The Book Cover

The media knows and understands that many of the Republican presidential candidates know very well that they do not have the slightest chance of becoming the nominee.  It doesn’t matter.  Most of them are businessmen and investors and owners and they understand the important thing in life is to make money.  And the real money is in the books and the speeches.  And the books and speeches sell for more if they come with this appendage on the cover: “presidential candidate and [whatever]”.   I’m not sure they even say “former”.

Just look at all the free advertising they all get.  Millions and millions of dollars worth of free advertising.  The dumber the comments, or the more controversial, the more free advertising, and the more copies your book is going to sell and the more money you get from giving after-dinner speeches all over America.  You get your picture taken with the organizers of these festive occasions, shake their hands, give them something to talk about at the office the next day.  The dumber the comments the better, because then you can accuse the “establishment” and the “east coast media” and “east coast intellectuals” of all being against you.  They are against you because you are right and they are wrong.  The bible says so.  And your audience in join you in insisting that they are just as smart as those educated, East Coast elitests.  Because you read this book.

More amusement.

Hollywoodizing Greek Debt

In almost every Hollywood movie, some characters will do bad things. They will be ill-mannered. They will be mean to a child or a pet. They will be sneaky and dishonest. The purpose of these incidents is so the viewer can enjoy seeing this character dismembered, tortured, or killed later, guilt-free. It’s not much fun to watch terrible things happen to people at random– they don’t deserve it. So first, we must establish that the character deserves it. Now we can enjoy the violence.

In the same way, the Greeks must be perceived as lazy, self-indulgent, greedy, reckless, and sneaky, before we get to enjoy watching their economy destroyed by the troika (the EU, the IMF, and various European governments). Otherwise, we will feel as though we should help them. That Greek pensioner crying on the sidewalk because he can’t get any cash from the ATM to buy food? He voted for a government that pays people not to work, that hires commissioners to take care of lakes that have dried up, that lets people retire at the age of 40, and so and so on.

I’m not inclined to join the brow-beating because I keep circling back to the same question over and over again: what idiot banker would lend money to an insolvent government?

We know that the banks in North America do not make loans so that they can be paid back. Where’s the fun, and profits, in that? They make loans to increase your indebtedness to the point where you cannot pay off your loan. Instead, you pay high interest rates, in perpetuity, on that loan. That is the banker’s wet dream. The fact that the average American owes about $8,000 on his credit card is proof that the strategy has been widely successful.  The fact that 50% of the population do not actually have any “wealth” (read Thomas Piketty) proves that most of us don’t understand how the economy really works.

So the banks were not lending money to Greece so they could improve their economy and then pay them back. They were lending insane amounts of money to Greece in the hope that they would not be able to pay the loans back, but would have to make large payments, year after year, for decades, generating enormous profits for the banks.

In Iceland, the bankers who developed this kind of strategy were fired, arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned. Iceland told the banks, this is a capitalist, free enterprise society. You intentionally made bad loans. Your customers can’t pay them back, and you knew it. You lose. Iceland declared bankruptcy and the banks were wiped out. Iceland started new banks to facilitate cash flow and started over.  The prison sentences were given because the bankers knew full well what they were doing.  Lending enormous sums of money to people or institutions that cannot pay it back is not the result of carelessness, but of careful, conscious planning.

Greece is not the same. But the result should have been the same. Banks, trying to make big money, loaned the Greek Government billions of Euros. Did they check to see if the Greek Government would be able to pay them back? Evidently not. But employees of the bank made millions of Euros in commissions by arranging these loans. In a capitalist system, when Greece could no longer make payments, the banks should have lost their money. The bankers would have been fired. And Greece would have had to start over. Maybe the banks would have collapsed. Well, that’s free enterprise.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the European governments led by Germany bailed out the shareholders of those banks. Now they want their money back. They did not require the banks to do their due diligence before making their loans, so they have just done an enormous favour to the banking industry.  They didn’t punish the bankers for making fraudulent loans and failing to perform due diligence: they rewarded them.

But they don’t tell you that the Greeks must pay them for this favor to the banks’ shareholders.

They say, you selfish, lazy Greeks. You took all our money and now you won’t pay it back. And they act like Alex Tsipras has been ruling the country for 20 years, creating all that debt.

The story continues.

[whohit]Hollywoodizing Greek Debt[/whohit]

Mattress Wars

Is Emma Sulkowicz the new Oleanna? Or Joan of Mattress? When I first encountered the story, I assumed it was another tale of campus rape, mediated, probably, as usual, by drugs and booze, at a frat party or dorm room somewhere, with the usual cast of characters: young, naive woman out for a good time; young man dragging her off somewhere and forcing himself on her; young girl’s friends warning her, losing her, looking for her; young man’s friends laughing it all off and calling her a slut.

But this story didn’t work out that way. The alleged rape took place in Emma’s room, and was, in it’s initial stages– by her own account– consensual. But, she claims, he took it too far, and forced her into anal sex. But, then again, she didn’t seem to regard it as non-consensual for quite a few days afterwards, as she exchanged friendly Facebook messages with Paul Nungesser, the “perp” in this story. And then again, some of her messages seemed rather specifically expressive: wanna come over and have anal sex?

Emma didn’t file a complaint immediately. In fact, she exchanged friendly Facebook messages with him for sometime after the event. It appears that only after encountering other young women who had relationships with the young man– and the young man’s detachment from her– that she decided that the anal sex had been, after all, non-consensual.

She went to the University and explained her situation. The University, even after refusing to look at the Facebook messages, or to hear from Paul Nungesser, declined to suspend the alleged perpetrator. Emma then went to the police. The DA also declined. I haven’t read a good account of why both the University and the DA didn’t proceed with charges, but it seems likely that Emma was honest enough to admit to exchanging messages with the alleged perpetrator that, at the very least, made it difficult to press the case that the sex was “non-consensual”. I wish we could hear the conversation with the University officials: there must have been something remarkable there for them to decline to punish a student for an alleged rape.

What is remarkable is that Emma Sulkowicz, from her statements and actions, appears to have a different idea of “non-consensual” than even devoted feminists have held up til now. She seems to actually believe that no matter how consensual the act was at the time, bad behavior by the man afterwards can justify a retroactive assessment of the act as rape. This is intriguing to me because I don’t think she is unique in this regard. Some of her comments about Nungesser suggest that her accusation is based more on a judgement of his character than her memory of the incident. Something about her comments sounds familiar and disturbing, in the sense that I wonder just how reliable some allegations made by other women are– which is something one should not wonder.

If there was any doubt about the nature of Emma’s accusations, she has released a video of herself and a male actor recreating the “rape”, from several angles, with considerable authenticity. The sex is not simulated. This is quite possibly the strangest attempt to build credibility I have ever heard of. The experience was so awful that I will recreate it, as artistic expression? You could build a lot of aesthetic theory on the idea but in terms of how this furthers her demands for “justice”, I am mystified.

Is this all drama? All of it? The mattress, the allegations, the protests, the re-enactment? Is the relationship itself another drama, with the University and the District Attorney denying Emma her catharsis?

[whohit]Mattress Wars: Emma Sulkowicz[/whohit]

The Look and the Sound of Silence

The ending of “The Graduate” is a legend now.  And I suspect it’s about time someone made the traditional attempt to “debunk” the mythological greatness of it and attack the whole strange sequence as mediocre, confusing, or trivial.

Personally, I think it holds up extremely well.  In fact, I dare say, it seems stronger and more allusive today to me than ever before, while the rest of the second half of the movie does, at times, seem aimless and rote.  The uncanny momentum of the first half, up to when Elaine learns about the affair, suddenly deflates and wanders, until it seems to gather itself up again into some kind of  raucous crescendo with the wedding.

But it can’t be denied that part of the marvelous impact of that last scene on the bus  is due to the expectation of the Hollywood ending, the happy music, the smiles, the suggestion that all is now well.  With expectations like that in place, the first encounter with that long, lingering, ambiguous take is rather stunning.  And it shifts the viewer’s perception from that empty, trivial, inauthentic kitsch to the rich complex authentic possibilities of their relationship– not all unicorns and hazy meadows.

Some commentators feel that the ending is therefore sad and pessimistic.  I don’t think it goes that far.  I don’t think we encounter a fateful, tragic mistake.  What we have is the real possibility that they will work things out but only after actually learning to cope with life beyond the magic hysteria of their escape from stultifying bourgeois conformity.  Maybe Benjamin becomes an environmental activist.  Maybe Elaine becomes a feminist.