Behind the One-way Mirror

Accident. Mistake. Agency. Transaction. Mirror. Comments. 

The difference between accident and mistake is agency. I caught a glimpse of myself in the one-way mirror window. I knew they were watching me. Sylvie also. I looked pretty none too natty having slept the night in my new black and white camel hair jacket, the to the hilt popping blue diamond tie with bright orange accent circles now loose and wrinkled and hanging as low as my attitude. Feeling none too benevolent about myself, not at all, as I stared at my reflection in the glass. As soon as I got this god anger management problem under control, I was going to start in on my self image, I really was. But they had asked me to handle the transaction for them. These transactions are especially complicated. The stars must align pin point right, the players all set up. And there’s risk. I was by the skin of my teeth their agent. They were on the transaction, watching every move. They knew the risk, gave the authority. I didn’t sit at a computer and do all this. All I did was get the players to the table. Relationship bits and bobs. Trust. But how would the transaction disappear like that? Somebody broke into the stream and stole the file. Simple as that. Could be some kid from some small town in Kentucky for all we know. Some high school hacker, not even sure of what he’s got, no way to cash in on the instruments. The file could still be in cyberspace, and we’ve lost the tools necessary to pull the transaction up. Like something lost in real space, the file will continue to travel like the unraveling of pi. Unless the file was destroyed by a random noise issue, randomness, maybe an agent with a randomizer. A supercomputer. Behind a one way mirror. I drive the rig. I’m the race car driver, not the builder, not the mechanic, not the sponsor, and certainly not the owner. I don’t bother lifting the hood to see if the car’s propelled by an internal combustion engine or a nuclear reactor. Makes no difference to how I need to execute. Sylvie notes that’s a mistake. Who knows, who knows what they think. Very few comments, though the comment light was on. Walter is a fairly secluded and elite group of owners. Nothing in common with one another that I can figure out. These transactions are like poker games with them. And I’m on the carpet. The board room table is even covered with green felt. You dig that? I’m trying to figure out what’s meaningful here, and I have to tell you nothing too obvious at this point. I stood on the corner of Pike and 1st, above Pike’s Market, watching a Vashon ferry come across a disturbed bay. The air bit cold into my skin cut deep and found bone. The wind was blowing in circles, rain pouring down and around, puddles, running gutters. Rain now with sleet and snow flurries blowing in my face. I seemed to be the only person on the street. I hustled down to Pike’s to grab some breakfast at the Athenian. I wanted to talk to Molly. I needed some help. I needed a friend. I was about to make a trip, and I didn’t know if I was coming back. It was probably all a mistake. Or it might have been an accident. I was trying to discover any kind of reciprocal relationship.

“Behind the One-way Mirror”
is episode 11 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous view of all episodes.)

On Downgrades and Grades; or, Dude, Score Thyself

Yesterday, in a post on her New Yorker blog, Close Read, titled “Rioting Markets,” Amy Davidson, commenting on a surreal week in our markets and cities, a week when one wondered, like Yeats wondered, if the center can hold, said, “We lost our credit rating, after all, in large part because of a riot by ostensible grownups in Congress.” What Amy is saying is that the reason for the downgrade was S&P’s feeling that Congress was unable to lower debt by increasing revenue (i.e. raising taxes), and based on what S&P’s David Beers said following, that the Bush tax-cuts should be repealed, we agree with Amy’s comment, but, and while Yeats could not afford to quibble, the gyre widening as he wrote, quibble we must with Amy’s saying “we lost our credit rating,” for we did not lose our credit rating. We were “downgraded” from AAA to AA+. And even to call this change a downgrade, while accurate, misses an opportunity to talk about the incredible and arcane chicanery of the rating system. It’s like school grades, only worse.

Here are the possible ratings that Standard & Poor’s might assign to an organization: AAA, AA+, AA, AA-, A+, AA-, BBB+, BBB, BBB-, BB+, BB, BB-, B+, B, B-, CCC to C. Was there ever a school report card this complicated?

In the recent S&P downgrade, the US was rescored from a grade of AAA to a grade of AA+. For comparison, think of student grades, think A-. Still a good score, excellent, in fact, right? But the general reaction to the S&P downgrade bears some similarity to the grade inflation in US schools, for an A-, as Louis Menand has pointed out, means failure where “American colleges notoriously inflate grades, but they can never inflate them enough, because education in the United States has become hypercompetitive and every little difference matters.” Thus, students who receive a grade of A- may react as if they’ve just been given an F.

But what does AA+ mean in S&P’s widening gyre? Basically, the score is a stress test. The scores indicate what economic stress level an organization ought to be able to bear and still withstand default. So what is economic stress, and how is that measured? S&P’s explanation for a score of AA includes the ability to withstand a 70% decline in the stock market. That’s like saying you ought to be able to chugalug a 5th of Southern Comfort and still sing the alphabet song backwards.

Switch to an imagined conversation between Bill and Ted. “What’d you get on the big math test, Dude?” “BB, Dude.” “Most excellent, Dude! Rock on!” An S&P score of BB indicates the ability to withstand a 25% drop in the stock market. Dude, score thyself.