Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
This idea was put forth in an essay by Terry Jones (hopefully not the Monty Python alum) in Investor's Business Daily, spread on Fox News by Neil Cavuto ("loaning to minorities is a disaster"), and John Derbyshire took up the idea in a post on The National Review blog. And I want to point out up front that I have no sort of expertise in this matter. I couldn't give you a detailed account of what, exactly, could have been done to prevent the current meltdown. But I do know that this idea that "lending to minorities" caused the problem is bullshit.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has been blogging a good deal about this (you should read his blog anyway, he's a very smart and funny read), and he pointed me toward an excellent takedown in The American Prospect by Robert Gordon, which I am now going to quote at length:
The revisionists say the problem wasn't too little regulation; but too much, via CRA. The law was enacted in response to both intentional redlining and structural barriers to credit for low-income communities. CRA applies only to banks and thrifts that are federally insured; it's conceived as a quid pro quo for that privilege, among others. This means the law doesn't apply to independent mortgage companies (or payday lenders, check-cashers, etc.)
But CRA has always had critics, and they now suggest that the law went too far in encouraging banks to lend in struggling communities. Rhetoric aside, the argument turns on a simple question: In the current mortgage meltdown, did lenders approve bad loans to comply with CRA, or to make money?
The evidence strongly suggests the latter. First, consider timing. CRA was enacted in 1977. The sub-prime lending at the heart of the current crisis exploded a full quarter century later. In the mid-1990s, new CRA regulations and a wave of mergers led to a flurry of CRA activity, but, as noted by the New America Foundation's Ellen Seidman (and by Harvard's Joint Center), that activity "largely came to an end by 2001." In late 2004, the Bush administration announced plans to sharply weaken CRA regulations, pulling small and mid-sized banks out from under the law's toughest standards. Yet sub-prime lending continued, and even intensified -- at the very time when activity under CRA had slowed and the law had weakened.
Second, it is hard to blame CRA for the mortgage meltdown when CRA doesn't even apply to most of the loans that are behind it. As the University of Michigan's Michael Barr points out, half of sub-prime loans came from those mortgage companies beyond the reach of CRA. A further 25 to 30 percent came from bank subsidiaries and affiliates, which come under CRA to varying degrees but not as fully as banks themselves. (With affiliates, banks can choose whether to count the loans.) Perhaps one in four sub-prime loans were made by the institutions fully governed by CRA.
Most important, the lenders subject to CRA have engaged in less, not more, of the most dangerous lending. Janet Yellen, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, offers the killer statistic: Independent mortgage companies, which are not covered by CRA, made high-priced loans at more than twice the rate of the banks and thrifts. With this in mind, Yellen specifically rejects the "tendency to conflate the current problems in the sub-prime market with CRA-motivated lending.? CRA, Yellen says, "has increased the volume of responsible lending to low- and moderate-income households."
That's sort of a summary of the hilights, but it's useful to read the whole thing.
The other, and perhaps even more persuasive, source I want to point you to is this episode of This American Life, entitled The Giant Pool of Money. It explains why banks began offering these sub-prime mortgages to everyone who wanted them, and it has nothing to do with incentives (or coercian) from the government. The incentives came from bundling the mortgages together and selling them up the foodchain to investors. They had no concern about people failing to make their mortgages, because they were going to sell them all to someone else anyway. It was the market in action.
Again, I have no idea what could have been done to prevent this. I have no idea whether the bailout plan that got voted down this morning was a good thing or not. (My biggest question is why congress isn't haggling over it. You need $700 billion? We'll give you $400 billion--enough to keep the economy from collapsing, but an amount that still causes some pain. Maybe this proves how little I know about the situation.) But I can clearly see that this is not a crisis caused by over-regulation.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Punk Single of the Week: Skafish
Skafish - Sink or Swim (mp3)
I'm not sure how regular a feature this will be. It's not like I have that massive a record collection. But I can at least keep it going for a few months.
Skafish, a "quirky" new wave band much weirder than Devo or Oingo Boingo, have been making the rounds on the blogs lately. Joe at Last Days posted the amazing "Disgracing the Family Name" 7", then Egg City Radio threw up their first LP, so I'll complete it with the B-Side of the "Obsessions of You" single from that LP. This was actually a birthday gift. One of my college roommates gave me a small pile of weird records he'd gotten at the weird used record store in town (they had some amazing stuff for a place in the middle of nowhere, but none of it was in any kind of order. I remember that one time I found a copy of "The Show" b/w "La Di Da Di" 12", but I didn't have the money for it, and I couldn't find it when I went back!). The A-Side isn't all that great, but the B-Side, which for some reason isn't on the album, is fucking insane. Maybe the weirdest thing from that early period, definitely the most rocking thing from that period. As you can see, the sleeve got some water damage from a window leak, but the record still plays fine.
Skafish are most famous for this performance of "Sign of the Cross" from Urgh: A Music War. If I remember correctly, it's the last song in the film, and it managed to get my attention even after watching the 347 bands before it. Apparantly, there was a whole album recorded during the "Disgracing the Family Name" sessions, and it's just been released on CD this year. These are purportedly the earliest recordings of any Chicago punk band. Check it out, and also visit the rather long-winded Skafish blog.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Movie Quiz, Patton at the New Bev, Rock v. Clinton and More!
- Which actor do you think hasn’t gotten the attention he/she deserves?
Hmmm, that's hard, because all the actors that I used to think that about (Forrest Whitaker, the cast of Boogie Nights) have pretty much gotten there in the past few years. But I've always thought Janeane Garofalo had some serious chops that she rarely got to use.
- What is your favorite movie line?
Well, my favorite recent movie line is from Superbad:
"Oh, I'm so wet"
"Yeah, they said that would happen in health class."
- What are the absolute worst movies you’ve ever seen?
This is lame, I'm as tired of it as everyone else, but I have to be honest. The worst movie I've ever seen is Revenge of the Sith. Second place is The Phantom Menace. I also really despised that Jim Carrey version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Aside from properties that I had some kind of investment in before the movie came out, Armagedon was really torture to sit through. I was really tempted to rip my eyes out of their sockest just to avoid seeing one more minute of it.
- What is your biggest guilty pleasure movie - the one you’re ashamed you enjoy?
Hmmm. I don't know if I really feel guilty about liking any movie. I guess I could say Mallrats. There's no way that movie is as funny as I think it is.
Zane has been bugging me to get on Facebook so that I could post to his community, so I finally caved. You can find me here. If you want to friend me, go right ahead.
The New Beverly continues their awesome guest programmers. And this one should be really awesome:
I strongly reccomend Blast of Silence and The Blade, two of my favorite underseen gems. It'll be great to hear Patton go off about these movies.
Seriously, Gloria Molina. Just cut it out. "The bloggers who helped bring the taco truck ban in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles to national headlines have done some sleuthing with a particular commenter's IP address (it's like a digital fingerprint) who left comments bashing the cause to save the savory street food. When they compared the address left on their website to the address listed on Wikipedia page edits about the County, it was the same."
Chris Rock going off on Bill Clinton on Letterman last night. Here's a few other political bits from the last week or so that I think are either important or funny enough to spread around. Hilzoy hilights some serious employee abuses that are apparantly not uncommon at all, what with the regulatory agencies being shrunk to bathtub drowning size and all. William Wolfrum points out some of the more disturbing bits in the official Republican Party platform. This bit on "white privelege" and what it means has been getting passed around a lot, but if you haven't seen it, it's worth a read. Also, if you haven't heard about the GOP attempt to purge voter rolls in Ohio, please read this. And Sullivan digs up the most enlightening interview on the election yet.
Finally, Locust Street has posted a set of songs to celebrate the arrival of Autumn, ranging from jazz to classical to 80's synth pop. I've been listening to it this morning, and it flows very nicely. I highly reccomend it. He followed it up with a set of songs that are all too relevent this week. Here's my choice for the current economic climate:
Monday, September 22, 2008
Beck @ The Hollywood Bowl 9/20/08 (Updated Again!)
Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat
Que Onda Guero
Nicotine and Gravy
Soul of a Man
Black Tambourine (remix)
I Think I'm In Love
Round the Bend
Where It's At
Songs in red were accompanied by The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra Strings. Songs in green were Beck rapping while his band played 808's. This list helped me remember the titles of some of the Sea Change material, but I think they got a few things wrong, so I'm posting my list anyway.
I didn't even realize until I got there that Beck would have a string section, which only reinforced my expectation that it would be a mellow set focused on the relatively low-key new material. So it took me by surprise when he kicked off with a fast, loud, guitar-heavy set beginning with "Loser." Could there be any better way to start a show than hearing the whole crowd yell in unison "In a time of chimpanzees I was a monkey?" Most of the songs from the rock portion of the set were pretty close to the studio versions, but "Nicotine and Gravy" had a really nice arrangement, with the sort of mellow funk sound that sounds really good in an outdoor setting. The stuff with the strings was pretty fantastic. I was hoping they'd use the strings to bring "Earthquake Weather" to life, or to rock out "Novacaine." No dice, but some of the arrangements, especially on the Sea Change songs, were just gorgeous. There were some points where the strings seemed a bit too loud, and were overpowering the vocals, but that's preferable to not being able to hear them.
"E-Pro" is one of the few Beck songs I don't like much. I mean, it's not terrible, but it sounds a bit corny in its funk-metal sound. But in a live setting, it sounds fantastic, with the whole audience chanting the "Na, na, na na na na na" chorus. And "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" was a nice touch.
Edit: someone uploaded video of the two songs I didn't recognize from Sea Change. Sea Change is the one Beck album I don't really like (and I do like Mutations and One Foot in the Grave quite a bit. Never heard Stereopathic Soul Manure, though.), but maybe I should give it another chance. "Lonesome Tears" was maybe my favorite song of the night, and "Paper Tiger" was the best example of how the strings worked for these songs. On "Lonesome Tears," you can hear what I mean about the strings almost overpowering the vocals (and his voice is already straining on that song, which requires him to go a bit out of his range).
Edit 2: I had no idea that the conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Strings, David Campbell, was Beck's father, but I'm reading two seperate blogs that say so. Soundboard recording of the show here, yo!
Friday, September 19, 2008
Sir Ben Does Ian
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The Voodoo Idols - Temptation
From the legendary Florida Music Scene where Jim Morrison grew up, where organ king Lenny Dee owns his own restaurant, where Randy California destroyed millions of his own brain cells, and Patti Smith took her infamous dive off the stage, comes another band ready to make the rest of the world aware that Florida is more than just that downard pointed thumb sticking out of Georgia.
Bonus Track: The Voodoo Idols - Postcard (mp3)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
OCD Listmaking: Top 5 Beck Tracks
1. Earthquake Weather - I wrote about this one last year, so I'll just quote myself: "All the elements of that song come together to make it perfect for extremely hot weather. That phased-out guitar at the beginning seems to imitate the heat waves you can see coming off the road, and it gives the whole thing a hazy sound. Then the beat comes in, and it's this nice, slow, head-bobbing beat. The lyrics seem to hint at dog days--"The days go slow." All the instruments--the soaring guitar notes over the chorus, the funky keyboard over the bridge--have some kind of treated sound that removes their edges and makes them sound as if they're melting in the sun. You just want to sink into the vinyl of your car seat." This song feels like Beck finally hitting what he had been going for for years, this weird mix of hip hop and indie and folk and his own offbeat personality. When it gets to that funky breakdown in the middle, damn that's good stuff.
2. Stange Apparition - (live version here) The obvious reference is the Stones, with that Nicky Hopkins-like piano riff sounding straight off of Sticky Fingers. Sort of the same idea as "Earthquake Weather" of bringing all these different elements together, but this one feels like it has a bit more depth to it, a ragged, lived-in, soulful sound. Great beat.
3. Mixed Bizness - The whole first half of Midnight Vultures feels so unified. Beck in Prince drag (sometimes I think of it as Midnight Vultures is to Prince as Ziggy Stardust is to The Stones) crooning R&B come-ons that manage to come off as pretty sexy while still being hillarious. This one is such a great dancefloor burner.
4. Derelict/Novacaine - Both good songs, but they sound even better together (I could say the same about "Hot Wax" and "Lord Only Knows"). I felt like I ought to include something off of Odelay, but it's hard to choose. It sort of works better as a whole than as individual tracks.
5. Chemtrails - I was gonna say Tropicalia, but let's go with one from the new album. This song really amazes me. Actual comments on the video: "People wake up U.S. Airforce are killing us! Beck has the guts to sing about it! I hope Bruce Springsteen starts protesting and singing about this too!!! We need more artest making people aware that we are being poisioned everyday!!! This is a fact!!!You pay your leaders and they do not listen! do not vote for anybody thats not fighting this crime against humanity!!!!!! " "just listen to the god damn song you hippy"
One more for the road:
Friday, September 12, 2008
I also want to point out that, on Matthew Perpetua's Pop Songs '08 blog (where he has just finished the task of writing about every single REM song ever), Michael Stipe is now personally answering questions about his lyrics. This seems like a great opportunity, but when I think through his songs and try to figure out what the question I've always had is, I realize that I never really thought too much on any of his lyrics, since none of them made much sense to me. It's fun to see how maleable these lyrics become in people's minds:
Q: In New Test Leper, what is the test? Why is the protagonist under attack, and by whom (various opinions on this were posted in response to Matthew’s review)?
A:The test is short for testament, the new testament of the bible being the reference.
DUH! Still, even getting concrete answers, you wonder if the guy might not still be putting us on:
Q: From Can’t Get There From Here, there is an ambiguous line just before “Brother Ray can sing my song.” It sounds like: “Trish is sure to serve the beer now.” Is this correct?
A: tris is sure to shir[sp?] the deers out. Its a friend chris’ nickname, and his ability to whistle to attract deer
In other news, tomorrow I have to go to traffic school all day. Not even for a speeding ticket, but a didn't-come-to-a-complete-stop-at-a-stop-sign ticket, which is so lame. And my dryer seems to be broken.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
My nomination for The Great, Lost Proto-Punk Classic:
The Fugs - Kill For Peace
Even John McCain would have to love a song with a line like "The only gook an American can trust/Is a gook what's got his yella haid bust!" I like this because it's sort of a bridge between punks and hippies. This is from 1966, around the time the Mothers released Freak Out! and the Velvets were recording their first album. It's easy to see these bands together, in retrospect, breaking off from the "mainstream" to start their new aesthetic, but The Fugs were beatnik poets and San Francisco folkies, so they weren't hostile to or even seperate from the flower power movement.
This is from The Fugs Second Album, as it's called in its current release, although my copy is just called The Fugs. Some great songs on here. It kicks off with a frantic ode to group sex called "Frenzy," and the theme continues through songs like "Group Grope" and "Skin Pops." My favorite song is actually the last one, "Virgin Forest," a 7:30 piece similar some of the stuff on the early Mothers of Invention albums, mostly consisting of spoken word on sped-up tapes (my favorite line is "Twisted like an elastic cigarette/Get your face off my bayonette!"). There's also a very pretty, folkie ballad called "Morning, Morning." Here's an extra track:
The Fugs - I'm Doin' Alright
There's an interesting arc to the development of the band, as they moved more towards comedy through their career. Their first album has musical versions of poems by William Blake and Matthew Arnold (but also contains the novelty classic "Boobs Alot"), their third album, Virgin Fugs (apparantly out of print) is much funnier with songs like "New Amphetamine Shriek" and "We're the Fugs." The second album, while not as funny as Virgin Fugs, makes for the most enjoyable listen, if you ask me.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Friday YouTube: Post-Convention Edition
And whoever this is, too:
Also, God Hates Shrimp!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Allow Me To Retort
Talking Point: Picking Palin demonstrates what a maverick John McCain is.
Rebuttal: No it doesn't. It demonstrates precisely the opposite. From all reports, John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman or possibly Tom Ridge to be his VP. The base wanted Palin. He folded. That's not a maverick, that's a henchman.
Talking Point: Palin has more executive experience than Obama.
Rebuttal: Even if we accept the horseshit that running a state with a population of less than the South Side of Chicago is more impressive than serving in the Senate and running a national campaign efficient enough to beat the most powerful political machine in America, Obama has consistently shown vision. He has consistently demonstrated that he has intelligent ideas about national and international politics. He has proven himself. Has Sarah Palin?
The thing is, it's not inconceivable that a less-than-one-term governor could have the credentials to be president. Did she prove herself to be a reformer? Did she handle a crisis? Did she show vision? Does she regularly show herself to have intelligent ideas about national politics? Show me the evidence. Instead, they either say things (she's a budget slasher!) that are completely contradicted by the facts, or they throw out nonsense about commanding the National Guard or foreign relations with Russia.
Talking Point: The press is ganging up on Palin over her teenage daughter's pregnancy (although when you hear these people talk, it's usually constantly shifting between "The Obama Campaign," "Pro-Obama blogs" and "The Media," depending on which fits their narrative at the moment).
Rebuttal: Actually, that hasn't been much of an issue. During the first 48 hours after the announcement of her candidacy, there was some basic questions being asked, and now they are mostly forgotten. Instead, the questions now being asked are about subjects like her extreme anti-abortion views (she doesn't just want to overturn Roe, she wants a law passed to outlaw abortion, including for rape and incest, nationally), the fact that, as mayor, she left her town $22 Million in debt, that she lied about her support for the "bridge to nowhere" (and is closely associated with Ted Stevens), that she tried to get her ex-brother-in-law fired, then fired the cop who refused to fire him, that she is responsible for several of the "earmarks" that McCain has railed against, that she believes God wants us to build a natural gas pipeline through her state, that she belongs to a crazy church where TWO WEEKS AGO she sat through a sermon that stated that anti-Israeli terrorism was God's judgement on the Jews for not accepting Jesus!
The thing is, the Republicans want her to get shit for her kid. They're actively trying to bait the press into going after her. They want to cast her as a victim of sexism on the (hopefully misguided) belief that that will win over Hillary supporters.
Also, this is awesome.
As the dog days of summer wind down (technincally, I suppose summer is probably over, but September tends to be the hottest month in L.A.), I revisit one of the great summertime albums of all time. Everyone loves the single "In the Summertime," one of the great summer songs of all time, but I'm here to tell ya that the rest of the album is great too. It all has the same feel as the single, a sort of laid-back, old-timey style that makes me feel like Tom and Huck, wading barefoot in the Mississippi looking for adventure. Like the Stones/Yardbirds/etc, they're a British band immitating arcane American sounds, in this case jugbands and ragtime piano.
My friend Doug bought this album at a flea market when we were in college. I knew "Summertime," and liked the song, but it would never have occurred to me to buy the album, because I "knew" they were an old one-hit-wonder of no signifigance. It's always good to hang around someone that doesn't "know" too much about music, so you can hear stuff like this.
This is a highly nostalgic album for me. In particular, it always makes me think of this one day (although it could well be a composite of several days, and for all I can remember we may not even have been listening to this album on any of them) driving around LaGrange (the lame Southern town where we attended college), smoking dope, drinking cheap wine (Gallo or Carlo Rossi or something) and looking for something to do. We went to the town square, and there was a dog show, of all things, going on. Hung out there for a while, then went to the lake and hit on a few underage girls (like, we were 19 or 20 and they were probably almost 18, so not pervy or anything). Then, out of sheer boredom, we started driving out the road past the lake. We ended up in the town of Franklin, taking a dirt road to the bank of a river. We saw a box float by in the water, but if you squinted, you could imagine the river was much bigger and it was a house being washed away by a flood. Obviously, this story doesn't add up to much, and I suppose neither does Mungo Jerry. It just feels like fun.
So I nominate this song, "Movin' On", as the great, lost summer classic. "Movin' On" tells a similar story: a guy wakes up on a lazy day, hitchhikes out to the beach with his guitar, chats up some girls, gets drunk with them, dances around a bonfire, and then the cops come by and chase them off. It's not much of a story to tell, but it sounds like a fun one to experience. Against all odds or logic, Mungo Jerry are still together, and still play occasional gigs.