Subtitle: How Librarians and Cybrarians can Save Us All.
I thought this was okay at outlining the cultural problems and contradictions librarians face, but not better than the many librarian blogs; and I found no over-arching narrative or idea, which would have justified the book form. Nice if you like books more than blogs, but not necessary.
Find in a Library: This Book is Overdue!
My other half, reading, cried 'Trollope!'. I am far fonder ofthan he is; on inquiry, I established that he had come across a reference to Trollope and was sharing.
The reference, though, was to a book called The Way We Behave. He quoted a passage about the brief, decisive utterances of a railway chairman. I was surer yet that The Way We Live Now had been miscalled.
Indeed, the former title doesn't appear in Trollope bibliographies; looking for it with Trollope on Google returns a link to the business text my other half is reading, and then a reference from a business paper probably quoting the business book.
Other half says they've also made an error of fact in a discussion of technology. There are highfalutin theories of corporate governance, but I begin to worry about the simple case of not checking one's assertions.
Find in a library: Corporate Governance, Robert A. G. Monks, Nell Minow.
Or, better, read The Way We Live Now, Project Gutenberg title #5231.
or, if you're pressed for time, here's a cartoon on the subject form 1874...
"The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia"; from the 1830s to the moving present. I can't begin to summarize this, as it's an enormous thick book which is, itself, nearly a summary.
It's entertaining, as anything with the First Afghan War and the 1857 Mutiny, Madame Blavatsky and Younghusband and 'Kim' Philby ought to be. It has rhythm, derived from the repetitions and revenges of Central Asian politics. It's still, exhaustingly, relevant.
Find in a Library: Tournament of Shadows
The poor in unfortunate countries are supposed to improve their lot by growing what the rich countries want to buy, right? But the failures in this plan turn up in specific histories of just about every commodity, and the basic rule that 'the house never loses' makes up more than one compelling history.
Here it is again in the current news; from the Fall 2009 issue of World Ark, the magazine of Heifer International:
The rapid increase in palm oil production - more than 280 percent in the past decade - was a calculated move endorsed by the Indonesian government to take advantage of the swelling demand and price for palm oil in the global marketplace. [...]
And, as the story spells out carefully, the farmers have to invest upfront in land taken out of other production, in planting labor, in the time for the trees to grow; the commodity markets are volatile; and therefore the farmers are more likely to go broke than get rich, over a few business cycles. Hm.
Why is this filed as 'For Kids'?
Another example. The thing is, it would not bother or surprise me if there was a popular column on forensic science, read by adults and children.
...Slightly later: the For Kids section samples all the magazine's topics and rewrites some of the articles in a very slightly more informal and explanatory style, and links to the original Science News article. Oh! Good idea!
The modernists seem to have been correct in thinking that hats stood for old hierarchies; I suppose I am post-modern in thinking that this is amusing but not important. And yet, the hierarchies aren't gone, and the modernists were certainly wrong in expecting them to vanish.
I can't tell where Seal started re hats. I think he was with the postmodernists, with the hats-are-funny mindset, but he was familiar enough with Turkey to connect its repeated politicization of headwear with the strain between traditional, isolated, religious communities and the bonfire of tourism. Fezzes are used to lure tourists, but it has been illegal for Turks to wear them since Ataturk. Before that, the fez was the headwear of the Ottoman Empire.
Seal actually finds someone in a very quiet town who is still wearing a turban, and claims to be surprised that they have been made illegal: in favor of the fez? We are to wear fezzes? No, that was a century ago, fezzes are now also illegal?... Someone's leg is being pulled. A few Turks determinedly wear the fez, just not where someone can write about them. Seal never really gets anyone to say why, or what they mean to the wearers or non-wearers.
Their most surprising and evocative appearance is on statues of the brief Commagene empire, weathered on Mount Nemrut for almost two thousand years. These are more conical than the modern fez, but apparently the historical development from conical to flat-topped is documented well enough. But the Commagenes didn't last long or conquer anybody, so why the fez, in either shape, became the hat of the Ottoman Empire is not very clear. The city Fez has fez-makers, but calls them tarbooshes. Dervishes wear similar hats but a different color. Identifying them with the Phrygian cap of liberty, or at least the pileus, is irresistible for an armchair classicist, but the people who actually might wear them assert that the fez is important because Islamic, not because Ancient Greek. The Ancient Greeks apparently thought their version was slightly Persian.
Standing on Mount Nemrut, by the speechless stones, Seal looked East and West, North and South, over the Euphrates, down to Aleppo. His trip to the mountain was beautiful but complicated, with the kind of scenery that you only get over dangerously active geology. Seal takes this humanistically; the west of Turkey is as good a boundary between Europe and Asia as is the Sea of Marmara, or a better one, since the ocean is naturally a trade-route and the mountains a barrier. 'Boundary' can combine the seeming paradox of the fez, and of Turkey's reactions to it, and Turkey's enormous strain between modernizing and tradition, and the pulled-together-pushed-apart tragedies of all the overlapping, subdivided, sub-nation-states that still inspire wars here: the Kurds, the Armenians, Cyprus. Maps drawn by the Ottoman and British Empires illuminate current policy.
It's a little easy, as an American, to dismiss the Ottoman Empire, because by the time the US was acting on the world stage the latter was a very `sick man of history'. We see what's definitely Europe, and what's definitely the East, and the less-well-defined parts, we figure, just have to make up their minds. But the Ottoman Empire was brilliant and unified and certainly long-lasting enough to be a thing in itself; so not only do the various nations into which they are now divided have parts that would like to go East-ish, and parts West-ish, but loyalty to an old unity that the East and West aren't even really conscious of. It's easier to remember how important it was if you like the history of the 14th-16th centuries, when Europe was a pushy younger sibling (and large chunks of it Ottoman, to boot; `anyplace that cooks with paprika', I have read).
In the twentieth century, though, even the nations into which it had been divided were playing well below their historical standard, and purely humanistic explanations aren't enough. That glorious scenic geology is close to oil (and rather a lot of other resources, in some places. The deeps of the earth have been cooked and sorted and rammed up high). I can't imagine how history would have turned out had the fossil-fuel age started when the Ottoman Empire was at its height; but as the excellent, excoriating, History of Oil by points out in passing, the sinking Ottomans got dissected because they were between various European powers and oil, oil, oil.
I squint at the map of Georgia and South Ossetia and it's a little obvious that this is still going on. The headlines are clearer yet; "Oil rises on Georgia fighting", "Georgia's oil pipeline is key to U.S. support."
Georgia, over the last half-millenium, has been under Ottoman, Persian, Russian, USSR, and several kinds of independent rule. I haven't found a serious source on their hats, but the one I do have shows a wide array. Resources and geography move people around; people settle and intermarry; wars over resources redraw the boundaries; and who gets to define the national hat?
Find in a Library: A Fez of the Heart, Jeremy Seal, ISBN 9780156003933.
Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) called the Administration’s [2009 budget] request a “dismal budget picture for all modes of transportation.” On the proposal to “borrow” $3.2 billion from the Transit Trust Fund to fill a gap in the soon-to-be-insolvent Highway Trust Fund, he likened it to “taking a bandage off of a bleeding wound to put on another bleeding wound.”
NARP elsewhere says:
There is no proposal for repaying the transit account.
NARP is partisan, but a $3.2 billion dollar transfer is independently checkable and not nugatory. Roads pay for themselves? Hm.
Instead of logically criticizing our feel-good society that will not reason (which is what the book claims to be doing), LeGault uses anecdote and assertion to explain that we should feel good about ourselves and sort of pretends to reason. Well, I was skipping faster and faster as I got more and more exasperated, there may be evidence in here somewhere, but it's thin on the ground for the first few chapters. Definitions of what's being discussed are thin or missing; for instance, 'our' society is apparently the US, but that's not cited so much as implied by, say:
Europeans are in effect barred from a truly rational, free-thinking inquiry by the entrenched political special interests of their societies.
And that's a very funny sentence, coming after the claim that
...this country's environmental regulations, as embodied in the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and numerous other pieces of legislation, are the most stringent of any industrialized nation.
because our Clean Air Act is terrifically hamstrung by the special interest we have in cheap coal. So is Europe's legislation, I should think, indeed that of all the industrialized nations; but figuring out who is more stringent is actually hard--I've just spent an entertaining but inconclusive thirty minutes trying to define a total 'environmental stringency' and then measure US and EU standards on it, and I have last terms' climate-modeling seminar as a good base to start with. I would say the US is more stringent about particulates -- 'the US' wins because of California -- and the EU about CO2; but the two places don't really measure quite the same thing, and exactly how some of the 'voluntary agreements' with automakers are supposed to be counted is even weirder.
But it seems to me that Singapore knocks all the other industrialized nations out of the running. Of course there are rationalizations, e.g. we were only supposed to 'count' big countries, or countries with governance 'like' that of the US; but rationalizations that invert the sense of a true-false statement annoy the heck out of me, and are unforgivable in a book preening itself on clear thinking about uncomfortable topics.
Other bits of poor thinking: on p. 45, he is accusing the 'wired set' of wanting us to 'mothball the written word'; a peculiar accusation for a medium that produces this much prose; and, even worse, the evidence he does adduce against visual (or audible?) media is that we don't have 'time to stop and reflect upon the issues, to question and explore'. But digital representations of plays, etc. are exquisitely available for pausing, rewatching, reworking, and making extended hypotheses and counter-arguments to. The evidence and the claim don't line up. The next argument, that popular movies appeal to faculties other than reason, seems true but is circular.
On page 56, he quotes a "Gestapo-like, motherly dictum", which is a surprising comparison, except that he's trying to be against yob movies and the nanny state at once; still, claiming that mothers are Gestapo-like is a very emotional claim for which he offers no evidence. Chapter 3 disdains our collective or egalitarian intelligence, and uses GM's troubles as a sign, but doesn't explain why it's Japanese companies, in a culture more explicitly consensus-friendly, that are picking up GM's market-share. And on page 71 he describes GM as 'the ultimate government project', that is, unaccountable and without incentive; I suspect that 'government' is as loaded a word for his audience as 'Gestapo', and again, there's no reasoning given for using a statement that's literally false. Still, the interesting question if you're thinking about the role of government and accountability is why the Japanese companies were a counterexample, when they are so deeply intertwined in their government.
It seems to me that this is a polemic encouraging white US men to assume the virtues of their predecessors (not in the sense Hamlet used 'assume') and take back everything they used to have; it's disguised as a paean to reason. Of course I might be wrong, but since no terms are actually defined, my assertion is not disprovable.
Find in a Library: Think!
Hysterically funny, nowhere unkind, adventurous setting, filled with biological factods, and it ends in sight of a moral or two.
It's on a trawler, is all, a trawler based in northern Scotland but working more northerly yet, even into the Arctic Circle, even in a hurricane in January. The author is fiftyish and bookish and a bit nebbish and completely not in training; he gets there having apprenticed in the Marine Laboratory and met a doctoral student known to the trawler captain.
O'Hanlon has done some physically effortful things, and worked for years on the literary end of natural history, but working on a trawler is harder and more detailed than he was prepared for. His humor is so self-deprecatory that he probably exaggerates his unpreparedness, but maybe not: there must have been plenty. This is like most, and also Frost on my Moustache, with which it shares some locations.
The intellectual unpreparedness is in trying to keep up with the incredible variety and mystery of the fish, etc., being hauled out of the deep sea; it would be hard enough to keep up with the knowledge of the trawlermen, but impossible to absorb everything the researcher says. Worse, everyone is working incredibly hard without sleep over a period of weeks, and in the sleep deprivation the conversations become both loopy and heartfelt. (They also have to be mostly made up; the author's self-described state couldn't distinguish between waking and sleeping, let alone take notes on someone else's talk.)
The sad thing is how much fish they have to throw away because the (obviously necessary) fishery management rules only give a license for one kind of catch at a time. Well, the really sad thing is that they know they don't know enough about many of their fish to be sure they aren't destroying the fisheries, which they really don't want to do; especially the captain, with a two-million-pound loan for a trawler that does this kind of fishing. None of the trawlermen seem opposed to fishery management; they object to fleets that they think cheat, but they greatly admire Iceland's cannily managed fishery, and one of them tells the researcher where, perhaps, to find the breeding grounds of a fish, because the knowledge might protect the fish in the long run.
Iceland is probably also admired for being adequately far north; there's a definite opinion among the trawlermen that admirable peoples begin where the speaker is and become more admirable as one moves north: points are probably given for living on an especially exposed and rocky coast.
Subtitle: Poverty, Assets, and the American Dream
My summary: Assets, not income but wealth, is what keeps people (families, communities) out of poverty; US poverty-reduction programs ignore, or sometimes rule out, asset accumulation; the US could help the poor build their own assets and become self-sustaining for less money than we spend on helping the middle-class and rich accumulate assets; there are examples of useful programs in several very different circumstances.
I'm going to back up and read the earlier books on how assets are at least as important as income, because the numbers look interestingly explanatory. First on the list is Assets and the Poor,.
The case studies were cheering, in that the projects they cover did at least some good where much was needed; they also cover widely varying assets, from house equity to community interaction to 'soft skills' to natural resources to small-business competence. Some of the principles carry over between; the successes tended to work with people who were the most nearly successful of the poor, and let them recruit others by example.
The Battle Creek neighborhood rescue did something unexpected and clever; they put work and money into raising house prices, without worrying about gentrification. Battle Creek (built mostly for cereal factories) still has a fair number of owner-inhabited houses, and not a lot of risk of gentrification, and the reasoning was that dropping house prices were causing rational owners to put less and less maintenance into their houses, as they couldn't have gotten the equity back out. Loaning money to rehabbers, and street-landscapers, reversed the cycle in at least some blocks, before all the original inhabitants sold to developers.
Overall, the book is cautious and practical and determinedly bipartisan, repeatedly pointing out how many programs there are to subsidize middle-class saving, how clearly salaried workers benefit from default saving, how helping asset accumulation leads to self-reliance and self-restraint, etc. And who could be against self-reliance?
Well... I like the summary of the post-WWII plutocratic political program being one of risk transfer. If you transfer a lot of risk to other people, you will eventually be able to buy anything else you want at a penny on the dollar when the dice come down against them; "The time to buy stock is when blood is in the streets. " Late Victorian Holocausts makes a good case that this practice is how Europe, especially England, overtook the wealth of what is now the Third World; and even some case that this was intentional. There had been, for instance, large public works for irrigation and flood management and famine relief, which were supplanted by markets in good years (when it was not too politically expensive). Their lack in the bad years left nations impoverished. There are public goods that pay off rarely and are still worth their price.
Off in metaphor land, I thought of buffered soils and delayed neutron fractions. Soils with good buffering don't change as rapidly as outside influences push them; e.g., they have stocks of nutrients or charge held in reserve. Without buffering, shocks are more often lethal to plants, which makes the whole system even more susceptible to the next shock. Nutrient stocks are obviously an asset, and they are metaphorically appropriate because they're usually built up over a long time; the fraction of organic material that breaks down most slowly is important.
On further thought, I don't think the slow neutrons are a good metaphor for assets, although they may be a second-level metaphor; a society with a sufficient number of asset-buffered actors in it is... easier to regulate? I don't think that's what Jefferson expected from sturdy independence. Never mind.
Another slim entry in the popular category of being 'wrong about Japan'. Carey's trip there with his manga-enthusiast teenage son was too short for them to get really wound into either adult or teenage misunderstandings. There are only a few people they meet more than twice, although those meetings do offer the repeated false recognition that makes cultural displacement so excruciating.
I cannot for the life of me think why I put this on hold at the library; it's not in my database of To-Read, and I doubt it was referred to by anything else I read recently. On the other hand, how convenient, a serendipitous view into marketing thought, which I don't normally read. I found it disingenuously creepy, but I can't tell if it's honest disingenuity or artifice.
The 'new American luxury' is, as I understand it, to spend extravagantly on some types of goods while making do with mass-market functionality in others. I am surprised that this is thought new; I thought it was long-held knowledge that, for instance, luxury lipstick has a bigger market than luxury soap, partly because lipstick is used in public. It may be that what this book is really about is selling soap as though it were lipstick. Victoria's Secret is one of their favorite examples; since I've never found their goods very good, and this book says they have much higher profit margins than department stores do for similar goods, I became pretty suspicious that the idea was to sell mediocre goods with fancy branding to people who couldn't really afford it.
The evidence adduced to explain the new habits of consumption included some very depressing stuff, e.g. that income for the top quintile in the US is up ~70% in real terms in the last 30 years, considerably better than the income of the bottom four-fifths; the cheery rhetoric is that 'everyone' can buy luxury goods in their favorite category, but their studies refer to households with income of more than $50k annually, often more than $75k. It does matter whether luxury spending depends on 'everyone' or the $75k crowds; and then it further matters how much of it is supported by consumer credit.
The less suspicious explanations include women's different spending patterns, now that women mostly work and don't have time to be as thrifty as our grandmothers were; and that every efficiency improvement in production makes bare survival cheaper, leaving more income for fashion. I certainly agree that both are largely true and partly beneficial, although we don't account for all the costs in either case.
I completely fail to see why the 'new luxury' is more democratic than the 'old luxury', unless Prada is cheaper than Gucci was, which I kind of doubt. I don't think it's true that 'real' designers working for mass-market producers is new; I vaguely remember it happening in the '70s, and I read that it did in the '30s, especially in England. I'm a little dubious that Michael Graves laundry baskets are going to be a net benefit for the body politic, since they can go painfully out of fashion, which a laundry-basket that has no fashion can't do. I don't know how we'd match the fashion cycle of goods to their natural useful lifespan, so's to not induce extra trash; well, actually, of course I know: if everyone is thrifty and doesn't throw away their perfectly good laughably outdated stuff, cycles of style will either slow down or become shallower. Not the marketing ideal, either one.
I was somewhat entertained that a book on the 'new American luxury' kept referring to European food and craftsmanship, and European engineering of both design and production, as luxuries Americans can now democratically provide to everyone (in $50k/annum households). The three explanations that come immediately to mind are that the richer parts of Europe are still supporting 35-hour workweeks and serious recycling laws, so they've built some traditional thrift into their economy that we haven't protected at all; that the mass market in Europe lives on US-designed temporary stuff made in the developing world (but for anything more long-term than a shirt that didn't look true to me: Swedish-designed semitemporary stuff made everywhere, maybe); or that it's a habitual tic of marketers.
The last chapter is on luxury and philosophy, consumption and guilt, as mutual drivers of production; and production as a driver of social conditions; not very deep, but not a cheese metaphor.
Wrong title; there's more about the (more vital) subject of how to fit anything other than work around the schedules enforced by the '24/7' economy. Two main points; first, that 24/7 is self-reinforcing: when one big factory or call center is open all night, support businesses start running later and later shifts, until much of a city is all-hours. Second, it's self-reinforcing for working families, as the poorest parents are most likely to work different shifts (to avoid paying for daycare), and this is hard on the people, and their marriages, and possibly bad for their chances of promotion; so they never can afford daycare.
Like Divergent Paths, this book is crammed with statistics. I only skimmed this one, so my summary is feeble and untrustworthy. Also, I think these stats tell less clear a story; in specific cases there are odd hiccups about what combination of traits correlate with a given outcome. Much of the data is really trying to find out what happens at home with parents in shift work; who sees the kids awake, who does the housework, whose schedule wins. These are messy numbers, as there are so many possible schedules, and the parents' philosophies or ideologies have much to do with who does what.
One of the most depressing results is that most nonstandard-hours-working mothers report that they aren't doing it because the schedule has an advantage for them, but because they couldn't find better employment. This is part of the pattern of making service and culture work paid instead of familial; restaurant and care-facility work is still very female, low-paid, and ill-scheduled. (It was already so when done by not-married-yet female servants for other women in houses owned by men, of course.) I was hoping for the labor principles that once insisted on a 40-hour workweek and the surety of old age without poverty to hold out longer. I wonder whether we could actually afford to pay useful service work—I think so, but it's true that we don't know since we've never tried it, but we ought to if the attempt is anything but goofy. I sure notice that the political will for those labor principles vanished like water into sand when the possible franchise for them extended. And if we don't hang together, we shall all hang separately.
Subtitle: Working Lives in the Twenty-first Century
I couldn't get through the style of this, so I don't know what I think of the argument. The style seems fervent and allusive, full of what I suspect are specialized usages of some academic field. They're half of them distinguished in quotation-marks, which was perpetually jarring to me, as I automatically interpret those to suggest that others had falsely claimed the word as true. In context, I believe they mean to distinguish a sense shared between the author and the reader and not with some third party. I was adrift, neither the intended reader nor the defensive third party.
The point of the book, I think, is that workers are working longer hours with less autonomy. There are some numbers, comparisons between some stages of the past and different industries and industrialized nations, but they aren't as clear as those in Divergent Paths. (The scope of Modern Times... is so much larger that cleanly comparable statistics might not exist, so it's not very fair of me to prefer the narrower book so much.)
Translated & edited by Giacomo Donis
Subtitle: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists
The classical world took advantage of the Pax Romana¹ to develop an enormous tourist circuit through cultural, religious, historic, and sensual locales. Perrottet and his girlfriend toured such ancient sites, reading the ancient travel reports before they went - and reporting ancient graffiti on the surviving monuments. One thread of the book is how similar the ancient crowded, annoying, middlebrow experience was to the modern one. I would have liked lots more of the quotations from the ancient authors.
A second thread, which has at least half the wordcount, is a typical humorous traveler's tale. Although good of its kind, the kind isn't rare.
A third thread runs through the pictures, but not the text. The Victorians rediscovered the same tourist routes, with even more appetite for classical precedent. Perrottet doesn't say much about them, but many of his pictures are, for instance, highly romantic Alma-Tadema paintings. He also uses stills from 1950s and 1960s movies (quite awful) and some of his own photographs (quite good; more at the book's website.)
Originally published as Route 66 A.D.
¹ Pax Romana or Pax Romanum? Does one mean a peace of Roman character, and the other a peace for the Romans? Not the same thing, said the soldier to the local. Must look up.
Subtitle: A Love Story
The sweet naivete, boom, and disillusionment of "old" and "new" Seattle are the stage for the fiscal naivete, recklessness, and resignation of the author, an old Seattlite. He was poor but honest, an alternative journalist, until he was finally swept up in the dream of riches - alas, just late enough to lose almost everything. Likewise, he follows the career of one unworldly but technically adept sculptor in granite and radioactivity; and a bunch of would-be-worldly programmers, most of whom lose vast heaps of money; and Bill Gates, of course.
These are combined because, to Moody's eye, Seattle's innocence was lost to the money of the tech boom. We had innocence? Needleless seamstresses and Boeing's Star Wars money *ever* had innocence? I wonder. There's a lot of dirty Seattle history as well as the claim of a 'lost age' of consensual politics. I actually thought of the WTO protests, with which Moody opens the book, as a sign of innocence; the chamber of commerce, or whatever, thought it would be a feather in the city cap - the protesters thought protest might change things. Innocents all.
I was somewhat amused by Moody's move in the late '70s, early '80s to Bainbridge Island to get away from the uncool, gentrifying changes in Seattle. I'm amused because my family moved there at about the same time, when I was a kid, and B.I. was in my experience much more status-conscious and social-climbing than most of Seattle was a decade later.¹
I add this scrap of my personal psychological history, because Seattle... is full of Moody's. He's all about the self-defeating, polite, work-to-live ethos of Seattle, with a restrained but identifiable undertone of "But in the 60s...". I think it's very odd that he didn't notice for years (decades?) that this is an inheritance from Asian settlers, as well as Scandinavian ones. When the consensual politics is consensual, it's great, although it isn't quick. When the work-to-live principle leaves room for what people actually do - ski, build wooden boats, cook, commit more socially recognized arts - also delightful. Moody's mockery and despair at the unimaginative, expensive city efforts to be "world class" by building copies of anything big that other cities have has all my sympathy. I still live in the city itself, so am domestically affronted by the rotten-borough sports stadiums, to start with.
But he loses my sympathy, nearly my comprehension, by a fixed and inexplicable failure to see that technocracy has also been a long Seattle inheritance - mining, Boeing, aluminum - and that many technologists are as purely moved by the passion for what they're doing as more abstract artists are. His unworldly artists are victims; his unworldly programmers are comic children. How he could write this way after several immersive histories of Seattle tech endeavors, I don't know. I'll have to read them.
A friend of mine, when I expostulated on this, said it was obvious most techies are just in it for the money and hate the actual work; he adduced the career of a friend of his.² It's a sloppy argument, analagous to my dismissing all "art" because I know people who are "artists" out of a desire to be cool and shocking and free of petty social constraints of decency. ¹¹
On the other hand, I can understand being too annoyed to admit that the numerate and logical get joy in what they do and money to boot. To be fair to Moody, he sees the joy in Bill Gates and in some of the people at the HIT Lab. He just finds it hard to see in anyone (except Gates) who's practical at managing money; I think that's a bit of "But in the 60's..." leftover. He says it better than that:
... I felt it myself: an unpalatable, unendurable mix of horror, envy, disgust, and prurience.
Was that a good state of soul to look for startup work in? No. He overreached, he fell, he sat through the Slough of Despond at monster.com. And afterwards he started working for the Metro bus authority, which he describes as thoughtful, civic and determined; and observes Gates giving away money to mend market failures the rest of the country won't conceptually admit. There's still some old Seattle here.
It would be interesting to compare Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver B.C. for their reactions to wealth, bust, and social shock.
¹ I asked my mother how she saw it as an adult; she said that it probably had had hippie cred until right about when we moved there - my parents weren't looking for status fights - but not necessarily more than Fremont or Ballard or South Park, even at the time. I can see Moody's belief as one in good faith, then, although I don't think it's very perceptive. Or maybe these things are particularly bad for teenagers, although I know my parents experienced them too.
²This makes me slightly ill, as I don't expect this to produce technology that's very good for people. When the coders are weirdos who love what they're doing, they can someday convert us to the same weird love; but how is someone who hates it to begin with to know that it doesn't have to hate us back?
¹¹It's an eternal battle, the attempt to substitute wealth for coolth, or v.v., or either for virtue.
Subtitle: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism.
I couldn't finish the book. I couldn't even skim it properly, so this is not a fair review. Possibly someone will come along and tell me what I missed, but mostly this is a placeholder to tie this Of the Moment! book into some history in the queue.
Now. My extremely patchy summary of the book is that the best employment opportunity for anyone who would need to worry about such a thing is - as a servant. Maybe as a timeshare servant, a concierge of the call center. (Ancien regime French is an odd choice of euphemism for a class system.) The
New Enterprise Logic, through (thought-experiment) a
pays all their routine bills... also pays their credit cards... and maintains cumulative records... renews memberships, makes insurance payments, pays subscriptions, and stores personal information about passwords, pin numbers, etc. ... SweetSupport checks with the [clients] to confirm payment amounts.... The support federation has lots of cost-comparison and projection software, and friendly people answering the phones for their personal clients. Its backend services are distributed among similar support federations, magically (?) leading to efficiency and transparency instead of monopsony and technological lock-in.
I don't see why that's a reasonable business; most of those functions should come built into one's mass-market OS in three years, and I certainly see risks in storing all my data with someone else. There's a cyberpunk novel lurking about the hideous call-center jobs at SweetSupport, and how two lonely peons gaslight the worst clients. It has three endings: one of cruel discovery and revenge in all directions; one in which the peons discover where the cash is really coming from and reroute it to themselves; one in which the whole world changes for the better.
Some of the other principles of the book are clearly meant to explain why this won't turn into a dystopia; for instance,
The distribution of value thus leads to a more extensive distribution of ownership than was the case under managerial capitalism. Apparently one is likely to be an equity holder of the federation one uses; and all value originates in the trust of the individual... I really, especially don't get that part. It seems to be derived from
No cash is released into the federation and its enterprises until the individual pays. What, it falls off trees now? Also, how is this balanced against the remaining material economy, which doesn't get smaller as people get rich and networked?¹ Why doesn't this turn into a system in which the few with a claim on natural resources or important IP or political power get all the "support"?
But, as I say, I couldn't read the book, so don't trust me. Why couldn't I read it? Because the second paragraph of the first chapter begins:
In the second half of the twentieth century a new society of individuals emerged - a breed of people unlike any the world has ever seen. Educated, informed, traveled, they work with their brains, not their bodies. They do not assume that their lives can be patterned after their parents' or grandparents'. Throughout human history the problem of identity was settled in one way - I am my mother's daughter; I am my father's son. But in a discontinuous and irreversible break with the past, today's individuals seek the experiences and insights that enable them to find the elusive pattern in the stone, the singular pattern that is "me." Their sense of self is more intricate, acute, detailed, vast, and rich than at any other time in human history.
The arguments seem to be based on the obvious discontent most people have with the current system, for instance widespread distrust of institutions, poor chances at promotion for most women; and they claim to be proposing a system in which everyone is better off. The haze of self-congratulation and chronological exceptionalism quoted above put me off all my attempts to find out why this won't collapse into a servant system. Maybe in the middle they propose a robot-supported Basic Income.
¹ In, oh, 1998, 1999, a coworker at Microsoft announced that the long nightmare of history was going to end because the economy had become digital! There was enough to go around!
We were in a 'Soft parking lot at the time, or rather standing under an arcade between a low fountain and rather a nice piece of environmental sculpture looking at the parking lot, and a more massive announcement that people with software wanted to trade it for material by the glossy long ton would be hard to state. As I remember, I said that archaeologists of the future would find at least as much Stuff among the rich of the '90s as among the rich of previous strata; probably more. I don't remember a rebuttal; vanity precludes memory.
They agree with Kevin Phillips? And nearly say so?
This blog entry is late. The June 28th, 2003 issue, on page 8 of its insert "A survey of capitalism and democracy", remarks:
...there has also been a concentration of big gains in income and wealth for the top 1%, and within that for the top 0.1% or even 0.01%."
"The really damaging perception now is that many of these mega-incomes have been gained through the abuse of power - and that, in some cases, they are also being preserved by the use of that moneyed power in politics. Worse still, the perception is largely correct."
!!! I had been getting used to the Economist praising Kerala's success while failing to mention its communism; or outlining the social problems unique to the Anglo-Saxon economies, among similarly industrialized nations, and valiantly saying that the suffering they cause is not a misapplication or even a price of freedom, but rather one of the freedoms unique to the US/UK, and therefore - desirable? (It was an odd article, and if you don't believe me, I'll try sifitng through their online service for a link.)
This Survey has a lot of topics that are already common belief among the anti-corporatists who get miscalled anti-globalists: others are "Shareholder capitalism suffers from a vacuum of ownership", "press governments to double - no, treble - the sums they are giving to help fight the diseases that are plaguing so much of Africa and undermining its political and social institutions."
Schlosser argues that
Mj wasn't criminal until the '30s in the States, and the rhetoric around it associated it with Mexicans coming across the border to take scarce jobs.
That loosely connects to the unfair position of illegal immigrants, especially in US ag, which depends on them but will not treat them as the rest of us expect to be treated by our employers.
The last section isn't on pornography as much as pornography publishing. Its main character had an enormous conglomerate, and was finally brought down when his tax evasion was discovered.
In wartime this debate [over taxes] can to some extent be evaded by invoking the doctrine of equality of sacrifice - the rich man can be told that his sufferings at the hands of the tax authorities are roughly the counterpart of those of the soldier under shellfire. Despite much concentrated thought, no entirely suitable reply has ever been devised by men of means.(ch. 17, sec. III)
...but they are getting better at evading the question.
In 1942 a grateful and very anxious citizenry rewarded its soldiers, sailors, and airmen with a substantial increase in pay. In the teeming city of Honolulu, in prompt response to this advance in wage income, the prostitutes raised the prices of their services. This was at a time when, if anything, increased volume was causing a reduction in their average unit costs. However, in this instance the high military authorities, deeply angered by what they deemed improper, immoral, and indecent profiteering, ordered a return to the prevous scale.(ch. 15, sec. VI)
How many layers of hypocrisy there? (I set aside, mostly from squeamishness, the economic question of how a prostitute should calculate the costs of production, which I suspect Galbraith is oversimplifying.) It seems unlikely that access to commercial sex increased sailors' efficiency proportionally - quite the converse, when treatments for STDs were primitive- so there wasn't a military readiness excuse. Even if prostitution was legal, I doubt that prostitutes enjoyed the protections of commercial and civil law that the rest of the country submitted to wage & price controls in return for. It woudl also be fair to ask if prices in general hadn't gone up. But it's easier to charge costs against people without political power. (Classical Athens had a low maximum price for street prostitution, and did prosecute men for paying too much, according to Courtesans and Fishcakes.)
(on this copy, even though it's new enough still to be copyright.) An example of why I think the ISBN is a bad choice of ID for printed books, let alone its total failure for online texts. A universal catalog of books should certainly support lookup by ISBN, but it's hardly sufficient now.
Nuwere's writing (whoever "with") has a pleasant echo of ringing spoken rhetoric, and he seems basically pragmatic rather than idealistic or tough.
Now suddenly - except it took a ton of work to get here - you're a programmer. And you're still only 14 years old. This is 1994, 1995 and there is no frenzy yet over Internet IPOs and stock options. But you're a rudimentary programmer and you've got a whole universe out there that's just waiting for you to conquer it. (p. 108)
A hacker is like what I imagine other voyeurs are. ... In a way it's about being someone other than who you really are, who I really was. (p 151)
What drew me into security rather than going deeper into the underground was that I realized it was much more difficult to fix things than to break them. (p. 190)When contemplating anonymity and community, I should remember that on the same page he writes:
Besides, I thought that the best way for me to carve out a place in the security community would be to establish myself in my own identity. As I did that, people would respect me for who I am as opposed to my having the shadowy recognition of some code name.Nuwere also is a serious competitive martial artist, which partly leads to an ambiguously heroic scene. As he and his most educated, least violent uncle are leaving his mother's deathbed, they walk into a hospital-corridor fistfight with a bunch of thugs. Nuwere finds a mop; it's a safety mop, the head won't come off. He knows the pragmatic thing to do is to run for help when badly outnumbered; the nurses don't call security, and leaving even for moments is unpleasantly like abandoning his uncle in the fight. On the other hand, he and his uncle live.
We reserve the right to change our privacy practices and the terms of this Notice at any time, provided such changes are permitted by the applicable law. We reserve the right to make the changes in our privacy practices and the new terms of our Notice effective for all health information that we maintain, including health information we created or received before we made the changes. Before we make a significant change in our privacy practices, we will change this Notice and make the new Notice available upon request.As I parse it, that comes down to a promise that they won't break the law, whatever that is. I thought I could assume that in any contract or commercial transaction. Maybe the new safe assumption is detailed in some Notice that I haven't been told I ought to request.
I am told by one who knows more that there are teeth to the law which required this Notice; denticles of several thousand dollars a day fine for incorrectly storing a citizen's medical data. Now, if that and the definition of misuse were published in the Notice, we'd see some spontaneous security testing. More than optimal, I'm sure; but what a sporting proposition!
While I often agree with her, & find her arguments cogent even when I disagree, it seems to me that she looks for unintended consequences one step further in the legal than the practical world. This slants the balance-of-possible-failures. It bothers me most in "The Root of All Evil", which is against campaign finance reform. Kaminer says outright "Money makes speech possible.", and is mocking the argument that "Money isn't speech", but those two statements aren't really opposites. Money amplificiaton can also make speech inaudible, much more effectively than unamplified speech can. The ability to add a decadecibel to a deafening din is nearly useless. In fact, I think most of her argument against campaign finance reform rests on the argument that campaign finance has always been crooked, which is an annoying copout. Every improvement has to be made for the first time once. Most improvements have to be made from scratch several times. You'd have to prove it was impossible to improve to show that it wasn't worth trying.
The last paragraphs of this essay are strong on practical as well as legal bad results. (If public groups can't buy airtime, then all the bloviation goes to the owners of the networks, who are usually the kind of concentrated money interest campaign finance reform was trying to counterbalance.) This still doesn't convice me that the campaign finance reform laws are in principle bad so much as that they're being undercut by the concentration of media ownership, which is another place where the free exercise of one big lump of money reduces the ability of many people to speak and be heard.
Also full of fishing economics and politics, with no suggestion of an Answer to it All.
Four books about travelling through Europe, written by men who fail to achieve, or attempt, subtlety or suavity.
Neither Here Nor There,
Bryson is the sweetest oaf; he's foolish & sometimes insulting, but not deceptive, and not even unkind. He makes tremendous mockery of the wierd customs of foreigners, but loves travel, lives to be a foreigner, is evidently tremendously happy just to see all the different ways civilizations have adopted to deal with common problems, or invented problems peculiar to themselves.
Sometimes a nation's little contrivances are so singular and clever that we associate them with that country alone - double-decker buses in Britain, windmills in Holland (what an inspired addition to a flat landscape: think how they would transform Nebraska), sidewalk cafés in Paris. And yet there are some things that most countries do without difficulty that others cannot get a grasp of at all.
Bryson is funny with both cases. He's unbelieving when describing how stupid assigned seats in a nearly-empty theater are, or how stupid he himself is when faced with a dog, a hill, a choice between rail stations. He's also enormously happy when describing something that works well, whether it's medieval and untouched or as new as this morning; and he drops his hyperbolic style a few times a book, when discussing something morally grave.
If I ever plan a European vacation again, I should reread this book for its mentions of minor and beautiful cities.
The Grand Tour,
Moore's first travel book, Frost On My Moustache, was belchingly funny. I hear other people enjoy it too, and I look forward to getting my copy back.
This one has a good frame and a bad frame. The good one is his history of Thomas Coryate, an unsuccessful social climber - but very powerful walker - who wrote the first of the many many English Grand Tour books, and got no respect at home for it. Moore finds a couple of plaques to Coryate in obscure villages, and is repeatedly impressed by how far Coryate went & how much he was mocked for it; Coryate comes off as an inspired crackpot.
Moore would probably like to be an inspired crackpot, and in his first book he was - following a square-jawed, stiff-upper-lip aristocratic scion on his historical path North. Moore is none of these; comic failure ensues. In this one, he buys an ill-running Rolls Royce and a velvet suit, with some intention of playing the Grand Tour dandy, but has no fun. It moves him to excuses and makeshifts, which are a little amusing in an unsympathetic way, but too artificial to be really funny.
A Cook's Tour,
This one is disorganized: it's putatively about the search for the perfect meal, or maybe for the author's past, or maybe for what will look good in an hour on TV with no background given. Bourdain mostly ignores the TV stuff, and mocks bad food and feeble people as he did in Kitchen Confidential. So, several visits to dangerous places with excellent to gory cuisine; a couple of grand feasts in wildly expensive, world-famous restaurants. When writing about the first, he's more about the people; about the second, more about the food. He should have been more analytical about the peasant food and the expensive people - that would have been rarer.
His visit to "Where Cooks Come From" was sweet. It's a region, even a few towns, in Mexico, which (network effects) is producing way more than its share of professional sous-chefs and chefs, classically but not formally trained in Continential cooking. Fifteen years ago they were completely exploited; now some are immigrating, and more are better paid, and that's where cooks come from; and they eat well at home, too, although it seems that the women cook in Mexico and not in the States: no fusion cuisine.
Only a few things were too obviously made-for-TV; snake-eating, and a vegan potluck in California. I think his criticisms of the logic of wealthy Cali veganism are only slightly more coherent than their subject, and equally heartfelt, and a big detour into global politics and economics; won't go there. It is righteous of him to criticize the vegans for being terrible cooks of vegetables. But the cheap shot is in aiming at vegans in California after he spent so much time eating in Southeast Asia. Buddhists (and possibly others, but I know about the Buddhists) have a long tradition of really excellent vegetarian or vegan cuisine, a coherent philosophy about it, and a much closer view of the human suffering that Bourdain - incoherently, IMO - adduces as something that trivializes vegetarianism. I wouldn't expect him to give up haggis, but he shouldn't cheat, no more than a vegan polemicist should discuss Tyson chickens as though they were the only imaginable meat supply.
Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars,
It's been so long since I read this that I need to reread it to blog it ('s why I started booklogging in the first place!). As a placeholder, what this is really about is the delight that travel to poorer countries afforded male homosexuals from Britain between the wars. There's at least one reference to 'boys' of Greece or Sicily, etc., that is right squicky whether it refers to actual children or to adult-enough-for-consent men who were 'boys' because poor and foreign.
This would, I suspect, have been a better book if it had been more consciously about its sexual matter; like Sultry Climes, for instance. One trap his avoidance lays for him is a cross and incoherent dismissal of female writers who would otherwise qualify, although he does quote Rebecca West and Freya Stark on particular subjects. (The dismissal is from my memory and maybe imaginary; there are index entries for particular writers, but not for 'women, pooh-poohing'. No index entry for Gertrude Stein.)
The other comparison that makes this book suffer is, of course, to Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, which everyone should try who likes or - drat, I've forgotten the title - lovely, lovely young men in English country houses, TV miniseries years ago, angst, not "Upstairs, Downstairs", starts with 'B' but isn't Barchester Towers either - well, never mind that attempt at pop culture references. The Great War and Modern Memory is about literature and reality, horrible reality and imagination, WWI, poetry, homosexuality, and suffering.
Essays on living in the Ozarks making a bare rural living raising bees for honey, written by a fiftyish single woman with more gumption than training for the job.
I liked it a lot better than the recent crop of My Year In Provence/Capri/Tuscany fantasies. It's not luxurious, and not self-pitying or self-mocking in the lobster-lip symbiotes, so you never know.)tradition: the best thing about the book, and what I would most like to know the author for, is plain close observation of whatever's around her. She particularly likes insects and arachnids; there are details of surprising moth-ear-mite life cycles that I don't think I'd have learned about elsewhere. (Although I have run across similar suprising news about
There are, be warned, essays on her dogs, old trucks, muddy roads, and reroofing the barn, and most of the essays run
much like' essays, which I also like. Reading them one at a time would have been better.
Fatsis was authentically sucked in, though. He took a year off his job and worked hard enough at Scrabble - word memorization, psychology, theory, playing lots and lots of games - to compete in the top rank nationally. This is modestly interesting as a quest-story, mostly because he spends so much time with the long term obsessives.
The specialized book he didn't quite write is about the real strategies of Scrabble. For instance, if you can't memorize all the legal words ( a few can), which do you memorize? How do you sort the ones you do know? Choose which letters to leave in your rack? Make promising sections of the board open to you and closed to your opponent? There are newsletters seriously devoted to these questions, complete with computer analyses of possible games after a hard choice.
Fatsis and several champions find that that the glory of the game only comes with these strategic concerns, playing with nearly all words at your command and against someone of similar skill. There aren't many of these people; it takes serious study for most people to learn even a significant fraction of the words legal in U.S. or U.K. competition. This is a dictionary issue: There are two overlapping Scrabble competition dictionaries, one mostly North American, one from England: the rest of the world mostly plays with both. Neither is exactly a dictionary of any language used for anything but Scrabble. The shared dictionary is important not just to decide challenges to a words legality, but because the strategic choices often depend on statistical knowledge of legal words vs. the letters that haven't been played.
It's possible that strategic Scrabble would be more common if the competition dictionary was smaller, then. More people would know enough words to start playing the 'total game'. Leaving out real words is heresy to me, an amateur player who enjoys making a good joke as much as points, but serious Scrabble players mostly don't play words as words; they're playing something like two dimensional poker or blackjack, with a large but almost arbitrary set of scoring hands. However those who know enough to know the difference between knowing some words and knowing enough words to play strategy have already invested a lot in learning so many words. They would have to have a remarkably pure love of the game to advocate trimming the word lists.
Still, since he's accusing our politicians, lawyers, journalists, and wishful-thinking populace of having sold our government for stupid ends and at a low price, a rougher tone would have seemed more consistent to me.