Thursday, October 23, 2008

MOVIES- Sarah Marshall, Dewey Cox, and Judd Apatow

Well, I found FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL in my mailbox last week and gave it a spin during the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a Judd Apatow produced comedy, starring Apatow alumnus Jason Segel (who you may know as Marshall from the sitcom “How I Fucked Your Mother”) and sporting the modest tagline: From the guys who brought you "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up". Due to the success of these two films, Apatow and his posse have been hailed by many critics as comedic geniuses. And while the movies are amusing, this says more about the state of comedy in film than it does about the films themselves. Here the characters seem a little more mature and there aren’t any drug references so this film is noticeably different than the usual Apatow fare.

Segel wrote the film as well as starring in it. The plot is the essence of sitcom high-concept- What if you went to Hawaii to get over a breakup and wound up in the same hotel as your ex and her new boyfriend? What surprises is that the characters nominally act like grown-ups and the dialog is clever and understated. There’s only one scene where somebody winds up hanging from something and it isn’t their ex’s balcony so it’s forgivable. It’s easy to see what a mess this would have been in the hands of cartoon comedians like Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell. But here Segel plays Peter Bretter OH MY GOD THAT’S HIS PENIS the way only a writer writing autobiographically THERE IT IS AGAIN can manage to and the commentary tract HOLY CRAP THERE IT IS AGAIN THIS IS RIDICULOUS confirms that almost every scene in the movie OH COME ON BUDDY JUST PUT THAT THING AWAY had happened to him at one time or another. Kristin Bell and Mila Kunis are lovely and perky and get a few good lines. But Russell Brand steals the show as Aldous Snow, the rock-star new boyfriend. This is a character you’re supposed to hate. He’s shallow, narcissistic, and we find out halfway through the movie that he was sleeping with the hero’s girlfriend for a year before the breakup. But the role is written so that he’s actually a pretty decent guy and Brand’s performance is so charming while at the same time being so completely bizarre that you wind up not applying any of the rules of human decency to this guy. He looks like he’s only a millimeter deep, but there’s more there than you expected. The whole movie is like that, the payoff is so much more than the set-up would make you think is coming.

Of the Judd Apatow produced comedies in the last couple of years, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the best of the lot. The dialog is funnier and the situations are easier to relate to than being a middle-aged virgin or knocking up the girl of your dreams and having her want to stay with you because of it. If you can stand to see gratuitous full frontal male nudity, give it a try.

The same weekend as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I saw WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY. Earlier I mentioned the mess FSM would have been with Will Ferrell involved. This movie proves the point. It’s basically the type of movie Ferrell has been doing for forever- the faux biopic. In the hands of Ferrell and SNL allumnus Alan McKay I’m sure this would have just been another Talladega Nights. That’s what I expected. But once again Judd Apatow and his FREEKS AND GEEKS cohort Jake Kasdan take a tired premise and put a fresh spin on it with good writing. Now, don’t get me wrong. Walk Hard is a collection of every cliché from every musical biopic you’ve ever seen. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s EVERY Cliché. All of them. From the troubled childhood, to the drug problems, to the infidelity, to the inevitable comeback tour. And to look at the movie with the sound turned down you’d think it was all done straight. John C. Reilly never raises an eyebrow to let the audience know he’s in on the joke. And that’s what makes it so funny. The movie is silly but never at it’s own expense and while it goes right up to the line it never goes over the top. It’s not a comedy classic, but if you are tired of comedy movies that are nothing more than Saturday Night Live skits padded out to two hours and don’t think yelling is funny for it’s own sake, you’ll probably find yourself being amused.

Friday, October 17, 2008

POLITICS- Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Christopher Buckley, son of conservative intellectual William Buckley, was forced to resign from the magazine his father founded this week. It seems he had the temerity to make a reasonable case for why a conservative Republican would vote for Barak Obama. He didn’t defile the pages of the National Review with his opinion but instead wrote the article on The Daily Beast website. He did this knowing that Review readers had called for jihad on another review writer who had dared state the obvious last month- that the nomination of Sarah Palin was not a proud day for the GOP. Unfortunately it didn’t do him any good. Review readers found out and unleashed the kind of wrath that only people who have shibboleths for political opinions can muster. Over ten thousand emails later, Buckley became another victim of a Republican party that has decided to excise any whiff of intelligence or disagreement from their ranks. A Republican party that has abandoned small government principles for a policy of attempting to destroy the government through unparalleled debt and ineffectiveness. A Republican party that has abandoned free markets in favor of plutocracy and socialism for the rich. A Republican party that has abandoned the discourse of democracy for the politics of character assassination and the covenants of the constitution for the despotism of theocracy. A party that is abandoning bright lights like Buckley and George Will to embrace dim bulbs like Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter. Replacing reason with rabble rousing. Leaving the high road to pursue the lowest common denominator.

Colin Powell will be on Meet the Press this Sunday morning and expectations are that he will also endorse Obama for president. It will be interesting to see how quickly the lynch mob forms for another great man in the party who still believes that the essence of freedom is that you get to choose who you vote for without duress. I’d say shame on them, but soon the only people left in the party will be automatons that have no shame.

MOVIES- Entertainment Weekly's Weak Website

Following a link (I almost compulsively follow links the same way I always read introductions, footnotes, and endnotes) about the new Star Trek movie by J. J. Abrams sent me pinballing around the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY website for a couple of hours this morning. It wouldn’t have been a couple of hours except that all their articles seem to be lists. Not lists like CRACKED.COM does them- articles that center around a silly or strange topics and are written like articles- but lists that are load every item as a new page and usually consist of a throwaway picture and a brief but boring paragraph of text that’s usually only a tedious synopsis. Reading the site consists of endless clicking “next” and having a page take three times longer to load than it takes to read it. All I can guess is that this pedalware format is an editorial decision held over from a weekly print magazine that has to pad, pad, pad every issue to keep it from being a flyer but never thought to hire interesting writers. Or writers at all, for what I can tell. For instance, their review of Orson Wells TOUCH OF EVIL DVD is three sentences long! THREE SENTENCES LONG! Exactly the same as the number of edits of the movie contained in the package. In another article, 20 Pop-Culture Hits We Couldn’t Pay You to See, they don’t even bother to write anything, simply publishing readers’ emails on the topic. The results are pretty predictable. One submitter prefaces why he wouldn’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer by saying that he hadn’t see any of the Star Wars movies, Godfather movies, or an episode of the Sopranos either. I guess he has a policy of avoiding anything people think is good. Another states she’s not seen the Godfather movies so she can “ save my Godfather virginity for my future husband — I want to be able to sit down one Saturday night with both movies, some wine and say, ‘Honey, have you ever seen these movies? I heard they were good.’ ” I wonder how long she’s going to have to look to find a husband who’s never seen the movies. I imagine his reply will be that he’d like to but the WWF is on Pay-Per-View so he’ll have to give it a miss. But my favorite is the person who says they haven’t seen ET because they “just want to remain in the dark.” Mission accomplished.

The writing, even when it’s not being culled from the emails of self admitted ignoramuses, is so pedestrian and uninformed that I can’t imagine an actual film or television lover hanging around for long. It’s just window dressing for the pictures. A plot summary for whatever you are being shown a still from. But the articles are interesting for one reason- to see what incredibly dumb idea they are going to spit at you next. Especially in their SF area. Some of the things they write are so ridiculous that if they were posted in a forum you would immediately peg the writer as a troll.

To give you an example, two of the lists are 20 Greatest Sci-fi Shows and 17 Sci-fi Misfires. The former includes such terrible atrocities against the genre as the Buck Rogers TV show from the 1970s, V- an early 80s series about alien invaders that look like lizards (unless they’re wearing their people masks, in which case they look completely normal) and eat humans, and The Jetsons. YES! THEY ACTUALLY NAMED THE JETSONS AS ONE OF THE GREATEST SF SHOWS OF ALL TIME! The latter list names Blade Runner and Jurassic Park as “greatest misfires”.

Another list posits Kirk’s 20 Best and Worst Moments. Now I know you’ve got to be pretty parent’s basement worthy to even look at such as list, but it’s almost worth it for the unintentional hilarity. This list is so padded that 4 of the best moments are from ST II, four are from ST III, and one is from the abominable ST V. Then the first Worst moment is TOS episode The Trouble With Tribbles. You almost think they are doing it on purpose.

So if you are looking for many pictures and not much reading, or enjoy public displays of FAIL, or just enjoy exercising your index finger, give the site a look. However if you want to read informed opinion or interesting writing, avoid it like people who don’t like good movies avoid The Godfather

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MOVIES- Ridley Scott's War for Forever

The start of the 1980s was an unparalleled time in Science Fiction cinema. STAR WARS had launched a phenomenon and SF movies were being greenlit with wild abandon in Hollywood. Most of them were crap but several classics of the genre were made in those years Two of those classics were among the first films by a young film director named Ridley Scott. But perhaps more interestingly, two classic SF properties that would be started but not finished, to the chagrin of SF fans forever, would also be attempted by Ridley Scott. One of those was THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman and now, after 25 years, we may finally get a chance to see it.

Scott’s first attempt at SF was a film originally titled THE STAR BEAST. It was a high-concept SF/Horror hybrid. But an excellent script by Dan O’Bannon and Scott’s visual talents, with designs by Production Artists Ron Cobb and H. R. Geiger, would take a simple concept and make it a classic. When the movie, now renamed ALIEN, was released in 1979 it was nothing short of a knockout. But Ridley Scott was just getting started.

His next project was be one of those legendary missed opportunities. He took much of his design team from ALIEN and begin work on an adaptation of DUNE. Scott spent over a year doing pre-production work. But the DUNE project had been underway for almost 10 years already and a number of directors had already tried and failed to bring Frank Herbert’s magnum opus to the screen. Ridley Scott also failed, leaving SF fans to forever wonder what a DUNE movie by Scott might have been like.

Leaving Dune, Scott tackled an adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. Again, a title change was in order and, with an assist from William S. Burroughs, BLADERUNNER was born. Unlike ALIEN, BLADERUNNER was a bit of a box office disappointment. But over the next twenty years it would become one of the most influential SF movies ever made. While filmmakers might mimic STAR WARS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or ET for satirical purposes, Scott’s BLADERUNNER would influence the look of literally hundreds of films right up to the present day. And it would make it’s mark in history by being the first movie to ever inspire a genre of written SF- Cyberpunk.

The question in show business is always “what do you do for an encore?” For Ridley Scott the unlikely answer was more SF. But if even-numbered Star Trek movies are better, even-numbered Ridley Scott SF films seemed doomed to limbo. His next project was perhaps to be his most challenging. This would be no horror film in space, or psychological dystopia. It was an adaptation of a “hard” SF novel that didn’t use faster than light drives but instead imagined an interstellar war at sub-light speeds, where six months aboard ship might mean that dozens of years had passed on earth due to Einsteinian time dilation. A novel that was a thinly veiled allegory for the Vietnam War, written by a veteran, that had already been called a classic less than ten years after its publication. An anti-war military SF movie that required the audience to understand Einstein to follow the plot, Joe Haleman’s FOREVER WAR might have been the best true SF movie ever made. At least, it might have been. Except Scott would never be able to obtain the rights to the book.

Eventually Scott would abandon the project and make a fantasy film about elves and unicorns with a rising actor named Tom Cruse. This movie would make BLADERUNNER look like a blockbuster success. After LEGEND Ridley Scott would abandon genre fiction entirely but go on to make groundbreaking movies for the next quarter century.

Twenty-five years is a long time. In spite of decades of Federation starships that move like dirigibles and X-Wing fighters that move like biplanes, movie audiences are far more scientifically literate than they were in the early eighties. We’ll never know what Tim Burton’s Death of Superman or Kubrick’s A.I. would have been. But now that Scott has finally been able to obtain the rights to THE FOREVER WAR perhaps we will finally see that movie. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

RELIGION- Be Careful What You Ask For

If you support the idea of prayer in schools, the main argument against it was made real in Cheshire County, UK recently when two boys were given detention for refusing to pray to Allah in a Religious Education class. I’ve never understood why so many Christians are so gung-ho for the state to take over religious instruction. Not only did Jesus plainly prohibit such public displays (a guideline even more ignored than the ones on bearing false witness or adultery), but to place a thing so seemingly important as communicating with the creator into the hands of public school teachers seems a classic case of pearls before swine. Often the reason proffered by people less friendly to the idea is that it is a tool for proselytizing but I wonder if anyone really believes that saying prayers in unison has ever converted anyone. So I’m left with the conclusion that it must be simply an attempt to display cultural clout. But as we see in the article, it is both a two edged sword and a case of those swine turning again and rending them.

POLITICS- Are You a Criminal?

Since the Labour Party (Labor for us yanks) in Great Britain took power in 1997 they have passed a new law criminalizing some action for every day they’ve been in office. Three thousand, six hundred new laws in just over 10 years. Everything from “disturbing” a package of eggs to offering to sell a game bird you killed on Christmas. This at a time when they’ve also blanketed their country in government cameras.

The UK of V FOR VENDETTA gets a little closer to being a documentary every day. And I’m betting that reality sticks with Alan Moore’s ending.

POLITICS- Is There a Tank in Your Future?

I’ve been watching with interest as our police departments have been being turned into domestic military forces. Cobb County Georgia (pop. 670,000 or so) has bought a new toy for their internal security shock-troops- a tank. Of course it’s necessary. Why? Because of the war on drugs, of course. I’ve got news for you, there are lots of things worse than a few people wasting their lives by escaping from them with drugs. And the rest of us living in a police state in an impossible attempt to stop them is one.

SCIENCE FICTION- Neal Stephenson Speaks

Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson gives a talk on the subject of SF as a literary genre (though the actual title, The Fork: Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture, is actually closer to what he actually talks about). His thesis is that, with Romance ubiquitous in film, Mystery (in the form of crime drama) the overwhelming preference on television, and Westerns on the endangered species list, SF is the only genre left. Be warned, Neal isn’t a very good public speaker and his main idea is so full of holes that he has to do all sorts of stretching exercises to make it work. In addition to talking mostly about movies (he mentions only one SF book and that was made into a movie), he also defines SF to include everything from fantasy and horror to The DaVinci Code. The speech is interesting if you are a SF fan or Neal Stephenson fan, but if you are looking for insights into the topic the closest you are going to come is that the “literature of ideas” tends to attract folks who like intelligent characters or that post-structuralist longhairs consider genre fiction a ghetto.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

POLITICS- The Vice- Presidential Debate

Best debate evar!

If I had some sort of guarantee that McCain would survive the term I think Sarah Palin would be the perfect vice-president. She could preside in the Senate like Vanna White, smiling and winking. Maybe people would like her so much that they’d start tuning in to CSPAN and having a clue about what is going on in government. She could vote a straight party line in tiebreakers and talk a lot about what a maverick free thinker she is. She wants the power of the VP expanded- let her a show on CSPAN AFTER DARK where she interviews Senate members about policy and, eh heh, other things.

Why has nobody been talking about the fact that Palin has a degree in communications and was a sportscaster on television? Of course she knows how to look into a monitor and recite. I thought at one point that she was reading from a teleprompter being lasered onto her glasses by the CIA, because her eyes never moved and she seemed to have on both glasses and contacts. But I realized that was just crazy talk. But she did give a wonderful speech. I’m just waiting for somebody to edit out all the interruptions of questions and that other guy talking so I can hear it the way it was written.

Joe Biden said Cheney’s views on the role of the VP were “Bizarre.” Thank you, Mr. Biden. The whole last eight years have been bizarre and I hope now that the rest of the country has learned an important lesson. No matter what your religious beliefs, electing a moron president is a bad idea. Even if he’s a well meaning Christian moron. Especially if he’s a spoiled amoral cynical “christian” moron.

I watched the debate on CNN and I don’t know how I ever got by without information overload. The most interesting thing was the real-time graph of acceptance by a group of undecided Ohio voters. It was fascinating to watch which things men responded to as opposed to what turned women on. I noticed that the lines were mostly parallel with women being more generous than men. I can’t remember a point at which the lines departed greatly although there were some interesting differences. I expected men to like Palin was was surprised at how consistantly women seemed to like Biden more. Palin started out really strong and sort of gradually petered out with both sexes. People respond to having smoke blown up their asses. ‘Oh, no, the middle class had no responsibility for the current banking problem’ got high marks.

The professional debate scorers were less interesting. Three gave Sarah Palin a point for walking onto the stage without falling down. From there on in I think each’s score was more an indication of their preferences than an attempt to actually technically score a debate.

As far as I understand it, John McCain plans to give everyone a $5000 tax cut for health care and tax employer provided health insurance benefits. I predict that if this happens employeers will drop health care coverage as a benefit like a hot potato and that you’ll be able to buy a policy starting at $4995. This is basically a plan to give Insurance companies $5000 of government money and making us the bagman for the payoff.

The next time somebody in a debate says “redistribution of wealth” in a debate it should be illegal not to answer by saying, “It’s been being redistributed for the last 10 years, it’s just all been going to the top 2%.” After Palin polished this old chestnut, the next morning McCain and Obama both voted to redistribute some more to the people at the top so they wouldn’t quit loaning us our own money back. To the tune of over $2000 per person in the country. A “confidence” game if I’ve ever seen one.

NEW-CLEE-ERR! It’s spelled nuclear, not nucular. There’s no second “U” sound. Stop it. It’s one thing to mis-pronounce a word. It’s quite another to be such an arrogant pinhead that you can’t admit that you are wrong and stop doing it. It even another to base a political party on the idea that all the stubborn pinheads are going to force every body else to do it their way. Pay attention, Intelligent Design supporters.

Joe Biden did a masterful job at avoiding the minefield of ways he might have offended women by saying something or doing something wrong while debating Sarah Palin. Not that women are easily offended or would ever play a passive-aggressive game with a man to get what they want. No sir. Not that that would ever happen.

A great debate. Everybody won. Palin won because she was able to hide the fact that she really doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. At least well enough that other people who don’t know what they are talking about can believe her. And Joe Biden won because he won.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

POLITICS- Plutocrazy

In the midst of all the talk of giving the financial sector just over $8000 (over $20,000 with interest) per family, the government giving a paltry $100 per family ($400 if they default) to the auto industry.

The folks over at TheTruthAboutCars have mounted a GM Deathwatch for the last couple of years. They have the best coverage of what's been happening in the auto industry. Long but worth reading if you want a real explanation of why this is such a terrible idea.

I mean aside from the whole free market thing.

What do they call that kind of government where the rich rule and the poor are little better than slaves?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

POLITICS- Tax and Spend Liberals

I’ve said a couple of times on this blog that in my lifetime I’ve noticed that every time the Republicans are in the White House they start wars and wreck the economy. I’ve forgotten to mention that, in spite of the “tax and spend liberals” stereotype, they also spend a buttload more of my money than the Democrats do. Don’t believe me? Here’s the info.

I’ve always had trouble understanding the willingness of people to believe propaganda rather than facts or even the evidence of their own senses. As Paul Simon said in the lyrics of his song THE BOXER, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”. Or perhaps Kay, Tommy Lee Jones’ character in MEN IN BLACK, said it better, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it”.

MOVIES- Green Lantern Movie

Riding on the coat tails of THE DARK KNIGHT it looks like GREEN LANTERN might go into production as early as next spring. Empire Online says the movie is greenlit but careful reading of the article shows that nothing is actually confirmed.

Green Lantern has been one of my favorites since the 1960s SUPERMAN/AQUAMAN HOUR Saturday morning cartoon series, which featured the Justice League both collectively and in individual stories. When I finally bought my first GL comic I was a little confused (the cartoon had changed Pieface to an alien) but that was nothing compared to the confusion I felt when I picked up another issue a few months later.

That issue was GL 76. The title was different (suddenly it was called Green Lantern/Green Arrow), the situation was different (no intergalactic storyline- GL gets a tour of the ghetto), and the artwork was different. Boy, was the artwork different. GL’s previous artist was Gil Kane, and the art on the book was top of the heap for DC at the time. But with issue 76 the art chores were taken over by Neal Adams. I was somewhat aware of Adams already. At the time he did the majority of DCs covers and I had a couple of issues of his Brave and Bold. I had been drawing since I was able to pick up a pencil and was already pretty good at it. A big part of my love of comic books was drawing my favorite heroes. So I was an 8 year old art snob and Adams was already my favorite artist. His work on GL was simply the best I had ever seen in a comic book.

I was hooked. But back then there were no comic book stores. Comics were sold off what they called “spinner racks”, revolving wire racks that stood about 5 feet high and held a half dozen comics face out in each pocket. They were found in most grocery and drug stores and had the famous slogan “Hey kids! COMICS!” across the top. I imagine most comic book fans nowadays have never seen one. I spent the next year riding my bicycle all over town (my parents would have killed me if they had known) looking for issues. Distribution was uneven and I only found about half the issues released before the title was discontinued.

But what I did find was heady stuff. Seems a little funny to hear Christopher Nolan praised so much for making Batman real when I was watching GL and GA cross the country in a pickup truck, fighting such evils as discrimination, overpopulation, and drug abuse almost 40 years ago. This was an unprecedented stuff for comics at the time and even at eight years old I was enthralled. Even after GL returned to his spacefaring ways a few months later the tone of the stories didn’t really pull back from the "relevant" storylines. In one story a planet was in the midst of a population crisis. In another, a dimensional rift opened to a world run by amazons. Green Arrow would find out that his ward and sidekick, Speedy, was addicted to heroin. And the final issue would climax with the crucifixion of an environmentalist Christ figure, the choosing of John Stewart as GL’s replacement, and GA deciding to run for office. After GL/GA was finished, writer Denny O’Neal would join Adams to complete the revamp of Batman started in Brave and Bold, returning him to his darker roots after the lighter tone the character had taken during the Adam West Batman TV series. (The names are an odd coincidence. Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Adam West and of course the names of the Lantern and the Arrow. Once Adams was asked why Green Lantern and Green Arrow and replied, “Beats the hell out of me, ‘cause they were both green, I guess”. ) O’Neil would write some of the most memorable Batman comics of the time and create, with Adams, the character Ra’s al Ghul. Eventually he would become editor of the Batman comics for several years.

But for me the real treat was the artwork. These more realistic, socially aware stories probably wouldn’t have had the effect they did if the artwork hadn’t matched or even exceeded the realism of the writing. Personally I think Adams’ work on GL was the best work of his career and some of the best ever in comics. I guess I’m not alone in this. One famous three panel spread (pictured below) is said to be the most reproduced in comics history. Every page contained something special- odd angles, natural poses, expressive faces, minorities that looked like actual minorities rather than the white faces colored brown that was the standard at the time. Adams’ work would be so influential that the phrase “Adams clones” would become a term of derision in the industry. In spite of this many of these artists would become the best working in the medium over the next decade.

So there’s the story of my affection for the character. I feel like I’ve already seen the perfect Green Lantern movie since Adams’ artwork was like seeing stills from that movie and I greet this translation with the same fear that every comic fan feels when a cherished childhood memory is about to make the trip through the Hollywood Veg-a-matic. Years ago I fantasized about a movie of the O’Neil/Adams storyline. In my mind Bruce Campbell would play Hal Jordan while Dennis Leary was my choice for Green Arrow. That movie will never be made anywhere but in my head but this one seems to have a pretty good chance of making it to the screen. I sure hope they don’t screw it up.

POLITICS- Economic Blame

I want to start by apologizing. I’m going to refer to an article on another blog that I’ve linked to twice already but it is such a perfect example of the kind of thinking so much of the fundamentalist base of the GOP engages in. People often say that they are appalled by the hatefulness and tone of so much of what gets written on the net but I think this is an extremely superficial way to look at it. I consider it more the natural honesty that anonymity engenders. People who would never think of using certain words or espousing particular ideas in public have the opportunity to really be honest online. You want to know what people are REALLY thinking, pay attention to those comment sections. And with that in mind…

The far-right blog Post-American Confederate (previously Daddio’s Dark side) posted an article explaining the current financial crisis the other day. The cause, of course, was liberalism. After all, isn’t the cause of everything that is wrong with the country liberal ideas? I find this sort of attitude common among the Rush Limbaugh/Bill O’Reilly loving shitheads that seems to have become the backbone of the party. It’s a kind of binary thinking that disserves a democracy greatly.

I posted a reply to this absurd idea, but as I’ve noticed in several other conservative* blogs, dissenting viewpoints, even when they are polite and thoughtful, are not posted by the moderator. So I’m going to take a few minutes to reply to this article here.

Al-Ozarka (non de plume of the blog’s author) is not completely wrong about the Democrats being as responsible for this as the Republicans. Both parties have enabled the financial sector to run amok. Part of the responsibility has to lie at the feet of the Clinton administration, who encouraged Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac to underwrite loans to more and more low-income people. But that isn’t surprising, their mandate was to do just that. But what has also led us to this situation is strangely similar to the circumstances prior to the Great Depression. In the 1920s interest rates were low, which spurred a great deal of debt, both private and for investment capitol. The accompanying increase in purchasing caused a big influx of money into the stock market, much of it leveraged on margin (using stock gains to buy more stock without actually paying cash). On Black Tuesday, when stocks began to lose value, brokers started making margin calls and investors couldn’t come up with the money. This exacerbated the losses. Banks, seeing that their investments had lost money, attempted to call in loans. And that didn’t work for the same reason that the margin calls weren’t met- instead of liquid financial reserves what people had was a lot of debt. The big banks were the first to fall (sound familiar?). But this wasn’t the Great Depression yet. Many economists think that even in this situation it could have been simply the recession of ’29 if not for a couple of things. First, the Republican administration at the time attempted to fix prices, which is a bass akwards way of managing a free economy. They did attempt to pump some cash into financial institutions but due to rules about how much money the Fed could dump into the economy (limited by rules tying outlays to gold reserves) it was too little too late by the time they tried to do it. This resulted in a failure in confidence and the eventual run on the banks, causing more banks to fail. This didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years. But few people disagree that what the government did helped little and many feel that it actually made things worse.

It is interesting to note that the Republicans had been in power for the decade prior to the ’29 crash (and the first several years after) and that their policies had contributed both to the boom in the twenties and the severity of the depression. Likewise, as far as the government is concerned, Republicans must bear the brunt of responsibility for our current situation. People have been warning about an impending sub-prime mortgage problem for years now and nothing has been done about it by either party. You don’t have to be an economist to realize that in a country where median income is around $35,000 and median house prices are over a quarter of a million dollars, somebody is living way above their means.

It’s also interesting to note that the previous Bush administration had a similar problem with the Savings and Loan industry. In fact, in my life I’ve noticed that every time we have a Republican administration we get a war and the economy winds up overheating. (In fact, Regan/Bush started two wars and had the S&L crisis, and Bush Jr has started two wars and now had this. Uncanny, huh? Well, Bush Jr. always wanted to out do his father, and he has in spades since his wars and financial crisis’ are far worse. ) As fond as I am of the idea of free markets, I also realize that if you don’t watch the finance industry closely they seem to start playing shell games (repackaging bad loans and selling them to unwitting investors, for instance). My current mortgage was sold to another bank before I got my first statement, and the loan on the last house I bought was sold FOUR TIMES before we even went to closing! And these loans were far from sub-prime.

The bottom line is that our elected leaders have set the ship to sinking and we really have no choice but try to bail ourselves out. Let’s hope they do a better job on this than they have on anything else in the last decade.

Me, I bought another 50 pound bag of rice at Sam’s last week.

*We really need a new word for what the current Republican party is. Conservative in the classic sense is inaccurate. The Goldwater conservatives and Libertarians that used to be a major force in the party are now relegated to its fringes and as appalled by the current administration as many liberals. I’ll work on this for another post perhaps.