The Dim-Post

February 28, 2009

Watchmen: I’m not married to the squid

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 7:59 am

alan_moore(Minor Watchmen spoilers)

I don’t trust movie reviewers – they spend most of their lives watching terrible films so when something slightly less mediocre comes along they tend to praise it to the skies. So I’m not encouraged by the good press The Watchmen is getting from the critics.

The original graphic novel by Alan Moore (pictured, right) and Dave Gibbons is often called ‘the Citizen Kane of comics’, which is now very apt because when most people watch Kane for the first time they wonder what the hell the big deal is. That is the best movie of all time? But just as Citizen Kane changed the way movies are made, The Watchmen influenced almost every comic written in the last 25 years, something that will seem like a big deal if you read a lot of comics, not so much if you don’t.

For example, The Watchmen deconstructs the classic superhero narrative. Superman spends all his time fighting to save humanity – Alan Moore realised that if someone really was superhuman they’d feel no empathy with the human race and be indifferent as to whether our species was wiped out. Superheroes also tend to work with the US government. In Watchmen Moore points out that a villan who enjoys raping, torturing and murdering people is much more likely to wind up working for Uncle Sam than some goody two-shoes. And if a supervillan really is a world class genius then they’ll be able to anticipate that the heroes will attempt to stop them and make sure that they can’t.

This kind of cynicism was astounding in the early 80’s and is commonplace now, although few writers have the balls to end their stories the way Moore and Gibbons did.

The ending to The Watchmen is one of its most celebrated qualities – apparently the film has changed it, getting rid of the notorious ‘squid’ in favor of something else generating squeals of outrage amoungst the comic book fanboy community. I’m not married to the squid, but I will be disappointed if they abandon the spirit of the ending, which is that Veidt’s intellect makes him unstoppable (‘it happened thirty five minutes ago’), and he has presented the world with an overwhelming external threat.

I’m betting that the new ending will miss the point, simply because I doubt any of the people making this movie actually ‘get’ Watchmen on anything other than a superficial level. They know its cool they just don’t know why. So they’ll try and stay as faithful to the source material as they can but in the process of adaptation they’ll be forced to make creative decisions that undermine the point of the characters and the story.

Watchmen isn’t my favourite Alan Moore comic – I think From Hell (the subject of another terrible Hollywood film adaptation) is his masterpiece, although I haven’t read The Lost Girls yet. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series are also a lot of fun. Reading any of them will certainly be more rewarding than watching the upcoming film.

February 27, 2009

Destruction of Wealth

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 3:04 pm

Via DPF, Alan Bollard has described the credit crisis as the greatest destruction of wealth in world history. That doesn’t sound right to me. Sure, vast amounts HAVE been lost in the equities markets. But if a nation’s houses are valued at 1 trillion dollars one year, increase in value to 2 trillon over five years and then decrease back to 1 trillion have we really lost a trillon dollars? Likewise, what if a bank claims that their complicated, opaque financial products are worth 1 trillion dollars but they’re really totally worthless? There has been some loss of wealth due to the fact that the economy was operating under false assumptions of value but we haven’t lost a trillion dollars.

Compare this to the crash of 1929 in which many governments (notably the US) let the banks go under; 90% of savings and investments are notional (they don’t physically exist) but they represent real economic wealth and when the bank gets wiped out that notional wealth is instantly destroyed (which is why governments go to extraordinary lengths to keep banks solvent). Just about everyone in the world lost their life savings in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Things today are rough but we haven’t seen anything like that.

Nor have we seen destruction of wealth comparable to that of the mid 1940s in which many of the worlds cities and industrial regions were destroyed by a combination of conventional and nuclear weapons. The current crisis is bad but not THAT bad.

February 26, 2009

Under the Volcano

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:25 pm
This years budget will be paid by my VISA card and my VISA bill will be paid by my American Express card.

This years budget will be paid by my VISA card and my VISA bill will be paid by my American Express card.

More interesting than Obama’s big speech about the economy (he’s got another one coming up in a few days about Iraq) was the Republican response delivered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall. A lot of the commentary has been focused on his poor performance and similarity to a sit-com character (Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock), but I was more interested in this excerpt in which Jindal attacks Obama’s stimulus bill on the grounds that:

Their legislation is larded with wasteful spending . . . It includes … $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.

Conservatives believe in smaller government but even the most die-hard libertarian accepts that there are basic services for which there is no market based solution and the state must play a limited role. Monitoring volcanoes to warn people when they’re about to erupt falls pretty firmly into that category so its fascinating to see the Republican Party take a stand thats more extreme than the wild-eyed fringes of the political far right. Conservative columnist David Brooks from the New York Times summed it up pretty well:

I think Bobby Jindal is a very promising politician, and I oppose the stimulus because I thought it was poorly drafted. But to come up at this moment in history with a stale “government is the problem,” “we can’t trust the federal government” – it’s just a disaster for the Republican Party. The country is in a panic right now. They may not like the way the Democrats have passed the stimulus bill, but that idea that we’re just gonna – that government is going to have no role, the federal government has no role in this, that – In a moment when only the federal government is actually big enough to do stuff, to just ignore all that and just say “government is the problem, corruption, earmarks, wasteful spending,” it’s just a form of nihilism. It’s just not where the country is, it’s not where the future of the country is. There’s an intra-Republican debate. Some people say the Republican Party lost its way because they got too moderate. Some people say they got too weird or too conservative. He thinks they got too moderate, and so he’s making that case. I think it’s insane, and I just think it’s a disaster for the party. I just think it’s unfortunate right now.

I had a similar feeling when I heard Phil Goff speak out against the suspension of payments into the Cullen SuperFund; a lot of people have pointed out the vacuousness of Goff’s argument but I don’t think there’s been enough of a focus on how utterly fucking insane it is for the leader of the Labour Party to be demanding that the government borrow money to invest it in the stock market during a catastrophic  financial crisis.

Were the positions reversed and National were advocating the policy its not hard to imagine the howls of outrage from the left-wing blogs: ‘Slippery John Key wants to mortgage this country’s future so he can dish out the cash to his rich stockbroker mates’. Repeat at high volume until election day.

Not only is Labour’s policy bad economics it’s also very bad politics. The Cullen fund will almost certainly lose money again this year, and possibly again the year after, the Nat’s look set to suspend payments so each time a loss is announced the government will be able to crow about how much more we would have lost if Phil Goff were in charge.

Labour’s instincts here are essentially correct – superannuation IS going to be a huge political issue for the forseeable future, and someday it might be a vote-winner for them. But until then they need to keep their heads down and formulate some intelligent policy, because trying to win news cycles against a wildly popular government three years out from an election with half-witted ideas like this one is not going to be a winning strategy. I was filled with optimism when Goff and King took over the party, now I just have the same kicked-in-the-balls feeling Conservatives in the US must have.

Obama and the English Language

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:05 am

We will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

Barack Obama, Speech to Congress. Wednesday 26th February 2009

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.

George Orwell, Politic and the English Language

Buy buy buy!

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 8:25 am

The experts say that now is the right time to buy a house:

No one should try to pinpoint the bottom of the housing market and if the price is right, the timing is perfect, says BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander.

His call sits uncomfortably with talk of recession and the worsening international outlook, but it is based on sound judgment.

“As long as I figured on keeping my job I would be out there actively looking for a property at the moment,” Mr Alexander said.

“I wouldn’t be hanging off simply trying to pick the low point in the house-price cycle.”

Economists had proved they could not pick the top of the cycle, so no one should expect them to pick the low point, he warned.

He believes real estate sales have probably almost reached their weakest level, and activity is likely to fluctuate and start moving up before the end of the year.

As it happens I have just bought a house, although now I know I’ve inadvertantly followed Tony Alexander’s advice I do wonder if I’ve made a horrible mistake.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with all the half finished housing developments around the country – there’s one near my current house called ‘Boundary‘, located deep in the savage, Graeme Edgeler-haunted wastelands of South Karori. They’ve originally planned to build thirty or forty townhouses on the site but it looks like less than a dozen or so are finished and the rest look like they’re in the same stage of construction as they were when I went on holiday a month ago.

I sometimes pass by the Boundary site on my morning run, and you can see the owners of the completed units standing in their gardens gazing dubiously over the empty, unfinished lots and the tennis court covered in mud. According to the web site the townhouses are priced at up to $560, 000 – for the same price you can now buy a refurbished north facing 1920’s villa with 3 bedrooms and a garage in central Karori. It must be like Glengarry Glen Ross down there at the real estate agents.

On my recent tramping trip I ran into a builder from Whangarei who told me that there are hundreds of sites like this all over the country – and also that there are a number of lodges, mansions and high-country luxury developments in the South Island that have been abandoned after the November crash and are now empty except for the caretakers. (Now there’s a great job in these troubled times! Overlook Hotel, anyone?)

I suspect the market will keep plunging as places nobody wants to buy (palaces in Fiordland,  half-million dollar townhouses in South Karori) depreciate in value. And if you’ve ever daydreamed about starting up your own religious cult (and haven’t we all) now is definitely the time to start looking. Boundary could easily be turned into a heavily fortified compound and it has great open spaces for prayer meetings and mass suicides.

February 25, 2009

Picture of the Day

Filed under: painting — danylmc @ 10:37 pm

Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez, painted circa 1650.

All I can think when I see this is that Velázquez must have had balls of steel – Popes back then weren’t people to be trifled with, especially not Innocent X whose mistress was rumoured to poison cardinals so she could charge their successors a hefty fee in exchange for having his holiness appoint them to the suddenly vacant position.

By this stage in his career Velázquez has yet to paint Las Meninas, but maybe he already knows what he’s capable of and is confident he’ll go down in history as one of the greatest artistic geniuses of all time, so he felt free to paint whatever he liked. Or maybe artists and paintings simply weren’t all that important back then and the Pope would have merely been amused at this clever little portraitist’s presumption. Whatever his initial reaction, Innocent X hung the painting in his visitors waiting room.

Francis Bacon thought this was the greatest portrait ever painted and used it as the inspiration for his famous screaming popes.

February 24, 2009

Sue Bradford in the hour of chaos

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:58 am

Via DPF, Rob Hosking over at NBR is picking Metiria Turei to replace Jeanette Fitzsimons as Green co-leader. This seems to be the conventional wisdom, based partly on the notion that Bradford is too badly damaged by the anti-smacking amendment and partly because Turei seems to have at least a passing interest in environmental issues, a quality that is curiously absent in many  Green Party MP’s.

I suspect Bradford will win this one. She’s easily their most effective and formidable MP, and while the smacking bill was wildly unpopular with most of the population it seems to have enjoyed considerable support from within the Green Party itself, and the party members are the ones who get to choose their leaders.

I hope they keep Fitzsimons on for as long as they can – I love watching her tearing climate change deniers into shreds whenever the subject comes up in election debates.

Question of the Day

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 7:40 am

What ever happened to Stakhanovitism?

It’s not just about enough rest, enough play, family and friends, “work-life balance”, stress, happiness and overall quality of life – it’s fundamentally about who is making the decisions: time spent doing what I want to do versus time spent doing what other people want me to do. And only during the former am I really free. Every moment I spend working to pay the rent1 is thus a very real intrusion on my liberty. Which is why they call it wage slavery

Truly capitalism is just a form of slavery where we get to work pretty much wherever we want, whenever we want, doing whatever we want.

February 23, 2009

Collins challenges Corrections CEO to knife fight in showers

Filed under: Politics,satire — danylmc @ 1:51 pm

Frustrated with his refusal to resign after a damning Auditor General’s report,  Minister of Corrections Judith Collins has called upon Corrections CEO Barry Matthews to meet with her and senior advisers from her Ministerial office. The meeting is scheduled to take place after lock down in the shower rooms located in Parliament’s beehive annex.

Collins has announced that she believes that the meeting will resolve the ongoing dispute between herself and Matthews ‘in a timely manner,’ telling reporters that she intended to make clear to Matthews the reality of the situation and the untenable nature of his position and also to cut him until he cries like a little bitch.

Barry Matthews has accepted his Minister’s invitation and stated that he looked forward to a free and frank exchange of views with Collins. Matthews is confident of his track record within Corrections and insists that that the upcoming SSC investigation will clear his name.

‘There has been a significant increase in the performance of the parole service during the eight month period after the Auditor General’s report,’ Matthews said. ‘Also if Crusher thinks I’m going to get cut then she all high and shit because she the one going to get cut with a vengeance.’

Matthews added that he looked forward to working constructively with Collins in future, even though he was going to make her bleed out like a butchered sow and wear her ears on a necklace as a warning to future cabinet Ministers.

Sources within the National Party suggest that Collins will be fighting with a long thin shard of broken security glass, honed to a razor edge with masking tape bound around one end to form a handle, with the blade smeared with the fecal matter of an hepatitis positive backbench MP. A spokesperson for Collins denied the rumour, pointing out that the use of a contaminated weapon violated the strict Cabinet Manual rules governing senior Ministers and shower-room knife-fights.

Political commentators consider the match to be evenly fought: Matthews is bigger and has a larger reach than his Minister but Collins’ skin is a tattood mass of scar tissue that will be difficult for the embattled public servant’s ceramic box-cutter coated with rat-poison to penetrate.

February 22, 2009

Too soon to tell

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 10:19 am

I realise I’m tearing up the final shreds of my credibility by linking to Daily Kos, but this post about the causes of the financial crisis is one of the best things I’ve read on the subject. It’s written by billmon, one of the pioneers of the left-wing blogosphere, now semi-retired. Billmon used to be a finance reporter and is now an analyst in the financial services industry which may explain why he’s a bit more clued up and articulate than the usual Kos Diarist. Sample quote:

But this was just the beginning. Having created and sold CDOs – and persuaded (well, bribed) the credit agencies into blessing them – Wall Street promptly  began creating and selling CDOs that invested in other CDOs (“squared” CDOs) and CDOs that invested in CDOs that invested in other CDOs (“cubed” CDOs). Because even this didn’t deliver a big enough fix for the hard-core risk junkies (i.e. the hedge funds) the banks also created  and sold “synthetic” CDOs, which, instead of investing in actual loans, wrote (sold)  credit default swaps – insurance-like derivatives that promised to pay off if and when a company defaulted on its debts. This made it possible for synthetic CDOs to accept staggering amounts of credit exposure, and get paid for it, without putting down much, if any, cash – pushing their “notional” leverage ratios towards infinity.

Amazon have plenty of books on the crash with more being published in the next few months; I doubt any of them will be very insightful – partly because good history needs a little more distance, partly because the results of the disaster have yet to be visible (as Chou En-Lai said, it’s too early to tell) but mostly because the crash isn’t really over, and has probably only just begun. It’s traditional in the blogosphere to compare every political, economic and cultural phenomenon with the second world war, so being a fairly lazy, unimaginative fellow I’ll fall in line and say we’re currently in the early months of the 1940 twilight war, in which Poland (Lehman Bros and the other investment banks) have fallen but France and Norway (the big commercial outfits) are still nominally standing. Various doomed attempts are being made to reinflate the housing bubble, or prop up the US auto industries so they can go back to making terrible cars no one wants to buy. I guess these are comparable to the French offensive in the Saar, or the Norway debacle, although if pressed to justify the analogy I’d be in trouble, and I’m not really sure who Mussolini is. Structured finance? Bernie Madoff? Indebted consumers? If we’re lucky then Churchill’s dramatic transformation from an incompentant drunk to surprisingly capable warlord will symbolise the transition from George W to Obama. (Obviously nationalising the banks will indicate Stalin’s alliance with the allies, and if Obama decides to inflate his way out of the National Debt he’s Truman dropping the A-Bomb.)

It goes without saying that anyone disagreeing with my analogy is Adolf Hitler.

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