Archive for the ‘"We Take, Among Other Things, Umbrage"’ Category

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

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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

Aaron Sorkin’s Liberalism

HBO The Newsroom

The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s fourth television series, debuts its second season tonight on HBO. And while the first season was something of a disappointment, Sorkin is still one of the most acclaimed writers on TV, with an Oscar and highly anticipated projects in Hollywood and on Broadway.

And yet The Newsroom seems to highlight all of Sorkin’s most annoying tendencies, from his inability to write women, to his smug condescension, to his love of self-plagiarism. But rather than repeat those complaints, I want to focus on what bothers me the most about Sorkin’s work—its lionization of a particularly virulent strain of liberalism.

I’m generally wary of the terms “liberal” and “conservative”, since they are often used to restrict the realm of acceptable political thought to the stances of the two dominant political parties. But Sorkin seems to represent a kind of liberalism that denotes a worldview rather than just stances on particular issues. Of course, on those issues Sorkin loves to parrot the most thoughtless talking points of the Democratic Party (the Christian right is silly; guns are bad; Islam is no more violent than other religions; etc.).* Continue reading

A Problem with Series Finales

The Office Finale

In case you somehow missed it, The Office aired its series finale last week. Now, I’m on the record with my problems with that show, and fans seemed to like the finale a lot, so I won’t rain on their parade with my criticisms of it. But it brought to mind a problem I have with series finales in general: It really bothers me when characters in TV finales act like they know they’re in a TV finale.

This is a very common problem, especially with comedies. Plot-driven shows can spend their finales concluding whatever series-long arcs it has been developing: (Spoilers) The Sopranos settled Tony’s war with New York, Battlestar Galactica found “Earth,” Lost explained the Island (kind of), etc. But shows that are more character-driven end up filling the time with a lot of “finale talk.” Continue reading

Against Student Loans

Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the few American politicians willing to challenge the current financial system, has introduced her first bill in the US Senate. With student loan rates set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% on July 1, the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act would temporarily reduce those rates to 0.75%, which is the same rate that banks borrow money from the Federal Reserve.

There’s certainly something nice about the symbolism of this bill: Highlighting the discrepancy between the rates offered to financial institutions and rates offered to students investing in an education illustrates the inequities of the financial system. When Senator Warren frames it as a choice between students and banks, it’s clear which side you should be on. And since the bill has no chance of passing, that symbolism is important. But the spirit of the bill is misguided, because the problem with student loans is not that they are too expensive, but that they are too cheap. Continue reading

A Response to Patton Oswalt

Patton OswaltOf the many heartfelt reactions to Monday’s tragedy in Boston, one written by comedian Patton Oswalt seemed to really resonate. You’ve probably already seen it: It was shared on Facebook over 200,000 times, “liked” over 300,000 times, and written about on websites from The Atlantic to US Weekly.

There’s a lot to like about Oswalt’s message, but there’s one aspect of it that really bothers me: When he refers to the unknown perpetrators of the crime, he refers to either “one human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.” It’s just a throwaway line—it doesn’t really affect the substance of what Oswalt is saying. But it’s a telling line that reveals a problem with the way we conceive of tragedies like this attack.

It’s easy and very tempting to dehumanize the people who plant bombs and attack children—to call them “insects” and “sociopaths”* or whatever term that paints them as some mythical bad guy. After all, how could anyone do something this horrible unless he was subhuman in some way? But it’s a dangerous logical trap to assume that anyone who does an evil thing is an Evil Man. Continue reading

The Onion and Apologies

The Onion

 

Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but The Onion is kind of a cunt, right?

For anyone who’s missed the controversy surrounding the satirical publication, it began over an Oscar-related tweet that called the nine-year-old star of Beasts of Southern Wild a cunt. Within an hour, the tweet was deleted, but by then of course millions of The Onion’s followers had already seen it, and many had retweeted it. People like Wendell Pierce and many others criticized the paper, and the next morning its CEO issued an apology for the tweet.

Now, I should say that I don’t think the joke was very good: It was crude and simple and basically relied on the shock value of calling a little girl the c-word, so I can see why many found it offensive. But I also think the ideas behind the joke—that Quvenzhané Wallis is so adorable and beloved BUT that Hollywood often turns quickly and cruelly on child stars—-are perfect subjects for The Onion’s brand of satire. The product wasn’t good, but the thought behind it was fine. Continue reading