weekend | 6 april 2013

THE ECONOMY

SHUT UP SAVERS

James Suroweicki | The Financial Page | The New Yorker

Scott Sumner, an economist at Bentley University who has become an influential advocate for a more expansionary Fed policy, says. “But it’s perfectly possible that looser monetary policy could make both savers and borrowers better off. When the economy is weak, tight money makes the whole pie smaller. When the economy is robust, we get more output, which means more real income, and that usually means higher rates of return for investors.” Indeed, the biggest culprit when it comes to low interest rates isn’t the Fed: it’s the weak economy, which has held down the demand for credit and made us all risk-averse. That’s why interest rates are low across most of the developed world—even in countries where central bankers haven’t been buying up assets the way the Fed has.

The war-on-savers crowd makes Bernanke out to be a wild-eyed ideologue, willfully risking hyperinflation and sacrificing the well-being of retirees to his reckless schemes. But, if you look at the U.S. economy, you don’t see any of the signs you’d expect if the Fed were acting recklessly: the money supply is not growing rapidly, and inflation is trivially low. If anything, Fed policy has been too cautious; it could have done more to rev up the economy.

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THE LIFE AND DIRTY TIMES

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THE END AND DON KING

Jay Caspian Kang | Grantland | [print]

. . . Don King no longer sits on boxing’s throne, but he has nostalgia by the balls. Fights are best enjoyed through old film, which means that if you want to watch Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes or Mike Tyson or Julio Cesar Chavez or Evander Holyfield raise his arms in triumph at the end of a fight, you’re also going to see the big man with the bigger hair climbing in through the ropes. You see him in the Philippines in 1975, hovering over a near-death Muhammad Ali after the Thrilla in Manila. You see him in Japan, 15 years later, looking more or less like the same man, crowding in on a battered and finally defeated Mike Tyson.

. . . Over the course of the next two weeks, I heard King talk about Goebbels and Willie Lynch and the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson and W.E.B. Du Bois and Frederick Douglass and dozens of other historical people, events, and phrases. When I read books and articles about King, some written as far back as 20 years ago, I’d find those same phrases, almost verbatim. In the past, several boxing writers would make fun of King for mispronouncing the names of prominent philosophers or misquoting famous passages in their work. Having spent enough time with him to watch the repetition of these mistakes (my favorite example: “Beware the Ids of March, young man! Beware the Ids of March!”), it’s ludicrous to believe that Don King’s famous malapropisms are unintentional.

For Don King, everything is strategy and payback. And if someone thinks King is a buffoon because he mispronounces “Nietzsche,” the real buffoon will pay at the negotiating table. King might mispronounce Sun Tzu and misquote him, but he sure as hell understands The Art of War better than anyone who might point out his mistakes.

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CONVERSATION

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THE NERDIST PODCAST: DAVE GROHL

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BOOKS

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BEAUTIFUL FAILURES: NABOKOV AND FLAUBERT’S EARLY ATTEMPTS

Benjamin Lytal | The Page Turner | The New Yorker

In the future, an undergraduate in a Nabokov seminar, reading the master through for the first time, will be able to write a term paper about how “Mister Morn” anticipates “Bend Sinister” and “Pale Fire.” Up late, typing to fill pages, he might even add a peroration about how it was criminal that “Mary” got published while “Mister Morn” languished. Nabokov’s first, crazier effort is the one that shows his ambition plain. It should have been a hit. But that wouldn’t be understanding how literature works.

Call it the Icarian début. The kind that might not even get published, because the author has flown too close to the sun. Gustave Flaubert would be the archetype. After completing “The Temptation of St. Anthony”—a medieval-romanticist mystery play based on three years of research—the unpublished Flaubert wanted to read his manuscript to two good friends. They did two four-hour sessions each day. At midnight on the fourth day, Flaubert pounded the table and demanded, “Now, tell me frankly what you think.”

YES MAN


MOHSIN HAMID: HOW TO GET FILTHY RICH IN RISING ASIA
Parul Sehgal | The New York Times

filthyrichinasia
“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” begins under a bed. With you — yes, you — under a bed. Once you quit cowering, you’ll be the hero of this novel written in the second person, although there’s nothing remotely heroic about you at the moment; you’re so sick you can scarcely speak. The only remedy at hand is a large white radish, which your mother cooks up in a foul brew.

Courage. You’ll live and what’s more, you’re only seven steps from getting Filthy Rich, according to the narrator. (You’re also nine steps from ruin, but we’ll address that in a minute.) The marriage of these two curiously compatible genres — self-help and the old-fashioned bildungs­roman — is just one of the pleasures of Mohsin Hamid’s shrewd and slippery new novel, a rags-to-riches story that works on a head-splitting number of levels. It’s a love story and a study of seismic social change. It parodies a get-rich-quick book and gestures to a new direction for the novel, all in prose so pure and purposeful it passes straight into the bloodstream. It intoxicates.

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ART

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DRAWN TO CURRENCY

John Foster | Accidental Mysteries | The Design Observer

Today I introduce an artist well known in numismatic circles but relatively unknown to the rest of us. Tim Prusmack (1962 – 2004) was very active ten to twenty years ago in currency and coin shows, where he exhibited and sold his complicated, hand-drawn in ink currency. His fans called him the “Mozart of Money Art,” many of whom enjoyed purchasing one of his accurate renditions of currency. Before his death, a Prusmack bill (in a printed edition of 250) could be bought directly from him for $10 bucks — essentially a novelty item for serious currency collectors.

Although the United States Secret Service can get irritable when money art begins to look too much like the real thing, Prusmack eventually found fans at the Bureau of Engraving in Washington, DC — including Mary Ellen Withrow, the 40th Treasurer of the United States under President Bill Clinton

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DOCUMENTARY

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THE BRONZER

Peyton Wilson | Vimeo | 11 Minutes

Stu Larkin is a dying breed: one of the last traveling salesmen left in America. He travels the country taking orders for bronzed baby shoes, which has been a popular American tradition for over 80 years. This short documentary follows a quirky and passionate character as he provides a rare insight into his craft, human nature and small town Americana.

ANDRE GREGORY: BEFORE AND AFTER DINNER

Noel Murray | The AV Club

Yet Before And After Dinner still has a lot of value, because Gregory is such a remarkable individual whose career has gone under-recorded on film and video. That’s the downside of the way Gregory has preferred to work, performing for small audiences in unconventional spaces—and frequently alongside Shawn, who’s an even more private person. (Shawn resists Kleine’s efforts here to shoot his interactions with Gregory, and seems shy about expressing the same affection for Gregory that Gregory openly expresses toward him.) Kleine, though, has the gift of access, which enables her to capture some stunning moments at the Master Builder rehearsals, and to catch her husband talking frankly with drama students about balancing art and commerce. There are clips here of Gregory’s non-avant-garde work as an actor in movies like Demolition Man and Protocol; but there’s also rare footage of his groundbreaking 1970 production of Alice In Wonderland, and anecdote after anecdote about once-in-a-lifetime moments that only happened because Gregory was patient enough to let them develop naturally. Sure, it would’ve been better to have seen those moments rather than merely hearing them described. But then the man doing the describing is Gregory—a legendary conversationalist.

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FILM

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BEHIND THE SCENES OF AN ICONIC GODARD SCENE

Richard Brody | The Front Row | The New Yorker

In any case, the greatest flourish in the sequence is one involving the soundtrack. The music cuts out, and Godard speaks, in voice-over: “Now it’s time to open a second parenthesis, and to describe the emotions of the characters.” It cuts out three more times, and here’s what Godard says about each of the characters. First, Brasseur’s: “Arthur [Brasseur] keeps looking at his feet but he thinks about Odile’s mouth, about her [or, maybe, his] romantic desires.” Then, Karina’s: “Odile is wondering whether the two boys noticed her two breasts, which move beneath her sweater with every step.” Finally, Frey’s: “Franz is thinking of everything and nothing. He doesn’t know whether the world is becoming a dream or the dream, a world.” And that’s what distinguishes this notable sequence from its imitators and tributaries, whether scenes by Quentin Tarantino or by Hal Hartley or this one, from a movie I’ve never seen, “The Go-Getter,” by Martin Hynes.

For that matter, it distinguishes the scene from so many scenes in so many films where so many filmmakers are so concerned with bringing out their characters’ emotions solely by means of action. The fussily naturalistic framework of most movies by most filmmakers is more or less rendered obsolete in advance by this little scene. Filmmakers unwilling to break the sacrosanct continuity of action compel themselves to reveal character through action—and little is more tiresome in movies than scenes showing action that is supposed to reveal some aspect of character. That’s why many movies—and many wrongly hailed—give a sense of being constructed as illustrations of script elements, the connections of dots planted in just the right place to yield a particular portrait. Godard’s example is as much a lesson in substance as in style—in composition through fragmentation, in expression through directness and audacity, of artistic impulse combining with necessity as a means to enduring innovation. Whatever an experimental film might be, this sequence is one—it’s an experiment the discoveries of which have yet to be fully assimilated by the world of filmmakers, almost half a century later.

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MUSIC

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POPSTRANGERS: ANTIPODES

Nick Senior | Decoy Music | popstrangers.com

popsttrangers'I continue to follow the hipster music culture for one reason, and one reason only: occasionally you find something worthwhile. For every band full of bland bullshit, you discover something excellent. To be clear, not all indie rock falls into this category. However, the rule is this: if Pitchfork or Sputnikmusic is hyping the hell out of a new release, then there is some hipster with a musical boner. Hence, when I discovered Popstrangers’ lead-off single “Heaven”, I knew this was my kind of hipster shit.

Coming out of the land where Lord of the Rings was filmed, New Zealand’s Popstrangers wields an interesting musical mix. The band clearly grew up on Nirvana, Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine; thus, fans of a mix of grunge, shoegaze, and psych rock will be happily at home here. Ironically enough, what really carries the band through the entirety of Antipodes is their attention to pop melody. Sure, the riffs are solid, the haze is piled on thick, but the real winner is the hooks. Unlike similarly minded Naomi Punk, there is enough sheen to allow the surprisingly strong melodies to really shine through. The only glaring mistake is when the band forgets how to write a melody. Some of the tracks focus too much on being hazy or psychedelic, rather than actually being good.


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One thought on “weekend | 6 april 2013

  1. Pingback: this week’s music | 12 april 2013 | The Marcus Reader

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