February 29, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

Of my Oscar predictions, I missed only two. Among a host of great movies and actors, the category for best supporting actress was destitute; so I won't spend too much time grieving that miss. However, I am deeply interested in documentaries. No End in Sight was a wonderful look at the Iraq war and examination of America's easily avoidable and drastically deleterious mistakes therein. Despite this, it was not the winner of Best Documentary. The winner was Taxi to the Dark Side. Therefore, Taxi is on my agenda for the weekend and hopefully a brief review on EO is as well.

February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley

I'll post some original content on here soon. However, I don't have the expertise or knowledge to comment on the death of William F. Buckley. There are plenty of tributes and obituaries worthy of your time, just not from me.

Despite this, Ezra Klein's comments resonated with my sense of a current conservative anti-intellectualism. I believe new media is slowly elevating our national discourse away from cable news and conservative radio, however we are far from a nation where being a political thinker "made you a cultural figure."

As a slightly more general point, in the last two or three years, a whole host of giants have passed away, men who were political thinkers at a time when that made you a cultural figure. John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Norman Mailer, and now, William F. Buckley Jr. Gore Vidal is just about the last of their number left. And that's a shame. They would write serious books of political analysis and sell millions of copies -- they were the writers you had to read to call yourself an actual political junkie. Now, the space they inhabited in the discourse is held by the Coulters and O'Reilly's of the world. Where we once prized a tremendous facility for wit, we're now elevating those with a tremendous storehouse for anger. Run a search on quotes from Galbraith, Buckley, or Friedman, then do the same for O'Reilly and Coulter. We're really losing something here.
-- The American Prospect, February 27, 2008

February 25, 2008

The Food Crisis Has Arrived

I pointed to talk of a "coming" food crisis a few days ago. Well... it's here.

The United Nation’s agency responsible for relieving hunger is drawing up plans to ration food aid in response to the spiralling cost of agricultural commodities...

WFP officials hope the cuts can be avoided, but warned that the agency’s budget requirements were rising by several million dollars a week because of climbing food prices.

The WFP crisis talks come as the body sees the emergence of a “new area of hunger” in developing countries where even middle-class, urban people are being “priced out of the food market” because of rising food prices.

The warning suggests that the price jump in agricultural commodities – such as wheat, corn, rice and soyabeans – is having a wider impact than thought, hitting countries that have previously largely escaped hunger.
--Financial Times, February 25, 2008

February 24, 2008

Oscar Predictions

I promised to get a few of my picks up for tonight's Oscars, so here they are. One note: I have not seen There Will be Blood yet...

Actor in Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actor is Supporting Role: Javier Bardem*

Actress in Leading Role: Marion Cotillard

Actress in Supporting Role: Cate Blanchett

Animated Film: Ratatouille

Documentary Feature: No End in Sight*

Music: Atonement

Best Picture: No Country for Old Men*

I think my favorite film of the year was Bella. The film is not nominated for any awards.

* Denotes a personal favorite.

February 15, 2008

The Coming Food Crisis

The rising costs of food and subsequent potential for crisis should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to commodity markets and policies.

From the New York Times:

The distortions in agricultural production are startling. Corn prices are up about 50 percent from last year, while soybean prices are projected to rise up to 30 percent in the coming year, as farmers have replaced soy with corn in their fields. The increasing cost of animal feed is raising the prices of dairy and poultry products.
--September 19, 2007

The general media is not paying much attention to this, as subprime related news continues to dominate most outlets. However, the situation demands a shift in focus to a problem that will likely have a much deeper impact on the world (i.e. famine and starvation).

Today's Financial Times points out a few more structural problems within the current market:

Rising food prices pack a powerful political punch in the developing (or partly-developed) world, to a degree that is sometimes underappreciated by the pampered west...

Goldman Sachs thinks this is just part of a much bigger problem of capital and resource misallocation. After all, Mr Currie argues, if the world today was a rational economic place, then regions such as the Gulf which are food-constrained ought to be investing heavily in agriculture. And since the US is the world's biggest agricultural supplier, this implies that the Saudi Arabians, say, should be snapping up farms in Wisconsin - as America secures oil in the most efficient manner by sending teams of Texans to Riyadh.

But in practice numerous investment controls prevent Saudi Arabians from buying Wisconsin farms and Americans owning Saudi oil wells. And these controls are not being dismantled now. On the contrary, mutual mistrust is now rising. Hence the fact that Gulf leaders are currently considering desalinating sea water to plant wheat in the desert - while the US and Europe are trying to turn corn into fuel. Such exercises might make sense in domestic political terms; but they are apt to be fiendishly expensive. Thus the upshot of this misallocation, Mr Currie would argue, is even more inflation - even if the world does experience some form of growth slowdown.

This campaign season, consider the issues facing the rest of the world and America's role in finding solutions. We need a leader who is informed, capable and willing to deal with situations unrelated to subprime or Iraq... immediately.

There Will Be Blood

I'm hoping to see There Will Be Blood this weekend. It is the only nominee for Best Picture of the Year that I have not seen. Before the Oscars, I will list my favorites for a few of the categories and try to rank the best picture nominees.