Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Holy Bailout, Bat-man!

Well, the Wall Street bailout is dead for now, a massive wreck with mangled, charred bodies dangling from the shattered car windows. Or maybe not. I've been trying to wrap my brain around the disaster for the past few weeks, reading about collateralized debt obligations, stanches (ratings), subprime mortgages, and the like. I know very little about how Wall Street works, but it seems to me that too much faith was placed in the U.S. housing market as a way of making infinite profits, and too little attention was paid to the risk that housing prices might drop. It's like we're a banana republic, only our bananas are our houses. Whatever financial and regulatory structure emerges, there probably should be some checks and balances on overreliance on any particular form of wealth to support exotic securities that are beyond my comprehension.

I'm on the fence as to whether the Government should fix the problem to begin with--I wonder how much a large-ish drop in the stock market would really affect the rest of the economy--but I tend to lean towards whatever will preserve my Thrift Savings Plan and other peoples' 401(k) plans, and whatever might preclude a severe credit crunch that could result in banks owning businesses that rely on short-term credit as a matter of course.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proud Hypocrite

Last night, I was put on the spot in a way that resulted in my commission of an act that some might view as hypocritical. I was quite annoyed, but I managed to get through it without incident.

I am a firm believer in socially acceptable hypocrisy, the kind that greases gears that would otherwise shoot off sparks or come to a complete halt due to friction and physics. Not everybody understands the importance of socially acceptable hypocrisy in a culture that has veered dangerously towards brutal honesty in personal matters (brutal honesty does not appear to be the norm in the financial services industry, as we are shocked, shocked to discover). For example, a few years ago, I saw some teenagers smoking pot across the fence from the park where my kids were playing. The teenagers posed no danger to anybody, so I said nothing until we left. It was 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, with a packed swimming pool to one side across the street and a deputy sheriff's house to the other side across the street. I felt like lecturing them with something like, "look, I don't care what you do, as long as I don't see you smoking it. When I was your age, kids smoked their stinkweed at midnight behind the dumpster at the bowling alley and had sex in their cars at the back of the unfinished subdivision. Everybody knew but didn't know, and their parents were able to be blissfully and deliberately ignorant. That kind of hypocrisy is implicitly understood as part and parcel of the Social Contract, and it helps the world function. So get with it and stop behaving like you're drinking your bong water."

In sum, I'm proud to be a hypocrite.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Memphian Exile

Well, we survived Hurricane Gustav yesterday, though we remain in Memphis, as our town is officially closed and our house is without power. We kind of saw a couple of the big spots here in Memphis, but really didn't.

seventy bucks
for Elvis' jumpsuits?
went somplace else.

Lorraine Motel
American shrine
copyrights enforced

We went to Graceland yesterday and cut our losses at the $8.00 parking fee. It cost $28 just to see the house, and over $70 to see the fun Elvis stuff like those tacky jumpsuits. Also, DW didn't much like the notion of the Elvis security going through her bag.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
--Dr. Martin Luther King, April 3, 1968
Early morning, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

U2, Pride
After leaving Graceland in a huff, we went to the Lorraine Motel, which is now part of the National Civil Rights Museum. I took several pictures of the exterior of the site of Martin Luther King's martyrdom, but we chose not to go inside when we were asked to deposit any cell phones or cameras at the door. Evidently, someone has copyrighted some of the material inside the museum in order to make a little money. Isn't this a place where cameras and camcorders should be encouraged so that American children can be reminded of both our country's original sin (racism) and of the better angels of our nature?