Thursday, September 28, 2006
As a Presbyterian pastor, I continue to be stunned by the unthinking support of many evangelicals for a policy that permits torture. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when the so-called "Traditional Values Coalition" decided that torture was among the traditional values that they feel compelled to support.
When Jesus was put on trial and handed over to Pontius Pilate, he rejected violence and said, "My kingdom is not of this world." He was then tortured and brutally murdered (three hours in a "stress position" on the cross, as one of your readers aptly noted). "Caesar", of course, went on to torture and brutally murder innocent Christians who were "threats to the state." Now, 2,000 years later, in their wordly lust for power, Christians are hopping into bed with Caesar and signing off on anything Caesar wants, especially if Caesar takes care of the Christian "base".
In my Presbyterian tradition, we are called to stand outside the halls of power and speak truth to those in power, no matter what party is in control. We are not called to become that power ourselves; Jesus' kingdom is not of this world; his values are not Caesar's values.
Last year on Good Friday, my church had our traditional worship service at which we read the story of Jesus' torture and execution. To make the story more than just a past event, we read three contemporary accounts of innocent individuals who had been tortured. If we were going to shed tears for our innocent Lord Jesus, we also needed to shed tears for other innocent victims of torture. One story we read was about Christians in China - "threats to the state" - including a mother who was brutally interrogated while hearing the cries of her son being tortured in the next room. Interestingly enough, the Christian Right would join me in expressing outrage against innocent Christians.
Another story was of a man who described these conditions:
"I saw a cell almost the size of a grave. 3 feet wide, 6 feet deep, and 7 feet high. The cell had no light in it; it only had two thin mattresses (two thin blankets) on the ground ... I was kept in that dark and filthy cell for about 10 months. The worst beating happened on the third day ... they were asking the same set of questions and they would beat me 3-4 times. They would sometimes take me to another room where I could hear other people being tortured ... at the end of the day I could not take the pain anymore and I falsely confessed of having been to Afghanistan."
We read that story last Good Friday. The man's name? Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, who was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He was then deported by the American government via Jordan to Syria, where he was detained in the cell described above. Just last week Arar and his claims of innocence were completely vindicated by the Canadian government. The Traditional Values Coalition would probably respond: an unfortunate mistake, but torture is still a necessary policy.
And What Would Jesus Do?
With the MGM vs Grokster ruling, its just a question of when Youtube will be hit with a charge of inducing millions of people to break copyright laws , not if . . . .(Via the WSJ Law Blog.) Take away that traffic, and does the remaining business cover the liability for inducing copyright violation?
Take away all the copyrighted material and you take away most of Youtube’s traffic.
I guess I thought that less of the content on YouTube was copyrighted than was the case with Napster, but perhaps that's just the way I use it.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A Close look at Holbein.
This morning's Financial Times has an interesting piece by Chuck Close about Holbein's technique in his painting of Erasmus of Rotterdam. (A larger version of the painting is here.)
. . . Holbein has an amazing touch - it is almost invisible in something this small. It is as if it has been blown on to the painting by a gust of wind.
There are no individual brushstrokes that signify one hair. So how did Holbein get his image to look like fur if the marks are not symbolic, if the mark does not stand for fur? By painting the situation rather than the symbols of fur.
What does that mean? When light falls on something made up of lots of little stuff, it becomes very soft. It hits some of those hairs and falls between the others, casting a shadow. Think of the difference between a telephone pole casting a shadow on a street and then on grass. The shadow on the street has a hard edge, but the minute it hits the grass, the edge becomes soft. You do not have to paint every blade of grass to get someone to understand that they are looking at grass - you paint the situation of grass. It lights differently and shadows fall differently. That is what Holbein has managed to do here.
* * * * *
The enduring allure of "Erasmus" can also be attributed to the fact that it is in such good condition. Holbein mixed a lot of oil and varnish into the paint. If you look at the picture from below, you can see that part of the physicality of the piece is that it is glazed with a very liquid medium - unlike Botticelli's application of paint, which is so dry that when you view his canvases you feel as if you need a glass of water. "Erasmus", by contrast, is so rich that it is as if we are watching over Holbein's shoulder while he's creating it. For me, this makes his painting a totally contemporary experience, because it is a record of the decisions he made and is in virtually the same condition as it was when he produced it.
As well as Holbein's use of paint, his composition is incredible. Everything in the picture is sliding under the shapes of the fur collar, leading your eye up the collar to the big mass that is Erasmus's head. It almost looks like a lily opening up; like a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe - the gap between the collar could be a gully with water rushing through it, the head a dark mountain range. To me, that abstract flat reading is very important to this painting - it comes out at you; some of the shapes resemble something else, and then you settle into the picture for what it really is.
Obama was elected to the Senate not only because of a weak Republican opponent, but also because his evident excellence, his rejection of narrow partisanship, his capacity to listen and to synthesize, and his independent-mindedness came as an extraordinary breath of fresh air to Illinois voters of diverse political views. (Many white voters in southern Illinois, including not-so-liberal ones, loved him.) He marches to the beat of no drummer; he's tough (he definitely has a spine); he believes in respectful disagreement; and he thinks issues through on their own merits, not through simple categories. (As a member of the University of Chicago Law School community, where economic analysis reigns, he knows a lot about how markets work, and he is hardly committed to left-wing orthodoxies about either the economy or the culture.) He's most unusual in politics -- someone whose own expertise, and sheer capacity for work and creative thought, outstrip those of policy specialists in many domains. He's also an exceptional public speaker (this comes as a revelation to those who of us who know him for his sheer ability; professors, even terrific ones, hardly ever (never?) have this kind of capacity to communicate to general audiences).John MacWhorter responds that Obama indeed may be very qualified, but that his "gimmick" -- his trick for getting noticed -- is his color.
In this light, it's worse than jarring to hear Obama's success, and the hopes for his future, attributed to his skin color.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Accuracy in media.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
The great writ.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Bailey Quarters Appreciation Dept.
Or maybe no compromise?
A White House "compromise" on detainee treatment was rejected by a trio of senior lawmakers today, as Republicans continue to fight among themselves over an issue that was meant to boost their sagging poll numbers in an election year.Justin Rood at TPMmuckraker.
Monday, September 18, 2006
The coming torture compromise.
NYT, via Oliver Willis. At least in Canada, official inquiries apparently have some value. We have Pat Roberts.
Canadian police wrongly identified an Ottawa software engineer as an Islamic extremist, prompting U.S. agents to deport him to Syria, where he says he was tortured, an official inquiry concluded on Monday.Maher Arar, who holds Canadian and Syrian nationality, was arrested in New York in September 2002 and accused of being an al-Qaeda member. Arar, 36, says he was repeatedly tortured in the year he spent in Damascus jails.
The book appears to be part of a trend on the part of the Washington Post and its reporters to tell the paper's readers all the things they badly needed to know three years ago about the conduct of the Iraq War.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Not a reason to eat cantaloupe, though.
Thirty long seconds.
To the Editor:I always assumed that decapitation was a pretty immediate way to go.
A problem with Robert Olin Butler's brilliant conceit in "Severance" (Sept. 3): After decapitation, consciousness remains in the severed head not for a minute and a half, as your reviewer explains Butler's premise, but for about 30 seconds. In 1905, a French physician timed how long the eyes responded when he called the decapitated man's name. (See my book "Losing Our Heads: Beheadings in Literature and Culture.") . . . .
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Prohibition quashed the budding wine culture in America, and we became, almost overnight, a society that found pleasure and solace in hard liquor. . . .Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible 630-31 (Workman 2001).
Ironically, during this time grape production and home winemaking increased. A veiled provision in the Volstead Act allowed citizens to make up to 200 gallons annual of nonintoxicating cider and fruit juices. Nonintoxicating, however, was never actually defined. Brokers and wineries immediately began shipping crates of grapes, grape concentrates (the most famous one, called Vine-Glo, came in eight varieties), and even compressed grape "bricks" to home winemakers around the country. Along with the bricks came the convenient admonition: "Warning. Do not place this brick in a one gallon crock, add sugar and water, cover, and let stand for seven days or else an illegal beverage will result." . . .
The hard drinking and notorious behavior carried on inside speakeasies set a new tone for alcohol consumption in the United States. A glass of zinfandel with roast chicken it was not. At the same time, home winemaking, however, amusingly clandestine and resourceful, would ultimately prove detrimental to whatever crippled wine industry was left. To provide a quick supply of basic grapes the best California vineyards were torn out and replanted mostly with inferior, tough-skinned varieties that would not rot in the boxcar during the long haul back East. Over time, an affinity for fine wine was lost, supplanted by a taste for sweet, cheap, fortified wine. Even after repeal, the desire for sweet, cheap, and strong remained.
Friday, September 15, 2006
I don't see any method at all.
Republican control of the White House and Congress hasn't resulted in lights being turned off in Cabinet agencies or enormous garage sales of office furniture. Instead, Uncle Sam is still looking like Marlon Brando at the end of his career: bloated, sweaty and slow moving. The GOP has become a Brando-like parody of its former self, reading its lines about cutting government without plausibility or passion.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Whom does the Washington Post write for?
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
In the Navy.
Which is the end and which is the means to it?
I see no reason to doubt the ultimate aim of Rovian politics is to dismantle the remaining framework of New Deal/Great Society liberalism. But most Rovians understand it's a long-term project. And if offering the seniors a third-rate drug benefit (and greasing Big Pharma in the process) helps the vanguard party tighten its grip on power here and now, so be it.Rovian politics has an ultimate aim? I thought the ultimate aim was tightening the grip on power. Policy will always be subordinated to political ends. If Rovian politics has a long-term project, it's only because you need one to keep everyone working together.
After the neo-cons.
In that context, what should be the outline of British and American foreign policy in the post-neo-conservative world? Let me start by making clear where I agree with the neo-conservative approach. I fully appreciate the scale of the threat we face. I believe that the leadership of the United States, supported by Britain, is central to the struggle in which we are engaged. I believe that the neo-conservatives are right to argue that extending freedom is an essential objective of western foreign policy. And I agree that western powers should be prepared, in the last resort, to use military force. We know from history that a country must be ready to defend itself and its allies. More than that, we and others are justified in using pre-emptive force when an attack on us is being prepared, and when all means of peaceful dissuasion and deterrence have failed. Furthermore, I believe that we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide.
But I believe that in the last five years we have suffered from the absence of two crucial qualities which should always condition foreign policy-making. Humility, and patience. These are not warlike words. They are not so glamorous and exciting as the easy sound-bites we have grown used to in recent years. But these sound-bites had the failing of all foreign policy designed to fit into a headline. They were unrealistic and simplistic. They represented a view which sees only light and darkness in the world - and which believes that one can be turned to the other as quickly as flicking a switch. I do not see things that way. I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative. Liberal - because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention. Conservative - because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world. A liberal conservative approach to foreign policy today is based on five propositions. First, that we should understand fully the threat we face. Second, that democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside. Third, that our strategy needs to go far beyond military action. Fourth, that we need a new multilateralism to tackle the new global challenges we face. And fifth, that we must strive to act with moral authority.
He just looks tough.
Bush's defenders insist that his paramount contribution to the war against Islamic radicalism is "moral clarity." Moral clarity means keeping in mind that even if we're not perfect, we're the good guys and they're the bad guys. The president's defenders are correct that having moral clarity is a necessary condition for fighting evil. What they fail to realize is that it's not a sufficient condition.
There are millions of teenage boys who have moral clarity but who are nonetheless unqualified to lead the free world against jihadists. If your leader has moral clarity but lacks the other relevant intellectual qualities, you end up with a president whose foreign policy doctrine is expressed in statements such as: "I intend to kick [Saddam Hussein's] sorry ... ass all over the Mideast."
Although even that wouldn't be quite so bad if he actually followed through on the talk.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Coming soon to a bumper near you?
Don't Blame Me, I Married In Massachusetts
A black day in Tonga.
At age 14, the future king was one of Tonga's top athletes: He could pole vault more than nine feet; played tennis, cricket and rugby; and rowed competitively in a racing skiff.
Like many of his countrymen, he became obese and remained so for most of his adult life.
In the 1990s, King Tupou IV led his 108,000 people on a diet and exercise regime aimed at cutting the levels of fat in a nation where coconut flesh and mutton flaps are dietary staples.
From a weight listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest for any monarch -- 462 pounds -- the king shed about 154 pounds.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Back to Mogadishu?
Thursday, September 07, 2006
We don't need to torture.
I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that. . . . Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.Washington Post, via Marty Lederman at Balkinization
Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways, that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual.
We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.
More lies about torture.
Zubaydah was questioned using these procedures, and soon he began to provide information on key al Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September the 11th. For example, Zubaydah identified one of KSM's accomplices in the 9/11 attacks--a terrorist named Ramzi bin al Shibh.Spencer Ackerman:
[T]he idea that Abu Zubaydah's interrogation tipped off the U.S. to the existence of Ramzi bin Al Shibh is just an outright lie. A Nexis search for "Ramzi Binalshibh" between September 11, 2001 and March 1, 2002--the U.S. captured Abu Zubaydah in March 2002--turns up 26 hits for The Washington Post alone. Everyone involved in counterterrorism knew who bin Al Shibh was. Now-retired FBI Al Qaeda hunter Dennis Lormel told Congress who Ramzi bin Al Shibh was in February 2002. Abu Zubaydah getting waterboarded and spouting bin Al Shibh's name did not tell us anything we did not already know.
Of course, most Americans don't have access to Nexis. And most Americans don't remember--and can't be expected to remember--newspaper coverage of Al Qaeda for a seven-month stretch between the attacks and Abu Zubaydah's capture. Bush is exploiting that ignorance to tell the American people an outright lie in order to convince them that we need to torture people.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Bush and torture.
. . . Bush . . . [gave] a speech at the Greenwich, Connecticut, Hyatt Regency on April 9, 2002. "The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaydah. He's one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States. He's not plotting and planning anymore. He's where he belongs," the President said to raucous cheers from a roomful of Republican Party contributors. . . .President Bush, today:
. . . [T]he characterizing of Zubaydah as the "chief of operations" for all of al Qaeda, a putative "number three" to bin Laden and Zawahiri -- would be a drum the President, the Vice President, national security advisor Condoleeza Rice, and others would beat relentlessly that April and [in] the months to follow.
Meanwhile, Dan Coleman and other knowledgeable members of the tribe of al Qaeda hunters at CIA were reading Zubaydah's top secret diary and shaking their heads.
"This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality," Coleman told a top official after a few days reviewing the Zubaydah haul. "That's why they let him fly all over the world doing meet and greet. That's why people used his name on all sorts of calls and e-mails. He was like a travel agent, the guy who booked your flights. . . . He was expendable, you know, the greeter . . . Joe Louis in the lobby of Caeser's Palace, shaking hands."
This opinion was echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President. While Bush was out in public claiming Zubaydah's grandiose malevolence, his private disappointment fell, as it often would, on Tenet . . . .
"I said he was important," Bush said to Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?"
"No sir, Mr. President."
Back in Langley, Tenet pressed subordinates over what could be done to get Zubaydah to talk. His injuries were serious . . . .
"He received the finest medical attention on the planet," said one CIA official. "We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him." . . .
. . . [T]he value of his capture had been oversold to the American public; and Zubaydah wouldn't talk. Tenet was pushing his staff at CIA for a surprise, a breakthrough, which he could then deliver to Bush -- evidence that would, after the fact, support the President's public statements. . . .
"Around the room a lot of people just rolled their eyes when we heard comments from the White House. I mean, Bush and Cheney knew what we knew about Zubaydah. The guy had psychological issues. He was, in a way, expendable. It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," said one top CIA official, who attended the 5 p.m. meeting where the issue of Zubaydah came up. "The thinking was, why the hell did the President have to put us in a box like this?"
. . . [T]his was the President's management style. A way, as he would often quip, to push people "to do things they didn't think they were capable of." (99-101)
* * * * *
. . . Zubaydah now recovered, it was time, in May of 2002, to test boundaries.
According to CIA sources, he was water-boarded, a technique in which a captive's face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop, creating the sensation of drowning. He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. He was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights. He was a man already diminished by serious injuries, more fully at the mercy of interrogators than an ordinary prisoner. (115)
* * * * *
Meanwhile, Zubaydah was still talking -- maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell. (118)
* * * * *
[I]n the grit of the fight itself, Bush makes it personal. . . . He was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth -- "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" he asked one briefer . . . . (152)
* * * * *
. . . the springtime's bewilderment about the overstating of the Zubaydah capture. That one, however, was more easily managed: knowledge of Zubaydah's limited role in al Qaeda, and apparent insanity, was closely held and deeply classified. (169)
Within months of September the 11th, 2001, we captured a man known as Abu Zubaydah. We believe that Zubaydah was a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden. . . .Someone is lying.
After he recovered, Zubaydah was defiant and evasive. He declared his hatred of America. During questioning, he at first disclosed what he thought was nominal information -- and then stopped all cooperation. . . .
We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. . . .
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it -- and I will not authorize it.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Hodgman on NPR.
Courtesy of one of Eric Alterman's correspondents.
The "no hard choices" presidency.
Looking back on the Iraq misadventure it seems the neo-cons were not as free of liberal wishful thinking as they fondly imagined. Their big mistake was grossly to overestimate how easy it would be to establish a stable democracy in Iraq. That error was compounded by a naive faith that the democratisation of the Middle East would serve American interests. Proclaiming his neo-con-inspired "freedom agenda" for global democratisation, George W. Bush, US president, said that: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."Sounds like the President's domestic policy, with its combination of big tax cuts and increases in spending. The hallmark of the Bush presidency is the refusal to make hard choices -- to try, always, to have your cake and eat it too.
The "freedom agenda" is seductive because it holds out the prospect of abolishing the uncomfortable moral choices associated with Kissingerian realpolitik. It is the equivalent of women's magazines that proclaim: "you can have it all": you can balance a high-pressure career and kids; you can invade a country and have the inhabitants greet you with rose petals; you can destabilize a despotic ally and be sure the new regime will be even more friendly to American interests.
This, more than anything, is what makes Bush a weak leader. A strong leader would be ready to make hard choices. Bush avoids them, and increasingly surrounds himself with people who will not tell him anything he does not want to hear.
Krakatoa, east of Oslo.
According to Gregg Easterbrook, Edvard Munch's The Scream was inspired by the eruption of Krakatoa:
Chemicals pumped into the sky by the 1883 explosion of the Krakatoa volcano colored sunsets around the world as red as blood. In an era before television and Internet people did not know a strange-looking atmosphere was about to happen. Munch was walking with two friends in Oslo and observed the sky turning blood-red. The painter was terrified by this unexpected omen: "I watched the flaming clouds over the fjord and the city … I stood there shaking with fear and I felt a great unending scream … I painted the picture, painted the clouds as real blood."
Not trickling down.
Odd carnivores among us.
Race to the bottom.
The small benefit of having read the piece through to the end is that I caught the unintended joke at the very bottom:
Only conservatives can take the lead here—we conservatives, we who unflinchingly embrace cold fact, we who are unafraid to stare the universe in the face, we who know the difference between ideals and fantasies.
Monday, September 04, 2006
1491 and all that.
The story of the settlement of the Americas isn't one of pioneers finding themselves in an untouched Eden. They were resettling a post-holocaust landscape.Sounds intriguing, at the least, and the comments are percolating too.
The bastards killed Steve Irwin.
For a few minutes the Wikipedia entry for stingray read “THE BASTARDS KILLED STEVE IRWIN” and nothing else. The entry is now relatively normal apart from mention that one killed Steve Irwin in the main text and talk of a conspiracy to do so in the preamble.Wikipedia refers to this sort of humor as "vandalism."
Irwin's death is, of course, very sad, especially for his wife and two kids.
Fifty years old -- not that new.
I.F. Stone on the United States, 1954:
If there is indeed a monstrous and diabolic conspiracy against world peace and stability, then isn't McCarthy right? If "subversives" are at work like termites... are they not likely to be found in the most unlikely places and under the most unlikely disguises?... To doubt the power of the devil... is... to incur suspicion of being oneself in league with the powers of evil. So all the fighters against McCarthyism are impelled to adopt its premises. This was true even of the [Adlai] Stevenson speech, but was strikingly so of [anti-McCarthy Senator] Flanders [R-VT]. The country is in a bad way when as feeble and hysterical a speech is hailed as an attack on McCarthyism. Flanders... spoke of Italy as "ready to fall into Communist hands," of Britain "nibbling at the drugged bait of trade profits." There are passages of sheer fantasy.... "In Latin America... there are sturdy strong points of freedom... [and] spreading infections of Communism. Whole countries are being taken over..." What "whole countries"? And what "sturdy strong points of freedom"?... Flanders told the Senate, "We will be left with no place to trade and no place to go except as we are permitted to trade and to go by the Communist masters of the world."
The center of gravity in American politics has been pushed so far right that such childish nightmares are welcomed as the expression of liberal statesmanship. Nixon becomes a middle-of-the-road spokesman.... Ther are some charges which must be laughed off or brushed off. They cannot be disproved. If a man charges that he saw Eisenhower riding a broomstick over the White House, he will never be convinced to the contrary by sworn evidence that the President was in bed reading a Western....
Nowhere in American politics is there evidence of any important figure (even Stevenson) prepared to talk in sober, mature, and realistic terms of the real problems which arise in a real world where national rivalrise, mass aspirations, and ideas clash as naturally as waves of the sea. The premises of free society and of liberalism find no one to voice them, yet McCarthyisms will not be ended until someone has the nerve to make this kind of fundamental attack on it...
Sounds sadly familiar.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
A cup of Joe.
My favorite coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee, now has its own web site. Good stuff. And if you're not in the Bay Area, they'll ship.
I may now be just curious enough to do that.
Bravura aside, a writer knows something about writing, real writing -- which is to say, words as access to the soul posited as blinding reality -- when the most devastating line in his book is "Are you with the termite people?" (This is, in fact, the most devastating line in "Gallatin Canyon." You'll just have to purchase it to find out. Here, may I please break with reviewerly decorum and insist that you buy this book?)
Saturday, September 02, 2006
Words, words, words.
Confusing cause and effect.
New York’s reliance on its transit systems explains why the boroughs other than Manhattan perennially top the list of American counties with the longest commutes. The average trip to work for residents of Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn has hovered above 40 minutes for several years.Their commutes wouldn't be faster if they all tried to drive instead.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Someone found enough monkeys?
Until now, linguists had considered the sentence “This electoral chutzpah effectively rope-a-doped the bloggers and recharged the senator’s fabled Joe-mentum” to be a purely theoretical construct, unformable except by random monkeys typing in a perfect vacuum at Absolute Zero.Until now.
Like chocolate and peanut butter.
ARMed and dangerous.
There was plenty more going on behind the scenes they didn't know about, either: that their broker was paid more to sell option ARMs than other mortgages; that their lender is allowed to claim the full monthly payment as revenue on its books even when borrowers choose to pay much less; that the loan's interest rates and up-front fees might not have been set by their bank but rather by a hedge fund; and that they'll soon be confronted with the choice of coughing up higher payments or coughing up their home. The option ARM is "like the neutron bomb," says George McCarthy, a housing economist at New York's Ford Foundation. "It's going to kill all the people but leave the houses standing."Emphasis mine. Unclear whether those last figures are apples-to-apples, but $77.2 billion in the second quarter would be a significant acceleration from the $389 billion in 2004 and 2005. But wait, there's more:
Because banks don't have to report how many option ARMs they underwrite, few choose to do so. But the best available estimates show that option ARMs have soared in popularity. They accounted for as little as 0.5% of all mortgages written in 2003, but that shot up to at least 12.3% through the first five months of this year, according to FirstAmerican LoanPerformance, an industry tracker. And while they made up at least 40% of mortgages in Salinas, Calif., and 26% in Naples, Fla., they're not just found in overheated coastal markets: Through Mar. 31 of this year, at least 51% of mortgages in West Virginia and 26% in Wyoming were option ARMs. Stock and bond analysts estimate that as many as 1.3 million borrowers took out as much as $389 billion in option ARMs in 2004 and 2005. And it's not letting up. Despite the housing slump, option ARMs totaling $77.2 billion were written in the second quarter of this year, according to investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
More than a fifth of option ARM loans in 2004 and 2005 are upside down -- meaning borrowers' homes are worth less than their debt. If home prices fall 10%, that number would double. "The number of houses for sale is tripling in some markets, so people are not going to get out of their debt," says the Ford Foundation's McCarthy. "A lot are going to walk."People get upside down on their cars, but upside down on houses? With the way the market has been? Yikes.
If a hard rain's going to fall, get a better umbrella.
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