Fancy

•December 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Oh, right.  Now you want to get involved in science.

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Polvo

•December 5, 2008 • 2 Comments

I’m not the biggest Polvo fan out there, but I definitely jumped at the opportunity to see a band this important reunite at Bottletree last night.

Let me first say this.  Have you ever seen someone get their ears rocked off?  Like, his lobes on the ground, geysers of blood pulsing out of the side of his face, yet still banging his head along to the beat?  Yeah, well that happened (it didn’t actually happen).  That’s how much (and how loudly) Polvo rocks.

The music was noisy and energetic, and somehow came off as incredibly polished in its sloppy style.  And I say that not to be critical in any way … this standard rock quartet is loaded with talent that seems to have only grown over the years.  The messiness of their sound is completely intentional, a defining characteristic.  Though I haven’t seen them live, Sonic Youth is all I could think when listening to this band last night.  But maybe more math rock.  And more noise.  Droning bass throughout, effects pedals littering the floor in front of both guitars.  Ash Bowie kept whipping out these magnificent, rare 6-string axes.

I think they only had something like 6 songs on their setlists, but fear not.  That was only because they gave each one at least 10 minutes, with much of that time being extended in raucous but highly organized rock.  A number of songs were new, and you could see the excitement all over the thirty-somethings’ faces as they consumed fresh meat from their high school heroes.

Rockstar

•November 5, 2008 • 2 Comments

BARRY

I think this guy might actually be for real.  Having come to political maturity at the beginning of 8 years of incompetence, laziness, and plain dumbassishness, I don’t even know where to begin with Barry.  His speech last night proved once again that he is one of the most powerful speakers this country has seen in a very long time.  He’s intelligent, witty, athletic, sexy (am I right ladies?!), moderate, pensive, composed … he’s just polished and smooth all around.

How could I not vote for this guy?  Because when it really comes down to it, Obama was born to be President of the United States.  Destiny.  It’s almost like the last 8 years were just a setup by the Illuminati to prove just how good this guy is (“Alright, the prophesy says he’s a brilliant leader … we’ll see about that.  Let’s see … how about some terrorism, never-ending war, domestic spying, global warming, a decrease in a purchasing power of the dollar … hmmm.   Not bad, not bad, but let’s up the ante and throw in the worst financial crisis in 75 years AND have America’s image be dragged through the mud internationally.  Oh yeah, and let’s have it all timed just a few year before the social security bomb goes off.  Let’s see what you got, golden child!”

Who knows … maybe he’s not the hero that he appears.  Maybe he has some sort of Clintonian fatal flaw.  Maybe.  But I really don’t think so.  I think he’s genuinely a good person, and one who’s going to do a whole lot to repair the damage that has been done to this country over the past few years.  I think he’s honest.  And I think when he makes mistakes, we should certainly NOT take it easy on him.  He’s the kind of person who can listen to criticism and better himself through it.

For the first time since I became politically aware, I have hope.  Maybe things will work out after all.

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update: 12-7-08

there was a great long-form interview with Obama on Meet the Press this morning.  Check it out here.

Top Notch

•October 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Watch these guys in their mid-40s shame and destroy EVERYTHING ELSE trying to be punk rock.  I will gladly fly anywhere in the continental US to see this band at the next opportunity.  Who’s in?

Shellac is (L to R):  Steve Albini, Todd Trainer, and Bob Weston.  Oh, and they are the best.

(thanks k’aisle)

Magnolia Electric Co., Live at Bottle Tree

•October 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

A friend of mine told me that Jason Molina played to a small room full of students at Sewanee in the early 2000’s.  It was just Molina and his acoustic guitar, and after a few hours of his mournful ghost songs, there were few dry eyes in the whole place.  A former girlfriend of mine refuses to listen to Molina’s previous band, Songs:Ohia.  The tragedy of it is that she absolutely adores his music–she claims she can’t handle the melancholy that it brings her.  It’s not just that it’s sad, it’s that the emotion coming out of Molina is too tangible … it strikes unnervingly close to the actual experience of loss, conveyed through sound alone.

That is Jason Molina live on his own or with Songs:Ohia.  The current incarnation of Molina is called Magnolia Electric Co., and although this project inevitably retains some of the darkness that I was referring to, it also brings something lighter (hope?).  The show this past Saturday at the picture-perfect Bottle Tree of Birmingham, Alabama was as worthwile a concert experience as I’ve ever had.  The band is a 5-piece with your standard instrumentation:  Molina leads the way with vocals and a unique-looking acoustic guitar, Jason Groth is brilliant on his twangy, beat-up telecaster (not sure I’ve ever lusted after a guitar quite as much as this one) and back-up vocals, Mark Rice brings energy and subtle sophistication on his drum set, and the band is rounded out by always-solid performances from Mackie Hotpepper on bass and Michael Kapinus on keys and vocals.

I’m not going to add much more, but let me say this quickly:  Magnolia Electric’s version of rich midwestern country-influenced rock, puts anything coming out of Nashville to shame (and ironically, I drove hastily back from that very city to see this band Saturday night).  These guys are tight and professional and playing for the love of the music and nothing more.  Molina’s haunting tenor filled up the venue during perfectly restrained verses, punctuated by climaxes of electricity led by Groth.  The whole experience was unbelievably satisfying; this was one of those shows (not unlike Smog), that remains with me days later and helps me move into the new week with an unusual calm.

A couple of other things.  (1)  3/5 band members were wearing ascots, which is completely awesome.  (2) Opening acts The Broken Letters and David Vandervelde were also fantastic.  (3) Finally, a couple of links for those needing more Magnolia:

Magnolia Electric Co Website

Pitchfork Interview with Jason Molina

Check out the photos and don’t miss this band ever again.

~Chaz

This Mess We’re In

•October 8, 2008 • 4 Comments

Wow.  These are definitely some interesting days in global economics.  Just this morning, a coordinated 0.5% rate-cut was announced by the Fed, European Central Bank, the Bank of England, and a few smaller central banks.  Yesterday, the Fed announced that it would start buying up commercial paper in an attempt to reinvent this market for short-term corporate debt.  Governments across Europe are announcing plans to guarantee deposits with the hopes of preventing bank runs.  Global equity markets are taking a major beating; the Dow Jones has lost an impressive 15% of its value in the past month, resetting approximately to 2004 levels.  Oh yeah, and last week the American congress passed a 700 billion dollar bail-out plan, which may or may not work.

Banks are simply not loaning money to each other at reasonable prices … the commonly cited LIBOR rate, a measure of the price of money between banks, has spiked in an unprecedented way.  Take a look at this chart for overnight LIBOR.

Notice that the rate that banks charge each other to borrow money moves fairly smoothly for the majority of the last 5 years.  Then compare that graph with this one, which shows the effective Federal Funds rate, the target interest rate set by the Fed for banks to borrow from each other, for the same 5 year term.

Notice a pattern?  Yep, they look essentially the same for much of the 5 year term.

And this is certainly not unintentional.  The Federal Funds rate serves as the foundation for all interest rates in the American economy.  Even interest rates for credit cards and car loans are based on this rate … only they are way down (or up, depending on how you look at it) the chain of interest rates because there are further removed from government’s target interest rate.  But banks are not far removed at all.  They are the ones who are being directly targeted by the Federal Funds rate, so it makes sense that LIBOR essentially mirrors the Federal Funds rate.  Recently, as the charts clearly demonstrate, this has not been the case.  LIBOR has moved erratically upward, while the target rate set by the Fed has actually dropped.  So we’ve got a disconnect.  What happened?  Well, thanks to some creative finance guys, banks are holding a bunch of toxic assets that have the potential to make them insolvent.  The greatest part is: since these deals were private agreements between institutions, there was (and is still) no public exchange that allows everyone to know what everyone else holds.  In other words, banks don’t know if they can trust each other … maybe the 1 month loan Bank A makes today will not be repaid because the toxic assets of Bank B will have dragged Bank B under.  Without trust between these institutions, the central bank can do little to affect the money supply with its target Federal Funds rate.

A hint of good news in the face of all of this gloom: this is the BEST time to learn about and understand our economic system thanks to the amazing case study at hand and a huge amount of quality analysis on the subject.  Two pieces that I highly recommend are:

1. This recent radio piece aired on “This American Life.”  The analysis is very good and very easy to understand.  It is an hour long, I think, but well worth every second.

2. The current issue of The Economist has a fantastic article on the money markets.  It’s definitely not an easy read, but I understand the subject much more after digesting this thang.

Some day soon, I’m hoping to have a guest post by a real-life banker/economist (i.e.  someone who actually has a right to talk about all this stuff).

~Chaz

Blog Suspension Suspended

•October 7, 2008 • 2 Comments

Now that we’ve “dealt” with this crisis, fresh posts are on the way.  Stay tuned.

Game on.