July 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


...a perfect illustration of the rule that comedy is always conservative.

For, once we understand that Groucho thinks life is tragic, then we can only be even more amused that he made a living of off poking fun at it.  This laugh being at his own expense. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Rate rigging scandal: Just the start? (Irene Chapple, 7/05/12, CNN)

E-mails revealed as part of the rate fixing investigation showed traders were seeking beneficial rates for their trading positions.

During the credit crisis of 2007 and 2008, Barclays high Libor postings came under scrutiny and the bank, concerned about "unfounded negative perceptions," lowered its Libor submissions, according to Barclays notes to the Treasury Committee.

Regulators investigating Libor manipulation last month fined the bank more than $450 million. A report from the UK's Financial Services Authority concluded the issues were of the "utmost seriousness" owing to the prevalence of rates references throughout the markets.

But Barclays is unlikely to be the only bank facing financial penalties. Several additional banks are cited but not named in documents made public as part of Barclays settlement with the FSA.
Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and UBS are among the banks that are acknowledged as being investigated by regulators.

Libor, or the London Interbank Offered Rate, is the benchmark rate which is set every morning by banks posting the rate at which they are willing to borrow with the British Bankers' Association.
The BBA publishes Libor as a result of this, and the rate is then used to fix the borrowings of credit cards, mortgages, car leases and more.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Pleased To Meet Me Turns 25 (Timothy Bracy And Elizabeth Bracy, 7/06/12, Stereogum)

As is the case with any impassioned faith-based group, opinion amongst ardent Replacements fans regarding what constitutes their best work is vocal and fractious. Many contend that the 'Mats never improved upon their seminal 1984 indie swan song Let It Be, while others believe that despite slipshod production and faintly ridiculous artwork, Paul Westerberg never put together a better group of songs than on the band's 1985 major label debut Tim. Certainly no one would be wrong by asserting either of those classics as the finest record the band ever made. But for a small minority of diehards, the patented formula of big hooks, boozy raunch, and lonely midnight-hour laments never got better than on Pleased To Meet Me, released on 7/7/1987, 25 years ago.

Seemingly by design, every single year was an ordeal for the Replacements, but even by their established standard of practiced professional incompetence, the period leading up to Pleased To Meet Me was a mess. Having made the jump to the big leagues, the 'Mats proceeded to demolish commercial ambitions with the same studied attention to detail that their contemporaries R.E.M. impeccably used to build a mass audience. Despite its slow-building brilliance, Tim received only a lukewarm commercial reception, while the band introduced themselves to mainstream America with a not-atypically addled performance on Saturday Night Live. Founding member and lead guitarist Bob Stinson was fired by Westerberg and Stinson's own younger brother Tommy. The explanation that Bob had simply become too unreliable in his excesses seemed at once plausible and ironic. Stinson WAS unreliable -- he could show up at gigs too drunk to play, or miss them altogether, leaving the roadie to play his parts. But then, it wasn't like this was Barney Gumble stumbling into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- Bob had always been the wildcard in a band filled with jokers. For years after Bob was dismissed, and until the band's final rueful end, they were never much more then a 50/50 proposition in terms of a live act. Catch them on the right night and you might never see a better show. Catch them on the wrong one and it was difficult to imagine these individuals had ever played together. No one even seemed to know the songs. Intoxicants were a factor.

For many, the band would never be the same minus Bob Stinson's sad clown act and over-the-top lead playing, which often pushed Westerberg's soaring anthems into the ecstatic. Clearly, though, the Replacements were heading ostensibly in a more refined direction. For their follow-up, they decamped to a kind of spiritual home base: Ardent Studios in Memphis, where they would record with legendary producer Jim Dickinson, who in the previous decade had produced the three classic albums by Westerberg's heroes Big Star. It is seems fair to say that the affinity the Replacements felt for Big Star was a product not only of musical admiration, but a sense of living through the same thing trajectory. It had begun to seem that their surpassingly great music would never quite be the fashion of the time, and that the delicate, diffident nature of the personalities involved might be the final blow to any chance of being genuine hit makers.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM

JD MCPHERSON PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIOS (Steve Seel, 7/07/12, Minnesota Public Radio)

Signs and Signifiers, the debut record from bluesy, rockabilly artist JD McPherson, was rereleased by Rounder Records earlier this year. The wider release gives music fans a second chance to discover a quickly rising talent in McPherson. [...]

Songs performed: "North Side Gal," "Farmer John," "Signs & Signifiers," and "Dimes For Nickles."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


This Could Be Amazin': For the Mets, 2012 was supposed to be a lost year. Now another miracle seems possible. (Will Leitch Published Jul 6, 2012, New York)

I know this isn't the type of thing people like to hear around these parts, but honestly: This city has been absolutely spoiled by success. The Yankees won a World Series just three years ago, and already there's talk of a Bronx championship drought. The Giants won two ­Super Bowls in five years­--in the most dramatic ways imaginable, I might add--and all anyone wants to talk about the summer afterward is whether the quarterbacks of the freaking Jets are going to be friends. We're handed the most organically thrilling sports story of the year in Linsanity, and just a few months later, we're complaining about the guy wanting too much money. (Already.) In a couple of months, this town is getting a whole new team. Amazing things are always happening here. Forgive Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Seattle for not having much pity for us.

But there's one sports story I think might top them all. The Jets might have more years between them and their last title--44 and counting, heading into this season--but I can't imagine anything bigger in this city than the New York Mets' winning a World Series this year, their 50th anniversary of existence. It would be the most unlikely, ludicrous, transcendent bit of sports business this city has seen in a generation. It would make the 1969 Miracle Mets look like the sun coming up in the east; it would make Mr. Met's head pop off. It would be the most jaw-dropping baseball story in a decade.

No one's talking about this, because this is the Mets, and fans, quite justifiably, have been through enough the past few years. The Mets' success heading into the All-Star break--they are among the top contenders for one of the two wild-card spots and, lo and behold, are leaving those hated Phillies in the dust--has been applauded, but cautiously so, like a parent whose child gets his or her first base hit after a whole season of strikeouts: We're happy for the kid, but that was a lot of strikeouts. Nobody wants to make this harder on everybody than it has to be. The shoe has to drop soon, right? Protect ourselves while we can.

But this season is more than half over, and the Mets have shown no signs of fading. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Local wars blur al Qaeda's threat to West (William Maclean, 7/05/12, Reuters)

Spinoff groups from al Qaeda have become increasingly engrossed in insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East, inflicting death and mayhem on local communities. But this emphasis on the pursuit of the enemy nearby has cast doubt on their commitment, in practice, to bin Laden's war on the "far enemy" - the West and the United States in particular.

More than a year after U.S. forces killed bin Laden, some groups such as the Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) undoubtedly remain a menace to the West.

Turmoil in Syria, Somalia and parts of Libya, Mali, Iraq and Nigeria has also allowed Islamist militias to recruit, train, arm and organise. And yet their targets have been overwhelmingly close at hand, rather than in Europe or the United States.

"Al Qaeda has become a useful label for any group that essentially pursues local aims but wishes to exaggerate its reach and sophistication," said Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the Al-Qaida-Taliban Monitoring Team at the United Nations.

"Al Qaeda has lost much of its reputation as the vanguard of a global cause, and as the activities of its affiliates result in more and more death and destruction for local communities, this process will accelerate," he told Reuters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Some Health Care For All, but not Too Much (Josh Barro, Jul 6, 2012, Bloomberg)

Tyler Cowen caught a lot of flak recently for saying something that is clearly correct. A lot of the flak has come from people who have misunderstood the implications of what he wrote.

Here's the relevant passage:

Trying to equalize health care consumption hurts the poor, since most feasible policies to do this take away cash from the poor, either directly or through the operation of tax incidence.  We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor....  We shouldn't screw up our health care institutions by being determined to fight inegalitarian principles for one very select set of factors which determine health care outcomes.

Cowen is right. As both inequality and health-care costs rise, it becomes more difficult to equalize health-care consumption through transfer payments. The size of the transfers eventually becomes untenable. They also become wasteful: You end up providing hugely expensive health-care transfers to people with low incomes who would be better off with cash, housing or something else. Even if it meant they wouldn't live as long, at least the quality of their lives would be higher.

Partly right, partly wrong.  In the first place, modern nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and vaccinations mean that even the poor just don't die much from being poor anymore.  On the other hand, modern health care consumption doesn't have much to do with avoiding//postponing death.  It's mainly cosmetic.  Ideal health reform, therefore, seeks to move towards equalized consumption by driving down consumption generally--by making people pay out of their own pockets--and towards increasing the wealth of the poor--by transferring money to a savings account, instead of to the health care/insurance industries.  

The most important point missed though is that we're a Christian country, so we';re not going to let the poor die for lack of health care.  The onl;y question is whether we care for them via a defined contribution system or a defined benefit one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Controversy over draft law breeds culture war : Tension between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis reaches a crescendo as leaders struggle to reach a consensus on alternative to Tal Law (AP, 7/07/12)

For their supporters, seminary students are preserving a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years.

"Jews need to study the Bible. That is what makes us unique as a people," Yerach Tucker, a 30-year-old spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community, said proudly as he guided a visitor through the Mir Yeshiva. "It is the essence of our lives."

But polls show the vast majority of Israelis, who risk their lives and put their careers on hold while serving in the military, object strongly to the arrangement, and many see it as the essence of everything that is wrong with their country.

This resentment has fueled a broader high-decibel culture war. In recent months, secular activists have rebelled against what they consider growing religious coercion by the ultra-Orthodox, such as attempts to enforce gender segregation on buses and public places, and a religious backlash by ultra-Orthodox who feel unfairly persecuted.

"It is something so ethical, so basic, that we have all grown up upon: service, giving to the state. Everyone here has to give something to society because we are one society," said Boaz Nol, a reserve officer who is among those planning a massive protest in Tel Aviv this weekend against the continued exemptions.

The Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the draft exemptions illegal and gave the government until Aug. 1 to figure out a new, fairer system. That is proving far more difficult than expected.

Last week, the deep divisions between religious and secular parties inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government led to the collapse of a special committee formed to draft new legislation.

Netanyahu's largest governing partner, the centrist Kadima Party, is now threatening to quit the government, just two months after joining the coalition with the goal of reforming the draft. Netanyahu has vowed to find a compromise.

A glimpse into the world of the ultra-Orthodox shows just how intractable the issue has become. The draft exemptions date back to the time of Israel's independence in 1948, when founding father David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 exemplary seminary students to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed in the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were murdered.

As ultra-Orthodox parties became power brokers, the numbers mounted. Ultra-Orthodox officials now estimate there are about 100,000 full-time Torah learners of draft age.

The pattern has lasting ramifications. The heavy emphasis on religious study, begun early on in a separate system of elementary schools, has pushed many ultra-Orthodox men to shun the work world, relying on welfare as they spend their days immersed in holy texts. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens.

Steep unemployment, believed to hover around 50 percent, coupled with a high birthrate has fueled deep poverty in the ultra-Orthodox sector. With families of eight to 10 children commonplace, more than a quarter of all Israeli first graders today are ultra-Orthodox. Experts say if these trends continue, Israel's long-term economic prospects are in danger.

But changing the ways of the ultra-Orthodox will not be easy. Leaders speak proudly of centuries-old traditions of prayer and learning that they believe has allowed the Jewish people to survive such tragedies as the Spanish Inquisition, European pogroms and the Holocaust. Study in Yeshiva seminaries, they say, is no less important than military strength in protecting the country from modern threats in a hostile region.

"You have to understand, we are part of the Jewish army," said Aharon Grossman, a 30-year-old student at Mir Yeshiva. "Some people serve in tanks. We serve in yeshiva."

Ultra-Orthodox leaders insist they will never be forced to serve in the military.

Oliver Cromwell studied the Bible.