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Monday Medley

What we read while using as much of our brains as we felt like…

Mere Anachrony: Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World

Girl Meets World, the Disney Channel’s long-awaited Boy Meets World spin-off, premiers tonight. Except it’s not Disney’s typical audience of pre-teens who are awaiting this premiere—it’s people in their 20s who have been clamoring the loudest for this show about an eleven-year-old girl. And why? Because we millennials fucking love Boy Meets World.

For those unfamiliar, Boy Meets World aired on ABC from 1993 to 2000, as part of the network’s “TGIF” lineup of family-friendly programming. The titular boy was Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage). He was in sixth grade when the series began. His parents were happily married. He had an older brother (Eric, played by Will Friedle) and a younger sister (Morgan, played brilliantly by Lily Nicksay, then forgettably by Lindsay Ridgeway). His best friend was Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) and the object of his affections was Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel). Most important, though, was his next-door neighbor and perpetual teacher, Mr. Feeny (William Daniels), who was the show’s voice of reason and guiding light.

But all that sounds pretty cookie-cutter. It doesn’t really capture the enduring appeal of Boy Meets World. So what does? What accounts for the enthusiasm for Cory and Topanga’s return? Continue reading

Some Ill-Informed, Unorganized Thoughts on Thomas Piketty

Capital in the 21st CenturyI just finished reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, the economics work du jour that has been called the most important book of the century. Rather than take the time to collect my thoughts and organize them into a coherent, sensible review, I decided I’d just dump my initial impressions in a scattered fashion and let you wade your way through. I’m not sure why anyone would even by interested in what I have to say about the issue (as opposed to people much more informed than I am), but this is the Internet and being unqualified never stopped anyone before!

 

—It seems to me that, in all the discussion of Piketty’s book, a lot of people are misconstruing the argument he’s really making. The summary you’ll see a lot is that Piketty is saying inequality has been getting worse for the last 30 years or so. And that is sort of what he’s saying, but that’s not the crux of his argument, and he’s very open about the lack the clarity on that issue. Indeed, he says, “It is by no means certain that inequalities of wealth are actually increasing at the global level.”

Still, inequality is the central theme of the book, and Piketty paints a harrowing portrait. But the full picture he creates is not just one of the present and recent past. He goes all the way back to the eighteenth and nineteenth century and illustrates a few key points. The first is that inequality decreased substantially throughout the twentieth century. This is kind of obvious, but his next point is crucial: This decrease was essentially a historical accident. It was the result of a global Depression and two world wars of unprecedented scale, which destroyed a ton of wealth* and, as Piketty puts it, “wiped the slate clean” for the generation after World War II.

*The way this happened was not as obvious as you might think. Some of it was just the physical destruction of the wars, sure, but it also came from nationalizations caused by the war, loss of European colonies, and the huge national debts and subsequent inflation that followed. Piketty explains it all better than I could.

In other words, the decrease in inequality wasn’t some natural result of the forces of capitalism, but the legacy of specific disasters we’re only now emerging from.

Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while giving our Moms a day off (with no pay)…

Mere Anachrony: Atlas Shrugged

Looks OK....

W.B.O.A.T.

Ayn Rand is an odd figure in our political and cultural climate. She is one of the most popular authors of the twentieth century—her books have sold over 25 million copies—despite the fact that she wrote long, dense tomes about political philosophy. She’s beloved by many and hated by more. Yet many politicians tout the controversial Rand with a fervor usually reserved for Founding Fathers and Jesus.

Rand functions as a kind of ideological shibboleth, a password into the club of self-reliance and small government. But many readers also really love her. They cherish her books with a passionate intensity that’s impossible to ignore.

Although I’d read The Fountainhead—and liked it quite a bit more than I expected—I had never read Atlas Shrugged, which Rand herself considered her greatest work and which gets mentioned the most in discussions of her literature and philosophy. Given all the fuss about Rand and specifically this book, I felt like not reading it was a gap in my knowledge. What was it that Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Mark Cuban, and so many others found so exciting about this novel?

So I read it.

And at the risk of sounding intemperate, Atlas Shrugged is by far the worst book I’ve ever read. This is true on a purely aesthetic level, leaving aside Rand’s abhorrent philosophical views—though the philosophy embedded in the book only makes it much, much worse. The prose is tedious, the characters are absurd and the story is both repetitive and nonsensical. On virtually every page there is something to insult the reader’s intelligence. It is somehow both consistently infuriating AND incredibly boring. The English language is worse off for having been contorted into the shape of this misbegotten novel.

But allow me to elaborate… Continue reading

The Best Movies of 2013

The Theme of Movies in 2013: Rick People Suck

The Theme of Movies in 2013: Rich People Suck

Before I start, I want to address how silly a ranking like this is bound to be. It’s not that lists are inherently dumb—we at NPI (and the Internet writ large) LOVE presenting things in list form. But listing the best movies of 2013 IN 2013 (or, technically, immediately after 2013) feels misguided. It takes a while for feelings about a movie to settle. I saw five of these movies in the last two weeks; who knows how I’ll feel about them in a month? It’s not always clear which movies will be remembered well, or suffer on a rewatching. Looking back at my list from last year, I see about a dozen changes I would make. So consider this list somewhat provisional.

With that said, I saw a lot of movies this year, and lists can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts on those movies. I’ve borrowed some of my category ideas from Josh’s ranking, but unlike Josh I find the distinction between “independent” movies and studio films to be arbitrary to the point of distraction. Plus, it’s a little pretentious. If a movie is good, it’s good; if it’s bad, it’s bad. Who cares who made it or what the budget was?

Anyway, here are the movies I saw in 2013, in order from worst to best…

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The Top Ten Television Episodes of 2013

The Year of Breaking Bad

The Year of Breaking Bad

This was a big year on television. Netflix and Amazon added a bunch of new shows and a whole new model for making them. A bunch of big shows, from 30 Rock to Breaking Bad, aired series finales. And what the hell happened to Homeland? The result was a lot of turnover on my list of best episodes. Some shows, like Louie, didn’t air in 2013, and some, like Community, simply dipped in quality. Anyway, here are the top ten episodes of the year. With spoilers, obvs…

 

10) “The Marry Prankster” — Happy Endings

 

Happy Endings did not get one. It was cancelled unceremoniously after a season that was kind of a letdown. But it was still one of the funniest shows on TV until its dying day. “The Marry Prankster” was probably the best example of its absurdist humor to air in 2013, from the Usual Suspects homage (“I’m not as dumb as I am”) to the crafty one-liners (“Classic Brad panic move, like when 9/11 happened and you full on supported the War in Iraq…” “We were lied to!”). Happy Endings will be missed, though some of the cast have found new homes on Fox sitcoms.

Continue reading

Why I Still Hate Christmas and Always Will

Christmas

The skies will rain fire, the oceans will boil, and the streets will run red with Christmas decorations…

Christmas is awful. Christmas is the worst. Christmas is evil in calendrical form. If the Devil were real, he’d look upon all that is Christmas, smile, and say, “Nice.” There is nothing good about Christmas.

Why is Christmas so terrible? Well, its badness probably cannot be adequately described in human language, but let’s try. For one, Christmas combines two of the worst things in the world: religion and consumerism. At Christmas, people are encouraged to buy a bunch of stuff they don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of a god that doesn’t exist.

But Christmas does something special: Religion and commerce, such potent forces for evil when considered separately, combine with such insidious synergy that they produce a holiday far more nefarious than the sum of its parts. It’s not merely that people spend money and believe in God during the “Christmas season”—which now apparently begins shortly before Halloween—since people do these things all year long. It’s that each of these things brings out the worst in the other. Continue reading

The Great Read-cession, Part XI

It’s the final post of The Great Read-cession! Just shut up and read!

The End...

The End…

What should the government have done differently?

 

This is a very loaded question. When I first started reading about the issue, while it was going on in 2008-09, I got the sense that this was really a rare case where the government was not at fault. This wasn’t like Watergate or Iraq, where people in power abused that power—it was just a case of private companies going wrong. But it becomes a lot trickier when you look closely at how intermeshed the government and the financial world actually are.

A lot of the conversation about the government’s role in the collapse has surrounded the issue of deregulation, specifically the issue of Glass-Steagall. On the other end of the political spectrum, Republicans have focused on the GSEs as responsible for the decline in lending standards. But both of these issues seem more like scapegoats than real sources of the problem.

As most of the data makes clear, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1992, which directed Fannie and Freddie to purchase more mortgages from certain minority groups, had very little to do with the subprime boom and decreased lending standards. Fannie and Freddie bonds defaulted at a lower rate than those sold to wholly private firms, and there was clear market demand for housing securities absent any government pressure.

The repeal of Glass-Steagall, on the other hand, at least bears some of the blame for allowing companies like Citigroup and Bank of America to get so big. While the law had, since 1933, separated the activities of commercial and investment banks, its repeal allowed the biggest commercial banks in the country to expand their proprietary trading.

With that said, the repeal of Glass-Steagall was mostly symbolic—banking regulators had been allowing more trading at commercial banks for decades before its official repeal in 1999. And the most notable failures of the financial crisis—Lehman, Bear, AIG, Fannie, Freddie—would not have been affected at all by the law. Continue reading

The Great Read-cession, Part X

We’re done with the book reviews, but John S isn’t done breaking down the books of the financial crisis. We still have a few things left to cover, most importantly….

The Whole Truth...

The Whole Truth…

Rankings!

Obviously I wasn’t going to read 16 books and NOT rank them.

It was a little hard to determine the criteria. Some of the books were well-written, but not especially good at delving into the causes; others were thorough but boring; some were great but a little off-topic. If someone asked me to recommend one of these books, I wouldn’t answer until I got more information about what exactly she was looking for. If, however, she were somehow unable to clarify, I would recommend them in this order:

16) A Colossal Failure of Common Sense

15) Reckless Endangerment

14) The Quants

13) The Greatest Trade Ever

12) Crash of the Titans

11) On the Brink

10) Bailout Nation

9) Financial Crisis Inquiry Report

8) Confidence Men           

7) House of Cards

6) Griftopia

5) More Money Than God

4) Too Big To Fail

3) The Big Short

2) Bailout

1) All the Devils Are Here

Some Questions, Answered

 So, um, whose fault was it? 

Continue reading