Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Richard Patterson review

My review of Richard Patterson's current survey at Dallas's Goss-Michael Foundation is online at Glasstire.

Patterson is a YBA who has relocated to Dallas where he's having a fine time romping around in ultra-American culture and making paintings and sculptures which display equal parts wit and craft.

(image via James Cohan Gallery)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Competing narratives about the recession

A guest post on the Baseline Scenario blog by "StatsGuy" offers a reasoned, thoughtful and well researched take (or rather several takes) on what led to the financial collapse. The essay looks at the concept of "too big to fail" in the financial world as it relates to systemic risk, the decline of the US middle class, and irrational exuberance as causes (either necessary or sufficient) for the Big Bust. Discussing the causes of the debacle is important to deciding what to do about it, of course. And the gist here is that getting all TR on the oligarchs of Wall Street -- worthy as the cause may be -- probably should be a lower priority at present. Along the way, the essay links to numerous informative publications, including this exhaustive timeline of political decisions that led up to our current mess.

Unlike most blogs, the readers' comments at Baseline Scenario are often as good as the articles themselves. I recommend reading the whole shebang.

On a related note, William Black's 2005 book The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One probably should be on my reading list.

Perhaps unrelated:

Some will rob you with a six gun and some with a fountain pen...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A second look at the garden

Part I

Back at the beginning of April we had a major work party at the community garden because we were able to plug into a local civic work day called "The Big Event." We had kids from the junior master gardener program out there with us.

We had guys from fraternities helping out.

We had geezers with whiskers.

We had generous people from the town and from local churches.

An Ag Science professor showed up and broke in his brand new tractor with us.

Working together, we got a lot done. That morning we moved 130 cubic yards of donated mulch (a cubic yard is 27 cubic feet -- you do the math) and mostly filled 36 raised beds with amended soil.

Part II

Then there was the saga of the bees. My wife and I have lived with a hive of bees for about two years. They've colonized the north wall of our house. I've sporadically tried to get them removed, but the sort of expertise one needs to open a house's wall and capture a hive living inside is rare. I think I have finally found somebody to take care of the hive for me, but he's working long shifts at present and can't do the job for another week or more. I can't bring myself to kill them in this time of Colony Collapse Disorder. Whatever is happening to bees in this country, the bees in my house are definitely healthy.

So healthy that a couple of weeks ago our hive produced two small swarms. Here's a picture of one of them:

The county extension service put me in touch with a beekeeper by the name of Don who brought a hive box for one swarm and a "catch box" for the other. He left the hive with me and took the other swarm in payment. So a day or so later, I lost my bee hauling virginity when I loaded the hive onto the bed of a borrowed pickup and schlepped them out to the garden site. I waited till they'd gone to bed for the evening and stuffed a dish towel into the entrance, but it was nervous making all the same.

The next day, I hauled them again because we determined they were too close to the garden plots. Now they're about 200 feet away, which seems about the right distance. And they've settled into their new digs quite well.

I took that photo this afternoon, as well as the one below.

That's one of our bees foraging about 200 yards from the hive.

Part III

So the garden is beginning to take off. Green stuff is poking out of the soil here and there. A few things are even blooming. The bees are pollinating. I've met and worked with scores of people I wouldn't have otherwise--church folks, politicians, educators, master gardeners, anti-poverty volunteers, plumbers, farmers, and the local feed store proprietors. I've learned a lot about irrigation, mulch, soil amendments, compost, charitable donations, local government, legal matters, insurance, human relations, and bees.

Would Joseph Beuys have called what I've done art? And if he did, would he be right to do so?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torture and found lyrics

The artist is Jonathan Mann. His Web site is here. I labeled this "politics" only because some people want it to be political. It isn't. It's a matter of justice.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


This video is rather long, but I think it's worth watching:

BILL MOYERS: This wound that you say has been inflicted on American life. The loss of worker's income. And security and pensions and future happened, because of the misconduct of a relatively few, very well-heeled people, in very well-decorated corporate suites, right?


BILL MOYERS: It was relatively a handful of people.

WILLIAM K. BLACK: And their ideologies, which swept away regulation. So, in the example, regulation means that cheaters don't prosper. So, instead of being bad for capitalism, it's what saves capitalism. "Honest purveyors prosper" is what we want. And you need regulation and law enforcement to be able to do this. The tragedy of this crisis is it didn't need to happen at all.

BILL MOYERS: When you wake in the middle of the night, thinking about your work, what do you make of that? What do you tell yourself?

WILLIAM K. BLACK: There's a saying that we took great comfort in. It's actually by the Dutch, who were fighting this impossible war for independence against what was then the most powerful nation in the world, Spain. And their motto was, "It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere."

Now, going forward, get rid of the people that have caused the problems. That's a pretty straightforward thing, as well. Why would we keep CEOs and CFOs and other senior officers, that caused the problems? That's facially nuts. That's our current system.

So stop that current system. We're hiding the losses, instead of trying to find out the real losses. Stop that, because you need good information to make good decisions, right? Follow what works instead of what's failed. Start appointing people who have records of success, instead of records of failure. That would be another nice place to start. There are lots of things we can do. Even today, as late as it is. Even though they've had a terrible start to the administration. They could change, and they could change within weeks. And by the way, the folks who are the better regulators, they paid their taxes. So, you can get them through the vetting process a lot quicker.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Taleb: one guy's prescription

From yesterday's Financial Times, ten principles to limit risk:

1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.
2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.
I find it interesting that so many commenters on the banking mess are saying the same things about the bailout. The pollution of the political process by banks, bankers, financiers, and fellow travelers is just plain wrong.

Update: Simon Johnson discusses turnaround scenarios here. Among his observations, this one stood out for me:
To me, fixing the banks - i.e., greatly reducing their economic and political power - is essential for all our futures, irrespective of when and how the economy recovers. We cannot allow the same kind of potentially system-breaking risks to be taken again, and we cannot assume that the solutions that failed in the past (e.g., tweaking regulatory powers) will work in the future. Next time, the banks won’t just be Too Big To Fail, they’ll be Too Big To Rescue - the fiscal costs if we let this happen again would likely be huge; where is it written that the U.S. will for all time have fiscal credibility and provide the world’s leading reserve currency?
It's come to this: Too Big To Fail is Too Big To Exist.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Oligarchs III

Oligarchs II

Not long ago I wrote here about the oligarchy the financial industry has become, concentrating wealth and political power in the hands of a few "Masters of the Universe" whose opinions about bailouts, regulations, and the wisdom of our financial system have all but become dogma for policymakers and the rest of us. Let me add to that this bit of information: the director of the Obama Administration's National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers receive more than $6 million as a managing director of New York Based hedge fund D.E. Shaw and Co. over the past 16 month, according to Bloomberg.

Now Larry advises Barry, and Barry (being the newest decider) makes the policy. But Barry's adviser Larry got $6 extra large from a big Wall Street player quite recently.

When Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia seized up economically speaking a bit over ten years ago, word got out here in the US that a large part of their problem had to do with crony capitalism -- a distorted credit market arising from an unholy comingling of finance and governmental power. Reading news reports at the time, we were led to feel superior to such undeveloped nations. America isn't like that.

Are we?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Our garden

There's a reason I've been less than prolific here on the blog lately. We're creating a public garden here in Commerce, and I've been hauling and trenching and organizing just about full time for the past week and a half. Part time before that.

Here are a few pictures of what we've accomplished so far.

The land we leased hasn't been tilled for about 40 years, so it needed some attention. First it was tilled using equipment that belongs to Cereal Crops Research, Inc., an area non-profit that's been working with farmers in this area for a couple of decades to determine which cultivars are most successful in our climate and our soil conditions. The big John Deere machine below is disking with only its central part as it passes over the heavy "Blackland gumbo" at first. The greater weight on a smaller footprint was necessary to break up the heavy soil. Later the big wings came down for further passes.

After the soil was loosened, we applied two cubic yards of composted chicken manure to the area, and that was tilled in. Next came amendments to loosen the soil further, specifically three truckloads of salvaged potting soil. This was tilled in before it could blow away.

Since this area has been in a steady drought for the past few years, we determined to develop an irrigation plan involving drip lines to conserve water. The plan involved laying PVC pipes underground to each of the 36 individual garden plots. Trenching and plumbing were completed this week.

While the digging was being done, a few of us also worked on setting the raised beds in place -- no easy task. Those suckers are heavy.

Still to do are moving amended soil into most of the raised beds and mulching the pathways around them. County government has donated about 130 cubic yards of mulch, and we expect a number of volunteers to descend on us Saturday morning in conjunction with a larger civic event scheduled for that day.

This morning the mulch pile was steaming in the cool sunlight.

Our plan is to begin signing up gardeners on Saturday. Planting will commence soon.