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By TheophileEscargot (Thu May 01, 2008 at 08:50:42 PM EST) Reading, Museums, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "Warlock". Museums. Web.

What I'm Reading
Latest book from my genre Ask Mefi was the Western Warlock by Oakley Hall. Written in 1958, set in the 1880s. The basic scenario is a familiar one: some citizens in the town of Warlock, existing in a legal grey area, hire town marshal Clay Blaisedell to try to keep local roughnecks under control. At the same time, miners struggle to unionize against an exploitative management

It seemed unusual for a Western in a couple of ways. First, it has a very large cast of characters: I ended up having to write out a long dramatis personae to keep track of who was who. Otherwise it's very easy to keep the mule skinner straight from the freight operator and so on.

(Apparently a mule skinner doesn't literally skin mules: he just drives mule teams. This confused me for a while: I wasn't sure what you'd actually want to do with all the skins you'd get from someone skinning them full-time.)

Second, it's written from multiple viewpoints: you switch between the povs of half a dozen or so characters on various sides. It works well since the character are pretty fully realised: you get to see things from different sides. The characters all have proper motivations, and the plot fits them: very well done from that side of things.

It only seemed a little unrealistic in a couple of ways. There are more pulpy quicker-on-the-draw confrontations than seems likely. Hall seems to be putting his own road agent spin on the genre clichés. And the characters can be a little too prone to homespun philosophising. Even there it works well sometimes.

"Blaisedell has run his string," Wash Haggin said grimly.
"Thought he had," the judge said. "But he hasn't if you are going to go on taking law and order as set pure against you every time. Ike, when I was a young fellow there was a statue out before the courthouse that was meant to represent justice. She had a sword that didn't point at nobody, and a blindfold over her eyes, and scales that balanced. Maybe it was different with you Confederates. A good many of you I've seen I've thought it must've been a different statue of her you had down south. One that her sword always poked at you. One with no blindfold on her eyes, so you always thought she was looking straight at you. And her scales tipped against you every time. For I have never seen such men to take her on and try to fight her."

"And maybe with a fraud like that one you could win. But this here now is the United States of America, and it is my statue of justice that stands for here. You can cross swords with her till you die doing it, and you are always going to lose. Because back of her, standing right there behind her -- or maybe pretty far back, like here in the territory -- there is all the people. All the people, and when you set yourself against her, you are set against every one of us."

Overall, definitely a good book. It's not as perfectly formed as "True Grit", but it's more ambitious, trying to evaluate the myths and legends of the West. Well worth reading.

Pynchon mini-review, review

Had a quick stroll through Tate Britain. They've got a tiny exhibition of Edward Burra paintings, themed around Harlem. Good, pleasantly stylized stuff.

They've also got an eclectic collection of sketches on display at the moment. (Too fragile for permanent exhibition). Includes a few big names: Turner, Gainsborough, Rossetti. Some of the lesser-known stuff is most interesting. There's a nice plan for an installation that I'm not sure was ever deployed, where a cube-crushed light aircraft was to be slowly pulled back out into an approximation of its original form.

Also sat through Derek Jarman's 1984 video. Imagining October, mostly because I needed a sit-down. Seemed a bit like a Simpsons spoof of any art movie: long bombastic captions about market forces and oppression, earnest pictures of Lenin. Had some surreptitious footage of Moscow which may have been more impressive at the time. Some nice textures in the painting scenes though.

YouTube. Dam Wars:

Were the Jersey orphanage deaths exaggerated?

Economics. Does financial regulation discourage good banking?

A good bank is one that lends to a borrower that other banks would not lend to because of their superior knowledge of the borrower or one that would not lend to a borrower to which everyone lends because of their superior knowledge of the borrower. Modern regulators believe this is too quaint, and, to be fair, many banks were not any good at it. But instead of removing banking licenses from these banks, regulators decided to do away with relationship banking altogether and promoted a switch away from bank finance to market finance where loans are securitised, given public ratings, sold to many investors including other banks, and assessed using approved risk tools that are sensitive to publicly available prices. Now, bankers lend to borrowers that everyone else is lending to, the outcome of a process where the public price of risk is compared with its historic average and a control is applied based on public ratings.
Marginal Revoultion on Limited Liability
Empirical research, however, indicates that limited liability is just not that big a deal. British firms had unlimited liability until 1855, California firms had unlimited liability until 1931, banks had double liability until the 1930s and American Express had unlimited liability until 1965. None of this seemed to matter very much.
Joel on Google and Microsoft:
It sort of bothers me, intellectually, that there are these people running around acting like they're building the next great thing who keep serving us the same exact TV dinner that I didn't want on Sunday night, and I didn't want it when you tried to serve it again Monday night, and you crunched it up and mixed in some cheese and I didn't eat that Tuesday night, and here it is Wednesday and you've rebuilt the whole goddamn TV dinner industry from the ground up and you're giving me 1955 salisbury steak that I just DON'T WANT.
< I cried today. | Feckin' useless >
Your right to a nose ends at my fist | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)
Derek Jarman by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:36:40 AM EST
I've yet to see one of his films that isn't hilariously pretentious, though I quite like Jubilee. Funny how things turn out - it seems his real legacy will be his amazing Dungeness garden.

It's political correctness gone mad!

I think that's really interesting by lm (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri May 02, 2008 at 04:55:59 AM EST
Persaud essentially defines a good bank in terms of the failure of the financial markets. If I understand him, his beef isn't with regulation so much as the transformation of banking from a set of personal relationships to just another market commodity.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
It's more like competing theories of the market by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #12 Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:11:19 PM EST
One explanation holds that markets are efficient simply through the volume of transparent actors, and emphasises all information being freely available to all participants.

Another explanation suggests that markets are successful because it is a mechanism which pools the tacit / private knowledge of participants. Er, I think this is what Hayek is getting at with his "catallaxy" term but I haven't really read him properly, getting around to it someday.

It's interesting that he advocates going back to old school retail banking though. In Australia there was a big move away from that after the financial deregulation in the 80s, risk models were centralised and a lot of discretion to lend was taken away from eg branch managers.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
most of my economic education is neoclassical by lm (4.00 / 1) #13 Sat May 03, 2008 at 04:43:35 AM EST
So I wouldn't really recognize a competing vision of the market.

The other thing that struck me that I didn't mention is that while he says that the problems he sees are due to regulation, they seem to me to have cropped up, at least in the US, as the result of deregulation. The only way I can see to make sense out of that is to assume that he's referring to internal regulations to the bank rather than external regulations imposed by the government.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
You might find it worthwhile by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Sat May 03, 2008 at 05:11:20 AM EST
Subscribing to a couple of the right-wing econoblogs, just to get their perspective.

One thing I think they have a point about (here, more) is that the banks have actually done worse than the hedge funds, despite being more tightly regulated. Therefore they suggest regulation is not the answer.

The more extreme market fundamentalist explanation, which I've considered too daft to be worth mentioning, is that the sub-prime crisis is all the fault of the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. They allege this forced the banks to give mortgages to bad-risk borrowers. Hence the whole thing is the fault of big government intervention, and less regulation is the answer.

I haven't seen any convincing explanation of why it took 30 years for this to have ill-effects, and how banks in completely different countries were compelled to take on these bad-risk debts.

Personally I don't see much reason to think existing regulation has had much of an impact at all, positive or negative. It's a global crisis that has crossed several regulatory regimes, just as the boom before it did.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
If my time were unlimited I would do that by lm (4.00 / 1) #15 Sat May 03, 2008 at 10:21:28 AM EST
My own theory is that the present meltdown is mostly a function of  banks not doing proper due diligence. On the one hand investment banks were investing in mortgage backed securities that they didn't really understand. On the other hand mortgage companies were making loans to individuals whom the underwriters knew couldn't pay those loans back. The latter was exacerbated by money being so cheap which led mortgage banks to calculate that if everyone who was likely to default did default, they could simply borrow more money at dirt cheap. The former was exacerbated by the apparently unwillingness of shareholders to hold their top executives and board members accountable.

Regulation certainly could have helped with regards to the lending. I don't know that it would have helped with the due diligence.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
Bananas in the attic by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #16 Sat May 03, 2008 at 11:00:53 AM EST
One of the econoblogs had a "bananas in the attic" analogy for cheap money.

Suppose the government subsidizes bananas. So, you buy a load of bananas and stick them in your attic. Unfortunately, you buy so many that the weight collapses the attic floor. Is that your fault or the government's?

I don't really see the "money so cheap if everyone defaults they can just borrow more money" thing though. Even if you borrow more, you've still lost money and will have to pay it back. Other explanations would be "if everybody defaults the government's going to bail us out", or "the property market is always going to rise so we can just reclaim the mortgaged houses and get the money back".
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
I would mostly agree with that analogy by lm (4.00 / 1) #17 Sat May 03, 2008 at 02:07:55 PM EST
The government, in this case, is an enabler. Sure, the banks could have made bad loans up to a point and then stopped. But they didn't stop. The reason that they didn't stop is that they assumed that they were going to be able to keep cheaply borrowing money. But then they couldn't borrow anymore.

The government isn't directly involved in that anymore than a bloke giving a pound to a alcoholic beggar is guilty of that beggar going to get drunk. But the government is an enabler in this scenario. By turning a blind eye, they helped create the circumstances that let the bubble inflate to the proportions that it did before it burst.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
They mean government regulations by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #18 Sat May 03, 2008 at 08:35:45 PM EST
Financial deregulation also involved new sets of regulations to replace the old. I believe he's talking about the value-vs-market price ideas behind  eg the Basel accords.

I agree with what you said downthread about due diligence though.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
Genre exploration. by Billy Goat (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:03:01 AM EST
Not to cast aspersions on True Grit or Warlock, both are great books, but isn't this like getting to know fantasy or sci-fi by reading only those mainstream authors who dabbled in it?

Portis wrote only one western - the rest of his were what I guess you'd call "mainstream" novels. Hall wrote a loose trilogy of westerns. He's otherwise known for a novel about professional skiing and a historical who-dunnit series in which Ambrose Bierce is the detective.

Seems to me that you're putting yourself, unintentionally of course, in the position of those folks who don't read sci-fi unless it is given the "mainstream" stamp of approval and comes from an author who has already got credit in the contemporary literature world.

Perhaps the problem comes from a tension in the idea of "genre classic." Is something a genre classic because it so exemplifies the genre? Or is it a classic because it stands out (and is actually not really a representation of the genre as it is typically practiced)?

heh heh by Merekat (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:10:11 AM EST
Mr. Escargot is so prolific a reader, he'd read the ingredients on the back of a cornflake packet, it that was all that was available;)

[ Parent ]
Been there by Vulch (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri May 02, 2008 at 08:16:53 AM EST

Done that

Got the box

Wot, throw away reading matter?

[ Parent ]
I prefer my literature more experimental. by Billy Goat (4.00 / 3) #10 Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:18:21 AM EST
The ingredient list on my package of cornflakes reads:

"Why do human hands smell of death? niacinamide, sodium ascorbate, loathing, salt, we eat eat eat but remain unsatisfied, vitamin B12, high fructose corn syrup, glass and contempt, malt flavoring, riboflavin, when will ever stop raining? BHT is added to preserve quality."

[ Parent ]
Well, I've asked both Metafilter and HuSi about it by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri May 02, 2008 at 08:21:58 AM EST
What books do you suggest?

I read True Grit beforehand though: that was what started me off on the Quest for the Classics of Genre in the first place.

I might try Louis L'Amour at some point. Nobody seems to have a clear idea of which of his books stand out though.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
It came off as criticism . . . by Billy Goat (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:02:07 AM EST
And I apologize for that. I guess I was more curious about what the "goal" was (other than to read good stuff). I was just mulling the question over aloud.

Asking for stand-outs will get you better reads, but give you a skewed sense of the genre as a whole. On the other hand, just diving in means you're going to have to wade through an awful lot of crappy stuff. You don't want to read garbage, right? But you also said that you were looking for stuff outside the mainstream. Both Portis and Hall are pretty mainstream figures.

Still, since this isn't for you PhD or anything like that, it would seem your strategy, which should lead you to better, if potentially atypical, books is the smarter approach.

As for L'Amour, the Western genre's equivalent of (in size, if not quality) to Balzac's La Comedie humaine is L'Amour's "Sackett" novels - a cycle of 17 novels covering members of the Sackett clan (they appear in many of his other novels too - they're the glue that holds his fictional world together). They're not all winners, but they form the core of his contribution to the genre. You can find a full list of Sackett books (and guest appearances) on wikipedia.

[ Parent ]
Thanks! by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:27:03 AM EST
I'll keep an eye out for the Sacketts. I've stuck Sackett's Land (the first chronologically) in my Amazon basket, but I've got a big to-read stack at the moment so it might be a while.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
The green eyed monster by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #5 Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:29:27 AM EST
Why I really care is that Microsoft is vacuuming up way too many programmers. Between Microsoft, with their shady recruiters making unethical exploding offers to unsuspecting college students, and Google (you're on my radar) paying untenable salaries to kids with more ultimate frisbee experience than Python, whose main job will be to play foosball in the googleplex and walk around trying to get come see the demo code they've just written with their "20% time," doing some kind of, let me guess, cloud-based synchronization... between Microsoft and Google the starting salary for a smart CS grad is inching dangerously close to six figures...
Article translation: I'm angry because my personnel costs are skyrocketing.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
he can try recruiting in Phx by cam (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:08:58 AM EST
rather than in SF or NY. Other companies are doing it, including Google.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Your right to a nose ends at my fist | 18 comments (18 topical, 0 hidden)