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Ever watched Aaron Sorkins’ Sports Night?

If you like Aaron Sorkins’ work but have not watched Sports Night, you need to. The series captures the essence of Aaron but leaves enough raw nerves to be developed in his later work.

I first met his work with a half-watched season of West Wing when I was not old enough to understand why I loved the series. I was lucky enough to watch live on TV the last couple of seasons with the first showing. Sometime later, after I had sprinted past 45, I watched West Wing from beginning to end as I jetted around the world for work. What a joy.

When I realized that the script and the casting was what made the series unmissable, I researched the secret. I figured it might be Aaron Sorkin. From here I watched Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and within two episodes I realized Mr. Sorkin was the secret sauce. After a delightful and modern series I then discovered The Newsroom. This was yet another brilliant series that I had little choice but to binge watch. Exasperated and sad that I had watched his last major TV serial, I had little choice but to acknowledge his work and delve into his first TV series, Sports Night. It was initially hard due to the clear age in setting, but after two episodes I warmed to the characters, just as I was meant too.

The series introduces Aaron Sorkins’ canvas that you can see in all his TV serials. His secret includes a clever, rampant and systemic repartee between two lead actors. He never lets a minute stand alone; there are always rejoinders for every line. He judiciously and smartly ends an exchange with the point or the mood made; but he plans the exchange- long or short- with meticulous craftwork.

His next skill is to overlay the continuous and enjoyable rejoinders, with a certain mirth, humor or hubris that almost universally reminds us that we are human, or that we are fallible. He deftly reminds us that we are not alone; that our weaknesses are what makes us strong; and our strengths are what make as meek. He knows us well and can tell the story with a mirror held up in front of ourselves.

The main leads are men. So much of the script revolves around the two. This is a pattern that you see throughout his TV serials. This is not a sexist storyline; it is the story. The intelligent quips are shared across women and men equally, though he cleverly plays on the the wide range of heart strings and emotions that comprise man and women and how they interact and react.

Each series is steeped in research: Sports rooms; news rooms; comedy show to Whitehouse. What is missing? Maybe a documentary in a war-torn middle east country? That would provide a period of intense script coupled with release; this is Sorkin’s model and it works.

As I sat in my long flight back to Atlanta, I found myself with just three episodes of Sports Night left to watch. I realized I was really very sad. I was about to run out of runway. I was about to reach the end of the line. No more series, no more scripts, would remain unknown to me. I was to know all of Aaron’s TV work. I didn’t want it to end, much like I am not a fan of the end of what clearly constitutes the most imperfect part of me: my own ability to love another day.

All I could console myself with was to rush home and download Studio 60 strip to my iPad for my next world winding trip. I know of no other script writer who can capture the essence of us so easily and so completely. To think this is his lot, I can’t believe it. To think this is all I have left, I don’t believe it. Is there one more TV series left?????


Brexit latest: Worst of the Bad Deals

Seems like the agreed Brexit agreement is a betrayal of those who voted to leave the EU. Britain gets to pay a whopping £50bn for the pleasure of being governed by the EU. Listen to Jacob Rees Mogg calmly and cooly explain the deal: For the first time in hundreds of years (Boris said yesterday a thousand) Britain will be like a vassal state.

After hearing all the rhetoric I can’t seem to find a single good thing about the deal. Britain is half out of the EU but with ugly, penalizing strings attached. What ever happened to the idea that we can forge our own agreement? What happened to self governance? What have we become?

The Republican Tax Plan – Is it a Tax Cut Too Far?

I noted recently that economist cannot agree on the good, bad or ugliness of the medium to long term impact of near-zero interest rates or quantitive easing (QE). This suggests that economics is in a sad state of affairs. Even the Republican tax deal, winding its way through reconciliation this week, continues to create fervent grounds for disagreement. The most important sticking point concerns the rate of growth the tax changes might lead to. This is critical since it is the resulting change in GDP what will spin off excess profits and therefore taxes that will go to pay for the tax breaks. If GDP does not grow fast enough, insufficient funds will be created. If GDP excels, al will be well and the Democrats won’t be happy since they may lose the next general election.

In the Wall Street Journal on December 2-3 there was an interesting opinion piece by Phil Gramm and Michal Colon titled, Don’t Be Fooled by Secular Stagnation. Mr. Gramm is former chairman of the senate banking committee and now with the American Enterprise Institute. Mr Solon works for US Policy Metrics. The article compares America’s GDP averages over recent history and the assumptions that the Republicans are making with their forecasts. The two are not that far apart at all, yet other reports from different perspectives, using different assumptions, suggest growth will not reach its goals. The COB suggests growth might make 1.9% over 10 years; the Republican’s are looking for 2.6%. It turns out that since the end of WWII to 2008, America has averaged about 3.4% and this includes 10 recessions!

Then, when you get under the hood of the various models economist use you find the strangest of assumptions. The CBO’s model does not allow for any spin off of profits generated from growth to be plowed back into the economy to drive more growth. This the model is quite limited. Why don’t our economists or civil servants update their modes? Because it would be more political than economic. The CBO, as the article suggests, has been worn more times than it has been right with its GDP forecasts in the last 20 years. We might as well just ignore them and set up a new government department. At least that adds to employment which I am sure is irrefutable.

Regulating for Regulations’ Sake?

I read in today’s US print edition of the Wall Street Journal (see Change Proposed on Who Gets Tips) of a proposal to overturn a regulation concerning how tips are pooled that will impact restaurants, casinos and the like. Apparently under Obama’s reign, regulation was written that protected front-office staff from having to share tips with back-room staff. Now under Trump’s reign this regulation is being overturned and the industry may revert to the previous practice, that required tips to be shared with back-room staff.

I didn’t know such a regulation existed. Why does the federal government, or any government, regulate how tips are shared or pooled? Why is it not a decision for owner, manager and staff to work out? If it were left to local folks running the businesses, employees would flock to those businesses that offer the approach they appreciate the most.

This is a classic example of regulation for no other purpose than growing big government. We need to get Uncle Sam out of the kitchen and accounting office and back to running the armed forces.

Democrats Desire for Regulation Increases Inequality

Yes, you read the title of this blog correctly but you wont accept the point. It so happens that one small data point represents a major contributing factor to inequality. Since WWII the availability of affordable housing has declined. First both left and right drove increase affordable housing. It was good for the wider population as it led to a wider base on which the American Dream was driven. However, the plan backfired.

Over time more and more lower income families took up the opportunity and more and more subsidies were driven into the market. This even led to aspects of the financial crisis that sits at the root of our current economic malaise. But the key is that an effective level of affordable housing around the US supports the need of workers to move to where there was work. This is one of the factors that drove growth and even productivity. That is, until the late 1980s. Since then productivity has been slowing, and it turns out, the stock of affordable housing. At the same time, Americans move less, and the baby boomers have started to retire.

But the odd part is not that left and right supported the goal, it is the left that have fought against themselves. In the US print edition of the WSJ on Sept 30-Oct 1, there is an Opinion piece title, “Why Housing is Unaffordable in California“. This article nicely captures the facts that democrats, in control of Californian legislature, have passed land regulation that limits how land can be used. This has contributed to continuing and driving land prices up and at the same time pricing lower paid workers out of the region. Yet at the same time the state legislature encourages its population to bass bonds to fund new affordable housing plans. It is thus fighting against itself. The rich are getting richer and the poorer are unable to get a hold on the work that would help them close the inequality gap.

Why don’t our politicians stop being politicians and get out of the way of real decision makers that work together and in the same direction?

Three for Three: Lies of Communism and Capitalism

There were three articles in the August 14th US print editions of the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. One highlighted what the mainstream media does not want to admit about Trump; one looked at the so called lies at the heart of capitalism and communism, and the last looked at Brexit and Germany’s view of its neighbor. This blog looks at the third hot topic of the lies of capitalism and communism.  

In “From Lenin to Lehman – the big lies“, Martin Sandbu of the FT would have you believe that communism and capitalism have failed and thus we ought to seek some compromise, some hybrid model.  This is bunk and ends up being journalistic diatribe.  The author has some bone to promote and the space offered by his newspaper editor allowed him to confuse us all.  But its not all bad news.  Let’s look at his lies at the center of communism.

Mr. Sandbu claims that there are two lies.  The first suggests that communism undid itself since it brayed its own vision of a society of equals, solidarity and self realization through collective purpose.  I can see the old black and white videos now.  The reality was that a centrally planned economy led to an inner circle of leaders who were “more equal than others” and this spread into the very infrastructure built and supplied to govern the commune.  Reality was never like this ideal.  The second lie concerns the possibility of central planning.  Trying to understand how organizations work is complex; how economies work is harder still.  Nothing beyond the planning of a dinner table is possible, lets be honest.  But some folks tried.

From here the author decides to show how and where capitalism failed.  He argues correctly that the price mechanism is a superior tool to central planning by being able to convey demand and supply conditions.  However he suggests that the price system failed during the financial crisis since asset prices were bubbling and so we all fell for the froth and of course we all missed the risk embedded, hidden in the US mortgage system.  He argues that the wealth we all thought we had in the prices of housing assets was not real.  The value was a lie.  Clearly the author is using price incorrectly.

He then asserts that the crash we experienced has left the western countries now poorer than before the crisis and so bereft of any chance to live a life better than our parents.  It seems the American Dream is neutered if you swallow Mr Sandbu’s point of view.  I think this is all twaddle.

First price and value.  Those of us that are smart enough know the difference but is this at the heart of the first lie?  Did we all feel that as prices rose into bubble status the value of our assets increased?  Yes we did.  But the lie was not in the price per se but in the processes used to derive that price.  There were policies, promoted by democrat and republican, that encouraged the start of the bubble by enabling poor folks to take out loans they realy could not afford, as a means to promote house ownership (the America dream) to more of the population.  This was followed up by exotic financial tools that spread risk across many products.  This was then corrupted by villains that poorly rated risk and those loans taken out by poor people that had no income.  So all told it was a ponsi scheme promulgated by social engineers and politicians.  It was not a simple failure of price.

Yes, as a result our economies have taken a beating.  Worse, those same politicians have throttled our economies ability to drive growth:  affordable housing is depressed; new start-ups are regulated and taxed to record lows; innovation, R&D and education are under invested and regulated.  Overall yes the American dream is under attack.  But that is not a lie or a failure of price or capitalism. It is a failure of our socialist, centralized, big government model.  We live in a near-socialist system with more controls and more of the economy under government controls than ever before.

The lie is that our media won’t report how bad this situation is.  The article suggest some middle ground is needed.  We need more pure market-based freedom to allow the individual to grow, thrive, and live on the fruits of his labor.  We need free markets.  Such freedom will lead to +3% GDP growth and then enough surplus money will be generated to pay for welafare for those on hard times.

More on the Failings of the Mainstream Media

I wrote the other day about my experiences with CNN and its political coverage and leanings in, The Rise and Fall of CNN.  Interestingly there was an article in the Econoist, August 5th, titled, Media Matters – Attitudes towards the mainstream media take an unconstitutional turn.  The article reports on some survey data that shows a notable shift in the lowering and loss of trust in all number of mainstream media outlets.  The report looked at how the reporting and analysis of Trump’s actions across media firms and the degree to which the firms’ reports are trusted.  It seems we are all trusting of each other less.

And if that was it enough, there was news just the other day that the Whitehouse has launched its own media channel – or as some media outlets call it, a propaganda channel.  If Trump’s “real news” channel is propaganda, that means all media channels are proganda channels – let’s be fair and onset here.  I have not looked into this but it seems to be less a channel and more like a few videos posted periodically on a Trump-related Facebook page.  So it’s hardly a channel but the so called media are arguing over what it means.
I just wish I could find a channel that:

  • Reports what happened in the world
  • Analyses the actions from both sides of the table
  • Ends the debate by discussing what might happen next

I’ll leave it to my own mind to come to a conclusion on what I think is good or bad. I dont need left-leaning, or right-leaning pundits to “tell” me.