Commodify Your Dissent

Collection of essays from the defunct but missed Baffler, a magazine that aimed and fired right into the heart of our advertising-based age. Ads use rebellion against us– rebellion is cool, buy our product to rebel, taking the wind out of the sails of true rebellion.
The essays are filled with smart writing, from taking down Quentin Tarrantino as a hack director who stole all his good bits, to assailing record producers who want to make everyone sound like the Beatles, to the faux list of new words introduced by the “grunge scene” of 1990s Seattle (which got picked up and printed verbatim by the NYT, oops!)

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Kafka was the Rage

Although not able to digest much more than food on Thanksgiving, I devoured and gorged on this book. Broyard shares his intimate life in Greenwich Village during the 1946 post-war timeframe, when everyone was still figuring out sex, philosophy, psychoanalysis. The writerly types were caught up in their words, some shunning real life for the safety of books, Broyard embracing all of it by dancing in Spanish Harlem and still writing for the Paris Review.
On his friend, Saul, dying of leukemia:
“He went into the hospital a couple of days after that. When I telephoned him, his mother was always beside the bed. Then one day someone else answered and said that Saul was no longer there. When I called his mother, she said, He’s dead. That’s the word she used. She pronounced both d’s. ”

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Lying on the Couch

There’s something weird about reading a signed copy of the book from the Mission branch library. Psychoanalysis drama – Ernest with his patients Justin (who leaves wife Carol, who revenges herself on Justin by going to Ernest with the intent to discredit him), Marshal as Ernest’s mentor but a shrink who has his own problems getting swindled by a con man, twice. Shelley the husband who gambles, goes to Marshal, learns of his poker tells, gets back in the game. Norma is Shelley’s wife, friend to Carol, who comes over to comfort her the night Justin leaves, when Carol is raging about hit men and various other schemes.
Middle-brow literature– a quick story that is entirely enjoyable to read, but leaves you feeling a little dirty. But the read was time well spent. Thanks to Stephanie for the recommendation!

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What Color Is your Parachute?

As I was reading this crap, I cried out, “Why do I subject myself to these books?” The Max sagely pointed out that I was seeking an answer, and leaving no stone unturned. Well, consider this book crossed off the list, with zero actionable bits.
Filled with common sense items about the importance of networking, the necessity to ask for the job at the end of the interview, the smart process of not blanketing the city with resumes but targeting a few companies for your efforts. Nothing groundbreaking here. I won’t belittle him his chapter on how to use the Internet, either.
Measuring Interests:
* Princeton Review Career Quiz (free registration required)
* Analyze my Career
* John Holland’s Self-Directed Search (recommended as the “queen of tests” by the book, whatever that means. Awful looking website.)
* CareerPlanner.com‘s test
* Career Interests Game
* Career Key
* Career Tests at HotJobs
After taking the Princeton Review, here are careers I should be well suited for. How do I wrap astronomer, economist, sommelier and food service manager into one role?!
# Accountant/Auditor
# Actuary
# Astronomer
# Bookkeeper
# Court Reporter
# Dental Lab Technician
# Economist
# Financial Aid Officer
# Financial Analyst
# Foreign Exchange Trader
# Health Care Administrator
# Office Manager
# Sommelier
# Surveyor
# Corporate Lawyer
# Business Valuator
# Financial Planner
# Internet/Intranet Technologies Manager
# Geneticist
# Hospital Administrator
# Quality Assurance Engineer
# Research Technician
# Small Business Owner
# Systems Administrator
# Systems Analyst
# Venture Capitalist/ Investor
# Auditor
# Consultant
# Food Service Manager

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Odds and Ends: Type the Sky, Poetry on Demand, and a Living Library

Topic 1:

Very cool Deutsch artist (Künstlerin), Lisa Rienermann
, has a project where she’s created the alphabet out of the intersection of the sky with buildings.

(via PSFK)
Topic 2:
Wandering around the Green Festival this weekend, I encountered Zach Houston sitting on a fold-up chair, manual typewriter on lap, hawking poems “Name your topic, name your price”. Giving him $3 and the topic of “haystacks”, he whipped up a 15 line poem while answering questions from kids walking by and pointing at the typewriter, “What’s that?!”
Topic 3:
Living Library is an organization promoting the idea that you can check out a person for a 30 minute conversation, designed to break down stereotypes. LA Times has a poorly written story about the living library in Santa Monica, if you want to get a perspective on how it works.
(via the Berkeley Heights Library blog)

Know Can Do!

What prevents us from taking all of our knowledge and acting upon it?
* Information Overload – the key is in repetition; read a few books over and over, take copious notes. We retain only a small fraction of what we read and hear. Focus on a few key concepts and repeat over and over. Spaced repetition (x6)
* Negative Filtering- we create a logjam in our minds with all the things we can’t do. One person who shows confidence in you can make all the difference; also, you can choose who to listen to and who to ignore (negative feedback)
* Lack of Follow-up – you have to repeat and ingrain these habits into your mind. Repeat repeat repeat, but also with an eye towards teaching others, since this is the best way to solidify what you know.
How to listen with a positive mindset:
* listen with no prejudice or preconceived ideas
* listen with a learning attitude that is excited about new information
* listen with positive expectancy
* listen with a pen in hand, taking notes, with a desire to hear not only what’s being said but what it can trigger in your imagination
* listen with a “how can I use this?” attitude

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Nudge

The basic idea of this book is that to have a positive impact on “the world”, make the default choice the best choice. This includes automatic enrollment in 401ks, stocking cafeterias with healthy food, etc. That way, the path of least resistance is the one that leads to a longer, healthier life.
It’s true, we do a lot of things unthinkingly. And if our habits were healthier, so much the better.
Tangentially but amusingly, they point out that the Social Security Administration’s website is not available 24/7, but works government hours of Weekdays 5 AM – 1 AM, Saturday 5 AM – 11 PM, Sunday 8 AM – 11:30 PM.

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On Writing

Delightful and inspiring book from a prolific writer; King starts with his humble beginnings, his spike filled with rejection letters, the progression of more and more personal notes on the rejection letters like “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”, a formula he took to heart and allowed his own writing to be slashed into more concise pieces.
* Best advice: read a lot, write a lot.
* Kill your television.
* 1st draft– shut the door, just write, let the story out. The characters really should start to push their own story at some point. 2nd draft is what you let other people read.
* Read The Elements of Style (Strunk & White)
* Stories consist of 3 parts: narration (action, moving the story along), description, and dialog.
* King distrusts plotting a story- our lives are essentially plotless, plus plotting and spontaneous creation aren’t compatible (HUZZAH!!!! BECAUSE PLOTTING IS MY WEAK POINT!)
* Building characters in fiction- pay attention to how real people behave, and tell the truth. In real life, there are no minor characters– each of us is the star in our own life. Treat them as such.
* He shares his own frustration and shame that he carried around about the stuff he wrote.

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Bad Money

It seems that Kevin Phillips is getting his wish– the US public is learning more about the complexities of 21st century finance than ever before, via This American Life podcasts (1 and 2), Bill Moyers’ show, the daily newspaper, even beauty parlor talk. Seeing Mr. Phillips on Bill Moyer’s Journal, I was inspired to take this book for a spin, and after 200 condensed pages, I’m happy I did. I’m looking down at the book right now, with 30-odd post-it notes marking sections I was struck by. Ready to be enlightened? Here we go!
For those without a lot of time, reading the 8 page Preface might get you to partial enlightenment. Or you can watch the 2 segments on Bill Moyers: September 2008 and November 2008
Phillips’ earlier work, American Theocracy, covered an interesting angle I might have to check out in further detail– the three most recent leading world economic powers had special relationships with key energy sources: Netherlands – wind & water, Britain – coal, and the US – oil. “The earlier two proved unable to maintain their global preeminence when a new energy regime emerged, and now Americans must worry.”
One of my favorite parts was Phillips pointing out the discrepancies between earlier American economic crises with this one. Today, we barely understand the baillouts happening, and are not meeting to discuss their impact on everyday American lives, but “Economic favoritism in Washington is as American as apple pie.” Federal policy favored manufacturers and railroads during the decades after the Civil War, instead of farmers. “Tariffs, railroad land grants, and tight money… all subsidized capital, not agriculture. Farm families, especially on the grain-dependent Great Plains, came to understand that they were fighting for their livelihoods. The leading histories of agrarian populism describe giant meetings, sometimes literally thousands of wagons gathered on the prairies, to discuss railroads, bands, unbearably low grain prices, free coinage of silver, and the need.. ‘to raise less corn and more hell.’ Economic pamphlets were passed from farm to farm, periodicals like the National Economist had hundreds of thousands of subscribers… Compared to early-twenty-first-century torpor and lack of serious financial debate, the nineteenth-century agrarian civic engagement had an almost Fourth of July quality. ”
Plunge Protection Team, created in 1988 by Reagan probably to more loosely define the backroom antics that occurred during the 1987 crash. Who are these people? What effect have they had on our economy by preventing bubbles from bursting completely?
“We are in an Age of Disappointment,” said Kevin Phillips in the November 2008 Bill Moyers’ Journal episode mentioned above. So absolutely true.
Dimensions of “Bullnomics”– exaltation of financial markets as rational and safe underpinning for public well-being, the conning of the American public with misleading stats that understate inflation, and the rise of Christian fundamentalism “God wants you to be rich”. I’m intrigued by the connection of “the preoccupation of Americans awaiting the Rapture… keeping another band of voters unconcerned about budget deficits, peak oil, and the deflation of the U.S. dollar. ” Tim Weber is quoted, “If Jesus may come at any minute, then long-term social reform or renewal are beside the point.”
Ordinary Americans are bearing more of the risk burden. Income instability grew even faster than income inequality. Jacob Hacker emphasized data showing that the chance a household would experience a 50% drop in income at some point rose from minimal in 1970 to 20% in 2002.
New York banks felt secure because they knew the Federal Reserve would bail them out, they knew they were on Helicopter Ben’s chopper route. Back in 2002, Ben Bernanke joked that if needed in a crisis, money could be dropped from helicopters.
What did the other failed empires do in their waning days? Spain issued some reforms, moved the capital briefly from Madrid, tried to get the other major regions to help foot the bill of the empire, tried to restore their military reputation. At the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Spain was no longer an empire. The Dutch (The United Provinces of the Netherlands) faced a similar problem, where they lived on interest income and rents, instead of continuing earlier commercial and maritime activities. From 1688 to 1713 they fought a series of wars that cost them both trade routes & serious debt obligations. Holland refused to pay more taxes despite having more wealth than before.
“It remains possible that four decades of US hubris, periodic military intervention, and overreach in the Middle East will be perceived as playing the same role for Washington as did the Thirty Years’ War for Madrid (1618-48), the 1688-1713 wars for Holland, and two successive world wars for Britain.”
“On the edge of the decline the Spanish had gloried in their New World gold and silver; the Dutch, in their investment income and lending to princes and czarinas; and the British, in their banks, brokers, and global financial network. In none of these situations, however, could financial services succeed in upholding the national preeminence that had been earlier built by explorers, conquistadores, maritime skills, innovative science and engineering, the first railroads, electrical dynamos, and great iron and steel works.”
The emergence of the Islamic nationalist bond market in Asia. Islamic bonds, or sukuk (securities made religiously acceptable by avoiding interest payments or investments in alcohol, tobacco, pork-packing, and gaming industries). Standard & Poors has estimated the potential of the Islamic finance market at $500 billion.
Russian scientific submarine placed a flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007, staking a territorial claim, trying to gain access to the oil beneath the shelf.
“The future United States from the start drew immigrants from England, Holland, Scotland, and Protestant sections of Germany, as well as Huguenots, Flemings, and Jews, so when the baton of economic leadership passed to the United States in the twentieth century, there was a notable continuum of financial and commercial custom… It is hard to see how any major twenty-first-century shift of power to Asia can occur without a major discontinuity unless a financial Anglosphere – the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps the Netherlands – can remain a coequal power center for at least three or four decades.”
“The underlying question before us… is whether the housing and credit crisis expected to span the 2007-10 period constitutes the global crisis of American capitalism, in the sense of being the one that signals the Great Transferal to Asia.”
“Recent polls in the United States by Zogby / New Global Initiatives show an unprecedented 1.5 million Americans having already decided to the leave the United States and another 1.8 million calling themselves likely to leave. Emigration was also pronounced from declining Spain (to Spanish colonial America), from eighteenth-century Holland (to Dutch colonies, and by professionals and skilled workers to Britain and Sweden), and from declining rural and industrial areas of Britain in the first half of the twentieth century (to the colonies, the dominions, and the United States).

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The Way of the World

Deep breaths, that’s what I keep taking to try and keep my rage under control. Rage at actions the Bush administration took 3 years ago to release the fake letter tying Iraq to Mohammad Atta under the direct order of Bush to George Tenet to his CIA underlings. Rage at actions the Bush administration took 6 years ago before the Iraq War, gathering intelligence about WMDs and running away from the stories that there weren’t weapons. Impeachable offenses.
Breathe.
Suskind’s book comes in three acts, expertly weaving stories of Afghan exchange students, Pakastani ex-pats, Benazir Bhutto, Guantanamo Bay detainees and top US diplomatic officials. Act I: Other People’s Shoes, Act II: The Armageddon Test, and Act III: The Human Solution. Of all the acts, Act 2 was the least enjoyable– whenever Suskind inserted himself into the story, it bizarrely lost its personal touch for me.
Usman, the Pakistani emigrant who moved to America to go to college, lives in DC and works as a data analyst, is stopped by Secret Service one morning on his way to work after he stops to adjust his iPod. Racially profiled, he’s swept into the car and taken to a basement of the White House, interrogated for hours, then released after giving up the names of everyone he’s ever met in America. This begins to set into motion his days of true-american-ness, hard drinking and partying. Then one night a fellow Pakistani has friends in town who end up wanting to kill Usman because if they kill a lapsed Muslim, they earn a ticket to heaven. Usman quickly rethinks his life in the US, kicks around the idea of returning to Pakistan to work from that side to change the world.
This only a portion of the goodness inside– read it!

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