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From The Next Bubble: Priming the markets for tomorrow’s big crash, by Eric Janszen, in the February 2008 Harper’s.
A financial bubble is a market aberration manufactured by government, finance, and industry, a shared speculative hallucination and then a crash, followed by depression. Bubbles were once very rare—one every hundred years or so was enough to motivate politicians, bearing the post-bubble ire of their newly destitute citizenry, to enact legislation that would prevent subsequent occurrences. After the dust settled from the 1720 crash of the South Sea Bubble, for instance, British Parliament passed the Bubble Act to forbid “raising or pretending to raise a transferable stock.” For a century this law did much to prevent the formation of new speculative swellings.
Nowadays we barely pause between such bouts of insanity. The dot-com crash of the early 2000s should have been followed by decades of soul-searching; instead, even before the old bubble had fully deflated, a new mania began to take hold on the foundation of our long-standing American faith that the wide expansion of home ownership can produce social harmony and national economic well-being. Spurred by the actions of the Federal Reserve, financed by exotic credit derivatives and debt securitiztion, an already massive real estate sales-and-marketing program expanded to include the desperate issuance of mortgages to the poor and feckless, compounding their troubles and ours.
It’s not surprising that there has been a resurgence of interest in the economics of the Great Depression–and not just because of the economic meltdown we’ve experienced over the past months. So much of what happened back then shaped economic policy, financial markets and even the way we thought about the economy for decades to come. Equally important, however, and much less discussed, is the decade prior to the Great Depression….The 1920s were a period of dramatic technological change that transformed the fundamental structure of the economy, altered the nature of the family and challenged the social norms of the 19th century. I stress technology, because it was technological change that improved the economic welfare of many. So it is a mistake, a hyperbolical gesture, to view the 20s as one of those regular episodes of excess that seem to mark American economic life. When the Depression hit, a lot of the policy responses were aimed at trying to turn back the clock–not on excess, but on the changes brought by technology. Those attempts failed because it was all but impossible to do.–“The Soaring Twenties,” Thomas F. Cooley, Forbes Magazine
Our forebears expected the future to be pretty much like their present, which had been pretty much like their past. Although exponential trends did exist a thousand years ago, they were at that very early stage where an exponential trend is so flat that it looks like no trend at all. So their lack of expectations was largely fulfilled. Today, in accordance with the common wisdom, everyone expects continuous technological progress and the social repercussions that follow. But the future will be far more surprising than most observers realize: few have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.–“The Law of Accelerating Returns,” Ray Kurzweil, KurzweilAI.net
William Shatner does Sarah Palin justice; all professional baseball players do drugs, bar none, no exceptions; the demise of lumberjack-athletes; motorcycle daredevil perishes in Costa Rica; New York Times reports on looming union
Two minutes and ten seconds into Born in the U.S.A., the first of the album’s many female characters appears. She is given no physical or character traits; just two lines detailing her relationship with a fallen male hero. “He had a woman he loved in Saigon / I got a picture of him in her arms,” Bruce Springsteen proclaims….It is a telling image, and properly foreshadows the role of women in the U.S.A. where Springsteen and his characters were born….His ouevre is teeming with vaginal metaphors (“The River”, “Candy’s Room”, “Tunnel of Love”, “Pink Cadillac”) where the female anatomy provides some sort of sanctuary from a dark, spirit-crushing world where innocent, hard-working men are denied their entitlement. Like rock and roll itself, women are a surrogate release, pillars of stability and tokens of success. In women, both Springsteen and his characters (as much as they can be objectively separated) often find the promise that has been denied them elsewhere, but they just as often get denied here as well. Sex, like the other aspects of the American Dream, offers a lot of seductive promises, but no inalienable guarantees.–“Sex in the U.S.A.: Male Sexuality in Springsteen’s American Dream,” Charles Hohman, Popmatters
Ratio of the average cost of a gallon of gas in Britain last September to that of a gallon of Starbucks coffee:
Her Majesty's Customs and Excise (London)/Starbucks Coffee Company (London)/Harper's research
The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.
Greece evacuated 72,000 people from the town of Thessaloniki while an undetonated World War II–era bomb was excavated from beneath a gas station.
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."