Daily Office:
Monday, 4 October 2010


¶ In case anybody doubted it, black Americans have experienced a higher foreclosure rate than the rest of the population, in the wake of the subprime-mortgage bubble-burst. (via Felix Salmon)

The rise in subprime lending and the ensuing wave of foreclosures was partly a result of market forces that have been well-identified in the literature, but it was also a highly racialized process. We argue that residential segregation created a unique niche of minority clients who were differentially marketed risky subprime loans that were in great demand for use in mortgage-backed securities that could be sold on secondary markets. We test this argument by regressing foreclosure actions in the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas on measures of black, Hispanic, and Asian segregation while controlling for a variety of housing market conditions, including average creditworthiness, the extent of coverage under the Community Reinvestment Act, the degree of zoning regulation, and the overall rate of subprime lending. We find that black residential dissimilarity and spatial isolation are powerful predictors of foreclosures across U.S. metropolitan areas. To isolate subprime lending as the causal mechanism through which segregation influences foreclosures, we estimate a two-stage least squares model that confirms the causal effect of black segregation on the number and rate of foreclosures across metropolitan areas. We thus conclude that segregation was an important contributing cause of the foreclosure crisis, along with overbuilding, risky lending practices, lax regulation, and the bursting of the housing price bubble.


¶ What, according to columnist Mark Stryker, Matthew Barney is up to in Detroit. (Detroit Free Press; via  Arts Journal)

Like an increasing number of contemporary artists fascinated by the urban detritus and blank-slate possibilities of Detroit, Barney has been quietly working in the city off and on for the last two years. His latest ambition is a planned seven-part cycle of films with his longtime collaborator, composer Jonathan Bepler, which loosely translates Norman Mailer’s 1983 novel “Ancient Evenings” from Egyptian antiquity to contemporary times. The metaphysical theme deals with the stages of the soul’s departure from the body.

In Barney’s retelling, however, the main character becomes the 1967 Chrysler, which is reincarnated as a 1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and a 2001 Crown Victoria. The first film was shot in Los Angeles. Detroit, the birthplace of the Crown Imperial, is the setting for Act 2, titled “Kuh.” Barney has been shooting a lot of material, including a scene of the Trans Am flying to its death off the Belle Isle bridge.



¶ At the Washington Post, Robert Samuelson looks into a new study showing that any net increase in jobs is the work of entrepreneurial start-ups. (via MetaFilter)

In any given year, employment may reflect the ups and downs of the business cycle. But over longer periods, almost all job growth comes from new businesses. The reason: high failure rates among existing firms. Even successful firms succumb to threats: new competition, products or technologies; mature markets; family feuds and the deaths of founders; shifting consumer tastes; poor management and unprofitability. A company founded today has an 80 percent chance of disappearing over the next quarter-century, report Dane Stangler and Paul Kedrosky of the Kauffman Foundation.

True, some blue-chip firms — the Exxons and Procter & Gambles — endure. Fourth-fifths of the “Fortune 500” were founded before 1970, note Stangler and Kedrosky. But they are exceptions, and many brand names have died: Pan Am (once the premier international airline), Digital Equipment (once the second-largest computer maker) and Circuit City (once a leading consumer electronics chain).

The debate over whether small or big firms create more jobs is misleading. The real distinction is between new and old.

American workers are roughly split between firms with fewer or more than 500 employees. In healthy times, older companies of all sizes do create lots of jobs. But they also lose jobs, as some businesses shrink or vanish. On balance, job creation and destruction cancel each other. All the net job increases occur among start-ups, finds a study of the 1992-2005 period by economists John Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland and Ron Jarmin and Javier Miranda of the Census Bureau. Because most start-ups are necessarily small, this gives a statistical edge to tinier firms in job creation. But, the study says, the effect entirely reflects the impact of new businesses.


¶ Eliza Strickland cautions the young ‘uns in the audience to bear in mind not only how far 20 light years really is but how much fuel would be required for the journey. Nobody’s going to Gliese 581g anytime soon. (Discoblog)

To do the trip above requires (at least) 530 times as much mass in fuel as in the ship and cargo itself.

That is very bad news.  Let’s put things in perspective and imagine sending the international space station (m= 370 metric tons) to Gliese 581g.  The whole trip would require something like:

  • E = 1.8 x 10^25 Joules

Or approximately 5% of the sun’s energy output in a second.  That sounds reasonable, until you realize that that tiny amount would take approximately:

  • 3 million years to collect on earth if the entire surface were covered with solar panels.


¶ James Davidson’s review of A Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, Volume V.A, is packed with learn-something-new-every-day goodies. It also takes more than half of its length to get round to the Greeks. Great fun! (LRB; via 3 Quarks Daily)

But the customary licence with which names are bestowed in English-speaking countries is also ideological, a sometimes quite self-conscious expression of an assumed freedom to name children whatever parents want, another of those ‘ancient liberties’ that would in earlier centuries have been confidently ascribed to the Anglo-Saxons. Which is ironic, since one of the most dramatic upheavals in English naming occurred after the Norman Conquest, when parents chose to replace the wonderful and varied names of their grandparents’ generation – Aethelwulf, Aethelflaed, Frithuswith, Ealdred – with less personalised Toms, Dicks and Harrys. It is rather as if an orchestra had been replaced by a recorder ensemble. It is little consolation for this enormous loss to know that the most recent data for the UK places Alfie at number three. The demise of Anglo-Saxon names represented more than just a change of repertoire. All names signify something but most post-Conquest names were semantically opaque to all but the most learned: label-names. Anglo-Saxon names by contrast were mostly transparent: King Aelfraed sounded like ‘King Elf-Counsel’, Lady Aethelflaed ‘Lady Noble Beauty’, King Aethelraed ‘King Noble Counsel’.

Ancient Greek names were much closer to those of pre-Conquest than post-Conquest England. Just as we translate Native American names such as Tashunka Witko (‘Crazy Horse’), Tatanka Iyotake (‘Sitting Bull’), Woqini (‘Hook Nose’) and Tashunka Kokipapi (‘Young Man Afraid of His Horses’), and even those of the ancient Maya (King ‘Jaguar Paw II’, ‘Smoking Frog’, now renamed ‘Fire Is Born’), so we could refer to famous Greeks as ‘He Who Loves Horses’ (Philip), ‘Masters (with) Horses’ (Hippocrates), ‘Flat-Nose’ (Simon), ‘Stocky’ (Plato), ‘Famed as Wise’ (Sophocles).


¶ At the National Review, Mario Loyola steps back from North Korea’s succession plans to ask how much longer a regime with only one half-hearted friend in the world — China, which consistently votes against North Korea at the United Nations — can continue to totter.

It is true that China has dramatically increased its trade with North Korea; and by some estimates, North Korea receives some 40 percent of China’s total foreign assistance. It is true that maintaining stability in North Korea is a far higher priority for China than resolving the nuclear issue. It is also true that China has frustrated the U.S. goal of ending North Korea’s nuclear program — although, to be fair, only marginally more than our own policies have done that.

Still, consider the fact that China has consistently voted against North Korea in the Security Council since 2006. It could have abstained, but it did not, in any instance. Instead it has assumed an obviously hostile, and even humiliating, diplomatic stance. China tried to water each of those sanctions down, true enough, but they were still hostile votes, and in their cumulative effect, they have proven more than a little painful. For example, as a result of sanctions that Pyongyang can rightfully attribute to Beijing, even Burma has refused docking rights to North Korean vessels.

The truth is that China’s votes against North Korea in the council have been astounding public repudiations, especially given the two countries’ history as brothers-in-arms in the Korean War and steadfast allies for most of the 60 years since. And consider, too, that no regime has ever survived the accumulation of Security Council resolutions that have now passed against North Korea — and Iran.


¶ In an engrossing essay that appeared on the last page of the Week in Review section of the Times, novelist Michael Cunningham recounts the insight that enabled him to write the books that he wanted to write —he stopped thinking about himself and began writing for a hostess named Helen.

It wasn’t until some years ago, when I was working in a restaurant bar in Laguna Beach, Calif., that I discovered a better method. One of the hostesses was a woman named Helen, who was in her mid-40s at the time and so seemed, to me, to be just slightly younger than the Ancient Mariner. Helen was a lovely, generous woman who had four children and who had been left, abruptly and without warning, by her husband. She had to work. And work and work. She worked in a bakery in the early mornings, typed manuscripts for writers in the afternoons, and seated diners at the restaurant nights.

Helen was an avid reader, and her great joy, at the end of her long, hard days, was to get into bed and read for an hour before she caught the short interlude of sleep that was granted her. She read widely and voraciously. She was, when we met, reading a trashy murder mystery, and I, as only the young and pretentious might do, suggested that she try Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” since she liked detective stories. She read it in less than a week. When she had finished it she told me, “That was wonderful.”

“Thought you’d like it,” I answered.

She added, “Dostoyevsky is much better than Ken Follett.”


Then she paused. “But he’s not as good as Scott Turow.”

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with her about Dostoyevsky versus Turow, I did like, very much, that Helen had no school-inspired sense of what she was supposed to enjoy more, and what less. She simply needed what any good reader needs: absorption, emotion, momentum and the sense of being transported from the world in which she lived and transplanted into another one.

I began to think of myself as trying to write a book that would matter to Helen. And, I have to tell you, it changed my writing. I’d seen, rather suddenly, that writing is not only an exercise in self-expression, it is also, more important, a gift we as writers are trying to give to readers. Writing a book for Helen, or for someone like Helen, is a manageable goal.


¶ The Reformed Broker read the story in the Times over the weekend, but does not feel sorry for Las Vegas, and, now that he’s said so, we feel sorry for Las Vegas — almost.

Let’s begin by reminding you that your economic contribution to this nation is, in fact, deleterious.  Your cultural contribution is your ability to combine all of the worst traits of Sodom, Gomorrah, Disneyland, the French Quarter, Bangkok, Versailles and Pleasure Island with none of the authenticity.  The day you broke ground for the Civil War-themed hotel and casino, complete with bandaged slot machine arms, the Stonewall Jackpot gaming floor and the Underground Railroad nightclub, was simply the final straw.

We are collectively disgusted, and Steve Wynn’s fine art collection bought with the nickels of senior citizens does nothing to dissuade us.

Have a Look

¶ Florida Dreaming. (via kottke.org)