March 13, 2007

Stimulate the open chords

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1987

* Clusterfuck Nation. excerpt:

Here's an idea: when the securities markets go south along with the rest of the US economy in 2007, maybe the smoothies on Wall Street should receive end-of-year 'cash-negative' bonuses, meaning instead of a check for, say, $25 million the day before Christmas, they get an invoice saying 'please remit $25 million.' Who to? Good question. One might suggest the nearest firefighters' or teachers' pension fund -- except the idiots who run those retirement funds bought mortgage-backed paper with their eyes open. Okay then, let's say the Wall Street boys send their checks into Amtrak. Maybe then the cafe car between Albany and New York City will re-open so that in the course of a 2.5 hour trip a person might get a drink of water.

"A tsunami of nausea seems to be sweeping across the media now in recognition that the Potemkin edifice of mortgage finance is imploding like a discarded Las Vegas casino. What it comes down to is that several species of newly-engineered financial Frankenproducts have been based on loans for houses that will never be paid back. Not just a few loans. Massive numbers. These, in turn, have been bundled, swapped around, and leveraged into other plays which now depend, for instance, on x-number of unemployed car dealers and underpaid busboys ponying up the 'vig' for some piece-of-crap collateral that will soon be a third its previously appraised value. It will be easier for the car dealers and busboys to walk away from these deals than it will be for the smoothies who used all this bundled bullshit to hedge credit default swaps and play the yen-to-Euro carry trade game to wiggle out of their positions. And the unwinding of all this fraud will almost certainly leave the nation economically spavined.

"The amazing thing is how standards and norms for lending collapsed as completely as they did the past five years. One day you had bankers who retained a notion that lending per se required some prudent evaluation of the borrower's character and of the thing or enterprise borrowed for -- and the next day these protocols vanished. Once again I challenge the punctilious physicists out there by asserting that this astounding transformation is the product of entropy. Basically, you get a given system -- e.g. the US economy -- over-stoked on cheap energy (and even at $3 a gallon gasoline is cheap), and the system will throw off gobs of entropy. The more profligate the energy consumption, the more entropy results. It then expresses itself in various kinds of disorder, meaning anything from the immersive ugliness of the American built-up landscape to the behavior of people formerly attuned to such governing principles as moral hazard to retain the functional legitimacy of their livelihoods."
"The story will be the same all over the nation. The owners of these things will get into terrible personal financial trouble. The property market will re-value the buildings, discounting all the previous wishful thinking about price. And the financial markets will stagger and collapse as the process thunders through the mendacious operations that all this wishful thinking spawned."

* Mel Zerman remembers Fred Exley, author of A Fan's Notes. excerpt:

Interviewer: How did Fred react to being a first time author at forty?

Zerman: He complained all the time that the book wasn't properly publicized: They are not advertising the book, they are not getting it reviewed. He said he had been on three programs, none were major stations. He was very bitter. On the other hand, he was very happy to be in New York and drinking.

Interviewer: Did he talk to you about some of the themes in A Fan's Notes?

Zerman: He said to me the same thing he said to the interviewers on the rare occasions my friend Lisl was able to get him on a program. He would answer questions by saying, 'It's all in the book.' His feeling was that everyone should read the book. The book is very true, even though he never made up his mind whether it was a novel or not."
Interviewer: Did Fred ever talk about Frank Gifford?

Zerman: Of course. Frank invited him to a party on one of those occasions when Fred was in New York. He insisted that I come. I believe Fred had probably sent the manuscript of A Fan's Notes to Gifford even before it was published. Fred was no dope when it came to selling books. It was clear that Frank liked him. Why shouldn't he? The book is very worshipful.

Interviewer: Did you visit Fed Exley in Watertown?

Zerman: In 1971 my wife and I were visiting upstate New York. I insisted we go to Watertown and look up Fred. It was a Saturday night. We went to a bar. It was the only place in town. There was no time when Fred wasn't drinking heavily and when you went there, you understood why. There is nothing else to do in Watertown except drink.
Interviewer: Did Fred admire any contemporary writers?

Zerman: He had very little to say about most writers that was good. He liked William Styron, but maybe that was because they shared an agent.

Interviewer: How did you learn of his death in 1992?

Zerman: I believe he was in a hospital, somewhere in upstate New York. He called me and without quite saying so, he made me feel he would never be leaving the hospital. I would call but could never reach him. Every time I asked for a progress report, there was none. One day I called, and they told me he was gone.

* "All I need is a window not to write." -- Tobias Wolff, 2004


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