Monday, March 30, 2009

A Little Of The Old In And Out

In: Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, wrote last week's buzzy column for the FT criticizing the Geithner Plan. Few would argue that President Obama is deftly walking a thin political tightrope -- navigating populist rage with a pragmatic understanding that he will need the help of the investment of the financial sector -- but there is real rage on both the left and the right that the President is veering too far into the ensorcelling embrace of the very people (some of whom are 2nd administration Clinton appointee-legacies brought over) who have brought us to the near brink of ruin. Some of Sach's acute argument, from FT:

"The Geithner-Summers plan, officially called the public/private investment programme, is a thinly veiled attempt to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds to the commercial banks, by buying toxic assets from the banks at far above their market value. It is dressed up as a market transaction but that is a fig-leaf, since the government will put in 90 per cent or more of the funds and the 'price discovery' process is not genuine. It is no surprise that stock market capitalisation of the banks has risen about 50 per cent from the lows of two weeks ago. Taxpayers are the losers, even as they stand on the sidelines cheering the rise of the stock market. It is their money fuelling the rally, yet the banks are the beneficiaries.

"The plan’s essence is to use government off-budget money to overpay for banks’ toxic assets, perhaps by a factor of two or more. This is done by creating a one-way bet for private-sector bidders for the toxic assets, then cynically calling it 'private sector price discovery.' Consider a simple example: a toxic asset with face value of $1m pays off fully with probability of 20 per cent and pays off $200,000 with probability of 80 per cent. A risk-neutral investor would pay $360,000 for this asset."

More here.

Out: Larry Gagosian. Is there a place in the new and Eastwardly-trending art world order for a global art world player? Will hyperthumotic art mogul Larry "go-go" Gagosian -- one of the survivors of the Spy magazine spitball era -- survive this crash with his reputation intact? March, publicitywise, has not been a good time for Larry. From Fadwebsite:

"Larry Gagosian may be hurting, due to a court order involving alleged fraudster Allen Stanford, however things could be even worse as it turns out Marc Dreier, the powerful attorney indicted on fraud charges totaling nearly $700 million, is a substantial client of Larry Gagosian as well !

"Marc Drier’s clients include (Bill Cosby, Tim Burton, Justin Timberlake, and 50 Cent among them), the one-time legal honcho spent at lest $10 million of his firm’s money at the Gagosian Gallery last year."


In: "Mark and Ollie: living with the Machigenga" Yours truly spent the entire day yesterday, lying doggo, watching the Travel Channel's marathon of "Living with the Machigenga," thoroughly impressed that we had not "seen it all," that there was still something out there that could impress us greatly. Incredible program, this. In it, Mark Anstice and Oliver (Olly) Steeds travel deep into the Peruvian Amazon to experience life with the remote Machigenga tribe. On the face of it this could easily be a disaster: an exercise in the arrogance of "explorers," encountering a "primitive" tribe for the affluent Travel Channel demographic -- but it is so not that.

What unfolds, over the course of many episodes, is the curious relationship between Mark and Olly and the Machigenga tribe, which prefers, quite frankly, to have no discourse with Peruvian society or even the modern world at large. Ab initio, Mark and Olly are regarded as "colonistas," and very nearly turned away back into the Amazon. Over the centuries, colonistas have killed, enslaved children and stolen natural resources from the small tribe armed only with wooden arrows. But the tribe's chief reconsiders turning away the persistent but naive Mark and Ollie.

The pendulum swings. Soonafter being nearly turned away, the tribe makes them eat a monkeypaw to see how sincere they are about learning the Machigenga ways (their stated purpose for the travel). There is silence among the members of the tribe as the white men gnaw on the gristle of what can only be properly construed as a baby monkey's paw. Then -- after the silence -- all erupt in raucous laughter. It was a test; Mark and Olly passed.

The Machigenga do not eat monkeypaw. And from then on, the social role of Mark and Olly in the tribe veers from that of helpless guests to being objects of tribal comedy. What initially looked like a documentary of the "primitive - sophisticated" variety evolves, slowly, into a fascinating narrative about the contrasts between tribal man and "civilized" man, how they live their lives in relation to nature and how we live our lives with relation to technology. What better forum for this conversation than the Travel Channel?

One of the most harrowing episodes involves real-life colonistas. Because of the remote location of the tribe, it is an alarming event when a half-dozen or so armed, filthy lowlives enter the village and commandeer a hut. It was a clear show of force; they won. Their excuse is that they are "tired (they could just as easily have been drunk)." They call themselves "travellers," but you can see in their dead, hollow eyes corruption. They reveal their true natures by making a sexually crude joke about the chief's 13-year old daughter that suggests, chillingly, that they may have been sex traffickers. Fortunately, Mark and Ollie are there with a camera and, although we will never know, that may have prevented a terrible, terrible incident from occurring. The men stumbled into the woods strapped with their machine guns, never to be seen again.

Without walls or locks on their doors or their village, this blogger believes that modernity and the Machigengas are going to clash with increased frequency and probably tragic results in the near future. The again, they have lasted this long, perhaps we are overly cynical? But at this time, on this show, this "clash" between tribe and foreigner is a voluntary guest-host relationship where Mark and Ollie make a real, human connection and not some post-colonial anthropology project of a noble, if quite possibly doomed, way of life.

(image via autoblog)

Out: GM Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner. Under Wagoner's reign, GM lost $30 million last year. As oil prices skyrocketed, this asshole was still approving gas-guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs -- the perfect automotive metaphor, by the way, for the age of thumotic imperial excess. The reckoning has come, and Captain Fuckhead (see above) has to answer for his lack of foresight as Chief Executive. Arianna Huffington was right; the Big Auto CEOs and their wingnut defenders were so very, tragically wrong. From the NYTimes:

"'G.M. is a great company with a storied history.' Mr. Wagoner said, in an e-mail message made public by the automaker. 'Ignore the doubters because I know it is also a company with a great future.'

"Mr. Wagoner, whose resignation was confirmed by G.M. on Monday, explained his departure by saying he had been urged to 'step aside' by Obama administration officials, 'and so I have.'

"In an address on the auto industry Monday morning, President Obama said the request for Mr. Wagoner’s resignation was 'not meant as a condemnation' of him. 'Rather, it’s a recognition that it will take a new vision and new direction to create the G.M. of the future,' Mr. Obama said."

Unfortunately, the economy of Michigan -- where, in Detroit, unemployment is at an astonishing 22% -- bears much of the burden of this man's idiotic-thumotic decision-making process. And the very public firing had a lot to do with the Southern Republicans in Committee hearings that were calling for his head. Still, Wagoner will be replaced with his #2, and it remains murky as to whether or not this equals real change.

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