Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday, a little help (a/k/a Read A Book)

I don't leave the house much.
and when I do I don't leave the borough much.
and though many good things can be said for Astoria, it is not home to what I would consider an excellent English language independent bookstore.
so I guess I'm often kind of an Amazon guy.

but today, Cyber Monday, the hangover from the long holiday weekend, Barnes and Noble is offering 30% off any one item in their store if you use the code N7C7K8T at checkout.
you could buy another copy of Tusk or the Steve Jobs biography or the latest by Jeffrey Eugenides or Joan Didion or you could, like we did, save even more by loading up on comparatively expensive photography books by the likes of Emmet Gowin or William Christenberry.

and if you have a Discover card you can get another 15% cash back by entering the Barnes and Noble store through ShopDiscover

happy shopping.
read a book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

the last book I ever read (Blue Nights)

from Blue Nights by Joan Didion:

Ill health, which is another way of describing what it can cost to maintain momentum, overtakes us when we can imagine no reason to expect it. I can tell you to the hour when it overtook me--a Thursday morning, August 2, 2007--when I woke with what seemed to be an earache and a reddened area on my face that mistook for a staph infection.

I remember thinking of this as trying, time-consuming, the waste of a morning I could not afford.

Because I had what I mistook for an earache I would need that morning to see an otolaryngologist.

Because I had what I mistook for a staph infection I would need that morning to see a dermatologist.

Before noon I had been diagnosed: not an earache, not a staph infection, but herpes zoster, shingles, an inflammation of the nervous system, an adult recurrence, generally thought to have been triggered or heightened by stress, of the virus responsible for childhood chickenpox.

"Shingles": it sounded minor, even mildly comical, something about which a great-aunt might complain, or an elderly neighbor; an amusing story tomorrow.

Tomorrow. When I will be fine. Restored. Well.

Telling the amusing story.

You'll never guess what it turned out to be. "Shingles," imagine.

Nothing to worry about then, I remember saying to the doctor who made the diagnosis.

Zoster can be a pretty nasty virus, the doctor said, guarded.

Still in the mode for maintaining momentum, and still oblivious to the extent to which maintaining momentum was precisely what had led me to the doctor's office, I did not ask in what ways zoster could be a pretty nasty virus.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the last book I ever read (Blue Nights)

from Blue Nights by Joan Didion:

Before she was born we had been planning a trip to Saigon.

We had assignments from magazines, we had credentials, we had everything we needed.

Including, suddenly, a baby.

That year, 1966, during which the American military presence in Vietnam would reach four hundred thousand and American B-52s had begun bombing the North, was not widely considered an ideal year to take an infant to Southeast Asia, yet it never occurred to me to abandon or even adjust the plan. I even went so far as to shop for what I imagined we would need: Donald Brooks pastel linen dresses for myself, a flowered Porthault parasol to shade the baby, as if she and I were about to board a Pan Am flight and disembark at Le Cercle Sportif.

In the end this trip to Saigon did not take place, although its cancellation was by no means based on what might have seemed the obvious reason--we canceled, it turned out, because John had to finish the book he had contracted to write about César Chavéz and his National Farm Workers Association and the DiGiorgio grape strike in Delano--and I mention Saigon at all only by way of suggesting the extent of my misconceptions about what having a child, let alone adopting one, might actually entail.

Friday, November 11, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample five

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

For the 13.9 million unemployed as of January, the length of their joblessness, on average, was 36.9 weeks, the highest duration since the government began this measurement in 1948 and nearly twice as high as the most recent, comparably serious recession, in 1983, when it was 21.2 weeks. Understanding this group, and why it was so difficult to reduce their number, was on everyone’s mind, in both parties. Among Kreuger’s findings was that the amount of time devoted to job search declined sharply over the spell of unemployment; the exit rate from unemployment was low at all durations of joblessness, and declined gradually as time passed; and also, quite importantly, there was no rise in job search or job finding around the time unemployment benefits expired. This refuted a long-standing study—the centerpiece of public policy actions in handling the jobless and their benefits, for two decades—that recently won its coauthor the Nobel Prize.

But what struck Krueger, poring over the data in his office in late January, was how sad the unemployed were—sadder than data indicated the jobless had been in previous eras—and how they were particularly depressed during episodes of job search.

Economists have long been better at measuring misery than they are at measuring happiness, and the issues that push the unemployed into depression tend to be a complex brew, including a sense of whether society is fair, the length of a person’s joblessness, and how they see employment as identity. “Those without a job for an extended period of time seem to lose their identity,” Krueger said, “their sense of who they are, and the path they’ve chosen in life.”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample four

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

As Obama’s team, including Geithner, collected themselves in a waiting room, the leaders of Wall Street milled about, convivially, in the main hall, with its marble floors beneath the tall dome. A year after their existential crisis, “too big to fail” had settled into what seemed like a day-to-day repose of “too big to worry.” The well-groomed gathering of men, and a spicing of women, chatted about summer vacations to exotic locales, purchases, recent and upcoming, the latest news on shareholder suits (their liability policies would cover them). One prominent banker, who asked not to be named, said, “For Washington to not demand anything when it saved us, even stuff that we know is for our long-term good, was one of the stupidest moves in modern times. I figured Obama understood that—it wasn’t a nuanced point—and that he’d act as we started to pull out of the abyss six months ago. But he didn’t, and I don’t know who to thank. I feel like I should go over and hug Tim. It’s a shame we can’t pay him, ‘cause that’s a guy who really earned a big-time bonus.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample three

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

Presidents are among the few mortals who are sometimes graced with chances to change a culture. Throughout a windswept March, the country had been working to dislodge some of the era’s prevailing certainties about markets being efficient, about people—economically, at least—getting what they deserve, along with the concomitant belief that financial barons are brilliant and indispensable, and manufacturing executives are dinosaurs.

With the eyes of the country on him, Barack Obama ended the month by shielding Wall Street executives against these winds of cultural change, while he fired a man who had effectively managed four hundred thousand workers in their making of seven million cars a year—without ever bothering to meet him. At the same time, he agreed to try to bail out Chrysler, and eventually GM, by adopting practices and principles of private equity in the use of government funds.

Improbable combinations, blended solutions, the integrating of opposites.

This was the Obama method, in his life and in his work. But he hadn’t gotten elected simply to search for this clever version of the middle ground. He’d been elected at a time of peril to change the country’s course.

By that measure, it would be easy to conclude that he missed some opportunities to show that America hadn’t necessarily gone from a country that makes things to one that makes things up, and that facing the consequences for one’s actions, at the heart of both a working democracy and effective capitalism, knows no boundaries. When the bankers arrived in the State Dining Room, sitting under a portrait of a glowering Lincoln, Obama had them scared and ready to do almost anything he said.

An hour later, they were upbeat, ready to fly home and commence business as usual.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample two

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

Obama’s response to this cul-de-sac: outside readings. Rather than “first, do no harm,” by the first week of February his preferred phrase was “Sweden not Japan.”
Though neither country’s experience is cleanly applicable to that of the United States, by far the world’s largest economy, the experience of each country seemed to present a set of choices.

Sweden had deregulated its financial industry in the early 1980s, much like the United States, creating a bonanza of speculation in new securities tied to housing, and inflating a massive real estate bubble that finally burst in 1991. In circumstances that eerily similar to those in the United States, credit then froze in an economy that was heavily overleveraged with debt. Values plummeted, from both a crisis of liquidity and a massive correction in inflated prices.

After two rounds of bank bailouts, which seemed at first to be working only to prove inadequate, Sweden temporarily nationalized its banks. Shareholders were wiped out, management teams were generally ousted, troubled assets were auctioned off, and the banks reemerged with the government as a large equity owner. Crucially, though, confidence in the system was quickly restored. Sweden, with this tough-love approach, roared back to strong growth through the decade. The government reduced its ownership in the banks, year by year, as they slowly returned to health and sound practices. In essence, Sweden restored its banks by a kind of enforced prudence.

At the same time, half a world away, Japan was experiencing a similar set of disasters from the bursting of its 1980s real estate bubble. The major difference? What Sweden had started—and then reversed—Japan kept doing: it kept bailing out its insolvent banks with government support and cash infusions. There were ups and downs across years, times when the banks seemed to be on the mend, and then fell back. The idea was for the banking system to stay intact and earn its way back to health by slowly reducing its toxic assets as it resumed lending. This never happened. Japan limped along for what was called its “lost decade,” the 1990s, with virtually no economic growth, a situation of sluggish economic activity that continues up until the present day.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had been developing both edges of the analogy since a few weeks after the September 2008 meltdown, when he wrote on his widely read blog that a temporary nationalization of the banks, as the Swedes had successfully done, was the only sound remedy to the crisis, but one that “won’t be possible until January 21”—when, he hoped, Obama would be president.

Just as Obama was firmly opening a mid-October lead that would all but assure him the presidency, Krugman also won a prize, the Nobel Prize for Economics, which gilded the columnist with a rarified credibility ideally suited to the moment. While Krugman’s longtime competitor, Summers, assumed the role of senior economic adviser, Krugman was suddenly the voice, twice weekly, of the progressive alternative. While in Stockholm in mid-December to accept the prize, Krugman wanted that “the scenario I fear is that we’ll see, for the whole world, an equivalent of Japan’s lost decade, the 1990s—that we’ll see a world of zero interest rates, deflation, no sign of recovery, and it will just go on for a very extended period,” a bleak outcome that might result if the United States followed Japan’s path of largely unconditional support for “too big to fail” banks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

the last book I ever read (Confidence Men, a book that presages Occupy Wall Street, sampled in five parts): sample one

from Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind:

It was a perfect storm of trends: global outsourcing of jobs, with profits flowing back to senior managers, stockholders, and investors; increasing automation in the workplace; full-time jobs increasingly becoming temporary or contract labor; the steady decline of unions and resulting wage and benefit concessions; and the 1990s arrival of the Internet and software advances, allowing the fewer remaining workers to be that much more productive. All this created overall economic growth. The U.S. GDP, at roughly $14 trillion in 2001, was twice as large as it was in 1980. But that wealth flowed dramatically to the top, as real median wages stayed flat for nearly three decades. In 1980 the richest 1 percent of Americans received about 9 percent of overall income, roughly the same level it had been since World War II. By 2007 it was 23 percent—an income disparity not seen in the United State since 1928, a time of Robber Baron wealth, stock manipulation schemes, and vast poverty, where more than half of America still lived on farms and survived, with little security, off the land.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

the last book I ever read (Sailor Jerry Collins: American Tattoo Master)

from Sailor Jerry Collins: American Tattoo Master:

The first lesson is keep your wife out of the tattoo shop completely--Doc Webb is a good example of what not to do--Harry Lawson, Long Andy, Johnny Walker, Bert Grimm all have crashed on this. Huey Bowen let Nell in and she took over and run him out entirely. Marion Boehme opened up in competition to her husband. They just don't belong in this business. My wife never comes in my shop unless its to bring supplies and she's gone like a flash. She doesn't know what my take is, and nobody should know that, or about colors or anything I hope you set the rules down hard and immediately and don't walk into any fish nets in the dark. [Our friend's] ex got him for 50 G and walked out and he can't say a word because she knows too much. Maybe Greg thought it was cute to teach his wife to tattoo, but honestly it's the stupidest thing he ever could have done...