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Monday, October 04, 2010

Media-Whore D'Oeuvres


"Late one night in the summer of 2008, I found what turned out to be a stockbroker’s iPhone in the back of a NYC taxi. Turning it on in order to contact the owner, I noticed that among the stock-watch apps and currency converters was an icon of Gordon Gekko, the corrupt market raider immortalised by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s 1987 tale of insider trading and corporate excess. Intrigued, I hit Gekko’s pixelated face (it felt good) and a website flashed up with an entire transcription of his infamous 'Greed is good' speech – one of Hollywood’s most iconic parables about the pursuit of unrestrained avarice. Whoever owned the phone found those words as important as checking Facebook or texting his girlfriend. Gekko was his hero, his daily inspiration. Watching Wall Street again a few weeks later as news of the Lehman Brothers collapse and global recession spread, it struck me that a whole generation of financiers must have grown up, like Charlie Sheen’s character Bud Fox, yearning to be Gekko. He was the business equivalent of a rapper wanting to become Tony Montana, another Stone creation. And some of these brokers, as we’ve all since discovered, were willing to trade money that didn’t exist in pursuit of pin-stripe suits, corner offices, penthouses, speed boats, fast women and stacks of cash. Perhaps the perks made the 22-year prison stretch Gekko received at the end of the film seem like a viable risk." (SocialStereotype)


"NABBED in Bangkok in March 2008 by an American sting operation, Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trader, has not gone quietly. America wants to extradite him to stand trial on charges of criminal conspiracy. On August 20th, with the ruling of a court of appeals, America appeared to have got its way. But Mr Bout has stayed put and resisted any quick handover. He insists that he is a legitimate air-cargo operator framed by a perfidious superpower. Russia has lobbied strongly for his release. Thailand meanwhile has fumbled for a way to placate both parties. On Monday, Mr Bout was back in court in Bangkok. Thai prosecutors had applied to drop two additional charges that had been filed against Mr Bout before the August 20th verdict, as insurance in case he won the appeal. The defence argued, paradoxically, that the two charges must first be heard in court, per the defendant’s wish. Under Thailand’s criminal law, defendants have this right. The judge eventually agreed, so the case goes on. But it seems certain to proceed at a more rapid clip than before. The judge set the next hearing for Tuesday. He also said that no witnesses would be invited to testify. Under Thai law, a defendant must be extradited within 90 days of a final verdict. American officials are worried that Mr Bout’s defence team will run out the clock on the timer set by the August 20th ruling; a quick hearing of the outstanding charges suits the prosecution. This trial already has a record of veering off course. Legal shenanigans are to be expected of Mr Bout." (Theeconomist)


"Generally, I like to ease into a judgment, build an argument, but let’s just cut to the chase: Please stop watching Mike & Molly, $#*! My Dad Says, and Outsourced. Maybe it’s leftover fury at Fox for canceling their classy drama Lone Star after two episodes, but if we could just get the networks to throw a few real stinkers onto the pyre of this sad fall season, it would sure help my mood. Or maybe this grim crop of comedies is disappointing because it’s so surprising: For years, sitcoms have been the one thing network television got right. Sure, cable had the complex, risky, quality dramas, but its sitcoms (with a few exceptions, like Curb Your Enthusiasm) were lumpy dramedies suspiciously dependent on hooker plots. In contrast, it was network TV that was pushing the edgy fare: Fox’s Arrested Development (which the network stuck with despite basement-level ratings); NBC’s 30 Rock (still bringing it in its fifth season), The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Community; and ABC’s Modern Family and Cougar Town—which after a terrible start has transformed into a sparkling ensemble of goofy drunks. Even second-tier offerings like ABC’s The Middle and CBS’s How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory were smartly funny. Yes, there is the inexplicably popular Two and a Half Men, but until this season it felt like an aberration, even as it dominated the ratings. Among the six network sitcoms debuting this fall, one offering is worth a season pass: Fox’s Raising Hope, Greg Garcia’s follow-up to My Name Is Earl. It’s another high-concept comedy, with Lucas Neff as a slacker who gets a murderess pregnant; it’s an indication of the show’s breezy-shock style that he watches his ex’s execution with the kid in his lap. Martha Plimpton plays his trailer-park mom, there are sweet-and-sour jokes about child neglect, and, somehow, it works." (Emily Nussbaum/NYMag)


"Google Inc.’s TV service, debuting this month on Sony Corp. and Logitech International SA devices, will include content from Time Warner Inc.’s HBO, General Electric Co.’s NBC, Netflix Inc. and Twitter Inc. Google, which first announced the service in May, also will feature TBS, TNT, CNN and the Cartoon Network channels, and an application from the National Basketball Association, according to a blog posting today. In addition to Sony and Logitech, Dish Network Corp. has said it plans to deliver the service. 'This is just the beginning,' Google said on the blog. 'Over the next few weeks, you can expect to hear from more sites that are enhancing their Web content for the television.' The companies aim to capitalize on growing demand for content that combines Internet features with television programming. For Google, the world’s most popular search engine, the TV service provides a new way to sell advertising, which makes up most of its revenue." (Bloomberg)

"Givenchy. This was like virgins vs. predators – boys in white lace skulking along the round runway pursued swiftly by men in total look leopard. Major vertebrae necklaces, a few sleek beige androgens and Mariacarla doing a fab impression of a bat out of hell. Accompanied by the soundtrack to the film 'The Lost Boys.' No really. Actually too much to handle, brain is on overload and leopard is imprinted on my retinas. To be real indeed." (Anarchicfemale)

"How can the economy recover? Of the three books under review, Raghuram Rajan’s Fault Lines says almost nothing about the question. He seems mainly concerned with preventing future bubbles, going so far as to call for an immediate rise in interest rates despite the depressed state of the economy. Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm warn that recovery may be very slow—but they offer no solution, instead criticizing the solutions proposed by others. Only Richard Koo has something positive to propose—but his answer appears outside the realm of political possibility.  Most of the time, we count on central banks to engineer economic recovery following a slump, much as they did after the 2001 recession. Normally, when recession strikes, the Fed, the European Central Bank, or the Bank of England cuts the short-term interest rates it controls; market-determined longer-term rates fall in sympathy; and the private sector responds by borrowing and spending more. The sheer severity of the slump after the 2008 housing bust means, however, that this normal response falls far short of what’s needed. One way to revive the economy is to consider the so-called Taylor rule, a rule of thumb linking Fed interest rate policy to the levels of unemployment and inflation. Applying the historical Taylor rule right now, with inflation very low and unemployment very high, would mean that the Fed’s main policy rate, the overnight rate at which banks lend reserves to each other, should currently be minus 5 or 6 percent. Obviously, that’s not possible: nobody will lend at a negative interest rate, since you can always hold cash instead. So conventional monetary policy is up against the 'zero lower bound': it can do no more." (NYBooks)

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