Pencil Paparazzi: Hilary Swank in Ann Arbor doorway

We have another entry for the Pencil Paparazzi file. This one comes from Doulicia in Ann Arbor.

swanksketchThis is from the set of Betty Ann Water’s house, a private residence on Fifth St. in Ann Arbor. It’s 3 blocks from my house, so I walked past it on my way home from work each afternoon. Apparently they did some filming outside, but whenever I was there, they were doing filming inside the house. Nonetheless there were 30 crew in the yard and street. Occasionally they’d bring out a prop (e.g. a broken chair: “Did Hillary throw the chair?” “Did someone sit in it and break it?”) or let in a dog (“Are they Hillary’s dogs?” answer: Yes. They travel with her).

The base camp was 2 blocks from our house, in back of a church. The trailers were parked there and the various equipment trucks. My boys usually ride their bikes in that parking lot, though, so I let them take a pass through. One day we saw Hillary with her dogs in the playground area.

For this picture, I was on my way home and they had Hillary’s Suburban (a tan behemouth) running and backed up in front of the house – no white shuttle van for her. She walked out, got in the passenger seat (she has a driver). I was across the street, talking with my haircutter. She was holding her adorable, weeks-old husky puppy. Hillary pointed to the dog and broke into that Oscar-winning smile. She really did look lovely. Then they drove away.

Interestingly, the next day all signs of occupation were gone. It was as if the 3 semis, the 4 prop tents, the countless lights, cameras, shades, filters and people who’d been there round the clock had been vacuumed up. The only remnant from filming were 2 large tree branches laying by the curb for pickup. One had green silk maple leaves wrapped on its dead limb; the other had orange and yellow silk maple leaves. No doubt they were used outside a window to make the seasons change.

The man whose home it they used was just moving back in (temporarily – he said they’d be back in a few weeks). He said he thought it was a scam when a guy knocked on his door saying he was a location scout for a Hollywood movie starring Hillary Swank. The guy asked to take photos of the interior. The owner said no way. The scout returned a few weeks later and asked again. The owner still wouldn’t let him take pictures, but he gave the scout a tour.

Apparently 2 things made the house appealing: It has a lot of original and unaltered woodwork (i.e. the old arts and crafts baseboards that are, like 8 inches high) and a few walls had been knocked out at some point, making rooms flow together and easily accommodating of cameras.

I love the image of the two dead branches covered in silk leaves… One hopes it’s not the case, but it seems like it might prove to be a good metaphor for Michigan’s experience with the film industry.

Thanks, Alicia. This is great.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

American Clean Energy and Security Act

Today, Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-California) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) unveiled a draft of their their bill to address climate change. Called the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the legislation sets out primarily to do three things – develop sources of clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and both cap and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The following clip concerning the specifics comes from the New York Times:

…The bill requires that emissions be reduced 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, while Mr. Obama’s plancalls for a 14 percent reduction by 2020. Both would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases by roughly 80 percent by 2050.

(The bill) emerges at a time when many Americans, and their representatives in Congress, are wary of wide-ranging environmental legislation that could raise energy costs and potentially cripple industry. The bill also comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is about to exert regulatory authority over heat-trapping gases under the Clean Air Act. The bill could pre-empt that effort and create a new cap-and-trade scheme to control carbon emissions.

The bill would require every region of the country to produce a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal by 2025. A number of lawmakers around the country, particularly in the Southeast, call that goal unrealistic because the natural resources and technology to meet it do not yet exist.

The bill also calls for modernization of the electrical grid, production of more electric vehicles and significant increases in efficiency in buildings, appliances and the generation of electricity…

It sounds like the authors have also made some efforts to bring in coal mining states, by, according to the Washington Post, adding a “$10 billion fund to promote carbon capture and storage technology,” but so far, word is that no Republicans seem interested… So now, I guess, the debate begins.

Oh, and, for what it’s worth, word is that General Motors is against it…

Posted in Alternative Energy, Environment, Global Warming, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Financial Crisis Introspection: How much of the blame is ours?

Last night, emboldened by a particularly well-written article in the Atlantic and a strong cup of decaf, I posted something here about the derivative-leveraging Wall Street assholes responsible for bankrupting our country. And, somewhere toward the end of that piece, as I often do, I called for their heads to be brought to me on platters. I believe I actually said that, in my opinion, the best way to make sure that we don’t face this kind of problem again, is to “cut the head off the snake.” Anyway, in the wake of that vigorous appeal for violence, our friend Ol’ E Cross, left the following comment, and I thought that it deserved your consideration.

I’ve had this phrase that I’ve tried out, over the years, amongst close friends including those here: “The moral distance of the stock market.”

I try (believe it or not) to stay off the high soap horse box, but I’ll climb on, for tonight. It has, for a long while, puzzled me how friends will write their congressman opposing, say, big oil but turn a blind eye to the percentage of their 4-0h-whatever investments are in big oil. “Moral distance” I say, “chirp” is the reply.

I understand the pressure. I had years of feeling irresponsible because I was not investing. I couldn’t (high horse alert) overcome the moral distance. I figured I’d have less because I didn’t invest but hoped for “enough.”

I’m old-fashioned. A puritan, it’s been said. I work crummy jobs. I bought a house; not as an investment property but as a place to live. I didn’t expect much to change. I still like Jimmy Stewart’s Savings and Loan in a A Wonderful Life. I like, “Billy, your money is in Willy’s home…” I like poor return local credit unions.

In brief, I’m left feeling like all you that played the high-return retirement game get what you get. The extra dollars always come from somebody, somewhere. And yes, I’m trying not to feel a little bitter because collective, okay let’s call it “greed,” may impact my ability to work a crummy job.

Mark says, “Off with the head.” I have to ask, really? Just the head? What about the rest of the snake that blindly followed as long as the tummy was fat?

Who wasn’t complicit? Who wasn’t delighted by returns they didn’t earn? Who didn’t bother to ask questions? The government? The media? Or the millions of (then) contented shareholders?

If I had a rocket launcher, I’d off the whole fucking thing. Nest eggs and all.

So, to what extent do you think that we’re complicit in all of this?

Posted in Economics, Observations, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

King Kong

I was wondering whether or not the original King Kong was available online, and, in the process of searching, stumbled across this cover of the Daniel Johnston song “King Kong” by Tom Waits… If you’re interested, you can hear 30 seconds of the original here.

Posted in Art and Culture | Tagged , , , | 100 Comments

The Quiet Coup

My favorite quote today comes from Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, who, commenting on the fact that Rick Wagoner had been forced out of GM by the Obama administration, said the following.

“Mr. Wagoner has been asked to resign as a political offering despite his having led GM’s painful restructuring to date. Mr. Wagoner has honorably resigned for the sake of his company’s working families.

When will the Wall Street CEOs receiving TARP funds summon the honor to resign? Will this White House ever bother to raise the issue? I doubt it.”

I don’t know that Wagoner deserves a great deal of sympathy, especially as he’s taking home $20 million in retirement benefits, but McCotter’s right to point out the seeming double standard. It certainly seems as though the auto companies, at least when compared to the firms on Wall Street that have taken billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers, have been held to a different standard. Some think that a similar fate awaits these financial institutions, but, as of right now, it sure looks as though they’re firmly in control, getting everything that they ask for, as other industries have their feet held to the fire.

Personally, I suspect it’s fear. I think that the auto companies are easy to go after, because we all know that they fucked up by fighting against environmental measures and pushing SUVs on the American people when they damn well knew that the model wasn’t sustainable. Their crimes are easy to understand. When it comes to the Wall Street firms, though, it’s too complicated. Somehow, they have us convinced that we need them in order to survive. So, we do what’s easiest, and we direct our anger and frustration toward the Big 3, telling them that they aren’t acting swiftly and bold enough. And, all the while, we keep writing checks to Wall Street.

Anyway, that’s what I was going to write about tonight, until I got sidetracked by MIT professor Simon Johnson’s article in the “Atlantic”. Johnson, who was the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund during 2007 and 2008, believes he recognizes the root cause of our current situation, and what ultimately needs to be done to remedy it. Here’s a clip:

One thing you learn rather quickly when working at the International Monetary Fund is that no one is ever very happy to see you. Typically, your “clients” come in only after private capital has abandoned them, after regional trading-bloc partners have been unable to throw a strong enough lifeline, after last-ditch attempts to borrow from powerful friends like China or the European Union have fallen through. You’re never at the top of anyone’s dance card.

The reason, of course, is that the IMF specializes in telling its clients what they don’t want to hear. I should know; I pressed painful changes on many foreign officials during my time there as chief economist in 2007 and 2008. And I felt the effects of IMF pressure, at least indirectly, when I worked with governments in Eastern Europe as they struggled after 1989, and with the private sector in Asia and Latin America during the crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over that time, from every vantage point, I saw firsthand the steady flow of officials—from Ukraine, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, and elsewhere—trudging to the fund when circumstances were dire and all else had failed.

Every crisis is different, of course. Ukraine faced hyperinflation in 1994; Russia desperately needed help when its short-term-debt rollover scheme exploded in the summer of 1998; the Indonesian rupiah plunged in 1997, nearly leveling the corporate economy; that same year, South Korea’s 30-year economic miracle ground to a halt when foreign banks suddenly refused to extend new credit.

But I must tell you, to IMF officials, all of these crises looked depressingly similar. Each country, of course, needed a loan, but more than that, each needed to make big changes so that the loan could really work. Almost always, countries in crisis need to learn to live within their means after a period of excess—exports must be increased, and imports cut—and the goal is to do this without the most horrible of recessions. Naturally, the fund’s economists spend time figuring out the policies—budget, money supply, and the like—that make sense in this context. Yet the economic solution is seldom very hard to work out.

No, the real concern of the fund’s senior staff, and the biggest obstacle to recovery, is almost invariably the politics of countries in crisis.

Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks. Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders. When a country like Indonesia or South Korea or Russia grows, so do the ambitions of its captains of industry. As masters of their mini-universe, these people make some investments that clearly benefit the broader economy, but they also start making bigger and riskier bets. They reckon—correctly, in most cases—that their political connections will allow them to push onto the government any substantial problems that arise…

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them…

It’s time, I think, to cut the head off the snake, my friends.

Posted in Economics, Observations, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


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