The questions that Murray is writing about (inequality, poverty, ever-advancing class segregation) are re...moreBottom line: this is a vicious, vicious book.
The questions that Murray is writing about (inequality, poverty, ever-advancing class segregation) are really important, and there's some extremely clever methodological stuff at play here (the super-Zips analysis was profound and revealing; the class directory analysis for Harvard Business School alums was ingenius), but fundamentally this book is a jeremiad, castigating poor people for vice, laziness, and immorality.
They don't get married:
...the percentage of children living with both biological parents when the mother was 40 was sinking below the 30 percent level, compared to 90 percent of Belmont children who were still living with both biological parents. The divergence is so large that it puts the women of Belmont and Fishtown into different family cultures. The absolute level in Fishtown is so low that it calls into question the viability of white working-class communities as a place for socializing the next generation.
They don't go to church:
People who don’t go to church can be just as morally upright as those who do, but as a group they do not generate the social capital that the churchgoing population generates—it’s not “their fault” that social capital deteriorates, but that doesn’t make the deterioration any less real. The empirical relationships that exist among marriage, industriousness, honesty, religiosity, and a self-governing society mean that the damage is done...
They don't work:
To sum up: There is no evidence that men without jobs in the 2000s before the 2008 recession hit were trying hard to find work but failing. It was undoubtedly true of some, but not true of the average jobless man. The simpler explanation is that white males of the 2000s were less industrious than they had been twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago, and that the decay in industriousness occurred overwhelmingly in Fishtown.
And Murray's not just describing the ravages of poverty - this isn't How The Other Half Lives - it's How The Other Half's Vices Are Destroying The Republic--actually, take it way, Charles:
people who have never quite gotten their acts together and are the despair of the parents and siblings, even though they seem perfectly pleasant when you meet them. That’s mostly what the new lower class involves. Individually, they’re not much of a problem. Collectively, they can destroy the kind of civil society that America requires.
And the solution? In part, shame, scorn, and judgement:
Nonjudgmentalism ceases to be baffling if you think of it as a symptom of Toynbee’s loss of self-confidence among the dominant minority. The new upper class doesn’t want to push its way of living onto the less fortunate, for who are they to say that their way of living is really better? It works for them, but who is to say that it will work for others.
Let me put it plainly - this isn't a serious book. It's ideology masquerading as social science. It cites the GSS an awful lot for ideology, but the methodological rigor involved in cataloguing Fishtown's ills is completely absent in conversations about causality or consequences.
the labor force problems that grew in Fishtown from 1960 to 2010 are intimately connected with the increase in the number of unmarried men in Fishtown.
It's as if public policy or changes in the macroeconomy simply didn't exist between 1960 and 2010 - you simply have private men and women, making choices wholly in a vacuum. The closest thing we get to an acknowledgement that private choices intersect with broader structures is a sidenote about changes to Ivy League admissions in the 60's - but that takes us to another of Murray's hobby-horses, IQ, and let's not go down that road.
Let's close with Murray on public policy, which I will present without further editorial comment:
When the government intervenes to help, whether in the European welfare state or in America’s more diluted version, it not only diminishes our responsibility for the desired outcome, it enfeebles the institutions through which people live satisfying lives. There is no way for clever planners to avoid it. Marriage is a strong and vital institution not because the day-to-day work of raising children and being a good spouse is so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are strong and vital not because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met—family and community really do have the action—then an elaborate web of expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time. Together, that web leads to norms of good behavior that support families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities. The web frays, and eventually disintegrates.
Really weird; really good. I somehow missed the Lovecraft revival train that left the station a few years ago, but this makes me wish I was on it. Evo...moreReally weird; really good. I somehow missed the Lovecraft revival train that left the station a few years ago, but this makes me wish I was on it. Evokes fond memories of S1/S2-era Lost, where you had glimmers and hints of another reality, similar to our own but slightly off-kilter. Books 2 and 3 have been pre-ordered, to say the least.(less)
“When a company comes up with an idea, it’s a messy process. There’s no aha moment,” Bezos said. Reducing Amazon’s history to a simple narrative, he worried, could give the impression of clarity rather than the real thing.
and yet... there's a lot of clarity here. lots of business-y ideas: cannibalize yourself before someone else does, two pizza teams, communication is a sign of dysfunction, long time horizon, rapid iteration, strive to be a platform, a missionary mission/low margins drive a growth flywheel.
but whatever, that stuff is ultimately for dads on planes. the character study/portrait of Bezos is the main event here, and it's genuinely fascinating. it also also feels like it's just phase 1, when you consider how amazon - a book company! - runs the backbone for a pretty fair chunk of the modern web
“Let’s give them credit,” Schmidt says. “The book guys got computer science, they figured out the analytics, and they built something significant.”
and Bezos is shooting rockets to the moon in Texas.
if there's a weakness here it's that Stone never digs too deeply into Bezos's politics or worldview - we see Amazon red in tooth and claw doing the creative destruction thing, dreaming up box-packing robots and clawing at the soft underbelly of the traditional publishing industry, but to what end? space? hard to say, but it is apparently going to be enormous.
side note - there's definitely a how-did-we-get-here reflection on the financialization of everything/history of D. E. Shaw & Co. (among the first on the scene hiring rocket scientists to do algorithmic trading) to be written, and I bet it would be fascinating. (less)
I love Klosterman; this is a mega-dose of Klosterman, weird and digressive, full of rhetorical epicycles that intersect at strange angles but ultimat...moreI love Klosterman; this is a mega-dose of Klosterman, weird and digressive, full of rhetorical epicycles that intersect at strange angles but ultimately resolve into something resembling a coherent, if curiously intricate, viewpoint.
Klosterman is actually perfect suited for a kindle; his weird asides create distinctive word salad when collected on a highlight page.
It creates someone like Kim Dotcom, a man who’s essentially an IT guy for the entire plane.
Red Hot Chili Peppers): They seemed like all the idiots at my college who were constantly starting terrible bands and failing organic chemistry, except these idiots were famous and never wore shirts.
Within any group conflict, my loyalties inevitably rest with whichever person is most obviously wrong.
Klosterman's take on anything is always genuinely interesting; he tends to fixate on some weird nugget that doesn't fit an existing storyline, chewing it over until order has been restored. It's not hollow contrarianism, a la Slate; it's Klosterman, a true "weirdness raconteur"* for our time.
the Hitler stuff in here needed to go, and the dark, self-doubting close was largely uncomfortable to read, but reading Klosterman is all about the journey, anyway - the sotto voce asides, never the concluding remarks.
Five stars for ideas to chew on; two stars for the prose. Definitely worth your time, but unfortunately you never forget which MIT department produced...moreFive stars for ideas to chew on; two stars for the prose. Definitely worth your time, but unfortunately you never forget which MIT department produced the words that you're reading.
manifestations of progress are all based at least in part on digital technologies. When combined with political and economic systems that offer people choices instead of locking them in, technological advance is an awe-inspiring engine of betterment and bounty. It is also an engine driving spread, creating larger and larger differences over time in areas that we care about—wealth, income, standards of living, and opportunities for advancement.
The world gets wealthier, innovation continues, but the spread between rich and poor grows ever-wider. I think that's what we're headed for, and I hope that more smart things get written about what to do about it. This essay remains my pick to click:
...the poor people have a good standard of living in terms of absolute magnitude, but they have little freedom. With a tight budget constraint (near the origin) obtusely and extremely scalening off in various directions of cheap stuff (sox, packaged food with lots of preservatives, canned food [can o’ corn], modular homes, satellite TV, Budweiser beer, … brand-name oreos, ATV’s and Harleys? Well I didn’t say it makes total sense), the only way to live like a richie is to buy specifically the stuff that is cheap — even if, as measured by eg, your Engel curve, that’s not what you really want...the robo-programmers are creating things for you and everyone else for cheaper than you used to get it before. However anything you want that doesn’t come out of the robo machine (like organic peaches) is going to suck up a lot of your income for something that’s just completely standard (like a fruit).
I don't have it all put together yet, but I think that when we look back at the early 2000s we'll interpret OWS not so much as a direct response to bankers and bonuses but as the first expression of growing unease about this sea change in the economy, with ever-greater returns to 'superstars' at the top and technological unemployment at the bottom.
What do we do about it? Not sure. One thing we definitely need to do a better job helping preparing kids for it; also thinking a lot about the EITC and negative income taxes. Jazzed for the new Piketty; will be turning Second Machine Age over in my head until then. (less)
the lolmythesis distillation of Collision Low Crossers would go something like "NFL football has nothing to do with what you see on TV; the important...morethe lolmythesis distillation of Collision Low Crossers would go something like "NFL football has nothing to do with what you see on TV; the important stuff happens on weekdays in office buildings, and is far more grueling than you ever imagined." this isn't really a book about the NFL - it's a participant history of the NFL coaching-industrial complex; actual in-game events get noted like wire service bulletins from a faraway conflict. The real action happens behind the scenes, mostly watching film or on the practice fields in Florham Park.
as Pete noted, the pitch for to Little, Brown for this one was probably long on super bowl rings and less "step inside the locker room of an underachieving and dysfunctional Jets team as they record a largely forgettable 8-8 season", and, perhaps as a consequence, Dawidoff seems to have been granted pretty broad artistic license, with mostly pleasant results, especially if allusions to Renaissance portraiture ("To him football film was a Brueghel painting...") or WW1 battles are your bag (all fine here).
That was really half of NFL coaching - thinking of one's players as characters, each with a set of skills to model in the endless sequence of narrative experiments that sixteen times a regular season became a game plan. (1326)
...the empty, beautifully groomed fields in front of us and imagine the underlying images of all the scenes that had taken place on them, all the many carefully plotted plays from hundreds of bygone practices, a pentimento reflecting the resilient yet invisibly traced presence of football past.
...which is the saving grace of the Collision Low Crossers, because the 2011 Jets are thoroughly unremarkable in the traditional sports opera department. Dawidoff is attuned to enormous personal sacrifice required to stay on top of the massively complex schemes of the modern NFL - stories that are essentially hidden, despite the existence of multiple 24/7 TV channels specifically for the game of football.
Almost every person in that room resembled a man whose fiancee has broken up with him without warning. They were limping, red-eyed, and spent. (6391)
They were trying to control the uncontrollable, and losing was the inevitable result. They lost their sleep, they lost their pleasures, they lost their homes, they lost their cities, they lost their children's childhoods, and they lost their marriages. And for all that, they also lost their players and colleagues and their jobs. (6498)
beautifully written, insightful, objectively too long and guilty of forest/tree discernment issues. still, though. very good.(less)
Really first rate. Please read this. Didion has an unparalleled eye for detail; the way that she rounds up images and observations that suddenly snap...moreReally first rate. Please read this. Didion has an unparalleled eye for detail; the way that she rounds up images and observations that suddenly snap into focus as - mood? feeling? thesis? is truly staggering. Across these essays she moves to New York, marries, retreats to Hawaii under duress; many moments feel deeply personal - at times arrestingly so - but also ultimately reveal very little private detail. In the age of the overshare, it's pretty impressive to read something that manages to achieve...vulnerability? emotional honesty? while still hewing to a more traditional understanding of the author/reader compact.
That and the closer, the leaving-New-York Goodbye to All That is a flat-out masterpiece.
Some turns of phrase/sentences: "evangelistic thickets of the middle class" (45) "The stories are endless, infinitely familiar, traded by the faithful like baseball cards, fondled until they fray around the edges and blur into the apocryphal." (69) "an apparition all the more insistent for being so long banished" (140) "lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and proven competence on the Stanford-Binet scale" (143) "thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land" (163) "veterans of a guerilla war we never understand" (166) "a big rock candy mountain in the Pacific" (189) "the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself" (231)(less)
tl;dr - this is not the Roberto Unger you are looking for.
Heard Roberto Unger on the Economist and was pretty intrigued - the call for radical transfo...moretl;dr - this is not the Roberto Unger you are looking for.
Heard Roberto Unger on the Economist and was pretty intrigued - the call for radical transformation of public institutions via experimentation/innovation was in my wheelhouse.
The most charitable reading would be:
Unger and West were pretty forward thinking (this is published in the late 90s, after all), for anticipating the growing challenge of inequality to the country (they call this the economic vanguard vs the rearguard) and for laying out a program of labor reskilling/continuous learning, health care/education, and innovative vehicles for capital investment via quasi-public institutions.
Here's their argument in a nutshell:
1) As a country we are characterized by a "belief that Americans can make themselves and remake their society, that they can make everything new" (4) 2) ...through the "faith in the genius of ordinary men and women" (11) 3) ...confronting problems 'through human effort and ingenuity. Americans resist seeing particular problems as the manifestation of hidden, hard constraints. They believe that the terrors of vast problems yield to the effects of many small solutions."
Progressives, though, have abandoned innovation and experimentation; the left has lost imagination and mostly worries about the rollback of older transfer programs or treating the symptoms of inequality. We need a new spirit of collective action, one that is local and bottom up, that uses market institutions and is open-minded and innovative about new institutional arrangements that will reduce inequality.
...intellectually, there's a lot to like here - and maybe that's enough? But, ugh, that reading would be so charitable that it would ignore the haphazardly argued, loopy book that actually got written. There are some nice turns of phrase, but as a collection of words that either calls you to action or coherently explains the argument sketched above, Future of American Progressivism is pretty disappointing.
Here, as briefly as possible, are some of those problems: 1) Vague, to the point where it's not clear what's being argued. As in, if this was a term paper, it would be fair to return it with a note at the top that said "You only need to write one introductory paragraph for your argument, not 6." You simply can't sustain the amount of throat-clearing that happens here while finding time to lay out an argument this big in 93 short pages.
2) What shoulders do they stand on? or not stand on? At some points, I found myself writing 'is this Hayek?' in the marginalia. Walt Whitman and John Stuart Mill make a fleeting appearance, and there are some head nods to the Jeffersonian democratic thinking v. 0.1, but that's about it. This is especially weird considering that Cornel West is involved, and that guy is the most erudite speaker I've ever heard.
3) It's totally unclear what kind of innovation they want - and in fact, the political program laid out probably doesn't get anywhere close to the grand 'new method of politics' pronouncements in pt. 1. Concrete things that get said: privatize social security, replace income tax with consumption tax, try more public contracting or privatization of utilities, job training, and state-owned venture capital funds. The last one (public venture capital) is interesting, but like 2/3 of the other stuff got proposed by Bush 43, which I can't imagine was Cornel West's point.(less)
Larger than life characters and a utterly outlandish premise that seems as though it came from an alternate universe.
The idea was to import hippopota
...moreLarger than life characters and a utterly outlandish premise that seems as though it came from an alternate universe.
The idea was to import hippopotamuses from Africa, set them in the swamplands along the Gulf Coast, and raise them for food. The idea was to turn America into a nation of hippo ranchers.
Not sure how many tricks Atavist has up their sleeves but there's definitely more than one screenplay in the lives of Burnham and Duquesne.
At one point, [Duquesne] was shipped all the way to a prison in Lisbon. But he escaped easily, first finding the time to seduce his jailer’s daughter. He then made his way to England, claimed to be a Boer defector, enlisted as a British soldier, hitched a ride back to the front in Africa, and took off on his own again.
n.b he hangs onto his British uniform to go behind enemy lines and knock off some officers. The whole thing sounds like a lost Bond movie plot.
There are more prison escapes, a fairly improbable third act with a Nazi spy ring, and more Zelig-like appearances by Burnham across the American frontier -- American Hippopotamus has the beating heart of any number of those 'True Stories for Boys' (Davy Crockett, etc), and that breathless tone is both the strength and ultimate weakness of American Hippo.
As good as the Burnham story is, he was, a soldier of fortune in a brutal and ugly conquest of Rhodesia. It's more than a little jarring - there's a whole academic discipline that thinks about latent colonial/imperial attitudes in literature, and here you have a guy that was straight up murdering and pillaging villages for Cecil Rhodes and it doesn't ever really get addressed. (less)
Had no idea that there was a Guillermo del Toro book so I gave this a shot, because Pan's Labyrinth, I mean, come on. First 40% is tight, well execute...moreHad no idea that there was a Guillermo del Toro book so I gave this a shot, because Pan's Labyrinth, I mean, come on. First 40% is tight, well executed, and genuinely spooky - the premise of an unexplained blacked-out plane + east coast eclipse + Hot Zone-style virus on the loose is compelling. Last 60% is an unspeakably hackneyed, shoddily written vampire slasher that I am amazed I managed to finish.(less)
Follows Ali's early career up through the Liston and Patterson fights, stopping with Vietnam and the draft. Along the way we're treated to first-rate...moreFollows Ali's early career up through the Liston and Patterson fights, stopping with Vietnam and the draft. Along the way we're treated to first-rate capsule biographies of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. It is really a shame that we don't get book-length Remnick any more - the guy is a professional.
I'm not really sure how a book-length treatment of Ali ends up leaving out all the Frazier fights (the Fight of the Century? Thrilla in Manilla?) and the Foreman fight (Rumble in the Jungle? - I mean, even if you're not a boxing fan you've heard about those fights). Remnick's project appears to be to follow the arc of Ali's political and religious development to tell a story about the country and the civil rights movement in the 60s. It's hard to see why Ali-Frazier 1 doesn't make the cut with its symbolic overtones (1971, draft dodger vs. serviceman, Vietnam, heavyweight belt on the line - "If you were against the war in Vietnam, you rooted yourself hoarse for Ali. If you wanted the hippies, freaks and Black Power disciples humbled, you wanted Smokin’ Joe." - Dave Zirin). I mean,
You have to wonder -- is it simply that when Remnick took over from Tina Brown in 1998 he had a half-finished manuscript and no time on his hands?
Even so, the portrait of early Ali, especially drawn in relief against the bigoted establishment sports media, Floyd Patterson's integrationist politics, and Sonny Liston's... Sonny Liston-ness b/w the Mob? is amazing. Amazing characters (this is boxing), incredible nuggets and boxing errata (Patterson's suitcases full of disguises?! Liston's juiced gloves?), and a rich psychological portrait of Ali - first rate narrative biography all around.(less)
Lennon is mining in the general vicinity of Tom McCarthy in Remainder, and there's a lot to chew on - perception v. reality, fate v. agency, and also...moreLennon is mining in the general vicinity of Tom McCarthy in Remainder, and there's a lot to chew on - perception v. reality, fate v. agency, and also just the surprising way that chance and a bunch of meaningless decisions ultimately net out to a life. negative 1 for mushy 'many worlds' coffee shop physics, and negative 1 for single-note bleakness and hostility as the default emotional canvas for pretty much every character portrayed
She has created a family of miserable liners who seem incapable of helping one another.
It feels wrong to be the first review on this, so let me simply say that I have this thing dog-eared within an inch of its life. "Secret Canon", "Wron...moreIt feels wrong to be the first review on this, so let me simply say that I have this thing dog-eared within an inch of its life. "Secret Canon", "Wrong Science" and "Advice" especially.
DAYNA TORTORICI: What would Jack London do? Christ. You'd be dead.
reads like talky email dispatches from a friend, which is not unpleasant but has its limitations. a touch overwritten. the defense of booking travel on...morereads like talky email dispatches from a friend, which is not unpleasant but has its limitations. a touch overwritten. the defense of booking travel on ocean freighters at the end rings kinda hollow in light of the actual experience recounted here.
still, though -- hell of a trip, and totally persuasive on the merits of train/bike/car/bus travel.(less)
Got introduced to Morgan Meis via 3quarksdaily and picked this up after he won a Whiting award. Incredibly skillful, lyric, incisive writing. "Behind...moreGot introduced to Morgan Meis via 3quarksdaily and picked this up after he won a Whiting award. Incredibly skillful, lyric, incisive writing. "Behind Wire", "Ruins", "Francis Hals" and "Katyn" were all standouts to me. Someone should give him giant bags of money to do the Katyn thing in a slightly more longform-y way, or to be an art critic when Schjeldahl or Saltz move on.(less)
Shit jammed in the pages of this one: -jetBlue ticket to Orlando (long story) -Joe Lhota women's health handbill (he gets a triple question mark from P...moreShit jammed in the pages of this one: -jetBlue ticket to Orlando (long story) -Joe Lhota women's health handbill (he gets a triple question mark from Planned Parenthood on all the issues) -flyer advertising the opening of the WTC West Concourse -Google NYC building pass dated 10.22.2013 what I'm saying is, it's mid January, BDB is mayor, and it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in a work of fiction if you can let it sit half-complete on your shelves for two months without a second thought. But let me try to justify 4 stars/"really liked it" nonetheless.
I am an ardent defender of Fortress of Solitude - I thought that book was straight-up magic, possibly because it is a love song to BK and I read it roughly around the time I moved here. Let's start by pointing out that despite the NYC/coming-of-age stuff at work here this is not that book, although there were about 20 pages (298-317, specifically) where Lethem is operating at Fortress of Solitude gear.
There are undoubtedly a lot of smart things to be said about the US Communist party / Sandinista / Quakerism / Occupy! through line - and indeed, that's the tack that the jacket copy takes; "Three generations of all-American radicals." Utopian thought doesn't seem to serve anyone very well - without giving away too much of the plot arc, I think it's a fair conclusion in the Dissident Gardens universe radical political thought will get you dead, or at a minimum alienate everyone you care about.
In my view, anyways, the OWS / radicalism-repeating-itself isn't the strength of the book - it's the structure and storytelling. À la the shit-just-got-weird flying parts of Fortress of Solitude, there's a really effective chapter built entirely from a Stasi police file. The entirety of Part III was particularly strong - Lethem jumps around between characters and across time; ripping apart the world that he set up in Parts I-II.
Last thought - Dissident Gardens seemed the least believable and most cliche in the chapters written from the point of view of women. Is it possible that Lethem isn't that good at writing female characters? In the first part of that n+1 No Regrets panel I recall someone being down on him for this very reason.(less)