Six months late, it’s 60 Minutes

I have been asked why I disdain the traditional media. My answer is usually some variation on themes of inaccuracy and obsolescence. A perfect example of the latter is today’s coverage by 60 Minutes of the ongoing housing troubles; an exposé they could have done six months ago about a crisis obvious a few years ago. Fret not, I cite this coverage for an altogether different reason.

60 Minutes is an investigative news-zine that will be 40 years old this autumn. Their audience is the salt of the earth, the older generations that vote regularly and know what a savings bond is. In House of Cards, the ideas presented are thus:

  • People otherwise able to pay their mortgages will not, simply because their house is not what it was. Defaulting as a business tactic was heretofore limited to the likes of businesses and Donald Trump, now it’s for everyone.
  • The scale of the problem; the proper unit to use is “trillion with a t” and the presence of now worthless securities lurking in banks and pension funds.

As a commenter on Calculated Risk put it,

“60 Minutes” is at best middle-of-the-road investigative reporting. It’s not Uncle Walter. But it does have a certain credibility with Middle America. If “60 Minutes” carries the story — well, could be something of an Uncle Walter moment. A tipping point, at least in the mindset of a good portion of Middle America that wasn’t paying attention.

– Bob Dobbs, on Calculated Risk

(And if you don’t know who Uncle Walter is, ask your parents!)

Sentence Structure

This weekend I was introduced to an essay by Edgar Allen Poe, titled The Philosophy of Composition. The essay itself is mildly interesting; the comparatively less well-written Wikipedia entry conjectures the essay may have been intended as satire and in the alternative quotes a biographer of Poe describing it as “a rather highly ingenious exercise in the art of rationalization than literary criticism”. Content aside, the writing itself is worthy of note both for stylistic as well as historical reasons.

Most of the text I encounter can be easily skimmed, assimilated, and comprehended with a pittance of effort. The sentences are short, the words mundane. In Composition Poe has constructed, like an ancient cathedral-builder, clauses that build one upon the other, mortared with m-dash and comma alike. To place it beside modern literature is to expose current authorship as little more than a rudimentary scraping of foundations, topped in the best of cases by a mean mud hut.

Lock and Load

In the past few days the indices have completed multiple bearish patterns and broken through significant levels of support. The ISM and jobs figures were poor. The commercials are now net short. These are not surprising new developments, but rather part of a long-awaited convergence.

… If you’re long equities, and unhedged, you’re likely to get an ocular penetration experience not seen since 2000.

– Karl Denninger, 2008-01-04

The party is about to begin, and oh yes, did I mention it’s going to be spectacular?