Current Affairs

When Audrey Dimitrew won a spot on a club volleyball team in Chantilly, Va., the 16-year-old hoped to impress varsity coaches and possibly college coaches.

But when her coach benched her and the league told her she couldn’t join another team, the action shifted from one court to another — she and her family sued.

…The lawsuit is one of a number filed across the country in recent years as families have increasingly turned to the courts to intervene in youth sports disputes. Parents upset that their children have been cut, benched, yelled at by coaches or even fouled too hard are asking judges to referee.

The culture that is American youth sports, there is more here, via Michael Rosenwald.

If we are going to have a nuclear agreement with them, we might as well eat their food and watch their movies.  And Abbas Kiarostami is not only the premier Iranian director, he is a visionary with a major body of work and fans all over the world.  But where to start?  To the uninitiated, his movies seem like endless meandering and most of them have not received any U.S. release beyond New York and Los Angeles.

Here are my tips:

1. If you haven’t seen any Iranian movies before, go watch some others before trying Kiarostami.  A Separation is sufficiently plot-rich to be a good place to start.  Then return to this post.

2. Taste of Cherry is perhaps his best-known creation in the West, because it won the 1997 Cannes Palme D’Or.  But, while it is a fine movie, it requires repeated viewings before it makes sense and anyway it is about death.  It should not be one of the first three Kiarostami films you watch.

3. Ten is the best place to start.  A woman drives around Teheran, taking on a changing variety of passengers, and the movie is structured around ten different conversations, all in the claustrophobic setting of the vehicle.  That may not sound like much, but the viewer is gripped immediately.  Could it be the best road movie ever made?

4. The charming Where is the Friend’s Home? is the most accessible of the early works.  A child wants to return a friend’s notebook in a neighboring village and eventually it becomes magical.  Here is from Wikipedia:

Jonathan Rosenbaum called Kiarostami the greatest living filmmaker and called the film (along with Through the Olive Trees and Life and Nothing More) “sustained meditations on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; obsessional quests that take on the contours of parables; concentrated inquiries that raise more questions than they answer; and comic as well as cosmic poems about dealing with personal and impersonal disaster. They’re about making discoveries and cherishing what’s in the world–including things that we can’t understand.”

5. There is no other movie in all of cinema like the brilliant Certified Copy, with Juliette Binoche (in French and English, not Farsi).  For the first forty minutes or so, you think you are watching a stupid, cliched film, as if Kiarostami had sold out to reach the French art house audience.  Eventually the narrative transforms into something quite different (I won’t spoil it for you) and you realize it was brilliant all along, not to mention a commentary on Vertigo.  It is relatively briskly paced, but until you see the “trick” it does require some patience.  You should all watch this one, especially if you are married, but you should not regard it as representative Kiarostami.

6. Shirin shows nothing other than the faces of Iranian women watching a theatrical production of a Persian mythological romance.  I recommend this one for a very captivating fifteen minutes, but I am not sure you need more than that.  It is also not representative Kiarostami.  His Japanese movie “Like Someone in Love” showcases his versatility as well.

7. Once you like some of his movies, you will end up liking all of them.  It just takes a while.  And they all reward repeated viewings.

You are all familiar with their recent financial mishaps in Iceland, note also theirs is not a history of financial stability:

It is fair to say that Iceland’s monetary history has been a turbulent one.  Currency controls in the 1920s to the 1950s were followed by chronic inflation in the 1970s to 1980s, with annual inflation reaching a high of 83% in 1983.  In 1981 it was considered necessary to redenominate the krona with 100 units being replaced by 1 new unit.

That is from a new Frosti Sigurjónsson report (pdf) advocating 100 percent reserve banking for Iceland.  In the “good old days” we had so many arguments against this arrangement — “disintermediation!” — but do those critiques hold up when so many nominal interest rates are in any case negative or close to zero?  In many countries banks may be fated to become money warehouses as it is.

An interesting question is whether Iceland can, with its current size and export profile, ever have monetary and financial stability.  With their exports and thus gdp so depending on fish and aluminum smelting and tourism, no other country shares their economic fluctuations, even roughly.  A fixed rate thus means a non-optimum currency, but a floating rate for 323,002 people may mean perpetual whipsawing from international capital flows, not to mention the risk of acquiring an oversized, hard to bail out banking system, as Iceland did before its Great Recession.

Should I file under Department of Why Not?  What if Scott Sumner asks me how to do this without inducing a collapse in nominal gdp?  If I interpret p.78 of the study correctly, the government will create new money by printing and injecting it into the economy through fiscal policy, as a means of forestalling this problem if need be.  Under this scenario, how powerful does the state become?  On what do they spend the money?

Frosti’s report, by the way, was commissioned by the Prime Minister and it is being taken very seriously.

I believe I first saw notice of this link from Stephen Kinsella.  Here are some responses to the idea.  Zero Hedge seems sympathetic.

Ian Bremmer tweeted:

There will surely be cheating on the Iran deal. But I still consider it a better outcome than letting negotiations fail. Close call.

That seems about right to me.

Peter Orszag reports:

During roughly the same period, the return on invested capital — that is, how much profit is generated for each dollar of investment — also grew more unequal between companies. While the typical return was roughly constant, at about 10 percent, returns became more dispersed over time.

In particular, from 1965 to 1967, only 1 percent of non-financial firms earned returns of 50 percent or more, but from 2005 to 2007, 14 percent did. In other words, 50 years ago, one out of 100 firms earned 50 percent returns. More recently, one out of seven did.

These data suggest three things: First, the typical return to capital hasn’t changed much, which is what you would expect, given that the capital-output ratio excluding land and housing has been stable.

Second, from company to company, that return has become much more unequal, as has productivity. Some of this inequality between companies in returns and productivity tends to spill over into wages. And this is precisely what we’ve seen. It explains more of the rise in overall earnings inequality than does the increased gaps between the pay of higher earners and rank-and-file workers within a given company.

The full article is here.

New brokerage accounts have surged since China’s bull market got running mid-2014. The number of new trading accounts hit a five-year high in early March. But as you can see in the chart above, a lot of those new investors probably aren’t the savviest.

Some 67.6% of households that opened new accounts in the past quarter haven’t graduated from high school, according Orlik’s chart, which comes from a large-scale quarterly national survey of household assets and income conducted by Gan Li of the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. Only 12% have a college education. Among existing investors surveyed, only 25.5% lack a high school diploma; 40.3% have finished college.

From Gwynn Guilford, there is more here.

Headlines to ponder

by on March 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm in Current Affairs, Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

Bank of Bird-in-Hand is the only new bank to open in the U.S. since 2010, when the Dodd-Frank law was passed

The WSJ story is here, via Binyamin Appelbaum.

It is a busy morning, here is part of an email from Cato:

The Cato Institute welcomes Peter Goettler, a former managing director at Barclays Capital, as its new President and CEO, effective April 1. Current CEO John Allison is retiring after more than two exemplary years on the job.

Goettler retired in 2008 as a managing director and head of Investment Banking and Debt Capital Markets, Americas, at Barclays Capital, the investment banking division of Barclays Bank, PLC. He also served as chief executive officer for the firm’s businesses in Latin America and head of Global Loans and Global Leveraged Finance. He has been a member of the Cato Institute’s board since last year and a supporter of the Institute for 15 years.

Perhaps more information will pop up on their web site soon.

The problem is that Mr. Tsipras has not convinced his creditors that he is serious about reform or that his team is remotely on top of the detail. He needs a game-changer. This should, indeed, be a rupture — but with his left faction, not his creditors.

That is from Hugo Dixon, file it under “Scream it From the Rooftops.”  You will note, by the way, that the far-left faction accounts for 30 to 40 of the 149 coalition seats in the Greek parliament, so such an action would not be easy.  It is still not too late, however, if only…

Hat tip: Daniel Altman.

Edward Hugh writes:

So, what do you do about the problem of secular stagnation? Again here there is divergence of opinion. Some still seek to treat the phenomenon as if it were a variant of the liquidity trap issue. Most notable here is Paul Krugman, who continues to hope that massive quantitative easing backed by strong fiscal stimulus will push the economy back onto a healthy path. But if the issue is secular stagnation, and the root is population ageing and shrinking, it is hard to see how this can be. The fact that Japan is just about to fall back into deflation 2 years after applying a monumental Quantitative Easing problem seems to endorse the idea that the problem may have no “solution” in the classical sense of the term.

There is this:

Finland has transited from being a country with a significant goods trade surplus, to being one with a structural deficit.

Even the current account balance has now turned negative.

And the country’s Net International Investment Position is also turning negative.

With pictures at the link.

Hugh’s conclusion is this:

At the end of the day, only two things can be said with a fair degree of certainty: short term fiscal austerity won’t make any significant improvement and could help make things worse (this whole discourse is based on a misunderstanding about the problem) while short term stimulus won’t stimulate.

More sensible than most of what you will read on this topic.

I may not follow any of your suggestions, but just thought I should ask for advice, for my dialogue with Peter next week.  I am the interviewer, he is the interviewee, more or less.  #CowenThiel

China sentence of the day

by on March 25, 2015 at 2:59 pm in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

It is also possible that the MEP [Ministry of Environmental Protection] will be given law enforcement authority for the first time, for example, the authority of forced inspection, search, sequestration, fines, recall and closure.

There is more here, a good and interesting piece by Wu Qiang on the changing politics of smog in China.

You will find a Qanta primer here.  Here is an excerpt:

In the same month, separate teams of scientists at Harvard University and the Broad Institute reported similar success with the gene-editing tool. A scientific stampede commenced, and in just the past two years, researchers have performed hundreds of experiments on CRISPR. Their results hint that the technique may fundamentally change both medicine and agriculture.

Some scientists have repaired defective DNA in mice, for example, curing them of genetic disorders. Plant scientists have used CRISPR to edit genes in crops, raising hopes that they can engineer a better food supply. Some researchers are trying to rewrite the genomes of elephants, with the ultimate goal of re-creating a woolly mammoth. Writing last year in the journal Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, Motoko Araki and Tetsuya Ishii of Hokkaido University in Japan predicted that doctors will be able to use CRISPR to alter the genes of human embryos “in the immediate future.”

Thanks to the speed of CRISPR research, the accolades have come quickly. Last year MIT Technology Review called CRISPR “the biggest biotech discovery of the century.” The Breakthrough Prize is just one of several prominent awards Doudna has won in recent months for her work on CRISPR; National Public Radio recently reported whispers of a possible Nobel in her future.

Even the pharmaceutical industry, which is often slow to embrace new scientific advances, is rushing to get in on the act. New companies developing CRISPR-based medicine are opening their doors. In January, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced that it would be using Doudna’s CRISPR technology for its research into cancer treatments. It plans to edit the genes of immune cells so that they will attack tumors.

How immediately will this come for ordinary use?  Here is the big package of articles from Science.  The Chinese already have done it with monkeys.

Here are my earlier remarks on eugenics.  Here is a group of scientists calling for a moratorium on the technique, at least until rules can be established.  Here are further articles on CRISPR.  There are further comments here.

I believe the implications of all this — and its nearness to actual realization — have not yet hit either economics or the world of ideas more generally.  This is probably big, big news.

The grand confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

…The death of Mainline Protestantism is, as we’ve noted, the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other period in American history.  Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: Mainline Protestantism has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.

That is from Joseph Bottum, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

The Tea Party, the great stagnation, etc., maybe you can find it all right here.

Don’t worry people, just joking on that one…