Friday, September 12, 2014

Before Prozac

A small child does not want to play with the other kids. He is thin and not full of energy. Just doesn't have the zest of other kids. Mom is worried about her sad, nervous child. Junior, because dad was in the home and gave his son his name. Odd that the little boy just is a chill guy with his hands in his pockets. Nowadays, this would be a cause for a lifetime supply of Prozac. Back in the 1940s, you just gave your kid Ovaltine.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why I Stayed

Social Media can lead to digital maoism. It is the eprfect vehicle for modern democracy as it is purely about the retweet count, an account's reach and spread of memes. It can be scammed as well with countless fake accounts. It is a tool for the narcissists and for modern day half-hearted care. Hashtag activism does not change anything but can become a talking point for the media to push something they like as trend. Earlier this week, the hashtag #WhyIStayed was a top trend all day in response to the Ray + Janay Rice elevator punch video release. While seemingly supporting a feminist narrative, battered women, it revealed the darkness to modern women's nature.

#WhyIStayed had countless 140 character tweets of women rationalizing away why they slept with, dated and had kids with scum bags. Are the tweets real? It's the Internet, this could be fake in an effort to receive sympathy. The tweets become performance art of the modern victim. Look at me I am a victim, feel bad for me, I am righteous. There is also the rationalization wing of the tweet crowd. "Yes his name is tattooed on my arm but he beat me". Lot of single mommas on Twitter tweeting about the awful, no good horrible men that they just stuck with. Mrs. Janay Rice married Ray because he had a lot of green that she wanted a piece of. That is why she stayed. I won't touch the overinflated sense of strength and ego courage a slender woman has to charge a 200 lb NFL player in a small elevator, running straight into a left hook. That is between them to work out, and probably settle with cash in a few years (probably after one more kid). What is amazing is how these women stay with these guys in an age of no fault divorce, ample female selection and widespread encouragement from the media to go girl and be a strong independent woman. Wasn't that the lesson everyone trumpeted when Rihanna first left Chris Brown after he hit her, and then forgot when she went back to him?

There is another darker thing. There was an accompanying hashtag, #WhyILeft. It did not trend in the top ten on Twitter that day. Guess those stories were not good enough to share or numerous enough to trend. Maybe the last straw was too dark to share on Twitter or too bad to generate the proper feeling of sympathy from the faceless Twitter maw. It also reveals the fraudulent call for guys who treat a woman like a lady. Store #WhyILeft in your heart the next time a woman says she wants a great guy who treats her well. People will treat you how you let them treat you, and this culture promotes disposable relationships. These women willingly put up with this garbage because the guy has them believing they are the loser in the relationship. Both are, but she feels she is the loser who cannot find better. I cannot imagine the lonely men just hoping that cute gal working at New York and Co would reciprocate his feelings. He is probably struck too hard by her cute facial features to notice the make up covering her bruises.

This trend was not a feminist slam dunk but a mirror for the broken state of modern relationships. Little girls' toys can tell them they are awesome from day one, but it does not seem to work. Half of Beyonce's music is about being so awesomely independent and strong that it is shocking the repetitive messaging does not work (Mr. Huxley, you were wrong). Our media does not let women have agency, except when it's cool, empowering decision making, but we live in an age of blue light phones, domestic violence laws, no fault divorce, child support, women and children's shelters, and other safety nets for such an escape. How broken or damaged is someone to stay? This is the dating pool. Approach it with this hashtag in mind, men.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Was American Beauty a Classic?

There are classics like The Godfather (or Godfather 2). "Dad, that was awesome but why did Sonny get out of the car?" There are great films that age horribly like Philadelphia. "Dad, people went to see a film about a gay guy who died from AIDS and was discriminated against?" I like to think about the movies I will want to show or recommend to my kids as classics. Where does American Beauty fall on the spectrum? A classic? You probably liked it, as it did well in theaters and received awards. It's Wikipedia page is lengthy with citations of the academic analysis of it. Have those academics or reviewers watched it recently? Time has not been kind to the movie. American Beauty is a clinic for acting but is not a classic.

Beauty was released September 8th, 1999 to critical praise and enjoyed commercial success. In Beauty, Lester Burnham has a midlife crisis or awakening, his wife cheats on him, his daughter falls in love, he blackmails his employer, retreats emotionally to his teen years even getting his teen job and teen dream car, he nearly sleeps with his daughter's hot friend and then is shot by his next door retired Marine neighbor who had kissed him minutes earlier. Watch the film, and if possible, watch it with the director and writer commentary on for a followup.

The film is beautifully shot with a score that was ripped off in other film previews and commercials. remember that stretch of time when every other commercial had a xylophone. The script is clich├ęd, bitter, cynical and shallow. There is little joy to it. It is not a "the suburbs might have somethong dark present" film like Blue Velvet. It is a "suburbs are full of perverts" product that Hollywood cranks out annually. The kid who went to the institution is the deep, balanced one. The hot girl is a catty liar. The Marine is a gung-ho macho guy. The only normal-ish people are the two gay guys who welcome in the new Marine family and give fitness advice to Lester. It was written by a *gasp* gay man. The stereotypes make sense now.

The thing that carries the film is the acting. Spacey fully fleshes out the normal dad who is mad he wasn't a rock star or even the star in his family. This is a role that he first tried out in The Ref. He is tremendous embodying the devoted family man who is marginalzed by his wife and considered lame and an annoyance by his daughter. Listen to her criticism of her father in contrast to his behavior in front of her cute friend; it's a gross exaggeration. His cubicle drone, wearing a mask, is wonderful with deliveries like "for you Brad, I got five". Look at his dead eyes as he states what should be a cheery line. Everyone works with one guy like this. The "divorce" threat serve and volley is great as it is an argument the growing number of breadwinner women may soon face. What happens when a man has nothing to lose... and possibly something to gain? Spacey's Burnham references the nothing to lose idea multiple times in the movie. He is actually declaring his wife, his job and family have no value. They don't need or want him, so screw it. The other side to it is a man told when younger he'd reach a certain spot, and it would be a dream life, only to wake up and recognize the nightmare that it is. Did Boomers cry in the theater when they watched this?

As for women, Annette Benning should have won an Oscar for her role as materialistic and obsessed with the perfect image mom Carolyn Burnham. She's gardening in perfect clothing before work and looking peak-MILF. She'd love social media to show everyone the perfect life she wanted others to think she had. She even has the perfect empty, moneymaking job: realtor. The sequence of pre-sale ritual ("I will sell this house today"), bad showings and then face slapping meltdown pulled me in because it was not just Lester's biased narration saying she is a bitch. She revealed she was a bit loony. Nowadays, she'd be a pill popper. Here she pulled it together, no drinking, no drugs, just her. Benning was playing the true product of our competitive economic with feminism. How many moms did you know like this? Not many, but probably one or two. Benning brought that mom to the big screen. Looking back on it, was Benning just playing Martha Stewart? She lost the Oscar to Hillary Swank's performance in Boys Don't Cry as the girl who posed as a guy to get girls, facing intolerance from hicks (wow, Wikipedia's entry is trans-ed out). In other words, Benning stood no chance.

Other actors perform their roles well. Chris Cooper, a fantastic supporting actor in many flicks, plays a cookie cutter Marine. The boy next door filming everything feels totally forced now but the injection of the digital cam footage was already okay for audiences that just saw The Blair Witch Project. In 2014, we would expect young women to pose for his camera and everyone else to yell at him to shut it off. In hall of fame bad casting, the daughter with D cups wanted to save up for breast implants. Who cast her? The actress had porn star parents (seriously), so you can search and see where she got her talents. The rest are stock, cliche characters but complete a strong ensemble. The catty hot chick still has moments where she sounds like a little girl (how did Mena Suvari's career die?). The medicated, imprisoned mom (an unrecognizable Alison Janney). The married, real estate king (Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows) who makes Benning take the hypergamous jump into bed.

To date myself, I first saw the film after downloading it off Scour Media Exchange. It was a bootleg that stopped right when Spacey gets shot. We then HAD to download another version. We waited an hour to download it, and in that hour guessed who did it. A friend thought Jane (overhearing or seeing her friend with her dad), another the Marine neighbor. I predicted wife Carolyn as so much pointed to her. Was not their tension the chief conflict of the movie? Neither was happy with their perfectly cultivated family. Deep down, at the actor level, while the story is about Lester's journey, Benning stands out so strongly that she can make the film hers. Had I known the screenwriter was gay, I would've changed my answer because ding ding ding it's the antigay Marine, that just beat his kid on suspicions of homo-activity and kissed Spacey. Ah yes, every red state male is a closet case but also hates gays.

Does anyone learn anything? Sure, Lester doesn't sleep with his daughter's friend but when she asks him how he feels, he doesn't just answer but he stops to complain about no one asking him that in a long time. He still needs to bitch to a near stranger about his family. His post-death acceptance of life feels phony even with that. His wife? She hugs his clothes after seeing him shot. Hugs his clothes. Jane was running away with a teenage drug dealer that spent time in an institution because "love". The real secret: these jerks all have great lives that they could enjoy yet life is empty. Material success is not enough. Their situation as upper-middle class is a great baseline for life yet it is not enough. Married to a nice family man with a job or a sexy wife is not enough. Life is oh so bad for these unlikeable shits (okay, Lester is likeable). There is no lesson, which hurts the movie. There is no emotional core. It is hollow.

Beauty swept through the Academy Awards, but it is not a classic in a year with memorable movies. The Matrix is the classic "what is real" genre that was everywhere for a period. I have written already about American Piece and Blair Witch influencing their genres and film in general as well as marking film and cultural turns. Fight Club is more of a classic than Beauty and has aged better; this is despite containing many similarities to Beauty. Is the movie rewatchable? Yes, to see Spacey and Benning at top form. Is it dated? Yes. Ball came up with the script in '92 probably looking to smear '80s Reaganite America. By release in '99, this felt real or believable but with each year it looks more cartoonish. The movie will continue to age poorly as it has done so far just fifteen years later. It won't stop people cruising channels. It's not a "hey American Beauty is on" type of movie. Not many are like that, but that is why this is not a classic. Yet, it is still a great watch that has some beautiful shots and great performances. If the right scene is on and Benning and Spacey are trading barbs, you should stop just to see two skilled craftsmen rising to best one another and make it their film.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Shale Gas Plays Into the Dollar Dance

CNBC continues to pump those all time high announcements to its dwindling audience. Men on the street are not feeling the joy. It feels weird. Anyone out there 100 years old? Is this what the Interwar Period felt like? We have enough similarities. This fourth turning crisis period is taking time for our modern, ADD audience. I anticipate a dollar crisis. it will come from an external shock of some sort, but with the way the system is now, those exporters who stockpile or recycle dollars can keep stockpiling gold and tangible items (even land). The current garbage dollar regime suits them as long as they can amass money. Eventually, the primary reserve currency crown will be taken away and the petrodollar retired. One thing missing from my estimates and from some analysis is the role of shale oil production.

The shale oil revolution has boosted American oil production to decade highs. That supply expansion combined with our economically depressed consumption (demand destruction), it has caused our daily import number to shrink drastically. Crude oil imports are down 28% from 2005-2006. That is huge on the global market for oil with regards to price as Asian demand has steadily grown since then. A bidding war would push prices up, pushing prices up would increase our oil import bill. If the US oil import bill were to reach 2005 levels in dollar terms, we would have problems. Our trade deficit has the non-petroleum component and the petrol component since we are a major oil importer. Shale production is keeping that number down. Shale production right now is dependent on expanding debt, and the wells have a quick depletion rate. Forbes had a great article on the shale gas play running on cheap debt and fumes. The FED's ZIRP mindset causes malinvestment, and the wizards of Wall Street just pick which idea to boost (telecom, internet, housing, internet 2.0, shale gas). Following the last two links, unserviceable debt will lead to shut downs of wells, which will drop production, which will cause our oil import bill to rise due to physical needs. If we were blowing our trade deficit out further while running huge federal deficits, the other players in the dollar system might revolt.

It is what happened in the early '70s. The shift away from dollars through the 2000s was an echo of that. Kissinger had to create the petrodollar to maintain US supremacy of the system. What is there for a next step? What is the replacement to the petrodollar that was a replacement to gold exchangeability that was a replacement to the gold standard? The Anglo-American bankers do not seem to want a gold standard. The bankers and their crony puppets in the USG, World Bank and IMF are trying to maintain their spot on top of the global hierarchy, but it does not look good for them. If the shale miracle or revolution peters out, watch those annual oil production numbers. Scientists might answer the debate topic of the shale technology change just pulled future supply forward or if it unlocked entirely new production. If the oil import bill climbs in size, the game could be nearing a new phase.

Monday, September 08, 2014

BRICs Separate World System

The New World Order. What a fantastic phrase dreamed up by Rockefeller or whatever fellow Bildeberger attendee. It rolls off the tongue. We have lived in it for decades now. It looks a bit old, gray, dangerous and fragile. American military and economic power kept it together whether first phase gold linked or second phase oil linked. Whether you lean on the Strauss and Howe Generations theory, Kondratiev wave cycles, Empire models or other long term historical views, the post-WW2 world order is long in the tooth. The established order looks weaker for a rival. The talk of the BRICs building a new monetary system, and by doing so, building an anti-dollar alliance is also dancing around the idea of the BRICs anchoring a separate world system.

Speeches, monetary moves and non-financial events point to small steps towards a separate set up. The pitch of "end US aggression" is a great one. After witnessing the destruction of random Middle East nations, little clients would have reason to be wary of US patronage. How many of them have suffered coups, invasions, bombing and the humming of drones in the US guided world order? They will trade one big brother for another, but it just has to appear better to make the move. The big players have their particular friction points, but one can check the points where they come together. It might be better to not view the BRICs as anchors and more like tent-poles for their regions.

India and Russia participated in joint military exercises recently. India is now interested in Russian missile systems. Wonder when the American media will ask what foe is the cause for these big nations are buying equipment from each other and being friendly? India and Russia had an interesting tie during the Cold War as India led the non-aligned movement. As America played up to China to exploit the Sino-Soviet split, we made friends with Pakistan and China in opposition to India. President Bush's administration made overtures to and improved relations with India, yet the Obama administration has not handled that relationship as well. Joint military exercises do not mean everything, but China and Russia just had a giant military exercise; the largest ever to be exact. Maybe no one nation can become the hyperpower or global hegemon, but a collection of big boys can work together.

The BRICs have already discussed setting up their own internet pathways, which must only be bumped up the priority list with the Snowden revelations. China is going for an operating system. These are all small steps, but they start to add up to a picture of a world system outside of American reach or offering a choice of contact with America. Could simply be coincidence or joint moves to help buying power, but India, Russia, Brazil and China are all slated to expand their nuclear energy capabilities. Meanwhile, "green" America and Europe will shutter plants or maintain rather than expand the best non-CO2 baseline source for electricity. Of the nuclear plants under construction, sixty-five percent are in BRICS nations and Argentina, with the rest of the world the remainder. It is not just the building of plants but sharing of technical expertise between these nations.

If one wanted to play the long term game and view the Russians-Chinese as an aligned axis against the USG system from the start of Mao's victory, maybe there is something to Golitsyn's theory of the Russians and Chinese faking a split to weaken America, faking the end of Communism, isolating America diplomatically and then aligning nationalist leaders to end American hegemony. Much of what Golitsyn wrote in 1984 has come to pass, from the end of Communism, to the phony liberalization to the rise of nationalist Russian behavior with KGB leadership. That might give the KGB too much credit, but one of their own is in charge of Russia today.

Whether you dislike the domestic USG situation or the foreign USG situation, it is wise to pay attention to how these other players are moving the pieces across the board. Important pieces of the USG system, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are all players that could switch and by doing so inspire others to switch. Starting a separate or new world system is hard, and can fail completely. These are not changes that come quickly, and there are many pieces to assemble. Our media will not talk about it because it would upset the public. The media already has a hard enough job getting Americans excited to bomb ISIS and the Russians in Ukraine while simultaneously avoiding the fact that without US meddling, Ukraine would be peaceful right now and ISIS would not have built up its base in war torn Syria. The American brand is pretty toxic, and not even electing the light giver changed things. If anything, electing world citizen, President Obama revealed to the rest of the world that whether blue America or Red America, the bombs will be dropped or the money will be stopped if you do not play along with Uncle Sam.

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Randall Wulff-Lewis Mystery

In our social media age, how much mystery is there? Everyone knows a bit too much about each other. There are also things off limits from conversation and soft censorship for acceptable things. There is a little music mystery going on right now, Randy Wulff/Lewis Baloue. My hipster cousin was up to speed on it and explained this to me, causing me to go on an internet search quest. We know way too much about musicians and actors now, so a bit of a black hole is interesting.

Wulff completed at a minimum, two albums back in the '80s. These albums were discovered by the curators at Light in the Attic records and have since been released. It is super '80s synth. The vocals are mediocre, and it is a really weird juxtaposition to hear him plucking an acoustic guitar over a synth background. The second album, Romantic Times, is all synth. In a nutshell, listen to "Bringing You a Rose" (embedded below) and you will grok. It's the soundtrack to every slow motion make out session between a guy in a Don Johnson knock off suit with the sleeves rolled up and a girl in a short dress with some sequins on it, having done a few lines at the club. The light might be spilling in through the blinds, leaving shadows on their bodies. The film wouldn't have to play it in slo-mo as they would be moving in slo-mo. Scratch that. This is the soundtrack to "a deleted sex scene from "Wild Palms". It is totally time-stamped for the '80s, but that is precisely why the hipsters are digging it.

Is it real? it seems too tailor made for the hipsters. The hipsters of course cannot just let it be, and a few tracked the guy down to talk to him. They probably did it to try to verify they are not being fooled. It would not be a first for creating a hoax into a phenomenon by playing on a crowd's tastes and air of sophistication. Jean Shepherd did something similar with I, Libertine, but he was overt in messing with the system. I doubt a hipster friendly music curator would do this to their fan base. It would be a bigger slap in a fan base's collective face than Wall-E.

Still, something feels off about the synth on the first album. The photo to the second album looks like a stock '80s rich guy photo. He has a jet, a Mercedes 450 SL and the white suit with a cigarillo in hand. Does it matter? No. It is a small potatoes, weird music story. The hipsters just don't want to admit that he disappeared from music because he music sucks, therefore what they like sucks.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tales From Teaching's Front Lines

My sample size is small, but I just cannot find a happy teacher. They are happy with their private lives, but their job satisfaction and enjoyment levels are in the gutter. A recent survey supports this hunch and the anecdotal evidence as teacher happiness is at generational lows. The job is stressful and the challenges are high. I got some dirt from a new teacher in an Indianapolis township grade school (or did I, this could all be made up). This teacher teaches first graders. How bad can it be? Pretty bad, so let's roll on. This is a teacher at a Township school; not the awful IPS system.

1. How big is the class? 30 kids.

2. Does the teacher have a teacher's aide? No.

3. How many people showed up at PTA meetings? 7 people total, including grandparents.

4. Does the class have desks? No. Chairs only. Chairs can have a cloth bag that hangs off the back so the kid can have their stuff in said bag.

5. Do kids have to stay seated during class? No, kids are allowed to wonder off whenever.

6. Can the teacher discipline kids? No.

7. Can the teacher give negative messages to students? No, only positive statements can be made to students.

8. Come on, if the kid acts up enough she can tell him? No, if the kid acts up enough the teacher can invite the parent to the class to sit with their child.

9. Won't that lead to out of control kids? Yes, a kid was expelled in the first week for fighting.

10. No desks, but they have everything else, right? Wrong. Teachers buy books to send home with the kids to read on assignment.

11. Come on, haven't schools been getting more funding? Yes, this school system won a Race to the Top grant.

12. See, that should pay for supplies, doesn't it? Wrong, it does pay for Chromebooks though.

If this isn't a poor school, where does all the money go? That is a great question.

An article by a black pastor or radio personality bemoaned the white flight in township schools. In his mind, the white flight is wrong and racist. Remember, there is NO DIFFERENCE between any child in any trait, so why would those white kids leave??? Parents are fleeing to private schools and other suburbs because of the above. He conveniently skips over the middle class blacks of Lawrence Township who added a new requirement for students: prove your residency. By doing this, they hoped to place a velvet rope around their schools from lower class kids spilling over from the IPS schools. Did not work. Lawrence also instituted magnet schools, which started out as magnet, then forced all elementary kids to go to one magnet or the other. This also coincidentally pushed the growing Hispanic population into the Spanish immersion magnet school. Lawrence Township is now a school where your 16 year old will graduate from the high school, but no way is your 8 year old staying in the system. The question and answer section above is from another township, but it is the same in any of the townships. The IPS schools turned bad, but the Townships were good. The Townships are turning bad, but the next ring of suburbs are good (and brand spanking new).

The Chromebooks, Ipads, laptops and what not are key. The school might be empty and be a zoo, but they have a Chromebook, so with
Mastery Learning methods, these six year olds can get a direct education customized to them. In reality, Mastery Learning is meant to limit what is taught. This way all students engage with say six topics, and due to limited breadth of thinking or needed aptitude, you can hammer away at kids so that everyone scores relatively close (close the gap!), and equality is achieved. At a functional level, this really destroys the role of the teacher. Everyone has at least one teacher that helped them, that pushed them or believed in them. What is the teacher for if the Chromebook is going to teach them and a parent has to read to them their assigned books? maybe Google can give kids pep talks. Teaching was once a profession that had a long tenure, building institutional knowledge for the school as a unit. I cannot hear the stories, see the surveys and think teaching, in the future, will exist beyond churn and burn.