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15 December 2009


Matins: Frank Rich congratulates the makers of Up in the Air for showing us how broken our economy is.

What “Up in the Air” captures is less didactic. It makes palpable the cultural and even physical chasm that opened up between the two Americas for years before the financial collapse.

The private-equity deal makers who bought and sold once-solid companies like trading cards, saddling them with debt, never saw the workers whose jobs were shredded by their cunning games of financial looting. The geniuses in Washington and on Wall Street who invented junk mortgages and then bundled and sold them as securities didn’t live in the same neighborhoods as the mortgagees, small investors and retirees left holding the bag once the housing bubble burst.

Those at the top are separated from the consequences of their actions.

If there was ever a market that won't fix itself, it's our job market. Good folk are being thrown out of work by heedless millionaires. (NYT)

Lauds: We'll be celebrating the bicentennial of Frédéric Chopin next year. This composer of so much dreamy music wasn't, himself, very dreamy at all. Come to think of it, his music isn't, either. Jessica Duchen, in the Independent:

Chopin's music benefited from his extreme sensitivity. Yet in everyday life, that same sensitivity made him a man who was desperately self-conscious about the excessive size of his nose, rarely removed his kid gloves – preferred colours white or lilac – and was perhaps ruled by his nerves even more than by his illness. His dandyism – fussiness over his exquisite waistcoats, dove-grey wallpaper, white muslin drapes and hats in the latest fashion – was part of an elaborate shell behind which he could hide, up to a point. His sometime friend and fellow pianist-composer Franz Liszt, while admiring Chopin as an artist, took him with a pinch of salt. "Chopin is all sadness," he wrote in a letter of 1834. "Furniture is a little more expensive than he had thought, so now we're in for a whole month of worry and nerves."

This sounds a lot like the Chopin portrayed by Hugh Grant, way back in 1991, in James Lapine's Impromptu. (via MetaFilter)

Prime: Chris Lehmann at The Awl and Felix Salmon agree: the financial press were perhaps the last people in the world entitled to attack Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece on Goldman Sachs & al. Mr Lehmann:

Never mind, of course, that the people who have “written about Wall Street for a decade” might be more properly viewed as the instigators, rather than the sworn foes, of widespread public miseducation in financial matters, given the everybody-into-the-pool ethos of most writers covering the investment community.

Mr Salmon:

Personally, I love it that Taibbi exists, and I'm impressed that his 6,500-word screed (into which a great deal of work clearly went) in fact has very little in the way of factual errors, let alone “lies”. Yes, Taibbi is polemical and one-sided, and he exaggerates his thesis, and he's entertaining; I daresay he's learned a lot from watching Fox News. And no, I would never want to live in a world where everybody wrote like that. But Taibbi is one of a kind, and we can enjoy him and learn from him as such. He might not end up changing policy in Washington. But he's doing a much better job of making the policy debate relevant to Rolling Stone's readership than anything Tim Fernholz has ever done.

Indeed, we are tempted to conclude that the Megan McArdles and the Heidi Moore's were more or less obliged to attack Mr Taibbi, simply in order to protect their Rolodexes.

Tierce: Jim Dwyer observes that our health- and environmental-conscious mayor does not practice what he preaches.

A strong case can be made that when it comes to energy and climate issues, Mr. Bloomberg is the most visionary public official in the country.

And a strong argument can also be made that on a personal level, he ranks among the worst individual polluters ever to hold public office.

Mr. Bloomberg owns a helicopter and two jets, both Falcon 900s. He flies everywhere on private jets, by far the least efficient form of transportation on or above the earth. He takes his jet to Bermuda many weekends. He has flown around the globe on it. He uses it to go to Washington. He is planning to get to Copenhagen for the climate conference by private jet, too.

We would never scold anyone for flying on a private plane. Only a martyr would fly commercial if offered the choice. The better alternative is not to fly at all. A man as wealthy as Michael Bloomberg does not have to be anywhere in a hurry. He can sail. (NYT)

Sext: We didn't know who James Chartrand was, but now we wonder what to call her. (Copyblogger; via The AwlJ

Taking a man’s name opened up a new world. It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.

No hassles. Higher acceptance. And gratifying respect for my talents and round-the-clock work ethic.

Business opportunities fell into my lap. People asked for my advice, and they thanked me for it, too.

Did I quit promoting my own name? Hell yeah.

It just proves our point: just as human beings are mostly water, so males are mostly faking it.

Nones: Juan Cole connects a few dots, between Iraqi oil, the Shi'ite control of Baghdad, and Teheran. Throw in Lebanon while you're at it! (via LRB)

Nor would an influx of extra petroleum wealth necessarily cause friction between Iraq and Iran. The major Shi'ite parties that now control Baghdad have strong ties of friendship, support, and to some extent ideology with Tehran. Indeed, the rise of a wealthier, Shi'ite-ruled Iraq is almost certainly good news for Hizbullah in South Lebanon since the ruling Dawa Party helped to form Hizbullah in the first place, and it is likely that newly wealthy Iraqi Shi'ites will bestow patronage on Sheikh Nasrallah, reinforcing Tehran's own support. That is, an oil-rich Shi'ite ruled Iraq alongside the Khomeinist regime in Tehran portends a vast increase in the power and influence of Shi'ite movements, a development that strengthens Iran rather than detracting from its position.

The petroleum wealth, insofar as it flows into government coffers, will also prove challenging to the survival of Iraqi democracy. Very few countries that generate more than 25% of their GDP from petroleum exports have managed to remain stable and democratic.

(While we're mentioning LRB in passing, we want to note that we disagree with John Perry about Washington's response to the Honduran coup. We sincerely doubt that any informed Latin Americans want the United States to restore Manuel Zelaya, whether by force or diplomatic blackmail.)

Vespers: Richard Crary has been writing up a storm at The Existence Machine, about feminism, socialism, and, here, a long post about Flannery O'Connor, whom he has just gotten round to reading.

The difference between O'Connor and Margaret Mitchell is vast, and not just in the area of literary ability. Gone With the Wind is an actual fictional apologia for the Old South... It is deeply reactionary. O'Connor's stories are nothing like this. For one thing, they take place in what was for O'Connor the present day, that is, the mid-20th century. For another, there is no editorializing by the narrator in favor of, say, Jim Crow, or racial bigotry. O'Connor may personally not have been interested in the Civil Rights Movement, but her fiction does not overtly argue against the aims of that movement. One may then argue that this is not enough, and one may further argue, as Shelley does in the explication of her second point, that the writer's politics will come through in the text, whether the work is overtly political or not. Possibly. In fact, I think to some extent Shelley is correct on this point. However, I would suggest that literature is more ambiguous than that. To shamelessly recycle a sentence from a comment I made to Dan's post: I think a great writer, however unpleasant in real life, will see things in his or her art that they might not cotton to outside of it. I think this was often true of Flannery O'Connor. And, I would argue further that by realistically depicting the lives and views of Southern whites during the Jim Crow period O'Connor at least enables us to learn something of value about such people.

Compline: Scott Sayare's piece on the unpopularity of the Internet among French politicos makes for a fun read.

“The Internet is a danger for democracy,” said Jean-François Copé, parliamentary chief for the governing party, the Union for a Popular Movement, in a recent radio interview.

As Tocqueville pointed out a while back, the French Revolution left a number of institutions intact. (NYT)

Government officials deplored the Internet’s intrusion into an affair that, they said, ought never to have been made public.

That indignation is hardly surprising. The French news media, like others in Europe, have long granted the political elite a number of journalistic accommodations, including the right to make prepublication revisions to interviews. In an interview soon after the handshaking incident, Le Parisien quoted a still nettled Mr. Sarkozy as saying, “I would have done better not to respond.” The paper later disclosed that presidential aides had inserted his expression of regret after the fact.

“We used to feel that politicians were to be protected,” said Daniel Carton, 59, a political journalist who has become an outspoken critic of what he calls complicity between French reporters and public officials.

“We kept these stories for ourselves,” he said, “to liven up dinner parties.”

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