Monday, March 23, 2009
I realized that I probably should have included Jeremy with part 1 and started part 2 with Oceans because based on talking to people that are more "casual" fans or even non-fans, the 1st 6 tracks are the more popular, accessible songs that get mainstream play, whereas the last five are lesser known and seem to be adored mostly be more "serious" fans of the band. Alas. I suppose that I can edit them to put Jeremy in Part 1, but then this paragraph won't make any sense, so I won't do that.
Anyway, on to Part 2...
Jeremy: Anyone who is even a casual fan of the band probably knows the story behind Jeremy, the 15 year old boy who shot himself in front of a classroom, as depicted in the legendary, award-winning music video. The more personal part of the song is the second verse, where Eddie connects Jeremy's story to that of a kid he went to school with that he had had some altercations with and who ended up shooting up a classroom of students. However, while the song is titled after Jeremy, I think it is more about the other kids in the classroom and, by extension, us than about him. It is easy to psychoanalyze Jeremy: he was no longer able to cope with being teased and picked on at school and whatever emotional abuse he suffered at home, and rather than tackle those issues head on and really get to the root of them, he took the easy way out and killed himself. The larger point is that the kids (and us) did (and do) the same thing: when something tragic happens we "try to forget this, try to erase this." We take a few moments to think about what happened, but then ultimately we move on, because life goes on. I'm not sure this is necessarily a bad thing, it's just a symptom of reality and human nature that we can easily see in Jeremy but we don't always see in ourselves. (Special bonus: you can watch the original, lesser known music video of Jeremy here.)
Oceans: A truly beautiful song using water as an extended metaphor to symbolize his love as well as the practical obstacle to being with the person he loves. Given Eddie's love for surfing, this water/ocean metaphor is hardly surprising. I don't think this is about a past love or lost love as much as current love interest from whom he is currently apart. Contrasted to Black or Porch the speaker here is much more optimistic and forward looking and awaits being reunited with the one he loves.
Porch: I think this is about someone left behind by a person they cared about, not because of any one's choice but rather because of circumstances beyond their control. Death comes to mind as a possibility because the notion that he wishes he could have "learned your voice one last time" implies that this happening in the future is no longer a possibility as he knows that he will not not hold or feel the person, "never again." Instead, he is left behind to deal with the monotony and mundane existence that is everyday life: paying bills, taking care of shit. Sometimes the malaise that follows the deep depression, where you just go through the motions of life instead of actually living and experiencing it, can be worse than the depression itself. Ultimately though, to break out of it, one has to realize that you can't stay stuck in neutral, stuck in the middle, because eventually "there ain't gonna be any middle any more." Instead, the goal is to wake up every day with the attitude that "this could be the day." And if it's not, maybe tomorrow will be.
Garden: The opening verse of this song is one of the most perfectly ever written: "The direction of the eye, so misleading/ The defection of the soul, nauseously quick/ I don't question, our existence/ I just question, our modern needs." The contrast between the eyes and the soul - between the things in life that we think we want and the things that are actually good for us - is striking. A commentary on modern society and our modern "needs" that reminds me of David Foster Wallace's comment that those who worship tangible things will eventually come to be enslaved by those things. (It should be noted that the short musical piece that plays at the beginning and end of the album is called "Master/Slave." Interesting? Maybe.) They will subject themselves to things that will never be able to satisfy them as they spend their entire lives walking "with my hands bound...into your garden of stone," and spend the rest of eternity 6 feet under, finally realizing that they weren't able to bring any of those things along with them.
Deep: A truly dismal portrait of a man so consumed with depression and a lack of self-worth that he is on the edge, contemplating suicide. He ponders his existence and his own will but believes that to the "street below" and the "sky above," to the people around him, "he just ain't nothin." Rather than looking harder inside himself he looks outside to other people and projects his problems on to them, blaming society for the way he is. Rather than trying to break free from these issues, he sinks himself deeper into them, transforming into a murderer and rapist, viewing his victims in the same way he believes others see him.
Release: To Ed, this song may have been about his tumultuous relationship with his stepfather or his non-existent relationship with his real father, but for me, this song is more so about the relationship many of us have with our Father, with a capital F - this song is about religion. I would be hard pressed to come up with better imagery to describe god sitting upon his heavenly throne than a "rocking horse of time." Anyone who has ever seriously contemplated god's existence and tried to reconcile faith with their own sense of logic and intuition can relate to the sleepless nights of deep thought, as one lies there waiting for someone, anyone to "speak to me." This struggle can be likened to chains of bondage that are so debilitating that they leave the subject trapped, crying out and begging, "release me!" (The 7 minute clip of the live performance at night 2 at the Garden this year was probably the most spiritual experience of my life.)
Thus, limiting my thoughts on it to an appropriate length will prove quite challenging. This song is about unrequited love, a man so desperately in love with a woman, who for whatever reason can't or won't be with him. The song is highlighted by two extended metaphors: art and the cosmos. What starts out as a pristine relationship with unlimited potential ("sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay"), a relationship so pure that the cosmos themselves ("all five horizons revolved around her soul, as the earth to the sun") have preordained it in the eyes of the speaker, has been "washed in black" to the point that even the air he breathes "has taken a turn" and even the innocent sound of children laughing makes him sear. The feeling of rejection and lost love has overshadowed everything good about the relationship and about life more globally, as "the love gone bad" has turned his entire world and existence to "black, tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I'll be," leaving him to disconsolately wonder, "of what was everything?" Was everythinng I "taught her" and gave her, everything we experienced together, all for naught? The song ends with a concession to reality but one last plea of false hope as in the most touching lyric I have ever heard, Eddie sings, "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life, I know you'll be a star in somebody else's sky, but why can't it be mine," final words that when tagged in live versions together with the words "we belong together" over the final guitar chords prove to be truly heartbreaking.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
To The Editor:
I have found your coverage of the outrage over the AIG bonuses ("AIG and Wall St. Confront Upsurge of Populist Fury") almost as upsetting as the outrage itself. Why is the media, the government, and the American public spending this much time obssessing over $165 million out of a $170 billion AIG bailout package (not to mention the billions of dollars being doled out to other financial institutions)? In more relatable terms, this would be like if you were very generous and did your friend a favor and lent him $1,000 to keep him afloat for a little while and then spent a week obsessing over a specific $1 - what he did with it, who he gave it to, and whether the person he gave it to deserved it. All these investigations about when Geithner and then Obama found out are a tremendous waste of time and do us all a disservice. We could all scream until we're blue in the face about whether these guys deserved such high payout or anything at all, but doing so would be severely missing the forest for the trees. So how about we all (Treaury, Congress, and the White House, included) stop worrying about this AIG bonus "crisis" and focus all our attention on the actual financial crisis, where it belongs.
While they did not print my letter, they printed 5 or 6 others that expressed a similar sentiment, and more importantly, have run pieces the last two days that have echoed this much more sensible approach to the issue. Yesterday's Business section had a piece by Joe Nocera, who articulated a host of reasons why the response the last week has been an absurd overreaction and one that has totally missed the forest for the trees. Then the front page story today's Week in Review section discussed how the fury over the AIG bonuses is yet another example of American's misplaced focus on symbolic issues in politics rather than substantive ones.
Here's hoping that the Times continues to along this altered approach to this issue and acts as a voice of reason that can trickle down to the rest of the reading public.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Everyone is wondering how Geithner overlooked this, and I'll tell you why: he was focusing on the $100 billion, the big picture, instead of the relatively small peanuts of the $165 million in bonus payments. In more relatable figures, focusing on $165M out of a $100B bailout, is like if you were very generous and did your friend a favor and lent him $1,000 to keep him afloat for a little while and then spent a week obsessing over a specific $1.65 - what he did with it, who he gave it to, and whether the person he gave it to deserved it.
So now the House, in order to quell populist outrage, has passed an over-broad, far overreaching bill that will retroactively tax these bonuses at a 90% rate, effectively totally erasing them. I entertained the notion of using the tax system to solve this a couple days ago, but I never had something this extreme in mind. This bill potentially raises constitutional issues, as the tax may be considered a "bill of attainder", which can be briefly described as "legislative punishment," and is unconstitutional under Article I. Laurence Tribe seems to think the tax is legal. Others disagree.
Early signs show that the both the Senate and President Obama are supportive of this bill, or at least slight variations of it. Once it passes the Senate, I hope that, rather than signing the bill and creating a tumult at AIG and Wall Street that could have drastic ramifications, that Obama uses the bill as leverage against these employees to renegotiate the bonuses, in a manner similar to what Noam Scheiber suggested a few days ago. These employees need their money and we need them to stay at AIG and help us fix this mess. Give them a certain percentage (about 1/3) up front, put another 1/3 in escrow for the employees to potentially receive if they stay at AIG, help fix things, and do a good job, and let the government recoup the final 1/3. There, I just solved the AIG bonus crisis. Now, can we please get back to the actual crisis?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
1. I think a lot of the controversy on this story stems from the labeling of these payouts as "bonuses" when, in fact, they more closely represent deferred salary. These are not bonuses being paid out on top of salaries already received, which is the traditional understanding of a bonus. Rather, this is the salary for these employees, many of whom negotiated contracts with their employer whereby they would agree to a salary of $1 in exchange for these bonuses. These contracts were negotiated before the onset of the financial crisis.
2. If the government wanted to prevent these bonuses from being paid, there was a way for them to do that: put the company into bankruptcy. However, for whatever their reasons were, the government decided that this wasn't the way they wanted to go. For the government to complain about it now is unfair. This is their fault much more than AIG's. The government could have either forced AIG into bankruptcy or put restrictions on the money it gave AIG through the bailout, but it didn't. Once it continues to exist as a company, AIG has to continue to run as a company, and a major part of that is honoring employments contracts with your employees. Should they not pay their lease anymore if the rent is astronomical? What about the electric bill?
That being said, there are problems with these bonuses, primarily the dollar figures that are being thrown around. These employees are entitled to get paid, but let's not overdo it. Whether we use the tax system to limit the bonus size or hope that some of these guys adhere to the pleas of Tom Friedman in today's Times, echoed by AIG's CEO Edward Liddy in his testimony today and return some of the money, some of this money should be gotten back. The other issue that is pretty puzzling is calling these "retention bonuses" but awarding some of them to employees that have already left the company. Not sure if anyone has given a good answer to that yet.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The other side of the story, from Andrew Sorkin in today's Times Business section. Pretty much everyone seems to be outraged at the AIG bonuses that were announced recently and intuitively that outrage is well placed: why should taxpayers be funding huge bonuses for companies that got bailout money. Sorkin suggests that abrogating these bonus contracts might do more damage to the fundamentals of the economy than we can imagine because it will lead to a fear that the government can step in and cancel any existing contracts. Further, he argues that there could be a strong incentive to keep current AIG staff in place because they are the ones that got us into this mess and are therefore best equipped to find a way out. Plus, if they were to depart AIG they would be in the best position to figure out a way to make money off AIG's failure and the notion of a bunch of smart, talented finance-types out there who have an insider understanding of AIG's underpinnings and a financial desire to see it fail is a frightening prospect. Finally, he questions the notion that the current recession and poor job market means that these people have nowhere to go and therefore there is no need to give them extra financial incentive to stay. He correctly observes that in all times, good or bad, there is always a demand for talent and the most talented among them will be picked up elsewhere even now if they are let go.
That being said, there needs to be some sort of reasonable limit on what types and the amount of bonuses that can be given, a condition that was wrongly ommitted from the bailout rules. Since it appears like it might be too late to legally get money back now, Ambinder's idea from yesterday that was co-opted by Christopher Dodd today, to heavily tax bonuses that are taken from TARP dollars might be an efficient way to regulate the size of these bonuses after the fact. My intuition tells me that it will be extremely difficult to get this money back and that taxes might be the only way to make this work.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Remarkably, though, it was this central argument that prompted the Bush administration to block any funding for researching stem cells over the last 8 years. Now that President Obama has lifted the federal ban on stem cell research, conservatives are trying to push to limit the research solely to those stem cells that would otherwise be discarded (as discussed above in caps), rather than permitting the creation of new stem cells specifically for research purposes. As the Times editorial page points out today, this would be a terrible mistake. We have already lost 8 years in this fight, and this is not something to concede on. Sure, many scientists are skeptical about the practical potential that this research actually has, and maybe they're right. Maybe nothing will come of this and this research will not lead to any advances in the treatment of Parkinson's and other diseases. But maybe it will. Are we really not willing to risk some embryos to find out? More than that, by its very nature, scientific research is a pursuit whose goals and results aren't always contiguous. Maybe stem cells will prove useless for the objectives we intend to use them for, but by studying them we will learn something about human physiology that we can't anticipate right now. There's only one way to find out. Mr. President, I am all for bipartisanship and compromise when it is appropriate. So go ahead and feel free to compromise on the stimulus, on health care, on whatever other issues where you think it makes sense. But please, do not compromise here. It's too important.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
"We were but stones; your light made us stars."--Eddie Vedder
(So much for not writing about The West Wing here.)
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I once joked to my dad that the reason why so many people missed out on the opportunity to make huge money on the Google IPO is because of a tragic misallocation of resources. Anyone from my generation, who was using products before they went mainstream, knew that the potential for this company was limitless. However, the money was in the hands of the older generation who didn't know anything about this Google. The lesson: if we would have talked to our parents more, our families would all be a lot richer right now.
Monday, March 9, 2009
I hope that if he didn't already realize it earlier, that after yesterday, Avery realizes that his decision to ever leave New York was a terrible mistake and one that he will never make again. Because what I witnessed and engaged in yesterday was an absolute love affair between Rangers' fans and this guy. Chants of "A-ve-ry" filled the arena the first time he stepped on the ice and every time he made a play from then on. As a player that is maligned for his personality and his tactics basically everywhere else in the league, yet admired for it here, it's hard to imagine that he could play anywhere else at this point.
Practically speaking, he gives them depth at the forward position and a much needed edge and that has been sorely lacking all season. The corollary to that is that in addition to the penalties he actually commits (and they aren't as infrequent as we would like), because of his reputation, refs will often whistle him for penalties that they would normally let go (see, the interference penalty he was called for in the waning minutes of yesterday's game) and overlook arguably cheap shots that players take against him. It's all part of the equation with this guy. Here's hoping that with Avery back on board (in addition to recently acquired Nik Antropov and Derrick Morris) Rangers fans will get to enjoy more days like yesterday going forward.