Saturday, April 29, 2006

They're f*cking real.

Oh yeah, you better believe Ligers are real. Tigons, too.

Death Valley

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Octopus Prognosticates

It's not a good idea to blog about economic topics after too much sangria, but that is what our sea creature heart moves us to do so that's what we do. Why is inflation bad? I've wondered many times. I paid $47 to fill the tank of my Dodge Intrepid this morning. I stared at the price, fucking shocked. Sticker fucking shock. But what the hell am I going to do? Hope that China continues to raise its interest rates, slowing its demand and thus lowering gas prices? Maybe I should take the bus. I should take the bus. But I like that extra hour of sleep.

Anyway. If gas prices go up, as they certainly will (oh yeah, let's roll on into Iran!), prices for everything that needs to be delivered by anything powered by gasoline, oh, let's say everything will go up. Okay, so what? We should eventually get paid more as well, right? Okay. But because inflation goes up, the value of the money paid back to a lendor diminishes, so to compensate they must charge a higher interest rate. Fine, that makes sense. But as the interest rate goes up, even though to find the real interest rate one should subtract from the nominal interest rate the rate of inflation, people will react to the higher interest by cutting back on investment and home purchases. A major factor in current economic recovery has been the rising value of home prices; people have used the increased equity for disposable cash. With higher interest rates the demand for homes will go down, bringing down the prices of homes, cutting into that equity that makes people feel flush, cutting consumer spending. (However, the fall will not be as dramatic as some have feared, it appears, because the economy has diversified a bit.)

Perhaps new Fed Chief Bernanke sees which way the wind is blowing and for that reason has preemptively hinted that the Fed is through with its recent run of raising interest rates. With the coming inflation, interest rates will be sent up anyway. Might as well let it ride for the moment. No need to raise rates that will be lifted by forces outside of our control.

The magic of economics. As interest rates rise because of inflation (the falling buying power of the dollar), presumably, the deposit interest rate should rise, thereby attracting foreign capital to U.S. bank accounts and investments that offer a comparatively high interest rate. As people buy U.S. dollars to invest or deposit in U.S. accounts, the value of the dollar begins to rise again, decreasing inflation, deflating the interest rate.

Back and forth, up and down. But anyway, that’s the theoretical long-run. In the short run, interest rates seem sure to rise, and at some point, people will react by pulling back in investments, and companies are no longer able to borrow the money they need to expand. Hello contraction. With a contraction of course, you get a dramatic reduction in demand, and a resulting deflation, lowering the interest rate, theoretically prompting renewed investment and expansion.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Beyond Thunderdome

Gas prices have dropped a little in the past few days, but they will surely continue to rise and no one knows how to stop them from going up.

I'm beginning to gather shoulder padding and catcher's masks for the coming Armageddon.


I now realize that there could be--hell, there is--an entirely self-contained virtuous cycle economy of links from one Justin Timberlake site to another, and back to another. In any event, we're famous.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Future Is Here And It Sucks.

Perhaps it defeats the whole point of a blog simply to republish what appears on the cover of the New York Times. But, hey, I live in LA now, and the NYT is pretty heavy stuff for us lotus-eaters.

Anyway, remember all those sci-fi movies about the dystopic future? You know, implanted memories, flying cars, crappy video-phones, Milla Jovovich acting, albino twins with dreads, huge neon signs for Atari, everyone forced to eat ramen?

Well, the dystopic future is now. The NYT reports today that Airbus is designing standing “seats” for airplanes. Check it out: do you really need further incentive to get to work on your time machine?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Out of range, almost out of time

We're headed to Death Valley National Park today: we're going while we can still afford to drive our car.

Death Valley is outside of blogging range. In the meantime, the OG suggests that you entertain yourself in an energy-conscious manner to compensate for our shameless gluttony. Turn this computer off immediately and go work on your compost pile.

Did you know polar bears are growing measurably thinner with each passing year because of melting ice? We'll be thinking of the wasting polar bears as we swelter in the 95-degree heat of Death Valley.

Happy Earth Day. Al Gore in 2008.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Send your letters to the OG . . . .

Tony Judt writes in the NYT op-ed today about the lack of debate in America about the nature of America's relationship with Israel. Judt's article was prompted by the "firestorm of vituperation and refutation" raised by the publication in the London Review of Books of a piece called "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two academics at the Kennedy School of Government. (Mearsheimer and Walt have published a longer version of their essay here on the Kennedy School website.)

Judt's piece in the NYT, which has already initiated its own firestorm and letter-writing campaign, argues that the taboo against discussing America's unwavering support for Israel is bad for both Israel and America:
The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as "arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better ...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true interests."

BUT above all, self-censorship is bad for the United States itself. Americans are denying themselves participation in a fast-moving international conversation. Daniel Levy (a former Israeli peace negotiator) wrote in Haaretz that the Mearsheimer-Walt essay should be a wake-up call, a reminder of the damage the Israel lobby is doing to both nations. But I would go further. I think this essay, by two "realist" political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind.

Looking back, we shall see the Iraq war and its catastrophic consequences as not the beginning of a new democratic age in the Middle East but rather as the end of an era that began in the wake of the 1967 war, a period during which American alignment with Israel was shaped by two imperatives: cold-war strategic calculations and a new-found domestic sensitivity to the memory of the Holocaust and the debt owed to its victims and survivors.

For the terms of strategic debate are shifting. East Asia grows daily in importance. Meanwhile our clumsy failure to re-cast the Middle East — and its enduring implications for our standing there — has come into sharp focus. American influence in that part of the world now rests almost exclusively on our power to make war: which means in the end that it is no influence at all. Above all, perhaps, the Holocaust is passing beyond living memory. In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that an Israeli soldier's great-grandmother died in Treblinka will not excuse his own misbehavior.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Short post making more promises we don't intend to keep

The OG hazily recalls that we promised you some posts on economics this month. Well, we haven't done too well on that front. We've been too busy worshipping celebrity and foaming at the mouth about the Middle East. We'll get around to the economics posts shortly. They will be super educational. And good.

For now, consider this: money is like totally imaginary. I think the OG just blew everyone's mind.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

In praise of dystopia

Some time back, the OG was waxing nostalgic about the glories of New York City’s F train to a Los Angeles native. I was explaining that the F train was clearly the best train in the system because (a) its official color was orange, and (b) it goes to all the best places (e.g., Carroll Street, Bergen Street, Delancey Street, Second Avenue, West 4th Street, Queensbridge, Avenue X, etc.). The Los Angelena said something to the effect of “Yeah, sure, but isn’t that just the problem with New York?” The OG was not sure what she meant. She explained that everything was too pre-set, too pre-planned in New York: you always went to all the usual best places, on the track that had been set out for you.

So now we understand. Don’t get the OG wrong: the OG continues to hold the NYC subway system close to his sea-creature heart. The OG actually hates driving and cars generally. But the observation about New York was true. You almost always ended up spending most of your life near or around the stops on the the subway line closest to your apartment; your life took on a very repetitive feel. Riding the F train back and forth, I realize now, felt a bit like taking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, again and again. There’s Katz’s. There’s the Sunshine Theater. There’s the West Village, once again. There was a period of time when I was living in New York when I seriously felt like I was at 9th Street and Avenue A every single night.

In L.A., sloppily gridded blob that it is, you’re always ending up in some new place, along a new path. There’s no one set track, but many possible tracks from which to assemble your route to some undiscovered portion of the city. Choose your own L.A. adventure.

Salman Rushdie’s latest book, Shalimar the Clown, begins in Los Angeles. The book is not blowing my socks off just yet, but here’s Rushdie’s take on the form of L.A., much of which will sound tired, but is interesting to me, coming from such an unlikely observer of L.A.:
So now he praised the city, commended it precisely for the qualities that were held to be its greatest faults. That the city had no focal point, he professed hugely to admire. The idea of the center was in his view outdated, oligarchic, an arrogant anachronism. To believe in such a thing was to consign most of life to the periphery, to marginalize and in doing so to devalue. The decentered promiscuous sprawl of this giant invertebrate blob, this jellyfish of concrete and light, made it the true democratic city of the future. As India navigated the hollow freeways her father lauded the city’s bizarre anatomy, which was fed and nourished by many such congealed and flowing arteries but needed no heart to drive its mighty flux.
From Shalimar the Clown, p. 21

Jane Jacobs is rolling her eyes on a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhood street somewhere. The OG is certainly not hoping that more cities around the world follow L.A.’s pattern of development. We’re most definitely not going to be able to zoom around cloverleafs and off-ramps and idle in traffic between Santa Monica and downtown forever. L.A. will likely one day (soon?) have to Balkanize and segment, its various neighborhoods becoming more self-enclosed and self-sufficient. But in the meantime, in the beautiful dirty sunsets, L.A. is quite marvelous, in its depressing, sloppy unsustainability. It is not the “democratic city of the future,” I think, but a city of the past, one whose current form cannot last and which will inevitably be forced to shrink and divide itself to survive. (Mostly we’re excited for the Mad Max stage of L.A. development, when we get to start wearing heavy metal chains across our chests and accentuating our cheekbones with daubs of motor oil.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Crap!

Apparently, the OG's account of his blocking foul brush with fame has been picked up on, some L.A. gossip rag. The Defamer's link has sent OG traffic through the (admittedly low) roof. The OG expects to be contacted by JT's lawyers and/or someone from the Industry shortly. For what it's worth, the OG really enjoyed Justified.

There's no such thing as a "Neocon"

With all of the exciting buzz building about a possible attack on Iran, perhaps it’s time for a quick refresher on those stalwart guardians of American security, the Neocons! The Christian Science Monitor, that shamelessly leftist, America-hating, terrorist-loving rag has a handy summary of Neocon ideology (guess what, they advocate regime change in both Iraq and Iran! Wish granted!) and a roster of leading lights in the Neocon movement.

However, in reviewing these dubious materials, keep in mind that David Brooks has clearly advised us all that Neocons do not know each other (even though Elliot Abrams is married to Norman Podhoretz’s daughter, the Neocons write books together, and virtually all of the Neocons worked for Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson) and do not in fact exist. Move along, nothing to see here! (Of course, Brooks later said he was just joking in his column, and didn’t really mean to suggest that anyone who criticized the non-existent Neocon agenda was anti-Semitic.) Josh Marshall did a fine job tearing Brooks a new one about his inane column, as did Michael Lind in the Nation.

The upshot of all this water under the bridge? The water is not under the bridge. The Neocons still have enormous influence on this administration and the administration’s actions line up with uncanny exactitude to the Neocon’s agenda. The Neocons are clamoring for more war, for more regime change – building on our fantastic success in Iraq! So anyway, the gentle reader can decide for herself: Occam’s Razor or some lengthier, more involved explanation? I know! Let's ask David Brooks to instruct us on reality.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here we go again

As you probably already know, everyone’s favorite stormy petrel, Seymour Hersh, reports in the current New Yorker that the Bush administration and its unchastened neocon lunatic friends in the Pentagon and elsewhere are busily planning an attack against and regime change in Iran. (n.b. that’s IraN, not IraQ.) You’ll be pleased to learn that we are once again going with the tried and true method of obtaining “useful intelligence” from “Iranian exiles”.

As Joseph Cirincione notes in Foreign Policy, the building frenzy of war-talk is depressingly familiar:
Does this story line sound familiar? The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of state tells congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on U.S. troops. The intelligence agencies say the nuclear threat from this nation is 10 years away, but the director of intelligence paints a more ominous picture. A new U.S. national security strategy trumpets preemptive attacks and highlights the country as a major threat. And neoconservatives beat the war drums, as the cable media banner their stories with words like “countdown” and “showdown.”
”Fool Me Twice”

But hold on a sec, I hear the objectors say, hasn’t our wise leader dismissed talk of an attack against Iran as “wild speculation”? Oh, that’s right. This is the same upright and noble leader who promised us that he would find out who was behind the Valerie Plame leak. And he did do that, didn’t he?

It’s incredible that we’re in this situation, and I have little faith that we’re not going to end up dropping bombs on Iran. Bush believes he’s on a mission from God. Rumsfeld is clearly deranged. These guys just do not give a rat's ass -- they are ready to say the words that will cause thousands of other people they don't know and couldn't care less about to RUMBLE! And now, with their popularity in the tank, they have nothing to lose. Hell, a good fiery war with some burning A-rabs may be just what the doctor ordered for Bush and the Grand Ol’ Party. Oh, I see, you sissy-ass Democrats would prefer that the ol’ Ayatollah had some nucular weapons to give to Saddam Hussein who would give to Osama who would give them to illegal Mexican immigrants? That's fine. But tell me, why do you hate America so much?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hoopin' it up with J.T. at the Hollywood Y

I pulled into the Hollywood Y yesterday afternoon behind a youngish-looking guy in a large black BMW. He looked sort of familiar when he got out of his car, pale, scruffy, very light hair. I thought to myself, that guy looks sort of like Justin Timberlake.

After I got on my knee brace (see below) and had started shooting around in the gym, this guy came out and started shooting around with me. He was pretty good, casually hitting a couple threes and a couple mid-range jumpshots. He had this kind of loping, saggy way of moving around. His t-shirt was sort of dorky: it looked brand new and said "Nike Hoops". His buddy, who looked a lot like the guy who played Boone on "Lost", came out with some other guy, and we started a game of two-on-two.

I didn't quite realize that that this guy was in fact Justin Timberlake until the next game, when we were picking teams for 5-on-5. I let the guy who looked like Boone pick first, and he kind of whispered to me, so that no one else would hear, "I'll take Justin." JT's identity was confirmed when the guys from the Y's front desk came up and asked if they could take some pictures of him playing ball in their gym. Justin politely declined.

If you were curious, we beat Justin at two-on-two, and in the five-on-five game. Justin hit a couple nice shots and ran the break pretty well. He was a decent passer, and he had a good handle. He didn't play tenacious D -- but if I were Justin Timberlake, I probably wouldn't feel the need to D it up too much. I drained at least one shot with JT guarding me, and I'm pretty sure I fouled him a couple times, but he was cool about it and did not call the ticky-tack stuff. He had good pick-up etiquette.

There were a bunch of little kids at the gym, and they didn't seem too fazed that JT was in their area. I attribute this to one of the following reasons: (a) the L.A. kids are unfazed by celebrity, (b) the L.A. kids are loyal to Britney, or (c) the kids couldn't really recognize JT, since he looks sort of scruffy and normal in the flesh. They also may have been sort of pissed when we all told them to scram so we could play full-court.

I'm trying to think of who would top JT as a pick-up basketball opponent at the Hollywood Y. I was thinking maybe Chris Rock, or Keanu Reeves. I imagine Keanu would be deceptively quick, and deadly from long-range. Chris Rock would probably foul you a lot and play super scrappy. It might be cool to play against Method Man, but you would risk injury if you smashed into his metal fronts. The OG will keep you posted on future celebrity hoop encounters at the Y.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas

I've found the news about the newly-discovered 66-page Coptic codex containing the only surviving copy of the Gospel of Judas quite fascinating. As you've likely heard, according to the Gospel of Judas, Judas was no betrayer, but rather the most favored disciple of Jesus, who carried out Jesus' will in "selling out" Jesus and thereby allowing Jesus to escape the shackles of his corporeal existence.
The latter, including Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, have inspired recent Gnostic scholarship and shaken up traditional biblical scholarship by revealing the diversity of beliefs among early followers of Jesus.

Gnostics believed in a secret knowledge of how people could escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came.

. . . .

He noted that the Gospels of John and Mark both contain passages that suggest that Jesus not only picked Judas to betray him but actually encouraged Judas to hand him over to those he knew would crucify him.

In a key passage in the newfound Gospel, Jesus had talks with Judas "three days before he celebrated Passover." That is when Jesus is supposed to have referred to the other disciples and said to Judas: "But you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."

By that, scholars said, Jesus seems to have meant that in helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus.
From SF Chron

This puts a whole new spin on Judas's kiss of death. What a strange world. The leather-bound codex was found by farmers roughly 30 years ago, in a limestone box next to a pile of human bones, inside a cave in Egypt. There are ongoing debates about the possible authenticity and reliability of the gospel -- some scholars have concluded that the newly discovered gospel is a faithful copy of a gospel roughly contemporaneous with the Gospel of John. It's incredible how the chance surfacing of an ancient document could throw centuries of belief into uncertainty. It's also something of a mindf*ck, surely, for Christians to consider that Judas, the paradigm villain, was in fact the chosen disciple. It's so dark and twisted but somehow unsurprising -- it feels very George Lucas.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Weltschmerz, again?!

Oh, what's the matter with the OG? I'm so zapped. All I want to do all day is kid around. I cannot bring myself to give a hoot about anything serious at all. What the f*ck is the point? The OG desires to do nothing but eat and poop and sip smoothies and coffee while reading old Doonesbury comics. Is that so wrong? Why must the OG produce and create value? The OG was under the impression that he was inherently valuable. Does not the OG exothermically radiate value simply by continuing not to die?

That's okay. It's all right. I need the massive bummer of work for contrast. It helps enliven the OG's free time, which becomes so much more satisfying because of its relative scarcity. The OG will continue to accept his place in the universal mechanism and serve that role, begrudgingly, but relatively punctually.

OG Econ: All that glitters

People start snatching up gold and silver during times of global instability and inflation.

As the chart above shows, gold has been in a bull market since about April 2001.
Many argue that gold's role in the world's monetary system has ended, and that it will never again represent the store of value that it once was. John Maynard Keynes , the influential economist, as early as 1924, described the gold standard as a "barbarous relic". Many central banks, especially in Europe seem to agree, and have been selling off their gold reserves at the rate of around 500 tonnes a year. Given that the gold price peaked at around $850/oz t ($27,300,000 per tonne) in 1980, and in real terms is still well below that, gold has proven to be one of the worst investments you could have made 25 years ago. However, since April 2001 the gold price has more than doubled in value against the U.S. Dollar , prompting speculation that this long secular bear market has ended and a bull market has returned
From Wikipedia.

There are many of us who fear the worst -- especially these days, with all signs suggesting that the shit is pretty far along en route to the fan. If you foresee oil shortages, catastrophic climate change, spreading war in the Middle East spurred by the neverending War on Terrorism, the OG mildly suggests that you begin hoarding gold in a safe spot under your house sometime soon. Heck, there are enough signs out there to justify many of us becoming gold bugs:
Recently, gold bugs have pointed to rapidly rising oil prices and the unwillingness of China to significantly de-couple the value of its own currency from the US dollar as complementary rationales for purchasing and holding gold. In this view, the relative value relationships between consumable commodities and variations in industrial capacity between markets increase the likelihood of chaotic behavior in the present international economic system because modern hard currencies (or fiat currency ) lack full backing by gold reserves and therefore cannot establish empirically rigorous values for goods and services.
From Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, prices for other commodities, like copper, used in construction and manufacturing (of stuff like air conditioner) are booming, pushed by Chinese demand.

Investing in this kind of tangible stuff is appealing to me, maybe because I can understand what it is I'm investing in. Of course, the OG never invests in anything because the OG is a fundamentally fearful creature.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Weekend in the High Desert

Wind Farm off the I-10, near Palm Springs

Your blogger attacking the Jumbo Rocks at Joshua Tree National Park

Dead tree with contrail in background at Joshua Tree