I Don’t Understand Wall Street

I’ve been casually (but eagerly) studying the US economic system for over ten years now. In 1999 I convinced a friend to take my place in Seattle for the corner-turning anti-WTO protests (since I couldn’t make it). I’m reading Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail and I’m waiting to get a book copy of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report.

But sometimes I see a story and I just feel baffled. Or at least confuzzled and sad. Take this story from last month: Profit Drop Shakes Up Goldman Sachs. Oh, man. Sounds like bad news, right?

But look at what the article actually says:

Goldman Sachs shares fell 2% Wednesday morning after the investment bank reported a 53% drop in profits in the fourth quarter to $2.39 billon.

Goldman turned a profit during the quarter in question — a healthy profit, by most normal peoples’ standards. (Small business owners! If you made 2.3 billion dollars in three months, wouldn’t you say that was pretty good?) But it’s less than Jim Cramer expected them to make, so it’s time to hide the razor blades over at Forbes! (And every other financial-sector outlet.)

This really points to the fundamental incongruity in our economic system: It’s not about companies being competitive. It’s not about capitalism simply requiring some sort of profit margin. In the USA right now, it’s all about feeding huge trucks full of cash into the gaping mouths of investors and financiers. And all public policy must also suit this goal.

Meanwhile the rest of us work overtime and watch our benefits get slashed.

I Don’t Understand Sarah Palin™

That’s not a typo, people — she’s trademarking her name. Apparently it’s a pretty common thing for celebrities to do, but it’s still weird to me. We’d better use it as much as possible before it’s illegal! Sarah Palin Sarah Palin Sarah Palin!

My Ears Don’t Understand This Ring Tone

My students played for me the mosquito ringtone. It’s really creepy! Try it for yourself and tell me you’re not worried about what this could mean. Once they learn how to talk at that frequency, we’re done. (Although an entire album at that frequency would be a cool idea. Maybe a new take on John Cage?)

Too bad Sarah Palin wouldn’t be able to hear it.

My Brain Doesn’t Understand the Concept of Sleeping In

I woke up this morning at 4:00 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I told myself I was going to take a nap, but then I started cleaning out my big To Do file on my desk and when I looked up it was 5:00 PM. I’m not sleepy, but I expect I’ll have a headache or just be run-down tomorrow. Fun!

I bet Sarah Palin gets plenty of sleep every night.

The Tea Party < The Muslim Brotherhood (At Least According to the Orthodoxy of Most Pundits I’ve Heard Lately)

Every story I hear these days about Egypt features some self-important white guy wetting his pants about how Egypt is destined to become the next Iran, and anyone who wants to be a part of the next Egyptian government needs to promise to be non-violent. (For the record, The Muslim Brotherhood has on its website a statement of principles which affirms “the right to public gatherings, the invitation to them, and participation in them, all within the limitations of public of public safety, so long as the usage of violence or arms or the threat of doing so is not included.”)

Can you imagine if we applied the same stringent requirements on political organizations in the US? Imagine if pundits went on NPR and FoxNews saying that Tea Party leaders will have to commit themselves to nonviolent action if they want to be a part of the US government. Sarah Palin would strangle a moose when she heard the news!

TimeWaster™

Speaking of Egypt: Today we have two TimeWasters™, both courtesy of Davey D’s superb hip-hop politics blog. First up is from Moroccan rapper MasterMimz: “Back Down Mubarak”

And we’ve also got one from dead prez’s M1, with Jasiri X (who also did “What if the Tea Party Were Black?“): “We All Shall Be Free”. Yay, Egyptian democracy!

Lyrics here and here.

Today I’m listening to: The BGM Show! (They should do an episode with music about Sarah Palin.)

Sarah Palin Sarah Palin.

Hip Hop = No Country for Old Men

I’m feeling old.

I don’t get Lil’ Wayne. I don’t understand why Drake is popular. I don’t see why everyone’s wetting their pants about Gucci Mane.

I grew up with hip-hop. Run-DMC, Public Enemy, Paris, The Coup, etc etc. I still listen to hip-hop all the time. I buy new releases from new artists like Lifesavas and Lupe Fiasco. But I feel alienated, cut off from the hivemind of modern hip-hop.

Part of it may be that I’ve never been down with the mainstream. I appreciate the aesthetic of lumpenproletariat artists like Snoop, Slick Rick, Geto Boys, Redman, DMX. But I’ve always preferred rappers who have something real to say — something important.

Very few artists getting regular rotation these days have anything important to say.

As I said on Facebook, I’m wrestling with Jay-Z right now. He just put out a book called Decoded, and I’ve heard three interviews (two of them hour-long) with him, during which the interviewers (legendary intellectuals like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson) heap untold praise on his skills. I’ve never been blown away by Mr. Hova, mostly because it all felt so standard — dealing drugs, getting money, attracting women.

But I’m willing to give him another chance. So I’m listening again and reading lyrics carefully, and I’m discovering that his lyrics are all about .. dealing drugs, getting money, and attracting women. If there’s insight or groundbreaking material here, I simply cannot find it. I met a woman at a hip-hop-and-education conference several years ago who expressed some mixed emotions about Jay-Z’s music. I wish I could remember her name so I could see if she’s written about this.

Let me say that I have lots of respect for Jay’s lyrical skills and musical production. Obviously he deserves lots of praise and success for the figurative language and aesthetic quality of his work. But for me, that’s as far as it goes. Meanwhile, artists who are every bit as linguistically creative, but also raising important social and political points — Dead Prez, Paris, Conscious Daughters, Public Enemy — don’t get this same kind of love.

It’s quite likely that we’ve reached the gulch-point of the generation gap that all music reaches. Fans of Floyd and the Beatles complain that Nirvana and Pearl Jam don’t have the same lyrical quality or depth of thought. I’m sure older country music fans would make the same points about Willie Nelson vs. Toby Keith.

It’s bad enough when my students show disgust toward The Simpsons and Star Wars Episodes IV-VI. But now they’re sneering with disdain when I mention Rakim and Boots. (And there’s near-unanimity that Northern State “sucks”, while Vanilla Ice is “fun”.) Yeah — I know, they just don’t know. But it’s another example of failure on the part of cultural institutions you would think would be showing them the way.

TimeWaster™

Taalam Acey, tell ‘em, would ya?

Today I’m listening to: Sunka!