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Furniture

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.09.11

I really love this desk.


 

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T-Pawkward

Posted by Stanley
on 07.08.11

This sure is something.


 

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Inside Job again

Posted by Ben
on 07.08.11

NickS, who argued for a more sympathetic reading of Ezra's post on the movie, has now seen it, and has written up his own take on it:

I watched Inside Job last night and I have to say I am now completely baffled about how Ezra Klein had the reaction that he did. Knowing about his review did motivate me to think more specifically about the strengths of the film, particularly during sections which covered familiar territory and could have seemed boring.

In particular I don't think the film blames "corrupt fools", nor do I think it makes any particular claims to offer a new explanation of how the crisis happened or how it could have been prevented. In fact it's description of the chain of events involved is less detailed and less subtle than the famous Planet Money episode on "The Giant Pool Of Money".

Where the move is very good is in it's depiction of the lies that were told in the build-up and during the crisis. I found myself repeatedly thinking about the story in Most Dangerous Man In America in which Daniel Ellsberg describes going to Vietnam with Robert McNamara, seeing that things were going badly, flying back to the states and watching McNamara get off the plane and give a press conference in which he says that he was impressed by what he saw, that everything was going well, and that he had faith in the commanders in Vietnam. Inside Job suggests that the lies weren't a case of isolated people within an institution trying to hide a secret, but entire organizations that were ready to sell a particular story to the public—probably thousands of people who knew that their jobs involved saying certain things in public.

One of the these moments is a television clip in which an interviewer asks Bernanke what the worst case scenario would be if there was a general fall in house prices. Bernanke responds that the scenario seems extremely unlikely and that there's never been a historical example of housing prices falling nationwide. It's an obvious dodge, but I found myself thinking of the Republican criticisms of Obama that, by describing the severity of the crisis, he was undermining public confidence and making the situation worse. Bernanke was not free to answer that question, obviously, he must have been aware of the number of powerful people who would have been quick to let him know if he had gone off message and I imagine he would have paid a price had he chosen to be honest.

It's surprisingly interesting to see the number of interviews that he's able to get with prominent people and how disingenuous they are in their answers—they lie, they evade, they answer in vague non sequiturs and, amazingly, they don't even do it well. He isn't an interviewer like Michael Moore, he doesn't stage confrontations, but he isn't afraid to be pushy either and, in a quiet and even voice, he asks follow-up questions and challenges people on the accuracy of their statements and, in the clips which are used in the film, they have transparently inadequate answers.

For me the one message that the film repeats and manages to viscerally communicate is that we shouldn't be overly respectful of the cleverness of smart and powerful people. They aren't necessarily playing a deeper or more complicated game, they may just be lying to our faces. It's remarkable how many times, in the interviews, people say things which don't even have the facade of a technical truth—they just deny the validity of the questions that he's asking.

That might not sound like much, but I would recommend the movie. It presented a convincing portrait in which the build-up of bad debt didn't look like the result of some obscure errors in mathematical formulas but rather like a variety of extremely powerful institutions that could create a climate in which it was very difficult for anybody to directly challenge them or their version of the story. As I said, the analogy that I found myself thinking of most frequently was to the Vietnam war, and I wouldn't have thought that without watching this movie.


 

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NMM to NOTW

Posted by Stanley
on 07.08.11

GY asks, "Any chance of a NOTW open thread so we Brits don't have to clog up the rest of the blog?"

Why, sure.


 

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Make it allusive

Posted by Ben
on 07.07.11

In an example of something worthwhile's arising from a piece of absolute dreck, NickS has written some reflections on newness in music & music reviewing. (The dreck is, of course, the n+1 piece excerpted in his post, about which more than you'd care to read beneath the "read more".)

Couple of reactions to NickS's piece: it seems to me that there more music reviewing that's addressed to or written from the perspective of "the adult connoisseur who has been attentive to music for most of their life and has developed a deep appreciation and knowledge for certain styles of music" than he acknowledges, but it is, I suspect, buried within subcultures composed of the likeminded. Invisible Oranges, for instance, has been doing a series of posts about individual songs on each of Metallica's first four albums, and Hank Shteamer, at his blog, occasionally puts up posts about older albums, or putting a new album in the context of a long-lived band's career (as with the new Morbid Angel, or talking about a style or scene. Similarly with Destination: Out! (btw this is fantastic) or Ethan Iverson's occasionally exhaustive pieces (about both music and the sorts of pulpy novels he likes). It's true, though, that you don't generally see this kind of thing in print publications, or even in purportedly general-audience outlets like the Onion's AV Club.

But on the other hand, regarding this: "I understand, for that reason, why it is that so much music writing is pitched as part of a conversation between people exploring the current frontier of pop music. There isn't really a natural space for conversation between people who are new to Guy Clark. Most people have either decided that they like him, or decided that they don't know and don't care", and that general phenomenon, the AV Club is doing yeoman work; series like the country-centric Nashville or Bust or the more various Gateways to Geekery (here represented by the entry—unread by me AOTW—on spaghetti westerns) are pretty good at giving overviews of non-new stuff that one might never have thought of before. And of course sometimes the drive for something new and unknown that seems operative in much music-reviewing (and -vending) for the young & hip leads people back to something relatively old, as when Aquarius went bonkers for Magma several years ago.

(NickS is also right that it is disconcertingly easy to forget about things one hasn't listened to recently enough, if the last listens did not form unusually strong impressions.)

Now then, about that n+1 thing. Consider such passages as this:

This unprecedented outpouring of reviews meant that for the first time an author's fortune was determined by the general public rather than by a private patron. This comparatively vast new audience was perceived by many as a serious threat to social stability.

(One wishes to allude here to certain practices found on Wikipedia.) A quotation from Woolf in the next paragraph asserts that in the 19th century an author might have as many as six reviewers. Let us grant that there were fewer people then; still, six people does not seem to be equivalent to the general public. Unless, of course, as the reference to a patron suggests, the general public as buyers were what determined the author's fortune. But what, then, has this to do with an outpouring of reviews? Was it reviews that, for instance, brought to the public's attention the existence of works that all along they could have purchased, but which prior to being reviewed only the patron knew about? No, it is surely that the reviews were important because they directed the general public's attention to this, or that, book. Which would be a lessening of the determination of an author's fortune by the general public, not a … greatening.

But wait—which authors were previously dependent on a patron, anyway? The author of La Princesse de Clèves? of Julie? Gargantua and Pantagruel? (Had Apuleis a patron? Did Chaucer and Malory write for their patrons? Had Malory a patron at all?)

Or consider this:

Not only do we not want to read about Gary Shteyngart's latest novel, we don't even want to know it exists. Newness is not a fixed property. There must be a less arbitrary, more sensible way to encounter books, an organizational scheme better suited to identifying and highlighting excellence; one which doesn't foreground mediocrities simply because they are the newest mediocrities. "Recent" is not a synonym for "relevant."

One can hardly forbear to invoke the celebrated Tonto Objection, and ask, what do you mean "we"? Some people may indeed want to read about Gary Shteyngart's new novel. And if one objects to the cluttering up of the reviews page by reviews of crap, well, that's not an objection to reviews; it's an objection to only reviewing what's recently appeared. One could well review things that are old—as is done in the case of translations, for instance, or on the appearance of collected works, or as is done in the pages of the NYRB when their book-publishing arm puts something back into print. It is also laughable to suggest that no one ever gets anything out of reading a review. The whole thing is so godawful.


 

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Guest Post from Minivet

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.07.11

Heebie,

It seems like more and more bus passengers these days in my area say "thank you" to the driver as they get off - perhaps even the majority. I'm a bit disconcerted by the idea that it might become standard practice, not because I have a principled objection to it, but because it feels somehow off to me. What is actually appropriate, going by tradition, etiquette, and/or logic?

I do sometimes greet the driver as I get on. I don't know why, but it feels more suited.

Minivet

......

Minivet,

A couple thoughts:
First, I try to exit by the rear door. Also I hyper-thank everyone in any job which serves me, so I'm guilty of perpetuating the ubiquity of The Thank.

Second, if I had to rank, I would generally go by:
1. logic
2. etiquette
3. tradition
although there are charming situations where tradition trumps logic.

Third, when you say "say "thank you" to the driver as they get off", you're talking about something dirty, right? Just so we're clear.

Heebie


 

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Smart People Post So I Don't Have To

Posted by LizardBreath
on 07.06.11

M. Leblanc on the DSK case, saying, essentially, that the system worked:

The fifth step is that if this case does go to trial, that the defense team will use all this information relentessly to eviscerate the victim's credibility and try to decimate the prosecution's case. This is, I suspect, what those who talk about rape culture in the criminal justice system really have a problem with. It's brutal. It's extremely unpleasant for the victim. It is, I am certain of it, a second violation of a person's personal sovereignty and their sense of humanity.

But here's where we come to an impasse. What do you suggest? I mean this honestly. Are you suggesting that this kind of inquiry not be permitted in rape cases? Because in order to do that, you would have to rewrite the laws of evidence. The fact is that previous lies do weigh on witnesses' credibility. They just do. Just because someone has lied before doesn't automatically mean they're lying now. But it's relevant. It is. No matter how many times you say that victims don't have to be perfect, you can't change the fact that in a rape case, a victim is not just a victim. A victim is a witness. And credibility of witnesses is relevant at trial. Are you going to suggest that defendants not have the right to call into question every witness' credibility with whatever means they have available? Are you going to suggest that victims not have to testify at these trials? (You'd have to rewrite the Constitution for that one--confrontation clause gives you the right to confront your witnesses). Once they are testifying, once they are up there on the stand, everything is fair game. It just is. Everything that bears on credibility.

I really would like to know what it is that everyone who is up in arms about this case would suggest be changed about the way criminal trials are conducted in rape cases that you think would solve this problem. Just because it sucks, doesn't mean it's wrong. It arises from the constitutional rights that all people who are accused of crimes have. It arises from the right to liberty, liberty the state can't deprive you of without a really good reason. You are talking about locking someone up in a prison for years. Don't you think the government should have some high hurdles to clear before they can do that to a person?


 

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Wherein I judge people who judge people.

Posted by Stanley
on 07.05.11

I've been paying only a vague amount of attention to the story, but a rather disconcerting number of people I know seem to feel personally aggrieved over the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial.

It's very curious behavior these outraged people are engaged in, that's for sure.


 

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Freestyle

Posted by Stanley
on 07.04.11

On this day commemorating our nation's treasured heritage of flags and hot dogs, I'm given to reflect on my uneasy feelings about swimming illegally. (Specifically, I'm thinking about some friends who've gone off to swim in a reservoir, an activity that is unequivocally prohibited by law.)

It seems the arguments on both sides will inevitably distill down to two intractable positions:

  1. Swimming is fun! However,

  2. You could die in the water supply, which is bad.

I, therefore, will probably continue to have mixed feelings about this pressing matter.


 

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