Sunday, May 24, 2009

Watching Life from the Periphery: Russell Brand's Booky Wook

Lately I've been quite fascinated with British comedian Russell Brand. I first became aware of him from an appearance on a late-night show, and since then he's been on my radar screen. I recently saw his performance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and just finished reading his Booky Wook, a "memoir of sex, drugs, and stand-up."

He's not a very cuddly or tender man. His memoir is mostly a story about his nearly career-destroying descent into heroine and sex addiction, followed by his successful rehabilitation as a stand-up comedian and actor. Along the way he wises up to his detachment from his own life and the "amoral dream of commodified sex." Though he doesn't talk much about death, Brand is clearly driven by the sense of the fleeting and fragile span of life that we're given on earth, and yearns to connect with others who feel the same. More than once he recollects with happiness those rare moments when he found "one of those rare women who recognized that life is finite and saw orgasms as a wonderful distraction."

In his life, aside from his insatiable fancy "to have sex with adult human females," one thing remains the same: his relentless ambition to become famous. From the start he knew that comedy would be his ticket - his "cursed talent." It was the only way he could relate to others and cope with his sense of always being an outsider, watching life from the periphery, and only really living it on the stage. It also makes him tolerable and charming.

I like him because he has a poet's appreciation and ear for language—"you are in for a giddy, wild ride through language," he says of his book—combined with a preference for the grandiloquent and even grotesque phrase or gesture or act over the customary, conventional, and cliched. Like all comedians who get their material by watching life from the periphery, Brand also makes some prescient observations about humans. Like their tendency to change their mind about what they want to do that evening: "People do this a lot. They don't seem to realize that the future is just like now, but in a little while, so they say they're going to do things in anticipation of some kind of seismic shift in their worldview that never actually materializes. But everything's not going to be made of leather, the world won't stink of sherbet. Tomorrow is not some mythical kingdom where you'll grow butterfly wings and be able to talk to the animals—you'll basically feel pretty much the same way you do at the moment."

As a connoisseur of sex, he knows what's sexy: "She was sexy, in a lap-dancer sort of way, which many might think, incidentally, is the best way to be sexy; other ways include: sexy like a teacher, sexy like a police-woman, a mate's sister, a biblical character, Cher, Eva Braun, a Brontë sister, a babysitter, Madonna, or The Madonna."

Brand is a cocky, confident, cheeky man. I can't wait for his next book(y wook).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cap and Trade= Carbon Tax + Corporate Welfare part 1 million and five

I have previously stated my preference for a carbon tax over a cap and trade regimen. What I see as the weakness of a Cap and Trade program proponents see as its strength: its opaque nature. It is true that a cap and trade, were the emissions permits to be auctioned off, would simulate a carbon tax. All well and good. But the reason most cap and trade advocates prefer a cap and trade is not because it simulates a carbon tax, but that it does so and reformers can avoid saying the word tax. But as its opacity is a double edged sword, it is also much more susceptible to rent seeking as is evidenced in the form of the proposed Waxmen-Markey bill whereby 85% of the emissions permits would be allocated as opposed to auctioned off. I can imagine how rigorous the allocation methodology will be: 1. Do you pollute extensively? Check; 2. Are you headquartered in or provide service extensively in a key congressional district? Check; 3. Have you donated to my (insert namer or party) campaign? Check; 4. Here is a free emissions permit which you can now use to defray the costs of your pollution by either keeping or selling at a premium to a less politically connected power company.

Some Wit from Russell Brand

"Life is not a theme park and if it is the theme is death."
—Russell Brand, My Booky Wook, p. 150.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Jay Leno Show

It's not a talk show, it's a vehicle for advertisers: "Mr. Farella said he also liked NBC’s promise that Mr. Leno’s show would be 'advertiser-friendly,' offering sponsors opportunities like commercials delivered by Mr. Leno and the inclusion of brands in skits."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Chrysler

Chrysler will be a millstone around the Obama administration's neck.  It doesn't appear to do all that much about the cost structure of Chrysler, it will make any company that has a sizable union presence a credit risk in the eyes of investors, and there is a pretty good chance that Chrysler will fail again, just as it has twice already in the last two decades (I am considering the Mercedes merger/acquisition as a bailout).  Pairing Chrysler with Fiat will give Chrysler access to small cars and nominally a luxury marque in the form of Alfa Romeo.  However, both Fiat and Alfa Romeo, are renowned for reliability issues.  Just as Chrysler is.  I do think the Fiat 500 might be a real hit but outside of that Chrysler doesn't get much.  

The principle purpose behind this reorganization seems to be to preserve UAW pensions and health benefits.  But I think this will be viewed as a pyrrhic victory for the UAW and the union movement writ large.  I don't think the UAW is out of the woods yet.  What if Chrysler continues to make crappy cars that people don't want to buy?  I don't see how a tie-up with Fiat changes that trajectory.  If so, four or five years, I doubt Obama will be able to pull off the same hijinx and will probably just have to let them enter into a normal bankruptcy process which could very well result in liquidation whereby those UAW pensions are dropped onto the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  This is what should have happpened this time around.  There is in fact some value to be found in each individual brand (especially Dodge and Jeep).  It's not as if Chrysler were to go into liquidation that every job would be lost and those brands would be gone forever.  Nissan was just recently looking at having Dodge manufacture trucks for them to be rebadged.  If Chrysler went into liquidation wouldn't Hyundai, Nissan or potentially a Chinese manufacturer be interested in buying one of those brands, whether to supplement their offering in the case of a Hyundai or to get a foothold in the American market in the case of a Chinese manufacturer.

But I think the broader fallout for the Obama administration will not just be the needless waste of taxpayer money but will be the affect this has on unions.  The UAW has largely been identified as the culprit of Chrysler and GM, however, a lot of the blame has been misplaced.  While the UAW did cause a cost structure that made for some unsuitable compromises (such as the precluding the manufacture of a competitive small car) management deserves the bulk of the blame.   The cars that GM and Chrysler have made of the years have been crap.  Some of this is the result of cost cutting but it has also been to a large degree a function of design, concept and quality.  Most of those three things are ultimately the responsibility of management and Chrysler and GM management have failed on all three accounts.  However, by stiffing the senior creditors to reward the UAW with GM and Chrysler equity stakes and the preservation of their benefits, this would seem to create a substantial risk in the eyes of investors where it concerns union companies.  Why would you want to lend to a company with a union when there is a decent chance if things go south that the government will subvert your claims to those of their preferred special interest: the unions.  Now not only will a union company' exhibit a cost structure disadvantage but also a disadvantage from the perspective of borrowing costs.