Saturday, November 01, 2014

Literary World of the dead

Bookslut will be announcing the winners of the inaugural Daphne Award for the books that should have won literary awards 50 years ago, while honoring the dearly departed of the literary world.
6 November - day of the literary dead

Melnik and other creepy churches made of bones

The 20th century comprised 100 years of horrors. The fault was not fear, greed, jealousy, or love of power. Ideas were to blame. Isaiah Berlin explains... Cold Rivers

Not salacious, as we’d think, they describe the mundane: trees, trousers, puddles. The surprisingly pretty love letters of Vladimir Nabokov... Turning leaf in the grave

Teach Us To Sit Still

I must give a hearty “thank you” to Ian Darling for telling me about Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks after I read The Miracle of Mindfulness. When you read a book like Thich Nhat Hahn’s on meditation and he is telling you how good it is and how it will change your life it is easy to dismiss it because of course this Buddhist monk is going to say that. To then read a book like Parks’s, a personal story that leads him kicking and screaming to meditation where he discovers that it really does work, it makes you pause and think.

absinthe the new european writing

Karen Joy Fowler - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves As surprise inclusion, I think, on the Man Booker shortlist and probably the most commercial title in the running for the prize. It famously has a massive twist on page 77 which makes it a very difficult novel to review, at least for an amateur like me, because I cannot really discuss the main themes of the book without giving it all away. Suffice to say, I liked the twist and the stuff that followed but I don't think the author quite made the most of them. A cracking read, very entertaining, but not something that will stay with me for too long. - See more at:

Cursing the River of Time

    Longtime writers know how hard it can be to tell when a piece is finished. Tolstoy famously tried to revise War and Peace right up to the book’s publication. At the Ploughshares blog, Amy Jo Burns offers tips for evaluating a piece before deciding to give it to someone 

   At PEN Atlas Tasja Dorkofikis has a Q&A with Per Petterson, author of I Curse the River of Time, etc. 

Chapters: They organize our books and provide a metaphor for our lives. Where did they come from? A befuddled 15th century scholar

       The obligatory 'judging the Man Booker Prize'-piece comes from Sarah Churchwell at The Guardian's book blog, where she writes about The joys of judging the Man Booker prize.
       (I enjoy these, but I'd love it if one year they did get the judge who just hated the experience to spill all the ugly beans about the process.) 

“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” Galway Kinnell, whose Selected Poemswon a Pulitzer in  1983, passed away Tuesday

The Art of Terror: Robert Aickman’s Strange Tales

We might be blocked from seeing what lies beneath the surface, but we know it’s formidable and chilling The art of terror

“All I know was that in Paris I felt haunted, like a double exposure photograph that shows a figure and then a milky specter behind. I felt stalked by a creature of my own making, a monster that was both my mother and myself.” Darcey Steinke writes about Paris, loss, and monsters in an essay for Granta.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Average is Over: 25 Years since Morava River and Berlin Wall Collapsed

INK BOTTLE“But youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms.”
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

James Burnham, a socialist, CIA agent, philosopher, and Cold Warrior, was a master analyst of oligarchy, in his day and ours... Double agent of ice & fire

       The November-December issue of World Literature Today, with a focus on 'After the Wall Fell: Dispatches from Central Europe 1989-2014', is now available, a decent chunk of it accessible online -- as is the entire World Literature in Review-reviews section. 

Czech out the new Foreign Affairs piece by Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, and they argue that matters have gone strikingly well and are relatively normal.  Here is one excerpt:
Newspapers overflowed with accounts of soaring mortality amid the stress of transition. On average, however, life expectancy rose from 69 years in 1990 to 73 years in 2012. The speed of improvement was two thirds faster than in the communist 1980s. Russia’s life expectancy today, at 70.5, is higher than it has ever been. Infant mortality, already low, fell faster in percentage terms than in any other world region.
Eastern Europe is infamous for unhealthy binge drinking. However, average alcohol consumption fell between 1990 and 2010 from 7.9 to 7.6 liters of pure alcohol a year per resident aged over 14. There were exceptions — drinking rose in Russia and the Baltic states but even in Russia recorded consumption in 2010, 11.1 liters, was lower than that in Germany, France, Ireland, or Austria. (Of course, more drinking might escape the statisticians in the Slavic region.) Smoking among adult males was high – 42 percent on average but about the same as in Asia. In short almost all statistics suggest a dramatic improvement in the quality of life.
In short, almost all statistics suggest a dramatic improvement in the quality of life since 1989 for citizens of the average postcommunist country — an improvement that rivals and often exceeds those in other parts of the world.

Insta-glam: The Sydney schoolgirl whose beach selfies and bikini snaps are viewed by more than 50,000 followers... now she could make $750 on every post Instagrand Savy schoolgirl 50000 followers cashes selfies : Average is Over, Sydney beach bum edition.  And Bolivia legalizes child labor for ten year olds.

The Art of Nudging & Compliance

Joel Slemrod (Michigan), Brett Collins (IRS), Jeffrey Hoopes(Ohio State), Daniel Reck(Michigan) & Michael Sebastiani(IRS), Does Credit-Card Information Reporting Improve Small-Business Tax Compliance?

Third-party information has greatly decreased tax underreporting, but substantial underreporting persists where third-party information is not present.

Bloomberg:  Big-Money Untaxed Gifts Quadrupled as Rich Raced Congress, by Richard Rubin & Margaret Collins:

The wealthiest Americans poured $335 billion into tax-free gifts amid worries in 2012 that Congress would clamp down on the practice, according to data released today by the Internal Revenue Service.

Joel Slemrod (Michigan), Brett Collins (IRS), Jeffrey Hoopes (Ohio State), Daniel Reck (Michigan) & Michael Sebastiani (IRS), Does Credit-Card Information Reporting Improve Small-Business Tax Compliance?:

Human Nature behind power & money: devil is in detail

“Every culture has its monsters,” and Jason Diamond writes about the Headless Horseman and one of the oldest American horror stories for Electric Literature.

Beware of fake priests roaming around in cemeteries and columbaries   offering to perform prayers and blessings for the dead and soliciting money afterwards Beware of fake priests in cemeteries

Questions are being asked about a surge in branch membership in the state seat of Auburn ahead of a controversial preselection tipped to see the sitting member, former minister Barbara Perry, dumped as Labor's candidate in favour of local mayor Hicham Zraika. Mayor Hicham Zraikas and Auburn of branch stacking
Federal police are investigating a record number of human trafficking cases in Australia involving sex slavery, forced marriages and child brides Sex trafficking slavery forced marriage on the rise in australia
Colourful financier Ian Lazar  (Lender of Last Resort) has been charged over allegations he defrauded an elderly woman of her home after first seeing her on an episode of A Current Affair Financier Ian Lazar in the news re defrauding
Is it Lazar hitting back at ABC? It appears Ian Lazar might not be happy with Four Corners report on the ABC that painted him as, well, a white-collar crook who preys on the weak and powerless, boosted by his underworld connections. In a lengthy YouTube video posted on a website custom-made for the purpose of clearing his name (, someone claims almost everyone interviewed for the Four Corners expose is, themselves, corrupt. The domain information on who registered the site is private, so we can’t say for sure Lazar or his associates put it up. The website’s contact section links to an address in Hong Kong.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amazon is like ISIS

American Lit’s Superagent Lets Loose

At the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Andrew Wylie “call[ed] Amazon ‘the equivalent of ISIS,’ 50 Shades of Grey ‘one of the most embarrassing moments in Western culture,’ and self-publishing ‘the aesthetic equivalent of telling everyone who sings in the shower they deserve to be in La Scala’.”

The Myth of the Free Press

Chris Hedges – The Myth of the Free Press TruthDig (RR)

David Brunori on the inherently corrupt nature of corporate welfare tax incentives, like those so popular with Iowa politicians ($link)
David Brunori on the inherently corrupt nature of corporate welfare tax incentives, like those so popular with Iowa politicians ($link):

David Brunori, Yes, More Problems with Tax Incentives (Tax Analysts Blog):

People who have studied tax incentives know everything that’s wrong with them: They don’t work (companies choose where to locate for other reasons); they’re unfair (some companies get them, others don’t, and their benefits inure to the haves rather than the have-nots); they’re inefficient (government bureaucrats can’t make decisions better than the market). There are many more.

7 things the middle class can’t afford anymore USA Today (Chuck L). This is an amazing, as in depressing, list

Deep Undercover

Deep Undercover: Police Officer in UK Fathered a Child with an Activist as Part of an Investigation Earth Island Journal

Meet the Guy Who Prefers Falafel Over PwC (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern)

Stop taking selfies with bears, hikers warned Daily Mail (Li). Darwin Award futures

The war against taxes (and the unmarried)Cathy O’Neil. Dubious use of models

House Hit With What Appears To Be Sustained Cyberattack Huffington Post

`Words Kept Getting in the Way'

Dr. Johnson offers consolation: “Alas, Madam! How few books are there of which one can ever possibly arrive at the last page.” 

“Lips, let sour words go by and language end:
What is amiss plague and infection mend!

INK BOTTLE“If you have it, you don’t need to have anything else; and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t much matter what else you have. Some women, the few, have charm for all; and most have charm for one. But some have charm for none.”
~ J.M. Barrie, What Every Woman Knows
Some writers cast a magnetic field across the bookish world, attracting like-minded readers and fellow writers, and repelling others. Both services are useful.

“Media Dragon does not write for effect, or to enlarge his own claim to consideration. He writes what he thinks is true, however awkward it may be.” Phonies are rattled by truth...

“The vision, spare and authentic,
Of an intellect I now know
As savage, luminous, and just.” 

“For all that you appreciate
The underlay of the absurd
Beneath each surface, comedy
Of things as much as lacrimae
Rerum, I’d say your outlook is
--Although justified by log—
One that, to what I call my mind,
Appears inordinately bleak:
Nihilistic would be the word,
But that, against all evidence,
You celebrate what is, and God.” 

Sometimes words are stuffed to bursting, like fat sausages, with meanings. One pities (and envies – think of Shakespeare, Swift,et al.) those learning English as a second language. Take this passage from Cold River the coldest war river ...

Weeping at times, but mostly happy, the little village of a few hundred souls has a robust sense of humour. Vrbov's dual nature is evidenced by more than just the emotional tides of the people, for even the name of the place has a dual meaning: willow and boiling water. boiling water ...

“In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How
  Isolated, like a fort, it is --
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile: Now
Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.” 

States of Illusions

“The sun’s a thief and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon’s an arrant thief
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
The sea’s a thief whose liquid surge resolves

The moon into salt tears . . .” 
~ Nabakov as Media Dragon

There are two parts to an art heist such as this—stealing the object and then having a plan as to what to do with it afterward. It was in this second area that the scheme seemed stunted. The crime: Stealing a 299-year-old Stradivarius. The suspect: A hard-luck building manager who fancied himself a high-end art thief... Great Pretender

The maker of many mistakes in life, Borges like Imrich didn’t give reality much credence. When things went wrong, this is just an illusion - a figment of imagination

Great collections are idiosyncratic. Take the Wellcome: Jeremy Bentham’s skin, Napoleons toothbrush, Florence Nightingale’s moccasins... Jozef Imrich's signatures

It is also, in the thinking of writer, critic and mathematician Rudy Rucker, the first work of a literary movement he would name “transrealism” in his 1983 essay A Transrealist Manifesto. Three decades later, Rucker’s essay has as much relevance to contemporary literature as ever. But while Rucker was writing at a time when science fiction and mainstream literature appeared starkly divided, today the two are increasingly hard to separate. It seems that here in the early 21st century, the literary movement Rucker called for is finally reaching its fruition (transrealism first major literary movement 21st century)

Debut Spotlight: Lena Dunham anyone? Have you heard of her? Have you seen her in a magazine or on television. If any of you answered "no," then you probably don't own any magazines or televisions. Not That Kind of Girl is a book of essays inspired by Helen Gurley Brown's Having It All, except that it's directed at a new generation. Amazon's Brittany Pirozollo writes of the book, "In an era where twenty-something women are told how to think, where to work, who to date, and what to wear, it’s refreshing that a voice has broken the mold to empower women to do one thing—be yourself, flaws and all."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why World is Doomed: Starting Reinvention with creative destruction

The chief commentator of the Financial Times, Martin Wolf, calls the unleashing of the capital markets a "pact with the devil... sounds like a plot thought up by Jozef Imrich the young hero faces off against a mafia-like system of left and right extremes!

It isn't necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on "inclusive capitalism" to realize that industrialized countries have a problem. When Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, the West's liberal economic and social order seemed on the verge of an unstoppable march of triumph. Communism had failed, politicians worldwide were singing the praises of deregulated markets and US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was invoking the "end of history."
Politicians and business leaders everywhere are now calling for new growth initiatives, but the governments' arsenals are empty. The billions spent on economic stimulus packages following the financial crisis have created mountains of debt in most industrialized countries and they now lack funds for new spending programs.
Why Europe is doomed, in 3 paragraphs Washington Post

If there is a rock star among global bank analysts, it's Mike Mayo. The wiry financial expert loves loud ties and tightly cut suits, he can do 35 pull-ups at a time, and he likes it when people call him the "CEO killer."  He was in his late 20s when he arrived on Wall Street, a place he saw as symbolic of both the economic and the moral superiority of capitalism. "I always had this impression," says Mayo, "that the head of a bank would be the most ethical person and upstanding citizen possible." But when Mayo, a lending expert, worked for well-known players like UBS and Prudential Securities, he quickly learned that the glittering facades of the American financial industry concealed an abyss of lies and corruption
Head of a most ethical country in the collapsing world: Putin’s speech at the Valdai Club – full transcript Vineyard of the Saker (Scott)

Let the Democrats Rot Counterpunch

The class warfare of Halloween Cathy O’Neil. Lordie.

The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails Der Spiegel (Jeff J). Would’t call this splits among the elite. More like cracks starting at the edge.

The Best Places to Be an Expat Wall Street Journal (Li). Almost certainly a list for rich expats.

Tendency shirtfronting irony

Recently, New York Fed President William Dudley gave a speech on remedying cultural problems in financial services firms, meaning the tendency of employees to loot them and leave the mess in taxpayers’ laps. It caught pretty much everyone by surprise because it contained two sensible and effective reform ideas, namely, that of putting compensation measures in place that would have the effect of rolling them a long way back towards the partnership model, as well as making it harder for bad apples to find happy homes in other firms.

Professor suspended from top university for giving off ‘negative vibes’ Telegraph. Lambert: “Privatizers hated him. He used sarcasm and irony!”

The soft touch behind nudge

INK BOTTLE“At some point in every encounter of a celebrity with a journalist the reader has to choose sides. (True, many are the instances in which it is difficult to choose, so closely are one’s antipathies divided.)”
~Joseph Epstein, Fred Astaire

Kiss n' Goodbye sign at Aalborg Airport a huge hit on social media

Kiss & Goodbye sign at drop off zone at Aalborg Airport in North Jutland, Denmarkl

Looking for a kiss that'll put your head in the clouds? Then visit Aalborg Airport!

Nudge-nudge. RT : Denmark takes a softer sweeter approach to airport traffic.

“The whole nudge idea is to say, look, there are all these small influences in the environment that influence our choices,” ~ Karsten Schmidt
In my 8 Step Guide to Building a Social Workplace I try and focus on just these kind of environmental factors, and explore 8 specific ones that you can influence to hopefully guide employees behaviours to something more social and collaborative.

The world of the absurd

INK BOTTLE“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
~George S. Patton, War as I Knew It
Sicily, for instance, employs 28,000 forestry police — more than Canada — and has 950 ambulance drivers who have no ambulances to drive.
More here on the general state of decline in Italy
While American universities debate whether “civility” is an appropriate way to evaluate faculty members, a British institution has faced intense criticism for punishing a faculty member for sighing, unfriendly body language and the use of irony.
…Docherty’s suspension was revealed by Times Higher Education, which reported that the university said he was undermining the authority of his department head (who has since stepped down) by making “ironic” comments during job interviews, sighing and using negative body language. The suspension had Docherty banned from contact with anyone on campus, and even from writing a book preface.

Despite occasional statements to the contrary, most political scientists have long known — going back at least to Philip Converse’s work in the 1960s, and probably farther to Walter Lippmann’s in the 1910s/1920s — that many Americans do not in fact show substantial ideological consistency across policy views, except among limited groups…The 20% of the adult population who are white voters with bachelor’s degrees show some degree of coherence when it comes to views on same-sex marriage and income redistribution.  But, when it comes to the 40% of the adult public who have one or none of these characteristics — including, for example, African Americans and Latinos without bachelor’s degrees and nonvoting whites without bachelor’s degrees — there is no tendency whatsoever for people who lean in a given direction on one of these issues to lean in the same direction on the other.  For the remaining 40% of the adult public, who have two but not three of these features (e.g., white voters without bachelor’s degrees), ideological coherence is barely measurable.

Emmanuel Carrère, Limonov, The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, A Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.  Blends fiction, non-fiction, and occasional social science (was a non-corrupt transformation of the Soviet Union really possible?, Gaidar ultimately decided it wasn’t), but in terms of the subjective experience of the reader it is most like a novel.  Excellent and also entertaining.  I consider this a deep book about why liberalism will never quite win over human nature.  Here is an interesting Julian Barnes review, although in my opinion it is insufficiently appreciative.

Plants Know When They’re Being Eaten and They Don’t Appreciate it Inhabitat (furzy mouse). So now I have to feel guilty about eating plants? :-(