Sunday, February 22, 2009

Moving from a melting pot to a stew

It always confuses me when, in Holder's recent speech for example, superficial people decry the social segregation of individuals into like-minded communities by saying that those individuals have incomparable riches to offer one another. I agree with the second sentiment, but those riches are the product of the social segregation that nurtures their unique cultural perspectives, and a project of massive integration would deprive future generations of that wealth.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Frank conversation

Eric Holder wants us all to have a frank conversation about "race". But the beginning of that frank conversation would explain that most European-Americans have virtually no racial prejudice. They genuinely appreciate Africans, they respect their intelligence, admire their cultures, and appreciate their sense of family. No, their antipathy is is much more deeply rooted than something as superficial as racial prejudice -- they are irritated by African-American culture, and those feelings are vindicated when people like Bill Cosby express the same feelings, and doubly confirmed when their trusted African friends explain that they do not particularly enjoy African-American culture.

But when African-Americans process cultural biases as racial prejudice -- and respond with rage rather than self-examination or dismissal* -- a frank conversation would probably help them work through their issues. But remember, Holder said that we are a "nation of cowards" -- not that white people were cowards -- so maybe he was trying to initiate this helpful conversation in a particularly hamhanded way?

(* Just as an Indian might say, "those stupid Europeans make fun of us for wiping our butts with our hands, but we know they can never get truly clean with their wasteful toilet paper, and they are all walking around with shit on their asses".)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sorry, John Paulson

The beauty of Obama bailing out the bottom tranche is a textbook demonstration of why "legal risk" is such a notoriously difficult parameter to put inside a risk model. Trading companies zeroed in on the most outrageous mortgages like heat-seaking missiles, since they had the most edge when they shorted them. However, since bets were clustered in the same place -- the ratio of CDSes to Underlyings on bottom tranche mortgages is something like 7:1 -- so, if it is structured correctly, every dollar Obama gives away to the most obviously unworthy recipients should take away seven dollars from utterly unworthy trading companies. It almost gives one hope.

Monday, February 16, 2009

In our Utopian totalitarian future, theaters and concert halls will maintain biometric "no buy" lists analogous to the "no-fly" lists kept by the airlines. The under-motivated and highly unionized staff at Orchestra Hall refuse to enforce concert manners at the level of a midwestern movie theater in the 1960s -- but salvation will come when computerized surveillance cameras record all violations of protocol, from unwrapping candy to unanswered cell phones, from grunting along with the music to learning forward in the gallery, and will forbid the transgressors from returning to any of our temples of culture, until they have demonstrated sufficient penance.

In the meantime, until Orchestra Hall rethinks its systematic policy of allowing the few to disrupt the concert-going experience for the many, I suggest you get a good stereo.
The problem with parenting is that when they are younger, your children literally look up to you, but when they get older, they literally look down on you.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fulcrum point

There is a point in an artist's career where he has mastered his craft but has not lost his youthful enthusiasm for his material. This is why an artist's best work usually comes in the middle of his career. In literature and film, fans gravitate toward an artist's best pieces, but theater is ephemeral, and once it is gone the only thing that remains are memories for the audience, regrets from people who missed the show, and reputation for the director.

Sean Graney's production of "The Hairy Ape" is doubly marvelous because the play itself comes the central period of O'Neill's work, and Graney is entering into his own central period.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What if the layoffs are bullish?

A major chicago institution enjoyed record growth year after year, but during this period, the Tribune carried story after story of mass layoffs at that exchange. I asked a staffer why they kept getting rid of people, with their net employment continually rising, and he explained that layoffs were a golden opportunity to fire pesky and litigous employees, and were necessary in an age of deep pockets and lawsuits. Managers would maintain lists of dispensible people, and -- when the summons for a layoff would come -- they would use the list to fill the quota.

In other words, they practiced a Welchian culling without stigmatizing the bottom ten percent, and since that time, I have viewed news articles about "layoffs" with suspicion. With that said, there is something more happening when the economy sheds a half million jobs. Could it be that companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of Obama's abandoned tax credit for new employees?

Monday, February 09, 2009

So if we accept the biologo-biblical necessity of septanual cycles -- seven fat years followed by seven lean years -- and we accept that monetary policy has thwarted this fundamental cycle of life in the name of maximizing the return on capital -- then what exactly does Obama mean when he says that our economy will irreversibly slip into a deep depression if we do not act on his stimulus package? Is he saying that, even after seven lean years of poverty, simplicity and contemplation, nobody will be in the mood to dance, ever again? Or is he saying that unless we shoot ourselves up with adreniline the Democrats have a reduced likelihood of retaining their majority in the 2010 mid-term elections?