Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Paragraphs to ponder. First:
Sometimes I try to imagine what the 1970s would have been like if comic-book movies had dominated the cinematic landscape the way they do today. Francis Ford Coppola would have presumably gravitated toward the operatic darkness of the Batman franchise, casting first Al Pacino and then Robert De Niro as Italian-American Bruce Waynes. Martin Scorsese would have become famous for his gritty, angry take on the Incredible Hulk, with Harvey Keitel stepping into Bruce Banner’s shoes and Diane Keaton as his love interest. Dustin Hoffman would have been cast as Peter Parker opposite Cybill Shepherd’s Mary Jane in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Spiderman.” The Superman movies would have starred Warren Beatty instead of Christopher Reeves. Steven Spielberg would have directed “Iron Man” instead of “Jaws,” with Robert Redford playing Tony Stark and Julie Christie as Pepper Potts; George Lucas would have made an X-Men trilogy instead of “Star Wars,” with Marlon Brando as Professor Xavier opposite Jack Nicholson as Wolverine. Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider would have been known to moviegoers primarily for their turns as supervillains. And Terence Malick — well, O.K., Malick probably would have still made “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven,” and then disappeared for 20 years.

My sense, in reading about Obama before he was a national politician or even a politician at all, is that []his kind of cultural conservatism is genuine and not a ploy. There's a section in The Bridge where, having graduated from Columbia, Obama becomes a kind of ascetic and basically tries to remove himself from all the worldly things that tend to tempt men. It reminded very much of the kind of thing you see black men go through in prison, the most obvious being Malcolm X. Indeed, I've always thought there was something of Malcolm in Obama--the mix of humor and sternness, the notion of re-invention, the cultural conservatism…

Eviction is to black women as imprisonment is to black men.

Growing up with AIDS in Africa.

Shaq gets a cover piece in Sports Illustrated, and I thought the article did a good job pointing out the gaps in Shaq’s game. Shaq hasn’t really been called out at length for his rather great failings: he never stayed in shape, he always feuded with his teammates and coaches eventually, he never corrected the flaws in his game…Shaq was very briefly an incredible player but he should have and could have been much better than he was.

Vulture is doing a book group of Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Very good.

Let’s do some housing roundup. J.P. Morgan is warning investors about its underwater mortgage loans, noting that:
For JPMorgan Chase, the problem is getting worse.
As of March 31, 27 percent of the home mortgages in its consumer credit portfolio were worth more than than underlying property, meaning those homeowners are underwater, according to the bank's Monday filing with the SEC. At the end of the previous quarter, which ended Dec. 31 of last year, that rate stood at 26 percent, according to the bank's filing.

Those numbers don't include mortgages the bank acquired through its taxpayer-assisted purchase of failed lender Washington Mutual, the biggest bank failure in U.S. history, or those insured by U.S. government agencies or mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- taxpayers ultimately will pick up whatever losses the bank experiences on those mortgages.

JPMorgan's Washington Mutual loans, though, are detailed in the bank's SEC filing -- and they're even worse than JPMorgan mortgages: The entire portfolio -- $98 billion of unpaid mortgage principal -- is underwater.

And those mortgages are even deeper underwater at the end of this year's first quarter than they were at the end of last year's fourth quarter. The options ARMs loan-to-value ratio was at 113 percent, meaning they were 13 percent underwater; now they're at 119 percent, according to JPMorgan's Monday filing. Home equity loans were 15 percent underwater; now they're 20 percent. Prime mortgages were at 6 percent; they've climbed to 11 percent. Subprime jumped from 10 percent underwater to 13 percent.
In the “I’m-sure-this-is-entirely-coincidental, yes-nothing-to-see-here-folks” department, might I note that of the $75 billion set aside for mortgage modification, only, oh, $246 billion has been spent? And, sadly, the Fannie + Freddie reform amendment that I would’ve loved to get more attention failed today. But! The Franken amendment on ratings agency has picked up some bipartisan support. Don’t tease me, bros, I don’t want this to be like the whole break-up-the-banks thing.

The Atlantic’s Future of the City report publishes an excerpt of Richard Florida's The Great Reset. Note: I am considering adding the book to my infinitely long reading list. 

Malcom Gladwell drops some apercus in The Guardian.

Japan is shopping its bullet train technology.

In this post talking about cultural ignorance from old age, Coates has a good point about hip-hop fans: “Hip-Hop created a culture of Digging In The Crates. The notion was that digging through crates and crates of records to find a gem was something to be prized.” This is basically true—most hip-hop fans own like fifty mixtapes of obscure artists, etc., etc. of which one or two songs are really awesome.

James Fallows writes an excellent piece in the newest issue of The Atlantic (excellent as always) entitled “How to Save the News” on how Google is trying to invent tools to make newspapers profitable. Here’s how I see the situation: paradoxically, for such old businesses, we should think of all newspapers essentially as startups. Great idea, growing audiences—but where’s the money going to come from? Wouldn’t we look much more favorably on the New York Times’s prospects were it as old as, say, Twitter?

Max Mandel on why it was a bad business cycle for knowledge cities; however Ryan Avent lays down the smackdown as to why it’s silly.

Iyad Allawi warns that the current Iraqi coalition risks sectarian warfare…in other news, the Debaathification purge is to end…conveniently, right after the election. Ah, democracy at work.

One look at Elena Kagan’s work in The American Scene; another in Harper’s. David Brooks started off with a really great point on why Elena Kagan reminds him of the prototypical Organization Kid (he defined the type here); Andrew Sullivan concurs and expands. I’m disappointed by the nomination in general, because, well, I think she’s a strange woman. Let’s put it this way. Toobin says of Kagan, a woman whom he calls a friend since law school, that he has no idea what her personal views are…I find it tremendously odd that someone can be so interested in being a Supreme Court judge—as Brooks and Sullivan ascertain so clearly—but not think it worthwhile to express her views. I find it tremendously odd for the same reason I find the studious objectivity of some parts of the mainstream media odd, as in, why bother acquiring this power (or broadcasting your writing in the case of the media) if you don’t have strong views on how to use it? (That she hid her views since law school is either remarkably prescient and hence weird or just very strange.) Oh, btw, we’ll hate Kagan’s replacement as solicitor general, if you’re into the lawlz and the I can haz cheezburger and all that.

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