Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 78

Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944) is available in its entirety on Spotify. Is it possible to listen to the whole 11 plus hours from beginning to end without tiring of this glorious singer and the great musicians who adopted her? Four hours and counting, and I have no desire to change the channel.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ooh Poo Pah Doo

Because it's the most!


KD

I was for the Cavs... the amount of talent the Warriors have assembled is simply unfair, and I think LeBron is not just the greatest, but the most un-selfish superstar I have witnessed in any sport. Still, you have to be impressed when you watch the Warriors getting it done. They have so many ways to win. And KD is such a classy, chill, and lethal player. So, yes, well done Dubs... Talent notwithstanding, you deserve it!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Love in the time of apocalypse

Jeff VanderMeer and Mohsin Hamid wrote some of my favorite books of the last few years. Both have new novels out, which I purchased for my flights to and from New York City last weekend. Strangely enough, different as they are, both books take place in a dystopian future and feature love stories of couples on the run. Though neither is up to its author's previous standard, both are good reads.

The title character of VanderMeer's Borne is an odd bit of genetically engineered something-or-other discovered by the book's resourceful scavenger-protagonist Rachel in the nightmarish Mad Max landscape she inhabits. She decides she'll keep him. I was immediately reminded of one of my very favorite Dr. Seuss poems:



Needless to say Borne doesn't remain merely a curious little lump for long, and soon he is a large, very smart, and voracious shape-shifter. Borne aside, Rachel has plenty of problems on her hands, struggling to stay clear of the terrifying giant flying bear that rules much of her territory as well as the Magician, a powerful warlord who has recruited an army of ultra-violent bio-damaged orphans to compete with the bear and the Company, which apparently was responsible for the mess everyone is in.

I wasn't really convinced by the bear or the Magician, and if you read much sci-fi you've probably already encountered someone like Borne. The book is not as downright weird and compelling as VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy. Still, Rachel and her drug-dealing partner Wick are a couple worth getting to know. And VanderMeer's powers of description remain acute.

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West takes place in a much nearer future that closely resembles our own time. There is no flying terror-bear, but the religious extremists who take over Nadia and Saeed's home town (perhaps Aleppo) are just as scary. As chaos, violence, and intolerance descend on their city, rumors spread that there are doors hidden in the city that can take you far away to a safe somewhere-else. These portals, like the wardrobe that opens into Narnia, are an odd contrivance. In an otherwise realistic work of fiction, they serve one main function in the narrative: to permit the plot to follow its refugees directly from origin to destination, skipping the journey itself– no harrowing boat ride across the Mediterranean, no airless shipping container, no trek across the desert and treacherous midnight crossing of the Rio Grande, no underground railroad... such an odd choice for a novel about forced migration!

Hamid's previous novels were concise, tightly focused, compressed. His prose has been referred to as "lapidary," which describes both its beauty and its cold, sharp, even cruel precision. These virtues are present in Exit West too, but for once I found myself wishing for a more expansive, epic approach. A refugee story that crosses multiple continents– from an unnamed city in the Middle East or Central Asia, to Greece, to London, and to the future favelas of Marin County (!)– and that posits a humanistic, even optimistic vision of the refugee community as full of progressive possibility– really deserves a longer treatment... to take its time. Instead, Hamid rushes toward the ending. Did he have trouble juggling the diverse settings, or the seemingly gratuitous element of magic realism? Need the paycheck? Just lose interest? Mohsin, take this one back and work on it a couple more years. It could be a masterpiece.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I knew he would do it...

... so why am I feeling shocked that he did it? So petty. So stupid. So depressing.
But if withdrawing from the agreement will not make Mr. Trump’s domestic policies any worse than they are, it is still a terrible decision that could have enormous consequences globally. In huge neon letters, it sends a clear message that this president knows nothing or cares little about the science underlying the stark warnings of environmental disruption. That he knows or cares little about the problems that disruption could bring, especially in poor countries. That he is unmindful that America, historically the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, has a special obligation to help the rest of the world address these issues. That he is impervious to the further damage this will cause to his already tattered relationship with the European allies. That his malfeasance might now prompt other countries that signed the accord to withdraw from the agreement, or rethink their emissions pledges.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NIMBY vs. YIMBY

I'm with the YIMBYs: advocates of less restrictive urban housing development, including development of more market-rate housing. This column by Noah Smith lays out the YIMBY case, while trying to be sympathetic to NIMBY concerns. As he concludes, "the YIMBY viewpoint has the weight of evidence and theory on its side." The outrageous cost of housing in the Bay Area, which imposes very real hardships on the poorest members of our community, is in this view largely a product of supply not being allowed to respond adequately to demand.

One point that could be added to the YIMBY argument is the evidence that over time market-rate housing "filters down" to lower-income renters, as argued in this recent article by Stuart Rosenthal:
While filtering has long been considered the primary mechanism by which markets supply low-income housing, direct estimates of that process have been absent. This has contributed to doubts about the viability of markets and to misplaced policy. I fill this gap by estimating a "repeat income" model using 1985-2011 panel data. Real annual filtering rates are faster for rental housing (2.5 percent) than owner-occupied (0.5 percent), vary inversely with the income elasticity of demand and house price inflation, and are sensitive to tenure transitions as homes age. For most locations, filtering is robust which lends support for housing voucher programs.
Of course, skeptical NIMBYs might claim that "filtering" smacks of "trickle-down," a theory of income distribution that seems to have been pretty well refuted by the evidence. But there is a big theoretical difference between the impact of increasing supply of housing at the top and the impact of transferring income to the top. Not to mention the weight of the evidence. Build baby build!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Oh no! Harsher!

Ross Douthat has out-harshed harsh David Brooks:
...ultimately I do not believe that our president sufficiently understands the nature of the office that he holds, the nature of the legal constraints that are supposed to bind him, perhaps even the nature of normal human interactions, to be guilty of obstruction of justice in the Nixonian or even Clintonian sense of the phrase....
Meanwhile, from the perspective of the Republican leadership’s duty to their country, and indeed to the world that our imperium bestrides, leaving a man this witless and unmastered in an office with these powers and responsibilities is an act of gross negligence, which no objective on the near-term political horizon seems remotely significant enough to justify. 
Good luck with that, Ross. Those are your people in charge now, and they are craven political opportunists first, members of the central committee of the capitalist class second. Our best hope is that they see the president as a threat "on the near-term political horizon." Then we get to deal with Mikey Pence, friend of the working man and woman. Shit.

Monday, May 15, 2017

So harsh!

David Brooks seems to think our president is an "infantilist." Ouch. But on the up side, we've got the greatest, the best, the biggest baby!