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Archive for September 2008

a suggestion

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The Guardian has a relatively interesting feature talking to prominent leftists and leftishists about the crisis and capitalism.

It would be a good thing if “we” could all get together and come up with something. Whether or not it seems likely that “we” could ever actually prevail even just slightly in a moment like this, it does seem like it’s part of the deal that we’d at least, you know, give it a poke.

But I’d like to make one suggestion before / if we do. If you happened to be selected to be left public intellectual of the month (seriously – I’m being serious now), and are asked to speak or write about the current crisis, by all means avoid expressions of schadenfreude, apocalyptic glee, giddiness and the like. Ordinary people are not going to share your popcorn as you settle in to watch this film. Say something about what should be done – normal folks want their retirement accounts to stay semi-there, want to keep a job, and don’t want their bank deposits to vanish into a bad dream of a customer service call that never gets answered, they’d like not to haul their currency to the Wal-Mart in a wheelbarrel – all reasonable things. 

Not trying to be hypocritical about this, believe me. This blog has been about 80% apocalyptic glee from the start, and is in part a chronicle of ten years that I’ve spent watching CNBC and waiting for the Big Event. It’s just, you know, we’re really bad at the PR side of the game, and it’d be nice to see “us” take things seriously, for once.

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September 17, 2008 at 11:35 pm

the canary’s dead

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Not the one that lives at the wharf, the one in the coalmine.

I’m lucky to have in-laws that I can use as my own personal focus group of middle american attitudes and reactions. Middle to lower-middle class, from the middle of the country (though down a bit from the exact center), a smattering of evangelicals and irreligious libertarian conservatives, also one Hilary Clinton supporting (now Sarah Palin? I’d bet) late-middle-aged single mom, they run the gamut. I’m not being arrogant – I come from rather ordinary to sub-ordinary stock as well (you should see the stuff that comes across the google alert thing I’ve set up for my very very rare last name – police blotter clip after police blotter clip), it’s just mine are from the wrong side of the St. Lawrence and I don’t really keep in touch.

Anyway. Um. Yeah. Mom-in-law emailed today saying that she’s thinking about pulling her $ out of the mutual fund in her retirement account. I’m sure I’m not the only person that’s been wondering at what point the bad news penetrates the awareness bubbles of ordinary americans, but I think, folks, that day is coming soon. Tomorrow? And when it does, watch what happens. They keep writing articles calling various abstract things that happen “the postmodern version of a bank run.” I think that the pre-postmodern version is still a viable form. We’ll see.

I’ve suggested that it’s probably not smart for her to pull the money, given the tax liability and the fact she’s yanking it back at a very unfortunate time. Who knows though. But even if she goes ahead and does it, where then should she put it? After all, from what I understand, the FDIC is funded to handle maybe one significant bank failure – say Washington Mutual if (when?) it goes.

Here’s guessing tomorrow’s going to be an interesting day.

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September 17, 2008 at 11:18 pm

Posted in collapse, crisis, economics

bounce

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The incessant, miraculous deferral of the catastrophic rupture, the long-awaited break. Always a bounce. That’s the thing about abstraction – that’s the thing about it’s marvellous ability to keep the story rubbing along. Come on now, try not to think jouissance. Try not to think interminable foreplay, a ten year tease. The rewewed high street shops, the cost of a terraced house, the dip and peak of oil. The end of the story will never arrive.

Today like many days, the futures numbers were in, the European markets had spoken, the crowds had delivered their wisdom, the columnists had typed – braving a bit of hysteria, the ever-reasonable had allowed a soupcon of panic into their columns. The disaster metaphors had circled, abroad and in our skulls. Perfect storm, category 5, smoke rising over lower manhattan, past the window at speed. And then the historical comparisons: Like the 1980s, but bigger. Like the 1930s, only worse.

It will never arrive, the collapse. It will never arrive because they will not let it. That is the thing about abstraction, storytelling. But also, the nationalization of failure, counterfeit, false paper, the spoils of ill-fought battle, the moral hazard. Something else will fail, the currency, the state, the national welfare, but not this.

The EKG is not broken; it’s the patient that’s undead.

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September 15, 2008 at 2:42 pm

cage match

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CNBC:

“This is a perfect storm in a perfect storm,” said Justin Urquhart Stewart, investment director at 7 Investment Management. “It’s a return to pure capitalism, the survival of the fittest — government can’t and won’t bail everybody out.”

That’s the spirit! Get off your welfare-engorged asses and fight like the rest of us!

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September 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Posted in catastrophe, markets

“seek for seas / They never find”

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I have a post coming soon, a wee bit belatedly, on what I mean by “ads without products.” It’s only been 2.5 years – what’s the rush? (Problem is I’m still figuring it out myself…)

For now, here’s a bit that inverts the logic of the ad without products. It’s the fifth part of Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” and you should probably go read the whole thing….

VI

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

Well, it’s a semi-inversion anyway. Again, I’ll say more later, but for now: there you are at the end and everything’s dressed just as it was back before the end… The “mystical” is great just after he runs the “Alas” equation out without quite getting there. And the way that “silken weavings” picks up the peignoir from the start of the piece is too much, too wonderful.

Maybe it’s not such an inversion after all. More to come. Too bad I didn’t get to this one in my “single day” post

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September 14, 2008 at 10:41 pm

dfw

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Ah, this is fucking terrible…

David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1997 tome “Infinite Jest,” was found dead last night at his home in Claremont, according to the Claremont Police Department. He was 46.

I’m usually unsentimental about such things, but this is terrible, and is upsetting me a bit. Who knows about Infinite Jest, fuck it really, but the stuff in Brief Interviews and especially Oblivion is excellent, as good as anything out there, writer’s writing, and all the rest.

Who can know what was going on, but it’s not a superfun lifepath, this one, no matter whether it seems to be turning out well, badly, or – as it always does or seems to do – somewhere in between, tending toward badly.

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September 14, 2008 at 12:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

the mitotic phase

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From the NY Times just now:

Lehman, one of the nation’s largest investment banks, said it expected to report a $3.9 billion loss for the third quarter, an even bigger deficit than analysts had forecast, and cut its dividend to shareholders. It also announced long-expected plans to sell most of its prized investment management division and, more radically, to split itself into a “good” bank and a “bad” one.

The split, a strategy employed with mixed success by several other banks in the 1980s and 1990s, would enable Lehman to isolate worrisome commercial mortgages and real estate.

Lehman planned to spin off about $30 billion of such problematical assets into a separate company — the “bad” bank — which would be owned by Lehman shareholders. The hope was that the holdings of the bad bank will eventually increase in value, yielding profits for its shareholders.

No, it’s a brilliant idea. And following Lehman’s lead, I am delighted to announce that as of 00:00 12/9/08 GMT, I will split myself into two entities, a “good” CR and a “bad” CR.

The former will henceforth spend his evenings reworking his manuscript per the reader’s orders, will limit his alcohol consumption to UK government’s suggested 28 units per week, and will only blog about high-minded matters and without self-involvement.

The latter will continue to spend afternoons in a crappy coffeehouse filling up a moleskine with poetry better written back when he was a kid, continue writing posts that he wakes up to regret the next morning, and will check the JIL * first thing tomorrow because he was both made and broken by that system and refuses to recover from his addiction, even though he’s no longer on the market.

I’m not sure I understand the technicals of the Lehman thing, but seems a wee bit unfair, no?

* Good luck, JILers of the world.

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September 11, 2008 at 9:48 pm

Posted in economics, me