule of non-interference.

White House officials "were so mad that somebody had actually 'interfered' in Iranian politics, because they were doing their damnedest to not interfere," the former Administration official said. "Now, to be fair to them, it was also the understanding that if we interfered it could look like the Green movement was Western-backed, but that really wasn’t the core of it. The core of it was we were still trying to engage the Iranian government and we did not want to do anything that made us side with the protesters. To the Secretary’s credit, she realized, I think, before other people, that this is ridiculous, that we had to change our line." The official said that Cohen "almost lost his job over it. If it had been up to the White House, they would have fired him."

Clinton did not betray any disagreement with the President over Iran policy, but in an interview with me she cited Cohen’s action with pride. "When it came to the elections, we had a lot of messages from people inside Iran and their supporters outside of Iran saying, 'For heaven’s sakes, don’t claim this as part of the democracy agenda. This is indigenous to us. We are struggling against this tyrannical regime. If you are too outspoken in our support, we will lose legitimacy!' Now, that’s a tough balancing act. It’s easy to stand up if you don’t worry about the consequences. Now, we were very clear in saying, 'We are supporting those who are protesting peacefully,' and we put our social-media gurus at work in trying to keep connections going, so that we helped to provide that base for communicating that was necessary for the demonstrations."
Failing to ask Twitter to not make the upgrade would have been, in effect, interfering on behalf of the Iranian regime.
The French and the British were shocked by the quick turn of events. Instead of the President announcing the Administration’s position from the East Room of the White House, the U.N. envoy quietly proposed transforming a tepid resolution for a no-fly zone into a permission for full-scale military intervention in Libya. Some officials thought it was a trick. Was it possible that the Americans were trying to make the military options appear so bleak that China and Russia would be sure to block action?
Gradually, it became clear that the U.S. was serious. Clinton spoke with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who had previously told her that Russia would "never never" support even a no-fly zone. The Russians agreed to abstain. Without the cover of the Russians, the Chinese almost never veto Security Council resolutions. The vote, on March 17th, was 10-0, with five abstentions. It was the first time in its sixty-six years that the United Nations authorized military action to preƫmpt an "imminent massacre." Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, wrote, "It was, by any objective standard, the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history."
As the bombs dropped on Libyan tanks, President Obama made a point of continuing his long-scheduled trip to South America. He wanted to show that America has interests in the rest of the world, even as it was drawn into yet another crisis in the Middle East.
The key appears to be the Arab League's decision to get involved.

The Tyrants Strike Back by Juan Cole
Cripple Fight in Libya*

Go After Qaddafi by Hitchens

Finish the Job by James M. Dubik
*I just finished reading a Jonathan Lethem book about John Carpenter's film "They Live" which contains the endless fight scene between "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Keith David upon which South Park's "Cripple Fight" between Timmy and Jimmy was based. It's a brilliant book which touches upon Slavoj Zizek, Harry Dean Stanton, "Repo Man," Mike Judge's "Idiocracy," Alfred Hitchcock, Milan Kundera, Philip K. Dick, South Park, Stanley Kubrik, Roland Barthes's "Mythologies," Pauline Kael, Frances McDormand, and the Coen brothers' "Fargo" among other things.
The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Krugman blogs about Ireland and Greece

Also, an excellent profile of Krugman by Benjamin Wallace-Wells