Archive for July, 2010

12
Jul
10

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

Sadly, the RW370 NBC Letterman category gets a bump today. Harvey Pekar, writer of American Splendor, the deeply funny and mordant autobiographical comic book anthology that obliterated the long-presumed gap between comics and literature has passed away in his Cleveland home. He was 70.

Pekar’s insistence upon maintaining his idea of the lifestyle and ethos of a steadily and modestly-employed, nose-to-the-grindstone midwesterner (he kept a job as a file clerk in a Cleveland hospital his entire working life) brought him attention beyond his writing work, culminating in the terrific 2003 film adaptation of Splendor starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey.

During the 1980s, the irascible and combative Pekar appeared on David Letterman’s show several times. Always essential viewing, these were cut short by Pekar’s unwillingness to overlook the many sins of General Electric, NBC’s corporate parent, as the clip demonstrates. So long, Harvey.

10
Jul
10

Pere Ubu On Letterman: Worlds In Collision

We get a glimpse of show business’s hidden ritual abuse of musicians as Dave discusses the effrontery of the show’s performance arrangements for Pere Ubu in the 1989(?) clip. As per the show’s other longstanding policy of requiring musical performances to be shared by Paul Schaeffer and the house band, the forced hybridization of Ubu is in this case not a displeasing one.

05
Jul
10

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, Rob Warmowski’s Unfinished Reading Surplus

Techno-sociologist Clay Shirky, a favorite around these parts, has a new book.  Cognitive Surplus: Creativity And Generosity In A Connected Age is out on Penguin, and appears loaded with more of Shirky’s characteristic long-view contextualization of contemporary digital delights (and drek) against the backdrop of human history.  If you want to know what the way people used the printing press in its earliest days has to do with the way people use the internet in its infancy, get thee to Clay Shirky.  Sometimes he’s wrong, but I can’t take his arguments apart easily, and always love to read each new one.  And I will: as soon as I’m done with the ridiculously tall dead tree reading pile facing me today:

Bill Veeck’s Veeck As In Wreck, Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, William Goldman’s screenplay All The President’s Men,  Robin Hahnel’s The ABC’s Of Political Economy Andrea Schlesinger’s The Death Of Why and the endlessly amusing/nauseating The Complex: How The Military Invades Our Everyday Lives by Nick Turse.

And Joe Haldeman’s Camouflage, Karl Schroeder’s Lady Of Mazes, and Clifford Odets’ Waiting For Lefty And Other Plays.

Clearly, the guy who assigned all of this is a dissipated idiot in favor of cognitive surplus.

02
Jul
10

Unregulated Speculating In Food: A Great Way To Starve The World’s Poor

Popular financial illiteracy is more than a cover under which enormous crimes are committed against whole populations, then denied, forgotten and repeated.  Left unaddressed even as the world has become radically smaller, financial illiteracy has become a mass health risk.  To remain ignorant of the potential for unregulated market activity to lead to mass deaths and misery is a unique and growing risk shared by everyone who breathes air.

Or eats food.

Let’s roll back a small portion of that illiteracy and take a look at a recent deadly disaster caused by business-as-usual in the financial world.

The subject is food, and futures contracts in food.  What is a futures contract?

When a farmer plants a crop, he takes a risk.  Between the planting and the harvesting and sale, a lot can go wrong for him.  The world price for that crop could fall, leaving him with silos full of grain he can’t move.

So to get rid of that risk, he cuts a deal with a trader now to sell the crop in the future for a set price.  That’s all a futures contract is.  To food producers (farmers) and food consumers (food makers, such as, oh, Doritos who buy lots of the farmer’s corn and do the same thing with futures contracts) it settles the matter of a future price now – making buying and selling of crops far less of a gamble for both.

So far, so good. This is not a crime, this is not a problem. This is a market, not hurting anybody.  A libertarian or a conservative’s heart would swell with pride and each would busy themselves with accolades and attaboys before rolling over and going to sleep, to dream of an ideal world where markets operated everywhere.

The problem with market worshippers, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, is that they notice a rose smells better than a cabbage, and so conclude that it would also make better soup.

In the case of food futures markets, producers and consumers offloading risk to traders works well and hurts nobody as long as the traders involved are in the food business.  And that is how the trading of futures contracts in the US was done for over a century: by government regulations limiting involvement in trading of food futures contracts to those who serve the marketplace for food – as opposed to serving some abstracted global marketplace with no borders, no delineations and no responsibilities.  As opposed to turning the market for food into a casino.

But those regulations are exactly what were dismantled by the US Congress  – a body that had by the 1990s become so thoroughly captured by corporate interests and dependent upon industry lobbyist dollars for reelection that it never found a market it couldn’t deregulate as long as people looking to expand that market sent enough suitcases stuffed with cash to Capitol Hill.

The result of letting the market-worshippers have their way and abstracting/expanding/casino-izing the food futures market?  As Johann Hari writes, nothing less than mass starvations around the world.

By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world.

It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, calls it “a silent mass murder”, entirely due to “man-made actions.”

Read entire article here.  Note call for re-regulation of agricultural futures here. Resist the urge to apply what you find here to the noggins of the economic libertarians employed here.




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