Wednesday, July 31, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt four)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

That morning his breakfast consisted of bread and milk and an apple brought the day before. If the rain continued, Wanda would not come. He would have to sustain himself on sour milk, a dish which he could no longer stomach. He chewed each bite of the apple slowly to savor the full flavor. In his father-in-law’s house he had not known that one could have such an appetite and that bread with bran could be so delicious. As he swallowed each mouthful, he seemed to feel the marrow in his bones increase. The wind had died down, the door of the barn was now open, and from time to time he glanced up at the sky. Perhaps the weather would clear: wasn’t it too early for the autumn rains? No longer was there a vista of distant places—nothing was visible but the flat crest of the hill surrounding the barn. Sky, mountains, valleys, forests, had dissolved and disappeared. Fog drifted across the ground. Mist rose from the pines as though the wet trees were burning. Here in his exile Jacob at last understood what was meant when the cabala spoke of God’s hidden face and the shrinking of His light. Yesterday everything had been bright; now it was gray. Distances had shrunk; the skies had collapsed like the canvas of a tent; the tangible had lost substance. If so much could vanish for the physical eye, how much more could elude the spiritual. Every man comprehended according to his merit. Infinite worlds, angels, seraphim, mansions and sacred chariots surrounded man, but he did not see them because he was small and sinful and immersed in the vanities of the body.

As always when it rained, a variety of creatures sought shelter in the barn: butterflies, grasshoppers, gnats, beetles. One insect had two pairs of wings. A white butterfly with black markings resembling script alighted on a stone near the fire and appeared to be warming or drying itself. Jacob placed a crumb of bread near it, but it remained motionless. He touched it, but it didn’t stir, and he realized it was dead. Sorrow overcame him. Here was one that would never flutter again. He would have liked to eulogize this handsome creature which had lived a day, or even less, and had never tasted sin. Its wings were smoother than silk and covered with an ethereal dust. It rested on the stone like a shrouded corpse.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt three)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

“Jew, Jew. Come. Come. Seize him. Seize him.”

A dozen hands grasped Jacob and started to tug him. He descended the hill on which the barn was located, half running, half sliding. An awful stench rose from that mob; the odors of sweat and urine mingled with the stink of something for which there is no name, as if these bodies were putrefying while still alive. Jacob was forced to hold his nose and the girls laughed until they wept. The men hee-hawed and whinnied, supported themselves on each other’s shoulders, and barked like dogs. Some collapsed on the path, but their companions did not pause to assist them, but stepped over the recumbent bodies. Jacob was perplexed. How could the sons of Adam created in God’s image fall to such depths? These men and women also had fathers and mothers and hearts and brains. They too possessed eyes that could see God’s wonders.

Jacob was led to a clearing where the grass was already trampled and soiled with vomit. A keg of vodka three-quarters empty stood near an almost extinguished fire. Drunken musicians were performing on drums, pipes, on a ram’s horn very like that blown on Rosh Hashana, on a lute strung with the guts of some animal. But those who were being entertained were too intoxicated to do more than wallow on the ground; grunting like pigs, licking the earth, babbling to rocks. Many lay stretched out like carcasses. There was a full moon in the sky, and one girl flung her arms around a tree trunk and cried bitterly. A cowherd walked over, threw branches on the fire, and nearly fell into the flames. Almost immediately a woolly looking shepherd attempted to put out the blaze by urinating on it. The girls howled, screamed, cat-called. Jacob felt himself choking. He had heard these cries many times before, but each time he was terrified by them.

“Well, now I have seen it,” he said to himself. “These are those abominations which prompted God to demand the slaying of entire peoples.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt two)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

Her father lay on the bed. He was barefoot and in torn clothes. He seldom undressed. She couldn’t tell whether he was asleep or just resting. Her mother and her sister Basha were busy braiding a rope of straw. The bed that Jan Bzik lay on was the only one in the hut; the whole family slept in it, Wanda included. Years before when her brother Antek had still been unmarried Jan Bzik would have intercourse with his wife before going to sleep and the children would have something to amuse them. But Antek no longer lived at home and the couple had become too old for such games. Everyone expected Jan Bzik to die shortly. Antek who was anxious to take over the house appeared every few days to ask shamelessly, “Well, is the old man still alive?”

“Yes, still alive,” his mother would answer. She also wanted to be rid of this nuisance. He wasn’t worth the bread he ate. He had become weak, morose, irritable. All day he belched. Like a beaver, he kept gathering wood, but the thin, crooked logs he brought home were only good for the fire.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, excerpt one)

from The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer:

But this was not true of the girls who slept in the barn and tended the sheep. Night and day they bothered him. Attracted by his tall figure, they sought him out and talked and laughed and behaved little better than beasts. In his presence they relieved themselves, and they were perpetually pulling up their skirts to show him insect bites on their hips and thighs. “Lay me,” a girl would shamelessly demand, but Jacob acted as if he were deaf and blind. It was not only because fornication was a mortal sin. These women were unclean, and had vermin in their clothes and elflocks in their hair; often their skins were covered with rashes and boils, they ate field rodents and the rotting carcasses of fowls. Some of them could scarcely speak Polish, grunted like animals, made signs with their hands, screamed and laughed madly. The village abounded in cripples, boys and girls with goiters, distended heads and disfiguring birth marks; there were also mutes, epileptics, freaks who had been born with six fingers on their hands and six toes on the feet. In summer, the parents of these deformed children kept them on the mountains with the cattle, and they ran wild. There, men and women copulated in public; the women became pregnant, but, climbing as they did all day on the rocks, bearing heavy packs, they often miscarried. The district had no midwife and mothers in labor were forced to cut the umbilical cord themselves. If the child died, they buried it in a ditch without Christian rites or else threw it into the mountain stream. Often, the women bled to death. If someone descended to the valley to fetch Dziobak, the priest, to confess the dying and administer Extreme Unction, nothing came of it. Dziobak had a game leg and besides he was always drunk.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt seven)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

You look hot, babe, it says. You could pass for twenty-five.

Quintessence of dust, I say. The reflection turns to preen its backside, taut in black spandex.

I quote First Peter: The holy women of the past used to adorn themselves with a gentle and quiet spirit.

Women over fifty, the reflection says, are the only ones who believe that. I know why you’re down here. You’re looking for some action before you get old.

That’s not it, I say. I’m trying to mortify all that.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode seventeen with comedian Wendy Liebman

"I wanted to be a go-go dancer. I really, really, really wanted to be a go-go dancer in the white vinyl boots and the big earrings, in a cage, dancing. Or else I wanted to be a notary public."

from the 17th installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with comedian Wendy Liebman.

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt six)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

With fall coming on, in the sunlight of the clearing, leaves shrinking into bright stipple above us, we practiced being Awake to the Present Moment. Some of us mastered being still for such long periods of time that when we moved a limb we had to disentangle it from the kudzu. Lovely, we said, observing the coiling vines, purple flowers dotting our forearms, shins. Our children stayed in the woods. Sometimes we glimpsed them in the trees, peering down at us, hair hanging loose, obscuring their faces.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt five)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

We asked Teddy Ellison to give us a bid on the demolition. Outside the sanctuary, Teddy ran his hands over the stones, his eyes wide.

Do you realize what you’ve got here?

We said we didn’t.

Pick any ten-by-ten section of this wall. What’s the smallest stone you see?

We pointed to stones eighteen inches in diameter.

Do you know what that means? Teddy asked.

We said we didn’t.

No plugs, Teddy said. Every stone laid out on the ground and fitted together like a puzzle. Before construction.

He paused.

No one builds like this anymore, he said.

We allowed ourselves a moment to regret living in an aesthetically denigrated era, one in which the use of plugs was no longer considered a blight on artistry.

Then we called in the wrecking crew.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt four)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

When the pastor announces a death in our congregation, he uses Saint Paul’s metaphor: “Tom Huskins finished his race last Wednesday.” As a runner, I have always liked that image. That would be the thing to think, on your deathbed—that at the end of yourself, you still had control. But now I see the metaphor only works for people who live to old age. They get to run the whole course.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt three)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

Unless there’s a truck in front of you, it takes seven minutes to drive up from Chattanooga to the top of Lookout. When you cross the Tennessee/Georgia line, the trees open up so you can see the view beyond the rusted guardrail. WELCOME—WE’RE GLAD GEORGIA’S ON YOUR MIND, the sign says. But Georgia isn’t on my mind. What’s on my mind is the cliff on my left and the sheer limestone wall on my right.

At the top is the town of Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Turn right, drive four blocks, and you’re in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Two states, one town. Population, just over five thousand. The two-state thing was a selling point with the kids. “You can trick-or-treat in Georgia and Tennessee,” we told them.

Some houses span the border. In these cases, state of residence depends on the master bedroom: if it’s in Georgia, then you live in Georgia, even if the rest of the house is in Tennessee. The story goes that one man spent a year converting his garage into a master suite because he wanted to live in Tennessee, where there’s no state income tax. After he’d changed his address and moved his furniture, he found his property taxes had doubled.

Monday, July 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt two)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

She walked to the end of the driveway, turned, and started up the gradual incline to the top of their street. It was at least a hundred degrees already. At the top of the street she had to sit down. She folded, pretzel style, onto the steaming asphalt next to an armless saguaro. She felt the sun on her shoulders and knew that freckled red patches were forming on either side of the straps of her tank top. There was something godless about the desert. General revelation didn’t apply here. The notion that even if you’d never heard of God you could intuit something of Him through nature—it didn’t work in this wilderness of succulents. Only the Native Americans had learned how to bend the plants to human use, fashioning the ribs of dead saguaros into spears so they could reach up and slice off the fruits. Maybe that was the revelation of the desert: God helps those who help themselves. Well, hadn’t she done that?

She stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. She would choose to believe the anointing had worked. That there would be some change. That she and Mitch would embrace and begin the path toward healing. God would never give her more than she could handle. It said that in the Bible. Nothing beyond what you can bear. She and Mitch were only being tested, refined like silver.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

r.i.p., faye hunter

the last book I ever read (Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More, excerpt one)

from Jamie Quatro's I Want To Show You More: Stories:

“Come on in,” Diane said when the pastor and elders arrived. “Mitch is expecting you.” She thought they’d have a small vial, like a test tube—maybe something crystal—but Pastor Murray stepped in carrying a family-sized bottle of Wesson Oil. Diane was startled, not just by the oil (would something from Sam’s Club work?), but by the image of Florence Henderson that popped into her head, wearing padded mittens and frying up a mess of chicken.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt six)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . Around that time, Nuria left Z without saying a word to me. According to Laia, she went to live with a friend in Barcelona, where had found work. Lola and our son moved to Gerona. Alex had started getting ready to close down the jewelry stores, the campground and the hotel (the Cartago would stay open through the winter, as usual) and only emerged from his office for meals. There were very few people left in the campground, except for a group of retired vacationers run wild, who threw a party every night as if they could sense death approaching . . .

Friday, July 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt five)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . She had only seen him about three times since he started work, and that wasn’t normal. I tried to reassure her by explaining that he was a poet; she replied that her boyfriend, the Peruvian, was a poet too, but he didn’t behave like that. Like a zombie. I didn’t feel like arguing with her. Especially when, examining her fingernails, she remarked that poetry was a waste of time. She was right; on the planet of happy eunuch and zombies, poetry is a waste of time . . .

Thursday, July 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt four)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . I’m a rookie in this hell-hole of a town, said the Rookie when I asked him how he got his name. A rookie, a newbie at the age of forty-eight, a hick who doesn’t know his way around the traps, and has no friends to help him out. He earned a bit of money salvaging stuff from dumpsters, and spent the rest of the day hanging around bars away from the beach, on the edges of Z, where the tourists don’t go, or clinging like a limpet to the ever-unpredictable Carmen. She had dubbed him the Rookie, and it sounded best coming from her: Rookie, do this; Rookie, do that; Tell me your woes, Rookie; Time for a drink, Rookie. When Carmen said “Rookie,” you could hear the background music of an Andalusian street, full of poor draftees on leave, looking for a cheap rooming house or a train to save them from the disaster foreseen in recurring dreams . . .

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt three)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . Around that time I dreamed of the ice rink again. It was like the extension of an earlier dream: outside, the world was subjected to a temperature of 105 degrees in the shade, while inside the Palacio Benvingut, the glacial chill of the air was cracking the old mirrors. The dream began precisely when I put on the skates and went gliding, without the slightest effort, over the smooth white surface, whose purity, it seemed to me, was peerless. A deep and final silence enveloped everything . . .

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt two)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . In the place where I had left the tent, I found a box of those flags that are strung up at the entrances to campgrounds in a show of internationalism; successive seasons of exposure to the weather had practically destroyed them. The Peruvian began to pull out the flags and name them one by one, nostalgically, like an ex-jailbird reciting the names of the prisons in which his youth had been consumed: Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada . . . Except for the United States, I’ve lived in all these countries, he said. A few yards away, against a rickety wardrobe, was the tent . . .

Monday, July 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink, excerpt one)

from Roberto Bolaño's The Skating Rink:

. . . Lying awake at night of late, I have often wondered what prompted me to take her to the Palacio Benvingut for the first time. As well as love—whose attempts to please generally come to grief—The Blue Lagoon is to blame. Yes, I’m referring to the film, that old movie starring Brooke Shields. To be thoroughly honest, and to be indulge your curiosity, I should disclose that the whole Martí family loved The Blue Lagoon: Nuria, her mother and her sister Laia simply couldn’t get enough of Brooke and Nick’s adventures in Paradise. Have you seen The Blue Lagoon? Even after sitting through the video five times, in the little lounge of Nuria’s apartment, I couldn’t find any cinematic merit in it . . .

Sunday, July 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt fourteen)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

The Federal Reserve, which was created expressly to prevent speculative excesses, also failed in its duty. If anybody had the legal, moral, and intellectual authority to prick the bubble, it was Alan Greenspan, but he refused to exercise this power until it was too late. After his “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, Greenspan rarely mentioned the stock market, and when he did it was usually to say that prices reflected the actions of well-informed investors. Greenspan had some valid reasons for adopting a hands-off policy. The long economic expansion that accompanied the stock market boom reduced welfare rolls, raised wages for the poor, and drew many previously excluded members of society into the mainstream. Greenspan was also understandably reluctant to raise interest rates when there was no sign of inflation, but rising consumer prices are not the only sign of an unbalanced economy. During the late 1990s a soaring trade deficit, a plunging savings rate, and sharply rising indebtedness all indicated that the stock market was driving the economy into an increasingly precarious position. Still Greenspan stood aside—a fact that cannot be totally separated from his ideological beliefs.

As a fervent disciple of the free market, Greenspan believed that people’s investment decisions were largely their own concern, even if they didn’t make sense. When Nobel Prize-winning economists warned publicly about a dangerous speculative bubble developing, Greenspan refused to act. As a faithful apostle of Ayn Rand, he believed that American capitalism was renewing itself before his eyes. In speech after speech, he stressed the historic changes that were sweeping the economy thanks to the application of information technology. The New Economy thesis would never have become so widely accepted if Greenspan hadn’t seized upon it and made it his own. He liked to play the role of professor, hedging his public statements with qualifications, but Wall Street ignored these nuances, especially when it was repackaging his lectures for distribution to investors. The message passed to the public was unequivocal: the Fed chairman believed that the New Economy was a reality, therefore higher stock prices were justified. Greenspan knew this was happening, and he did little to stop it.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt thirteen)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

With the help of a research firm, Pegasus Research International, Willoughby had examined the financial statements of more than two hundred Internet companies. For each firm, he calculated the rate at which it was spending money, the “burn rate,” and compared this to the cash and marketable securities on its balance sheet. His conclusion: within twelve months at least fifty Internet firms would have no money left. Among the companies facing immediate problems were CDNOW, whose takeover by Time Warner and Sony had recently fallen through; Peapod, the online grocery; and, the medical Web site set up by Dr. C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. surgeon general. The situation facing many other firms was only slightly less dire. would run out of money in four and a half months; and had enough cash to last nine months; eToys would be out of money in eleven months.

The Barron’s piece was the most damaging piece of journalism that the Internet boom had produced, but most devastating of all was its timing. Investors had been tacitly assuming that Internet companies, whatever their losses, would always be able to raise more cash by issuing more stock. For a long time, this had been a reasonable assumption, but given the setbacks already suffered by a number of Internet stocks it no longer was. Investors were increasingly wary of putting more money into collapsed Internet stocks. The Barron’s article pointed out what would happen if the cash spigot got turned off permanently, and Internet companies were left to fend for themselves.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt twelve)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

In the stock market, the rush to embrace technology continued. In the first three days of March, the Nasdaq gained another two hundred points. On March 2, 3Com, a Silicon Valley telecommunications equipment manufacturer, issued shares in its Palm Computing subsidiary. The underwriters originally estimated the issue price at $12 to $14, but demand was so strong that on the eve of the offering they raised the price to $38. When trading started, the stock surged almost $60, closing at 95 1/16. At that price, Palm’s $54.3 billion stock market valuation dwarfed the $28 billion valuation of its parent company, 3Com. To a connoisseur of Wall Street mathematics, there was a certain beauty in these numbers. Since 3Com still owned the 95 percent of Palm’s stock that hadn’t been issued, the market was placing an implicit value on the rest of the company of about negative $22 billion.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt eleven)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

IVillage’s IPO, which took place in March 1999, was another milestone. The women’s Web site, which had fourteen “channels” covering subjects like relationships, health, and astrology, had been racked by management turmoil ever since Candace Carpenter, a former executive at QVC and Time Life, founded it in 1995. In three years, iVillage had burned through more than $65 million. In 1998 alone it lost $43.7 million on revenues of just $15 million. When Morgan Stanley turned down the opportunity to take iVillage public, Goldman Sachs stepped in and placed its reputation on the line. This seemed to have been a dubious decision when, a week before the IPO, one of iVillage’s four former chief financial officers accused the firm of using “inappropriate” accounting practices to boost its scant revenues. “Based on my experience at, and my knowledge of, iVillage, I would not be comfortable today being the chief financial officer taking this company public,” Joanne O’Rourke Hindman, who had previously spent twelve years working for The Washington Post Company, said in a statement. In other circumstances, such a charge, which iVillage strongly denied, would surely have derailed an unproven company’s IPO. But investors ignored Hindman’s allegations, and Goldman pressed ahead. A few days before the IPO was due to take place, the investment bank raised the estimated issue price to $22 to $24, from $12 to $14. On March 19, 3.65 million iVillage shares started trading on the Nasdaq and jumped from $24 to $80, a rise of 233 percent. At the end of its first day as a public company, iVillage was valued at about $1.9 billion, and Carpenter was worth $80 million. Even by Internet standards, this was a startling valuation for a troubled company that faced imminent competition from Oprah Winfrey and the Walt Disney Company. (Winfrey and Disney had both invested in a rival multi-media company aimed at women, Oxygen Media).

Meeker was stunned. “With every IPO the envelope is being pushed a little further and a little further,” she told a reporter from The New Yorker, who was working on a profile of her, a few days after iVillage’s Wall Street debut. “At some point you have to scream, Uncle.” These days, when Meeker went to see Internet entrepreneurs they weren’t content to make tens, or even hundreds, of millions of dollars in an IPO: they wanted billions. Many of them compared their firms to Yahoo! or eBay, which were now valued at $35 billion and $20 billion, respectively. If Meeker expressed any doubts about the prospects of achieving such a valuation, the entrepreneurs would choose another investment bank to take them public. “We are seeing the second generation of Internet entrepreneurs, and they have market cap envy of the Jerry Yangs and Marc Andreessens,” Meeker complained. “Their expectations are starting at a much higher level. The first generation was, like, ‘Hey, isn’t this great? I’m a billionaire. Well, that’s kind of embarrassing. What am I going to do with all this stuff?’ The next generation is saying, ‘Well, if he’s a billionaire, then I’ve gotta be a billionaire too.’”

Friday, July 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt ten)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

Pierre Omidyar, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who left France when he was six, founded eBay in September 1995. According to many media accounts of the firm’s genesis, Omidyar was motivated by his girlfriend, who complained that she didn’t have enough trading partners for her growing collection of Pez dispensers. Randall Stross, in his exhaustively researched book eBoys, tells a fuller and more convincing story. During a previous incarnation, as the cofounder of Ink Development, a company that made software for pen-based computers, Omidyar oversaw the development of a back-end system to handle sales and accounting. In 1995, he decided, on a whim, to write some software that would allow people selling things online to conduct an electronic auction. He posted the service on a home page, which he called www.AuctionWeb, and let people use it for nothing. Omidyar didn’t do any advertising, but word of his new site spread, and by the end of 1995 it was getting a couple of thousand hits a day.

In February 1996, Omidyar started charging sellers a small fee. Within a few months he was taking in $10,000 a month, which represented the commissions on the sales of fishing lures, coins, rare magazines, golf clubs, and all sorts of things. He left his day job, changed the site’s name to eBay, and recruited a partner, Jeff Skoll, a Canadian-born engineer, to help him run it. Despite the continued absence of any marketing, the number of listings was doubling every two months. In the fall of 1996, Omidyar approached Bruce Dunlevie, a VC he had worked with while he was at Ink Development. Dunlevie was now a partner at Benchmark Capital, a newish firm that had been founded in 1995. Dunlevie introduced Omidyar to one of his colleagues, Bob Kagle, who, after some initial reluctance, agreed to invest about $5 million for a 20 percent stake in eBay.

This $5 million was probably the best venture capital investment of all time. In early 1998, Meg Whitman, a senior executive at Hasbro, the toy manufacturer, agreed to join eBay as chief executive in preparation for an IPO later in the year. Whitman had hardly heard of eBay when she was approached about the job, but its growth rate impressed her, and so did its business model. Unlike and most other e-commerce companies, eBay had no inventory or shipping costs and really was a virtual company. It brought the buyer and seller together, charged the seller a commission of between 1.25 percent and 5 percent, then left the two parties to sort out how to get the auctioned good from point A to point B. As a result, its gross profit margins were about 90 percent.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt nine)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

In late October and early November 1998, Internet stocks shot up, none more dramatically than eBay. The online auctioneer had been the only Internet firm to go public during the international financial crisis. On September 24, 1998, Goldman Sachs issued 3.5 million eBay shares at $18, and the stock closed at 47 3/8, a first-day pop of about 160 percent. This sterling performance amid an investor panic reflected the widespread fascination with eBay’s Web site, on which everything from Beanie Babies to tropical islands was being sold to the highest bidder. EBay was one of the few online ventures that exploited the Internet to provide a service that couldn’t otherwise have been provided; and it was also one of the few Internet IPO candidates to have recorded a profit: $215,000 on revenues of $14.9 million in the first half of 1999.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt eight)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

Jeff Bezos,’s founder, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on January 12, 1964. His parents separated before his birth, and he never knew his biological father. Bezos’s mother remarried a Cuban immigrant, Miguel Bezos, a petroleum engineer for Exxon. From an early age, Bezos was an overachiever. At Palmetto High School in Pensacola, Florida, where he was the valedictorian of the class of 1982, he wrote a term paper entitled “The Effect of Zero Gravity on the Aging Rate of the Common Housefly,” which won him a trip to NASA. His valedictorian speech was a call for man to colonize space. He got a place at Princeton, where he entered the honors physics program but switched to electrical engineering and computer science after he discovered that other students were even smarter than he was.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt seven)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

Many mutual fund managers carried on buying stocks even though they believed them to be overvalued, which was not necessarily irrational. At the end of every quarter, fund managers are assessed relative to their peers in a series of published league tables. In this environment, following the herd is often the optimal strategy, especially during a bull market. If stock prices continue to rise during a given quarter, the fund manager who keeps all his money in the market will look clever at the end of it. If the market crashes, and the fund manager’s stocks do badly, most of his competitors will look equally stupid, so he will probably retain his job. Only by stepping out of line and selling, which is what Vinik did, does the fund manager risk his position. Trapped in this logic, the vast majority of fund managers tend to keep buying stocks regardless of their prices, which makes the market even more overvalued.

The idea that rational behavior on the part of individual investors can lead to an irrational outcome—a speculative bubble—dates back at least to Charles McKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In his account of the South Sea bubble of 1720, Mackay stressed that most of those involved knew that the promise of riches from the South Sea trade was a myth, and that many of the bubble companies were fraudulent, but they saw the chance to make some quick money and seized it. In the memorable words of an English banker who took part in the bubble: “When the rest of the world is mad, we must imitate them in some measure.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt six)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

Morgan Stanley was just one of many investment banks trying to capitalize on the growth of the World Wide Web. Most of the ventures that they marketed were “concept” stocks—companies that seemed to encapsulate a big idea. In February 1996, Hambrecht & Quist and Robertson, Stephens issued 2 million shares in a Silicon Valley company called CyberCash at $17 each. Within a week the shares were trading at more than $50. William Melton, the man behind CyberCash, had already made a fortune by cornering the market in the electronic terminals that stores use to verify credit card numbers. In August 1994, Melton came out of retirement and founded CyberCash, which developed software to protect the security of online credit card transactions. With its catchy name, CyberCash had no shortage of media attention, but it did have a shortage of customers. In the seventeen months between its incorporation and its decision to go public, the firm’s total revenues were zero—though it did manage to accumulate losses of more than $10 million. This record presented something of a challenge to stick-in-the-mud stock analysts that liked to go by the numbers. After Standard & Poor’s refused to recommend CyberCash’s stock, Mark Basham, an analyst at the ratings agency, explained apologetically: “The lack of any sales was a major negative in our rating.”

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode sixteen, with "the reigning queen of LDS romantic fiction" Anita Stansfield

"You know, a year ago I didn’t know that I had cancer."

from the 16th installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, this with "the reigning queen of LDS romantic fiction" Anita Stansfield.

Her next novel, The Garden Path, will be published on August 1st.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt five)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

In late 1995 and early 1996, few were willing to consider the possibility that Internet advertising might prove to be a bust. Kevin O’Connor, a Michigan-born engineer and entrepreneur, had recently started DoubleClick, the first Internet advertising agency, in New York’s Flatiron District, which was rapidly becoming known as Silicon Alley because of the large number of Internet-related companies that were springing up there. DoubleClick was a joint venture between O’Connor and his partner, Dwight Merriman, and the advertising agency Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt. Its software allowed ads to be targeted to specific groups, based on occupation, geographic origin, and several other characteristics. DoubleClick sold banner ads on most of the popular Web sites, including Netscape, America Online, and Yahoo! To begin with, Netscape’s home page, the default home page for anybody who had a Netscape Navigator browser, was the most popular ad buy. DoubleClick’s success prompted other agencies to set up Internet divisions. Disappointing results from the earliest online advertising were either ignored or reinterpreted in a positive manner. Forrester Research, a company that was making a name as a bullish interpreter of Internet trends, estimated that online advertising would increase from an estimated $37 million in 195 to $700 million in 1998. (Later in 1996, Forrester would raise its 1998 forecast to $1 billion.)

The growth of service firms like DoubleClick and Forrester Research demonstrated how the growth of Internet industry was starting to feed on itself. Every new Internet venture employed a new group of people with a vested interest in boosting the online economy. The most powerful boosters were to be found on Wall Street, where the Netscape IPO had legitimated a new business model—one to which earnings and balance sheets didn’t matter. In the Internet era, the game was to raise money from investors, clamber aboard an exponential growth curve, and worry about revenues and profits later. Mary Meeker, a thirty-five-year-old stock analyst at Morgan Stanley, was one of this strategy’s strongest defenders. Meeker was supposed to provide Morgan Stanley’s clients with objective advice about the technology companies she covered and about the wider trends affecting the computer industry. Traditionally, stock analysts were pretty low down the Wall Street pecking order, since they didn’t bring in any money directly, but Meeker would help change that.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt four)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

Clark stood to make a lot of money if Netscape went public, but that wasn’t his only consideration. He was hearing rumors that Spyglass, the company that had licensed the Mosaic browser from the University of Illinois, was preparing to do an IPO, and he didn’t want to be left behind. A successful stock offering would produce a lot of publicity, which would be immensely valuable to a young company like Netscape. In the old days, firms went public because they needed money to expand, but in the 1990s IPOs had turned into marketing events. “I continued to preach the gospel, assuring the unsaved that the Internet was their salvation,” Clark later wrote. “But we needed something else to get the world’s attention. More marketing bullshit! For a tiny little company with modest but exploding revenues, what was the biggest marketing event of all?”

There was yet another reason to move quickly, which Clark didn’t like to acknowledge publicly. At some point soon, Microsoft was bound to react to Netscape’s growing popularity, which was a potential threat to its grip on the PC desktop. Microsoft monopolized the market for PC operating systems with Windows, and the market for PC applications with Microsoft Office. Bill Gates had been slow to realize the importance of the Internet, but he was finally coming to his senses. Earlier in 1995, Microsoft had licensed Spyglass’s technology in order to shop a Web browser with Windows 95 and the Microsoft Network, both of which were due to be launched in August. Netscape Navigator was a superior browser to Spyglass’s Mosaic, but Clark knew that Gates was unlikely to stop there. Before very long, Microsoft was sure to attack the Web browser market in a more serious manner. If Netscape was going to issue stock, it made sense to do so while the competition was sparse.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt three)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

With demand for Internet-related companies increasing, the investment bankers set about increasing the supply. The first candidates were the Internet service providers, which were enjoying strong growth. In December 1994, Netcom On-Line Communications Services, an ISP based in San Jose, issued 1.85 million shares in a stock offering organized by Volpe, Welty & Company, a small investment bank based in San Francisco. The media didn’t pay much attention to the Netcom IPO, but Wall Street did. The stock was issued at $13, valuing Netcom at more than $85 million. Since Netcom didn’t make any profits or pay any dividends, its stock was priced on the basis of a new formula: value per subscriber. Netcom certainly had subscribers—about 41,500 of them—and they had to be worth something. At $13 a share, each one of them was valued at about $2,100—more than twice the value that the stock market was attributing to cable television subscribers. This was despite the fact that Internet service providers charged about $20 a month, while cable companies charged upwards of $30 a month. There was no obvious reason why Internet users should be valued so highly, but even at this early stage Internet stock valuation wasn’t based on reason. It was based on hope and hype. The new valuation formulas were primarily an attempt to rationalize the fervor of investors. “This is a rocket that has been launched,” Eric Schmidt, a senior executive at Sun Microsystems, declared shortly after the Netcom IPO. “There’s no one who can stop it.”

Within a few months of going public, Netcom’s stock price had doubled, thereby justifying the new valuation formula, at least in the eyes of its progenitors. In the spring of 1995, two more ISPs went public at outlandish prices. PSINet, a Virginia company that had lost more than $10 million during the previous year, sold 3.8 million shares at $12 each, valuing the company at $431 million. UUNet, which was also based in Virginia, sold 4.725 million shares at $14 each, and its stock price almost doubled on the first day. Goldman Sachs, the most prestigious firm on Wall Street, underwrote the UUNet offering, and the sight of the mighty Goldman giving its imprimatur to Internet stocks raised the industry to a new level of respectability.

Monday, July 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt two)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

The early hypertext systems inspired a devoted band of enthusiasts, but it would be another twenty-five years before the invention of the World Wide Web. The reasons for the delay were technological and sociological. In the late 1960s, computers were big, expensive, difficult to program, and largely incompatible. They didn’t communicate easily, and neither did many of their users, who tended to be young men with long greasy hair, thick glasses, and an obsessive interest in science fiction. The computer “geeks” tended to congregate in university science departments, where, for reasons of economy and camaraderie, they often worked through the night. Many of them held the outside world in contempt, and the feeling was generally reciprocated.

It took the emergence of the personal computer to bring down the barriers between the computer literate and the rest of society. In 1971, Ted Hoff, an engineer at Intel, a technology firm based in Northern California, invented the microprocessor—a computer on a silicon chip the size of a thumbnail. By today’s standards, Hoff’s microchip was primitive—it contained 2,300 transistors, had a memory of 1,024 bits, and ran at 0.5 megahertz; Intel’s Pentium 4 chip contains 55 million transistors, has a memory of 512 kilobytes, and runs at 3.06 gigahertz—but it was a truly historic invention. Once Hoff had demonstrated that a computer didn’t have to be the size of a room, the profit motive did the rest. In 1975, Ed Roberts, the founder of MITS, a calculator company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, put a microchip in a box with a screen and called his invention the Altair, after a star featured in Star Trek. The following year, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, two high school dropouts in Menlo Park, California, used the Altair as the basis for the Apple I, the first commercially successful microcomputer. In 1977, a Harvard dropout, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen, his high school friend, wrote some software for the Altair and set up a company to market it, which they called Microsoft. Four years later, Gates and Allen licensed a version of their software to IBM, the mainframe computer giant, which used it in a new product line: the IBM Personal Computer.

the last book I ever read (dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, excerpt one)

from John Cassidy's dot.con: How America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era:

The Internet story begins with a familiar figure in American history: the Yankee inventor. Vannevar Bush (no relation to the political family of the same name) was born into a middle-class family in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in March 1890. Adept with numbers and fascinated by gadgets, he studied engineering at Tufts University, where, in 1913, he invented a device to measure distances over uneven ground. Made from a bicycle wheel, a rotating drum, some gears, and a pen, this contraption, which was called a Prolific Tracer, earned Bush a master’s degree and his first patent. Two years later, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology jointly awarded him a Ph.D. for his research into how electrical currents behave in power lines. Bush then moved into the private sector. He returned to academic life in 1919, joining the electrical engineering faculty at MIT, where he was to remain until the Second World War.

During the interwar years, a series of revolutionary inventions transformed daily life. For the first time, ordinary Americans gained access to electricity, motor cars, refrigerators, and radios. Economists spoke of a “New Era” of technology-based prosperity. The stock market crash of October 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression put paid to such language, but scientific progress continued unabated, especially in Bush’s field of electrical engineering, where useful applications seemed to emerge from the laboratory every week. MIT has always had close links to industry, and Bush lent his expertise to numerous manufacturing ventures, including firms that later became part of Texas Instruments and the Raytheon Corporation.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt six)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

Then the Perimeter Violation Alarm sounds. Lydia rushes out ahead of me, gnawing on a roaster and shading her lidless eyes. Per specs we dash to the front gate, where a dozen members of Austerity are singing minor-key hymns and throwing buckets of black paint at our retaining wall. As usual one of them is dressed as Death Eating Chips to protest the reemergence of wasteful packaging practices. Austerity considers us decadent. They hate the fact that we market opulence. They kill a cow per family per year and use every single part. They make candles from the bone marrow and pudding from the brains. They boil the fat to make soap and use the leftovers to grease their looms. Their faces are pale and they have bony knuckles from so often going around with their fists clenched. The women all look depressed and wear bonnets. In their camps everybody works. The children work and the elderly work and the handicapped work. At one camp they had a baldheaded lunatic who paced and paced while reciting Browning, so they tethered him to the water well and he wore a circular trough into the ground, but not before producing hundreds of useful gallons.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt five)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

Every morning four minivans pull up and eighty kids pile out and one supervising adult with a magazine. All day long the kids run wild, indiscriminately pushing the interactive exhibit buttons. Today a group of them surround me and ask why I’m wearing a nightgown. I tell them it’s no nightgown, it’s a frock. One cute little fellow says the hell it is. A little girl calls me Grandma and asks if she can try on my wing harness and I say certainly. The minute she gets it on, however, she makes an obscene gesture and runs off. Those wings are fifteen dollars to replace. I can’t afford that. I’m old and stiff but finally I get her cornered near the Audio Enhancement Module. Just as I get my hands on my wings the supervising adult comes rushing up and says how dare I hamper the child’s self-esteem by being critical of her impulses? She tells the little girl that if she takes the wings out into the hall she’ll be free to explore and grow as she sees fit. Then she stands in my path and glares at me.

An hour later the children have left and my wings have not been returned.

So I go down to Administration to break the news to Mr. Spencer, Cleaning Coordinator, praying in my heart for a time-deferred payroll deduction.

Friday, July 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt four)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

At noon another load of raccoons comes in and Claude takes them out back of the office and executes them with a tire iron. Then he checks for vitals, wearing protective gloves. Then he drags the cage across 209 and initiates burial by dumping the raccoons into the pit that’s our little corporate secret. After burial comes prayer, a personal touch that never fails to irritate Tim, our ruthless CEO. Before founding Humane Raccoon Alternatives, Tim purposely backed his car over a frat boy and got ten-to-twelve for manslaughter. In jail he earned his MBA by designing and marketing a line of light-up Halloween lapel brooches. Now he gives us the brooches as performance incentives and sporadically trashes a bookshelf or two to remind us of his awesome temper and of how ill-advised we would be to cross him in any way whatsoever.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt three)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

So I dive in and drag her out. It’s not very deep and the bottom’s rubber-matted. None of the Basques are bright enough to switch off the Leaping Trout Subroutine however, so twice I get scraped with little fiberglass fins. Finally I get her out on the pine needles and she comes to and spits in my face and says I couldn’t possibly know the darkness of her heart. Try me, I say. She crawls away and starts bashing her skull against a tree trunk. The trees are synthetic too. But still.

I pin her arms behind her and drag her to the Main Office where they chain her weeping to the safe. A week later she runs amok in the nun eating hall and stabs a cafeteria worker to death.

So the upshot of it all is more guilt for me, Mr. Guilt.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt two)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

All night I have bad dreams about severed hands. In one I’m eating chili and a hand comes out of my bowl and gives me the thumbs-down. I wake up with a tingling wrist. Evelyn says if I insist on sleeping uneasily would I mind doing it on the couch, since she has a family to care for during the day and this requires a certain amount of rest. I think about confessing to her but then I realize if I do she’ll nail me.

The nights when she’d fall asleep with her cheek on my thigh are certainly long past.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

the last book I ever read (CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders, excerpt one)

from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders:

Is this the life I envisioned for myself? My God no. I wanted to be a high jumper. But I have two of the sweetest children ever born. I go in at night and look at them in their fairly expensive sleepers and think: There are a couple of kids who don’t need to worry about freezing to death or being cast out to the wolves. You should see their little eyes light up when I bring home a treat. They may not know the value of a dollar, but it’s my intention to see that they never need to.

I’m filling out Grayson’s Employee Retrospective when I hear gunshots from the perimeter. I run out and there’s Quinn and a few of his men tied to the cannon. The gang guys took Quinn’s pants and put some tiny notches in his penis with their knives. I free Quinn and tell him to get over to the Infirmary to guard against infection. He’s absolutely shaking and can hardly walk, so I wrap him up in a Confederate flag and call over a hay cart and load him in.

When I tell Mr. A he says: Garbage in, garbage out, and that we were idiots for expecting a milquetoast to save our rears.

Monday, July 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, excerpt twelve)

from Richard Hell's I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp:

My booking agent/manager, Singerman, was a really solid guy. He has old-fashioned ideas of loyalty and he also believed in my talent. He was not the classic intimidator type of music-business manager. He worked hard and he thought up angles, but he didn’t have the aggressive ruthlessness it takes to make it in that business. He was more like Woody Allen in Broadway Danny Rose, trying to get bookings for the lady with the costumed parrots. He handled a lot of the striving new underground groups, like the Fleshtones and Gun Club and the Bush Tetras. It was OK for me because I was more or less his top act. I confided to him my plans with Lizzy. I told him I wanted to take advantage of Michael’s offer and spend a few months in Paris, away from drugs, sealing my freedom from them and focusing on the writing of the book I had in mind (a version of Jake’s road-trip book). When Lizzy returned from Africa, we’d get married. Singerman agreed to bankroll the trip. He’d advance me all expenses for Paris.